Although the 2003 world junior championship in Halifax and Sydney is the first to be held east of Montreal, the event is not new to Atlantic Canadians.
Fourteen players born in the region and many more with ties to the area have competed in the tournament — and they all have their stories.
For Sydney’s Paul Boutilier, an inspirational between-periods speech by general manager Sherry Bassin, a spontaneous singing of O Canada and a 7-0 thrashing of Russia remain among the most memorable moments of Canada’s gold-medal performance in 1982.
Canada won the title in Minnesota after three years of finishing no higher than fifth. Boutilier recalls that little was expected from the Canadians, who were seventh in 1981 and had never won gold.
But 1982 marked the first year for Canadian Hockey’s Program of Excellence, leading to a nationally selected team. Canada had been sending Memorial Cup champions or in the case of 1978 an all-star team that included Wayne Gretzky.
The Canadians served notice in ’82 with their 7-0 defeat of the Russians and the table was eventually set for what amounted to a gold-medal game against the Czechs. The tournament used a round-robin format and a win or a tie against the Czechs would be good enough for gold.
The schedule makers didn’t foresee the significance the game would take on, putting it at the smallest of the three venues used that year — a tiny rink in Rochester, Minn.
Boutilier, 39, figures about 2,000 fans jammed into the building. “It felt big because of the fact there was a lot on the line,” recalled Boutilier, who went on to win a Stanley Cup with the New York Islanders in 1983.
Canada trailed for most of the game but an intermission visit from Bassin kick-started the Canadians.
The passionate GM, who complemented coach Dave King’s more even-keeled style, managed to nab one of the gold medals that was to be presented later that night and used it to help deliver his message.
“He had everybody in the room look at it and touch it,” said Boutilier, who played major junior with the QMJHL’s Sherbrooke Castors. “He told us that second place wasn’t good enough. You’d never be remembered.
“It was an emotional time.”
Canada came back for a 3-3 tie to finish with a tournament-best 6-0-1 record. “One of the moments I always remember is that at the end of the game the tape didn’t work for O Canada when they played it. So all of our guys sang it on the blueline.”
Boutilier, who lives in Bedford, N.S., returned to play for Canada the next year when the team landed bronze in Leningrad, Soviet Union, now St. Petersburg, Russia. In 14 tournament games, he collected 12 points.
Mike Eagles of Sussex, N.B., was among Boutilier’s teammates in ’83. The two faced each other in the ’82 Memorial Cup final, with Eagles and the Kitchener Rangers winning.
Eagles, who played in the 1998 Stanley Cup final with the Washington Capitals, recalls packing a Canadian flag for the trip to Europe. It was later used in another of Bassin’s motivational speeches.
Mario Lemieux and Steve Yzerman were among the future NHL stars on the team but they weren’t necessarily Canada’s catalysts.
“We had some great players on that team and those other guys who played key roles were fantastic players,” Eagles said, noting the performances of centres Dale Derkatch and Mark Morrison.
The 1983 world juniors will also be remembered for the inconveniences Canada had to endure. The defending champions felt targeted.
“Everything was a little out of line, from meals, to travel, to just getting proper water, everything,” recalled Boutilier, a development executive for Nova Scotia Business Inc. “It was a real challenge and we thought coming back with a medal was great.”
Bobby Smith, a native of North Sydney, was the first Maritime-born player to participate in the world juniors. He was part of the 1978 Canadian team that finished third despite Gretzky’s 17 points in six games.
Canada had a definite Maritime flavour that year. Charlottetown’s Rick Vaive and former Chatham, N.B., resident Pat Daley were also on the roster.
Newfoundland natives Dwayne Norris (1990), John Slaney (1991) and Chad Penney (1993), Scott Pellerin of Shediac, N.B., (1990) and Boutilier were all part of gold-medal wins.
Boutilier, Slaney (1991-92) and Steve Ott of Summerside, P.E.I., (2001-02) were the only three to play more than one year.
Everett Sanipass of Big Cove, N.B., competed in one of the most bizarre world junior tournaments in history. Russia and Canada were both disqualified from the event in Piestany, Czechoslovakia, for brawling.
Maritime coaches have also played key roles in the tournament.
Mike Kelly of Kinkora, P.E.I., is in his third year as an assistant with Canada while Dartmouth, N.S., natives Mike Johnston and Danny Flynn were assistants on the same staff in 1994 when Canada grabbed gold in Ostrava, Czech Republic.
At the time, Johnston was the head coach at the University of New Brunswick and Flynn was an assistant with the Soo Greyhounds of the OHL.
“It was kind of special for both of us, having come from Dartmouth and growing up together
playing hockey against each other to be coaching on the same world junior staff, when usually at the world
junior level it’s difficult for a university coach to get in and it’s difficult for an assistant coach at the
major junior level to get in,” Johnston said. “We
were both fortunate that year.”
Johnston returned as an assistant the next year and Canada won gold again, this time on Canadian soil in Red Deer, Alta.
The Vancouver Canucks assistant never experienced a loss at the world juniors. The ’94 team, considered an underdog group after eligible stars such as Paul Kariya and Chris Pronger stayed in the NHL, finished at 6-0-1.
The next year there was an NHL lockout and a star-studded cast went 7-0 in Red Deer.
“It was a year we had to really sift through the talent and figure out how we were going to put the team together because you could choose anybody,”
Johnston said. “But good teams are made up of different types of players.”
Being from Nova Scotia, both Boutilier and Johnston expect Halifax and Sydney to be capable hosts.
Boutilier is the honourary captain for Team Canada in Sydney.
“I’ve always believed that we could almost do whatever we wanted here because the people are great,’’ Boutilier said. ‘‘You just have to have enough drivers behind it to get it going.”
Johnston said fans are in for a treat.
“People there should expect to see some of the best talent in the world on the ice all together at one time,’’ he said. ‘‘Other than these last two Olympics, you rarely get to see that anymore because kids are going to the NHL at such a young age.
‘‘You’re going to see a competition that is very, very close. There are several countries that can win every year and it has always been that way.”
World Junior Championships
Some of the Atlantic Canadian-born players who have participated, 1974-2002:
Name, Hometown, Year
Paul Boutilier, Sydney, N.S, 1982-1983
Keith Brown, Corner Brook, Nfld., 1979
Mike Eagles, Sussex, N.B. 1983
Rollie Melanson, Moncton, N.B., 1979
Dwayne Norris, St. John’s, Nfld., 1990
Scott Pellerin, Shediac, N.B., 1990
Chad Penney, St. John’s, Nfld., 1993
Everett Sanipass, Big Cove, N.B., 1987
John Slaney, St. John’s, Nfld., 1991-1992
Bobby Smith, North Sydney, N.S., 1978
Harold Druken, St. John’s, Nfld., 1999
Michael Ryder, Bonavista, Nfld., 2000
Brad Richards, Murray Harbour, P.E.I., 2000
Steve Ott, Summerside, P.E.I., 2001-2002