Ten years before stars like Sidney Crosby, Dion Phaneuf, and Corey Perry made the 2005 version of Team Canada the strongest-ever World Junior entry, there was another gold medal-winning team that thrilled the host nation when the tournament was held in Red Deer, Alberta. Three members of that 1995 squad currently play in the main host city for the 2006 IIHF World Junior Championship.
Dan Cloutier, the starting goalie for the Vancouver Canucks, was a raw, emerging talent with the OHL’s Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds in 1995. The feisty 18-year-old was a longshot to crack Team Canada’s roster, as he vividly recalls: “At first, for me, it was just about making the team. I think I was slotted to be the number four guy in goal. I didn't really have a chance, people were saying. With the NHL lockout, at camp we had Jocelyn Thibault, Eric Fichaud, who was playing in the NHL at the time, plus me and Jamie Storr. As soon as [Canadian Head Coach] Don Hay called me that one morning and told me I'd made the team, it was a highlight to start the tournament. And then I got a chance to play. Jamie Storr was a year older than me, and he was slated to be the number one guy. But Don Hay gave me an opportunity to play three games out of seven. It was just great for my career. It was definitely a confidence-builder.”
With the team posting a perfect 7-0 record, Cloutier won all three of his starts: 9-1 over Germany, 6-4 over Finland, and 4-3 over Sweden. But it wasn’t a cakewalk. For instance, against a Finnish team featuring Janne Niinimaa, Kimmo Timonen, and Jussi Markkanen, Cloutier faced 43 shots.
“That Finland game was the game I had the most work. And just playing in Canada, I'm from the Eastern side, and over there, we don't hear that much from the Western side because the games are always late and whatnot. But wherever we played [in pre-tournament and tournament action], the games were sold out: Calgary, Edmonton, Red Deer. It was definitely great for me to see what it was like on the Western side. The Finland game was great. It was nice to see a lot of shots early to get me into it, because I was very nervous. It was just nice to be 7-and-0 in Canada.”
Cloutier also appreciated the way the team was insulated from outside pressures, such as the inevitable media and fan frenzy in Canada.
“It doesn't matter where the tournament's held, there's always pressure on the goalies. I think the coaching staff led by Don Hay did a great job with us. We put the media and everything else aside and just worried about our team. I think we had one of the best coaching staffs ever assembled. They really took care of us. There was never a point when we had the newspaper open, no radios or anything like that. We didn't really know how much coverage there was out there, because they kept a close eye on us. That was a big deal.”
Ed Jovanovski, now a mainstay on Canada’s Olympic, World Cup, and World Championship squads, recalls how much talent there was on the 1995 team. The powerful, swift-skating defenceman was the #1 overall pick of the Florida Panthers in 1994, but was a relatively low-key presence in Red Deer, his only two goals of the tournament coming 34 seconds apart versus Germany.
“It was fun. It was during the last lockout, so there was a great bunch of guys there. A lot of the NHL guys came back and played. We had a great team. It was nice to play a North American style.”
Some other notable members of the 1995 roster included Ryan Smyth, Jason Allison, Bryan McCabe, Eric Daze, and Jeff Friesen.
Nolan Baumgartner, who was named the 1995 Canadian Major Junior Defenceman of the Year with the Kamloops Blazers, enjoyed playing for Hay in Red Deer, who was also his coach in Kamloops at the time. And he knows what advice he’d give members of this year’s Team Canada who are questing for gold.
“Just ‘Work hard!’ and ‘Good luck!’ It's going to be an unbelievable atmosphere, having the tournament here, based on how the fans are for us [with the Canucks]. People are going to jump right on the Canadian bandwagon and get those guys going. It'll be a fun time for all of them. Hopefully they cherish it, because it's a short time, but it's a great time in their careers.”