MONTREAL - Team Canada's successful defense of their World Junior crown in Vancouver had a distinct Canadiens flavor, with prospect Kyle Chipchura helping lead Canada to its second straight title.
Chipchura rewarded head coach Brent Sutter for entrusting him with the "C" by helping Team Canada roll to a perfect 6-0 mark for second consecutive year. An apparent shoe-in for the 2005 squad before suffering a severed Achilles tendon last fall, Chipchura made up for lost time by becoming the first Canadiens draft pick to be named team captain and lead Canada to gold at the WJHC. Chipchura is also only the second Habs pick to ever wear the "C" for Canada after Eric Desjardins led the juniors to a fourth place finish in 1989.
"We knew what kind of a leader Kyle had the potential to become when we drafted him," said Canadiens Director of Player Personnel Trevor Timmins, who liked what he saw from the 19-year-old center drafted 18th overall by the Canadiens in 2004. "To see him not only be named captain, but also lead Canada to a gold medal proves what kind of a special player he is."
Despite being the undisputed leader of Canada's penalty killing unit, Chipchura still managed to lead Team Canada with four goals, placing him behind only Team USA's Chris Bourque (7) and Slovakia's Stanislav Lascek (6) for the overall tournament lead.
"Chipchura's defense was outstanding and he was without a doubt the backbone of Canada's penalty-killing unit, but that's only half the story," said Timmins. "He also scored some big goals and was a force offensively. Seeing Kyle raise that trophy when it was all said and done was a proud moment for not only for all of Canada, but for our entire organization."
This year's gold medal game was not only a showdown between superpowers Canada and Russia, but also a clash between the cream of the Canadiens' draft class of 2004. Chipchura and Russian defenseman Alexei Emelin finished 1-2 at this year's World Juniors and also followed one another back on June 26, 2004 at the NHL draft in Carolina. Chipchura was Montreal's top pick that day, while Emelin was the Canadiens' very next pick at No. 84 overall.
Emelin may have had World Junior gold slip though his fingers for the second straight year, but the 6-foot, 192-pounder was nonetheless the go-to guy on the Russian blueline. He was also the tournament's top scoring defensemen with seven points in six games, including a pair of goals. Emelin, who picked up three penalties in the gold medal game, may have had his hands full against the feisty Canadians, but Timmins still foresees a bright future for the 19-year-old.
"He showed a real mean streak at this year's tournament and I don't mind that," admitted Timmins. "He has all the tools to be a solid defenseman for us down the road. He also added some size since last year's World Juniors and he was far and away Russia's top defenseman."
Emelin's dominance included earning player of the game honors following Russia's 6-2 win over Slovakia when he picked up a goal and an assist. He also hails from Alex Kovalev's hometown of Togliatti, Russia.
World Junior 101
According to Timmins, Canadiens training camp sensation Guillaume Latendresse will only benefit from his involvement with Team Canada, despite the big winger not seeing much playing time in his World Junior debut.
"Let's not forget that Guillaume is only 18 and he'll probably get another shot next year," said Timmins of Latendresse, who was the Canadiens' second pick, 45th overall at this summer's NHL draft. "He had a bit of a slow start to the tournament and obviously didn't get as much playing time as he would have liked, but just being a part of this event is something to be proud of.
"From our standpoint, the experience both Kyle and Guillaume have gained over the last month from this great group of players, to Brent Sutter and his staff, will only help them in their development," added Timmins.
Slovak winger Juraj Mikus, who was the next player chosen by the Canadiens immediately following Latendresse at this summer's draft, was the fourth Montreal prospect at this year's tournament. Like Latendresse, the 18-year-old got his feet wet but didn't log much ice-time for the Slovaks, who finished eighth among the 10-nation field.
Canada is now tied with archrival Russia with 12 World Junior titles as Team Canada claimed back-to-back championships for the first time since winning five straight crowns from 1993 to 1997.
Canada will have to wait until next December to begin their quest for a three-peat at 2007 World Junior Championships in Sweden.
Manny Almela is a writer for canadiens.com