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12 Days of World Juniors: Day 7 - The Punch-up in Piešťany, 1987 Piešťany

(Andrew Yang/The Intermission)

Jan. 4, 1987 was one of the craziest moments in World Juniors history. It was the final game of the tournament between Soviet Russia and Canada. In 1987 the tournament was still a round-robin tournament where the top three records got the gold, silverand bronze. Now, keep in mind, in the late 80s there was still quite a bit of animosity due to the recent cold war. The 1987 World Junior Championship took place in Piešťany, Czechoslovakia.

Entering the game, Canada had already secured the bronze medal, but needed a win to get the silver. If Canada got the win by five or more goals they would have surpassed Finland, who were already 5-1-1, to win the gold medal. The Soviets were not faring as well as the Canadians, entering the game at 2-3-1 and eliminated from medal contention.

Key piece of information, the International Ice Hockey Federation hand-selected, Norweigen referee Hans Rønning due to the belief of his neutrality between the nations. Although they may have overlooked the fact of Rønning’s inexperience refereeing, which was apparent three days prior to the Soviet vs. Canada game. The Canadians were facing off against the American squad when a brawl broke out in the pre-game warmups. The refs were not on the ice, but the referee, Rønning, ejected one player from each team for starting the incident despite not being a witness to the event. Canadian representative, Dennis MacDonald tried to convince the supervisor of officials, René Fasel, to switch Rønning off of the game, but to no avail.

The game started off very chippy, with Soviet forward Sergei Shesterikov elbowed Canadian forward right off of the opening faceoff, where Canadian forward Dave McLlwain retaliated with a cross-check. Neither of the players was penalized, which let the tension build. Theoren Fleury opened the scoring around five minutes into the frame. In epic fashion, Fleury slid across center ice on his knees using his stick as a pretend machine gun and “opened fire” on the Soviet bench. The game continued to be chippy, with both teams slashing away at each other but Canada managed to emerge with a 3-1 lead.

Early in the second period, they took a moment of silence to honor the Swift Current Broncos who had a tragic bus crash where they lost four of their players. For the next five minutes of the period, the intensity died down, but it immediately reignited after a minor scuffle that sent a player from each team to the box. The teams got chippy and started slashing each other, once again. Each team tallied another goal in the second period, making the score 4-2.

The brawl started after the puck dropped Shesterikov collided with Everett Sanipass with 6:07 remaining in the middle frame. This resulted in the first fight. Pavel Kostichkin picked up his sticks with both hands and laid a huge slash on Theoren Fleury, which erupted into the second fight. The battle quickly escalated into a full-on line brawl with all the players on the ice in a matchup against one another. After returning from a commercial break announce Don Wittman made a severe understatement about the fight by saying, “well, we had a real skirmish just moments ago following a face-off.”

Evgeny Davydov was the first player to hop off the bench to join the scrum, which led to every player then following suit. It was absolute pandemonium, a Soviet player head-butted a Canadian breaking his nose, there was a fight where two Soviets were fighting a single Canadian. Eventually, Rønning and his crew left the ice by order of the Czechoslovakian officials. In an attempt to stop the fighting, they shut the lights off. The entire stadium was chanting “we want hockey!” After the fighting finally stopped the tournament officials called the game null and void, and both teams were disqualified. After a 7-1 vote by team representatives, both teams were ejected from the tournament. The Soviets were banned from the tournament’s banquet and medal ceremony, but the Canadians were still invited. Dennis MacDonald promptly stated that the Canadian team was not interested in attending. Czechoslovakian officials then ordered the Canadian team out of the arena within a half-an-hour. They were met by armed soldiers and then escorted out of the country.

After the tournament, all players involved in the situation were suspended for 18 months and all coaches for three years. The players' bans were eventually shortened to six months. Hans Rønning never reffed an international ice hockey game ever again.

That brawl is now known as the ‘Punch-up in Piešťany’ and is the most infamous incident in international hockey history.


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