The World Junior Classic has become one of the most anticipated tournaments of the year within major hockey nations, especially in Canada. The exciting games, prospects making a name for themselves, and players putting teams on their back en route to medal winning performances lead to countless great memories for all involved. In today’s list, we are looking at some of the most memorable World Junior Classic moments of all-time.
1) Punch-up in Piestany
Canada and Russia/the Soviet Union have been bitter hockey rivals from the very beginning. This rivalry intensified greatly through the Cold War period, and through the 1970’s with international hockey tournaments such as the Summit Series, Canada Cup, and Super Series’. Into 1987, the Soviet Union had largely dominated the World Junior Tournament, winning nine total medals (7 golds) to Canada’s six. (2 golds).
The day in the spotlight for this memorable moment is January 4th, 1987. This match between Canada and the Soviet Union was the final game of the tournament, which was a full round-robin style at the time. Canada was playing for medal placement, having already guaranteed a bronze but could win the gold with a victory of five goals or more.
It got off to a rocky start even before puck drop, as the Canadian side was upset with the choice of official for the game. A relatively inexperienced referee (for international play) who had already made a questionable decision on a player ejection against Canada earlier in the tournament was chosen to ref this game. After puck drop, the tone was set immediately as elbows and cross checks were being thrown with no consequence on the opening faceoff.
Five minutes into the game, Theo Fleury scored the opening goal for Canada. His celebration for scoring involved sliding out to centre ice on his knees and pretending to fire his stick as a machine gun at the Soviet team’s bench, in itself an incredibly inflammatory action.
With more physical play and scuffles throughout the game, all hell broke loose just over halfway into the second period. It started with a collision and fight between Sergei Shesterikov and Everett Sanipass and quickly became a bench clearing brawl between both teams with almost all players involved.
There was no end in sight for the brawls that just kept going and officials could not stop. The lights to the arena were eventually turned off in an attempt to defuse the situation. This didn’t really work either and the fighting continued in the dark.
Afterwards, both teams were disqualified and nullified from the tournament, removing Canada from medal contention. This sparked a whole host of conspiracy theories about intentionally sabotaging Canada’s medal chances in this game.
But, why this game is so memorable is that it brought the World Junior Classic into the mainstream across Canada. Before this year, the WJC was barely a blip on the radar for most people. But, after the news of what happened broke and because of Don Cherry’s (unsurprisingly) loud and patriotic defense of the Canadian team, the World Junior Classic became exponentially more important to Canadians. According to Gare Joyce’s When the Lights Went Out, the amount of media coverage in the years immediately following the Punch-Up in Piestany increased significantly as all Canadian media outlets sent representatives to cover the tournament. And, it has only grown in popularity since to the point it is today, being one of the most anticipated and beloved tournaments across Canada.
Without this massive, bench clearing brawl and the subsequent publicity, the World Junior Classic would not have grown as quickly or as much within Canada as it did. For that reason, the Punch-Up in Piestany is one of the most memorable World Junior Classic moments of all-time.
2) 2011 Gold Medal Game, Russia versus Canada
Heading into the third period of the 2011 World Junior Classic Gold Medal Game, Team Canada was riding high. Now on their tenth consecutive finals appearance, including a streak of five straight gold medals, and a 3-0 lead over Team Russia heading into the third period, Team Canada had high hopes for yet another gold medal.
That is, until disaster struck.
Perhaps fueled by a three game losing streak to Team Canada in gold medal games, the Russian squad took over the game in the third period. Two and a half minutes in, Artemi Panarin scored to put the Russians on the board. Then, thirteen seconds later, Maxim Kitsyn gave the team a second goal. Five minutes later, the game was tied. And with just under five minutes to go in the period, Team Russia took the lead, and eventually won the game 5-3.
It was a collapse of monumental proportions for Team Canada, and a comeback for the ages for Team Russia.
This period lives on in infamy in Canadian hockey lore as a harsh reminder that no lead is safe in hockey. And, it also shows the resilience and battle of a Russian team that as Artemi Panarin says, believed in themselves and never gave up. The shock and defeat felt across Canada following this third period collapse has become one of the more memorable World Junior Classic moments.
3) 2009 World Junior Classic Semi-Finals, Canada versus Russia
How about something a bit more positive for our Canadian fans here?
Saying the name Jordan Eberle immediately brings up two things in the minds of fans of Canadian junior hockey.
First, we immediately think of his clutch performances in his junior days and how he basically became a Canadian hero during these tournaments. Second, we think of the infamous “I can!” from Pierre McQuire following Eberle’s game tying goal with seven seconds left in the 2009 World Junior Classic semi-finals. Let’s focus on Eberle’s performance, I’ve already given Pierre too much attention here.
To set the scene, we have a typical hard fought Canada versus Russia match. Winner advances to the gold medal game. Entering the final minutes of the third, we had a 4-4 tie. But with just over two minutes left, Dmitri Klopov scores to put Russia up 5-4. Now in desperation mode, Team Canada pulls their goalie with a minute and a half left. Time is dwindling down as the puck finds its way towards the Russian net where it is blocked by a defender, scooped up by a nearby Jordan Eberle, and shot past the Russian goaltender to tie the game with five seconds remaining.
A tense and adrenaline filled overtime period solved nothing, so the game went to a shootout. Guess who scored the shootout winner? Jordan Eberle. He scored on the first shot of the shootout, which ended up being the winner as all the Russian team’s attempts were saved.
Canada took the semi-final 6-5 and went on to win their fifth straight gold medal, beating Sweden 5-1. But, any of us watching the 2009 World Junior Classic knows the true highlight and peak of the tournament was this semi-final match between Canada and Russia.
4) 2010 Gold Medal Game, Canada versus United States
The 2010 Gold Medal game, featuring Canada and the United States, was just as exciting and dramatic as 2009’s semi-finals. Once again, we have a tie game heading into the third period. Four minutes in, Jerry D’Amigo scored and two minutes later, Derek Stepan gave the U.S. a 5-3 lead.
The score remained stagnant until less than three minutes remained until Jordan Eberle became a hero yet again. In the span of one minute, fourteen seconds, Eberle scored two goals to tie the game at five.
Two years in a row, Jordan Eberle was the go to guy in the final minutes of the third period while trailing in the game and both years he scored the goals needed to keep Canada in the game. These games made him something of a legend in Canada as he built his reputation as a big-game player. Until this point, Canada had won five straight gold medals and Eberle gave the team the chance to make it six in a tense overtime period.
This energy carried over into overtime, where John Carlson silenced the Canadian crowd with a wrist shot winner to give the Americans the gold medal and break the Canadian’s streak.
The back and forth momentum swings were taxing on everyone involved, but it did lead to one of the most exciting and memorable World Junior Classic moments.
5) Peter Forsberg, 1993 World Juniors
In an example of sheer, unmatched dominance, Peter Forsberg scored 31 points in seven games at the 1993 World Junior Classic. That is over four points per game. Forsberg’s performance that year still stands as the all-time record, seven more points than second place, which is a tie held by Forsberg’s linemate that year, Markus Naslund, and Finnish forward Raimo Helminen with 24 points in seven games each.
Peter Forsberg’s numbers were for sure padded from the team’s 20-1 victory over Japan, but that does little to change the significance of this record set by an outstanding hockey player.
Every year there is a player or two that stand out above the rest and go on a hot streak in the World Junior Classic, put up a point per game, or slightly above that, and be seen as having an excellent tournament. The top scorers are often hovering around 10-14 points. In fact, the highest scorer since 1993 was Brayden Schenn with 18 points in 2011. That is still a 13 point difference from Forsberg, a difference which falls near what the leading scorers usually get during this tournament, to help put that in perspective.
It certainly seems like one of those records that will never get touched, especially as the gap in competition quality slowly closes between the best and worst teams in the tournament.
6) Zibanejad’s Overtime Winner, 2012 Gold Medal Game
Despite having some of the best junior rosters in the world, the Swedish team has historically struggled through the medal rounds. Most notably in the gold medal game. They have made thirteen appearances in the final match of the World Juniors, but have a 2-11 record (the most silver medals of any team). One of those gold medals was in 1981, the other in 2012.
That gold medal game in 2012 is where one of the most memorable World Junior Classic moments occurred.
Sweden versus Russia, winner takes all. The Swedes dominated the entire game, outshooting Russia 58-17, but Russian goalie Andrei Makarov gave the performance of a lifetime, holding the Swedes to zero goals through regulation. Russia couldn’t score either, as Johan Gustafsson also stopped all 16 shots he faced through regulation time and the teams went into overtime deadlocked in a 0-0 tie.
Ten minutes into overtime, with the Swedes still dominating play and outshooting Russia 7-1, Mika Zibanejad capitalized on a slow play and picked up a loose puck at the Russian blue line, raced into the offensive zone unobstructed, slid the puck to his backhand and scored the Golden Goal.
This marked the first time in 31 years that Sweden won the gold medal and it was met with massive, long-awaited celebrations as this team became hockey heroes for the country.
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