September 23, 2016

Remembering The 1987 Canada Cup

Gretzky and Lemieux Rival Henderson's Heroics

There is little doubt that the 1972 Summit Series between Canada and the Soviet Union is the single greatest hockey tournament, perhaps sporting event, ever. Due to the political and cultural differences, and the dramatic ending, it is unforeseeable that anything could rival 1972. However the 1987 Canada Cup did rival it. While the Cold War was thawing, the drama was almost equal to 1972. And unlike 1972, the tournament was filled with great play on the ice. In fact most will agree that the 1987 Canada Cup highlighted perhaps the greatest hockey ever played.

"I don't think you'll ever see better hockey than what was played in that series," said Wayne Gretzky. "For me, it was probably the best hockey I've ever played."

The 1987 Cup not only had the greatest player of all time in his prime, but many others as well. Grant Fuhr, Paul Coffey, Viacheslav Fetisov, Vladimir Krutov, Sergei Makarov also were at the highest points of their incredible careers. The series also saw the rise to prominence of a young Dominik Hasek, as well as the elevation of Mario Lemieux to Gretzky's stratosphere.

The round robin went pretty much as expected. Canada and the Soviets finished 1-2 with Sweden and CSSR narrowly edging out the Americans for the final playoff spots. The Soviets handed Sweden a 4-2 loss and Canada downed the Czechs 5-3 to set up the greatest showdown in history.

The best of three series went the distance and thrilled fans world wide. All three games ended with the same score, 6-5, which was the identical score of the final game of the eight-game 1972 Summit Series, which saw Paul Henderson win the game for Canada with just 34 seconds left.

1987 was the longest series since 1972 between the two nations. The three games dripped with intrigue and drama. The Soviets shocked the Canadians with a 6-5 overtime win in game one in Montreal.

In the second game in Hamilton, Ontario, the Canadians assumed a 3-1 lead but watched it vanish. The game went into overtime which required a Mario Lemieux tally in the second over time period to force a third and deciding game. Some have called that second game the best game ever played.

In the third game, which was also played in Hamilton, the Canadians fell behind early 3-0 and 4-2. But, by using grit, determination and skill, they rallied in the second period to take a 5-4 lead, which the Soviets would erase in the third period, setting up the last minute heroics.
Late in the third period, Dale Hawerchuk was out to take an important faceoff in his own zone. Hawerchuk won the draw from Valeri Kamensky and tied up the Soviet center. Mario Lemieux got the puck and pushed it ahead to Wayne Gretzky at the blueline. Breaking across center ice with Lemieux and Larry Murphy trailing, Gretzky swooped in on Igor Kravchuk, and goaltender Sergei Mylnikov.

Gretzky, who led all tournament scorers, fed a perfect pass back to Lemieux, who led all tournament snipers, at the top of the faceoff circle. "I had lots of time," said Lemieux, "more than a second. The top shelf was open and I just put it there." For the next minute and 26 seconds, Team Canada would kill time by defending their zone, knowing they were seconds away from being crowned winners of the greatest series in hockey history.

"There is a generation of hockey fans who have grown up not having seen the 1972 Summit Series," said tournament head Alan Eagleson. "But the 1987 tournament bridged that generation gap. It was that good. To a new generation it will be their 1972 series."

Results and Statistics

Round Robin Tournament
Aug 28 Canada 4 CSSR 4 (Calgary)
           USA 4 Finland 1 (Hartford)
Aug 29 Sweden 5 USSR 3 (Calgary)
Aug 30 Canada 4 Finland 1 (Hamilton)
Aug 31 USSR 4 CSSR 0 (Regina)
           USA 5 Sweden 2 (Hamilton)
Sept 2 USSR 7 Finland 4 (Halifax)
           Canada 3 USA 2 (Hamilton)
           Sweden 4 CSSR 0 (Regina)
Sept 4 USSR 5 USA 1 (Hartford)
          CSSR 5 Finland 2 (Sydney)
          Canada 5 Sweden 3 (Montreal)
Sept 6 Sweden 3 Finland 1 (Sydney)
          CSSR 3 USA 1 (Sydney)
          Canada 3 USSR 3 (Hamilton)

Semi Finals
Sept 8 USSR 4 Sweden 2 (Hamilton)
Sept 9 Canada 5 CSSR 3 (Montreal)

Sept 11 Canada 6 USSR 5 (OT) (Montreal)
Sept 13 Canada 6 USSR 5 (OT) (Hamilton)
Sept 15 Canada 6 USSR 5 (Hamilton) 

Scoring Leaders
Goalie Leaders
All Star Teams
G - Grant Fuhr, CAN
D - Ray Bourque, CAN
D - Viacheslav Fetisov, USSR
F - Wayne Gretzky, CAN
F - Mario Lemieux, CAN
F - Vladimir Krutov, USSR
Tournament MVP
Wayne Gretzky - Canada

Statue For Lord Stanley

The Canadian federal government has committed to erecting a $2.8 million statue to commemorate Lord Stanley's promise of a trophy to honour the champions of hockey in Canada 125 years ago.

The winning design will be in realized next year, and unveiled in December 2017 at the corner of Sparks and Elgin streets.

The statue designs have been narrowed to eight finalists. Some of them are, shall we say, interesting.

Stanley cup design monument

Stanley cup monument design

Stanley cup monument ottawa

Stanley Cup monument design

Stanley cup monument design

Stanley cup monument ottawa design

Stanley cup monument design

Stanley Cup monument design

Personally, I like #1 and #8, with #4 as an interesting possibility. Number 7 makes me wonder just how bad were the designs that did not make the cut.

September 22, 2016

Pucks On The 'Net: On Canada #WCOH 2016

The semi-finals of the 2016 World Cup of Hockey are set, with Sweden facing Europe on Sunday, and top ranked Canada facing eternal rival Russia on Saturday night.

Canada thus far has been a wondrous display of tactical execution, though they've had a few more wrinkles in their game than at the 2014 Olympics, it seems. The rough spots tend to come when the game is fully in hand, so there is some human nature involved there. Still, Canada will have to bring a complete game against the Russians who will no doubt be looking for revenge.

Russia's weakness is their blueline. Canada's forwards will have to put a lot of pressure on this group, be it in the form of speed or physicality. While their centermen are excellent two way performers, Russian wingers are notorious for their disinterest in backchecking. Watch for Canada to activate their defense on the offense.

Sweden should have little trouble advancing past Team Europe. Disregard Europe's convincing win in the exhibition stage of the tournament. The Europeans had been based in Quebec all along. They pounced on Team Sweden upon their arrival from Stockholm. I'm certain jet lag and time zone adjustment played a factor in that.

Canada and Sweden in the final? Gee, I wonder who said that from the beginning? This is still very much Canada's tournament to lose, but Sweden is clearly the next best team.

On Finland - I haven't said anything about Finland to this point so I will take this opportunity to do so. I was disappointed, as was everyone, in Finland's poor showing in the tourney. I really felt they had what it took to make the semi-finals and make some noise. It turned out their young defense was a little too inexperienced and they didn't get the goaltending they have come to expect.

On Czech Republic - Another team that I haven't commented on. Like their neighbors Slovakia, times are tough in the Czech Republic not only in terms of hockey but throughout all of society. The investment in athletics has been lacking for a generation or two. These two (once one) proud hockey nations have suffered tremendously as a result. If things continue like this it may possible the Czech Republic will not have a team in a future World Cup as they, too, could be part of Team Europe.

September 21, 2016

Pucks On The 'Net: On Gimmicks #WCOH 2016

Ever since the format for the World Cup of Hockey was announced many months ago, Team North America and Team Europe, and to a smaller degree the entire tournament itself, was dismissed as a gimmick.

Alright, it is kind of a gimmick, but not one that too many people are complaining about anymore.

Team Europe has been the biggest surprise as everyone dismissed them as the weakest seed in the tourney. Surprise, they made the playoff round and have proven to a real threat.

Team Young Guns, also known as Team North America under-23, has been everyone's favorite team. They are so fast, and so exciting. The NHL wanted it's young stars on display and they have not disappointed.

When I say everyone's favorite team, I think even in Canada there will be some cheering for the kids if they should meet Canada in the playoff round.

Of course, the kids will need some help on Thursday to make the playoffs. Team Russia controls their own destiny. They can advance, and send the kids to NHL training camps, with a win over the disinterested Finns who have already been eliminated. Everyone outside of Russia will be cheering on the Finns.

The lesson here is not to dismiss "gimmicks" so fast. I have to admit to originally calling 3-on-3 overtime a gimmick. After that Sweden/North America OT thriller, I'm not so sure we shouldn't play the whole game with just three skaters aside.

Pucks On The 'Net: On Team USA #WCOH 2016

John Tortorella is taking a lot of heat for Team USA's demise. He probably deserves it, as he is guilty of pushing far too many buttons unnecessarily.

But Torts is just the figurehead who takes the public brunt of the fallout. Ultimately Team USA's management group will have to answer for some bizarre decisions, including picking Torts as coach and some roster decisions.

But maybe we should call a spade a spade here. American hockey is not that good right now.

Aside from Patrick Kane and Ryan Suter, not one of member of Team USA would be good enough to make Team Canada. That's just two out of 23 positions.

The American team of today pales in comparison to the 1996 World Cup championship team. They had Hockey Hall of Famers Chris Chelios, Brian Leetch and Phil Housley on defense. Brett Hull, John Leclair, Doug Weight, Mike Modano and Pat Lafontaine provided far more offense. And Mike Richter was incredible in net.

The good news is in the not too distant future American hockey will rise again. Look at that Team North America roster with Jack Eichel, Auston Matthews, Dylan Larkin and Johnny Gaudreau leading the way up front. Shayne Gostisbehere and Seth Jones promise to bring a dynamic blue line for years to come, while Jacob Trouba will bring the snarl.

Team USA 2016 really could have benefited from the presence of their under-23 talent right now. They will soon. Look out!

USA's failure at the World Cup of Hockey is a great disappointment for more than just the team.

Obviously the NHL itself wanted USA to have a stronger showing. In order for this tournament to grow, they need a presence in America. There was no better time than 2016, with ESPN showcasing the whole tournament.

Sure, hardcore American hockey fans are going to continue to tune in. They'd still tune in if it was on the Oprah Winfrey Network. The hockey has been that good. But without Team USA, the casual fan is not nearly as likely to.

That obviously makes ESPN another loser here, as ratings presumably won't be great. Everyone knows there has been a complete lack of NHL hockey coverage on ESPN for years now. ESPN is still the king of kings on the American television sports scene. Having the World Cup on ESPN was a big win for the league. This was the worst case scenario for the league.

It's too bad. Everyone was spinning memories of the 1996 World Cup endlessly in their buildup to what they hoped would be a strong American showing 20 years later. Those wonderful memories of 1996 are fading more and more.

September 19, 2016

Top Five USA vs Canada Hockey Games

2010 Olympic Gold Medal game. Sidney Crosby and the Golden Goal.

2002 Olympic Gold Medal game. Joooooeee Sakic!

1996 World Cup of Hockey - Tony Amonte the hero.

2002 Women's Olympic gold medal game - Jayna Hefford's buzzer beater

2010 World Juniors gold medal game - USA! USA!

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