The World Junior Championship kicked off Friday and I think it’s safe to say that at least 90% of hockey fans look forward to the holidays for this very reason. And while the tournament usually starts on Boxing Day, fans were treated to a collective Christmas present from the schedule makers. This year, the show started on Christmas Day with three games.
I’m a native of Kitchener, Ontario, and while I wasn’t old enough to enjoy the success of the early 2000s teams that employed guys like Mike Richards and Andre Benoit, I’ve seen a lot of talented Kitchener Rangers teams in my lifetime. So, I figured I would combine the best of both worlds and assemble an all-time starting lineup of Rangers alumni who made the most significant impact at the World Juniors.
One thing I’d like to note before we dive into this. The criteria for the players I chose is exclusively based on their performance at the World Junior tournament and doesn’t have anything to do with their success with the Rangers. Some players also may not have played for the Rangers in the same year they went to the tournament. The only criteria are that they must have played for the Rangers at some point in their career. Now, enough rambling. Here’s the all-time Kitchener World Junior Championship lineup.
G – John Gibson (Team USA)
It came down to either Gibson or Steve Mason for this one. Both were equally as stellar for their respective teams, but I opted to go with Gibson because he was a member of the Rangers at the time of the tournament whereas Mason was traded to Kitchener after the tournament.
The United States took home the gold medal at the 2013 tournament and to say they had a stacked lineup is an understatement. The team consisted of current NHLers like Johnny Gaudreau, Jacob Trouba, J.T. Miller, Alex Galchenyuk, Seth Jones, Vincent Trocheck, Jimmy Vesey, the list goes on. Gibson started every single game for the U.S. and finished the tournament with a 1.36 goals-against average (GAA) and a .955 save percentage (SV%).
There simply aren’t any words to describe how dominant Gibson truly was. Shutting out Germany in the round-robin and then the Czech Republic in the quarter final, he switched gears in the elimination games and never looked back. His performance was good enough to earn him top goalie at the tournament as well as MVP, making him a legend for both the United States as well as back in Kitchener.
D – Yannick Weber (Team Switzerland)
The 2008 World Juniors were a tournament to forget for Team Switzerland. They didn’t win a single game in the round-robin and were demoted to Division 1 following a loss to Slovakia in the relegation round. They would only miss one tournament, however, and they’ve been mainstays ever since 2010.
One of the primary bright spots on that 2008 Swiss team was Weber. He was the highest-scoring defenseman for the Rangers that year with 55 points through 59 games, and he lived up to his offensive potential at the tournament with two goals and six points through six games, marking the most points by a Rangers defenseman at the tournament. He’s tied with one other player who we’ll get to next.
He’s the Swiss’ all-time highest-scoring defenseman at the World Juniors between his three appearances at the tournament. Since then, he’s played parts of 12 seasons in the NHL between the Montreal Canadiens, Vancouver Canucks, and Nashville Predators.
D – Boris Valabik (Team Slovakia)
Once a constant middle of the pack team, the Slovaks have seen a bit of a setback in player development in recent years. They haven’t really made much noise at the World Juniors with the exception of a bronze medal in 1999 and 2015 and a fourth-place finish in 2009.
An absolute monster on the ice at 6’7 and 231 pounds, Valabik has never been an offensive player. But he ditched that narrative at the 2006 World Juniors where he finished the tournament with six points in six games, outscoring fellow defenseman and current NHLer Andrej Sekera. This was also enough to tie fellow Rangers alumni Weber.
It was a year to forget for the Slovaks, finishing eighth in the tournament, but it was right in the middle of Canada’s five-year gold medal streak, so they never really stood much of a chance anyway. Valabik would go on to play parts of three NHL seasons with the Atlanta Thrashers and spent four seasons in Europe before retiring following the 2016-17 season.
LW – Matt Halischuk (Team Canada)
Unlike most of the other players on this starting lineup, Halischuk isn’t here because of his individual performance. Rather, he’s here because of the timing of his performance. On the 2008 Canadian team that was carried by Kyle Turris, Brad Marchand, Claude Giroux, and Steven Stamkos, Halischuk finished the tournament with only one goal and four points in seven games. Here’s the catch – that one goal was the golden goal that would win Canada the gold medal.
After a failed wrap-around attempt by Shawn Matthias, Halischuk picked up the rebound and put it past Jhonas Enroth for his first goal of the tournament, which also happened to be the most important one. It was his only appearance at a World Junior tournament, but it’s certainly one to remember for him and Canadian hockey fans alike. Even though four points in seven games isn’t blowing anybody’s socks off, to say you scored the goal that won your country its fourth gold medal in a row and 14th of all time is pretty special.
Halischuk would go on to play parts of eight NHL seasons with the New Jersey Devils, Predators, and Winnipeg Jets. He retired following the 2016-17 campaign, which he spent with the Iserlohn Roosters of the DEL.
C – Nazem Kadri (Team Canada)
Kadri was a member of the 2010 Canadian team that went home with a silver medal after a loss in the finals to the United States. He was a member of the London Knights the year he represented Canada, but he’s still one of the highest-scoring players at the tournament to have played for the Rangers.
He finished that year in a five-way tie for fourth on the team in scoring, which is hilarious to me considering he had eight points in six games. Goes to show you how offensively stacked the Canadians were that year.
Team Canada absolutely exploded offensively for 35 (!!) goals in the four round-robin games. Kadri had five points through those four games. He had two assists in the gold medal game against the United States, which they would go on to lose in a heartbreaking overtime loss. Kadri was drafted by the Toronto Maple Leafs the year prior and gave fans a glimpse of what to expect from him. He became a fan favorite and spent seven full seasons with them before being traded to the Colorado Avalanche in 2019, where he remains to this day.
RW – Jerry D’Amigo (Team USA)
D’Amigo was the primary reason I bent the rules to include players who weren’t actually members of the Rangers at the time of their tournament performances. The New York native was a member of Rensselaer Polytech Institute of the NCAA at the time of this tournament and was a force offensively for The United States. Team USA took home a gold medal in 2010 and D’Amigo was a crucial part of that, finishing the tournament with 12 points in seven games. Second only to Derek Stepan, who had 15.
While he was solid in the round-robin, he really kicked it up a notch in the elimination games, scoring five goals in three contests. He scored two goals in the quarter final game against Finland, two goals in the semis against Sweden including the tying goal, and one goal in the gold medal game against Canada. He suited up for the Rangers the following year and returned to the World Juniors for the 2011 tournament. Oddly enough, he only mustered two points in his second go round.
Outside of the World Juniors, D’Amigo never got more than a cup of coffee in the NHL with a short stint in Toronto as well as with the Buffalo Sabres, and he’s now under contract with the ECHL’s Orlando Solar Bears.
The World Juniors are the most exciting part of the holidays for most hockey fans, and for good reason. It goes far beyond just supporting your country and calling it a day. Players come from all over the world and there’s no money or politics involved. Just a bunch of kids playing their hearts out and trying to do their countries proud. Fans get to follow their favorite team’s prospects as well as the players who play for their local junior teams.
It’s some of the best hockey of the year, and we’re bathing in it now. From all of us at THW, a Merry Christmas and a very happy holidays.