A few memorable games and performances from the world junior hockey tournament:
• In 1978, few people outside junior hockey had heard the name Wayne Gretzky. He was just 16, and almost fragile-looking, a spindly kid from Brantford, Ont. He was the youngest player in the tournament. And, as it turned out, the best.
Gretzky led all scorers with 17 points in six games. He saved his best performance for Christmas Day, in a lopsided matchup against Czechoslovakia, scoring six points — a hattrick and three assists — in a 9-3 victory. It was the first time many people had laid eyes on the Great One.
• The world juniors are generally associated with innocence, pre-game butterflies and youthful patriotism. But in 1987, in Piestany, Czechoslovakia, it turned into something much uglier — one of the most notorious hockey brawls in the sport’s history. It was the final game of the tournament, Canada against the Soviets; in the era’s round robin format, the Soviets were out of medal contention, but Canada had a chance at the bronze, silver or even gold if they won by five goals or more. Canada was up 4-2 when Pavel Kostichkin slashed Theo Fleury, initiating the melee. Before long, both benches cleared, and not even turning out the stadium lights — a desperate gesture by tournament officials — could quell the violence. After 20 minutes of chaos, during which the referees left the ice, the fight finally ended. Both teams were banished from the tournament for what came to be known as the “Punch-Up in Piestany.”
• Canada had a three-goal lead in the gold medal game going into the third period and a virtual home crowd in Buffalo. They had Brayden Schenn, whose 18 points in the tournament tied a Canadian record for the world juniors. They seemed to have Russia in a stranglehold. They did not. In a sudden, surreal flurry of goals early in the third, the Russians tied it. With 4:38 left, Artemi Panarin delivered the fatal blow: a scramble in front led to a puck between the pads of goalie Mark Visentin. And later, salt in the wounds: a Nikita Dvurechesnki breakway, and a fifth Russian goal.
The Canadians were shell-shocked. “I don’t know what happened, to be honest,” said Canadian defenceman Tyson Barrie after the game. “It just kind of got away from us.”
“This is the worst feeling I’ve ever had.”
• John Slaney wasn’t supposed to be the hero in 1991. Eric Lindros was on the roster: a once-in-a-generation prospect, he had 17 points in the tournament. In the final game, both the Canadians and Soviets were playing for gold. Canada jumped out to a 2-0 lead, but then coughed it up: a goal from Sandis Ozolinsh nearly four minutes into the third period tied it.
In that final frame, the Soviets outshot Canada 17-3. The gold appeared to be on the verge of slipping away. But with just over five minutes left on the clock, the puck bounced out to John Slaney, who was waiting just inside the Soviet blueline. Slaney hadn’t scored a goal in the tournament, but he teed up a slapshot that blazed through traffic and in, putting his country ahead for good. His teammate Kent Manderville tackled the defenceman so hard during the post-goal celebration that Slaney had to leave the ice with a sprained ankle.
• It’s a goaltender’s worst nightmare — and Marc-André Fleury lived it. Late in the third period of the 2004 gold-medal game, the puck was bouncing down the ice, with American Patrick O’Sullivan chasing. Fleury came out of his net to play the puck, and tried to flick it up the middle. The puck wouldn’t cooperate; it hit Canadian defenceman Braydon Coburn in the shoulder and bounced into Fleury’s goal. 4-3 Americans. The Canadians wouldn’t recover, and had to settle for silver.
• Shootouts are a terrible, cruel, unjust way to end hockey games. They can also be mesmerizing.
With the score tied 1-1 after overtime in the 2007 semifinals between Canada and the U.S., the teams started sending out their shooters. The opening round was inconclusive, and the proceedings went into sudden death. According to tournament rules, coaches could send out any player they liked at that point, even if they had already shot. Canadian coach Craig Hartsburg leaned on Jonathan Toews. The Winnipeg product had already scored once, and Hartburg sent him out twice more. Toews scored both times, and with a Carey Price save, the win was clinched.
• 5.6 seconds. That’s how much time was left on the clock when Jordan Eberle tied Canada’s semifinal game against Russia in 2009. Eberle picked up the puck in front of the Russian goal after a blocked shot, pulled it onto his backhand, and flipped it into an open goal. Gord Miller’s call has become famous in its own right: “Eberle scores! Tie game! Can. You. Believe it?!”
Canada would win in a shootout, then beat Sweden 5-1 to capture gold.
• O, Canada. After winning gold with a 3-3 draw against Czechoslovakia, the 1982 Canadian team lined up at the blue-line, awaiting the playing of their national anthem. But there was a hitch: The stadium technicians in Rochester, Minn., didn’t have a tape of O Canada. The boys in red and white weren’t fazed: after a prolonged pause, they showed their true patriot love, and launched into a memorably off-key rendition of the national song. With glowing hearts, no doubt.