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."