His friends and Kelowna Rockets teammates were on hand to meet Nolan Foote (centre) at the airport Monday night, returning home from his experience playing for Team Canada in the World Junior Hockey Championship with a gold medal around his neck. (Daniel Taylor - Capital News)

Kelowna Rockets’ captain Nolan Foote returns home with gold after World Junior Championships

Team Canada defeated Team Russia 4-3 to capture their 18th gold medal in tournament history

Wearing the gold medal around his neck, Kelowna Rockets captain Nolan Foote was greeted by the entire team when he arrived at the Kelowna International Airport late Monday night.

On Jan. 5, Foote captured a gold medal with Canada at the World Junior Hockey Championships in Ostrava, Czech Republic, defeating Russia in an epic nail-biter 4-3 final.

“It’s incredible. It feels really good,” Foote said upon his arrival at YLW.

“You grow up watching the World Juniors as a kid and you dream of it, so it’s definitely an amazing feeling,”

The win came a week after Canada was embarrassed 6-0 by Russia in the preliminary round.

In that game, 18-year-old star Canadian Alexis Lafreniere left with what appeared to be a serious injury, Team Canada captain Barrett Hayton nearly caused an international incident at centre ice when he failed to remove his helmet during the post-game playing of the Russian anthem and Joe Veleno earned a one-game suspension for headbutting.

It seemed as though Canada’s goal of winning gold was falling apart at the seams.

But over the following week of the tournament, the Canadians rallied for what would eventually be one of the best comebacks in Team Canada history, scoring three goals in the third period to overcome a 3-1 deficit.

Foote said he could hardly wait to celebrate as the clock ticked down and he finally realized his childhood dream.

“I was just feeling jitters and shaking,” Foote said referring to the final few seconds of the game.

“It was surreal. I was jumping up and down with the guys and it was even more amazing with that comeback.

“It felt really good.”

The Canadians played much of the first two periods shorthanded and found themselves down 2-1.

The Russians would score another goal at 8:46 into the third, but Canada responded quickly by finding the back of the net on a goal by Connor McMichael.

Hayton added another on a power play with a wicked wrist shot from the slot at 11:21.

That goal is now part of Team Canada junior team folklore in the wake of Hayton overcoming a shoulder injury to play the game when it appeared to many he would be a scratch from the lineup after the warmup because he was clearly favouring the injury.

Then, with four minutes remaining in the third, Canada’s Akil Thomas scored the winner on a hardworking play where he poked the puck by a Russian defenseman for a partial breakaway and beat Russia’s goaltender blocker side.

Canada held off the Russians in a penalty-mired final three minutes of the third period to hold on for the win.

Foote said while Canada was soundly beaten by Russia in the preliminary round, the team believed in its abilities and went into the gold medal game feeling confident.

“It was definitely challenging and we knew we had a good opponent we had to face, but since the 6-0 (loss against Russia) we outscored our opponents 24 to seven. We were feeling confident,” he said.

“Our power play and penalty kill were clicking well. We were playing really good as a team.”

Foote had a strong tournament finishing with three goals and two assists in seven games.

While productive offensively, he was ejected for a hit to the head of Slovakia’s Kristian Kovacik in the first period of its quarterfinal matchup, another example of the adversity Team Canada had to overcome which Foote believes helped unite the team in their quest to win gold.

“You’re always going to face adversity and what you need to do is come back from that.

“We’re lucky Lafreniere’s injury wasn’t serious, as well as Hayton’s shoulder.

“Obviously the ejection for me sucked because I didn’t think it was that bad of a hit, but all around, we came away with the gold.”

Foote will return to the Rockets lineup after he is evaluated by medical staff in the coming days.

Bruce Hamilton, the Rockets owner and general manager, said he was extremely proud of his star forward.

“It’s always great when you see these young guys go over there and have success,” said Hamilton. “Only 22 players make it every year and any time you’re one of the best 22 players in Canada under 20 it’s a great honor and something they’ll never forget. It’s a special club to belong to and especially when you win a gold medal.”

Canada’s Alexis Lafreniere was named the tournament MVP while Barrett Hayton won the championship game’s most valuable player.

The Rockets next game is tonight (Jan. 8) when they play host to the Victoria Royals at Prospera Place.

A special presentation before the game will be held to recognize Foote’s achievement. He is the third Foote to win gold, as his brother Cal did it at the World Junior Championship in 2018 and his father Adam won gold with Canada at the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City.

READ MORE: McDonald scores shootout winner as Rockets defeat Giants


@Niftymittens14
daniel.taylor@kelownacapnews.com

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Penticton, Vernon hockey legends to be inducted into BC Hockey Hall of Fame

Vernon’s Eric Brewer and a record-breaking Penticton Vees team will join the HOF July 24

Vernon parent sounds alarm over ketamine and pill parties

RCMP have been notified and are investigating

UPDATE: Highway reopened in Coldstream after semi strikes power pole

Highway 6 cleared, power restored after crash Monday morning

Vernon builds excellence at Okanagan Housing Awards

Sunterra a five-time winner while Weninger Construction and Design wins Home of the Year

$11K fine for Vernon mutual fund dealer

Fines for altering, pre-signing documents between 2014-17

VIDEO: Canada’s first presumptive case of coronavirus officially confirmed

Both patient and wife arrived on a China Southern Airlines flight after having been to Wuhan

Whistleblower says Iranian-Americans questioned at Peace Arch crossing were targeted

Immigration lawyer says response from Customs Border Protection is a ‘total cover up’

‘Big money’ funding B.C. politics now mostly from taxpayers

Campaign targets $16 million and counting in ‘politician welfare’

VIDEO: Music stars pay tribute to Kobe Bryant at Grammys award show

Music artists including Billy Ray Cyrus, Rick Ross and Kirk Franklin paid tribute to Bryant

South Okanagan ski hill reports ex-employee to RCMP, closes lift amid investigation

‘We are actively investigating and dealing with the actions of a former employee,’ said the resort

John Lennon’s psychedelic Rolls-Royce on display at Royal BC Museum

The classic car has been a favourite for Beatles fans from Victoria and internationally

Coastal GasLink stresses pipeline ‘on a schedule’ as B.C. appoints liaison for Wet’suwet’en

670-kilometre pipeline is schedule to be completed by end of 2023

Penticton woman wins $500,000 lotto prize

Anna Fodor collected $500,000 with her winning ticket

Most Read