Every Christmas, young hockey stars find their way to the World Junior Championships to represent their nations. Along with the team goals, there are many outstanding individual performances each year, and those moments capture our imagination and live on forever.
They also serve as a player introduction to fans, who will see them on the NHL stage in years to come. Some of today's greatest stars got their first international exposure at the World Junior Championships, and this year will see more stories unfold in Malmo, Sweden.
Here are the 10 most impressive World Junior performances over the past decade.
The Hype: The 2004-05 NHL lockout meant that Canada would ice the strongest World Junior roster in history. The story became a nightly national obsession and Phaneuf was front and center as one of the leaders of the team. Phaneuf—who had been drafted in 2003 by Calgary—would have been in the NHL if not for the lockout, and was considered one of the major stars for the 2005 tournament.
The Results: His all-around game included being a big part of the power play as well as playing quality defense. Phaneuf's size and intimidating style allowed Canada to impose their will on the opposition throughout the tournament and win gold.
What it Led To: Phaneuf's NHL career began with a blaze in Calgary, but he's settled in to a top pairing role with Toronto over the last few seasons. He is the team's captain and heavy minutes leader, and Toronto's playoff hopes rely on a healthy Phaneuf.
The Hype: At the 2006 World Junior Championships, hockey fans got a chance to see the consensus best player outside the NHL in phenom Evgeni Malkin. Malkin's size and reputation made him the biggest star of the tournament that year.
The Results: Malkin's team fell short of winning the gold medal, but the Russian center showed fans his tremendous skill and size in the tournament. His four goals and 10 points were among the leaders and only the final (a shutout loss to the Canadians) marred an impressive display.
What it Led To: Malkin is one of the two or three best players in the NHL today. His impact on the game is exceptional and he is a Stanley Cup winner who has also won the Calder, Hart, Conn Smythe, Lindsay and Art Ross (twice) Trophies.
The Hype: Thirty-three years to the day after the Montreal Canadiens and the Central Red Army played a memorable game at the Montreal Forum, Canada and the USA played one of their own New Year's Eve classics. John Tavares entered the tournament as one of the feature players, along with Cody Hodgson and Angelo Esposito.
The Results: Canada would eventually win the 2009 World Junior Championship, but wouldn't have been close without the New Year's Eve heroics by Tavares. Down 3-0 to the Americans early, Tavares scored three and inspired his teammates to a 7-4 victory and a bye into the final (which the Canadian squad won for their fifth title in a row). He was named tournament MVP and finished second in scoring (6GP, 8-7-15) overall.
What it Led To: Tavares used the big stage as a springboard to the NHL, and he was an NHL regular 12 months later. The New York Islanders center is now an established player and has earned strong consideration for the 2014 Olympics.
The Hype: Gibson was a highly touted prospect before the 2013 World Junior championships, having performed very well for the U.S. National Development team 2009-11 and landing in the second round of the 2011 NHL draft (39th overall to Anaheim).
The Results: The 2013 edition of the tournament turned into the John Gibson show, with the young goaltender winning tournament MVP, the top goalie award and a spot on the All-Star team. He finished with a .955 save percentage and a 1.36 goals-against average.
What it Led To: Gibson is playing pro hockey in the Anaheim organization (Norfolk, AHL) and showing extremely well in 2013-14. His save percentage (.928) leads the league's regular goaltenders, highly unusual for a rookie.
The Hype: The pressure was on in a big way as Canada was trying for their third straight gold medal at the World Junior Championships in Leksand, Sweden. Price was highly regarded as a junior, being selected fifth overall in the 2005 Draft by the Montreal Canadiens. Price entered the tournament as the starter, and backup Leland Irving didn't see any action.
The Results: Carey Price was brilliant for the entire tournament, winning six games and losing none. He had two shutouts and boasted a minuscule 1.14 goals-against average in leading Canada to a gold medal. Price had an outstanding final game against Russia, as Canada won 4-2 to continue their string. His save percentage for the tournament was an incredible .961 as he led Canada to victory.
What it Led To: Price went from the World Junior pressure to one of the toughest jobs in hockey: playing goal for the Montreal Canadiens in the NHL. He's had his ups and downs but is a quality goaltender and the odds-on favorite to be Canada's starter at the Sochi Olympics.
The Hype: Russia versus Canada has been the greatest hockey rivalry over the last 40 years, and the 2005 tournament offered another example. A deep Canadian team was up against the Russians who were led by Alexander Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin, twin towers of offense. Ovechkin had been drafted No. 1 overall in the 2004 Entry draft and was the marquee player entering Christmas week.
The Results: Canada's depth wore him down in the championship game. To say he was targeted is a mild description and the Russians finished second despite the Herculean efforts of Ovechkin. It was Canada's first gold medal in seven years. Ovechkin went 6GP, 4-7-11 for the 2005 tournament.
What it Led To: Ovechkin would enter the NHL and begin scoring goals in record numbers. His offensive dominance continues to this day, and he is approaching levels where we will begin to discuss the Russian as the greatest LW in the history of the NHL.
The Hype: He was a big part of the 2005 Canadian team, regarded as the best ever assembled at the World Junior Championships. Bergeron was expected to be a stalwart player for the Canadians.
The Results: Bergeron went super nova during the tournament, leading everyone in scoring (6GP, 5-8-13) and delivering outstanding two-way play. His leadership was a big part of the story, as Canada finished with a 6-0 record and outscored the opposition 41-7.
What it Led To: Bergeron has continued his fine play, although he is not the offensive force in the NHL that he was in junior hockey. He is a vital member of the Boston Bruins, who have been strong Stanley Cup contenders since his arrival.
The Hype: The Canada-USA rivalry is famous in hockey, and for the World Junior Championships the most memorable game between the two countries came in January 2010. Team Canada had won five championships in a row, while the Americans had won the tournament only once (2004) in previous seasons. Carlson—on loan from the Hershey Bears (Washington's AHL farm club)—was one of the leaders (alternate captain) for the American team and part of a deep defensive group.
The Results: It was an exciting contest, made even more memorable because they needed extra time to decide things in the 2010 championship game. John Carlson won it for the Americans less than five minutes into overtime with a quick wrist shot. He roared down the left side on a two-on-one break, gave the impression he was going to pass and then rifled the puck into the net for the win.
Carlson shot the puck while still looking in the direction of the other forward, completely surprising the Canadian goalie, who never moved. It remains the single greatest overtime goal in World Junior history.
What it Led To: Carlson turned pro with the Washington Capitals, spent part of a season in the AHL, and has been in the NHL for five seasons. He's a quality two-way defender and one of the most valuable assets on the Capitals roster.
The Hype: The Canada-USA rivalry at the World Juniors grows each winter, and one of the reasons for it is the game played January 3, 2007. Jonathan Toews entered the tournament as one of the key members of Team Canada, valued mostly for his defensive play.
The Results: The teams were so evenly matched in their semifinal game that year that regulation and overtime solved nothing. They were forced into the dreaded shootout with everyone watching from the edge of their seats.
Three times during the shootout Toews was chosen against the Americans, and three times he scored. Finally, Carey Price stopped the Americans and Canada was on to the gold medal game (they would win over Russia).
The Toews shootout goals remain part of the game's lore to this day. His offense during the tournament (6GP, 4-3-7) was enough to lead Team Canada.
What it Led To: Toews is the acknowledged leader of the NHL's best team, current Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks. His leadership and overall talent helped Canada in 2007, and have aided Chicago to their two most recent Stanley Cup victories.
The Hype: The story at the beginning was Canada's drive for five straight World Junior titles and to set a record for consecutive championships. The offense was expected to come from John Tavares and Cody Hodgson, Eberle was expected to contribute offensively, but was part of a group of players Canada would rely on during the tournament.
Entering the Christmas camp, there was no certainty Eberle would play on a top line.
The Results: The final is barely remembered, as the semifinal game between Canada and Russia features what might be the most famous goal in Canadian hockey history. The Russians proved a worthy opponent during the semifinal and the Canadians were down a goal as the clock ran toward zero.
With mere seconds left and the Canadian goalie on the bench, the puck was saved from going outside the zone, passed to Jordan Eberle, who deftly deked the goalie and scored, tying the game. Eberle finished 6-7-13 in six games during the tournament.
What it Led To: Canada would win the game in a shootout, win the gold medal for the fifth straight time and Jordan Eberle would be back the following season for more heroics. He is now playing in the NHL with the Edmonton Oilers and having a successful career.