Twelve years have passed since the last World Cup of Hockey.
Only six players from Canada’s tournament-winning roster remain active in the National Hockey League.
For two of them not much has changed.
The World Cup has returned to the hockey landscape, and Jay Bouwmeester and Joe Thornton have returned to Canada’s roster, ready to defend a title they
helped win a dozen years ago.
“We were laughing the first day we got together because all of a sudden it was 12 years,” says Bouwmeester. “[Thornton’s] a few years older than I am –
he’s the oldest and I’m the second oldest. Time flies. It’s pretty fun when you think about it – 12 years have gone by but it seems like it wasn’t that
long ago. We were joking about that – all of a sudden we’re the old guys. That’s just the way it goes.”
“We’re the last standing guys,” says Thornton, laughing. “I was excited when Bouw got named. He was one of my good friends in 2004, so I was excited to get
to experience it with him again. We’ve talked about it and we both have fond memories of back then.”
Back then Thornton was one of the up-and-coming young guns in the game, a 25-year-old top-line centre who within two years would win the Hart Memorial
Trophy. In 2004, though, he embraced a different role. Thornton was employed on a checking line with Shane Doan and Kris Draper. Even in this new role,
Thornton still thrived offensively, recording a goal and five assists, good for second in team scoring.
Bouwmeester was a late addition to this year’s roster, brought in as an injury replacement for Duncan Keith. It was the same story in 2004. Then, an injury
forced Chris Pronger out and brought Bouwmeester in.
Although only 20 at the time – and the youngest member of the team – Bouwmeester came with years of international experience. By the time the World Cup
rolled around he had played in three World Juniors and two IIHF World Championships.
“I started out as kind of an eighth defenceman [in 2004], then a couple of guys got hurt and I ended up getting a chance to play,” he says. “That’s
exciting, when you get to play and you’re sort of a part of things.”
“I remember going to the Canada Cup in ’91 in Hamilton as a 12-year-old boy and I thought, if I could ever do this would be amazing,” says Thornton.
Plenty of highlights remain – “Obviously winning it was a pretty exciting time,” says Thornton – high among them meeting and competing with heroes like
Mario Lemieux, Joe Sakic and Martin Brodeur.
Bouwmeester and Thornton are the elder statesmen now, if you will, but in a room full of leaders – 13 players presently wear letters with their NHL clubs –
and those who’ve won in best-on-best tournaments themselves.
“Last time I was kind of more of a depth defenceman, probably much the same as this time,” says Bouwmeester. The approach has always been the same, he
says: players come to camp and roles sort themselves out.
“This time around, it’s to be an energy guy, play on the power play a little bit, create some offence and get in there and use my big body. I think that’s
what they expect from me,” says Thornton.
The game has gotten quicker and younger since 2004, but Thornton hasn’t lost a step. He was a point-per-game player last season, his 82 points (19 goals,
63 assists) tying him for fourth in the league in scoring. He racked up another 21 points over 24 games in a run to the Stanley Cup Final with his San Jose
“It’s always a huge honour, especially me being 37; to play here with these guys is special, knowing I can be with these guys still, it’s pretty cool.”
What’s been the key to the longevity?
“I think health,” says Thornton. “I stay on top of my fitness. It’s just take care of your body and it’ll take care of you. I train really hard in the
summertime, so I think that allows me to have success during the wintertime.”
Eliminating the red line opened the game up and put more emphasis on speed.
“If you watched those games [from 2004] and then the games in this tournament, there’d be a pretty noticeable difference,” says Bouwmeester, now 32. “But
back then there were a lot of bigger guys that as a defenceman were harder to move and played a bit more physical game.”
Bouwmeester attributes his ongoing success to his skating.
“That’s been the key for me – just being able to still keep up. As you get older you learn a few tricks along the way.”
Twelve years ago an impending lockout injected excitement into the World Cup. This year it’s the inclusion of two non-national teams – Europe and North
America – and the potential of the Canadians on the latter playing Canada at some point. (As a member of HC Davos during two NHL lockouts, Thornton twice
played against Canada at the Spengler Cup. “It was definitely strange,” he says.)
But no matter the storyline at the start, Bouwmeester and Thornton just hope the narrative plays out the same.