12 – ALEXANDER OVECHKIN GOALS
Today he’s a two-time Hart Trophy winner as NHL MVP, an Art Ross Trophy winner, Calder Trophy winner and five-time First Team NHL All-Star, but nine years ago Alexander Ovechkin was a fresh-faced 16-year-old making his North American debut at the 2002 World Under-17 Hockey Challenge in Selkirk and Stonewall, Man.
The young Russian showed at a young age why he’s considered one of the most exciting players in hockey, scoring a remarkable 12 goals in five games, including four in an 11-2 win over Atlantic. He finished with 14 points, good for top spot in tournament scoring.
Unfortunately, Ovechkin’s offensive exploits weren’t enough to win Russia a medal – preliminary round losses to Ontario and Pacific left the Russians out of the semifinals, and a 7-6 overtime loss to the Czech Republic dropped them to sixth place just two years after winning gold.
11 – MANITOBA NATIVES
While 110 of Canada’s top young players will get their first chance to shine on the international stage at the 2011 World Under-17 Hockey Challenge, 10 per cent of them will get the opportunity to do it in their home province.
Eleven Manitobans are part of the West roster, representing nine different communities – from the big (Winnipeg – pop. 633,451) to the small (Grandview – pop. 839) and everything (Brandon, Deloraine, Headingley, Killarney, Steinbach, Stony Mountain, Virden) in between.
But 11 isn’t just the magic number for Manitoba – all four of the western Canadian provinces have 11 representatives: 11 players from each of British Columbia and Alberta make up the Pacific roster, while 11 from Saskatchewan join the Manitobans to comprise the West entry.
10 – INTERNATIONAL ENTRIES
While the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge has long been an opportunity for Canadian hockey fans to see the future of their country’s game, the tournament is also the first chance for many international stars to make their first impression in the birthplace of the game.
At the first U17 event in 1986, while the attention was on Canadian up-and-comers like Turgeon, Shanahan and Sakic, the Soviet Union came to Quebec with a roster that included Sergei Fedorov, Alexander Mogilny and Dmitri Khristich and left with silver. Two years later, the tournament produced the first-ever European U17 alumni to be selected first in the NHL draft, Sweden’s Mats Sundin.
In the 17 tournaments since 1986, 10 countries outside of Canada have stepped on the ice – the Czech Republic, Czechoslovakia, Finland, Germany, Norway, Russia, Slovakia, the Soviet Union, Sweden and the United States – with four taking home gold – the Soviet Union (1988), Finland (1990), the United States (1994, 1998, 2006, 2008) and Russia (2000).
9 – JONATHAN TOEWS JERSEYS
This isn’t necessarily about the number of jerseys, it’s about the number on the jersey. The No. 9 jersey was the one worn by Winnipeg native Jonathan Toews when he captained West to its only gold to date at a 10-team World Under-17 Hockey Challenge in 2005.
Toews put West on his back in Lethbridge, Alta., leading the tournament in scoring and scoring the game-winning goal in the gold medal game victory over Pacific. Six years after the tournament, he is one of only three members of West – along with Dwight King (Los Angeles) and Ryan White (Montreal) – to see NHL action, a testament to the job the captain did.
The U17 gold medal was just the start for Toews – he added summer under-18 and World Junior gold within 12 months, and later won a second WJC title (2007), an IIHF World Championship gold medal (2007), Olympic gold medal (2010) and Stanley Cup (2010), becoming the youngest member of the IIHF Triple Gold Club.
8 – FIRST OVERALL NHL PICKS
The World Under-17 Hockey Challenge is a coming-out party for young stars, the first chance to make an impression on the international scene, and often the first stop on the road to an NHL career. For a select few, it’s the first step towards hearing their name called as the first pick in the NHL Entry Draft.
In the 10 NHL drafts since 2001, eight under-17 alumni have had that honour – Ilya Kovalchuk (2001), Rick Nash (2002), Marc-André Fleury (2003), Alexander Ovechkin (2004), Erik Johnson (2006), Patrick Kane (2007), John Tavares (2009) and Taylor Hall (2010). Of that group, only Kovalchuk and Hall pulled off the gold medal/first pick double; Kovalchuk won gold with Russia in 2000, while Hall took home the top prize with Ontario in 2008.
The only two top picks in that span not to make the list? Sidney Crosby (2005), who played in the Canada Winter Games as a 15-year-old in 2003 and with Canada’s National Junior Team in 2004, and Steven Stamkos (2008), who won gold with Ontario at the 2007 Canada Winter Games.
7 – ONTARIO GOLD MEDALS
With a roster that included future NHLers Shean Donovan, Chris Gratton, Todd Harvey, Ethan Moreau and Jamie Storr, it was little surprise Ontario earned its first U17 gold medal at the 1992 tournament in Sudbury, Ont.
That victory started an impressive run of success that saw Ontario win gold at three of the next four tournaments – in 1996, 19 (a five-team split event). With four of the first nine gold medals awarded, that alone would have been enough for Ontario to be the most successful U17 team ever.
But a 2004 gold behind names like Cogliano, Downie, Parent and Staal and back-to-back titles in 20 thanks to Ellis, Gudbranson, Hall and Seguin put Ontario in a class all its own – seven U17 gold medals, four more than any other team (Quebec and the United States are second with three gold medals apiece).
6 – MANITOBA VENUES
For the first time in recent years, two venues will host all preliminary round games at the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge – the PCU Centre in Portage la Prairie and MTS Iceplex in Winnipeg. But that doesn’t mean the rest of the province will be left out in the cold.
In total, six arenas in five communities will have the chance to host under-17 action. In addition to the two main venues, the T.G. Smith Centre in Steinbach, Morris Arena and the Morden Recreation Centre will welcome exhibition action on December 28 and the MTS Centre in downtown Winnipeg, home of the AHL’s Manitoba Moose, will be the site of the semifinals and medal games on January 3-4.
The last time two venues hosted all preliminary and playoff games was 2005, when the Enmax Centre and Nicholas Sheran Arena in Lethbridge, Alta., were the site of all 27 U17 games. The exhibition schedule, however, was spread across southeastern Alberta – Medicine Hat, Taber and Crowsnest Pass hosted pre-tournament games.
5 – CANADIAN TEAMS
Since the first puck dropped at the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge in 1986, while the international entries have changed, one thing has remained constant – Canada has been represented by five regional teams.
The country’s best up-and-coming 16-year-olds have suited up for Atlantic (New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island), Ontario, Pacific (Alberta, British Columbia, Yukon), Quebec or West (Manitoba, Northwest Territories, Nunavut, Saskatchewan), giving them their first taste of international competition and first experience with Hockey Canada’s Program of Excellence.
Since that first tournament 25 years ago, 18 gold medals have been awarded (including two in 1998), and Canadian teams have won 12 of them, a 67 per cent success rate. In all, only once has a U17 gold medal game not featured a Canadian team (Sweden vs. Soviet Union in 1988), and four times the final has been an all-Canadian match-up.
4 – CANADIAN NHL CAPTAINS
In hockey, there are few honours greater than getting to wear the ‘C’ as captain of your team. To captain a Canadian NHL team is an even greater honour, following in the footsteps of players such as Trevor Linden, Wayne Gretzky, Lanny McDonald, Wendel Clark and Jean Béliveau.
This year, only six players have such an opportunity, and four of them are alumni of the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge – Henrik Sedin (Vancouver – Sweden, 1997), Jarome Iginla (Calgary – Pacific, 1994), Dion Phaneuf (Toronto – Pacific, 2002) and Brian Gionta (Montreal – United States, 1995).
In total, 15 of the 30 players who currently wear the ‘C’ with their NHL teams played in the under-17 tournament, a list that includes 2010 Olympic gold medallists Ryan Getzlaf, Iginla, Eric Staal, Jonathan Toews, Rick Nash, Brendan Morrow, Mike Richards and Joe Thornton.
3 – WINNIPEG NATIVES
Despite the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge visiting a number of major hockey centres in recent years, it has been rare for a player to play in his hometown. In fact, dating back to the 2006 tournament in Regina, Sask., not a single local player donned red and white.
That changes this year, as three Winnipeg natives suit up for West – goaltender Chris Driedger, defenceman Justin Hamonic and forward Brendan Leipsic. All three are products of the Winnipeg Minor Hockey Association, and all three will get the opportunity to wear the Team Canada jersey on home ice.
The three will look to lead West to a better result than the last time Manitoba hosted the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge – in 2002, when the tournament was held in Selkirk and Stonewall, West finished a disappointing seventh.
2 - SONS OF NHLERS
Every year, Canadian rosters at the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge are dotted with the sons of former NHLers.
Last year, it was Carter Sandlak (Ontario, son of Jim) and Adam Lowry (Pacific, son of Dave), two years ago Brock Beukeboom (Ontario, son of Jeff), Christian Thomas (Ontario, son of Steve), Max Reinhart (Pacific, son of Paul) and Michael St. Croix (West, son of Rick) were the famous offspring.
The 2011 tournament is no different, with two players following in the hockey footsteps of their famous fathers. For Pacific, Griffin Reinhart becomes the second son of Paul to wear the red and white in the last three years, while Ontario’s Kerby Rychel is the son of former NHL blueliner Warren Rychel.
1 – WEST GOLD MEDAL
Yes, West won gold in 1998, when the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge experimented with two five-team tournaments – one in Swift Current, Sask., one in Kitchener, Ont. – and two gold medals, its first medal of any kind at the event.
But in a full-field 10-team tournament, only once has West stood atop the podium – 2005 in Lethbridge, Alta. That team was led by captain Jonathan Toews, who finished atop the tournament scoring chart and scored the game-winning goal in a 3-1 gold medal game win over Pacific.
Six years later, only three members of the team – Toews and forwards Dwight King (Los Angeles) and Ryan White (Montreal) – have seen NHL action, making West’s golden achievement all that more impressive.