- Just two players remain from Canada’s championship team at the 2004 World Cup of Hockey—Joe Thornton and Jay Bouwmeester. The pair look back on that run and what it means to be on Team Canada again, 12 years later.
OTTAWA — A few days before landing here for Team Canada’s training camp this week, defenseman Jay Bouwmeester wandered into his parents’ basement and teleported into the past.
On the wall of their Edmonton home hung a framed team photo from the 2004 World Cup of Hockey, snapped before the Canadians went unbeaten in six games and won the eight-team tournament. As Bouwmeester scanned the faces, he was struck by how much time had lapsed. He was 20 years and 11 months old then, the youngest Canadian and third-youngest in the entire tournament, posing near Mario Lemieux, now an owner of the defending Stanley Cup champions, and two current GMs in Steve Yzerman and Joe Sakic. “Wow,” Bouwmeester remembers thinking, “I’m getting pretty old.”
Now age 32 and nearing his 1,000th career regular-season game, Bouwmeester is likely nowhere near alone in this feeling. But among the five active NHLers who represented Canada in 2004, a decorated crop that includes forwards Shane Doan, Jarome Iginla and Patrick Marleau, and goaltender Roberto Luongo, only Bouwmeester and forward Joe Thornton can claim to have bridged the dozen-year gap between events, champions at the last World Cup and members of the favored squad at this latest iteration.
The memories come and go, blended among world championships and Olympics, All-Star games and postseasons. Like this September, when he was named as a replacement for injured blueliner Duncan Keith, Bouwmeester joined Team Canada in 2004 without many expectations for playing time, an extra skater just happy to be around. (Indeed, he appeared in four games, including a semifinal win over the Czech Republic, and notched zero points.)
“I remember going to the training camp and Mario Lemieux was there and Joe Sakic, some pretty high-profile guys who I watched growing up as a kid,” Bouwmeester says. “It was more, ‘Oh wow, this is a cool experience sort of thing.’ I remember a little bit about the tournament. Not really a whole lot about the specifics. It was a real fun experience, just more from the perspective that it was cool to be a part of it.”
Thornton, on the other hand, delivered a much more measurable impact; arriving as an offensive-minded standout from Boston, he morphed into a lockdown checker and tied Vincent Lecavalier for the Canadian lead with five assists. Centering Kris Draper and Shane Doan on the “DDT Line”—a nickname the current Sharks center particularly enjoyed given his affinity for professional wrestling—Thornton went from a lackluster training camp to one of Canada’s key cogs up front.
“We were so deep, and I didn't know if I was going to be playing or not,” he says. “I was surprised that we had such a big role on that team. I think probably my overall game got a lot better after that, just being a checking forward, you saw the ice a little bit differently. It opened up my eyes a lot to what kind of player I could be.”
Fresh off his first career Stanley Cup Final appearance, which ended with a Game 6 loss against Pittsburgh less than one month before his 37th birthday, Thornton is currently Team Canada’s only player born in the 1970s. Recently, before camp opened in Ottawa, he and Bouwmeester found themselves talking about the 2004 World Cup, and how they had only played together once—at the 2010 Winter Olympics—since. “You remember it—oh my God, I was 20, he was 24, 25; now he’s 37, I’m going to be 33—just how quickly it goes by,” Bouwmeester says.
Imagine, then, how fast the celebration must have felt following Canada’s 3–2 win over Finland in the final. Victory itself was a national achievement enough—the crowd at Air Canada Centre sniffed 20,000, CBC’s viewing audience topped 3.8 million, and the scene outside Air Canada Centre led to 19 arrests—but the NHL lockout began the following morning, soon to last for an entire season. Three days later, for instance, Thornton had jetted to Switzerland and debuted for Davos HC.
“I remember that the lockout was looming,” Thornton says. “We celebrated that night pretty hard, which was really, really cool. Then I went back to St. Thomas [in Ontario] pretty much for a day or two, and I was like, ‘Oh man, I can’t believe I’m going over to play in Switzerland now, this is a quick turnaround.’”
Still, that hardly dampened the mood. Thirty-four seconds into the third period of the final, Thornton backhanded the game-winning assist to Doan, giving Canada the World Cup on top of its 2002 Olympic gold medal and two straight titles at the world championships. “He was really coming into his own,” Bouwmeester says of Thornton. “He was a real exciting young player at the time, right on that border where you’re not a young player anymore, but a real star in the league.”
Now, 12 years later, Thornton sits in an auxiliary locker room at Ottawa’s Canadian Tire Centre, dressed in a Team Canada T-shirt, wiggling his maple leaf-decorated Team Canada flip-flops. In many ways, he says, the 2016 World Cup feels much like its predecessor—still best-on-best competition, still thrilling to skate beside so many luminaries, still positioned as the favorites. But there are differences, too. Through that gray landing-strip streak in his thick beard, Thornton laughs.
“Yeah, it's been a long time,” he says. “Twelve years is a long time between tournaments. It's pretty cool that I can keep up with these guys.”