It was New Year’s Eve 2014. It was the IIHF World Junior Championship. It was Canada vs. United States.
Charles Hamelin knew he had to be there.
“As soon as we entered the Bell Centre, we felt the classic ambiance that reigns at the biggest hockey games,” Hamelin, a Montreal native and three-time
Olympic gold medal-winning speed skater, recalls. “There’s always a little bit of tension in the air prior to a Canada-U.S. game, no matter the
And there’s no competition that showcases the all-North American rivalry quite like the World Juniors.
For most, Dec. 31 means changing the calendar, making new resolutions and celebrating with family and friends as one year ends and another begins. For
hockey fans, especially ones in Canada and the United States, it means just a little bit more.
The teams first met on New Year’s Eve at the 1988 World Juniors, a 5-4 Canadian win, but only in the last 10 years has it become must-see television; six
of the nine all-time match-ups have come since 2006 as both countries became perennial gold medal contenders.
Meeting No. 10 comes this year, with the Air Canada Centre hosting the Group B finale and Canada looking to improve on its 7-1-1 record (it has won six in
a row, and is unbeaten in seven dating back to a Dec. 31, 1998 loss in Winnipeg).
The games have almost always been close – five of Canada’s seven New Year’s Eve wins have been by just a single goal, one of them in a shootout – but it
was the largest Canadian victory that stands as arguably the most memorable in the series.
At the 2009 World Juniors in Ottawa, with Canada chasing a record-tying fifth-consecutive gold, the U.S. jumped out to a 3-0 lead after just 13 minutes. It
wouldn’t last. John Tavares scored twice in 48 seconds to get the Canadians within one, Jordan Eberle tied it before the end of the first period and Canada
went on to a 7-4 win, with Tavares – the eventual tournament MVP – finishing his hat trick into an empty net.
But back to 2015, and Hamelin’s World Juniors experience.
While he may not lace up the same kind of skates as hockey players do, the Olympian knows what he’s talking about when it comes to Canada, the United
States and high-stakes international hockey.
At the 2010 Olympic Winter Games in Vancouver, Hamelin was in Canada Hockey Place to see both the men’s and women’s teams win home-ice gold. Four years
later, he watched a repeat of the feat in Sochi.
How do those Olympic gold medal games compare to New Year’s Eve at the World Juniors? Intensity and – at least in the case of the Vancouver Games – a home
crowd behind you.
“The players know what it means to represent their country and know just how important it is for them to perform in front of a home crowd in the biggest of
games,” he says. “As an athlete, to have that crowd support behind you as soon as the game starts is an incredible feeling.”
Hamelin, like Canada’s National Junior Team, has experienced the thrill of victory. But there’s something about a win over the United States that makes it
just a little more thrilling.
During the early years of his career, Hamelin frequently faced off with American speed-skating legend Apolo Ohno, often on the biggest stages in their
sport. The goal was always gold, but Hamelin is the first to admit that topping Ohno always made the wins sweeter.
“When he’d beat me, it always gave me a little pinch on the inside, and it was the same for him when I came out on top,” Hamelin remembers. “Losing to the
Americans is always more frustrating for us Canadians than losing to anyone else, and that’s something I feel I share with the National Junior Team.”
That day at the Bell Centre, Hamelin didn’t have to worry about losing. The Canadians nursed a 3-1 lead into a frantic final minutes; the teams combined
for four goals in the last 2:34, and Canada held on for a 5-3 win to finish a perfect preliminary round and clinch first place in Group A.
The lasting memory for Hamelin?
“Everyone had a Team Canada jersey on, it was like a sea of red,” he says. “And this was all on December 31! Usually people are looking to do something
with their family or party with some friends. But on that day, 21,000 hockey fans made their way to the Bell Centre to cheer on Canada. It was spectacular
to see such passion from the fans.
“Whether at a speed skating competition or at a hockey game, being a Canadian among a Canadian crowd makes for some fantastic moments. It’s incredible to
be a part of the crowd that boosts the energy levels of the teams on the ice.”