Theo Fleury remembers notorious 1987 world juniors...
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Jan 04, 2016  |  Vote 0    0

Theo Fleury remembers notorious 1987 world juniors brawl

The “Punch-up in Piestany” on Jan. 4, 1987, featured cleared benches, Canada-Soviet animosity and an ill-timed blackout. It also brought the Canadian teens’ tournament to a swift close


The place: Piestany, Czechoslovakia (now Slovakia)

The date: Jan. 4, 1987

The event: World junior hockey championship

The game: Canada vs. Soviet Union

Theo Fleury was on that Canadian team. In this photo, he can’t be seen but he thinks he knows where he is.

“I was No. 10 and I’m probably in that big pile in the middle of the picture,” he says with a quiet chuckle from his Calgary home.

Fleury was part of the so-called “Punch-up in Piestany,” the infamous full-scale brawl between the young Soviet and Canadian squads during a tournament game.

Canada was up 4-2 about halfway through the contest, with medal hopes alive. The Soviets were out of contention before the puck dropped.

At 13:53 in the second period, the melee was reportedly triggered when Soviet player Pavel Kostichkin two-handed Fleury with his stick after the smaller Canadian had cross-checked him. The pair began to fight. Evgeny Davydov left the Soviet bench to join the fray. Both benches quickly followed. All players squared off, and even the goalies started throwing punches.

The hapless officials left the ice and watched from afar. The fighting continued for nearly 20 minutes, with the arena lights being turned off in a bizarre, futile attempt to stop the free-for-all.

Eventually the battle calmed and the teams were sent to their dressing rooms. Fleury recalls waiting to go back on the ice to finish the game because he says the sport, back then, had a higher tolerance for fighting.

“People don’t understand that (fights) were happening every night in the Western Hockey League as either a bench-clearing brawl or a five-on-five,” says Fleury, now 47 and a father of four.

“So when you get a bunch of 18- and 19-year-old kids with a lot of testosterone and playing for a gold medal, anything can happen.”

But Piestany was not Moose Jaw.

Both teams were disqualified, their tournament records expunged and their rides to the airport quickly arranged.

“It all happened so fast,” says Fleury. “The next thing you know, we’re leaving the country, driving to Vienna and sleeping on our hockey bags to catch our flight back to Canada.”

Fleury says the Canadian team — coached by Bert Templeton and Pat Burns — was “shocked” at the disqualification.

“The funny thing was it wasn’t the first brawl we had on that trip,” says Fleury, now a motivational speaker and bestselling author.

“We went to Switzerland for a camp before the world juniors and we brawled one of the Swiss men’s teams over there in an exhibition game. Then we brawled the Americans in warm-up on New Year’s Day.”

Fleury says the whole affair launched an improbable NHL career for him. He was an eighth-round pick by the Calgary Flames in the 1987 NHL entry draft, so it was “huge” to get national attention.

Fleury won junior gold with Canada the year after Piestany, and later a Stanley Cup and Olympic gold. And for his efforts in 1987, Fleury also points to a late-arriving medal from a former Leafs owner.

“We got one from our buddy Harold Ballard, who was not a fan of the Russians at that time. It says ‘Maple Leaf forever’ on it. I still have it, packed away with everything else in some storage room in my basement.”

Toronto Star

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