Senators defensive prospect Jacob Bernard-Docker got to live out a childhood dream winning a gold medal with Team Canada at the 2020 World Junior Championship. One of the final cuts for Canada last December, the Canmore, AB native used the experience as fuel heading into his final year of U-20 eligibility.
"That was a little bit of adversity in my career and I think looking back at it that it definitely helped me," he shared about not making Canada's World Junior squad last year. "It was a reminder to keep doing the right things on and off the ice and became motivation for me to make the team the next year. It's something that I carried through all my summer workouts and that I used to push myself to get better."
After turning heads at Ottawa's Development Camp in June, Bernard-Docker returned for his sophomore season at the University of North Dakota where he's been a key contributor on one of the NCAA's top ranked teams. Through 22 games this year, Bernard-Docker is just one point off his season total in 2018-19 in 14 less games played and his defensive game continues to impress.
"I definitely wanted to have a good start to my sophomore year and help my team as much as I could," he said. "At the same time, I knew that I wanted to set myself up to earn an invite back to the World Junior Camps and a good start at North Dakota helped me do that."
Bernard-Docker did earn another opportunity to try and crack Team Canada's roster and did not disappoint. In fact, the 19-year-old defenceman's role seemed to grow as the tournament went on and he became one of head coach Dale Hunter's most trusted defenders down the stretch.
"When you're on a team that's as talented as Canada's World Junior team, you're happy to accept whatever role they give you," Bernard-Docker said. "Getting the opportunity to participate in that event was the biggest honour of my life and it was definitely nice to contribute on such a skilled team."
In a twist of fate, Bernard-Docker and Canada would take on a familiar face to open their tournament in the Czech Republic when they were matched up against Sens prospect and UND freshman centre Shane Pinto and Team USA on Boxing Day.
"It was a really cool moment for both of us. It was a little weird since I've only ever seen him in the same colour jersey as me but he had a really good tournament," Bernard-Docker shared about his North Dakota teammate. "It was a special moment for us to play against each other…now hopefully we'll be playing with each other for years to come."
Canada's strong play saw them work their way through the round robin stage and eventually earn a rematch in the finals against a Russian group that handed them their only defeat in the tournament.
With the Gold Medal game tied late into the third period, Bernard-Docker made a heads up play along the boards in the neutral zone to help spring teammate Akil Thomas on what would be Canada's tournament-winning goal.
"It was a tie game so I was just trying to move the puck north," Bernard-Docker said. "I didn't want to overcomplicate things and it just kind of squeaked out a little bit ahead of him and he did a great job of tracking it down and making a nice move."
"I'll never forget running into the pile after that goal."
Bernard-Docker was then tasked with helping to preserve the one goal lead in the final moments of the third period which featured an emotional finish that saw a production camera thwart a potential delay of game penalty for Canada and a Russian squad that seemed to come undone as a result.
"I remember looking up at the clock and seeing that there was just 3 seconds left and I couldn't wait any longer. I just started chucking off my gloves and joined my teammates to celebrate," he recalled in the dying moments of the Gold Medal game. "I remember feeling a little bit of relief mixed with a lot of joy. It felt unbelievable to get that win for our country with that group of guys."
"We didn't get too high and complacent," he added. "We maybe got a little lucky with the camera at the end but I think we worked for our bounces that game and we're all pretty happy with how it worked out."
[ RELATED: Pinto looks to build off strong WJC showing ]
Now back in Grand Forks, ND, Bernard-Docker has refocused and set his sights on his next goal for this season: a national title.
"We had a good first half so we want to continue that and keep pushing down the stretch," he said about returning to school. "We just need to keep coming to the rink and putting in the work. Our goal is obviously to go all the way and be in Detroit this year but it's important to take things step-by-step. That first half doesn't mean anything if we can't bear down come playoff time."
For more details on Bernard-Docker and North Dakota's remaining schedule this season, click here.