To Moe Lemay, the IIHF World Junior Championships were about the great people. For Wendel Clark, it was the camaraderie with his teammates. For Jim Sandlak, the experience was a gift.
On Sunday, players from both the 19 Canadian junior teams got together in Vancouver to reminisce about a special time in their lives. When asked about donning the Canadian sweater as young men, one word came to mind for them all: pride.
The 1982 team, for instance, would do what even greats like Wayne Gretzky, Bobby Smith, and Dale Hawerchuk had never done: bring home World Junior gold. And that was not lost on the players.
The setting was the Graham Arena in Rochester, Minnesota on . Canada had just tied Czechoslovakia 3-3 to clinch the World Junior gold medal. It was time to celebrate. Expecting to hear their national anthem, the boys lined up at centre ice and waited for the first chord of Calixa Lavallée’s “O Canada.” It never came. But the lack of a backing track didn’t daunt Team Canada.
Frank Caprice, a goalie for the 1982 team, remembers those final moments being filled with jubilation as the team spontaneously bellowed out the song for the whole arena to hear.
“Us singing there is some of the only tape they have [of the tournament]. There’s not much of us playing,” Caprice said. “I can still remember having my arm around [team Canada goalie] Mike [Moffat] and just hugging him. To this day it still feels like it really didn’t happen. It’s a wonderful moment in my lifetime and one of the greatest moments.”
Former Vancouver Canuck and Edmonton Oiler Moe Lemay also remembers the feeling of playing for his country at such a young age.
“I think it’s that we were all young and as a team we just stuck together,” said Lemay. “And I met a lot of great people and that was quite a thrill.
“Seeing the guys here today give me shivers. I haven’t seem some of these guys in ten years and they all look great.”
In 1985 the tournament was held in Finland. Although the likes of Steve Yzerman, Mario Lemieux didn’t attend, there was still plenty of talent available to Canada. With future NHLers like Adam Creighton, Brian Bradley, Jeff Jackson, Stephane Richer, Shayne Corson, and Claude Lemieux, winning gold was still a distinct possibility. Though 20 years have passed, Wendel Clark and Jim Sandlak, who attended this alumni reunion in Vancouver, still fondly remember their teammates.
Canada had a strong offensive presence right from the beginning of the tournament. In the first four games they scored 34 goals. The team opened the championships with an 8-2 victory over Sweden. They followed that game up with a 12-1 win over Poland, a 7-5 nail-biter with the U.S. and then a 5-0 thumping of a demoralized Soviet team.
The Soviets became discouraged after Clark leveled defenseman Mikhail Tatarinov. Tatarinov was the best Soviet defenseman, and was named to the tournament all-star team. But Clark’s hit knocked him out of the game.
The ’85 tournament ended the same way the ’82 tournament did. Canada needed a tie against Czechoslovakia to ensure the gold medal would come to the Great White North. Not surprisingly, it was Clark, the future captain of the Toronto Maple Leafs, who came through for his team. Clark took a Brian Bradley pass and beat Czech goalie Dominik Hasek to tie the game 2-2 at 13:43 of the third. That’s the way the game ended.
“I was in the right spot at the right time,” recalls Clark about his gold-clinching tally. “But it was more than just the goal. It was the guys pulling together doing their thing. From Terry Simpson to [general manager] Sherry Bassin and all the guys accepting their roles, we had a ball playing.”
For Jim Sandlak, the tournament almost didn’t happen. The big power forward from the London Knights was cut in the Selection Camp and was a last-second addition to the team. But when Sandlak got the call to play, he wasn’t about to say no.
“I got a call on Christmas Day from Sherry Bassin from Helsinki and I was asked if I could make it out,” said Sandlak. “I said my bag was still packed from being cut, and I said of course. I was on the next flight to Helsinki.”
Sandlak, who played 549 NHL games with Vancouver and Hartford, will never forget the sweet taste of gold he enjoyed in Finland.
The ’82 and ’85 groups rank among Canada’s greatest World Junior entries. For the boys who have now grown up and have children of their own, sport a few more grey hairs and move a just little slower, their accomplishments still shine like precious gold nuggets in a bank of memories.