When Toronto and Montreal stage to the 2015 and 2017 IIHF World Junior Championships, it will mark the first time Toronto serves as host of the tournament; however, it will not be the first time a World Juniors game has been played in the Ontario capital.
When Hamilton hosted the 1986 tournament, games were played throughout southern Ontario, including two in Toronto.
The first came Dec. 29, 1985, when Finland and West Germany squared off at Ted Reeve Arena in the city's east end.
Then on New Year's Day 1986, the blue and white gave way to red and white at Maple Leaf Gardens.
As the temperature hovered just below freezing outside, 8,581 fans gathered inside the home of the Toronto Maple Leafs to watch Canada’s National Junior Team defeat Finland 6-5.
Canada was undefeated heading into the match-up, having outscored its previous four opponents 44-7. The Canadians were led by captain Jim Sandlak and featured future NHLers Shayne Corson, Scott Mellanby, Joe Murphy, Joe Nieuwendyk, Luc Robitaille and Gary Roberts.
“I had been to Maple Leaf Gardens only once before, as a child,” remembers Roberts. “And now my second time there I was getting to play.”
While Roberts admits his memories of the game are fuzzy, he does remember that the reverence of playing in such an historic arena was not lost on the players.
When Jouni Kantola opened the scoring for Finland 8:30 into the opening period, it marked the first time Canada had trailed in the tournament. It didn't stay that way for long. Corson tied things up three minutes later.
The Canadians fired 20 shots at Finnish goaltender Timo Lehkonen, a Chicago Blackhawks draft pick, and seemingly took up residence outside his crease in the opening frame, but skated off still tied 1-1.
Lehkonen had played the previous season with the Toronto Marlboros of the OHL and was used to dealing with a crowded crease. As he told the Hamilton Spectator, “It helps you. You learn to keep your eye on the puck, not the man.”
Canada knew little about Finland going into the game, and was surprised at the incredible puck control they – as well as all of the European teams – demonstrated. “They were ahead of the North Americans on that,” says Roberts. “The fact that we were hosting helped us. [With the smaller ice] they didn’t have the room to move around like they were used to.”
Play would open up in the second period. Three minutes in Jarko Kekalainen beat Canadian netminder Sean Burke to put Finland ahead. Just over a minute later, though, defenseman Alain Côté scored on the power play to tie things up again.
Canada finally took its first lead a minute-and-a-half later on a goal by Roberts.
The lead was short-lived, however, as Pentti Lehtosaari scored the equalizer for Finland at the 7:10 mark.
The turning point seemed to come just before the halfway mark of the period, when Finland was whistled for two minor penalties 30 seconds apart. Sandlak scored unassisted on the two-man advantage, and Robitaille scored Canada’s fifth goal half a minute later before the second penalty had expired.
Mikko Laaksonen cut the deficit in half before the end of the period, leaving the Canadians with a 5-4 lead at the second intermission.
Playing sloppy at times, sluggish at others, Team Canada was not asserting itself as it had during its earlier games. The Hamilton Spectator would say the next day, “it was easily the worst game of the tournament for Team Canada.” With a game the next night against the Soviet Union, perhaps the players were already looking past the pesky Finns.
The teams exchanged goals in the third period, with Sylvain Côté scoring for Canada and Lehtosaari scoring his second of the game for Finland.
Canada outshot Finland 48-25. Sandlak was named the game MVP, with a goal and an assist. Murphy added two assists. Kantola and Teppo Kivela led Finland with three points apiece.