Leafs at the Word Juniors: The Double Dion

With the 2016 World Junior Championships just days away, TLN will be revisiting some of the best performances by Maple Leafs prospects during past WJC tournaments. Today, we take a look at a tournament that thanks to the NHL lockout had more high-end talent than any other WJC. Seven players from Team Canada went on to win Olympic Gold in Vancouver five years later but for many Canadian fans, the 2005 World Junior Hockey Championship will be forever remembered by one phrase “It’s a Double Dion!”

On a goal that featured three of the best players in hockey over the past decade, the focus of the replay instantly went to Maple Leafs captain Dion Phaneuf thanks to the one and only Pierre McGuire.

“Crosby a drive, Kuznetsov the save…rebound Perry for Bergeron…Scores! It’s a beauty and it’s a 4-1 lead” exclaimed the great Gord Miller. But unable to let Canada revel in the idea that the gold medal was now all but locked up against a Russian team that featured both Alex Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin, Pierre McGuire stepped in. In case we missed it the first time, he made sure to proclaim once again “And it’s a double Dion to start the turnover for Canada”. The Double Dion went on to turn Dion Phaneuf into a bit of a folk hero among hockey fans.  

The 2005 team is the best Canada has ever sent to the IIHF U-20 tournament. When the Los Angeles Kings won the Stanley Cup in 2012 Mike Richards, Jeff Carter and Colin Fraser made it nine members of that team to win a cup in the seven seasons since the tournament (Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry, Patrice Bergeron, Sidney Crosby, Brent Seabrook, Andrew Ladd and being the others).

A team full of All Stars with more talent than any we will likely ever see again and the most impactful player was very likely a rugged defender from Red Deer that would grow up to one day captain the Toronto Maple Leafs. At the end of the tournament Phaneuf was named to the tournament All-Star team and won the award for the tournament’s top defenceman.

In many corners of Leafs Nation Dion Phaneuf has turned into a bit of a punch line. He’s often the butt of the joke and has become a symbol for the failures of the organization over the past number of years because he is the most visible hold-over from the Burke/Nonis era. Despite what Leaf fans might think of him today, the reason Pierre McGuire got so excited by the “Double Dion” is that during his time with Team Canada, Phaneuf was an absolute stud. He played a style of game that was beloved by the Canadian fans and was the top player on a defence that featured both Seabrook and Shea Weber. Phaneuf was one of the top prospects in hockey and viewed as the future of the Calgary Flames. He produced a point per game and was looked upon to play huge minutes as Canada’s do-it-all defender. 

Phaneuf went on to bide his time in Red Deer during the lockout winning his second straight Bill Hunter Memorial Trophy as the WHL’s best defenceman and emerged in the NHL the next season building on the tremendous World Juniors. He was named to the All-Rookie team in 2006 and was an All-Star in his second and third seasons in the NHL.

On the morning of January 31, 2010 Leaf fans turned on their televisions and saw Brian Burke standing at a podium, tie in a knot around his neck… “We got who? For What?”

“Nik Hagman, Matt Stajan, Ian White and Jamal Mayers for Dion Phaneuf and…..”

The rest didn’t matter (although the way Burke raved about Keith Aulie should have been a warning sign when it came to his talent evaluation). The Leafs were getting a young franchise defender for a bunch of secondary parts. Regardless of how you feel about him now or the narrative surrounding him, the acquisition of Dion Phaneuf was a huge day in Leafs Nation and a large part of it was because so many people in Toronto reverted back to what the remember of him from the World Juniors. Pierre McGuire’s ‘monster’ was coming to be the top defender and lead the Maple Leafs.

The 2005 World Juniors ended up being a perfect storm. Canada had lost in the finals three straight years and had gone seven without a gold medal. The nation was starving for hockey thanks to the lockout and the tournament just happened to be taking place in a city that was less than a two hour drive from the border allowing Canadians to flood Grand Forks, ND and create an atmosphere that has come to define the World Juniors. The narrative was set. The ‘enigmatic’ Russian superstars had come to halt the Canadian run but in a 3-1 game the Dion Phaneuf created a turnover that led to the goal that solidified the gold for Canada. He didn’t go on to be the biggest star from that team or even close to it but during the World Juniors, Dion Phaneuf was the symbol of Team Canada and Pierre McGuire will not let you forget it.