Tyler Steenbergen can set the scene and tell you exactly how it happened.
Less than two minutes to go in the third period, Canada and Sweden tied 1-1
in the gold medal game at the 2018 IIHF World Junior Championship.
Conor Timmins carries the puck to centre before flipping it deep into the
Swedish zone as Drake Batherson gives chase. Batherson outworks Jacob
Moverare behind the net and on the side-boards before finding Timmins at
The defenceman fakes a slap shot before throwing a pass to the side of the
Swedish net, where Steenbergen deftly redirects it past goaltender Filip
Gustavsson to put the Canadians ahead for good with just 100 seconds to go.
The play-by-play? No problem. But ask Steenbergen anything else about that
“It’s still kind of a blur,” he says. “I’ve watched it a couple times; it’s
a surreal moment. Looking back at it, it’ll be the biggest goal of my life,
most likely. There wasn’t a bigger stage at the time for me, and I was
pretty fortunate to put it in.”
Of the 20 skaters who wore the Maple Leaf in Buffalo, there probably wasn’t
a more unlikely candidate to be the hero than Steenbergen, despite his
gaudy regular-season stats – the Sylvan Lake, Alta., native came to
selection camp having scored 35 goals in 27 games with the Swift Current
Steenbergen made the final cut, but quickly found himself at the bottom of
the depth chart; as other line combinations clicked in pre-tournament play,
Steenbergen was the rarely-used 13th forward.
That role carried into the World Juniors; Steenbergen had only five minutes
of ice time in a tournament-opening win over Finland, broke the 10-minute
mark just twice, and his 54 total minutes were almost 23 less than the
second-least-used forward, Jonah Gadjovich.
In the gold medal game, he had a single 32-second shift in the first
period, and only 3:17 through the first 40 minutes before his late-game
And he didn’t mind it one bit.
“Obviously it was tough at times,” Steenbergen says of dealing with a
diminished role, “but at the end of the day you’re representing your
country at the World Juniors, in whatever role that may be. You just want
to buy into the role and make it yours.
“It was my first time representing Canada, being able to wear the jersey,
so you want to do whatever you can to win, and if that meant accepting the
role of 13th forward, I was completely fine with it.”
That was music to the ears of head coach Dominique Ducharme, who built a
roster he could rely on no matter the situation, and no matter which
players were on the ice.
“We wanted to have 13 forwards that could play not within a set system –
two offensive lines, one checking line, one energy line – but four lines
that could play the right way, producing offence and being reliable
defensively, playing with speed and intensity,” he says. “They’re the best
players in the country, and they don’t mind changing roles, but they want
to be able to have an impact on the team, and that’s what we tried to
While he is hesitant to put the focus on just one performance (which isn’t
surprising when you consider the top-to-bottom excellence), Ducharme has
glowing reviews of his golden goal scorer.
The on-ice experiences may have been limited, but it was what Steenbergen
did off the ice, getting himself ready for his turn in the spotlight, that
earned the admiration of the bench boss.
“He’s a great kid, he’s a good teammate, he’s a smart player and he’s a
competitor,” Ducharme says. “He never backed down; he kept a good attitude,
he prepared himself for any situation, and I think that made the
“Every shift he got early in the [gold medal] game, he was skating well, he
was on the puck, he was playing hard, and I just thought he had good
shifts. I gave him a little more, and he made the most of it.”
The boys from Buffalo will go down as one of the deepest forward groups
ever iced by Team Canada, and it was fitting that the Steenbergen goal
helped the unit make a little bit of Canadian hockey history.
It meant that all 13 forwards found the back of the net during the
tournament, the first time Canada’s National Junior Team had ever
accomplished that feat at an IIHF World Junior Championship.
The individual successes were there – Batherson came out of nowhere to lead
the team with seven goals, while Jordan Kyrou and Sam Steel put up solid
numbers to finish fourth and fifth, respectively, in tournament scoring –
but in the end it was all about the 13 Musketeers.
All for one, and one for all.
“Going into the tournament, we knew we didn’t have that one superstar on
our team, so we relied on that depth,” Steenbergen says, “Forwards one
through 13, everyone was so even-keeled and it showed in the end. That’s
why we won – we were so deep up front that it didn’t matter who we were
line-matched against, who we were playing against.”