Remembering the '87 Canada Cup, as best possible | Hockey | CBC Sports

Remembering the '87 Canada Cup, as best possible

Posted: Wednesday, September 12, 2012 | 08:23 AM

Back to accessibility links
Mario Lemieux rushes into the arms of teammate Wayne Gretzky after scoring the game winner in Game 3. (Blaise Edwards/Canadian Press) Mario Lemieux rushes into the arms of teammate Wayne Gretzky after scoring the game winner in Game 3. (Blaise Edwards/Canadian Press)

Beginning of Story Content

On the 25th anniversary, Chris Iorfida recalls attending the final game of the legendary series, in which several players stepped up to make just as big an impression on him as Mario Lemieux and Wayne Gretzky.

Any guesses as to who was voted the best player in the final game of the 1987 Canada Cup?

The past several days we've seen justifiable celebration and revisiting of the 40th anniversary of the Summit Series. On this site you can get the historical context from Gord Stellick, and listen to the legendary Bob Cole's original radio calls of all eight games.

1972 was history in the making, a shock to the system, and the beginning of one of the best rivalries in the entire sporting universe.

Demographically, more people remember the '87 team that played a trio of thrilling 6-5 games with Russia 25 years ago this week, although an entire generation has passed since the tournament.

It wasn't the best team Canada ever iced though it was up there - that honour goes to a '76 Canada Cup team in which 16 of the 24 guys are in the Hall of Fame.

You could also make the case that the 1984 semifinal between Canada and Russia was the greatest single game ever played between the countries, as the sides managed to both thrill and keep the goals at bay in a 3-2 final (Just call it half-ish of their 6-5 specials).

But some of the principals involved deemed the '87 tournament the best sustained hockey ever played.

Most people remember if for Gretzky to Lemieux, the title of a terrific Ed Willes book. It would be the only time Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux would play together for Canada in international competition.

But I remember it for Dale Hawerchuk (the answer to the question I posed to begin), Doug Gilmour and Mike Gartner. I'm no doubt selling some other yeomen team members short, but it's my memory, faulty and all.

You see, you'll probably be extremely annoyed to learn that I attended that third and final game as a teen fan from Southern Ontario, paying the princely sum of $37 for my ticket.

Well, more accurately, I paid zero, as I had successfully lobbied my Dad into a pair of tickets as a birthday present.

When I came home in the middle of the summer with tickets to the "if necessary" game, he was surprised.

Dad: What if there isn't a Game 3?

Me: If there isn't, it won't be a series worth remembering. But if there is ...

Let me assure you, I may have applied this level of sophistication and foresight to hockey history, but not to typical teen pursuits like cars and girls.

Yes, I was on THAT side of the ice for the immortal goal (high up in the corner), but the thing has been replayed on TV so many times that the mediated version tends to overwhelm my middle-aged memory.

Here's what I do remember:

Canada down 3-0 eight minutes into the game and turning to my Dad and saying, "Great, we bought tickets for another 8-1."

I was referring to the second of Canada's humiliations to the Soviets between 1979 and 1981, a Canada Cup result that proved Mike Liut was a fine goalie who happened to catch lightning in a bottle the preceding season.

Later in the period I remember Rick Tocchet giving Canada hope with a goal, but Ray Bourque falling on his butt to lead to another Russian goal.

But it's the middle period I remember most. I could have sworn Canada was down two men at one point, but the official scorersheet as I look it up now says they merely took three minors in a span of seven minutes (with a Russian penalty interspersed).

That's when the likes of Hawerchuk, Gartner and Gilmour shone, helping to prevent further damage with their great two-way play. I almost don't want to watch the replay of the final game this week on TSN, lest the vision of Gilmour in my mind's eye zooming back and forth between zones to kill off precious seconds is ruined.

Russia didn't convert on any of their four power-play tries in the game, after scoring three on the man advantage in the first two games.

I remember the jubilant scene outside Copps Coliseum after the game, although it wasn't quite the ecstacy I witnessed in 2002 walking in downtown Toronto after the Olympic gold medal game. Nor was it was a rowdy as the 1992 Blue Jays and 1995 UCLA celebrations I was on the ground for (I was mere feet away when I saw a TV truck overturned in Westwood on that L.A. trip, which also included going to the Forum for a ridiculous 7-7 game in which Gretzky and Winnipeg's Alex Zhamnov took turns befuddling defenders with dazzling plays).

On the Eagle 

As with the Summit Series, disgraced hockey executive Alan Eagleson had his fingerprints all over the Canada Cups, and it was later found he embezzled funds from the fall tournaments. He stole money from players who needed it in their retirement years, he got a light prison sentence, and he's hardly been a font of contriteness. He resigned his Hockey Hall of Fame spot.

But as someone who's followed boxing passionately for 30 years, I've seen Mike Tyson and Muhammad Ali pretty much forgive Don King despite lawsuits and lost millions, and they were putting their lives on the line. Larry Holmes less so, but at least he's wickedly funny when bitterly talking about King; here in Canada we usually get a bunch of humourless Eagleson hectoring whenever an anniversary comes around.

Heck, Tyson was photographed wearing a t-shirt advertising Evander Holyfield's hot sauce recently. Maybe most hockey players aren't as fervent in their Christianity as "The Real Deal" but if two guys can get past an act of cannibalism, maybe one decade or another hockey people can calmly reconcile Eagleson's complicated legacy. This wasn't real evil like Graham James.

To tie boxing and hockey together, also consider that the late James D. Norris - not the defenceman trophy guy, but his son - still has a spot in the Hockey Hall of Fame after completely objectionable behaviour in both sports (He helped the mob grip boxing through his IBC organization in the 1950s, and he tampered with the formation of the NHLPA). 

To conclude on a lighter note, here's some tidbits you may have forgotten about the 1987 Canada Cup, gleaned from contemporaneous reports in the Toronto Star and Globe and Mail:

  • The likes of Doug Crossman and James Patrick were the beneficaries after injuries to Paul Reinhart, Kevin Lowe and Doug Wilson put them out of the defence mix. Larry Robinson, meanwhile, was committed to a polo tournament (That's not a joke).
  • The first group of cuts included Hall of Famers Steve Yzerman, Al MacInnis and Dino Ciccarelli, as well as Kirk Muller, Tony Tanti and Doug Lidster.
  • Fellow Hall of Famers Scott Stevens, Patrick Roy and Cam Neely were later cleaved, and if was just based on training camp, most writers thought Wendel Clark deserved a spot.
  • Sylvain Turgeon really didn't get a chance to make an impression, when Ron Hextall. unintentionally (he said) broke a bone in Turgeon's arm early on with his goal stick.
  • Hextall and HNIC's Kelly Hrudey were the support for Grant Fuhr. Roy's fuming re: Mike Keenan was rendered quaint after his volcanic reaction to Mario Tremblay eight years on.
  • The Soviets drilled Canada 9-4 in an exhibition three weeks before the legendary final.
  • Lemieux scored 11 of Canada's 41 goals.
  • Next highest scorer on the team was Hawerchuk, with four goals.
  • Gretzky set up 18 of the 38 goals he didn't score himself.

End of Story Content

Back to accessibility links

Story Social Media

End of Story Social Media

Comments are closed.