There is no shortage of opinion on what the NHL can do with its lockout.
One particularly interested group of hockey observers are the people running world junior hockey programs. Forgive them if they say a quiet prayer before bedtime each night that the lockout might stay on — at least until wheels touch down in Ufa, Russia.
Canada, in particular, has a vested interest in maintaining the status quo for a while. Above any other nation taking part in the 2013 World Junior Championships, the Canadian squad has the most to gain in the event of the enduring lockout — that is, elite, pro-type players available — and the most to lose if the CBA negotiations were to end soon.
Several players would likely be recalled if the NHL were to return to action — beginning with a mini-training camp. That includes last year’s NHL rookie standout, centre Ryan Nugent-Hopkins of the Edmonton Oilers.
And while Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Brian Burke has publicly said that defenceman Morgan Rielly will remain with the juniors, regardless of the lockout status, and the same is said to be true of other clubs, including the Winnipeg Jets and Mark Scheifele, nothing would be better for Canada than a holding pattern for Ufa. RNH, alone, is worth those quiet prayers.
If the Canadians get their full pick from the current camp candidates, the 2013 squad will take fans down memory lane to those two other labour-affected squads, the powerhouse Canadian junior teams of 2005 and 1995.
Which one was the best junior/lockout squad of all time?
Let’s take a glance back:
2005: MEN VS. BOYS
Yes, Sidney Crosby was on the 2005 squad that steamrolled the opposition to go undefeated at the Grand Forks N.D. Tournament, ending a seven-year gold medal drought for Canada. Would you believe Sid the Kid was fourth in scoring on the lockout-blessed Canadian roster? The 17-year-old Crosby trailed Patrice Bergeron (5 goals, 8 assists, 13 points), Ryan Getzlaf (12 points) and Jeff Carter (7 goals, 3 assists) on what was a powerhouse Canadian squad.
Crosby scored six times and added three assists, slightly behind an older Russian adversary by the name of Alexander Ovechkin. Ovechkin scored seven times for Russia and added four assists, good for third overall in tourney scoring. Russia had another pretty good player, a future Crosby teammate by the name of Malkin.
Canada’s opponents could have used a Roger Neilson white flag of surrender at this tournament. Remember Canada beating Sweden AND Finland by 8-1 scores? They were merely two of the four lopsided matches in preliminary round play, in which Canada pummeled its opponents 32-5. Slovakia (7-3), Germany (9-0) were the others unfortunate enough to draw the Canadians in their pool.
The Czechs put up a good fight in the semifinals, losing 3-1, but Canada showed no mercy on Russia in the final, winning gold by a score of 6-1.
While Bergeron led all scorers, Canada’s most imposing line was the trio of Carter, Getzlaf and Andrew Ladd, plus-35 as a unit. Jeff Glass played all but one game for Canada and had a goals-against average of 1.40.
The defence included Dion Phaneuf, at his thumping best, Shea Weber, Shawn Belle and Braydon Coburn.
Twelve of the Canadians had previous WJC experience and three were named to the all-star team, Bergeron (tournament MVP), Carter and Phaneuf.
Best world junior team ever? Hard to vote against them.
1995: THE ROUT
In the lockout-shortened 1995 season, Canada sent a slightly less impermeable group than in 2005, but because the opposition was weaker, the Canadians dominated the Red Deer, Alta., tournament, outscoring opponents 49-22 while winning all seven games. There was no gold medal game as such, because the ‘95 tournament was a round-robin format. Russia took silver with a 5-2 record and Sweden won bronze, 4-2-1.
The top three WJC scorers were from Canada — Marty Murray and Jason Allison with 15 points each; defenceman Bryan McCabe had 12. McCabe, Allison, Murray (MVP) and Eric Daze were named tournament all-stars.
A young Ottawa Senators forward also reached double-digits in scoring in ‘95. Can you guess his name? Alexandre Daigle, of course. The Daigle scored twice and added eight assists, before returning to the NHL to play 47 games for Ottawa.
Former Senator Wade Redden was part of a big-name blueline that included McCabe, Ed Jovanovski and Nolan Baumgartner. With NHL first rounders Jamie Storr and Dan Cloutier behind them in goal, it’s a wonder Canada surrendered 22 goals, but then the games weren’t close enough for goals-against to matter. The Canadians simply fired up another goal, as needed.
The 1995 championship was the third in a string of five for Canada at the WJC.
Can the 2013 Canadian squad reach the heights of the lockout-loaded teams that came before them?
We’ll see. The bar has been raised, not just by the previous Canadian clubs, but by what should be some decent competition in Ufa.