SPORTS

Back on top in the hockey world

Steve Milton January 14 1985
SPORTS

Back on top in the hockey world

Steve Milton January 14 1985

Back on top in the hockey world

SPORTS

Steve Milton

It used to be easy to recognize the Canadian players at international hockey tournaments: they usually wore red faces while the Soviets wore smiles. But in the past year the trend has been reversed. Canadian hockey is no longer embarrassing itself against European competition. Instead, it is back on top of the world. The latest indication: a gold-medal performance at the world junior hockey championship in Helsinki, where a collection of Canadian allstars were undefeated in seven games and thoroughly out-performed the favored Soviet club.

The Canadian juniors, all but three of whom are the property of National Hockey League teams, won their first five games, mainly by lopsided scores, including a 5-0 drubbing of the Soviets. Then they played to ties against the host Finns (4-4) and the runner-up Czechs (2-2) to secure first place. Said head coach Terry Simpson, who coaches the Prince Albert, Sask.,

Raiders during the regular season, of his team’s performance: “It took tremendous self-motivation, but our guys came through.”

It was only the second time in eight years of trying that Canadian juniors had won the world title, but it was unlikely to be the last. The 1985 world junior tournament will be held in Hamilton, Ont., and other southern Ontario centres, where the Canadians will enjoy the advantage of playing before home crowds. In Helsinki, the juniors—aged 19 and under —were simply continuing what the country’s very best players began in the 1984 Canada Cup tournament. In September Team Canada recaptured the cup by beating the once-invincible Soviet National Team in overtime and then sweeping Sweden in a two-game final. And while the juniors were winning in Finland, still another Canadian team —made up mainly of fringe players from universities and semipro clubs —surprised their rivals by winning a five-nation invitational tournament in

Davos, Switzerland. In winning the 58year-old Spengler Cup tournament, which has been contested for 58 years, the Canadians once again victimized a Soviet team, beating the first-division Chimik squad en route to victory.

Still, it was the juniors’ effort that most impressed Canadian—and European—hockey observers. No fewer than 17 Canadian players eligible for the tournament were playing regularly for NHL clubs, which considered them too valuable to be released for Helsinki.

Said an elated Ed Chynoweth, president of the Canadian Major Junior Hockey Leagues, which operates junior franchises in Quebec, Ontario and Western Canada: “It shows you just what kind of depth we must have in Canadian hockey.”

In winning the gold medal, the team played an emphatically “Canadian” style of hockey: hard-checking defence, hard-digging forward lines and impeccable penalty-killing—all supported by sparkling goaltending from Craig Billington of the Belleville, Ont., Bulls. Said rueful right-winger Brian Hannon of Team U.S.A., which managed only two victories: “We tried to play a little more of the European-style game. The Canadians won it because they had the players who could play the Canadian style, and they stuck to it.” Said Simpson: “We

had checkers and penalty killers and guys who were primarily there for their defence. We had a lot of guys who might not have been as good, say, as guys who were left at home, but they fit into the mould of the team we were trying to build.”

The Canadians borrowed at least one element of European-style hockey: they maintained their composure, even under duress. Indeed, they only allowed one goal during 20 shorthanded situations against the Soviets, Finns and

Czechs. During most of their pivotal match against the Soviets, the Canadians were methodical while the Soviets became increasingly agitated as their frustrations mounted. That victory followed an emotional dressing-room speech by Bassin, who told the Canadians that he was tired of hearing so much about Russian hockey. Said Bassin: “Dig down and get that pride for what we do, because when we finish there is only one song I want to hear.” Bassin’s request for 0 Canada was granted after Wendel Clark of the Saskatoon Blades scored the tying goal against Czechoslovakia on New Year’s Day, in the 8,000-seat Helsinki Jaahalli (Icehall). The tie enabled Team Canada to win the gold medal because of its superior scoring average. Said Clark, 18: “It was the best goal I ever scored in my life.”