1987 world jrs epic bench clearing brawl
If you believe the governing body of international hockey, the most talked-about game in the history of the World Junior Championship never really happened.
Canada was leading Russia 4-2 in the second period on Jan. 4, 1987, when a bench-clearing brawl erupted in a rink in Piestany, Czechoslovakia.
The "Punch-Out in Piestany," as it is often referred to, was so chaotic, so incomprehensible in an international event, that the International Ice Hockey Federation doesn't mention it in its 100-year annals.
"It wasn't the best game in hockey history, or even tournament history," Canadian author Gare Joyce writes in When The Lights Went Out. "And those were far from the best teams those two nations ever sent to the world juniors. Fact is, though, these two teams played a game that was unlike any other."
At 13:53 of the second period, Canada's Everett Sanipass and Russia's Sergei Shestirikov started fighting in the corner. Soon all 12 players on the ice -- five on a side, plus the goaltenders -- were locked up and throwing punches.
Then, 90 seconds in, the benches cleared.
"This wasn't a hockey fight," said Blue Jackets center Sergei Fedorov, who was 18 years old, playing for Russia. "This was barroom fighting, right? This was different."
Sticks and gloves and helmets were strewn about the ice as if at a yard sale. The fighting was so barbaric and so long that the three-man officiating crew, unable to control the situation, left the ice. On it went, for nearly 20 minutes.
Eventually, the lights were shut off in the arena. When they came back on, some players were still fighting, some resumed fighting and others took note of how the scene had changed in the darkness.
"The Czechoslovakia military was surrounding the rink," said Ottawa Senators defenseman Luke Richardson, a former Blue Jackets player who, at 17, was one of the youngest members of Canada's team. "Some of the soldiers were on the ice. And they had rifles … drawn."
This year's world junior tournament, 21 years later, is in Pardubice, Czech Republic, about a four-hour drive from Piestany, in what is now Slovakia. The bronze- and gold-medal games are today.
None of the more than 200 players taking part in this year's tournament -- including Blue Jackets prospects Stefan Legein and Steve Mason (Canada) and Jakub Voracek (Czech Republic) -- was born in 1987.
But they have heard the stories and watched the video, and a slew of Canadian fans who traveled to Pardubice for this year's tournament were planning off-day trips to Piestany.
They're making a pilgrimage to a rink where history was made -- but only if you know where to look.
In 1987, the world junior championships were a round-robin tournament, not followed by the medal rounds like today.
The country with the best record won the gold medal. Ties were decided by goal margin.
Canada went into a game Jan. 4 against the Russians needing to win -- and win by five goals -- to edge Finland for the gold medal.
Russia was playing for a different reason. After losing to Finland, Sweden, Czechoslovakia and the United States, the Russians took the ice against Canada just trying to save face.
"They had a poor showing," Richardson said. "Russians are always very sneaky with stick work and playing dirty. They get under your skin quietly.
"Well, they were having a bad tournament, and they were losing again to us, and that didn't sit well. They were doing all kinds of dirty stuff … elbows, sticks up high, cheap little shots after the whistle. It was a nasty game, long before it got really ugly."
Russia had an entirely different perspective.
"So many fouls, and nothing came from the referee," Russian player Pavel Shestirikov said. "It was not like hockey that I had played. I didn't do (the dirty play), but when play stopped I looked at the referee (Norway's Hans Ronning) to see if he had a whistle. I thought after the first shift (of the game) that something bad could happen. Every shift, the bad thing was getting closer."
At the end of the first period, there was a stare down between the two teams. Early in the second, a skirmish broke out after almost every whistle.
"You could feel it building," Richardson said. "The longer it went, you knew the worse it was going to be. Looking back, I'm surprised it took until (13:53 of) the second period to really get going."
Sanipass and Shestirikov got it started in the corner. With official Julian Gorski between them, Sanipass threw a heavy left over Gorski's shoulder and nailed Shestirikov flush in the mush, putting him flat on his back.
A few feet away, Canada's Mike Keane and Russia's Valeri Zelepukin traded blows, Keane's like piston fire, Zelepukin's slow but heavy because he had an injured left shoulder.
Meanwhile, Russia's Pavel Kostichkin paired up with Canada's Theo Fleury, the first of four, maybe five fights for Fleury.
"It was the dirtiest game I ever played in," Fleury told Joyce for his book. For Fleury, that's saying a lot.
As the fighting raged, three Soviet players jumped off the bench. Fedorov was either the second or the third player.
"(Zelepukin) had a dislocated shoulder," Fedorov said. "He was hurt and he was still getting punched. Even a boxer couldn't sustain that kind of physical pressure, and the referee wasn't doing anything about it.
"Russian player jumped first, yes. But that's why. And when everybody's going, you have to go, too. You have to stick up for a teammate."
A half-second after the Russian bench began to empty, the Canadians followed. A wild scene turned scary.
All 20 players for each side were on the ice -- a two-on-one here, a three-on-one there, goaltenders flopping like polar bears.
"It would settle down for a couple of seconds, and then it would start back up again," Richardson said. "I was standing by the bench and it was sort of calming down, and one guy hoofs me right (between the legs). A ruckus broke out again. It was a state of emergency."
Fedorov had no fights on his resume. He was a product of the Russian program that taught skating, skill, toughness and checking … but not fighting.
"I started out right next to the Canadian bench and ended up all the way down by the goal line," Fedorov said. "I didn't know how to fight, but I didn't get hurt. That was my first brawl."
A YouTube clip shows about six minutes of the brawl, the highlights (or, maybe, the lowlights). The officials left the ice after five or six minutes. The lights were turned off after about 12 or 13 minutes.
"It was like walking into a dark room," Richardson said. "It takes a few seconds for your eyes to adjust, and then you're fine. Guys kept fighting, so that didn't really work. It was memorable, though."
Fedorov doesn't recall seeing any military, and the video doesn't show any, either.
But Richardson has vivid memories.
"We were 17-, 18-, 19-year-old kids," Richardson said. "That was an eye-opener."
With heavy arms, tired legs and a slew of injuries, both clubs were sent to their dressing rooms.
It was believed that the time remaining in the second period, 6:07, would be tacked onto the third period when play resumed. But it never resumed.
An emergency meeting called by the IIHF resulted in a 7-1 vote to disqualify both clubs from the tournament. The lone vote against was cast by Team Canada manager Dennis McDonald.
"Our coach (Bert Templeton) came in and told us we were disqualified," Richardson said. "No reception later that night or anything. We were told to pack our bags, get on the bus and get out of the country."
The path from the dressing room to the bus was lined with Czechoslovakian military.
"We drove across the border to Austria, we slept on our hockey bags in the airport and we flew home the next morning," said Richardson, who suffered a scratched cornea and wore an eye patch on the way home. "It was a big deal. A quick growing-up experience."
Canada got no medals, and they faced heavy criticism back home. Russia wasn't in line for a medal, but a new reputation for toughness was forged.
Three Canadians -- Steve Nemeth, Jimmy Waite and Pierre Turgeon -- didn't fight. Nemeth acted as a peace-maker, pulling players apart, he said, knowing that under international rules, fighting was strongly discouraged.
Waite explained that he was the only healthy goaltender on the club, that if he was thrown out, the consequences would be devastating.
Turgeon had to be told by Templeton to leave the bench and join the fray. He spent the rest of his career trying to shake a reputation as a coward.
To this day, the IIHF doesn't recognize the game. Finland won gold, Czechoslovakia silver and Sweden bronze.
The Punch Out in Piestany never took place -- not officially.
"I'm asked about it all the time," Richardson said. "People in Canada won't let you forget it.
"It's not something you could ever forget anyway."
"You could feel it building. The longer it went, you knew the worse it was going to be."
Former Blue Jackets defenseman who played for the Canadian team at age 17
"This wasn't a hockey fight. This was barroom fighting, right? This was different."
Blue Jackets center who was an 18-year-old on the Russian junior team