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Here are a couple of topics from this week's edition that stood out.
Wayne Gretzky and the Sault
I can always remember being at my uncle’s house the day after Christmas, Boxing Day, December 26, 1977, the game was on national television in Canada. It was Canada vs. Czechoslovakia at the Montreal Forum and it was the Wayne Gretzky show. And if you’ve never seen the highlights of Wayne Gretzky against the Czechs on December 26, 1977, look it up on YouTube because he just danced his way through the Czechoslovakian team. It was insane what this 16-year-old kid was doing and that was the first time, really, that I ever saw Wayne Gretzky. I’d been aware of him. I’d read stories about him. You’d heard about him. But that was the first time I had ever seen him play and I think for many Canadians that was probably the first time they ever saw Wayne Gretzky play and what he did in that tournament against guys far older and far bigger, I mean, if you see him he looks so small and skinny and he looked totally out of place until the puck was dropped and then he just dominated and took the game completely over.
And it was probably a little more intriguing for me too because Wayne Gretzky, of course, only played one year of junior hockey for the Sault [Ste. Marie] Greyhounds in the 87-88 season and a couple of days after this I was going to be going to Sault Ste. Marie for the first time - my brother-in-law John Goodwin played for the Wexford midget team and they were participating in the Wrigley, which was the national midget championship, the forerunners of Air Canada Cup and the Telus Cup, and they had to go up to Sault Ste. Marie and if they won that tournament they would earn a berth in the Wrigley national championships in Verdun later in January or February.
In any case, I got to go to Sault Ste. Marie and the Greyhounds were obviously out of town and Gretzky, of course, was with Canada’s national junior team, but that began an interesting association. It led to me getting my first newspaper job at the Sault Star. It led to my brother-in-law John Goodwin getting drafted by the Sault Greyhounds the following April or May for the OHL midget draft.
Punch-up in Piestany
’87 world junior was the Punch-up in Piestany. I wasn’t at the tournament but that was one of the most infamous ones. If you don’t understand or remember what happened, Canada went into the final game against the Russians knowing that a victory over the Russians would guarantee Canada the silver medal. A victory of four or more goals over the Russians in that game would give Canada the gold medal. It was a terrible year for the Russians, they’d really struggled.
In any case, Canada was leading 4-2 midway through the second period and it was a real nasty game and the Russians had nothing to play for, they were completely out of the tournament, and they were really taking some liberties. Team Canada was coached by Bert Templeton, Bramalea Bert, Bad News Bert, may he rest in peace, another guy that was a legend in junior hockey, and one thing led to another and the next thing you know the brawl was on and it was a bench-clearing brawl like you wouldn’t believe. Pat Burns was an assistant coach on the team, he always tells me some great stories about how he sucker punched somebody once the lights went out and so did trainer Wally Tatomir at the time. It might have been the toughest coaching and training staff ever in the history of hockey with those guys.
But in any case the fallout was that both teams were disqualified from the tournament. Canada was maybe on its way to mopping up the Russians in that game and it did seem unfair on one level that they were disqualified but the worst part about it was during the brawl, of course, the Czechs not knowing what to do, turned out the lights in the arena which was never a sound thing to do in the middle of a hockey brawl. These kids were beating the tar out of each other in darkness.
Best to listen in on this one.