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Friday Flashback: The 1989 World Junior Championship in Anchorage showed us teenagers – Pavel Bure and company, Teemu Selanne, Jeremy Roenick – before they became NHL superstars

by | Dec 24, 2023 | Cover Story, Friday Flashback, Hockey

Pavel Bure’s speed was so electrifying he became known as The Russian Rocket.

Teemu Selanne’s speed and deadly shot were so explosive he became referenced as The Finnish Flash.

Americans Jeremy Roenick and Mike Modano never got tagged with killer nicknames – man, we miss cool nicknames – but they became two of the best players in the country’s hockey history.

And, to think, Anchorage hockey fans saw them all when they were just teenagers, playing in the most important international tournament for players under 20, on the cusp of stardom.

This was 1988, as it leaked into 1989, and the World Junior Championship was played at Sullivan Arena in Anchorage and what was then called Fire Lake Arena – now the Harry J. McDonald Memorial Center – in Eagle River. Getting the world’s best U-20 teams in Alaska over the holidays – World Juniors traditionally starts on Dec. 26 — was part of a push to host the Winter Olympics.

This was when there was still a Soviet Union, which won the championship, which was played completely in a round-robin format. Sweden took silver and Czechoslovakia earned bronze, with Canada taking fourth and the United States fifth.

Four of the top 10 scorers in the tournament are enshrined in the Hockey Hall of Fame – Modano, Bure, his linemate Sergei Federov and Selanne – and why Alexander Mogilny, Bure’s other linemate, is not remains one of hockey’s puzzlers. The Soviets also featured future Hall of Fame defenseman Sergei Zubov and the Americans included current Minnesota Wild general manager Bill Guerin. Dozens of players from the ’89 World Juniors went on to play in the NHL.

Roenick led the tournament in scoring with 8-8—16 totals in seven games. Modano checked in second at 6-9—15 and Bure, just 17, was third with 8-6—14 totals. Mogilny (7-5—12), Federov (4-8—12) and Selanne (5-5—10) also delivered strong numbers, as did American John LeClair (6-4—10).

Not surprisingly, those teenagers turned into some of the best players on the planet.

All Bure managed after playing in three World Juniors and racking 27 goals in 21 career games on that stage – he was voted Best Forward at the ’89 World Juniors – was to wice score 60 goals in the NHL, five times surpass 50 goals and twice score more than 100 points in a season. At the ’89 World Juniors, Bure also flashed what passed for extreme swagger back in the day – he wore fluorescent green skate laces.

Federov scored 30 or more goals in 10 NHL seasons and twice eclipsed 100 points. Mogilny, who went on to be centered by Anchorage’s Scotty Gomez (he played in the 1998 and 1999 World Juniors) for the New Jersey Devils, scored 30 or more goals eight times, including a 76-goal season. Selanne’s NHL rookie record of 76 goals in 1992-93 for the Winnipeg Jets remains the standard. Modano scored 30 or more goals nine times. Roenick was so good he finished that 88-89 season with the Chicago Blackhawks, and he went on to twice eclipse 50 goals, scored 30 or more goals seven times and produced three seasons of more than 100 points.

Czechoslovakia included 18-year-old defenseman Martin Bakula, who two years later joined UAA and generated 14-19—43 totals in 64 games over two seasons.

The 1989 World Juniors also featured one of the most bizarre circumstances in tournament history when a second puck appeared on the ice in the waning moments of the Soviet Union-Sweden game on Dec. 29, 1988.

The Soviets led 3-2, with Sweden pressuring for the equalizer and about 90 seconds remaining. Soviet goaltender Aleksei Ivashkin made a save and steered the puck into the corner to his right. As Ivashkin tracked the puck into the corner, a second puck suddenly appeared in the slot and a Swedish player shot it into the Soviet net. American referee Steve Piotrowski immediately waved off the goal. The Soviets held on for a 3-2 win that ended up being the difference between gold and silver in the round-robin tournament – the Soviet Union and Sweden both finished 6-1-0.

The International Ice Hockey Federation “investigated” the incident, but never really answered what happened. The favored theory around the rink was a Soviet player took one of the commemorative pucks stored in an open bucket of ice in the penalty box and tucked it into his pants, only to have the puck fall out as he took a shift.

Maybe we’ll never know exactly what happened in that game.

What we do know is Alaska hockey fans got to savor teenagers who became some of the game’s greatest superstars.

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