In 1986, the World Junior Ice Hockey Championships came to Hamilton for the first and only time, headlined by a class of stellar offensive talent in Gary Roberts, Luc Robitaille, Joe Nieuwendyk and Shayne Corson.
That tournament, which took place 32 years ago, was dominated by Corson. He scored seven goals and seven assists in seven games to lead the tournament in scoring.
In that tournament, Corson played the best hockey of his junior career. The Barrie native scored 14 points, seven goals and seven assists, in just seven games to help Canada to a silver medal and be unquestionably Canada’s most valuable player.
A little bit of that same junior hockey magic was on display December 22 when the Canadian national junior hockey team brought their final exhibition game to First Ontario Centre to take on the slowly improving program from Switzerland.
And if the game at First Ontario Centre is any indication, we might have a few more Robitailles, Nieuwendyks and Corsons on the way.
From the opening whistle, Canada played strong two-way hockey. They moved the puck comfortably in the offensive zone, using their size and skating ability to bully Switzerland off the puck and make space to set up plays. The team leaned of their veteran defensive core – which is headlined by Montreal Canadiens’ Victor Mete, Carolina Hurricanes’ draft pick Jake Bean, Colorado Avalanche draft pick Cale Makar and Tampa Bay Lightning draft pick Cal Foote (son of Adam Foote) – to set up plays from the blue line.
Using a strategy of throwing pucks at the net and seeing what sticks, the Canadians plastered the Swiss with everything that moved, outshooting them 61-7.
In the end, Canada won with relative ease by a score of 8-1. The team did give up a few breakaways and has some work to do on improving the pace of their line changes, but that’s to be expected from a group of young men that are still developing the rhythm of playing together.
The Swiss team, quite frankly, looked poor at times. For a program that we’re told is improving with each passing year, this incarnation of a national junior team showed little ability to move the puck or play the physical North American style of hockey.
For Hamilton, the connections to this team are few and far between. There are no Hamilton-born players on the team and no players from our Hamilton Bulldogs were able to crack the roster.
Our city has developed a reputation for lacking interest in hockey; ask a hockey snob and they’ll tell you “Hamilton just isn’t a hockey town.” And while a quick look around the crowd at a Bulldogs game might fit that theory well, the World Juniors exhibition game at First Ontario Centre told a different story.
Over 12,000 fans filled the arena, screaming for the beloved Team Canada. It warmed this writer’s sports-loving heart to see that many Hamiltonians out in their red and white to support a team that brings us together like few things do. You might look forward to time with your family over the holidays, but I must admit the tournament’s opening game on Boxing Day has become a tradition I value nearly as much.
On December 29, the Canadians take on the United States at New Era Field, with the stadium game being a first for the World Juniors. After last year’s crushing finals defeat at the hands of the United States, nothing would be sweeter than taking home gold on American soil.
Go Canada go.
Shawn W. Smith is a writer and reporter from the Hamilton area. His work has appeared on Sportsnet.ca, SB Nation and Vice Sports. He is desperate to see the Tigercats win one more Grey Cup before he dies, but is losing hope.