CBCSports.ca will unveil its picks for Canadian player of the year on Wednesday, Canadian sports story of the year on Thursday and its selections for the most influential person in sports and the Canadian player of the decade next week. The Canadian team of the year honours go to the 2009 world junior hockey team, which claimed this country's fifth straight world championship this past January.
Being down at a crucial moment was not the situation Pat Quinn wanted to find himself in. But it was the coach's calm and experience that ultimately made the difference in the 2009 world junior hockey championship in Ottawa.
It started on New Year's Eve 2008 as Canada played its archrival from the United States in the quarter-finals. Almost immediately, they were down 3-0, silencing the 20,000-plus raucous fans at the game.
Oops. So much for hometown advantage.
But in a span of 3:15, from 14:55 to 18:10 of the first period, the Canadians scored three times to tie it, with John Tavares scoring twice to lead the charge. The Americans slumped over on their bench while the Canadians took control and never looked back.
Two nights later, Canada faced off against Russia, with the winner moving to the gold final against Sweden.
Three times, the Canadians took the lead only to lose it. Then Russia sent the crowd into shock by taking a lead with 2:20 left in the third period. The bell was about to toll on the Canadian juniors, but again, they regrouped and tied it with 5.4 seconds left in regulation time.
After 10 minutes of extra time failed to produce a winner, the game went to a shootout.
"It was tense, tense on the bench," said Tavares at the time. "You have 20,000 Canadians standing up watching everyone, and you can't really watch on the bench. Guys had their heads down or were holding each other, praying for pucks to go in and pucks to stay out."
There was a time when you would have favoured the Russians in a shootout, but those days are long gone. Tavares ended up scoring the goal that clinched the shootout victory, sending Canada into the final against Sweden.
Quinn's calm kept team focused
This is where the calm of the veteran coach showed itself. Every player knew his role. They knew if they followed the plan, they would win, and they knew there would be no histrionics from the veteran behind the bench. P.K. Subban set the stage when he crashed the Swedish net 38 seconds into the game for a power play goal that gave Canada a lead that it would never relinquish.
Afterward, Quinn reflected on what it was like to coach a bunch of kids young enough to be his grandsons. At 65 (at the time), Quinn was the oldest coach Canada's national junior team has had.
"I learned that our coaches and our parents across Canada are doing a good job because those kids were amazing," said Quinn, whose 2009 world junior participation marked the 10th time he had been involved with a Canadian national team.
"They felt that pressure, and a lot of them had not been through it before, and they handled it admirably. I learned our kids are good kids. They were stable and know how to fight back and not lose their composure.
"Those kids were fine, and our parents have raised fine young men. They love the game, and above all, they love pulling that Canadian sweater on. They were so proud of that."
Hockey Canada has long recognized that the best players don’t often make the best team, and the competition for an invitation to training camp pales just slightly in comparison to the competition in creating the team.
Part of the fun is watching to see who emerges as the hero, and Ottawa was no different.
Take Angelo Esposito.
4th time a charm for Esposito
Going into the pre-tournament selection camp last December, all that Quinn knew about Esposito was that the teenager had been cut from the national junior team three times before, and if anyone had a reason to quietly decline an invitation, it was him.
But the veteran Quinn worked his contacts in the hockey world and discovered that Esposito was trying to change his game from being an offensive sparkplug to being a more complete player.
"What I liked when we invited him was many people were saying to him. 'Why go? Why hurt yourself again?' But this man said, 'No. I am going, and if I get cut, so what?'" said Quinn.
Esposito doesn't deny that being cut three years in a row took its toll.
"It was tough. It had been tough on all of us, and as hard as it was on me, it was harder on my parents," he said. "Making the team, for me, I was satisfied and proud to represent my country. But I was aiming to win that gold medal, and winning it really meant something to me. It means a lot."
As things turned out, Esposito scored the goal that clinched the gold medal for Canada in the final game against Sweden. He made his last chance to represent his country at the world juniors memorable when he scored on a backhand at 4:06 of the second period.
"Ottawa was great," says Esposito, who was a Pittsburgh draft pick in 2007 (20th overall) before being traded to Atlanta in the spring of 2008. "Every game there, the atmosphere was unbelievable, and we had a great crowd every game, and the closer it got to the final, the more exciting it became.
"At the time, I was just happy to score, and later on, it was the winning goal. It was a good feeling, but it was a better feeling winning the gold medal."
Quinn deserves a lot of credit in the drive for five. His calming influence allowed his players to rise to the occasion.
"To be honest, Pat just has that presence," said Subban. "He was a big part of the reason why we were able to keep our composure. Without his composure and his calming influence, I am not too sure we would have been as successful as we were."
When the tournament ended, the juniors went back to their respective club teams. Their paths will cross again, and on many occasions it won't be as teammates.
But one thing no one can ever take from them is their gold-medal performance.
Tradition is a part of the great game of hockey, and Hockey Canada has a great tradition of winning.