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Slaney's score sent golden shrieks from Saskatoon to St. John's

by Adam Kimelman
Eric Lindros had been a major story in Canadian junior hockey long before the 1991 World Junior Championships. But for those watching from outside the country, they got a first-hand glimpse of what lay in store during a remarkable week in Saskatoon.

The 2010 World Junior Championship are returning to town for the first time since the 1991 show, but any player from any country will be hard-pressed to repeat Lindros' remarkable feat.

Lindros, then just 18 in a tournament geared toward 19-year-olds, led Canada in goals (6), assists (11) and points (17). He was named to the tournament's all-star team, and his play was so good, that linemate Mike Craig also had 6 goals, finished second on the team with 11 points and also made the all-tournament team.

"It was always nice to play with him because it was men against boys because he was so big and powerful," John Slaney, a defenseman on that team, told NHL.com. "When you got a guy that size that can stand in front of the net, it helps your team, no question. The way Eric skates and handled the puck, he was pretty offensive. He could pass the puck and shoot it as well. He dominated that tournament. When you got a leader on a team like that and everyone else can follow, it's something special."

Slaney would know from special, because while Lindros dominated the tournament, it was Slaney who scored the most memorable goal.

Going into the tournament, Russia, led by Pavel Bure, was considered the favorite. And going into the final game of what then was a round-robin tournament, Russia sat atop the standings with a 5-0-1 record. Canada was second at 4-1-1, having suffered a 6-5 loss to Czechoslovakia two days earlier.

Here's what was facing Canada going into the final game -- a win against Russia would give them a second-straight gold medal; a loss, combined with a Czechoslovakian win against Finland would have left Canada with the bronze.

Beating Russia would be no easy feat. Besides Bure, who scored 12 goals in seven games, Russia had Slava Kozlov and Sergei Berezin up front, and a defense that included Darius Kasparaitis, Dmitry Yushkevich and Sandis Ozolinsh.

As the game reached the latter stages of the third period tied, 2-2, Slaney jumped on the ice.

A high-scoring defenseman with the Cornwell Royals of the Ontario Hockey League, the Washington Capitals had made Slaney the ninth pick of the 1990 Entry Draft. In the 1990-91 season, he had 21 goals and 45 points in just 34 games.

He finished with just 1 goal at the WJC, but it was one of the biggest in the history of the tournament.

"The puck came around the boards and I remember Bure was behind me," Slaney recalled. "If the puck got out it was two-on-one going to the other way. When it came back to me I remember looking up and there were a few people in front, and if you don't shoot the puck on net you don't score, so that's what I did. I pictured the puck going the goalie's legs."

That's just where the puck went to give Canada a 3-2 lead. Slaney said the explosion at Saskatoon Place was something he never had heard before.

"I'm surprised the building has a roof on it," he said. "When we did score that goal the place just went crazy."

Slaney didn't have long to celebrate his goal. Teammate Kent Manderville got a bit over-exuberant in his celebration, and hit Slaney so hard he had to leave the ice.

"After I got hit by Kent, I went in the dressing room," said Slaney. "I had sprained my ankle about a month and a half before the tournament. I told the trainer I hurt my ankle."

After Slaney composed himself, he returned to the bench and watched the final seconds tick off the clock, and then he joined in a celebration that stretched from Saskatoon all the way back to his home in St. John's, Newfoundland. At the time, Slaney was just the second player from that area of Canada to play in the WJC.

"I remember hearing people back home in Newfoundland talking about it, celebrating through the night," Slaney said.

Now 37, Slaney's NHL career never really took off. He played 268 NHL games with Washington, Los Angeles, Phoenix, Nashville, Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, totaling 22 goals and 91 points. His biggest impact came in the American Hockey League, where his name is all over the record book. Slaney is the highest-scoring defenseman in AHL history, with 166 goals and 519 points. He also holds the single-season mark for most goals by a defenseman in a season, with 30 in 1999-00, and holds records for most goals (20) and points (66) by a rookie defenseman, in 1992-93.

Slaney moved to Germany in 2007, and after one season with the Cologne Sharks, he now is in his second season with the Frankfurt Lions, where he leads the team's defensemen with 16 assists and 20 points.

While he and his hockey gear today are in Germany, there's one very important stick back home in St. John's.

"My son asked me do I have the stick, and I do," Slaney said. "It's home at my mom's place. You never know with the puck, it could be from any time. I can't remember who told me, but they said keep the stick."

Contact Adam Kimelman at akimelman@nhl.com.


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