Looking Back at Alex Ovechkin’s 2003 World Junior Championship

The 2003 IIHF Under 20 World Junior Championships was a very memorable tournament from a historical point of view, especially for Washington Capitals fans. Future Capitals’ great Alexander Ovechkin represented Team Russia for the first time, although at the time he would still not be eligible for the draft until the summer 2004.

Team Canada had several future Capitals players as well, including Boyd Gordon, Steve Eminger, and Brooks Laich, although at the time Laich was still in the Ottawa Senators system. Representing Canada as the main goalie was future Capitals’ antagonist, Marc-Andre Fleury.

Other future Capitals players included Milan Jurcina on Team Slovakia and Tomas Fleischmann and Jakub Klepis for the Czech Republic, whose teams were eliminated in the quarterfinal round.

The 2003 tournament was played in Halifax and Sidney, Nova Scotia, with the preliminary rounds held in Sidney and the final rounds in Halifax. The preliminary rounds started on December 26, 2002 and concluded on December 31, 2002.

Russia was placed in Group A for the preliminary round. Group A included the United States, Slovakia, Switzerland, and Belarus. Rafail Ishmatov was head coach for Russia.

Canada was placed in Group B for the preliminary round. Group B included Finland, Czech Republic, Sweden, and Germany. Marc Habscheid was head coach for Canada.

Russia was one of the favorites to win it all, given the fact they had won the Gold Medal the previous year, and many of the players from the championship roster were returning.  In addition, Russia had young talent, including Nikolai Zherdev, who was expected to go early in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft, and a phenomenal 17-year-old left-winger named Alexander Ovechkin.

The Russians beat Team USA in the opener (December 26, 2002). Ovechkin, who was nearly two years younger than most of the other participants in the tournament, recorded a hat trick.

To start it off, Ovechkin got a shot passed American goalie, Jimmy Howard near the end of first period.

His second goal came from the area that would later be known as Ovi’s office.

Ovechkin completed the hat trick during second period after another perfect pass from Trubachev.

The Russians ultimately beat Team USA 5-1.

After that, Russia beat Slovakia 4-0, then Switzerland 7-5, and Belarus 5-1.  Ovechkin scored another hat trick in the game against Switzerland. He now had 6 goals overall in the group stage which tied the number Wayne Gretzky recorded 25 years earlier. Russia was 4-0 after the preliminary round.

Canada, meanwhile, defeated Sweden, Czech Republic, Germany and Finland in the preliminary round, with their greatest challenge coming from Finland, who they beat 5-3.  Both Russia and Canada automatically advanced to the Semi-Final round where Russia beat Finland and Canada beat the United States to set up the showdown between Canada and Russia.  The championship round started on January 2, 2003, with Canada and Russia getting a bye in the quarterfinals.

Just before the 2003 World Junior Games final game on January 5, 2003 where Canada and Russia would meet for the Gold Medal game, TSN (The Sporting News) had a feature on Ovechkin.

Ultimately, Russia won the Gold Medal game 3-2.  Yuri Trubachev and Igor Grigorenko both scored goals during the third period after Canada had taken a 2-1 lead. While Ovechkin was kept off the scoresheet, he contributed to the victory by turning off two Canadian defenders in the process: Brandan Bell and Steve Eminger prior to Trubachev scoring the game winning goal.

Following the game, Grigorenko was named the tournament’s best forward. Fleury, despite the fact that Team Canada lost, was selected as the best goalie and most valuable player.

Prior to the tournament, goaltending was expected to be a weakness for Team Canada but it turned out to be a strength thanks to Fleury. Grigorenko and Trubachev led Team Russia in scoring with 10 points each. Grigorenko has 6 goals and 4 assists while Trubachev had 3 goals and 7 assists. Ovechkin was tied for the lead in goals with 6 and also contributed one assist.

A year later, while preparing for the NHL draft of 2004, Ovechkin spoke about the 2003 World Junior games.

“This tournament was the high point of my career at the moment. It was an incredible moment to win gold against the Canadians, who played in front of their 10,000 fans. We have proven that we are the best. That Russian hockey is the greatest. I have just wonderful memories of this tournament.”

By Diane Doyle

Further Reading
TSN Canada: World Junior History 2003 Halifax
Russkiy Hockey WordPress: 2003 World Junior Championship
Hockey DB: World Junior 2003 Statistics|
Ontario Hockey League: Russia Wins World Junior Gold with 3-2 Win Over Canada
Sports 24 Russia: Ovechkin and World Junior Championship 2003
IIHF News: From Under 18 Glory to WJC Gold
2003 World Junior Hockey Championship Schedule Announced

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About Diane Doyle

Been a Caps fan since November 1975 when attending a game with my then boyfriend and now husband.
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