Definitely our best team

PAUL FRIESEN -- Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 8:00 AM ET

The debate has begun: was this year's version of Team Canada our best junior squad ever?

It's an almost impossible argument to settle, but that won't stop us from trying.

For starters, only gold-medal winners need apply. I don't care how talented you were, if you didn't win when it mattered most, you don't make the cut.

So the '78 team, led by Wayne Gretzky, Mike Gartner, Bobby Smith and Rob Ramage, is out of the running.

Secondly, you won't get consideration for our best-ever if you didn't go undefeated. Even ties aren't acceptable. We want dominant teams.

That leaves out the '94 and '97 teams, both world champs.

Let's look at individual talent, now.

It would be hard to rank the current gold-medallists No. 1 without a few more years to see how they develop.

For example, the 1995 team had just one player (defenceman Chad Allan) who didn't go on to play at least one game in the NHL. So the bar is set pretty high.

That team went 7-0 and outscored its opposition 49-22.

A year later, a team led by Jarome Iginla went 6-0, outscoring teams 27-8 in the process.

This year's team was undefeated in six games, by a combined 41-7 score. Not only did it never trail in a game, it actually had a lead for more than 305 of 360 total minutes.

And it smoked a pretty good Russian team 6-1 in the final.

The best-ever? Talent-wise, we'll reserve judgment.

Team-wise, you bet it was.

KUDOS: You can't say enough about the impact Manitoba fans have made these last few weeks.

From the sold-out pre-tournament games here to the flag-waving sea of red at The Ralph, it's obvious the love for the international game is alive and well in The 'Peg.

That'll go a long way to bringing another event here before too long.

It's not just the Hockey Canada suits we needed to impress, either. It's good to give our own organizers and politicians a reminder every now and again to get off their duffs and get to work on it.

Don't think the national media didn't notice, too. Had more than one person tell me the NHL is crazy not to be in Winnipeg.

That won't change anything, of course. But it can't hurt.

SHARING THE GLORY: It was nice to see the players get a chance to celebrate with their families in a post-game party at The Ralph Tuesday night.

If anyone can relate to the sacrifices the players make to get here, it's the parents. So when Canada wins gold, so do a lot of moms and dads.

"It's my Christmas present," Gilles Beauchemin, goalie Reg's dad, said. "So it's a few days late. That's OK."

Almost makes all those years of early practices and trips to the rink worth it, doesn't it?

"People don't realize how dedicated these kids are," Beauchemin said. "The sacrifices they make, moving away from home, and the training they do ... it's a full-time job for them.

"No matter what happens to him from here on in, they can't take this away."

Barb Dawes, Nigel's mom, called winning gold the climax of the players' careers.

"This is what they've been working for," she said. "Hearts and souls went into it."

AND FINALLY: We'll leave you with the quote of the week, or at least my favourite.

It came from Marc-Andre Fleury, the goaltender who lived a nightmare a year ago, when Canada blew a two-goal, third-period lead in the gold-medal game against the U.S.

The winner was scored when Fleury banked the puck off his own player and into the net, probably Canada's most infamous moment in world junior history.

Asked by The Sun if he had any advice for goalie Jeff Glass before Tuesday's game, Fleury chuckled a little, then offered the following gem, with his usual French accent.

"Not score in his own net, maybe -- that's the first thing I would recommend."

Priceless.


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