Even though this is the first time Vancouver has hosted the World Juniors, the West Coast metropolis of 2 million has plenty of historical connections to this elite tournament.
The legendary Ernie “Punch” McLean was best-known as the coach of the WHL’s New Westminster Bruins, which played in a suburb of Vancouver, winning two Memorial Cups in 19. But McLean also served as Canada’s bench boss at two IIHF World Junior Championships.
In the 1978 tournament in Montreal, the hard-nosed Estevan product oversaw a super-talented entry featuring the likes of Wayne Gretzky, Mike Gartner, Bobby Smith, Ryan Walter, and Craig Hartsburg (who serves as an assistant coach with the 2006 team). That team finished third.
The following year, McLean elected to use his Bruins as the core of the team, these being the days before Hockey Canada instituted the Program of Excellence. The Canadians trounced the Moscow Selects 7-2 at the Pacific Coliseum in an exhibition warm-up for the World Juniors in Sweden. But in the actual tournament, they settled for fifth place.
Meanwhile, it may come as a surprise to learn that seven of the ten players chosen by the IIHF Directorate as Best Forward of the tournament in the 1980’s went on to play for the Vancouver Canucks, and six of them were actually drafted by Vancouver.
They include the USSR’s Vladimir Krutov (1980), Sweden’s Patrik Sundstrom (1981), Finland’s Petri Skriko (1982), Canada’s Jim Sandlak (1986), Czechoslovakia’s Robert Kron (1987), the USSR’s Alexander Mogilny (1988, drafted by Buffalo), and the USSR’S Pavel Bure (1989).
Markus Naslund, Vancouver’s current captain, holds the single-tournament record for most goals (13), which he established in 1993 as Peter Forsberg’s linemate with Sweden. Will that record ever be beaten? Maybe, but it’ll be tough. To put things in perspective, Jeff Carter and Eric Lindros share Team Canada’s record for most career World Junior goals: 12.
Vancouver-born players have also represented Canada at the World Juniors, despite having limited opportunities to skate outdoors as youngsters due to the mild local climate. The best-known include star forwards like Joe Sakic and Paul Kariya, as well as defencemen such as Chris Joseph and Gary Nylund.