In the lead-up to the 2021 World Junior Championship, we’re taking a look back at each of the 18 Canadian teams to capture the gold medal, culminating Dec. 25 with the start of the latest edition of the tournament.
After failing to medal on home soil in 2019 for the first time ever, Canada traveled to the Czech Republic in search of redemption at the 2020 world juniors. The group faced a difficult schedule and a roller coaster road to the gold but clinched its 18th championship at the event with a finale that became an instant classic.
*Denotes returning player
All ages are as of the start of the tournament
Due to Canada’s struggles the year before, the 2020 outfit ended up in a difficult group that included rivals USA and Russia, which made up the first two games of the schedule.
Canada topped the United States in a 6-4 thriller, but disaster struck in a 6-0 defeat to Russia that saw Lafreniere – the Canadians’ top offensive threat and No. 1 2020 draft-eligible prospect in the tournament – suffer an awkward-looking knee injury.
Lafreniere missed round-robin tilts against Germany and the Czech Republic, which Canada won 4-1 and 7-2, respectively, and returned for a 6-1 quarterfinal blowout versus Slovakia. Canada then cruised by Finland 5-0, setting up a rematch with Russia in the gold-medal game.
The Canadians trailed 3-1 midway through the third period but mounted a furious comeback to tie the game with goals from McMichael and Hayton, who’s health for the final was in question due to a shoulder injury. Thomas then scored the winner with three minutes remaining to seal the deal.
Everyone expected Lafreniere to be the story of the tournament and he delivered. Despite only playing five games, Lafreniere registered 10 points and was named tournament MVP and best forward.
Hayton was also sensational, finishing the tournament second in points among all players with 12 and earning a spot on the Media All-Star team.
The key moment
With Canada clinging to a one-goal lead in the dying minutes, the club caught a truly unbelievable break. The Russians were already on a power play and pressing for the equalizer when the Canadians appeared to take a delay of game penalty that would have resulted in a 5-on-3. However, the puck struck a camera stationed behind the glass at the red line while flying out of play and caromed back onto the ice.
Officials ruled no penalty after a lengthy review. There’s no guarantee Russia would have tied the game if the team received the two-man advantage, but the non-call surely helped Canada catch its breath and ultimately solidify the championship.
Lafreniere and Byfield went on to be drafted in the top two spots in 2020 while Drysdale was selected sixth overall.
Canada has six returning members from the 2020 squad looking to repeat when the puck drops in Edmonton on Christmas Day.