Team Canada’s overtime loss to Finland in the quarter-finals of the 2019 IIHF World Junior Hockey Championships brought the team – and the country’s – gold-medal dreams to a screeching halt Thursday, ending a wild, up-and-down run for the host country.
And while Canadian fans were left to lament the team’s premature departure from the tournament – including a rogue group of online commenters who took to social media to shame some teenage members of the national team – the tournament itself, if not the ending, brought back a flood of memories for a pair of Semiahmoo Peninsula world-junior alumni, both of whom won gold with Team Canada in the late 2000s.
“We had a great team with very talent players. It was an experience that definitely changed my life,” said Colton Gillies, a White Rock native and former NHL first-round pick who was a member of the Canadian team that won gold at the 2008 world junior tournament in the Czech Republic.
Gillies, a former first-round pick of the Minnesota Wild, now plays in the KHL, for Latvia-based Dinamo Riga. And though he admits the 2008 tournament feels “so long ago now,” his memories of his time with the team are still vivid.
During a television broadcast of one of Canada’s games at this year’s tournament, Gillies – with a gold-medal draped around his neck – appeared on screen during a segment looking back at past Canadian gold-medal wins. Soon after he appeared on TV, his phone started blowing up, as friends and family sent him photos of their screens paused on his smiling face.
“Everyone,” sent him the photo, he laughed.
He called winning gold “one of my biggest accomplishments in life so far.”
Colten Teubert, who like Gillies also grew up on the Semiahmoo Peninsula, has similar feelings about his world-junior tournament experience, though he has felt the lows as well as the highs. As a member of the 2009 team, Teubert – a defenceman who was a first-round pick of the Los Angeles Kings – won gold in Ottawa, but a year later in Saskatoon he was a key part of the squad that lost the gold-medal game to the United States and settled for silver.
“It’s definitely something I’ll remember for the rest of my life. Those guys that I played with, some of them were just magnificent in that tournament and it was just a real treat to be a part of it,” he told Peace Arch News.
“It was a time in my life that I’m fortunate to have experienced.”
Teubert, who also won a gold medal for Canada at U18 championships, knows all too well the pressures and expectations that are heaped upon the young team members each year in Canada. His gold-medal win was Canada’s fifth in a row, which made the 2010 loss even harder to swallow.
“It sucks that these kids lost (this year) because there’s just so much pressure on you to win, and I felt that myself. To this day, that gold medal we lost in Saskatoon, it still bugs me. It just does – it’s one of those things. If you win, you walk together forever, but if you lose, it kind of haunts you a little bit,” he said.
“I still struggle with it because I was on the ice for a lot of those goals (against) in the final. Not that it was my fault – you win and lose as a team – but I was still out there.”
However, nearly a decade removed from the experience, the now-retired 28-year-old player is able to look back fondly on the experience.
“My takeaway from it all now is that my experiences playing for Team Canada were the best moments of my life and, win or lose, I was very proud to be a part of it.”
Considering the profile of the tournament is so high – especially in Canada, where even national-team summer camps are covered by hordes of media – Teubert understands while most fans expect the Canadian squad to return home with gold each year, he’s quick to point out that achieving such a goal is no easy feat.
“I think the biggest misconception about the world junior tournament is that we have all the best players in Canada, so let’s just bring them all together and we’re going to be fine,” he said. “But it takes a lot more than that, as you saw this year. You need team chemistry, guys buying into their roles, all that stuff.
“You’re taking guys who were the best players on their local teams and asking them to play different roles and be comfortable… and that can be challenging. If my coach told me to sit on the bench, then I’d sit on the bench and be a cheerleader – it’s one thing you have to re-iterate to these young guys, who maybe haven’t had to experience that before.
“It can be tough – I was young and dumb once, too, and thought I was the greatest in the world, but as you get older and get later into your career, you realize that everybody has a role they have to play.”
Gillies admitted that the pressure of performing on such a grand stage can take its toll on you if you let it. Like Teubert, his heart broke for this year’s Canadian squad when Finland’s overtime goal ended the team’s medal hopes.
“There’s a tremendous amount of pressure on those young men,” Gillies said. “And the pressure comes from everywhere because you just want to represent your country well and make everyone proud.”
Gillies – who is in his third season in the primarily-Russia-based KHL – said his gold medal and accompanying championship ring are stored in White Rock in a safe, and he occasionally takes them out to show those who are interested, including the nine-year-olds on the team he coaches each spring when he returns home at the close of the KHL season.
“They love it,” he said.
Until recently, Teubert – whose career took him from North America to Germany until injuries forced him into early retirement in 2017 – also kept his medals in a safety-deposit box. Having now returned from Europe and settled in Blaine. Wash. – his wife, Ashley, is American – Teubert said he has his Team Canada keepsakes in his games room, where they are conversation pieces for visitors and toys for his young son, who Teubert says often plays with the gold medal.
Now working in the heavy-equipment industry, Teubert has also waded into coaching with his hometown Surrey Eagles, where he’s served as a development coach with the BC Hockey League team, while also coaching younger players through the youth programs the team works with.
“It’s very exciting, just going out and trying to have fun with the kids,” he said.
“It’s the perfect time for me to start this new career and… give back to the game. In my career, I did a lot of things that I liked, and I did a lot of things that, looking back, I wish I didn’t do, so if I can help out a young player – whether it’s making a hockey decision or just becoming a better person – that’s what I want to focus on now.”
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