Playing in North America for the first time, Daniel and Henrik Sedin were relatively unknown outside of hockey scouting circles; they drew applause because they were twins playing on the same line, but before long they drew ovations because of their skills.
Over the six-day tournament in Central Alberta, the Sedins helped Sweden score 52 goals in six games, an unofficial tournament record that included a record 19-4 win over Atlantic.
Unlike with the Vancouver Canucks, where Daniel has built his NHL career on being the clutch scorer and Henrik has made a name for himself as the set-up man, Henrik was the sniper with 12 goals and eight assists for 20 points, while Daniel paired nine goals with 17 helpers for a tournament-high 26 points.
“He was usually the goal-scorer, but I think I had one game with six goals so that’s why I had more,” laughed Henrik, the reigning Art Ross Trophy winner, NHL MVP and the new captain of the Canucks.
The Sedins led Sweden to a 3-0-1 round-robin record, good for top spot in Group A, and the Tre Kronor advanced to the gold medal game after brushing aside Quebec 10-4 in the semifinal.
But the offensive juggernaut would be stopped there as Ontario, led by future NHLers Justin Papineau, Manny Malhotra and Sean Avery, walked away with its second-consecutive gold – and third in four years – with a 6-2.
“That was exciting because it was our first time over here and we had a really good team actually, a lot of those guys are still over here in the NHL right now and guys are in the elite league in Sweden too,” said Daniel.
“Losing in the final was tough, especially since we played so well, but the tournament was really different for us. Especially playing against Canada was a different game, they played us hard and they played us tough, so it was an eye-opener for sure.”
Ditto for Henrik.
“To play against Canadian and North American guys, they play a different style than we were used to growing up,” said Henrik. “More hitting, more speed, they played more like a team game with a lot of systems, so it was very different for sure.”
Although the Sedins were far from altering their style of play following the tournament, facing such an in-your-face version of the game made them realize they’d have to be ready for that when facing similar opponents.
That’s the beauty of the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge – for many it’s a unique experience that broadens hockey and exposes players to foreign versions of the game for the first time.
This year marks the 25th anniversary of the debut of the U17 tournament; in December 1986, players from across the country came together for the first time to compete against five nations and play for the inaugural Quebec Esso Cup. The first 10-team tournament featured five Canadian teams (Atlantic, Quebec, Ontario, West and Pacific) facing off against Sweden, Czechoslovakia, Finland, the Soviet Union and the United States with Quebec, led by future first overall pick Pierre Turgeon, beating the Soviets for gold.
There was no shortage of star power in the first gold medal game; in addition to Turgeon, Quebec’s roster featured future NHLers Eric Desjardins, Yves Racine, Peter White and Jimmy Waite, while the Soviet line-up included Alexander Mogilny, Dmitri Khristich and Sergei Fedorov
That tournament set the standard for a competition that has grown to be one of the highlights of the international hockey calendar and a must-see for hockey scouts.
More than 1,000 players have been selected in the NHL Entry Draft after playing in the tournament, including close to 250 first-round selections. The list includes a cornucopia of renowned former NHLers like Turgeon, Brendan Shanahan, Joe Sakic, Mats Sundin and Scott Niedermayer, and plenty of today’s top players, namely Alex Ovechkin, Jonathan Toews, Ilya Kovachuk, Rick Nash, Patrick Kane, Drew Doughty and John Tavares.
Most of these skaters were instrumental for their teams at the tournament and their NHL stock rose because of it.
Ovechkin had 12 goals in five games in 2002 in his first appearance in North America; Kovalchuk had 10 goals in five games in 2000; Toews led the 2005 tournament in scoring with 12 points in six games and captained West to its only gold; a 15-year-old Tavares and Sam Gagner led the 2006 tournament in scoring; and Gilbert Brule and Andrew Cogliano, current linemates in Edmonton, were first and third in scoring at the 2004 tournament.
The stage is now set for a host of new players to start their journey to the NHL at the 2011 World Under-17 Hockey Challenge and who knows, there may even be some Swedish brothers in the mix.