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World Junior Championships alumni look back fondly on experience

Wild has more than a dozen players on its roster who have played in the U-20 tournament

by Dan Myers @MNWildScribe /

OTTAWA -- When the World Junior Championships resumed this afternoon and this evening across the continent in Vancouver, there were plenty of interested parties with the Wild. 

The tournament began the day down to its final four teams, with the United States and Russia set to play in one semifinal and Switzerland taking on Finland in the other. The two winners will play for the gold medal on Saturday night. 

The Wild dressing room has several players who have played in the tournament itself, with five different countries represented.

While Sweden and Canada were eliminated before the semifinal round, plenty of bragging rights are left to be decided.

Video: World Juniors hockey chatter

"There's some bets going on for each game," said Wild captain Mikko Koivu, who played in the tournament as a member of Team Finland in 2001 and 2002. "We've got the one Swiss guy here, so there will be some talks going on before the game and we'll be following that game for sure. There might be [a few text messages]."

The "one Swiss guy," of course, is Nino Niederreiter, who played in two World Junior Championships with Switzerland in 2010 and 2011. 

Niederreiter scored two of the biggest goals in the history of Swiss hockey in the 2010 tournament, tying a quarterfinal game against Russia in the final minute of regulation before scoring the game-winning goal in overtime to send Switzerland to the semifinals. 

"It's such an exciting tournament," Niederreiter said. "You look back, and it's one of the most fun experiences I've had in all of hockey."

While Finland, Sweden, Canada and the United States have established themselves as yearly contenders in the tournament, Niederreiter's Switzerland is still considered an up-and-coming team almost every season.

The Swiss have medaled once, winning a bronze in 1998, but has finished fourth two other times since then, including Niederreiter's 1998 team. 

In Switzerland, it's players like Niederreiter that are considered the models for the country's current young crop of talent.

"We have definitely been building for a few years now, and now we're starting to see some progression," Niederreiter said. "It's something I'm very proud of."

In Luke Kunin and Jordan Greenway, the Wild has a pair of Americans who were a part of the country's last gold medal team in 2017. 

Kunin captained that group, which scored a 5-4 shootout win over rival Canada in Montreal to win the gold medal.

"Winning was, for sure, up there with some of the best experiences I've had," Kunin said. "We had an unbelievable team and we were just such a close group. With a team like that, you have friends that last a lifetime. That experience and winning that with those guys will be high on my list, for sure."

Greenway was among the standouts for the Americans, finishing tied for eighth in the tournament with three goals and eight points.

For a guy that would go on to play in the Winter Olympics with Team USA, the memory of winning gold at the World Junior Championships is one that Greenway said will always be one of his finest moments in hockey, no matter what else his career will bring.

"I still talk to the guys on that team all the time," Greenway said. "We remember what it was like when we were there and how much fun it was. I'll never forget it."

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