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World junior gold a thrill for Smith

by Rob Brodie / Ottawa Senators
Sixteen years later, it remains a huge highlight of Jason Smith’s hockey career.

Then again, when you’re a teenager and you’re Canadian, representing your country at the IIHF World Junior Championship is literally a dream come true.

Smith got his chance at the 1993 tournament in Gavle, Sweden, with a Canadian team that also included current Ottawa Senators teammate Dean McAmmond. It was a golden ride for Team Canada that year and it also started a streak of five straight WJC titles for the boys wearing the red maple leaf.

“Being part of a team that won is something that I’ll remember forever, that’s for sure,” said Smith. “Having gone through the evaluation camp (to make the team) and then going over to Sweden and getting the results we did was special. But you don’t really realize what a big tournament it is until after the fact.”

For Smith, just getting the chance to play in the WJC “was exciting and an honour.”

“Anytime you get an opportunity to play for your country, it’s special,” he said. “It was just something that you dreamed about as a little kid. To finally be able to play in a tournament of that stature was great.”

Host Sweden, with future National Hockey League stars Peter Forsberg and Markus Naslund on its roster, was heavily favoured to strike gold on home ice. But that all changed when Canada stunned the Swedes 5-4 early in the tournament.

“We weren’t sure what we were going to get (with our team),” said Smith. “The Swedes were hosting the tournament and were expected to do really well. We played them in our second game and it opened up the tournament for us when we beat them.

“Back then, you just played seven games and whoever had the best record at the end won. We were lucky to play really well that game (against Sweden) and made it through the tournament and had the gold medal clinched before we played our last game.”

As it turned out, a game against Japan proved to be the clincher, with Canada romping to an 8-1 victory against a nation with little in the way of a hockey pedigree.

“It was interesting,” said Smith. “I think it was the first time they had been in a major competition like that and there were some players (on Japan’s roster) that had played in (Canadian) junior leagues against some of the guys. It was a great time to be a Canadian hockey player. As a kid, it was special to win a gold medal.”

The tournament’s popularity has skyrocketed since then, to the point that a record-breaking 460,000-plus tickets have been scooped up for the 2009 WJC, which begins Friday at Scotiabank Place and the Ottawa Civic Centre.

“I think it’s a different tournament every time it’s in Canada,” said Smith. “You pretty much get a large portion of the games sold out. And there is obviously a great passion for hockey here (in Ottawa).

“It’s going to be big. There is a big fan following for junior hockey and there are people that are fans of the world junior tournament from around the world that will be there. It will be a great atmosphere for every game the Canadian team plays, for sure, and I think you’re going to see that some of the other countries have a great passion for hockey as well.”

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