INSTANT REPLAY: North Van's Paul Kariya and the world juniors
The world junior hockey championships are a kind of right of passage for Canada’s future stars of the National Hockey League… and a staple over New Year’s each year for even the most casual of fans, although this year’s middle-of-the-night schedule of games from Ufa, Russia, has certainly been a challenge for those wanting to see the games as they happen.
Among the very youngest Canadians to ever play in the world junior tournament (for players under 20) was North Vancouver’s Paul Kariya who suited up at just 17 years of age plus two months in the 1992 tournament in Germany and then again in 1993 in Sweden. Others even younger when they played include some fellows by the name of Lindros, Gretzky and Crosby. Perhaps you’ve heard of them.
Despite the offensive performance of Eric Lindros (by then 18) during the 1992 tourney and the all-star defensive play of Scott Niedermayer (both playing for their final time in the world juniors), Canada finished in an uncharacteristic sixth place.
The world political scene during both the 1992 and 1993 tournaments was front-page news, creating interesting dilemmas for the hockey organizers. The Soviet Union was dissolved into 15 independent republics on Dec. 26, 1991, the opening day of the 1992 event. Tournament officials allowed the team to continue as though they were still one country and in the end they won it all, clinching the title on the final day by destroying Canada 7-2 on five unanswered goals after Kariya had tied the game at 2-2 mid-way through the second period.
A year later on Jan. 1, 1993, in the middle of the tournament, Czechoslovakia split into separate Czech and Slovakia republics. Again this team was permitted to play as one entity.
It was Kariya, Martin Lapointe and Tyler Wright – the only returnees from 1992 – who were charged with righting the Canadian ship for the 1993 tournament, played exactly 20 years ago between Dec. 26, 1992, and Jan. 4, 1993.
Previous to 1996 – at which point the competition’s schedule was changed and the eight teams were divided into two sections followed by playoffs to determine the medals – the order of finish was based on a seven-game, single-round-robin format. Losing one game could doom the chances for the gold medal.
To win, Canada would have to beat the United States, Russia, Finland, Czechoslovakia and Sweden, not one of which they had beaten in 1992. Sweden was the favourite with a roster that included Peter Forsberg, Mats Lindgren, Markus Naslund, Niklas Sundstrom and others you just might also have heard of.
Kariya rose to the occasion, belying his slight frame at 5’11” and 170 pounds, and earned tournament all-star honours (Forsberg and Naslund were the other forwards selected) by leading the Canucks with two goals and six assists in the first six games, all wins. One goal, plus an assist, came in a key 5-4 victory over Sweden. His second goal helped produce a 5-2 win over Germany. Two assists came as Canada won their sixth straight by overwhelming Japan 8-1 and, though it was disappointing to lose their last game 7-4 to the combined Czech and Slovakia team, the championship had already been decided in Canada’s favour.
Paul Kariya was born in Vancouver on Oct. 16, 1974, to T.K. Kariya – a teacher and coach at Windsor in the 1960s who was by then on staff at Hamilton Jr. Secondary – and Sharon Kariya, who had been teaching Grade 3 at Eastview Elementary until starting a family.
And Paul was into all sports while growing up in the Seymour area. There was golf at Seymour Golf and Country Club where he played regularly with Windsor’s Steve Roberts and Sean Foley (now Tiger Woods’ swing coach) both of whom won golf scholarships to U.S. universities and became club teaching pros.
Though the Kariyas lived in the Seymour area, Paul attended Argyle and played rugby. His dad, who had starred in rugby at UBC and for Canada, was a teacher at Argyle from 1978 until retirement in 2001 and coached rugby and golf teams there.
Lacrosse and hockey, both coached by Les Wilson – another Argyle teacher – and T.K., were among other sports Paul played outside of school.
At 15, Paul chose to pursue his hockey in earnest by leaving home in 1990 to attend school in Penticton and play for the Penticton Panthers of the BC Junior Hockey League. Despite his age, he amassed 45 goals and 67 assists for 112 points (and a paltry eight minutes in penalties) over 54 games during the 1990-91 season, earning rookie of the year, most sportsmanlike player and MVP for the league’s Interior Conference.
The next season was even better as he accumulated 46 goals and 86 assists for 132 points in only 40 games. (He missed a handful of league games while playing in his first world juniors and was out for a dozen more contests later with mononucleosis.) Once more he was awarded the conference’s most sportsmanlike and most valuable player honours which was topped off with his selection as Canada’s Junior “A” player of the year.
Starting with the gold medal, the year 1993 was full of career memories: Rookie of the year, first team all-star and player of the year in the Hockey East Association in his first season with the University of Maine; the winner of the Hobey Baker Award as the top player in the NCAA and the school’s first NCAA championship.
Of course there were even more honours during his 15-year NHL career, but the importance of that 1993 world juniors title is summed up by his quote at the time: “I will take away the team, the camaraderie that we built,” he said. “It’s sort of sad we will never be together again.”
Kariya was one of the first North Vancouver players in the world juniors. This year the first from West Vancouver – Griffin Reinhart and Morgan Rielly – are wearing the red and white. You see, the thrill of the world juniors never gets old.
This is episode 473 from Len Corben’s treasure chest of stories – the great events and the quirky – that bring to life the North Shore’s rich sports history.