Thursday, December 17, 2009

While I tell of Yule tide treasure


On the eighth day of Christmas my true love gave to me Eight World Juniors, Seven Aching Bodies, Six Fucking Douchebags, Five ... Straight ... Road ... Wins ........ Four Pints of Beer, Three Frenchmen, Two Sausages and Lubomir Visnovsky

When I was a kid there were no World Juniors and even when the tournament started it was way way below the radar, even for someone who was as hockey crazy as I was.

I was aware of it before the 1987 tournament in Piestany where Canada and the Russians were thrown out (I'm rereading Joyce's book now, that's Gare, not James, Joyce, its a terrific read) but most likely it had been just the year or two previous where I started following it.

TSN has turned it into their centrepiece, an example of what marketing can do for you. Its become must see holiday TV and many folks I know look at it as the highlight of their hockey year, even moreso than the Stanley Cup playoffs, a tournament that takes place in the spring. As a fan of the Edmonton Oilers I must admit that is more or less a mythical creature to me, like a unicorn or Kate Winslet.

I enjoy it and its always interesting to look back and see the players who take part in the tournament. There are the hyped stars like Crosby and Tavares, Ovechkin and Malkin. There are the guys like Iginla and Toews, Phaneuf and Mark Staal who announce their arrival as major league prospects with their tournament performances. You have guys like Eric Daze who use the tournament as a coming out party. (Daze was an unknown before his WJC appearance; he was dominant in the tournament, one wonders what he might have done before back woes did his career in.) And you have guys like John Slaney and Jimmy Waite who win gold with their heroics and then fade from sight, unable to find success in the pros.

My two most memorable World Junior moments are personal ones. After over twenty years the faces and moments and teams all kind of blend together.

The year after the Piestany tournament the Canadians were life and death to win the gold. It was the old format, just a basic round robin, best record wins. Canada's last two games were against patsies West Germany and Poland (they would win 8-1 and 9-1) but to win the gold they had to beat the Soviets . I believe it was new Year's Day because a couple of us had crashed at a buddy's. The three of us got up early, eyes bleeding, to watch the big game in his folks' basement and saw Jimmy Waite put on the performance of his life as the Canadians beat their rivals 3-2 despite being badly outplayed. Five star chance after five star chance ended up in Waite's glove.

Waite was phenomenal. Even better was the interview after the game. In Joyce's book players like Fleury and Shanahan talk about how their backup the year previous, pressed into action because of an injury to starter Shawn Simpson, could not speak a word of English. Not a single word. A year later he had learned a few but still not many. When asked for his thoughts on his performance in the dressing room afterwards Waite said, matter a factedly:

I think I played good game, fuck.

My other personal memory to do with the tournament came after the 1992 tournament. Canada had won two straight gold medals and was expected to easily win again with a team that included Paul Kariya and Eric Lindros (both who would play in the Olympics shortly afterwards, Lindros had also played in the Canada Cup, remember), Scott Niedermeyer and a whole slew of highly touted prospects. Instead they bombed out badly, finishing sixth out of eight clubs, barely edging Germany and the Swiss and getting smoked by the Czechs and the Russians. Their coach was Rick Cornacchia.

Not sure if it was later that winter or the following winter, I was back home and headed down to the old Sudbury Memorial Arena (the type of arena that the phrase 'old barn' was made for) to check out the local junior club, the Sudbury Wolves. Winners of the Memorial Cup in 1932, runnersup in 1935 and winners of the World Championships in 1938.

Sudbury folks are pretty passionate about their club and they're tough fans. The visiting club that night was the Oshawa Generals, post Lindros, no longer the club who had won the Memorial Cup a couple of years previous. The Wolves would actually knock them out of the playoffs that year. The Generals were disliked and their coach happened to be Rick Cornacchia.

Between periods we were wandering about the arena and we happened upon Cornacchia, huddled with an assistant. My friend's son, who would have been in his early teens, and who has always carried a gigantic needle with him wherever he goes, says:

hey Rick, nice job at the world juniors

Cornacchia's face fell as if his pet kitten had just been strangled before his eyes. He mumbled something about how some people's kids etc etc and then walked away.

Good times.

6 comments:

Dennis said...

I loved the Jrs when it was a CBC thing but TSN did a smart thing once they got the rights and that was to give it enough attention to make it seem more important than it really is - it's nice for Can to dominate in the 19 and under's but as we see we are quickly reeled in when it comes to Mens comp - and the people bit and now it's just overwhelming and it's turned me off.

I didn't even pay rapt attention last year even though we had one of the best players on Team Canada.

I am trying to stay away from it as much this year as I can - outside of watching the games - but right away one of Pierre's biggest talking points will be how great the Kings will be once they have their team TC reps join them in the bigs.

Because we know that all the players who make an impact in the juniors will make an impact in the pros.

Jay said...

I've seen most of the tournaments in the past 15 or so years. A couple of the moments that stick out for me are the goaltender performances of Theodore in 1996 and Luongo in Winnipeg in 1999 (damn Chubarov!). The fat Russian goalie pushing the net off with little time left to secure a win in 2003. Poor Fleury knocking it off the American and into his own net in 2004. Toews continually scoring in the shootout against the Americans in 2007.

But really, nothing compared to last year. I holed myself up alone in my apartment watching the Canada/U.S. game on NYE, postponing meeting up with anyone until the end of what I thought at the time would be the greatest hockey game I would ever see.

Then a couple days later came Canada/Russia, which somehow topped it.

I guess I'm one of those people who looks forward to this much more than the Stanley Cup - maybe because of the time of year, maybe because my team's always in it.

I always wonder why TSN doesn't sell DVDs to capitalize on this tournament, because I would have plucked money down for a lot of them.

macaotim said...

I have been loyal to this tournament for years. I even caught the Canada-Russia brawl live! This year we will have Hockey Night In Thailand. I hope I can find streams online.

What I like: passionate hockey, big hits and an excuse to drink a beer in the early, early AM!

doritogrande said...

Jay:

You're actually looking for the DVD box set called "Canada's Juniors - The Gold Standard". It's got seven games, from the days of current Manitoba Moose coach Scott Arniel, to Petr Forsberg's "guaranteed" win, to the Canada/USA shootout in Grand Forks. It's standard issue if the U-20s are your thing.

My love for the World Juniors (and all semi-pro hockey tournaments for that matter) continue to grow. It's probably a combination of knowing the Edmonton Oilers are going to have another sub-par season anyway and the lack of a hometown NHL franchise to get behind. Back when the Canada-Russia superseries was staged I remember waking up at 4:30 in the morning to watch the games in my room, posting at the Oilers.com boards with the half-dozen or so other die-hards, then falling back asleep. The game in Winnipeg was especially uplifting because that one was one of the early defining moments of Sam Gagner's career.

I also had one very irate professor who wondered aloud why so many students did not show up for the first class of Winter term 2007. I don't recall his mood improving when I informed him that Team Canada took precedence over his views on Physical Anthropology for that day.

Anonymous said...

That Eberle goal is like the Pisani OT SH goal; I still get chills watching it and could watch it over and over again.

I look forward to the WJC every year. Too bad about Cody Hodgson.
Jay -"..my team is always in it" LOL never thought of it that way.
macaotim -I too appreciate the bursting passion and enthusiasm of these young players. OT: been to Thailand 3 times, amazing place.
doritogrande: thanks for the info re: The Gold Standard

Jay said...

Yeah, I will definitely look into The Gold Standard - thanks for the tip!