Team Canada: Thirty Years Of The Game At Its Best (Book Review)

Thirty Years Of The Game At Its Best, edited by Gare Joyce, is an invigorating look at the past thirty years of Hockey Canada’s highly successful Program of Excellence.


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Sometimes talent and hard work just aren’t enough. Sometimes even Wayne Gretzky isn’t enough, as Canada found out the hard way at the 1978 IIHF World Junior Championship in Montreal. The youthful Great One may have turned heads at the tournament, but Team Canada had to settle for a disappointing third-place finish, and the next three years didn’t produce a single medal. (Hockey Canada)


After just completing a week-long vacation in Mexico’s Mayan Riviera, I had to innovatively incorporate sun, snorkeling, and mojitos with preparation to cover the upcoming hockey’s yuletide classic tournament – the World Junior Hockey Championships.

A great read is a beach necessity and Gare Joyce provided just the tantalizing combination I required. It was absolutely priceless to reflect back on some of the magical and sometimes devastating moments in Canadian hockey.

The collection of writings from 1982 to 2011 by former Team Canada players, coaches and eloquent hockey writers easily evokes inner cheers and tears as it takes the reader on a magic carpet ride of Hockey Canada at the World Juniors. In some cases, I was simply reminded of a great moment produced during a particular tournament and in other cases I was introduced to some brilliant and tragic moments for the first time.

I only have one criticism with the book. It happens often in sports books and often cannot really be helped. However, I really wish the outcome of a particular game or tournament would not be revealed at the start of a particular chapter. It really can dampen the potential suspense. Sometimes the reader cannot recall the outcome or may not know the outcome in the first place. As well, the captions of the photos often prematurely revealed how a game or tournament played out before it was revealed in the writing.

From Dave Morrison’s uplifting description of Canada’s victory in 1982, Mike Sands’s description of the unnerving newness of playing in Leningrad with Mario Lemieux, Steve Yzerman and Dave Andreychuk in 1983 (the talent was so deep that Doug Gilmour was a late cut), right up to Canada’s stunning loss in 2011, every hockey name in Canadian history is here in living colour. Lively storytelling, great context. (Globe and Mail)

Spoiler Alert

The following are some teasers of the stories and facts that resonated with me while reading this book. Please skip to the break, if you’d prefer discovering them for the first time when you read the book yourself. In some cases I merely introduce the chapter. Feel free to contact me if you would like more information on a particular chapter or event mentioned below.

  • Hockey Canada’s Program of Excellence got off to a tremendous start winning in Rochester in 1982, but perhaps the most memorable moment from that victory was the spontaneous singing of the Canadian national anthem by the players on the blueline when it would not play in the stadium.
  • Former NHLer and current assistant coach of the Washington Capitals Dean Evanson’s story in 1984 is beyond doubt a unique and fantastic hockey situation, especially as his car unfolded and his relationship with Hockey Canada continued. That is much as I will reveal here. You have to read this one for yourself!
  • Quick – name the goalie in 1985 who won the IIHF Directorate Award for Best Goalie, but was not named to the tournament’s all-star team.
  • Remember in 1987:
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  • 1988 was one of Team Canada strongest World Junior teams. 18 of 20 regulars went on to be NHLers. Many players from that squad are perplexed that standout netminder Jimmy Waite did not have a more distinguished career. As well, many from the team, including Mark Recchi, are even more perplexed that skilled and steady blueliner Marc Laniel did not play a single NHL game.
  • Fellow Newfoundlander John Slaney’s tournament clinching goal in 1991 stills stands out in my mind and is always enjoyable to experience again.
  • Controversial coach Joe Canale’s story is an intriguing one from 1994.
  • The 1995 squad was dubbed “The Dream Team” but two relative unknowns emerged as the key cogs. The happened to be the team’s biggest player in Eric Daze along with his mighty mouse teammate Marty Murray, who was the team’s smallest player.
  • The emergence of Jarome Iginla in 1996 – one of Hockey Canada’s all time best performers at all levels.
  • In 2004, the silver medal winning entry trailed in the tournament for a grand total of only 8 minutes and 42 seconds.
  • Team Canada’s 2005 team may just be the best team they have ever assembled for this tournament.
  • 2006: Kris Letang and others reflect back on their great relationship with the late Luc Bourdon (Video below is Canucks and Tom Cochrane’s “Big Legue” tribute: song starts at about the 2:30 mark).
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  • Jonathon Toews shootout brilliance in 2007 was amazing to witness.
  • Ryan Ellis’ holding the blueline, John Tavares’ blind playmaking and Jordan Eberle’s silky smooth finish are all fresh in the minds of fans and writers from 2009.
  • We all know now how the 2011 championships played out. A colossal collapse. Between the pipes, Phoenix Coyotes first round selection in 2010 Mark Visentin shouldered his share of the blame. To be fair, the team in front of him offered little resistance in Russia’s mighty comeback. One of the more impressive events to come out of this hard to swallow loss was the composure and maturity Visentin showed in defeat. Although he was crushed, he volunteered when Hockey Canada’s Andre Brin was asking other players to go speak to the media. Look for him to rebound and have a strong 2012 tournament.




From Penguin, the publisher:

The season’s must-have gift book

Some sports seem to have a natural home. Soccer in Brazil, rugby in New Zealand, cricket in India. And Canada’s game? Why hockey, of course.

But it wasn’t always that way. By 1982, the Soviets had won every World Junior Hockey Championship except one, while Canada had earned only a single bronze medal.

And then Hockey Canada launched the Programme of Excellence, a national development system designed to help put together teams that would be able to square off against the Soviets. The result was immediate. To everyone’s surprise, when Canada took gold in 1982 the American hosts didn’t even have a copy of “O Canada” to play during the championship ceremony. But after that, no one would be surprised by a Canadian win.

This Boxing Day will mark the thirtieth anniversary of the program that brought hockey fans many glorious memories and made household names of several of our players. Richly illustrated, Thirty Years of the Game at Its Best takes readers on a year by-year retrospective, with each tournament’s story told from the perspectives of the players, coaches, and journalists who were there.

This book is an extraordinary keepsake, published just in time for the 2012 World Junior Hockey Championships. Contributors include Mike Babcock, Brendan Bell, Murray Costello, Damien Cox, Sheldon Ferguson, Gare Joyce, Terry Koshan, Roy MacGregor, Steven Milton, Frank Orr, Donna Spencer, Jesse Wallin, Tim Wharnsby and Ed Willes.



This is truly a must read for Canadian hockey fans, but hockey fans from all nations would enjoy retracing the steps of a well organized Program of Excellence. The memories contained within highlight what it takes to become the best and just how difficult it is to stay at the top.