A look back at Canada’s track record at the World Junior Hockey Championship when they event is hosted overseas.
Originally published on TSN.ca – December 16, 2013.
Canada’s World Junior team is once again preparing itself for Christmas overseas.
Seeking to break a four-year gold medal drought, the hopes of Canada’s under-20s will be looking towards Malmo, Sweden in hopes that this year’s crop can at least get back into the medals if not back to the top.
But success overseas has not always been a guarantee for the Canadian World Juniors.
Since the establishment of the Program of Excellence in 1981, the Canadian side has dominated tournaments held in North America, compiling a 76-12-3 record (.852 winning percentage) over 14 tournaments. Canada has only once failed to medal on their home continent (and that tournament was played in Alaska), racking up seven gold, five silver and one bronze.
The track record has not been quite the same in Europe. While Canada has actually won more gold (eight) overseas, the European-hosted tournaments have provided some of Canada’s greatest heartbreaks.
The record itself isn’t all that bad: 83-24-15 (.742 winning percentage) and Canada has actually won more golds in Europe than they have in North America, racking up eight – along with two silver and three bronze – over 18 tournaments since the start of the Program of Excellence.
Hidden in that record, however, are some of the more painful memories in Canada’s World Junior lore. The Piestany punch-up, the Heartbreak in Helsinki as well as Canada’s two worst finishes since the 1982 tournament all came overseas.
So, what’s to blame for the difference?
Certainly the added boost from fan support has helped their North American performance. After all, even the five tournaments held on American soil (save Anchorage) were close enough to the border to draw enterprising Canadian fans to the games.
The flip side of that coin is the travel – and particularly the unfamiliarity during the holiday season – which must certainly weigh on the teenagers selected to wear the Maple Leaf abroad. While several players have had experience abroad through the Under-18 World Championship tournaments and the Ivan Hlinka Memorial, those are summertime events that disrupt neither the players’ regular season junior schedules, nor their personal holiday traditions.
Looking back particularly through Canada’s history at World Junior tournaments hosted in Sweden, there is reason for optimism for Canadian fans looking forward to the 2014 Championship in Malmo. Canada’s juniors are 16-2-2 in the last three Swedish-hosted tournaments having won a pair of golds and a bronze medal.
Canada’s last visit will be particularly memorable, with Jonathan Toews and Carey Price forging an unforgettable semifinal shootout performance against the United States en route to a gold medal at the 2007 tournament.
In total Sweden has hosted the World Juniors five times and four since the Program of Excellence’s foundation with Canada finishing no worse than fourth since the Nykoping tournament in 1984. Karlstad hosted in 1979 with Canada finishing fifth on a team that featured future NHL All-Stars Brad McCrimmon and Brian Propp.
So, how will Malmo treat the 2014 team?
History dictates a medal is likely in the cards, since Canada has never failed to medal in successive tournaments since 1982.
However, trends over the last 20 years have dictated that the golds come in clusters with a drought in between. Seven tournaments passed between the “Drive for Five” and the recent five-gold run ignited by the super-team featuring Sidney Crosby in 2005.
Will Canada be able to cap the drought at four tournaments without gold? Rediscovering their luck in Sweden might well be the first step towards doing so.