The previous year in Piestany, Czechoslovakia, the Canadians were leading Russia 4-2 in the second period and on their way to clinching their third World Junior gold medal when a pair of Russians left their bench to join an on-ice altercation. Both benches emptied for an ugly brawl that left both teams disqualified from the tournament.
The disqualification gave Canada a seventh place finish in 1987 and a much tougher schedule for the tournament in 1988. Instead of a warm up against the weaker teams, Canada opened the tournament on Boxing Day against Sweden, followed by Czechoslovakia, Finland and the United States before the rematch with the Soviet Union on New Year's Day.
The schedule didn't allow much time for Canada to develop their team chemistry or defensive strategies. Coach Dave Simpson, who previously coached in the OHL with the Toronto Marlboros, was blessed with an outstanding group of players, but he wanted to ensure that they played a strong game at both ends of the rink.
"Our big job is convince some lads who are big scorers with good offensive skills that there's another very important side to the game," Simpson said after the team arrived in Moscow.