GRAND FORKS, N.D. -- Right up to the end, Winnipeg's Cam Barker did everything he could to get into the Team Canada lineup last night.
As fate would have it, though, he'd be forced to sit and watch his 2005 World Junior Hockey Championship teammates win gold without him.
The good news: He'll be coming home with a gold medal around his neck, and a memory to last a lifetime.
"It's pretty heavy," a smiling Barker said, while celebrating with family members and teammates at a party at the Ralph Engelstad Arena right after Canada's 6-1 victory over Russia. "I'm definitely not complaining. It doesn't get much better than this."
Barker, an 18-year-old defenceman, was sidelined by mononucleosis after three games of the tournament, and sent home to convalesce.
But as late of yesterday morning, he was trying to get back on the ice, arranging a doctor's appointment in Winnipeg to see if he'd recuperated enough to play.
"The doctor in Winnipeg said he was good to go," Barker's dad, Neil, said. "But the Team Canada doctor said no."
While Barker's white blood cell count was good, he'd lost nine pounds. And there was still concern that his swollen spleen would be vulnerable to rupture if he were hit.
"Sure, it's tough not playing," Barker said. "The toughest part was not having the medal, and knowing you couldn't contribute."
Now that those worries are over, Barker can relax, knowing he was part of one of Canada's best junior teams, ever.
Barker visited the Team Canada dressing room before the game, and was told he shouldn't worry, everything was going to be all right.
"The guys made me feel better. Sitting at home was kind of depressing," he said. "I thought it would be a little like this (a win), but I wouldn't expect 6-1 after the second period."
Barker says winning gold tops everything he's experienced, including being drafted third overall by Chicago last summer.
"This is definitely No. 1," he said. "These don't come around too often."
Interestingly, Barker is one of just two players -- Sidney Crosby is the other -- eligible to return for next year's world junior.