Canada wins gold in 2023 IIHF World Junior Championship
Matthew DeMille, Staff writer
“Unforgettable.” That’s the word that will be uttered over and over when the hockey world looks back and reminisces about the 2023 IIHF World Junior Championship.
While it’s a word that carries considerable weight and should not be batted around lightly, there is no term that more accurately describes the tournament that was recently held in the two Maritime cities of Halifax, N.S. and Moncton, N.B.
When listing top tier destinations to catch a hockey game in Canada, Halifax or Moncton won’t be on many lists. That is, until now. The most recent hosts of the famed under-20 tournament showed us that hockey in the Maritimes is booming, especially when the team wearing the red, white and occasionally black, is in town.
Pair that with Canada’s new goal song, “Heave Away,” a celtic rock tune chosen by the team as a nod to the music native to the seafaring people of Eastern Canada, and you get instant goosebumps, every time. And that’s saying a lot, considering the song was played 42 times this tournament.
All-in-all, the competition garnered seals of approval from coast-to-coast as well as internationally. The venues, the atmosphere, and most importantly, the competition between nations was unrivaled when compared to previous tournaments in the past decade.
Repetitive storylines were littered with jaw-dropping plot twists, record books were re-written, and more than a handful of games will go down as instant classics for the years to come.
This is what stood out to us the most.
Canada captures gold for the 20th time
It wasn’t an easy road to glory for the host country, not by any means whatsoever. With only three skaters not having been drafted by an NHL team (Connor Bedard – 2023 NHL Draft, Adam Fantilli – 2023 NHL Draft, Thomas Milic – Undrafted), many speculated that Canada had put together the most talented roster to ever represent the red and white at the junior level.
That would turn out to be incorrect. Canada dropped their first game of round robin play to an underdog Czechia team, voiding the statement.
You know what they say though? You can’t lose two straight games when you have 19 NHL prospects and the top two projected selections in the 2023 NHL Draft on your team. Or, at least that’s what we say!
After their opening night loss, Canada bounced back with ease, stringing together three consecutive round-robin wins and a date with Slovakia in the quarter finals. In past tournaments, a meeting with Slovakia would be a perfect case scenario for the Canadians as it would almost guarantee a spot in the top four. Not this year, however.
The Slovakian squad proved to be a bigger challenge than expected, taking the Canadians into the overtime period following a draw after 60 minutes. Queue, Connor Bedard.
Almost guaranteed to go first overall in the upcoming 2023 NHL Draft, Bedard danced his way through Slovakia’s defense for a highlight reel goal — and the overtime winner for Canada.
The semi-finals would see Canada power past the United States, making it the fourth time in four years where Canada would be featured in the gold medal game. This year, Canada was set to square off against the team that dealt them their initial loss in the tournament. Canada versus Czechia, and this time, a little more than a round-robin record was on the line.
Canada was pressing for back-to-back gold medal finishes while Czechia was looking to finish in the top spot of the tournament for the first time since 2001. Much like the semi-final meeting with Slovakia, Canada would need the overtime period to capture the win. This time, it was Arizona Coyotes prospect, Dylan Guenther, who starred as the overtime hero for his team. On home soil, Canada would get revenge on the Czechs to reclaim World Junior gold for the 20th time and in back-to-back fashion.
The Bedard Show rolls through the Maritimes
If by some phenomenon the name Connor Bedard is not one you were familiar with, it is almost a guarantee that you know his name now. I mean, how can you not? Being just 17 years old playing in a tournament that primarily consists of 19 and 20 year olds is a feat in itself, but it wasn’t enough for Bedard. He didn’t come to play. He came to take over.
In just seven games, Bedard bragged a statline of nine goals, 14 assists, and 23 points. American forward and third overall pick in the 2022 NHL Draft, Logan Cooley, finished second in points behind Bedard — with 14.
Not only was Bedard one of the youngest competitors this year, he was undoubtedly the most dominant skater from all 10 nations. So much so, the World Junior history book may need an entirely new section to hold all the records Bedard broke. Bedard now holds the World Junior record for most points (23) collected by a skater under 18, the Canadian record for mosts assists (14) and points (23) in a single tournament and the record for most goals (17) and points (36) all-time by a Canadian in the World Juniors.
This — albeit — is not the first time Bedard has single-handedly dominated a tournament or league before. You see it everywhere he goes. At the time of writing, Bedard, who plays for the Regina Pats in the Western Hockey League, sits first in goals (36), assists (41), and points (77) across the entire WHL. All that in just 33 games.
To literally nobody’s surprise, Bedard’s dominance in the World Juniors did not go unnoticed. Along with his second World Junior Championship, Bedard took home tournament MVP and was one of six skaters named to the tournament’s All-Star team.
What’s more impressive? At the mere age of 17, Bedard could potentially play in the 2024 and 2025 World Junior Championships if given permission by his NHL club — whomever it may be. With all the fun being behind us now, all we can do is painstakingly await the next holiday season in the hopes that we will once again hear “Heave Away” echoing through an arena filled with fellow World Juniors followers.