Ask Dean McAmmond what he remembers most about winning a gold medal at the 1993 IIHF World Junior Championship and the first thing that springs to mind has nothing to do with what happened on the ice.
“I (felt like) Santa Claus on Christmas Day because it was the first time I was away from home,” he says. “Our team doctor dressed up.”
The hockey part was pretty memorable, too.
“(We were) a bunch of young-faced hockey players who were just in the beginning parts of their budding careers,” he says. McAmmond himself would go on to play 18 seasons in the NHL, reaching the Stanley Cup Final with the Ottawa Senators in 2007.
As the medal round for the 2015 World Juniors plays out in Toronto, Ont., over the next few days, members of the 1993 and 1994 teams have been reunited in recognition of their golden achievements.
“I think everyone at Hockey Canada and the Hockey Canada Foundation recognizes the importance of celebrating the game and the successes we’ve had,” says Chris Bright, executive director of the Hockey Canada Foundation. “It’s part of the mandate for the foundation to celebrate Canada’s hockey heritage.”
Some of the alumni hadn’t seen each other in 20 years.
“We’re talking about minor hockey and about our kids and grandkids and how they’re playing,” says Jos Canale, who was an assistant coach in 1993 and the head coach in 1994. “It’s nice to be part of a winning tradition. When you win you become a very close family.”
Brent Tully was also a member of both teams. In 1993 he was named to the tournament all-star team; the following year he served as Canada’s captain.
After winning in 1994 Tully proudly called his team “a bunch of no-name hockey players” in a televised interview. The team was an underdog, he says now, and wanted to prove they were better than people pegged them to be.
The team went undefeated but it wasn’t until the dying minutes of the last game against Sweden – medals were awarded after an eight-team round-robin – that the gold was iced.
“Aaron Gavey made a play with his stick that was unbelievable – a blind pass that would’ve been an empty net goal for them,” he says. Shortly after, Rick Girard scored an empty-netter and made it 6-4 Canada.
That was the first of three World Juniors gold medals for Jason Botterill. The groundwork for the team’s success, he says, was laid in Switzerland in the lead up the event.
“I think the support that guys felt on the bench, whether they played a lot or not, really started at that training camp,” he says.
Now in his role as associate general manager of the Pittsburgh Penguins, Botterill watches and evaluates his team’s prospects from all the countries.
He wants to see future Penguins succeed, just not necessarily their teams.
“You’re always a fan at heart,” he says. “You’re certainly cheering for the maple leaf.”
The 1993 team didn’t wait as long to clinch its medal: it was secured with two games still to play.
“We luckily had a lot of time to enjoy our championship because we still had over half a week left of hockey,” says Adrian Aucoin. “It was probably a lot more fun than it should have been.”
The alumni have been kept busy in Toronto. In addition to the celebratory brunch on Friday, the players were recognized during Canada’s quarter-final game against Denmark, and they’ll make appearances at the McDonald’s Fan Zone and help launch a new public rink that was built with funds raised by the Hockey Canada Foundation.
But their weekend kicked off Thursday night when they meet and mingled with Canada’s current National Junior Team. The alumni talked to them about facing adversity and staying confident in the team. Mostly, though, the players simply shared their love of hockey.
Current defenceman Josh Morrissey told Aucoin about watching him play with the Flames when he was growing up in Calgary, Alta. And McAmmond and Morrissey talked about playing their junior hockey with the Prince Albert Raiders.
The players may have been meeting for the first time, but in the small world of hockey they quickly learned there’s far fewer than six degrees of separation.
“I’ve been on the ice with (Curtis) Lazar’s little brother,” says McAmmond, who coaches minor hockey in Lazar’s hometown of Vernon, B.C. “He’s a Peewee, same age as my son, so we connected on that level.”
The popularity and visibility of the World Juniors has grown considerably in the past two decades. But what hasn’t doesn’t change is the pride one feels in playing for his country.
“Twenty-some years later to be brought back – it makes you feel like you’re still part of it,” says McAmmond. “I’ve been retired for four years now; my playing career’s done but you always feel like you’re wearing the leaf on your chest.”