B.C. at the World Juniors – MATHEW BARZAL

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With the IIHF World Junior Championship back in British Columbia for the first time in 13 years and B.C. Hockey celebrating its 100th anniversary, we asked the question … what are the best performances by B.C. natives in World Juniors history?

MATHEW BARZAL
Hometown: Coquitlam, B.C.
Minor Hockey Association: Burnaby Winter Club

2016 IIHF World Junior Championship
Statistics: 5GP 2G 1A 3P
Result: sixth place

2017 IIHF World Junior Championship
Statistics: 7GP 3G 5A 8P
Result: silver medal

Canada landed in Finland for the 2016 IIHF World Junior Championship as defending champion, looking for its first gold medal on European ice since 2008. But an up-and-down prelims left the Canadians with a tough quarter-final against the host Finns, and a 6-5 loss meant a sixth-place finish.

Barzal scored the first Canadian goal of the tournament and earned three points in the first two games, but the well ran dry after that. The Coquitlam native returned a year later and had an immediate impact in Toronto, equalling his 2016 scoring output in a Boxing Day win over Russia.

He added a pair of goals against Latvia en route to eight points in seven games, good for third in Canadian scoring behind WJC MVP Thomas Chabot and captain Dylan Strome. Unfortunately, another heartbreaking defeat, this time to the United States in a shootout, left Canada with a silver medal.

What did you take away from 2016, and how did it help you in 2017?
“For us, we knew right away the things that were holding us back in 2016. We had a bunch of returning guys; we all recognized what was wrong and knew we needed to fix it, and then came back the next year and had a really strong tournament, and just lost unfortunately in a shootout. We all just wanted to win. It was unfortunate [in 2016] – losing in the quarter-finals really stung. The next year I wanted to be a leader; it was the last kick at the can for me to win a World Juniors, so I really wanted to make the most of it and play well, and the same goes for the rest of the returning players. The drive and the determination were there for all of us.”

What do you remember about the gold medal game against the United States?
“That was a crazy game, just constantly back and forth. In those kinds of circumstances, there’s no stop. It’s one game, winner-take-all, so whether you’re up two, or tied, or down two, you’re going hard all the time. When it was 4-2 [Canada] in the third, we just tried not get over-excited, and tried to keep pushing. And when they tied it up and it was 4-4, we were thinking ‘If we could have written it up at the start of the tournament, that we would be tied in the third period of the gold medal game, we would have taken it for sure.’ We just looked at is as next goal wins. We wanted a different ending, but it was a battle.”

How different is the experience playing in the World Juniors in Europe versus at home in Canada?
“Going over to Europe is obviously different, but you do feel the support from everyone in Canada, and you realize ‘Wow, there are a lot of people watching.’ I kind of liked being over there; you kind of have your 4,000-5,000 fans that are there and that’s it, that’s all you’ve got for Canadians. We were kind of like a big team over there because you’re all Canadian … that’s what you have in common. I thought that was kind of fun. We were all in it together. When we were at home in Canada, I can’t even describe how big the tournament was with all the fans and the atmosphere in the arena. It’s probably the craziest hockey experience I’ve ever been a part of in my life. I don’t think there’s too many bigger games as a Canadian than a World Juniors gold medal game at home. Being in Canada, there was so much going on. So much energy from the fans, and the rest of the country. Being so young, it was unbelievable and so much fun.”

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