That ever-present grin Curtis Lazar wears is now recognized all over Canada.
Just 20 days after recording his first NHL goal with the Ottawa Senators, Lazar received the 2015 IIHF World Junior Hockey Championship trophy Monday night before 19,014 delirious fans at the Air Canada Centre.
Loaned to Team Canada by the Sens, Lazar was a classy, upbeat captain and one of seven returnees from last year’s fourth-place lineup in Sweden. The drama-jammed 5-4 win over the Russians Monday left Lazar sleepless in Toronto.
“I’m running on about two hours sleep,” Lazar told The Morning Star Tuesday afternoon from the Toronto Pearson International Airport. “We hung out at the rink until about 2 a.m. with family and friends. They have a nice restaurant at the ACC so we had a few drinks and a little bit of food. We kept it pretty low key.”
Lazar helped the Edmonton Oil Kings claim the Memorial Cup seven months ago in London, Ont. and in 2011, joined current Canadian teammates Nic Petan and Sam Reinhart to strike gold for B.C. at the Canada Winter Games in Halifax. Lazar broke Sidney Crosby and Steven Stamkos scoring records with a dozen snipes and 17 points for that gold medal.
“Definitely not,” said Lazar, asked if he ever gets tired of hoisting trophies. “People say I’m getting pretty good at it and I told everybody after the game that my junior career is now complete.
“That was a phenomenal game. It was junior hockey at its finest and there really wasn’t ever any doubt we were going to hold on. The fan support was incredible. That was probably the loudest crowd I’ve ever played in front of.”
After Anthony Duclair and Nick Paul scored in the first 2:32 to give Canada an early 2-0 lead, goals from Connor McDavid, Max Domi and Reinhart in a span of 7:22 in the second gave the Canadians a 5-1 advantage.
The Russians had nine NHL draft picks playing compared to Canada, who had all but two players already plucked in the amateur lottery. Russia, however, reeled off three goals in a span of 3:16 to close the gap to one goal after 40 minutes. Ivan Barbashev and Nikolai Goldobin scored on the powerplay, while Sergei Tolchinski converted at even strength.
Head coach Benoit Groulx called a timeout after the fourth Russian goal and pulled out his now-famous rallying cry: tic-tac-tao.
“I could see the looks on the guys and guys were laughing so that’s excactly what we needed,” said Lazar, who turns 20 on Feb. 2. “Some of the guys were down, but I knew there was lots of time left.”
Canadian goalie Zach Fucale was stellar as the Russians pressed and held an 11-4 shot advantage in the third period.
“We always had an answer,” said Lazar. “People said we had it easy playing the Danes and Slovakians in our group and that we weren’t really tested. When we got two goals on two shots on the Russians, I thought it might be the worst thing because it woke the Russians up. I thought our guys did a great job regrouping (after Russia’s rally) and staying calm. We played hard for one another all tournament and now Canada is back on top of the world in junior hockey.”
Domi, who is property of the Arizona Coyotes, led the Canadians with a goal and two assists and Fucale registered 26 saves as Canada pocketed its 16th gold medal at the World Juniors, and first since 2009. Reinhart (five goals, six assists), Petan (four goals, 11 points) and McDavid (3-8-11) tied for the tournament lead. Lazar, a power forward, finished with five goals and nine points.
The two-week experience was also golden for Lazar’s family. His parents, Dave and Karen, and siblings, Jenna, Ryan and Cory, followed him just about everywhere.
“I think my dad got more face time on TSN than I did,” joked Curtis. “We were walking down the street in Toronto and people were going, ‘Hey, there’s Curtis Lazar’s dad, can we get a picture?’ We had some family photos taken with the trophy after the game and Cory was pretty excited because he gots lot of pictures taken with the guys. They had a great trip, walking around old Montreal and watching all the games.”
Lazar was born in Salmon Arm and moved to Vernon at age 10. He played two years of Pee Wee AAA hockey in Vernon before joining the Pursuit of Excellence program in Kelowna for two seasons and finally spending one year with the Okanagan Hockey Academy in Penticton.
He was the second player taken, by the Oil Kings, in the 2010 Western Hockey League Bantam draft, and the 17th choice, by the Senators, in the 2013 NHL entry draft.
Lazar was back in NHL mode Tuesday.
“I’m flying to Philly this afternoon but hopefully not playing,” he laughed. “Then, we go to Colorado. It will be good to see the guys again.”
Lazar joins Vernon products Brad Larsen (1996 in Boston, ‘97 in Geneva) and Jason Podollan (‘96) to win a world junior gold medal for Canada. Larsen was captain of the ‘97 team.