Wade Redden and Jarome Iginla have been crossing paths in Team Canada and Program of Excellence dressing rooms for over 12 years now. The two star NHL-ers first were teammates in 1994 as members of Team Pacific at the World Under-17 Challenge. They settled for bronze that year, but they’ve been celebrating gold ever since as Team Canada teammates.
Only months removed from the Under-17 experience, Redden and Iginla were members of Canada’s Under-18 Team which captured the 1995 La Copa Mexico in Mexico City, with a resounding 5-2 win over the USA in the final.
While Redden captured gold at the 1995 World Juniors as a 17 year old, the partnership was golden again at the 1996 World Junior Championship. Iginla, making his first and only World Junior appearance, was named the top forward in Boston, leading the event in scoring.
It was Iginla’s turn to get an international honour in 2002, when the native of St. Albert, Alberta was a star member of Canada’s gold medal winning entry at the Olympic Winter Games, ending a 50 year drought for Canada. The two then both played integral roles for Canada in capturing the 2004 World Cup of Hockey, and will now be counted upon by Canada at the 2006 Olympic Winter Games once again.
And both players, who now share the ultimate international stage in Turin, still recall their first experiences in international hockey, and when they first met as members of Team Pacific back in 1994.
“It’s cool to think back on how young we were, playing together, and playing for Canada and having some success,” says Iginla. “He (Redden) was always one of the best defencemen. He was always so relaxed, all the way going up. And he hasn’t changed in that way at all. He gets intense on the ice and everything like that, but with pressure, that’s always what they’ve said about him, since he was even 15 when we tried out with the Under-16s, he was always so effortless.”
“I remember even going back to the camp, in Edmonton, where the Northern Alberta kids got together,” adds Redden. “That was my first memory of him … a big, strong guy. He was going to Kamloops and I was going to Brandon, so I got to know him then. He’s always been a good player, a big strong, guy. He definitely hasn’t disappointed over his career.”
Hockey Canada’s Program of Excellence (POE) was developed to allow Canada to identify and train the country’s most gifted young hockey players, to encourage and motivate them to play for Canada and to provide them with the opportunities to measure and refine their skills against top calibre international competition.
When the Program of Excellence was launched in 1982, the goal was to develop great international performers just like Iginla and Redden. Well, mission accomplished. And while ‘Iggy’ and ‘Reds’ have clearly followed a special golden path through the Program, they’re far from being alone as Canada defends Olympic gold.
“(With Hockey Canada’s Program of Excellence) you get used to coming together quickly,” says Iginla. “You come from your junior team for the World Juniors or the Under-18 Team and people are used to playing, maybe not the same role. You get used to, not only the stuff on the ice, but off the ice. How you get together as a team off the ice. It’s different. The first time, you’re really nervous. If you’re shy or whatever, you get used to it. It’s great for all those different ways of developing as a team quickly.”
Redden adds: “The biggest thing that is asked of the players is to check their egos at the door, for lack of a way of putting it. Everyone buys into the system. Canadians are known as great people around the World. And I think unselfishness is one of the traits that we bring as a team with everyone fighting for the common goal.”
Twenty of the twenty-six have some sort of a Program of Excellence background. Between them, they have amassed twenty-four international gold medals between them. And while the thirteen gold medal medals won at the World Junior Championship were the immediate goal for the Program, there’s no doubt that Canada’s success at the World Championship, the World Cup of Hockey and the Olympic Winter Games took root, to a large extent, during those Under-16 regional camps and the Under-17 Program.
And Hockey Canada’s Program of Excellence continues it’s magic. In 2010, POE graduates Bergeron, Carter, Crosby, Fleury, Phaneuf, Richards and many more expect to be ready to make Canada proud again.
Iginla on how playing for the Under-17 Team Pacific helped him as a player and helped get him ready for other international hockey events.
“It was huge … to improve my game, to improve my confidence. First time, coming together, it was two provinces with Team Pacific. So it was the first time that you’re playing with another province. So now you’re playing with some of the best athletes in your two provinces. And then it expands, and all of a sudden it’s World Juniors. It’s hard to believe you’re with some of the best hockey players in your age group in Canada.”
“With Team Pacific, you got used to a little more pressure. World Juniors, there’s a lot of pressure. Exciting, but as far as Canadians watching at home and that, there was the pressure of wearing the Maple Leaf. You learned over the years to enjoy it. You enjoy it from Day 1, but the idea that you’re expected to go in and win a gold medal. You learn over time to like it. And then the World Championships, World Cups, Olympics, it is … it’s like a ramp. And not just for the next event, but for example with Team Pacific, going back to your junior team, you have more confidence. Even now with the NHL, you go to the Olympics and then you go back and you still use it. It’s a great experience. Definitely, I can see how it can develop getting used to different pressures and challenges.”
Redden on how Hockey Canada’s Program of Excellence allows top players to get to know each other early on.
“That’s one of the strengths we have as Canadian teams. It makes sense too. I’ve probably played with almost everyone of the guys at one time or another. It’s definitely exciting for all the guys, at a tournament of this level. Everyone knows what’s expected of them and what Canadian hockey is all about. I think that’s what makes it so special – to be in a room with a bunch of guys that are fighting for the same thing. It’s pretty exciting.”