canada-cup1987

Mario Lemieux rushes into the arms of Wayne Gretzky after scoring the winner against Russian in the 1987 Canada Cup final. (Blaise Edwards/Canadian Press)

The Leafs versus the Habs. Canada versus Russia. Wayne versus Mario.

No matter the time, place or circumstances, the game of hockey will always be elevated from a simple athletic contest to an epic battle whenever certain teams (or players) face off against one another.

Here's a look at 10 of hockey's best rivalries:

Canada vs. Russia

The battle for world hockey supremacy started with the 1972 Summit Series and has given fans countless memories along the way:

Foster Hewitt's legendary call when Henderson scored for Canada. Darryl Sittler's overtime goal against Czechoslovakia in '76. Mike Liut getting shelled by the Soviets in '81. Paul Coffey's great defensive play and Mike Bossy's winner in '84. Wayne and Mario wielding their magic in Hamilton in '87. Gold medal games at the world juniors.

Toronto Maple Leafs vs. the Montreal Canadiens (1958-67)

You wouldn't know it by the way they're playing these days, but Montreal and Toronto were considered the NHL's superpowers during the Original Six days.

Toe Blake and Punch Imlach coached teams littered with future Hall of Famers (including Jean Beliveau, Maurice Richard, Dave Keon and Frank Mahovlich), as the Leafs and Habs treated the Stanley Cup as their personal plaything, winning the Cup four times each and meeting in the finals three times during this nine-year period.

Mario Lemieux vs. Wayne Gretzky

Gretzky was in a class all by himself, standing head and shoulders above everyone else in the league as he began his incredible assault on the NHL record books and laying the foundations of an Oilers dynasty.

Then along came Magnificent Mario, and suddenly the Great One had to share the spotlight, the two super stars duelling it out on the ice and fighting over the Hart and Art Ross trophies year after year.

Boston Bruins vs. Montreal Canadiens

Maybe it's because so many of the game's greats (Bobby Orr, Guy Lafleur, Jean Beliveau, Phil Esposito to name but a few) have donned the famed black-and-gold and red-and-white jerseys. Maybe it's because they've contested 31 series — many of them classics — in the playoffs. Maybe it's because the dogged Bruins never quite got the better of the Habs, but they always managed to come back for more.

Whatever the reasons, it's always special when the Bruins and Canadiens meet.

Canada vs. the United States (women's hockey)

Canada and the U.S. have battled for supremacy in the women's game, facing off for the gold medal in the finals of all 11 world hockey championships since the first tournament in Ottawa 19 years ago.

The Canadians always managed to get the better of their counterparts in international play before the Americans shockingly won gold at the 1998 Nagano Olympics, taking the rivalry to a new level.

Bob Goodenow vs. Gary Bettman

Epic hockey rivalries don't always take place at the rink — one memorable rivalry was played out in the boardroom.

Cast your mind back five years ago to when NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and former NHLPA chief Bob Goodenow squared off in a high-stakes game of chicken over a new collective bargaining agreement.

Bettman and Goodenow traded endless barbs in public and engaged in heated negotiating sessions behind the scenes as the two sides tried to hammer out a deal. When no deal was forthcoming, Bettman and Goodenow blamed each other before the 2004-05 NHL season was eventually cancelled.

Quebec Nordiques vs. Montreal Canadiens

For decades, the Montreal Canadiens owned the undivided attention of hockey fans in la belle province. That all changed in 1979 when the Nordiques, playing in Quebec City, joined the NHL and muscled in on the Habs' territory.

At first, it was no contest, as the Nordiques, the former WHA champions, struggled in the NHL.  But in their third season, in 1981-82, the Nordiques and the fabulous Stastny brothers upset the Habs in the first round of the playoffs.

Battle lines were quickly drawn and the two clubs met three more times in the playoffs over the years, capturing the imaginations of fans all across the province with their emotionally-charged and dramatic encounters.

Calgary Flames vs. Edmonton Oilers

Another great provincial rivalry between two teams separated by a long stretch of highway.

Thanks to Gretzky's gang, the Oilers won back-to-back Stanley Cups in the mid-1980s, while the Flames had to content themselves with playing second fiddle. The Battle of Alberta really heated up in the 1986 Stanley Cup playoffs when the Flames beat the Oilers in the Smyth Division finals, denying Edmonton a third consecutive title.

Alberta has never been the same since, as the province grinds to a standstill whenever the Flames and Oilers face off against one another.

London Knights vs. Rimouski Oceanic (2005 Memorial Cup)

With the NHL season cancelled, the eyes of hockey fans all across Canada turned to the Memorial Cup in May 2005 when two of the greatest teams in junior hockey history faced off.

The annual four-team tournament featured the invincible London Knights (the OHL champions who set a CHL record by going 31 games in a row without a loss) and the QMJHL champion Rimouski Oceanic, featuring a budding superstar in the making by the name of Sidney Crosby.

The result? The Knights and Oceanic thrilled and entertained fans with their fast-paced brand of hockey, including London's 4-3 overtime win in the tournament opener and its 4-0 win in the final (the game was much closer than the score indicated).

Charleston Chiefs vs. Syracuse Bulldogs (from the movie Slap Shot)

More than 30 years after its release, Slap Shot, starring Paul Newman, remains the ultimate hockey flick thanks to its mix of comedic violence, sharp dialogue and a heartfelt respect for minor-league teams.

Central to the movie's plot was the Federal League's championship game, the ultimate blood-and-guts grudge match pitting the Charleston Chiefs and the infamous Hanson brothers against the Syracuse Bulldogs and their cast of goons, including Tim "Dr Hook" McCracken, Ogie Ogilthorpe, Andre "Poodle" Lussier, Ross "Mad Dog" Madison and Clarence "Screaming Buffalo" Swamptown.