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WJC memories pure gold for Hartsburg

by Rob Brodie / Ottawa Senators
Even with his thoughts occupied by more pressing hockey matters, Craig Hartsburg doesn't need much to be reminded of the power of those moments.

The two occasions in which he guided Team Canada to gold-medal triumphs at the IIHF World Junior Championship are likely seared in his memory forever. The Ottawa Senators head coach was behind the bench for Canadian victories in the Czech Republic last year and Sweden in 2007. It was a time he admits he'll likely never forget, no matter what happens during the rest of his coaching career.

"It's such an intense, emotional tournament," Hartsburg said in reflecting on an event that has grown by leaps and bounds since he played in it himself in 1978. "It's really hard to describe unless you're right inside of it. That's the thing that was amazing to me."

The emotions were churning all around him at the 2007 WJC in Leksand, Sweden, when Canada edged the U.S. 2-1 in an incredible semifinal that saw current Chicago Blackhawks star Jonathan Toews score three times for Canada in the dramatic shootout that decided the game. Canada went on to beat Russia 4-2 for the gold medal but the semifinal remains a moment for the ages.

"It was an incredible experience and it was something I've never seen before or even been a part of before," said Hartsburg, who was an assistant in 2006 when Canada struck gold on home ice in Vancouver. "It was very stressful. The thing that comes to my mind is when we finally won that shootout over the U.S., I looked over at the (team) doctor and trainer and they were both in tears. I saw my wife after the game and she was in tears.

"You don't really know the emotions. When you're involved in it, you're more (caught up) in the thinking process."

It was high drama of a different kind last January in the Czech Republic, when Canada squandered a 2-0 lead in the gold-medal game and saw Sweden tie it in the final minute. But Matt Halischuk's overtime goal gave Canada its fourth straight world junior gold.

"Winning the gold medal in overtime was certainly a thrill for everybody there but I think the whole country as well," said Hartsburg. "To see the looks on the kids' faces and the smiles and the tears of joy is something you'll never forget."

He doesn't doubt the double WJC gold will always rate among his greatest career highlights.

"For every kid and player or coach in Canada, other than winning a Stanley Cup, your dream is to help your country win a gold medal, whether it's the juniors or at the Olympics," said Hartsburg. "Just talking about it right now, it brings shivers down your spine. At the end of your career, when you sit back and look at things, those certainly will be highlights of my career."

Senators assistant coach Curtis Hunt, who shared the last two triumphs with Hartsburg in the same capacity, agrees with that sentiment.

"When you win, that moment is beyond anything you'll ever experience or it's in the top five in terms of career (highlights)," he said. "It's very special. I don't think about it a lot but every now and again when it gets brought up, you get a rush of memories. It was something I was very proud to be a part of."

Hartsburg and the Senators are in the midst of a gruelling eight-game road stretch but he'll still find time to follow the fortunes of the latest crop of Canadians at the 2009 WJC this week at Scotiabank Place.

"It's always a great tournament. It doesn't matter where or when it's played," he said. "It's here in Ottawa and I think it's going to be an unbelievable experience for the players involved. The fans will certainly get behind it and help Team Canada.

"I'll watch it. I'll certainly read all the stories about it.... It's something that pulls our country together and it's very important for us."

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