Warm memories of winning gold
By Darren Zary, Saskatchewan News Network; Canwest News Service
December 24, 2009
The 1991 International Ice Hockey Federation world junior hockey championship in Saskatoon remains frozen in time for Dick Todd.
"Geez, it was cold," recalls Todd, who was head coach of the Canadian team.
After a shocking loss to Czechoslovakia, Canada was seemingly out in the cold in terms of gold-medal contention as the competition consisted of a single round-robin.
"We were in a difficult situation because we didn't control our own destiny prior to the last game of the tournament," remembers Todd. "There was a game between Russia and Finland played in Regina. The Russians didn't win that game and, as a result, it gave us an opportunity to play for the gold medal when we faced them in the final (round-robin) game. Many of the people around the team and fans watching thought the opportunity had gone, so we got a reprieve."
Canada went on to defeat Russia on a late goal by defenceman John Slaney.
"We had our hands full," Todd says. "With four minutes to go, or whatever it was, the Russians got the puck and one of their players blew the zone. He was taking off to centre ice. I remember our defenceman stayed at our blue line and I thought, 'Ooooh, they're going to have a breakaway and it's going to be all over.' The defenceman was John Slaney and he knocked the puck down at the blue line, took a shot from the blue line and that was the game.
"It was a great relief for me. The feelings were, and they probably still are, if you don't win a gold medal you're a failure as Canadians. We're so proud of our game and so proud of our heritage that anything less than gold is a failure. I was proud of the players and proud of everyone connected that we got through and got the job done.
"Looking back, we had some very good hockey players, but I don't think we were extremely deep on defence. Some of the players played a little bit in the NHL, but many of them were just run-of-the-mill players, so it was an accomplishment in my eyes to have got the gold medal with that group."
The defensive corps consisted of Slaney, Scott Niedermayer, Patrice Brisebois, Jason Marshall, Karl Dykhuis, Chris Snell and David Harlock.
Todd tried to be careful with how he handled the extra attention and focus on Eric Lindros, 17.
"I had a meeting with Eric and asked him about the experiences from the year before (at the 1990 world championship) and what he felt," Todd says. "He explained how he wanted to contribute more and be a factor on the team and different things like that. So, I said to him that there are eight returning players and how do you feel about those players? He said, 'I really feel that Steven Rice was a great help to me. I was new, young and he really helped me.' I said, 'That's great. We're going to make Steven the captain and you one of the assistants.' He accepted that. It was also a big thing that he didn't feel slighted in not being the captain."
Since 1991, the world tournament has grown tenfold.
"They estimated that something like three million people watched that game with the Russians," notes Todd. "It's probably built from that point on. It's continued to grow."
Todd was at the first world juniors in 1974 in Russia with the OHL's Peterborough Petes. Canada was represented by the Memorial Cup champion in those days, not an all-star team as happens now. Todd was also there with the Petes again in 1980 at Finland, this time with Mike Keenan as head coach. Todd returned to the Canadian team in 1990 and 1991.
"There was a lot of resentment early on toward the Canadian game with Europeans," he says. "They thought we were a bunch of thugs who didn't know how to play the game and the refereeing was horrible. But both Canada and Europe have benefited from learning from each other about the game."
Todd went on to spend a few years in the New York Rangers organization. Upon retiring from hockey, he and his wife moved to Florida.
"This is our fourth year (in Florida)," says Todd, now in his mid-60s. "I still feel -- just like Pat Quinn, I guess -- that I could step in. I don't think you ever lose it. I never say never. If the opportunity came along for something that interested me, I'd certainly take a look at it.
"I'm enjoying life at the Panama City beach ... I never really appreciated the cold weather that much."
The memories, however, remain frozen in time.
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