December 26, 2012

Remembering 1987 Izvestia Cup - Canada's Unknown Miracle On Ice

From Eric Duhatschek of The Globe And Mail

Moscow, in the winter of 1987, was a dreary inhospitable place for the start of the annual Izvestia hockey tournament. The Soviet Union was wheezing towards its political end, and in the last days of the Communist era, there was little to recommend to visitors in December. Consumer goods were in short supply. Fresh food was limited and whenever it appeared – in markets, on unexpected street corners – long lines formed, so people could enjoy an orange or two for the Winter Solstice.

About the only ray of light was its hockey team, the menacing Big Red Machine, featuring the Green Unit – Igor Larionov, Sergei Makarov, Vladimir Krutov, Slava Fetisov and Alexei Kasatonov – all at the peaks of their respective careers. Three months earlier, they had been involved in a much-revered meeting of hockey’s royalty, the 1987 Canada Cup, which produced three remarkable 6-5 classics against arguably the best Canadian team ever assembled, Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux still in their primes, future Hall Of Famers such as Dale Hawerchuk cast in supporting roles.

Now, some three months later, after the NHLers had all returned to their day jobs, the Soviets were hosting their annual Christmas tourney, the last major event on the international hockey calendar before the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary.

Internationally, Canada was (and is) usually cast as Goliath in hockey competitions, but in this seminal event, played mostly in the Luzhniki Arena, home of Paul Henderson’s memorable 1972 goal in the Summit Series, they played the part of David, a heavy underdog.

But that team, cobbled together from NHL castoffs, holdouts and draftees, went in and knocked off the Soviets at home, the first Canadian team to win there since the final game in 1972.

It was Canada’s own Miracle On Ice, and it has been cast into the back pages of hockey history by two factors: One, there was no video evidence of the victory, no Team Canada rewind that can be replayed constantly on television; and two, that three months later, the Russians exacted their revenge by winning gold in Calgary.

“That was the only downside,” said coach Dave King, who celebrated his 40th birthday on the day Canada unexpectedly clinched the gold medal. “By winning there, we kind of blew our cover.”

Here's the full story.

Here are some more first hand memories of the Izvestia Cup including Gord Sherven, Dave King, Sean Burke and Randy Gregg.

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