Remembering the Canadian 'Dream Team' and Alberta's first World Juniors
Team Canada's head coach Don Hay joins teammates in singing O' Canada at the World Junior Hockey championships in Red Deer, Jan. 4, 1995. (CP PHOTO/Dave Buston)
EDMONTON -- In December of 1994, the hockey world cast its eyes on Alberta, in part because it had nowhere else to look.
The National Hockey League was in the throes of a lockout that started in October and had already cancelled the first three months of the season.
The NHL’s loss became the World Juniors gain with teams having a sudden supply of pro-ready talent to choose from ahead of Alberta’s debut as tournament host.
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Team Canada benefitted more than most with seven players under NHL contracts and 13 first round draft picks in what was soon dubbed “the Dream Team.”
“It was by far, not even close, the most dominant Canadian team that I ever saw at the World Juniors,” said Paul Romanuk who called the tournament for TSN between 1990 and 2001.
But a quarter of a century later, the 1995 tournament is remembered not only for the “Dream Team”, but also for how it brought major international hockey to across Alberta.
“It was an era where the World Juniors before it absolutely exploded and became what it is now,” said Romanuk.
THE WORLD VISITS ALBERTA
Red Deer was the official host city and home to 11 of the 28 games. But, a dozen other communities of varying sizes also had the chance to witness World Juniors hockey in person.
That meant Finland went from “hockey night in Rocky” and playing before 800 fans in Rocky Mountain House, to taking on the host Canadians a few days later with 16,000 in the seats at Edmonton’s Northlands Coliseum.
“There wasn’t much TV back then,” remembered Scott Fraser who saw Sweden blowout Germany by a 10-2 count in Leduc on Boxing Day.
“We might have seen Canada on TV but you wouldn’t have seen the other countries.”
Crowds in Stettler saw Russia defeat the Czech team in a 4-3 thriller. And, fans in Camrose saw Ukraine stun Adam Deadmarsh and the United States by a 3-2 score.
The chance to see international hockey was also an opportunity for small-town Alberta to showcase itself to the world.
“It was a big deal to get that game here,” said Jim McAuley who saw the same Sweden teamstorm Ukraine by a 7-1 score at a packed Sherwood Park Arena.
“It was another occasion where we asked the fire department to turn a blind eye to how many people are in the building,” he remembered. “We had a great time.”
Calgary, Spruce Grove, Innisfail, Wetaskiwin, Lacombe and Ponoka all also hosted games in what was a pan-Alberta event.
“If you live in a place the size of Red Deer, it’s very important to you what your town looks like when it’s on national TV,” said Romanuk.
CANADA CRUISES TO GOLD
On the ice, Canada was overwhelming.
Although loaded with top prospect Alexandre Daigle as well as future NHL stars Ed Jovanovski, Ryan Smyth and Wade Redden, it was the more unheralded Marty Murray who led the team and tournament in scoring.
Coached by Don Hay, captained by Todd Harvey and anchored by a goaltending duo of Jamie Storr and Dan Cloutier, Canada won a perfect seven games out of seven, scoring in every period they played but one.
"It was a stacked, stacked team," said Romanuk.
The team was too dominant for any gold-medal drama, in part due to the tournament’s round robin format.
After an 8-5 win over Russia, a de facto gold medal showdown could have been on the Canadian cards with a matchup against Sweden in their final game.
But, as the Canadians watched on TV in the bowels of the Red Deer Centrium, the Finns went to work in Calgary, scoring a pair of late goals to tie the Swedes. That result put Sweden out of reach at 3 points back with one game to play and confirmed Canada's top of the table spot and its eighth World Juniors title.
“We're still the world champs, that's all that counts," Calgary-raised defenceman Bryan McCabe said in celebration after the dressing room. "It doesn't matter that it didn't happen on the ice."
“I just love the Finns right now.”
It was Canada’s third straight World Juniors gold in what would become a run of five consecutive titles.
“It just all lined up for them,” remembered Romanuk of the ‘95 squad.
Team Canada aside, Alberta hockey fans also saw future NHLers Jamie Langenbrunner, Miikka Kiprusoff and Petr Sykora before they became household names.
It took 17 years for the World Juniors to return to Alberta, when Edmonton and Calgary co-hosted in 2012.
By then, Canada’s run of supremacy had been broken, having lost in the gold medal game the previous two years, finishing third in 2012 and winning gold twice in the next seven tournaments.
The World Juniors had also outgrown the small-town feel. Winnipeg co-hosted with five other Manitoba towns in 1999, but after that major cities with bigger venues increasingly became the hosts of choice.
Red Deer will co-host with Edmonton when the event returns, but topping its debut as host won’t be easy.
Canada’s “Dream Team” and the cross-province appeal make the 1995 tournament one to savour, even 25 years later.
“It felt like the entire community was interested in, excited about, and to some degree participating in, the World Junior Championships,” remembered Romanuk.
With a file from the Canadian Press