An Unforgettable World Juniors Ending

Aug 23, 2022 | John Klinck

Photo by Jason Franson | The Canadian Press
Photo by Jason Franson | The Canadian Press

Seventy seconds of overtime action that will live in Hockey Canada history

It is a sequence that will be forever regarded as one of the wildest in the history of the World Juniors, if not all of hockey.

Mason McTavish knocking the puck away from an empty Team Canada net just as it approached the goal line, only to have Kent Johnson score the tournament-clinching, game-winning goal moments later at the other end of the ice. Even if you’re a casual hockey fan, the clip from overtime of the gold-medal game in Edmonton at the 2022 IIHF World Junior Championship was one we won’t soon forget.

“It was pretty crazy,” said McTavish, Team Canada captain, leading scorer and tournament MVP, via the IIHF official website. “My stick was in the right place at the right time. I don’t even know why I was behind our goalie. I’m just thinking about it now. But next thing I went to the bench and KJ was on a breakaway. It was an exciting couple of minutes and so happy to be on the right side of it.”

“…I tried to go five-hole, and that didn’t work, but I got the rebound,” Johnson said. “It was super exciting. I actually thought I would score. I love three-on-three. This gold means the world to us.”

You know the story, but how did these two get here? What were the paths taken by McTavish and Johnson on their way to becoming instant legends in Canadian hockey history?

Some similarities, some differences. Each has his own unique story, just like any player.

Let’s start with the goal-scorer in Johnson, the pride of Port Moody, B.C. A product of the Port Moody Hockey Association, Johnson was the No. 5 overall pick by the Columbus Blue Jackets in 2021. 

Johnson rose through the ranks of youth hockey, starring for North Shore Winter Club and the Vancouver NW Giants U18 AAA up through the 2016-17 season.

In 2017-18, he made the jump to the famed Canadian Sport School Hockey League, suiting up for Burnaby Winter Club Prep in the CSSHL U18 league. Johnson posted a whopping 75 points in 35 games, which was good for second in the league in scoring despite being one of the younger players.

In that dominant 2017-18 season, Johnson skated in two games with the Trail Smoke Eaters of the BCHL, arguably the top junior league in Canada which preserves NCAA eligibility. He didn’t register any points in those two games, but when he returned to the Smoke Eaters squad for a regular spot in the line-up in 2018-19, he posted 46 points in 57 games – as well as 12 points in 12 playoff games – en route to a BCHL All-Rookie Team selection.

In 2019-2020, Johnson made his mark on Canadian junior hockey, leading the BCHL in goals (41), assists (60) and points (101) to win the Brett Hull Trophy as leading scorer of the Junior A league. He was named the Vern Dye Memorial Trophy winner as league MVP, as well.

Along the way, Johnson made the decision to cross the border and play college hockey at the University of Michigan. Skating alongside the likes of Owen Power, Matty Beniers, Cam York and more, Johnson thrived as young freshman forward with the Wolverines, racking up 27 points in 26 games and playing a pivotal role in Michigan’s march to the NCAA Tournament. That tournament appearance was cut short, however, when members of the Wolverines’ roster tested positive for COVID-19.

His freshman season — and success beforehand — impressed NHL scouts, and the Blue Jackets selected him at No. 5 overall in the summer of 2021. Johnson provided them right by thriving in Year 2 in Ann Arbor, registering 37 points in 32 games before turning pro and playing in nine games for the Jackets in the spring. He also played for Team Canada in the Olympics, registering five points in five games. 

Meanwhile, McTavish’s path to World Junior stardom began in Zurich, Switzerland, where his father, Dale, played for EV Zug of the National League. The McTavish family moved to their native Canada when Mason was 8, shifting his hockey experiences from street hockey in a foreign land to Carp, Ont., just a half hour outside of Ottawa.

McTavish started with Peak Centre Academy, and established his reputation in the sport quickly thereafter.

“He was probably the best player in the city forever,” Peak Centre Academy’s Pat Malloy said of McTavish in an article for The Athletic. “Kids like (top 2021 prospect) Brandt Clarke started to come on a little bit but Mason was one of the best players growing up, all the way through.”

McTavish soon made the jump to the Ottawa Valley Titans AAA program of Hockey Eastern Ontario. He posted 47 points in 27 games in U14, then 83 points in 30 games in U15 the next season as he led the Titans to an HEO championship as the league’s leading scorer.

Playing up in the U18 AAA bracket with the Pembroke Lumber Kings in 2018-19, McTavish recorded 79 points and 109 penalty minutes in 41 games, along with 15 points in eight playoff games to win another HEO title. He was named the league’s MVP, top prospect, and player of the year. 

He was drafted No. 5 overall by the Peterborough Petes in the 2019 OHL Priority Selection, and in his lone full OHL season, he posted 42 points in 57 games and was named to the All-Rookie Second Team.

With the 2020-21 OHL season wiped out from COVID-19, McTavish returned to his birthplace, suiting up for EHC Olten for 13 games (11 points) and four more in the playoffs (seven points). He also served as captain for the Canada U18 Team at the IIHF Under-18 World Championship, winning gold and being named one of Canada’s three best players.

McTavish was drafted No. 3 overall by the Anaheim Ducks in 2021, and the following season was another wild one for him. He started the season with Anaheim, playing in nine games. Halfway through that experience, he was sent down to the San Diego Gulls of the AHL. 

He was then returned to his junior team, and he played four games with Peterborough before joining Team Canada for the World Juniors. After that tournament was postponed, he returned to Peterborough for one game before being traded to the Hamilton Bulldogs.

With Hamilton, McTavish thrived, scoring 40 points in 24 regular-season games, then 29 in 19 playoff games en route to an OHL championship. He was also named to the Memorial Cup All-Star Team.

At the summer edition of the World Juniors, his fun continued, as McTavish led the tournament in every points category with eight goals, nine assists and 17 total points – he was named MVP at the event’s conclusion. His performance was cemented in the halls of Canadian hockey history in the 1:10 stretch of time in the extra period of the gold-medal game with Finland. McTavish knocked a loose puck out of mid-air and swept it away from danger, just a fraction of an inch from his own goal line. Johnson, meanwhile, took that same puck 200 feet in the opposite direction, finding the back of the net on a rebound attempt.

The duo essentially saved and sealed Team Canada’s fate, winning the country’s 19th World Juniors gold medal, and third in the last five years.

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