Even more than a decade later, the golden roundup in Red Deer remains an indelible part of their personal hockey highlight reels.
Long before they became Ottawa Senators teammates, Wade Redden and Shean Donovan worked together for a higher cause. For country and the game it considers theirs, with global supremacy on the line.
And on an early January evening in 1995 in Alberta, they whooped it up with the rest of a nation as Canada retained the gold for a third straight year at the IIHF World Junior Championship – seven games, seven wins.
For Donovan, it was an achievement that was almost unfathomable at one time.
“Up to that age, it’s the biggest thing you can do,” said Donovan, who played his junior hockey under legendary coach Brian Kilrea with the Ottawa 67s. “It’s unbelievable. I never dreamed of playing world juniors but I got a chance, I got lucky. Obviously, Mr. Kilrea helped me out.
“It was a great experience, getting to play with guys like Reds, who I play with now. It was pretty exciting, the guys and friends you meet and what you go through. And playing it in Canada.”
For Redden, the small-town kid from nearby Lloydminster, Sask., it was a Prairie hockey celebration like no other.
“There was huge, huge support in the West,” he said. “Especially for me, being near my hometown, it was a lot of fun.”
Like a lot of Canadians, Redden grew up watching the tournament – even if it meant a 6 a.m. wakeup call when the tourney was in Europe. But in many eyes, interest in the tournament truly took off that year in Red Deer and has mushroomed ever since. The National Hockey League was in lockout mode, and the juniors were just what millions of puck-starved Canadians needed over the Christmas holiday break.
“I remember the year that (Eric) Lindros and that crew played in Saskatoon (in 1991),” said Redden, a former Brandon Wheat Kings star. “I didn’t go watch the games, but I knew the excitement around it.
“Those years from the early ’90s on, that’s when it really picked up a lot of energy and they started showing the games on TSN. It was definitely a thrill to be a part of it.”
The home support in Canada is unmatched anywhere in the world, and it’s something Redden said teams wearing the red maple leaf “use as a motivational thing.”
“Especially at that age, it’s your first or second time wearing the (Canadian) jersey,” he said. “It means that much more and just the excitement around the tournament … it’s such a big deal in Canada.”
The “big deal” will soon hit close to home again for Redden and Donovan, as the 2009 IIHF World Junior Championship comes to Scotiabank Place and the Ottawa Civic Centre. Both see it as a special opportunity for hockey fans in the capital region.
“I think (the world juniors) is a great thing. I know I watch it and pay attention to it now,” said Donovan. “That (tournament) only comes around maybe once in a lifetime, so I’m sure everybody here will watch it and have fun with it.”
Added Redden: “I think it’ll be a thrill. They rally around the flag and Canadian spirit and stuff like that. It’s an exciting time. You get to see the best kids in the world. The way those kids play … it’s like playoff hockey all the way through and it’s fun to watch.”
Even more fun when you can say you were a part of it.