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Tony Esposito and Jim Rutherford have their unusual 1977 Canadian sweaters with the green Maple Leaf on display in their homes. But Phil Esposito would rather forget he wore that sweater.

In 1977, the three former National Hockey League players were part of the Canadian team that returned, after an eight-year hiatus, to the world championship in Vienna, also the site of this year's tournament, which will begin on Saturday.

The memories, after 28 years, still don't sit well with Phil Esposito.

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"They threw us to the wolves," Phil Esposito said. "We should have never been there. We had to go back to the world championship because we had a successful Canada Cup [in 1976] If we wanted another one, we had to start playing at the world championship. Somebody was making money off it, not us."

After finishing fourth in 1969, Hockey Canada decided to boycott the world championship and Winter Olympics because it did not agree with the International Ice Hockey Federation rule that prohibited professionals from competing in those international events.

Those rules were slackened after the success of the Canada Cup in 1976 and the financial windfall to the IIHF.

"I didn't like the experience [in 1977]" Esposito said. "They told me I wouldn't have to wear a helmet, and then a minute before the first game they told me to put one on.

"I was so mad that after the last game I fired my helmet at [IIHF president Gunther]Sabetzki in the stands. He was so stupid that he came down after the game to thank me and get it autographed. I told him to buzz off."

Canada finished fourth in 1977, despite some ugly on-ice incidents.

"We took some stupid penalties in that tournament that cost us," goaltender Tony Esposito said.

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That is an understatement. The Canadian team was dubbed Team Ugly or Team Zoo for three embarrassing incidents.

Wilf Paiement was suspended for clubbing a Russian player over the head with his stick. Carol Vadnais was accused of butt-ending Kent Erik Andersson of Sweden. Walt McKechnie reportedly speared an opponent and wouldn't stand at attention for the Soviet anthem.

The team's actions prompted a government committee to investigate what transpired and make recommendations for the next world championship.

Hockey Canada executive director Derek Holmes and Bill Watters, a players agent at the time, compiled the roster for the 1977 tournament.

"It was a steep learning curve that year," said Watters, now a popular Toronto radio personality. "After we learned that -- not to play too tough -- we started winning.

"You look at the tournament now, our players know what to expect. We're used to the competition, the big ice surface and the officiating."

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That Canadian team had 1972 heroes Phil Esposito and Ron Ellis leading the way with young offensive dynamos in Pierre Larouche and Paiement. Vadnais and Dallas Smith anchored the blueline, with Tony Esposito in goal and Rutherford as the backup.

The eight country, 18-day event began with a round robin. The top four teams then qualified for a round-robin final.

Playing seven games in 11 days, Canada opened the round robin with a 4-1 win over the United States, but then lost 4-2 to Sweden and 11-1 to the Soviet Union. Canada tied Czechoslovakia 3-3 before reeling off victories over Finland, France and Romania.

Sweden and the Soviet Union finished the round robin with 6-1 records, followed by Czechoslovakia at 5-1-1 and Canada at 4-2-1.

In the four-team final, Canada drubbed Sweden 7-0, lost to the Soviets 8-1 and beat Czechoslovakia again, 8-2. But Czechoslovakia was awarded the gold medal with an overall record of 7-2-1, followed by Sweden and the Soviet Union at 7-3. Canada finished fourth at 6-3-1. The Swedes won the silver medal because they upset the Soviets, which cost Canada a medal.

"The world championship [in 1977]sure didn't get the attention in Canada it does today," said Rutherford, the Carolina Hurricanes' general manager. "The games weren't on television. There were no highlights on the evening news.

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"I remember my parents listening to the radio and making phone calls trying to find out just the score of those games."

Canada's 1977 team

Here is the team that represented Canada at the 1977 world hockey championship in Vienna and was coached by Johnny Wilson.

The players are listed alphabetically, with position with 1976-77 NHL team:

Guy Charron, F, Washington Capitals.

Ron Ellis, F, Toronto Maple Leafs.

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Phil Esposito, F, New York Rangers.

Tony Esposito, G, Chicago Blackhawks.

Rod Gilbert, F, New York Rangers.

Rick Hampton, D, Cleveland Barons.

Dennis Kearns, D, Vancouver Canucks.

Ralph Klassen, F, Cleveland Barons.

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Pierre Larouche, F, Pittsburgh Penguins.

Al MacAdam, F, Cleveland Barons.

Walt McKechnie, F, Detroit Red Wings.

Wayne Merrick, F, Cleveland Barons.

Wilf Paiement, F, Colorado Rockies.

Jean Pronovost, F, Pittsburgh Penguins.

Phil Russell, D, Chicago Blackhawks.

Jim Rutherford, G, Detroit Red Wings.

Dallas Smith, D, Boston Bruins.

Greg Smith, D, Cleveland Barons.

Carol Vadnais, D, New York Rangers.

Eric Vail, F, Atlanta Flames.

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