| |Jordan Eberle's game-tying goal vs. Russia in the 2009 tournament. (Photo courtesy of Getty Images).
With the 2011 IIHF World Junior Hockey Championship nearing its conclusion in Buffalo, New York, some current Edmonton Oilers have had the opportunity to reflect on their experiences at the annual post-holiday tournament.
Of all the amazing athletes to ever lace up the skates for Team Canada at the international level, few had gained the notoriety and all-around fame than Jordan Eberle
. Surprisingly, all the World Junior success and recognition that Eberle enjoyed came before the now 20-year old had even played a game in the National Hockey League.
Eberle participated in two consecutive World Junior tournaments and came away with a gold and silver medal in 2009 and 2010 respectively. Team accomplishments aside, it was his personal success that most Canadian fans will remember about his heroics.
Of course, all the big goals and energy-infused plays helped lead Canada to its two consecutive top-two finishes, but those memorable moments will forever be interlaced with the all-around unforgettable experience.
Like most competitive players, Eberle was blunt with his answer as to why it was a great experience for him.
"For sure, winning," Eberle said. "Getting a chance to win on home soil in Ottawa was amazing. It doesn't really get much better than that. Just seeing the clock tick down and knowing you finally did it, it’s an amazing feeling."
Naturally, the all-encompassing moment wouldn’t have come without a victory in the semi-finals. It was this game vs. Russia that Eberle’s name will forever will engrained with.
Trailing 5-4 and desperate for the equalizer, a sequence that began with Ryan Ellis’ keep at the point, followed by a John Tavares shot set the stage for something spectacular. Eberle corralled the puck in the low slot, pulled the puck to his backhand and beat Russian goaltender Vadim Zhelobnyuk to tie the game with only 5.4 seconds on the clock.
The goal kept Canada’s gold medal hopes alive and brought the sold-out Scotiabank Place crowd into a craze.
Despite the obvious emotional attachment, the poised rookie was humble in his description of the moment.
"It was kind of my first time when anyone really got to watch me and start believing in me," laughed Eberle. "There were a lot of good things that had to happen in order to make that play. In that situation like that you obviously want to be on the ice to be the guy that helps your team get back into a game, and obviously that was a big goal for us to stay in the tournament and give us a chance to win."
"It seemed like ever after that moment, too, we went into overtime and just dominated. Obviously, took it over in the final and it was a big point for us."
That goal helped ignite Canada, which ultimately led to the team’s gold-medal winning performance a few days later.
When all was said and done, the two medals obtained by Eberle were only part of the hardware equation. Eberle was named Tournament MVP and Best Forward in the 2010 tournament. In addition, Eberle’s performance put him at the top of the nation’s all-time leading goal-scoring list for Team Canada at the junior level.
An impressive resume, to say the least.
"Those individual accomplishments are nice, but at the end of the day you’re really going after one thing, and that’s the gold medal. We got it once, but it didn’t help the heartbreak of losing last year," recalled Eberle.
"Winning is always fun. Always. But when you put on that Canadian sweater it just seems to increase the feeling. I had so much fun playing in that tournament and the memories are so incredible, so I hope to one day put that jersey on again and hopefully get back on top."
The Canadian bond was, again, something that Eberle highlighted as one of the best parts of the World Junior Championship. In only a matter of days, strangers from different clubs become a family that aims to earn international glory.
"I’m still friends with lots of them. Tyler Ennis, Tyler Meyers on Buffalo, Luke Adam. Even from both teams we speak a lot. It's amazing the friendships you gain in the little time that you're together."
When asked if Eberle would be watching the gold medal match as Canada looks to get back on top, his response was blunt; though fitting, considering the great times and Canadian pride.
"Absolutely!" Author: Ryan Dittrick | edmontonoilers.com