Magic Memories from Moscow
Friday, 18 December 2009
Originally published in the official 2009 World Junior Program
Canada’s 1988 World Junior team reunites to celebrate its amazing run to gold
By Lucas Aykroyd
Many things have changed since 1988. Back then, Brian Mulroney was Canada’s Prime Minister, and pop artists like George Michael and Def Leppard ruled the charts.
However, memories of Canada’s heart-stirring gold medal run at the 1988 IIHF World Junior Championship in Moscow still remain fresh. Members of that team will reunite in Ottawa during this year’s World Juniors to commemorate the victory.
Special events will include honoring the ‘88 team on December 31 at a public luncheon and public dinner at Hockey Country at SBP Arena, as well as during the second intermission of the Canada-United States game that night.
All but two players from ‘88 graduated to the NHL, so the list of reunion attendees includes plenty of familiar names, with captain Theoren Fleury, sniper Rob Brown and star defencemen Greg Hawgood and Chris Joseph all confirmed to be in Ottawa.
“It’s going to be fun,” Fleury said. “I also played with a few guys from the ’88 team in the NHL, the Canada Cup and World Cup, and the Olympics. It’s nice to have the chance to go back and be with a tremendous group of guys.”
Their motivation to triumph in the Russian capital in 1988 was particularly strong. When Hamilton hosted the World Juniors in 1986, the Soviets beat Canada 4-1 en route to gold. One year later, the archrivals were disqualified from the tournament after a number of fights erupted during a game in which the Canadians led and seemingly had the gold medal locked up.
Dave Draper, Canada’s director of scouting in 1988, not only heavily pre-scouted the top European contenders during the summer, but also emphasized selecting mature, hard-working talent to make Canada golden for the first time since 1985.
“At that time, Hockey Canada’s junior program was starting to identify what it would take to win championships,” recalled Linden, who was the youngest Canadian player on the ’88 team at 17 years and eight months. “We were a really organized, focused group.”
Coach Dave Chambers was an international veteran who’d taken a year’s sabbatical from the athletic program at York University to lead the National Junior Team. The 47-year-old didn’t let his young charges get distracted by the unfamiliar language, food, and living conditions in then-Communist Moscow. But there were still chances to explore.
“I remember hanging out in Red Square on days off and bartering with the black market guys for souvenirs,” Fleury said. “We were young and impressionable. I always reminisce about it whenever the World Juniors are on.”
Chambers kept his team playing with controlled emotion in the first two games of the round-robin tournament. Fleury tallied the third-period winner in a 4-2 win over Sweden on Boxing Day, and Adam Graves did the same, capitalizing shorthanded on a Frantisek Kucera giveaway, as Canada beat Czechoslovakia 4-2 two days later.
Outshooting Canada 35-17, the pesky Finns earned a 4-4 tie on December 29 and forced goalie Jimmy Waite to step up. Canada’s wild 5-4 win over the Americans on New Year’s Eve set the stage for the crucial confrontation with the undefeated Russians on January 1.
The Soviet squad was headlined by Alexander Mogilny and Sergei Fedorov, who’d later emerge as two of the greatest NHLers to come out of Russia, but Canada opened up a 2-0 first-period lead on goals by Fleury and Linden.
Then the Soviet onslaught began, and Waite put on the best performance of his life, and arguably the best performance ever by a Canadian netminder at the World Juniors. The Chicoutimi Sagueneens goaltender recorded 38 saves – 32 of them coming in the final 40 minutes as the Canadians were outshot 34-8 – as Canada claimed a 3-2 decision on the strength of Marc Laniel’s second-period winner, all but clinching the gold.
“It was one of the best games I’ve ever been involved with,” Fleury said. “It wasn’t for Jimmy, it might have been 12-3 for them instead of 3-2 for us. To face that amount of pressure from those guys in a sold-out rink in Moscow, it was amazing.”
Lopsided wins over Poland and West Germany secured top spot for Canada. The gold was especially sweet for the returning players who had come so close one year earlier: Fleury, Hawgood, Waite, and Joseph. The first three cracked the tournament all-star team.
“It was the first winning experience I had on a high level,” Fleury said. “When you get those winning experiences, you want to have them over and over again. I was honoured to be the captain, and it’s one of my fondest hockey memories.”
Five members of the WHL’s Medicine Hat Tigers (Rob DiMaio, Trevor Linden, Wayne McBean, Scott McCrady, and Mark Pederson) achieved a remarkable double by winning the Memorial Cup later in 1988, just months after their World Junior triumph.
Joe Sakic and Mark Recchi, who filled strong supporting roles in Moscow, are still playing today as NHL legends, and the now-retired Rob Brown and Eric Desjardins also went on to Stanley Cup glory. How about Waite, the tournament’s best goalie? At 39, the former Chicago Blackhawks prospect still stars in Germany. “He’s a leader for the Ingolstadt Panthers,” said Michael Bauer, the editor of Eishockey News. “He plays a perfect butterfly style and the fans love him.”
And Canadian hockey fans will always have a soft spot for the golden boys of ’88.