SPORTS

Golden moments

Canada’s junior hockey team triumphs

CARL MOLLINS January 15 1990
SPORTS

Golden moments

Canada’s junior hockey team triumphs

CARL MOLLINS January 15 1990

Golden moments

SPORTS

Canada’s junior hockey team triumphs

All of them can count on careers in the National Hockey League. A few have already been scouted by the pros as future superstars. But the

20 Canadian teenagers who flew to Finland in mid-December to compete in the annual world junior hockey championships, in contrast to other national teams, had come together only days before the tournament. And despite their individual talents with teams across North America, their championship chances seemed slight against the co-favored Soviet and Czechoslovakian teams. They were to compete for the first time on the wide, disorienting European rinks against formidable European players. Indeed, the junior Canadians suffered several serious setbacks during the 10 days of competition. Until the closing moments of their final game last week—and then again for several hours afterward—it seemed that they might have to settle at best for second place. But after a dramatic series of heart-stopping twists on the tournament’s final day last week, the Canadians emerged triumphant.

Ecstatic after the dramatic ending to a closing 2-1 victory over Czechoslovakia, the players sang an off-key 0 Canada as the Maple Leaf flag was raised in recognition of their victory. Too young to have champagne, the new champions sprayed each other with orange soda pop in the dressing room afterward.

“The best day of my life and the biggest victory I’ve been in,” said Dwayne Norris, a native of St. John’s, Nfld., who scored the winning goal against Czechoslovakia. Said left winger Dave Chyzowski, the top-scoring Edmontonian who set up Norris’s winner: “This is more than just another day at the office. This impression is going to stick with us the rest of our lives.”

Although Canada has won the world junior title three times previously (1982, 1985 and 1988), seldom in any such tournament has the winning team experienced so many emotional highs and lows on its way to the gold medals. And rarely has a hastily assembled group of young players, whose ages range from 16 to 19, persisted unrattled through the emotional low points and resisted any temptation to fight with their fists or their sticks under stress.

One of the lowest points and the final high both resulted from the determination of another never-say-die team, Sweden. The Swedes stung Canada on the second-last day of the eight-nation round robin tournament with its only defeat. Down 4-2 in the third period, the Swedes scored three times in 96 seconds and held on to win, placing Canadian hopes for gold medals in serious jeopardy.

In the showdown the next day, the Swedes confronted the Soviets in Helsinki and the Canadians faced off against Czechoslovakia simultaneously in Turku, 200 km to the north-

west. A Canadian win, coupled with a Swedish victory or a tie, would give Canada the championship. But, with less than four minutes to go in both games, the Soviets led Sweden 5-3 while Canada held a precarious 2-1 edge over the Czechoslovaks. The Canadians seemed certain to be left with no more than second-place silver medals. Then, the surprising Swedes scored twice—the tying goal in the last second of the Helsinki game. When that result was announced in the Turku arena, with less than three minutes to play, the Canadian bench came alive with backslapping and cheering. They held on to beat Czechoslovakia, a tough team, which had defeated Canada 3-1 in a pretournament exhibition game.

Even as the Canadians doused each other with orange drink, and danced to the beat of Tina Turner’s Simply the Best over dressingroom loudspeakers, team officials learned by telephone that the Soviets had officially protested that the tying Swedish goal had entered the net after time had run out. But, after television tape of the disputed goal was replayed at a meeting of tournament team executives, the Soviets withdrew their protest.

In the final accounting, the championship rested on Canada’s own come-from-behind victory over the Soviet Union on New Year’s night in Helsinki. The powerful Soviets, aiming for their country’s ninth junior title in 14 years, built a 3-0 lead in less than 16 minutes. But the Canadians battled back with six successive goals and prevailed 6-4. As a result, although those teams finished the tournament with identical records of five wins, a tie and one loss, Canada placed first for having beaten the Soviets. Czechoslovakia took the bronze-medal spot. The host Finns, who held the Canadians to a confidence-shaking 3-3 tie on New Year’s Eve, finished fourth, ahead of Sweden, Norway, the United States and Poland.

The Canadian triumph underlined the promise of such players as Chyzowski, who was released to play for Canada in his first season with the New York Islanders. With nine goals and four assists, he was named a tournament all-star along with goalkeeper Stephane Fiset, a Montrealer who plays with the Victoriaville Tigers in Quebec. Head coach Guy Charron, who normally works with Canada’s Olympic team, praised Fiset for “a fantastic job” while playing with a painful knee injury. Centre Eric Lindros, hailed by NHL scouts as a future superstar, scored four times to rank second in goals for Canada. The 16-year-old Torontonian has been playing in Michigan and is now joining the Ontario Hockey League’s Oshawa Generals.

But in the eyes of the many scouts, foreign journalists and others who watched them, all the Canadian players—and coach Charron— reinforced their reputations. And against a recent history of brawling at international tournaments, the most impressive legacy of the young gold-medallists may well be the way that they improved Canadian hockey’s reputation with their mature behavior under pressure.

CARL MOLLINS

with

PETER STARCK

in

Helsinki