Flames recall past World Juniors

Flames forward Olli Jokinen tries to get away from Oilers defenceman Theo Peckham at the Scotiabank...

Flames forward Olli Jokinen tries to get away from Oilers defenceman Theo Peckham at the Scotiabank Saddledome in Calgary, Alta., Dec. 10, 2011. (TODD KOROL/Reuters)

STEVE MACFARLANE, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:29 PM ET

CALGARY - Olli Jokinen knows what it’s like to win the world junior hockey championship on home soil.

But over in Finland, it might not have been quite the same as it would be for the Canadian kids playing in front of their fervent fans in Edmonton and Calgary over the next couple of weeks.

“The building was full — that’s very unusual over there in the junior stage,” the Flames centre said of the 1998 world juniors in Helsinki and Hameenlinna. “I remember we played against Canada Dec. 25, and there was maybe 5,000-6,000 people in the first period. People were watching the game on TV and saw there was a lot of empty seats.

“By the end of the second period, the building was full.”

By the end of the game, Finland had filled the Canadians’ stockings with coal. Losing to the hosts in the first game of the tournament started Team Canada towards a shocking eighth-place finish in the annual event.

“Nobody was expecting us to win. We kind of took off after that — we didn’t lose a game,” recalled Jokinen, who was named top forward at the tournament. “We ended up beating Russia in overtime (on a goal from former Flames forward Niklas Hagman) in front of the home crowd.

“It was a good experience.”

Winning at home always is.

Blake Comeau did it in Vancouver in 2006, going undefeated under then-Canada head coach Brent Sutter to claim gold.

“Being in Vancouver and being able to win gold there … I was able to have my family there and friends,” said Comeau, who paced Team Canada with seven points (three goals, four assists) in six games.

“It was definitely exciting.”

Pressure-filled, too.

There’s no such thing as settling for silver when it comes to the Canadian fans — especially when they’re watching the games in person.

“It doesn’t matter what country you’re in or where you’re playing, if you’re putting on the Team Canada jersey, there’s gonna be those expectations of winning gold and the pressure that goes along with it,” Comeau said. “But it’s a good kind of pressure.

“I think it’s more excitement. It was for me, anyway.”

Apprehension might be the best word to describe the feelings of their rivals when the game is played on Canadian soil.

That’s more what Flames defenceman Chris Butler felt while playing for USA in the 2006 tournament in Vancouver.

“It’s not televised (in the U.S.). It’s not a Boxing Day tradition like it is in Canada. It wasn’t anything I really grew up with,” said the St. Louis native. “For me, I was just amazed how much it means to Canada. I think I was pretty excited we got a chance to play in Canada, because that’s where I think the tournament really means the most to the people.”

Butler recalls being stunned that a game between the Americans and Switzerland was sold out.

“Every single person in the building except for our parents cheering for Switzlerland — it was funny,” Butler said. “It goes to show the rivalry between the (U.S. and Canada).”

His only regret is that he never got to suit up against the hosts.

“I separated my shoulder against Switzerland the day before we played Canada — that was frustrating for me,” Butler said. “Being American, that’s the game you really look forward to — playing Canada in Canada.

“For me, it was a blast. It was the first time I ever got to put on that U.S. sweater. A tremendous amount of pride sets in. I’ve still got that sweater. It means a lot to represent your country.”

Jokinen feels the same way.

“It’s always an honour. I was able to play twice (at the) world juniors,” said the veteran of three Olympics and many world championships.

“Playing the final game, and Haggie (Hagman) scoring the final goal and beating Russia … every time you are able to win something — at any level — those are the memories you’re going to remember the rest of your life.”

Especially those lived on home ice.

steve.macfarlane@sunmedia.ca

On Twitter: @SUNMacfarlane


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