CURT FRASER AND GARY LUPUL
The International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) World Junior Championship is held annually in December and features the best national under-20 teams from around the world. Since its inception in 1977, five Victoria Cougars have participated in this tournament. As a group they have won two gold and three bronze medals. In this three-part series, we take an in depth look at each Cougars player who have donned a Canadian jersey at the World Juniors. We begin with Curt Fraser and Gary Lupul.
1978 – Montreal, Quebec Cougars captain Curt Fraser was the first Victoria Cougars player selected to join the Canadian national team at the IIHF World Junior Championship (1). Originally left off the roster, Fraser was a replacement for the injured Bill Derlego of the Brandon Wheat Kings. The 1978 Canadian squad was stacked full of talent with Mike Gartner, Stan Smyl, Bobby Smith and sixteen year old Wayne Gretzky. Ernie (Punch) McClean of New Westminster Bruins was the head coach with Seattle Breakers forward Ryan Walter team captain.
Canada finished the Preliminary round of the tournament with a 9-3 win over Czechoslovakia improving their record to 3-0. In that game, Fraser picked up two assists on goals by Gartner and Steve Tambellini. That was the only time Fraser hit the score sheet as he appeared in all five tournament games, finishing with two points.
The Championship round began with the Soviets defeated Canada 3-2. The Canadians bounced back with 6-3 victory over Czechoslovakia to set up a must win showdown versus Sweden.
On New Year’s Day 1978, Canada faced Sweden at the Montreal Forum with the winner advancing to the gold medal game. The World Juniors in 1978 did not generate the fan interest that we see today as only 2,200 were in attendance at the Montreal Forum. Although it was broadcast on CTV, the contest was joined in progress after a National Football League game. Canada lost 6-5 to Sweden ending their hopes of a rematch with the Soviet Union for the gold medal. The Canadians settled for the bronze as the Russians beat Sweden in the final to capture the gold.
The most valuable player for Canada was Wayne Gretzky - the youngest player in the tournament. In six games, he scored seventeen points, ten more than any other Canadian player.
1979 – Karlstad, Sweden
The New Westminster Bruins, two time defending Memorial Cup Champions, represented Canada at the 1979 World Juniors. Coach Punch Mclean, who led the 1978 Canadian team to the bronze medal, was convinced his Bruins would be more successful than a group of junior all stars. “I hope I can take this team and prove that I’m right” said McLean. “I think we had the wrong concept last year with the all-stars. We had no system, no real teamwork, just a lot of individuals who played that way. They were excellent players but didn’t perform as a team. By using the basic nucleus of one-team, we now have a group that has a system and should be able to play together.” (2)
To bolster the squad, eight players from other teams were loaned to the Bruins including Brian Propp, Ray Allison and Brad McCrimmon from the Brandon Wheat Kings and Keith Brown from the Portland Winter Hawks. Gary Lupul of the Victoria Cougars had 60 points in 35 games when he joined the Bruins on their December journey to Sweden. Lupul was not one of the original selections but was added when Ray Bourque skipped the tournament.
In their opening game, Lupul had Canada’s only goal in a 3-1 loss against Finland. The next day he scored again in the Canadian’s 6-2 victory over West Germany. Mclean’s Bruins did not qualify for the medal round as they only managed one victory in their first three games. Relegated to the consolation bracket, Canada won their last two games against Norway and the United States to finish the tournament in fifth place with a 3-2 record.
The Soviet Union did not lose a game on their way to winning a third straight gold. The silver medal went to Czechoslovakia with Sweden collecting the bronze.
In five tournament games, Lupul finished tied for third in team scoring with three points. Lake Cowichan born Randy Irving led the Canadians with six points. Less than a month after the tournament, Irving was traded by New Westminster to the Victoria Cougars for forward Rob Clavette.