There are things you never forget in life.
Getting your driver's license. Graduating school. Your first love. And the list goes on and on.
For forward AJ Jenks, you can add becoming a World Champion to that list. The Panthers prospect was part of the United States team that beat Canada last Tuesday in epic fashion, a 6-5 overtime victory to win the World Junior Championships in Saskatoon, Canada.
"It's definitely a huge honor just to be named to that team in the first place," said Jenks. "But then to have the success we did, is a pretty huge deal.
"I think the biggest part was beating Canada in the finals on their own soil and in front of 15,000 or so fans. That was probably the best part."
For Jenks and his teammates, they became just the second American team to capture gold at the World Juniors. The only other time that occurred came back in 2004 when ironically, another Panthers player was on the team; winger David Booth.
"That's a pretty successful accomplishment," said Jenks. "I formed a lot of good relationships with guys on that team and it's something I'll remember the rest of my life. It's definitely a part of history."
Jenks was active throughout the whole tournament, finishing with three goals and two assists, a plus six and was second on his team in face-off percentage, winning 57.78% of his draws.
"I'm glad I was able to chip in a little offensively," Jenks said. "But my role there was obviously to be an energy guy, be responsible in all three zones, just play hard and bring a lot of energy. I'm glad i was able to chip in on offense too."
The Panthers fourth-round pick (100th overall) in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft actually was responsible for getting the Americans on the board in the Championship game.
Coming back defensively on a Canada rush up the ice, Jenks stripped potential first pick of the 2010 NHL Entry Draft Taylor Hall of the puck in the neutral zone. He swatted the puck down out of the air and then tapped it over to Kyle Palmieri who then found Chris Kreider. Kreider, who found himself all alone flying into the Canada zone, beat Jake Allen to tie the game at one 13:56 into the first period.
"That was a huge play. I wasn't really expecting to get a goal out of it but I was just coming back hard through the neutral zone trying to eliminate their odd-man rush," said Jenks. "I was able to get a stick on the puck when they tried to gain the red line."
The play got the US going, and gave them life. The teams traded goals afterwards to end the first at two-two and the second period three-three.
With twenty minutes left to play, the Americans built a two goal lead 6:23 into the third as Jerry D'Amigo and captain Derek Stepan scored in a 2:11 span.
Up 5-3, time was slowly counting down.
But Canada's Jordan Eberle wouldn't let Canada go down without a fight. He got them to within one, scoring on the power play with 2:49 left to play. Then he rebounded the puck past Jack Campbell with 1:35 left to play. That got the crowd back in it and the building rocking.
"It got so loud when the momentum swung their way," said Jenks. "I think we're glad we made it into overtime because the crowd had a little time to cool off.
"Once we got to overtime, we settled back down and got to our style and play our game."
And play their game they did.
|Members of Team USA celebrate after defeating Team Canada 6-5 in overtime at the 2010 IIHF World Junior Championship Tournament Gold Medal game on January 5, 2010 at the Credit Union Centre in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada. Team USA defeated Team Canada 6-5 in overtime.(Photo by Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images) |
The United States and Canada both traded odd-man rushes early in the extra session. The last one came as Campbell kicked away a rebound in the US zone. John Rampage then found John Carlson who skated the puck up the ice on a three-on-two break and beat Martin Jones short side for his second goal of the game and more importantly, the tournament winner.
"I almost really didn't believe it," recalling Jenks. "I was on the bench watching. They were on an odd-man rush and I saw the puck go in. I wasn't sure if it was really happening. I just sat there for a second and then I hopped the boards and joined everybody else."
It was all over.
Except for the celebrating that is.
"I don't think I've ever been excited over anything really," said Jenks. "It was such an honor to win it for our country that was the biggest thing for me personally.
"Singing the national anthem on the blue line was probably my favorite part of the whole tournament."
With the tournament over and a gold medal in tow, Jenks heads back to Plymouth to finish his season with the Whalers. The fourth-year player and current team captain is currently second on his team in scoring with 37 points (14-23-37).
"It's pretty stressful," said Jenks about being Plymouth's captain. "It's nice having the recognition and the trust in the coach and have a letter on my jersey at all.
"I'm not a real overly vocal guy but I definitely step up and say things when they need be said but I like to lead by example and do all the things on the ice."
And while Jenks is more worried about helping his team get into the OHL playoffs - currently fourth in the Western Conference at 24-19-1 - he can't help but think about the post-season.
Being that he was drafted in the 2008 draft, Jenks has to be signed by the Panthers by June 1st if Florida wishes to keep him in their system. Otherwise he goes back into the draft and has to await his future placement again.
For Jenks, that thought of being signed or going back into the draft is always there.
"It's obviously something in the back of my head," Jenks said. "I still have to play well. I still think I have a ways to go before that happens."
And hopefully in due time, making his professional debut will be just another thing to add to the list of things to remember. Just like becoming a World Champion was.