A year after commiserating over losing in the gold medal final, defenceman Dion Phaneuf got the redemption that he wanted at the 2005 World Junior Hockey Championship Honoured as the Tournament’s Top Defenceman, Phaneuf’s pride and joy was the gold medal hanging around his neck
“It’s an unbelievable feeling right now after last year. To have that feeling (last year), it’s definitely one of the worst feelings … but this year, it’s unbelievable. The whole time we were here, we didn’t want to worry about last year. That was definitely the mindset tonight too. This year, we’re champions of the World and no one can take that away from us. It’s something that everyone will cherish for the rest of their life.”
The 2005 Championship team had a core leadership of 12 returning players, and could no doubt take motivation from the sting that those players endured following a heartbreaking loss to the USA in the 2004 final.
But Phaneuf also felt there were really more that 12 returning players, because he always sensed the support from those who didn’t get another chance at World Junior gold. Daniel Paillé watched on in Edmonton, on a road trip with the Rochester Americans. Jeff Tambellini called his father, Vancouver Canucks’ Vice-President, Player Personnel Steve Tambellini constantly for updates from the campus of the University of Michigan.
One member of last year’s tournament was Phaneuf’s good friend and teammate with the Red Deer Rebels, Derek Meech.
“I talked to Meecher today, and he said ‘Go for it’. They’re all pulling for us. When you throw the leaf on guys, it’s an experience like no other. And there are friendships and bonds that last a lifetime. To be a part of one of these teams, you never know how special it is until you’re involved in the program. I can’t say enough about the guys that I played with last year, and especially the guys this year. To win this tournament, it’s something that words can’t even describe.”
Head Coach Brent Sutter has watched Phaneuf develop from the age of 15, as a rookie with the Red Deer Rebels, to his winning a gold medal and being named the Directorate Top Defenceman, an award he shares with NHLers such as Joni Pitkanen, Bryan McCabe, Mattias Ohlund and Teppo Numminen.
“Dion’s put a lot of work in to get to this point. From the first time I got him in Red Deer, when he was 15, he worked at getting better every day, at improving himself. And that’s what he’s going to have to do to become a pro. And he’s definitely headed in the right direction.”
Phaneuf has played in his last World Junior Championship game, and he made it count. All Canadians are celebrating with him including, dispersed across North America, with different teams and a year older, his 2004 teammates. You can bet that Paillé, Meecher, Tamby, along with Tim Brent, Brent Burns, Marc-André Fleury, Kevin Klein, Josh Gorges, Josh Harding and Maxime Talbot are toasting the 2005 team, and getting just a hint of their own redemption.