By Jonathan Yue, Hockey Canada
CORNWALL, Ont. — The last time the World Junior A Challenge (WJAC) was played, in December of 2019, a young goaltender stole the show, earning Most Valuable Player honours and backstopping Canada East to within an overtime goal of its first gold medal.
A year later, Devon Levi was starring on the biggest stage in junior hockey, turning in one of the best netminding performances in IIHF World Junior Championship history inside the Edmonton bubble.
Levi is just one of the many success stories that have come out of the WJAC, which returns after a two-year COVID-19 hiatus when Cornwall, Ont., welcomes Canada East, Canada West, Latvia, Sweden and the United States beginning Dec. 11.
Founded in 2006 to give more exposure to players from across the Canadian Junior Hockey League, there have been no shortage of memorable moments and historic performances over the years.
At the first WJAC in Yorkton and Humboldt, Sask., in the first-ever game, Kyle Turris recorded what it still the only four-goal effort in tournament history, leading Canada West to a win over Russia en route to gold and MVP honours.
In Langley, B.C., in 2011, Canada West became the first team to lose both of its preliminary-round games (under the old format) and still win gold, capped by a thrilling 4-2 win over Canada East in the most recent all-Canadian final.
That game included nine players who have appeared in an NHL game – four with West (Alex Kerfoot, Jujhar Khaira, Colton Parayko, Troy Stecher) and five with East (Drake Caggiula, Justin Danforth, Ben Hutton, Devin Shore, MacKenzie Weegar).
Four years later, a Canada West roster that included four first-round NHL draft picks Tyson Jost (10th to Colorado in 2016), Dante Fabbro (17th, Nashville, 2016), Dennis Cholowski (20th, Detroit, 2016) and Cale Makar (4th, Colorado, 2017) – won gold in Cobourg and Whitby, Ont.
That tournament is perhaps best remembered for the wild East vs. West semifinal; tied 2-2 entering the third period, Jost tied a tournament-record with four points (1-3—3) and the teams combined for a record nine goals, with West pulling away for an 8-5 win.
Makar, of course, is now perhaps the best-known WJAC alumni – an all-star in 2015, he returned to captain West in 2016, again making the all-star team, before embarking on a pro career that has already included a Calder Trophy, Conn Smythe Trophy and Stanley Cup championship in Colorado.
But it’s not just Canadians who have left their mark. The list of international alumni is just as impressive, including Boston Bruins superstar David Pastrnak (Czech Republic, 2012), Calgary Flames standout Elias Lindholm (Sweden, 2011) and a trio of Americans – New York Islanders defenceman Scott Mayfield (2010), Buffalo Sabres forward Vince Hinostroza (2012) and Arizona Coyotes point-getter Nick Schmaltz (2013) – who were tournament MVPs.
As was Winnipeg Jets sniper Nikolaj Ehlers, who took home the award in 2014 after posting nine points (6-3—9) in four games and helping Denmark reach the gold medal game in Kindersley, Sask.
That year, the Danes entered the WJAC as preparation for the IIHF World Junior Championship in Toronto and Montreal. This year, it’ll be Latvia doing the same as it gets ready for the World Juniors in Halifax and Moncton.
So … will you be part of the festivities in Cornwall? Tickets are now on sale, and there’s something for everyone.
Only available to check out the night games? There’s a package for that (six games for $87).
Only want to see the action on opening day, featuring East and West in action? There’s a package for that (two games for $32).
Only want to watch the medal round on the final weekend? There’s a package for that (four games for $76).
Tickets are on sale now at HockeyCanada.ca/WJAC.