The annual World Junior Championship tournament is a big deal. Several current members of the Calgary Flames cut their teeth in that tournament before making the jump to professional hockey.
Here are their experiences at a glance.
Six months removed from being drafted by the Toronto Maple Leafs, Stajan suited up for Canada at the 2003 World Juniors. He won a silver medal at the event.
A beneficiary of a bit of a depth issue for the Czech Republic a decade ago, Frolik represented his country at four consecutive World Juniors – 2005 through 2008. He made the team twice before he was eligible for the NHL Draft, winning bronze in the 2005 tournament. As a 19-year-old he served as captain in 2008.
Backlund suited up for Sweden in two consecutive World Juniors following his draft year, winning a pair of silver medals. His second World Junior appearance, at the 2009 event in Ottawa, was followed by his debut for the Calgary Flames and subsequent reassignment to the WHL’s Kelowna Rockets.
Jokipakka likely benefited a ton from his World Junior experience. Passed over once in the NHL Draft, he suited up in the 2011 World Juniors for Finland. He didn’t win a medal, but impressed enough to be drafted by Dallas in the seventh round of the 2012 NHL Draft.
DOUGIE & FREDDIE HAMILTON
The Hamiltons were teammates at the 2012 World Juniors in Calgary and Edmonton, capturing a bronze medal. Because of their ages, born one year apart, this was the one opportunity they had to play together on Team Canada. Dougie also played on the Canadian team in 2013 but didn’t win a medal.
“That was probably the most fun I’ve had in my career playing hockey,” recalled Freddie. “Was definitely something I’ll never forget. It being in Canada just put it over the top, with all the fans here in Calgary and Edmonton. The rinks were so loud. Always dreamed about playing for Canada because of my parents, so that was definitely a highlight for me.”
Dougie and Freddie’s parents were both Canadian Olympians in the ’80s.
Wotherspoon cracked the Canadian roster as a 19-year-old. Canada didn’t do great at the tournament, failing to medal.
A year after being one of the final cuts before the 2012 World Juniors, Gaudreau was one of the big guns for the American team at the 2013 event. He led the tournament in goals, was nigh-unstoppable in the medal round, and helped the USA capture gold.
One of a few draft eligibles at the event, Tkachuk suited up for the USA at the 2016 World Juniors before he had even been selected by an NHL club. He performed well and the Americans captured bronze. He’ll be otherwise occupied in the NHL during this year’s event, but has fond memories of his World Junior past.
“It was great,” said Tkachuk. “It’s such an honour to represent your country, so I’m very happy for a lot of my buddies that are going to be on that team and I hope they win gold.”
Tkachuk’s old London teammate Tyler Parsons (a fellow 2016 Flames draftee) and several of his former U.S. National Development Program teammates are featured prominently on Team USA this year.