What is the World Junior A Challenge?

Photo credit: Hockey Canada Images

Jonathan Yue

This year’s tournament will feature Canada East, Canada West, Slovakia, Sweden and the United States, beginning Dec. 10 at the Rath Eastlink Community Centre.

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.

Check out the full list of notable World Junior A Challenge alumni

The last time a Canadian team struck gold at the tournament came back in 2017 in Truro, when NHL first-round picks Dylan Holloway (Edmonton) and Jacob Bernard-Docker (Ottawa) helped West to a 5-1 win over the U.S. in the final .

Turning back the clock to the first WJAC in Yorkton and Humboldt, Saskatchewan, in the first-ever game, Kyle Turris scored four times to lead Canada West to a win over Russia en route to gold and MVP honours. That stood as the only four-goal effort until last year, when Ty Daneault lit the lamp four times in a 10-0 West win over Latvia.

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, Ontario.

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.

And in 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.

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), Pittsburgh Penguins 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, Saskatchewan.

So where do these players come from? The World Junior A Hockey Challenge gathers some of the top 18-and-under prospects from around the world. This year, the five teams will feature players born in 2005 and 2006, with a maximum of five 2004-born players allowed on each team.

Canada East and Canada West showcase talent from coast to coast, selected from the nine leagues that comprise the Canadian Junior Hockey League. Canada West selects players from the AJHL, SJHL, MJHL and SIJHL, while Canada East pulls its players from the NOJHL, OJHL, CCHL, LHJAAAQ and MHL.

So … will you be part of the festivities in Truro? Tickets are now on sale at HockeyCanada.ca/Tickets , including early-bird packages, and there’s something for everyone!