TORONTO -- There were plenty of magical moments to share and players to praise during the 11-day journey to crown gold medalist Canada at the 2015 IIHF World Junior Championship at Air Canada Centre on Monday.
When Canadian fans weren't rooting for the host nation, their allegiance shifted to the darlings from Denmark. The Danes gave us one of the more memorable locker room celebrations at the WJC when, after a 4-3 shootout victory against Switzerland on Dec. 30 to earn a berth into the playoff round, they huddled, jumped and sang behind closed doors and were deemed hockey heroes in their country.
There was Canada forward Robby Fabbri (St. Louis Blues), despite sustaining a high ankle sprain in the quarterfinal round that would sideline him the remainder of the tournament, providing instant support. In a fitting tribute, the first player Canada captain Curtis Lazar handed the championship trophy to at the end of the gold-medal game was Fabbri.
"I don't know what's going through Robby's mind; he wanted to be out there so bad and he always did what was asked of him," Lazar said. "It was tough for him to sit out there, but I thought it was just right. He got hurt there finishing his check and playing the right way, and again we knew he wanted to be out there and he was with us and the biggest cheerleader the past couple games, so I felt it was only fitting."
The WJC has become much more than an on-ice attraction, but a two-week event that reveals the commitment and national pride of the world's finest junior-aged hockey players. Many will now return to their teams in the Canadian Hockey League, NCAA schools or European leagues. A select few will even be resuming their roles in NHL.
Canada was without question the cream of the WJC field this season, winning seven straight games while outscoring the opposition 39-9. They possessed the depth, the speed, shutdown defense and that instant chemistry required in any international tournament run. After a two-year hiatus on the medal stand and questions about how the country should go about selecting its National Junior Team, Canadians can finally celebrate their first gold in six years.
In addition to those Canadian players who jumped off the page this year, there were others who made significant contributions for their countries at the WJC.
Here is NHL.com's 2015 World Junior Championship All-Tournament Team:
Sam Reinhart, Canada: NHL Network analyst Craig Button described the Buffalo Sabres prospect best when he said, "Reinhart beats you up with his mind." He was certainly one of the smartest players on the ice and was the quarterback of Canada's top line, finishing with five goals, 11 points, a 57-percent faceoff efficiency (73-of-126) and a tournament-leading plus-13 rating. Voted the top forward for Canada by the coaching staff, Reinhart's second-period goal proved to be the game-winner against Russia in the gold-medal game.
Connor McDavid, Canada: Following a slow start after missing five weeks with a hand injury, McDavid finished strong with three goals, 11 points, a plus-8 rating and 61-percent faceoff efficiency. Projected to be the No. 1 choice in the 2015 NHL Draft, McDavid was a mainstay on the second line and was as dynamic as they come in the medal round when he had two goals and seven points in three wins.
Curtis Lazar, Canada: The Ottawa Senators prospect was everything you would expect from a captain for the gold medal-winning Canadians. He finished with five goals, nine points and a plus-8 rating and also won 28 of 40 faceoffs (70 percent).
Dylan Larkin, United States: The University of Michigan freshman, drafted in the first round (No. 15) by the Detroit Red Wings in 2014, led the Americans with five goals, seven points and a plus-7 rating in five games. Larkin twice scored two goals in preliminary-round play, in a win against Germany and loss against Canada.
Max Domi, Canada: The ultimate competitor had five goals, 10 points and a plus-10 rating while tying for the team lead with 21 shots on goal. The Arizona Coyotes prospect was named the top forward in the 2015 WJC, providing some grit and enthusiasm on the top line with Reinhart and Anthony Duclair.
Ivan Barbashev, Russia: The 6-foot, 188-pound top-line center led his team with six points (three goals, three assists) and a 53-percent winning efficiency on faceoffs in seven games. Barbashev (St. Louis Blues) is an exceptional talent capable of playing a 200-foot game and he proved that this tournament. He was quarterback of the No. 1 offensive unit for silver medal-winning Russia alongside Pavel Buchnevich (New York Rangers) and Vyacheslav Leshenko (2015 draft eligible).
Darnell Nurse, Canada: The Edmonton Oilers prospect not only was big and nasty in his own end but helped form a dynamic shutdown pairing with Shea Theodore (Anaheim Ducks). He finished with one assist, but had a plus-8 rating and 10 shots on goal. Nurse was voted the top defender on Canada by the coaching staff.
Joshua Morrissey, Canada: Finished tied for second among defenseman in scoring with four points (one goal, three assists), but Morrissey (Winnipeg Jets) did so much more. He seemed to dictate the tempo of games with a thunderous hit or by way of a pinpoint pass from his own end to start his team on the transition or, in some instances, spring McDavid on a breakaway for a goal (see gold-medal game). He had a plus-9 rating.
Madison Bowey, Canada: His name was rarely mentioned because not only was he consistently good, he did his job without much fanfare. He was a tower of strength for Canada, capable of settling things down when momentum began to shift. Bowey might very well turn out to be a second-round (No. 53) steal for the Washington Capitals. Paired with Morrissey all tournament, he also finished second among defensemen at the tournament with four points (one goal, three assists), and had a plus-8 rating.
Gustav Forsling, Sweden: The fifth-round pick (No. 126) of the Vancouver Canucks led all defensemen in scoring with three goals and eight points. He was on the ice for almost every situation and provided a spark from the blue line whenever fourth-place Sweden needed one.
Denis Godla, Slovakia: The 5-11, 176-pound left-handed catching goalie became an instant fan favorite with his acrobatic ability post-to-post. He faced the most shots (242) and made the most saves (224) for the bronze medal-winning Slovaks, who earned their first medal since 1999. Godla, named most valuable player by the media, finished with four wins and had a 2.76 goals-against average and .925 save percentage. It wouldn't surprise anyone if a team takes a chance on him in the 2015 NHL Draft.
Zachary Fucale, Canada: Canada coach Benoit Groulx never wavered in his decision to have Fucale (Montreal Canadiens) between the pipes for every game of the medal round, and the 2013 second-round pick didn't disappoint. Fucale entered the tournament under the microscope, as most Canadian goalies are at this tournament. His best period of hockey may have been the final 20 minutes of the gold-medal game against Russia when he saved all 11 shots after allowing three goals on 10 shots in the second. It wasn't easy to do considering the circumstances and the immense pressure on home ice. When asked about their goalie in postgame interviews, Canada players used the words calm and in control often in describing Fucale, who finished the tournament with five wins, a 1.20 GAA and .939 save percentage (93 saves on 99 shots).