Because of the mild, if wet and grey, winter climate, the Island has built its international sporting reputation more in the Summer Olympics, because it is one of the few places in Canada where athletes can train outdoors all year. But not all athletes here are born in Speedos with an oar in their hand and track spikes on their feet.
There has been a surprisingly strong connection between Island players, both from here and who played on Victoria teams, and the IIHF world junior hockey championship tournament.
The tradition of Island players at the world junior championship began when future NHLers Mel Bridgman of Victoria and the late Rick Lapointe of Esquimalt, both then with the Victoria Cougars of the Western Hockey League, won silver with Canada at the 1975 world juniors.
It continued through WHL Victoria Royals defenceman Joe Hicketts’ gold medal with Canada at the 2015 world junior championship in Toronto.
That followed Central Saanich-product Jamie Benn’s breakthrough gold-medal performance to help lead Canada in 2009 at Ottawa, a precursor to the Dallas Stars captain’s gold medal at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics.
Sandwiched in between was Juan de Fuca minor hockey blue-line product Tyson Barrie’s silver medal at the 2011 world junior championship in Buffalo. Also on the Canadian team was Port Hardy-raised, Campbell River native Brett Connolly. Now with the Colorado Avalanche and Washington Capitals, respectively, both Islanders were left to rue a golden opportunity missed when Canada squandered a 3-0 lead against Russia heading into the third period of the championship game.
Former NHL forward Matt Pettinger of Victoria won the bronze medal with Canada at the 2000 world junior championship in Sweden. Former Victoria Cougars star forwards Curt Fraser and the late Gary Lupul won world junior silver medals in 1978 and 1979, respectively.
The undersized but wonderfully elusive forward Mark Morrison and the late Paul Cyr of Port Alberni, both from the Victoria Cougars, were gold medallists in 1982 at Rochester, Minnesota. That was the year the tape player in the frigid and drafty little country rink jammed after the medals ceremony, leaving the Canadian players to fill the awkward silence by launching into an impromptu and lusty version of O Canada.
Few Canadian sports fans even followed the world juniors back then. But this small gesture, of passionately belting out the national anthem to fill the silence, seemed to entrench the event in the Canadian public imagination.
Morrison and Cyr were back a year later as part of the 1983 bronze-medallist Canadian team captained by Morrison in Leningrad.
Former NHLer Kent Manderville of Victoria, who went on to capture a silver medal for Canada at the 1992 Albertville Winter Olympics, won back-to-back world junior gold medals in 1990 and 1991.
Retired NHL forwards Russ Courtnall of Victoria and Rod Brind’Amour of Campbell River also played in the world juniors in 1984 in Sweden and 1989 in Anchorage, respectively. Both went on to respective fourth-place Winter Olympics placings at Sarajevo in 1984 and Nagano in 1998 as part of their international tours of duty playing for Canada.
So it’s not a bad record, if counterintuitive, at the world junior hockey tournament for an Island better known for international podiums in summer sports.