While interest in the annual IIHF World Junior Championship is enormous in Canada, some hockey fans elsewhere in the world don’t get as pumped up about it. Their attitude is, “Hey, these are just kids.” But frankly, anyone who loves Olympic hockey should keep close tabs on the exploits of the world’s top U20 stars.
The men’s hockey tournament in Turin, Italy in February 2006 will be arguably the most high-profile winter sports event in history, and the rosters of the contending nations will be packed with players whose first major experience of international hockey occurred at the World Juniors.
Take Team Canada, which announced its 23-man Olympic roster on December 22. The defending champions will employ 16 players who have competed in a total of 20 IIHF World Junior Championships, racking up 12 gold medals, three silver medals, and three bronze medals.
Kris Draper: 1990 (G), 1991 (G)
Simon Gagne: 1991 (G)
Dany Heatley: 2000 (B), 2001 (B)
Jarome Iginla: 1996 (G)
Ed Jovanovski: 1995 (G)
Vincent Lecavalier: 1998 (8th)
Roberto Luongo: 1999 (S)
Rick Nash: 2002 (S)
Scott Niedermayer: 1991 (G), 1992 (6th)
Chris Pronger: 1993 (G)
Wade Redden: 1995 (G), 1996 (G)
Robyn Regehr: 1999 (S)
Brad Richards: 2000 (B)
Joe Sakic: 1988 (G)
Ryan Smyth: 1995 (G)
Joe Thornton: 1997 (G)
It’s not just Canada whose Olympic entry will benefit from past World Junior experience. To take just one example, the Russians have loaded up with WJC alumni as well. Even though their national program was more formidable during the Soviet era, they have remained Canada’s principal rival year in and year out at this tournament. It’s been a Canada-Russia final in four out of the last seven championships, including last year’s.
Russia, which has medaled at every Olympic hockey tournament in the last 50 years except 1994, will ice 16 players who have participated in a total of 26 IIHF World Junior Championships, earning 10 gold medals, six silver medals, and two bronze medals. One of those players will be Evgeni Malkin, the talented Metallurg Magnitogorsk center who is currently representing his country at the 2006 World Juniors.
Maxim Afinogenov: 1998 (S), 1999 (G)
Ilya Bryzgalov: 2000 (S)
Alexander Frolov: 2002 (G)
Sergei Gonchar: 1993 (6th)
Darius Kasparaitis: 1991 (S), 1992 (G)
Nikolai Khabibulin: 1992 (G), 1993 (6th)
Ilya Kovalchuk: 2001 (7th)
Alexei Kovalev: 1992 (G)
Viktor Kozlov: 1993 (6th)
Evgeni Malkin: 2004 (5th), 2005 (S), 2006 (to be determined)
Andrei Markov: 1997 (B), 1998 (S)
Alexander Ovechkin: 2003 (G), 2004 (5th), 2005 (S)
Maxim Sushinsky: 1994 (B)
Fedor Tyutin: 2002 (G), 2003 (G)
Alexei Yashin: 1992 (G), 1993 (6th)
Alexei Zhitnik: 1992 (G)