KOSICE – When Canadian assistant coach Scott Arniel got the call to join Canada’s national team for the 2011 IIHF World Championship, his mind flashed back instantly to a cold rink in Rochester, Minnesota on January 2, 1982.
In his mind’s eye, Arniel stood, arm-in-arm with his Team Canada teammates along the blue line singing the Canadian national anthem and celebrating their victory in the 1982 IIHF World U20 Championship.
“It was a special time,” recalls Arniel with a smile on his face. “We were the first team that was brought together as a national team [for Canada]. The year before I had played in Germany, but that was the Memorial Cup team from Cornwall and we finished seventh out of eight teams. Then somebody within Hockey Canada came up with this idea to have a national program, and that was the first year it was done.”
Since Arniel played on Canada’s first national junior team, the tournament has taken on enormous importance in his home country. Millions of people stop what they’re doing over the holiday season to watch the World U20s on television every year. That wasn’t the case back then. In fact, the year Arniel played there wasn’t a gold medal game per se. And what turned out to be the gold medal game wasn’t being played in a huge arena in front of millions of TV viewers, it was being played in a small rink in a small city, with the final moments being relayed to Canadians over the telephone during the intermission of an NHL broadcast.
“Back then it was an eight team, round robin tournament,” says Arniel. “It just happened to work out that we were playing the Czechs on the final day and we needed a win or a tie to win the tournament. But the U.S. and the Soviets were playing and they thought that was going to be the big game. They were playing in the big Met Centre [home of the NHL's Minnesota North Stars] and we were in the small rink in Rochester.”
Canada and Czechoslovakia were tied 2-2 heading into the final period. The Czechs were applying tremendous pressure, but Canadian goalie Mike Moffat “stood on his head” as Arniel recalls it. The final seconds ticked off the clock, and the celebration was on.
“I don’t think I was on the ice at the very end of it, but I remember what a huge celebration we had and what a party it was later,” Arniel says.
What he also remembers is that someone either forgot to bring along a recording of the Canadian national anthem, or they couldn’t get it to play. In any event, as the players stood waiting for the anthem to be played, it became clear that it wasn’t going to happen. So the players improvised, spontaneously, and started what is now a Canadian junior hockey tradition – sing the anthem, loudly, if you win.
“For all of us there, that was where they forgot the anthem and we all locked arms and started singing ‘Oh Canada’. I still get a chill when I see us win a gold medal and I see guys stand on the blue line singing the anthem,” says Arniel. “It’s nice to know that you had a little part in starting that tradition. I’m real proud of that.”
“I’ve said this often, but, when I see those guys… it’s like it was yesterday. It’s old times again. It’s time for a hug and to talk about how everybody’s doing.”
To be sure, Arniel would prefer to be behind the bench, coaching the Columbus Blue Jackets (his day job) and deep into the next round of the NHL playoffs. But he’s also happy to look at all the good things about being at the World Championship.
“There were times when I was a player where I would have liked to have been asked [to play for Canada], but wasn’t,” says Arniel. “But now with the coaching aspect, getting asked to be involved as a first year NHL head coach, this only helps my development as a coach.”
Getting back to the phone call he got from Canadian general manager Dave Nonis...
“I actually thought about the last time I had a Canadian jersey on. Since then I never had a chance to say that I’d been a part of a Hockey Canada program. Now, I’m really excited about it. You feel like you are part of something. Hopefully, now all that success comes through in the rink and here in Slovakia.”