The First Worlds War
|Front Row L to R: David
Geving, Don Madson, Mike Radakovich, Assistant Mgr, George
Nagobods, Dave Heitz, Earl Sargent, John Shewchuk, Mark
Lambert, Mike Dibble, Dan Bonk, Paul Holmgren, Murray
Williamson, Coach/General Manager Back Row L to R: Tom
Ulseth, Jim Warner, Pete Roberts, Gary Sargent, Steve
Short, Tom Funke, Steve Roberts, Greg Woods, Craig Hammer,
Mike Wong, Al Mathieu, Trainer. (Photo
courtesy of www.murraywilliamson.org)
first World Junior Championship was held in the Soviet Union
in 1974. Team USA endured just about every hardship imaginable
– and that was just on the trip there.
the red, white and blue at the World Junior Championship has
always been an honor – but it’s become much less
of an adventure.
transportation, safe food and drink, comfortable hotels –
they’ve become the standard for today’s WJC competitor,
but it wasn’t always so. Especially not in 1974, before
the event carried an official title and sanction from the
International Ice Hockey Federation.
1974, the World Junior Championship was nothing more than
a six-team scuffle with major aspirations. It was a first-of-its-kind
meeting of hockey superpowers, conducted behind the Soviet
Union’s Iron Curtain.
Dibble, whose 50 career goaltending victories rank seventh
all-time at the University of Wisconsin, was among the American
contingent at the event. He backstopped Team USA to its only
victory, a 3-2 triumph over Czechoslovakia in the final contest
that assured a better-than-last-place showing for the upstart
happened on the ice, however, was just a small slice of the
excitement for Team USA.
flew to Montreal first and played in the Montreal Forum, which
was fantastic,” said Dibble. “Then we flew out
of Montreal to Bratislava.”
USA’s next stop was Prague, where an exhibition game
against the Czech National Team loomed.
when they lost our equipment – on purpose,” said
Dibble. “Things were very different back then.”
their gear, Dibble and his teammates were stranded at a draconian
Prague hotel with nothing to do on New Year’s Eve. The
silver lining was edible food and palatable drink. Upon their
eventual arrival in Moscow, there was no silver lining.
got there about noon,” said Dibble. “We saw Stalin’s
grave, then we sat at the train station where we were delayed
and delayed. We were supposed to take this train called the
‘Bratislava Bullet’ to Leningrad but the train
left at midnight and arrived at like 7 a.m. so you couldn’t
see their country side. At least that’s what we figured.
|Members of the U.S. Team
that took part in the inaugural World Junior Championship
problem was you couldn’t drink the water there. And
we were getting very, very thirsty. We hadn’t brought
anything of our own to drink. Well, the Canadians brought
a whole bunch of pop and when we saw them start loading their
pop onto the train, we went for that pop like kids go after
candy. I got three cans, so I was happy. Then the Canadians
saw us stealing their pop and there was a big fight, but that’s
how thirsty we were. Everyone was dying of thirst. It was
like an all-out riot.”
the Americans arrived in Leningrad, bleary-eyed and sugar-filled
from several contraband pops. They hadn’t eaten in hours.
Breakfast was a top priority. Unfortunately, IHOP had yet
to arrive in Leningrad.
food was absolutely inedible,” said Dibble.
Williamson, the veteran coach of many such international hockey
escapades – including the 1972 U.S. Olympic team that won the silver medal in Sapporo, Japan – was also
unimpressed with the fare and set out to remedy the situation.
stood up to our Russian interpreter guy and said, ‘You
get us something to eat, that we can eat and get our strength,
or we’re out of here,’” said Dibble. “And
then they got in a big fight. But Murray did a great job standing
up for us and we finally got some food that we could eat.”
Americans’ next encounter came with a population that
knew real hunger all too well.
we got off the bus, we were immediately surrounded by hundreds
of kids,” Dibble said. “They wanted anything you
could give them. Our bus driver told us we couldn’t
give them anything more because we were inciting a riot.”
players also couldn’t help but notice lines of people
waiting outside grocery stores. It was a society filled with
cravings, some primal and some just for fun.
the streets was cool,” said Dibble. “And so was
meeting a Russian soldier under this bridge at midnight to
trade a pair of jeans for two Russian hats that I still have.”
the ice, Team USA opened the tournament against Canada, represented
by the OHL’s Peterborough Petes, who avenged the raid
on their pop with a 5-4 victory. The Canadians ended up finishing
third behind the Soviet Union and Finland.
USA’s next opponent was Sweden, who trounced an uninspired
red, white and blue squad by an 11-1 margin. Finland then
stymied the Americans 5-1, leading to the eagerly-anticipated
meeting between Team USA and Khrushchev’s Comrades.
The Soviets won 9-1, leaving the Americans just one game to
regain their swagger.
hadn’t won a game, and Czechoslovakia was a very good
hockey team,” said Dibble. “All I can remember
is that I had a lot of saves and the Russian crowd was chanting
‘DEE-bull, DEE-bull’ because they didn’t
like the Czechoslovakians. We won 3-2 and it was a great victory.
USA Hockey was at the bottom end at the time. It was really
instrumental that we didn’t come home shut out.”
their struggles, the 1974 squad helped set the foundation
for America’s hockey future. Thirty-two years later,
Team USA enters the WJC as the gold medal favorites with Boston
College’s Cory Schneider expected to serve between the
pipes. Like Dibble years before, he’s hoping for the
opportunity to sing the national anthem with a medal around
a lot of honor and respect that goes into putting on that
jersey,” said Schneider. “It’s a special
opportunity. USA Hockey has come a long way over the years,
with the National Team Development Program and the USHL. There
are a lot of good development programs throughout the country
that have helped Team USA become a force on the international
that of the travel-weary 1974 squad, it’s been a long
and memorable journey.