Thursday, December 27, 2012

The Canucks All-Canadian WJC Team

When Frank Corrado was cut from Team Canada two weeks ago, Canucks fans were painfully reminded that it's been four years since one of our own played for the good guys at the World Juniors.  For reasons too many to count, we needn't be reminded who that last player was, but could we really forget Cody Hodgson's mastery in 2009?  Two years before that, Luc Bourdon had his turn starring for Team Canada.  It takes you back to a time when the Canucks actually drafted good Canadian players.

Bourdon and Hodgson undoubtedly mark two of the best Canucks-in-the-making to suit up for our national junior team.  Sadly, it becomes a real stretch after that to think of the last Vancouver prospect to make an impact for Canada at this tournament.  And no, Roberto Luongo does not count.  For that reason, Bure's Triple Deke gives you the Vancouver Canucks' All-Canadian WJC Team.  That is – by position, the five greatest performances by a Canucks draft pick at the World Juniors.

I dare you not to get excited about the name Jim Sandlak.  Go on, just try not to!

*An important caveat: Players must have been drafted prior to their WJC performance.  For example, Brandon Reid led Canada with 9 points in 2000, but was not yet official property of the Canucks until his draft later that year.


Frank Caprice, 1982

Apparently the Canucks are terrible at drafting Canadian goaltenders, because the last time a prospective Vancouver netminder made any noise at the World Juniors was 31 years ago.  Caprice played second fiddle to Mike Moffat, who was named to the Tournament All-Star Team, in a seemingly 1A-1B goalie rotation.  Starting three of seven games, he posted a 2.33 GAA, helping Canada to an undefeated record and their first gold medal in tournament history.

Going into his NHL career, the Canucks' ninth-round selection (1981) never managed to secure that starting role.  Caprice played in the Richard Brodeur era of Canucks history, spending six years in the backup position.  In 1984–85, he appeared in a career-high 28 games, posting a 4.81 GAA and .851 save percentage.  Years later, he even made a cameo appearance for the Vancouver Voodoo.


Garth Butcher, 1982

Another 1982 alum.  Butcher was a tenth overall selection in the 1981 NHL Entry Draft and immediately played five games for the Canucks before being sent back down to the WHL for a third junior season.  Playing for Team Canada, Butcher was one of three Canucks prospects on the national junior squad, alongside Caprice and forward Moe Lemay.  He tied for second in scoring among Canadian defencemen, behind Paul Boutilier, with a goal and four points over seven games.

Butcher was a mainstay on the Canucks blueline for years to come thereafter, spending more than half of his thirteen-year career in Vancouver.  The stay-at-home defender would become a casualty of Pat Quinn's rebuilding process in the early-ninetees; his trade to St. Louis ushered in a trio of supporting cast members from 1994 in Geoff Courtnall, Cliff Ronning and Sergio Momesso.

Bourdon played in 2006 and 2007, winning
back-to-back gold medals for Canada.
Luc Bourdon, 2006

The Canucks already knew they had a gem in Bourdon after the lockout tossed them a draft freebie with the 10th overall slot.  But it wasn't until the 2006 World Juniors that the late defenceman was firmly established as a can't-miss prospect.  With Vancouver playing host, no less, he led all tournament defencemen with five helpers, adding to one goal.  Bourdon scored, passed and hit his way to All-Star honours, helping lead Canada to their second of five straight gold medals.

Bourdon went on to play another year of junior, securing a second World Junior gold, before splitting the 2007–08 campaign between the Canucks and Manitoba Moose.  He scored two goals over 36 career NHL games.  The rest – tragic history.


Jim Sandlak, 1986

After being chosen fourth overall in the 1985 NHL Entry Draft, Sandlak made the Canucks opening roster out of training camp, but was shipped back to junior after 23 games.  Joining Canada for the 1986 World Juniors, the power forward was named team captain.  He scored 5 goals and 12 points, ranking third in Canadian scoring behind Shayne Corson and Joe Murphy.  His efforts earned him Best Forward honours from the IIHF directorate (despite being left off the media's All-Star Team), overshadowing such future NHL stars as Joe Nieuwendyk, Gary Roberts and Luc Robitaille on the Canadian roster.  Canada went on to a 5-2-0 record, finishing second-best to the undefeated Soviets.

Sandlak's success was quickly parlayed into his first full season with the Canucks in 1986–87.  Seemingly fast-tracked for some form of stardom, Sandlak and his All-Rookie Team honours allowed Vancouver to ship their other power forward, one by the name of Cam Neely, to the Boston Bruins in exchange for Barry Pederson.  So the story goes, the Canucks clearly misplayed their hand, as Sandlak never progressed significantly beyond his scoring output as a rookie – he managed one 20-goal season over the course of a nine-year career in Vancouver.

Rick Girard, 1994

Girard was one of four Canucks prospects on the gold medal winning squad in 1994.  The other three – Yanick Dube, Brent Tully and Mike Peca.  While the latter is alone in actually having suited up for the Canucks, Girard dominated the World Juniors with a tournament-leading six goals (tied with teammate Martin Gendron and Czech Petr Sykora).  Thanks in large part to the Canucks' second-round draft pick (1993), Canada went undefeated in seven games en route to their second of five straight gold medals.

Despite his high-scoring junior career, totaling 261 points over 175 WHL games, Girard never caught on in the NHL.  After toiling in the Canucks' minor-league system for four years, the former World Junior star went the European route.  He played 15 years in Germany, winning one league title, before calling it a career last season.

Cody Hodgson, 2009

Without a doubt, the single most dominant performance by a Canucks prospect for the Canadian juniors.  Hodgson led the tournament with 16 points and received All-Star Team honours.  Only Jason Allison has totalled more assists in a single year for Canada.  Only Wayne Gretzky has recorded a higher points-per-game rate.

Fast forward to the present and it's clear that of the five players on Vancouver's All-Canadian WJC Team, Hodgson will likely go on to make the greatest NHL impact, as well.  But nobody needs reminding of Hodgson's merits as an NHL forward here, do we?  Especially in comparison to a certain power forward currently playing for the Chicago Wolves?  No, I didn't think so.

Intriguing parting thought: Can you just imagine what Hodgson would have been capable of as a Team Canada returnee in 2010 if Canucks trainer Dave Gagner hadn't broken the kid's back four summers ago?

Honourable mentions

Yanick Dube, 1994

Centreman tied for the team scoring lead with 10 points in a gold medal year.  Late-round draft pick never played a game in the NHL, however.

Josh Holden, 1998

Led Canada in scoring with four goals and no assists.  Needless to say, it was an off-year for Canada, who lost their seventh-place game against Kazakhstan.  Speedy forward remains active to this day, donning the maple leaf alongside Bergeron and company at this year's Spengler Cup.

Bryan Allen, 1999

Allen was a steady presence for Canada, scoring a goal and two assists as a shutdown defenceman.  Won silver alongside Luongo in Canada's overtime heartbreaker against Russia.  Poetically enough, Allen left Vancouver seven years later in exchange for his former national teammate.


It's certainly not a star-studded lineup by NHL standards, but the quintent of Frank Caprice, Garth Butcher, Luc Bourdon, Jim Sandlak, Rick Girard and Cody Hodgson certainly made their mark at the World Juniors – simultaneously representing Canada and Canada's favourite team, the Vancouver Canucks, of course.  Remember that when you're watching Bruins prospects Malcolm Subban and Anthony Camara competing for our country this year.

Interestingly, Canucks legends Stan Smyl and Trevor Linden both played for Canada at the World Juniors, as well.  Like Reid, however, they had not yet been drafted by the Canucks.  Both of them underaged for the tournament, Smyl had a goal and an assist in a bronze medal effort (1978), while Linden scored one goal en route to a gold (1988).


*See the online discussion regarding this post on the forums here.

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