Clearly, Danny Syvret and Corey Perry were exhausted -- but not so tired that their hours-old smiles were allowed to sag or the gold medals around their necks got too heavy to hold up.
The pair, sleep-deprived but proud and excited, were greeted by a smattering of well-wishers, whistles and cheers -- nothing elaborate, mind you, but definitely a warm and fuzzy slice of Canadiana -- as they arrived at London Airport just before 3 p.m. yesterday, hours after helping Canada polish off Russia 6-1 to claim the gold medal at the world junior hockey championship in Grand Forks, N.D.
For the two Knights -- and their families and Team Canada teammates, too --the time between winning the gold and arriving back here was taken up by a post-game celebration at the Ralph Engelstad Arena, where the final was played, and a four-hour bus ride to Winnipeg, where they caught a flight home.
"I'm exhausted," said Syvret, captain of the Knights and, until this championship, a guy who has flown under the NHL radar. "It was a tough battle all the way. I'm glad everything worked out and we got the gold.
"It's very exciting. It was a lot of fun, a great experience."
On the strength of his play at world juniors, including popping the winning goal in the final, Syvret has no doubt increased his stock for this year's NHL draft (he and 17-year-old phenom Sidney Crosby were the lone undrafted players on the Canadian team).
"I really didn't think about that at all," Syvret said. "I just went out there and played. The gold medal was the important thing."
Asked about the smile that just wouldn't go away, Perry said: "It hasn't stopped. It's an unbelievable feeling.
Perry, the OHL's leading scorer with 63 points, including 23 goals, had two goals and five assists in Canada's six-game run to the world title.
As well, he went from being Canada's 13th forward to membership in good standing on Canada's No. 1 line with Crosby and Patrice Bergeron.
"Those guys make the game look so easy," Perry said. "Crosby has so much skill, and he's so smart, he can do anything out there. And Bergeron is in the NHL (Boston Bruins)."
Just minutes before the flight carrying the conquering heroes arrived in London, tired but happy Londoners Sue and Jim Carter -- yup, parents of tournament star and seven-goal scorer Jeff Carter -- arrived home with daughter Christie after taking in the tournament.
Jeff Carter flew directly back to Sault Ste. Marie, where his Greyhounds host Windsor tomorrow.
The parents' celebration and travel agendas were about as demanding as the players', so the Carter were exhausted, but also determined to amp up the celebration last night.
"I haven't changed out of the clothes I wore to the game," Jim Carter said with a smile as he tugged at his Team Canada jersey. "It was wonderful. . . . What can you say? It was a once-in-a-lifetime thing."
Sue Carter agreed.
"We're extremely proud of him," she said of their son. "He tied the record (Eric Lindros's career mark of 12 goals for Canada at world juniors). But he came here determined to bring back the gold medal and he and the guys did it."
Special, too, for the Carters is that they got to celebrate Jeff's 20th birthday together on Jan. 1.
"It's the first time we've been able to do it since Jeff starting playing (in the OHL)," Sue Carter said.