After going through the junior hockey rite of passage it's time to pursue the sport's Holy Grail.
Okotokian Peyton Krebs and former Okotoks Oilers centre Dylan Holloway helped Canada to a sterling performance at the 2021 World Junior Hockey Championship in Edmonton with a heartbreaking 2-0 loss to the United States in the gold medal game on Jan. 5 closing off what was one of Canada's most dominant performances in tournament history.
"This was definitely the number-one thing on my list, other than winning a Stanley Cup, in terms of hockey for me," said Krebs, the Vegas Golden Knights first-round pick in 2019. "World Juniors and the Stanley Cup, those are the two things you want to be a part of and two things you want to win and be a part of.
"Obviously we didn't win the World Juniors, but it was a lot of fun and I'm looking forward to the next chapter in my career and trying to win a Stanley Cup."
While Krebs is in Vegas for a week-long quarantine starting Jan.8 before taking part in the team's camp, Holloway has returned to Madison to finish off his sophomore season with the University of Wisconsin Badgers.
Both players have more than the Pacific Division rivalry down the line in common as longtime friends in the elite hockey ranks. Holloway also billeted with the Krebs family during his two years with the Jr. A Oilers.
"Having him live with us in the past for two years and playing with him since Peewee in the Alberta Winter Games and now playing with him in World Juniors was pretty surreal that we got to experience that together," Krebs said. "I had a great time with him and it's going to be a friendship for life, for sure. I'm excited to see where he goes in his next chapter here."
Krebs notched 3 goals and 8 points in the competition, finishing tied for second on Team Canada in scoring and tied for seventh in the overall list. The Winnipeg ICE captain had two goals in Canada’s tournament opening blowout victory over Germany on Boxing Day and added a marker and was named Player of the Game in Canada’s New Year’s Eve victory over Finland to cap off a flawless undefeated mark in the preliminary round.
"The past year or two I haven't really had the opportunity to play on a big stage," said Krebs. "I missed playoffs because of COVID (cancellations) last year and I was close to playing in the bubble in the NHL and didn't get that opportunity so I really wanted to utilize this World Juniors my most and I think I did that.
"I gave my heart every single night and I wasn't playing the position that I always play, but was making the most of it and I just wanted to have a great tournament with the guys and have a lot of fun."
Holloway, the Edmonton Oilers first-round selection in 2020, missed a game due to injury and finished with 1 goal and 1 assist in the competition and was arguably Canada’s most physical player in the forward ranks. The pride of Bragg Creek had a particularly strong showing with his speed and power game in Canada’s 5-0 shutout over Russia in the semifinal.
"I thought (Holloway) played unbelievable - the energy he was bringing and being hard on pucks and the relentlessness he was bringing to the game," said Okotoks Oilers head coach Tyler Deis, who coached Holloway from 2017-19. "I thought him and Krebs did a phenomenal job, they represented Alberta well and southern Alberta well and I thought those guys did an amazing job.
"Both guys were hard on pucks and fore-checked well and they were fun to watch."
Due the unique circumstances in the lead-up to the tournament, Team Canada’ players were together for 51 days with the evaluation camp in Red Deer also featuring a quarantine period before the final roster moved into the Edmonton bubble.
"It was definitely long and sometimes it was definitely short," Krebs said. "The tournament did go by fast, the quarantine days didn't, but it was a lot of fun. I got to know a lot of guys that I didn't know before and I got to know a lot of guys better that I didn't know before."
Krebs experienced the Edmonton bubble as a member of the Vegas Golden Knights during their playoff run in the late-summer and noted that anything you do twice you're always better at the second time.
"It was awesome going through it again and getting to play," he said. "It didn't have as many amenities as the NHL bubble, but getting to play definitely topped all of that. It was a lot easier going in the second time just knowing what to expect."
Though the passionate Canadian fans weren't in the stands to cheer the boys on in person in Edmonton, the players felt the support from coast-to-coast.
"Every time you finish any game you're phone would be blowing up after and you knew the support was there," Krebs said. "Having the fans in the building would have been amazing, but during this time we couldn't have that. Before games walking to the rink we would see just outside of our hotel a big crowd of people wearing their Canadian gear.
"We knew everyone was watching and we wanted to play our best at all times."
Team Canada’s performance at the 2021 event will be remembered as one of the most impressive overall performances of all-time. Prior to the gold medal game, the Red and White, which featured 20 first-round draft selections, did not allow an even-strength goal against all tournament and never trailed in the competition.
The United States' gold medal triumph ensured the run of no teams repeating as World Junior Champions since 2009, the end of a run of five consecutive gold medals for the Canadians. Finland defeated Russia 4-1 to claim the bronze medal.
"I think we had a great tournament, we didn't get gold, but we were an unbelievable team and I think it's going to go down as one of the best teams to ever lace them up for the World Juniors," Krebs said. "Especially during this circumstance, we had 20 first-round picks, it was really special to be a part of that team and even though we didn't win gold I'm super thankful, blessed and proud of all the guys.
"It was unbelievable performance from us throughout the tournament. It was definitely the best hockey team I've been a part of and I'll remember it for the rest of my life."
Two memories will last with him the most, Krebs said, going through the experience with all of the guys, the staff, and what the group went through to get to the end as well as the bitter taste in his mouth following the gold medal game.
"I'll remember that sting, that feeling, losing the gold for the rest of my life," he said. "I never want to feel that again and I'm going to make sure that doesn't happen."