Canada's world junior title has its roots in a gold medal in Sochi

The team concept perfected at the Olympics led to gold at the World Junior Championship, too. AP Images/The Canadian Press, Frank Gunn

TORONTO -- It would appear Sochi is the gift that keeps on giving when it comes to Canada’s world hockey prowess.

The gold-medal capper on Monday night to the World Junior Championship, featuring a Canadian side that never trailed once in the tournament, can be traced back to the senior side’s all-world performance last February at the Olympics in Sochi.

Last June, on the eve of the NHL draft in Philadelphia, Canada’s junior coaching staff, led by Benoit Groulx, met with Team Canada Olympic coach Mike Babcock. It was as if the baton was being passed.

Babcock told ESPN.com via text message Monday night that he tried to share his experiences with Groulx's staff in the meeting, such as what they would face in terms of managing players, agents, families and the media, handling the coaching staff, player accountability, all kinds of stuff.

"The coaching staff, all the staff with the junior team, they’ve done a great job," Babcock said via text.

Groulx said Babcock addressed Groulx's staff for about 45 minutes in Philadelphia that day in June, and it’s clear that chat was impactful.

"He explained to us what they went through in Sochi and what might be awaiting us as coaches and as a team in Montreal and Toronto, two big markets like that," Groulx said Monday night, a gold medal hanging around his neck. "We took good notes of what he had to say. It was educational; we fully understood what he was saying. And it helped us."

Credit Hockey Canada vice-president Scott Salmond for the idea to get Babcock to chat with Groulx’s staff.

"I was so impressed with how things went in Sochi," Salmond told ESPN.com Monday night. "To me, that’s the blueprint."

No, really, it’s the actual blueprint now for Hockey Canada.

"It’s called The Canadian Way," explained Salmond. "It’s all based on everything that happened in Sochi, from coaching to the environment to the players and how they buy in, so the whole concept of The Canadian Way is something we ran with all year. Ben [Groulx] obviously bought into it. That was the mantra all the way along. Our systems were the same as the team in Sochi."

More importantly, and what mattered most, Groulx said, is that the players ultimately bought into it.

"It was the players on the ice that made the difference,’’ said Groulx. "But the first thing we thought of as a coaching staff as we prepared for this was, what kind of example could we try to model? That team in Sochi was almost perfect. Their team concept was tremendous. So we wanted to bring that to our group."

Groulx’s staff hammered home the point to their junior players that the biggest stars in hockey swallowed their ego in Sochi to make it happen. So why not them?

"We watched video of that Sochi team that won; you had guys who are elite players play on the fourth line and doing whatever it takes to win," forward Max Domi (Arizona Coyotes) said after the gold-medal game. "Ben was just like, 'If those guys can do it, then you guys can definitely do it.' So we bought in pretty quick. We used their system for sure, and it was pretty good."

Future NHL superstar Connor McDavid said the Sochi example was an easy sell for the junior team.

"I would say so, yeah," said McDavid, who was outstanding in the tournament. "When you’re seeing guys like Patrick Sharp and P.K. Subban, a guy who’s won a Norris Trophy, they’re playing 10 minutes a night and sometimes scratched. They’re just happy to do that and enjoy themselves. That’s the result you’re going to get, a gold medal, when everyone is having fun and accepting their roles. If guys like that are doing it, why can’t 22 of us junior players do that?"


"If we believed that our team was a dream team at the junior level, I think the team that won the gold medal in Sochi was also a dream team," said Groulx. "What’s a better example to show our guys than [Sidney] Crosby or [Jonathan] Toews or [Ryan] Getzlaf or [Corey] Perry accepting their roles, tracking hard and blocking shots and staying on the ice [only] 40 seconds.

"Our message to our players was very simple: I said, 'These guys wanted to win the gold medal, and look at what they did to achieve that. You guys are the best players in our country, exactly like them. The only difference is that they’re pro and you’re junior. But you’re still the best. Let’s do it. Let’s use them as a model.' I thought that team in Sochi was unbelievable. And I thought our team was pretty good, too."

It was Canada’s first world junior gold in six years, since a win by the 2009 squad that included the likes of Subban, John Tavares, Jordan Eberle, Alex Pietrangelo, Jamie Benn and Evander Kane, among others.

Like that 2009 squad, you get the feeling we’ll look back five years from now and marvel at the quality of the roster, led by McDavid, Domi, Anthony Duclair, Sam Reinhart, Curtis Lazar and Nic Petan, among others.

Despite all that talent, there are many who didn’t pick Canada in this tournament, in part because of the pressure the team would face thanks to playing at home with the big NHL crowds in Montreal and Toronto, and also because of the weighty desire to end that gold-medal drought.

Pressure? What pressure?

"Everyone asks about pressure like it’s a bad thing,’’ said Domi, who was also fantastic in the tourney. "Our whole team was embracing it and loving every second of it. We knew this would be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. We just embraced it and said, 'Hey boys, we’re doing everything we can to win this thing. We’re going to remember it for the rest of our lives.'

"And we did it, so we’re pretty happy."