Many people believe the 1987 Canada Cup was the best display of hockey ever. (Photo by Bruce Bennett Studios/Getty Images)
With a couple famous major hockey tournament anniversaries upon us this year, there’s no better opportunity to rank the most memorable tournaments of all time. They are:
Granted, it wasn’t the best team-on-team competition in the history of junior hockey, but the domination shown by Team Canada (led by an unbelievably talented roster that included NHLers Sidney Crosby, Shea Weber, Corey Perry, Patrice Bergeron, Jeff Carter, Ryan Getzlaf and Dion Phaneuf), especially in the gold medal game against Alex Ovechkin and the Russians, gave the Canadians their first WJC gold in eight years. The delirious crowd looking on in Grand Forks, N.D., made it all the more fun.
This was the first Olympics in which NHLers got to play and the results were magical. The Wayne Gretzky-led Canadians were the favorites, but were upset in the semifinal by an upstart Czech Republic team (including Jaromir Jagr and Dominik Hasek) that went on to beat the Russians (who featured Pavel Bure and Sergei Fedorov) in the final to win gold.
With his playing career over, Gretzky became the architect of Team Canada’s victorious Olympic entry in Salt Lake City. He attempted to repeat the feat four years later in Italy. Once again, the Canadians looked as formidable as anybody on paper, but they fell short, losing to Russia 2-0 in their quarterfinal showdown and eventually finishing seventh behind Slovakia and Switzerland. Meanwhile, Nicklas Lidstrom, Mats Sundin and Peter Forsberg gave the Swedes a tournament for the ages, winning gold by beating their archrivals from Finland in the final.
After being upset by the U.S. at the 1980 Olympics, Soviet hockey needed a boost – and it got one the next year when it put an 8-1 whooping on the heavily-favored Canadians in the one-game final in Montreal. Russian goaltending legend Vladislav Tretiak was named tournament MVP, while youngsters Igor Larionov and Vladimir Krutov gave the team an indication of the talent coming through the system.
With Olympic participation by NHLers still two years away, this tournament represented the best players in the world battling it out for their homeland’s honor. It meant so much that guys who were NHL teammates – for instance, then-New Jersey Devils Bill Guerin and Scott Stevens – were getting into fistfights. Canada was up 1-0 in the best-of-three final against the United States, but a gutsy showing by American goalie Mike Richter and Brett Hull’s 11 points in seven games helped the U.S. make an amazing comeback and emerge as champions.
The second Canada Cup doesn’t get as much hype as its predecessor, but make no mistake – there was just as much, if not more talent involved in this tournament, as WHA players (including legend Bobby Hull and goalie Gerry Cheevers) who weren’t there in 1972 finally got to play. Bobby Orr, another superstar who was injured in ’72, was named MVP in ’76 as Canada beat Czechoslovakia two games to none in the best-of-three final.
The “Miracle On Ice” matchup (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qYscemhnf88) between the U.S. and Soviet Union is about as famous a hockey game you’ll find and still resonates across generations of hockey fans from America and beyond. That it took place in the sleepy New York city of Lake Placid added another memorable wrinkle, but this entire tournament will always be known for the achievement made by Jim Craig, Mike Eruzione and their American teammates.
The most recent Olympic Games featuring NHLers was also the most hotly-contested and highest-quality in memory. Sidney Crosby’s gold-medal-winning overtime goal (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F_koQujQ8Vg) over the U.S. will remain the key image, but credit should also go to the upstart American team for being such a worthy opponent.
This fall marks the 40th anniversary of the legendary clash between Canada and the USSR – a clash that became as much about communism vs. the free world as it was about hockey – and fans of all generations understand its importance to the game. While the quality of hockey wasn’t at an all-time high, the cultural ramifications, as well as the manner in which the tournament opened up international borders for different styles of play, give it a place in the sport’s lore that will never be surpassed.
For many people, the game was never played any better than it was 25 years ago this month when Team Canada (led by Gretzky, Mario Lemieux and numerous other eventual Hockey Hall of Famers) claimed supremacy by beating the Soviets two games to one in the best of three final. To give you an indication of just how stacked the Canadians were, their first power play unit was Gretzky, Lemieux, Mark Messier, Ray Bourque and Paul Coffey. Their uniforms should have included capes.
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