The World Junior Hockey Championships have become a staple for millions of Canadian hockey fans during the holiday season, as we watch Canada’s best young players battle for gold.
Things were much different in 1982, when Canada iced its first true national junior team and a goaltender from Kingston backstopped Canada to a gold medal. Prior to 1982, the Memorial Cup champions bolstered by a few additional players had represented Canada at the tournament.
Mike Moffat, from Cambridge, ON, was a 19 year old goaltender for the OHL’s Kingston Canadians when he made the national team, sharing the goaltending duties with Frank Caprice of the London Knights.
It was Moffat who played the crucial games; he got the start against the Soviet Union in a Boxing Day game in Winnipeg that was televised nationally on CTV. Both teams were undefeated, but Canada embarrassed the Soviets 7-0 and Moffat got the shutout.
The gold medal game saw Canada play Czechoslovakia in Rochester, Minnesota, there was no TV coverage of the final and it was only heard on CBC radio. Canada had won its first six games; the Czechs were 5-and-1.
With Moffat back in goal, Canada trailed 2-1 after forty minutes, General Manager Sherry Bassin went into the Canadian dressing room during the second intermission waving a gold medal he had borrowed, telling them, “If you don’t win the third period, you will only be able to tell people you were 20 minutes away from being world champions.”
Canada scored two quick goals to take the lead in the third, Czechoslovakia tied it and it ended 3-3, giving Canada the gold.
Kingston’s Scott Arniel was one of the offensive stars of the tournament for Canada, scoring 5 goals and collecting 11 points over the seven games, tying for third in team scoring. Arniel split the 81-82 season between the Cornwall Royals and Winnipeg Jets.
As the Canadian players lined up for the national anthem to celebrate the gold medal win, the anthem never played. So the players sang O’ Canada a cappella, in what has now become a tradition when Canada wins the tournament.
Moffat was unbeaten in 4 games with a 1.75 goals against average. He was named to the tournament all-star team and chosen as the outstanding goaltender, ahead of the USA’s John Vanbeisbrouck, who went on to be an NHL star. Within a couple days, Moffat was back in Kingston.
Every player on that Canadian team would go on to play in the NHL. When Kingston was eliminated from the playoffs; Moffat was called up by the Boston Bruins (he was a 7th round pick of the Bruins in the 1980 NHL draft) and played two of the final regular season games. When the playoffs began, to his surprise Moffat was named the starting goaltender by Bruins coach Gerry Cheevers. Leaving veteran Rogie Vachon, in his 16th and final NHL season, watching the rookie and Marco Baron – who had played 44 games for the Bruins that season – on the bench.
Moffat led the Bruins to 4-game sweep over Buffalo in the first round and was the talk of the hockey world. In the next round, Boston went seven games against Quebec, Moffat was outstanding but the Bruins lost game seven 2-1.
It appeared Moffat had earned the right to be the Bruins goalie of the future, but that summer Boston acquired veteran Pete Peeters from Philadelphia and he would win the Vezina trophy the next season. Moffat was never able to win back the Bruins job, played just 19 games in Boston over three seasons and was gone from the NHL by age 22.
He later confessed he found being an NHL goaltender very stressful; suffering through terrible pre-game nerves, chronic headaches and insomnia.
He gave up on hockey, returned to school at Wilfred Laurier University and ultimately ended up back in Kingston in the late 80’s , where he worked for several years at the local Rona store and played forward in a Kingston men’s hockey league.
Now 53, he lives in Toronto, still plays pickup hockey and works as an outside sale rep for Rona Lumber Supply.
But, there was a time three decades ago, when Mike Moffat was briefly the hottest goaltender in hockey.