In this week's 'Beauties' podcast, James Duthie looks back at the 2009 World Junior Hockey Championship with Jordan Eberle, who became a household name in the tournament with a monumental goal against Russia in the semifinals. Also, enjoy this excerpt on Eberle's heroics from James' 'Beauties: Hockey’s Greatest Untold Stories' - available now where books are sold.
Can You Believe It?!' Jordan Eberle and Canada’s World Junior Miracle
Before Jordan Eberle becomes one of Canada’s best World Junior Championship players ever, he is the worst.
“I am terrible, the worst player at the 2008 summer training camp,” he says. “They put me on a line with John Tavares, so I ﬁg- ure I’m going to get a good shot at making the team. But I am trying out these brand-new skates and they are awful. So the skates suck, I suck, and the whole camp is a nightmare. Even JT says to me, ‘What’s going on with you?’ And in my exit meeting with the coach, Benoît Groulx, he tells me I was dead last in their evaluations. I leave thinking, ‘I may have just blown my chance.’”
He goes back to his home in Calgary, crushed.
“I remember being a kid, watching Jordin Tootoo in Halifax in 2003, watching Sid and all those stars in North Dakota in 2005,” he says. “That’s when I realized how huge the tournament had become, and how desperately I wanted to be there someday. You really have two dreams growing up playing hockey in Canada: to play in the NHL and win a Stanley Cup, obviously, and to play for Canada at the World Juniors.”
Eberle has never been a lock to make Team Canada. Sure, he’d been a ﬁrst-round selection of the Edmonton Oilers that June, but not a high pick—22nd overall. Ten Canadians are taken before him.
And he’s 18, trying to make a team usually dominated by 19-year- olds. As his Western Hockey League season starts with the Regina Pats, his World Junior dream feels like it’s slipping away.
Then the hockey gods intervene—speciﬁcally, the one in charge of coach recruitment. Groulx gets hired to coach the AHL’s Rochester Americans and has to step down as coach of Team Canada. The man who witnessed Eberle’s summer camp calamity is gone. And a living legend, Pat Quinn, takes his place.
“That changes everything for me,” Eberle remembers. “Quinn had coached me at the World Under-18 Championships that past spring. I had a great tourney, and we absolutely dominated Russia in the ﬁnal. So, suddenly, I feel a little better about my chances.”
The hiring of Quinn helps. And Eberle helps himself, too. His start to the season in Regina is ridiculous, as he scores goals in bunches and launches himself right back onto Team Canada’s radar. He earns an invitation to the December tryout camp and makes the team.
Though most of Canada remembers only one moment from that tournament, Eberle has an impact in almost every game, including a key power-play goal in a dramatic come-from-behind win over the Americans on New Year’s Eve. Canada looks shaky at times, but goes undefeated and earns a bye to the semiﬁnals against Russia.
There is an early hint it might be Eberle’s night. On a ﬁve-on- three power play in the second period, Cody Hodgson ﬁres a shot that takes a wild bounce in the air and lands right at Eberle’s feet in front of the net.
“Just the luckiest goal,” Eberle laughs. “The bounce could not be more perfect. I just throw it at the net, and it goes off someone and squeaks in.”
That “someone” is Russian defenceman Dmitry Kulikov. It won’t be his last unfortunate encounter with Eberle this night.
It’s 4–4 with just over two minutes left, when Dmitry Klopov jams a loose puck past Canadian goalie Dustin Tokarski. The sellout crowd in Ottawa, one of the loudest I’ve ever heard at a hockey game, falls silent.
My parents have come to the game. They are sitting with me on the TSN set. Jim and Sheila Duthie are almost 80, and I worry about them being caught in the crowd and the heavy traffic leaving the rink in Kanata. Dad hates traffic. So, after Russia scores, I say, “Maybe you guys should go and beat the crowd.” They leave. I mean, they probably won’t miss anything, right?
Canada has the net empty and is pressing with 45 seconds left when Klopov, the Russian hero minutes earlier, picks up a loose puck near the Russian blue line. He has ample room to skate the puck up ice, but instead seems to panic. He shoots at the vacant Canadian goal. It goes just wide. Icing.
“My heart stops as that puck is going down the ice towards our net,” Eberle says. “Best icing ever. And then I notice a couple of the Russian guys are smiling, chuckling. I guess they are thinking, ‘Well, that was dumb, but it’s over anyway. We’ve won.’”
The next 35 seconds after John Tavares wins the ensuing face- off are pure mayhem. Or, as Canadians prefer to call it, “poetry.” Funny thing is, Eberle is barely involved. He brieﬂy touches the puck right after the faceoff but spends the rest of the time circling near the front of the net. Waiting . . . hoping . . . praying.
Most of the play is on the right side of the Russian zone. Cody Hodgson is down low. Ryan Ellis is on the point, with forward Zach Boychuk out near him. P.K. Subban mans the other point, mostly out of the action. John Tavares is puck-hunting. Eberle only sneaks into the camera frame here and there. A ghost.
So many little plays go into the making of a miracle. With 16 seconds left, Ellis slams his shoulder up against the glass at the blue line to block a Russian clearing attempt. Game over if he misses.
Ellis and Boychuk then battle with two Russian players just inside the line to keep the puck in. Game over if they fail.
With 10 seconds left, Hodgson lifts the stick of a Russian player, preventing another clear. Game over if he doesn’t.
And then Tavares ﬁnds the puck over by the boards and back- hands it blindly towards the net. A soft, harmless muffin.
“The most overused cliché in hockey is ‘Just get the puck to the net and hope for a bounce,’” Eberle says. “And that is exactly what happens.”
Kulikov, off whom Eberle had ricocheted his shot on his ﬁrst goal back in the second, drops to his knees to try to stop the puck. He must have it; his entire body is on top of it. But somehow, it sneaks through him. If you’re Russian, the moment has a painful Bill Buckner–like feel to it—in slo-mo.
And there is Jordan Eberle.
The puck is on his stick for just a fraction of a second. Quick move from forehand to backhand. Goalie down and desperate. Puck ﬂipped up and over his outstretched stick.
It’s 5–5 with 5.4 seconds left. Bedlam. “CAN YOU BELIEVE IT?!”
Gord Miller, the voice of the World Juniors on TSN, brilliantly calls the goal. Years later, Eberle still can’t believe it.
“It’s this crazy mix of shock and elation,” he says. “People always ask what was going through my head. Nothing. You are just playing. All I remember is peeling off to the corner, going nuts and getting swarmed. You always dream about scoring a last- second goal like that in a huge game, but when it happens, it’s . . . surreal.”
And at that very moment, listening to their car radio in a parking lot outside the arena, Jim and Sheila Duthie suddenly wish they had stopped at two daughters and not had a third child.
The game is tied, not over. And it still isn’t over after 10 minutes of overtime. Quinn taps Eberle to go ﬁrst in the shootout.
“A week or two earlier, we had done a shootout after practice,” Eberle says. “And I went ﬁve-for-ﬁve. I couldn’t miss. So I thought he might go to me if we ever went there.”
Eberle slides the puck to his backhand and goes upstairs. Canada leads. Tavares scores on the next Canadian attempt, and Dustin Tokarski stops the ﬁrst two Russian shooters. It’s over. Canada will play Sweden for the gold medal.
“The one thing I don’t realize until later is that in inter- national hockey, they credit the guy who gets the winning goal in the shootout with a goal in the game, so I end up with a hat trick,” Eberle says. “Had no idea. I don’t think anyone notices. The tying goal is all anyone remembers.”
Eberle meets his family after the game. Tears ﬂow.
“Our family planned all of our Christmas vacations around the World Juniors. It was huge to my parents,” he says. “I think for me to have been lucky enough to play an instrumental part in a game like that, it was emotional for them. For me, too.”
The gold medal game is anticlimactic after the semis.
Eberle scores an empty-net goal in a 5–1 Canada win. It’s the country’s ﬁfth straight World Junior gold medal.
More than a decade later, Eberle still gets asked about the “Can you believe it” goal by fans everywhere he goes. They all want to tell him where they were, and how much it meant to them. That magical night in Ottawa was 14 months before Sidney Crosby scored the Olympic winner in overtime in Vancouver. So, for an entire generation of Canadians, Eberle’s goal is their ﬁrst Paul Henderson moment.
“Noah Dobson [his New York Islanders teammate] just brought it up the other day,” Eberle says. “He says it’s his most memorable World Junior memory growing up. It’s nice to hear, but man, it made me feel old.”
It’s remarkable how a moment like that can stick in one’s memory. Apparently, even the memory of hockey executives trying to improve their team. In 2017, Eberle is traded from the Edmonton Oilers to the New York Islanders.
“One of the reasons the Islanders tell me they traded for me is to play with John Tavares, because of our World Junior chemistry,” Eberle laughs. “We barely played together! That one play - a blind backhand by him and a lucky bounce to me- it’s remembered as ‘chemistry.’ It’s pretty hilarious.”
During their time with the Islanders, Tavares and Eberle have a running joke about the goal. You see, after Gord Miller yelled, “Can you believe it?!” his analyst, Pierre McGuire, followed instantly with, “I can! . . . Tavares had to step up and make a magical play! The crowd loves it! Tavares’s magical play!”
“JT would rib me that it was his ‘magical play’ that should have gotten all the credit,” Eberle laughs. “I mean, it was a smart play by him to get the puck towards the net, but it wasn’t really a special play. And the goal wasn’t any genius play by me. The whole thing was mostly luck, really. So, we just bust each other’s balls about who the real hero was.”
Eberle’s goal remains one of the most dramatic and replayed moments in our nation’s hockey history. It’s never fading. But what will surely be forgotten as the decades slide by is that the very next year, he did it again.
Canada trails the Americans, 5–3, with under three minutes left in the 2010 World Junior gold medal game in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. Eberle, now 19 and a household name in Canada, does the unthinkable: he scores twice in 1:20 to tie it, 5–5.
“I cannot believe it,” he says, unintentionally paraphrasing Gord Miller. “In my head, I’m saying, ‘Oh my God, I did it again! This is insane!’ To me, it’s more shocking than the Russia game the year before. And if you look at those two goals, they are pure crap. The ﬁrst is a one-timer on the power play that I completely fan on, and it fools Jack Campbell and goes ﬁve-hole. The second one bounces off about three guys. Just unreal luck. It’s a rare feeling in sports, like you can do no wrong.”
But this time, the Eberle storybook ends with a painful twist. US defenceman John Carlson beats Martin Jones on a three-on- one 3:20 into overtime, and Canada’s ﬁve-year gold medal streak is over.
“That one really stings,” Eberle says. “Being in my home province with all my family and friends there, my last World Juniors, and the gold medal streak on the line. I tear up in the dressing room after. I just don’t want it to be over.”
Ponder for a moment Canada winning that game. Let your imagination stretch a little further, to see Eberle scoring the overtime goal. He might have gotten a statue before he’d played a single NHL game. Instead, the silver in Saskatoon becomes just a footnote in Canada’s collective hockey memory. It’s the Russia goal that is eternal.
“My brother got married in Jamaica last year, and one night my dad and I sat around and had a few drinks and started talking about that game,” Eberle says. “My wife was pregnant, I was about to become a father for the ﬁrst time, and I just really wanted to know what it was like for him as a father to watch a moment like that. He said he just couldn’t believe it was happening. How we’d always watched that tournament together, and now his boy was playing a part in such an unforgettable game. You’re a kid when it happens. You really don’t think about it much. But as you get a little older, you really cherish it.”
It’s a good thing he has those memories, because there are almost no souvenirs from that game. The puck Eberle scored the tying goal with remained in play and was never saved. And he took the stick he scored with back to Regina, broke it and threw it in a garbage bin, not even thinking of its place in history.
Fortunately, the Pats’ trainer was well aware of what it meant. He retrieved it from the trash and taped it back together. Eberle gave it to his mom. The stick that saved Canada remains in her house in Calgary.
Excerpt from Beauties: Hockey’s Greatest Untold Stories by James Duthie ©2020. Published by HarperCollins Publishers. All rights reserved.