Alberta is one of two Canadian provinces with two NHL clubs. The 2012 IIHF World Junior host cities of Calgary and Edmonton have been buzzing for a year about the chance to win Canada’s first gold since 2009 – using some home-grown talent. And the chances are good that the 2012 edition of Team Canada will have a solid Alberta presence. The Western province is one of Canada’s prime producers, not only of beef and oil, but also hockey players.
During the last NHL season (2010-2011) there were 91 Albertans in the league, far behind superior Ontario (208) but still second-best among Canada’s ten provinces.
Before the current NHL season started, there were hopes that Ryan Nugent-Hopkins might get to win a gold medal on January 5 at Calgary’s Saddledome. The #1 overall pick of the Edmonton Oilers in the 2011 NHL draft tore up the Western Hockey League with the Red Deer Rebels over the last three seasons.
However, Nugent-Hopkins won't be putting in an appearance at the World Juniors. The 18-year-old rookie forward has shown so much maturity and top-level playmaking ability that he is already an integral part of the Oilers.
Meanwhile, Alberta-born legends like Mark Messier and Grant Fuhr won Stanley Cups and Canada Cups during the Oilers’ heyday of the 1980’s and early 1990’s, but they never got to wear the red Maple Leaf at the World Juniors.
So who are the most prominent players both born and trained in Alberta who either shone in World Junior competition with talent and tenacity or used the tournament as a springboard to future success?
Here’s IIHF.com’s alphabetical top-10 list of those whose exploits have energized the “Energy Province.”
Only seven Canadian players have suited up at three World Juniors, and Jay Bouwmeester (2000-02) is one of them. The smooth-skating defenceman from Edmonton captured two bronze medals and a silver during his WJC run, and has parlayed that experience into a strong international career. His resume includes two World Championship golds (2003, 2004) and a silver (2008), a World Cup title (2004), and an Olympic appearance (2006). Now 27, the Calgary Flames alternate captain is also the NHL’s reigning ironman (424 straight games).
Born in Calgary, Taylor Hall has accomplished a ton for a kid who hasn’t even turned 20 yet. The 2010 #1 overall pick of the Oilers grabbed national attention with his two MVP performances in the Windsor Spitfires’ back-to-back Memorial Cup titles in 2009 and 2010. But 2010 also saw the explosive left wing potting six goals and six assists as Canada claimed U20 silver with a heartbreaking overtime loss to the USA in Saskatoon. He’s already earned comparisons to Mark Messier in Edmonton.
Greg Hawgood went from disaster to triumph in his two World Junior stints. In 1987, the savvy, Edmonton-born power play quarterback was part of the Canadian team that was disqualified for fighting with the Soviets in the infamous “Piestany Punchup.” But Hawgood got redemption the following year in Moscow. Not only did Canada edge the Russians 3-2 in what proved to be the gold medal-determining game, but Hawgood was named to the tournament all-star team with a nine-point performance. He went on to play nearly 500 NHL games with eight different clubs.
When Jarome Iginla shows up to represent Canada in IIHF competition, he usually makes it count. The Calgary Flames captain set the tone in 1996 when he notched 12 points in Canada’s fourth consecutive World Junior triumph. In 1997, the St. Albert product would capture a World Championship in Finland, and he also played for the 2004 World Cup champions. But Iginla, a three-time Olympian, is best remembered for his exploits at the Winter Games. He had two goals and an assist when Canada defeated the American 5-2 in the 2002 gold medal game in Salt Lake City, and set up Sidney Crosby’s overtime winner last year in Vancouver. Only a Stanley Cup has eluded this 1,006-point NHL power forward.
It was quality over quantity for Trevor Linden at the 1988 World Juniors. The Medicine Hat Tigers star scored just one goal at that tournament, but it came in the win over a Soviet squad featuring Alexander Mogilni and Sergei Fyodorov that ultimately gave Canada gold. Between 1988 and 2008, Linden would go on to play 1,382 NHL games, mostly with the Vancouver Canucks, good for 35th place in the all-time longevity derby. His post-junior highlights were tinged with heartbreak. The rangy right wing led the Canucks to a seventh-game loss versus the New York Rangers in the 1994 Stanley Cup final. He also suited up for Canada at the 1998 Nagano Olympics, where he scored a late tying goal in the semi-finals against the Czech Republic, but his mates couldn’t solve Dominik Hasek in the shootout.
Hailing from Edmonton, Dion Phaneuf terrorized the 2004 and 2005 World Juniors with his bone-rattling bodychecks. The hard-shooting rearguard of the Red Deer Rebels made the tournament all-star team both years and was named Best Defenceman on the powerhouse 2005 squad that claimed top spot in North Dakota. Although his performance has tailed off in recent years, Phaneuf can answer his critics by pointing to his 2007 World Championship gold. The 26-year-old Toronto Maple Leafs captain also wore Canadian colours at this year’s Worlds in Slovakia.
He might not be as flashy as some other #1 overall NHL draft picks, but Chris Phillips has still built a fine career off his two World Junior gold medals (1996, 1997). His journey started on the blueline of his hometown Junior A Fort McMurray Oil Barons. Since then, the Ottawa Senators veteran has also won senior World Championship silvers (2005, 2009), and made one unfruitful trip to the Stanley Cup finals (2007).
“Captain Canada” hardly needs an introduction in an IIHF context. Ryan Smyth, a Banff native, made his international debut at the 1995 World Juniors in Alberta where a stacked Canadian squad marched to gold under coach Don Hay. But the famously mulleted Edmonton Oilers winger would earn his nickname by representing Canada at a whopping eight World Championships between 1999 and 2010, serving as captain six times. He also cracked two Olympic teams (2002, 2006) in large part due to that Worlds experience.
Even if “close but no cigar” has been the story for Scottie Upshall internationally, you can’t fault his effort. Yet another graduate of the Fort McMurray Oil Barons, he suffered through back-to-back one-goal losses to Russia in World Junior finals (2002, 2003). The often-injured right wing, a veteran of five NHL clubs, also played for the Canadian team that fell 2-1 to an Ilya Bryzgalov-backstopped Russian side in the 2009 IIHF World Championship final.
Like Greg Hawgood, Glen Wesley was kicked out of the 1987 World Juniors for fighting with the Russians. Unlike Hawgood, Wesley didn’t return to win gold in 1988. But the smart, mobile blueliner got one more shot at IIHF glory – a silver medal at the 1996 Worlds in Austria. And this Red Deer boy made his mark quietly in the NHL. Playing until age 39, he won the 2006 Stanley Cup with the Carolina Hurricanes, and wound up with 1,457 career games, 20th best in NHL history.
Home provinces of Canadian NHL players 2010-2011 season.
British Columbia 58
Nova Scotia 7
Prince Edward Island 4
New Brunswick 3