December 26, 2007
From good to bad to goldenFlames have fond World Junior memories
By RANDY SPORTAK -- Sun Media
For Cory Sarich, the World Juniors were -- to steal a phrase -- the best of times and the worst of times.
The first time the Calgary Flames defenceman represented Canada at the prestigious event, in 1997, he returned from Switzerland with a gold medal draped around his neck.
A year later, he was part of the eighth place team that returned in shame.
"I only went one year," said Sarich, trying to ignore the second time around.
"I pretty much erased it from memory."
Can't really blame him. The year before, Sarich was part of the team that claimed Canada's fifth consecutive title. It was a scrappy squad, led by the likes of Brad Isbister, Cameron Mann and Daniel Briere, and with a young Joe Thornton chipping in.
The next year, in Finland, Sarich went through one of Canada's lowest points in tournament history. The team had off-ice issues, struggled to score goals and even lost to Kazakhstan to fall to eighth spot.
Can you blame Sarich for trying to forget?
"I took a lot of good (lessons) from the second year, too, but it was a lot tougher mentally. We just didn't have the team chemistry we had the year before," he said.
"At the time, winning the first year, it was the best thing I'd ever known. You don't go through the struggles of a season with the guys, it's such a short, compact time. It's learning how to bond in a short period of time that gives you success," he added.
"I don't think we had a lot of huge names that year -- we had a few -- but we had a lot of guys that wanted to win. Everybody knew their role on that team and did their job."
At least Sarich has a title.
Alex Tanguay's only memory is that disappointment in Finland, which saw Team Canada win just twice and lose five games.
"We had a pretty good team -- quarter-finals (in) overtime, and one of our defencemen got caught pinching. It was seven seconds left in the overtime, and we would have gone to a shootout," Tanguay recalled.
"Who knows, maybe we would have lost in the shootout, but from there, finishing fifth or eighth didn't make much difference after winning five golds.
"It was a tough experience, but you learn from it."
Things got even worse for Tanguay the next year. Eligible to play for Canada in Winnipeg, Tanguay was knocked out of action due to a concussion suffered while skating with Halifax in the QMJHL.
"Tom Renney (the head coach) called me and asked if I'd be captain, so I was really excited about the whole thing," he said.
"Then I got the concussion in junior and couldn't go to Winnipeg, and they lost in overtime in the final.
"I would have liked to redeem myself in Winnipeg."
You don't have to be from Canada to tell a tough tale from the World Juniors.
Defenceman Anders Eriksson played twice for Sweden, and won a pair of medals, but he still bristles at what could have been at the 1995 event.
A round-robin affair that year, Sweden only needed a victory against Finland to set up a winner-take-all match with Canada.
"If we would have beat Finland -- up 3-1 with three minutes left -- we would have played Canada in a true final, but we choked," he recalled.
Upon relaying that story, Eriksson was told the goalie for Finland that game, which was played at the Saddledome, was current teammate Miikka Kiprusoff.
"I didn't know that," Eriksson said. "The thing is, I probably scored in that game. I'm sure it was top shelf. That's all that needs to be said."
There are many fond memories of the tournament in the Flames dressing room.
Combined, the team has seven golds, including rookie Dustin Boyd, who was part of the championship team in Vancouver two years ago.
Critics say the pressure of playing the tournament in Canada can be too great, but Boyd doesn't see it that way.
"It's just an amazing experience. You're nervous and want to do well, but when you get there, you play with the best players in Canada and everything seems to click," he said.
Besides, how can you top the home-country crowds?
"Unbelievable. Getting to play at home, your family's watching and your friends," he said. "When we played against Russia, the crowd was nuts. I was loving it. The electricity in the building was awesome."