Despite a roster of powerful players, Canada, which won the world junior hockey championship last year in Finland, had all but resigned itself to second best last week when it suffered a 6-5 loss to Czechoslovakia in the 1990 tournament. But the next night, Finland, trailing the Soviet Union 5-4, rallied to tie the game—converting the Friday night match between Canada and the Soviets into the gold-medal contest. Then, in a tensely fought battle, the Canadian team triumphed with a 3-2 championship victory over the Soviets on a goal by defenceman John Slaney that brought the crowd in Saskatoon’s Saskatchewan Place to its feet in wild celebration.
As they had in three of the earlier six games that they played in the eight-nation tournament, Team Canada started strongly but faltered. After taking a 2-0 lead in the first period, they allowed the Soviets to fight back to a 2-2 score by the third. Then, Canada roared back, with Newfoundlander Slaney blocking a clearing shot and sending the puck into the Soviet net in the final minutes of the game.
It was a stunning comeback for a team that often played unevenly. After an easy 6-0 victory over Switzerland and a 4-4 tie with the United States, Canada fell behind the Soviet team in the standings. In contrast, the Soviets systematically defeated the United States, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland and Czechoslovakia, remaining victorious until they tied with Finland.
For the Soviets, the defeat was a blow to a hockey program that some experts say is in
trouble because of domestic political chaos. As well, Soviet coach Robert Cherenkov said that young Soviet players are now motivated by a desire to win National Hockey League contracts. Indeed, the tournament, which was played in Saskatoon and eight other centres throughout the province, provided a showcase for the talents of about a dozen outstanding teenagers, and many of them may soon be in the NHL. One dominant player was Canadian centre Eric Lindros, a Torontonian, who is expected to be the league’s No. 1 draft pick for the 1991-1992 season. By the end of the tournament, the 17-year-old, who plays for the Oshawa Generals of the Ontario Junior A league, was the second-ranking point scorer, with six goals and 11 assists. As well, NHL scouts were watching a number of other players, including U.S. forward Doug Weight—the tournament’s top scorer, with 18 points—and the Soviet Union’s Pavel Bure.
Canada’s coach, Dick Todd, for one, said that with the relaxation of travel restrictions in the Soviet Union and its former Eastern European satellites, there will be an increasing flow of talented hockey players to the NHL. He added: “That means we’ll see better Russian and Czech players because they can now aspire to it, too. Canada will have to stay hungry to keep up.” Still, Team Canada’s breathtaking medal victory seemed to be proof that the appetite of Canadian players for success is as voracious as ever.
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