CURT FRASER AND GARY LUPUL
Watching the World Junior Championship is a holiday tradition for many Canadians. This annual tournament features the best under-20 players in the world. Since its inception in 1977, five Victoria Cougars have played for Canada. As a group, they have won two gold and three bronze medals.
In this three-part series, we look at each Cougar who has donned a Canadian jersey. We begin Part 1 with Curt Fraser and Gary Lupul.
1978 – Montreal, Quebec Cougars captain Curt Fraser was the first-ever Victoria Cougar selected for the Canadian national team (1). Originally left off the roster, Fraser replaced the injured Bill Derlego. The talented 1978 Canadian squad featured Mike Gartner, Stan Smyl, Bobby Smith, sixteen-year-old Wayne Gretzky and coached by New Westminster's Ernie (Punch) McClean.
Canada finished the preliminary round with a 9-3 win over Czechoslovakia to improve their record to 3-0. Fraser picked up two assists playing on a line with Mike Gartner and Steve Tambellini. This was the only time Fraser hit the score sheet. He appeared in all five tournament games, finishing with two points.
The Championship round began with a 3-2 loss to the Soviets. The Canadians bounced back with a 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. Only 2,200 were in attendance at the Montreal Forum, and the first part of the game was not televised. The broadcast was joined in progress after an NFL 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 finals 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, 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 were loaned to the Bruins. The additions included Brian Propp, Ray Allison and Brad McCrimmon from Brandon, and Keith Brown from Portland. 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 originally selected but added when Ray Bourque skipped the tournament.
In their opening game, Lupul had Canada’s only goal in a 3-1 loss to Finland. The next day, he scored again in a 6-2 victory over West Germany.
Mclean’s Bruins struggled as they did not qualify for the medal round. They only managed one victory in their first three games. Relegated to the consolation bracket, Canada defeated 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. Czechoslovakia won silver, with Sweden collecting the bronze.
Lupul finished with the tournament third in team scoring, with three points. Lake Cowichan-born Randy Irving led the Canadians with six points. Less than a month after the World Juniors, New Westminster traded Irving to the Cougars for Rob Clavette.