The Winning Goal
Alright. I was in the UK last week, and on the flight over I did something I really wouldn’t have expected I would be doing. I watched the final game of the 1987 Canada Cup between Canada and the USSR. First of all, it was an amazing game because of the excellent historical rivalry on the international stage between the two countries. Second of all, it was just awesome hockey.
I call it “old time hockey”, not like the Hanson Brothers keep telling Paul Newman about in Slapshot. I call it old time hockey as in the way the game was played in the 80s. I grew up watching this stuff, but still I was surprised at just how different it looked from the hockey I am so used to watching today.
The biggest difference to me was likely the goalies. The change that has happened at that position in the last 25 years or so is staggering. Goalies have always been good athletes, but today you really have to be athletic to be a goaltender. I watched Grant Fuhr (who admittedly didn’t have that great a game) in net for the Canadians, and his play was mostly positional. Sure, position is still important today, but athleticism has only added to good positioning. It was almost like Grant Fuhr was trying to be “in the way,” rather than “making the stop.” I look at yesterday’s playoff match between San Jose and Los Angeles, and I see the amazing athletic skill of Jonathan Quick, making 50 plus stops to stymie a frustrated San Jose side. His play generally revolves around “making the stop,” rather than “being in the way.” That’s the best I can describe how I see the difference 25 years worth of hockey goaltender evolution makes.
Then there are the players themselves. Watching Gretzky and Lemieux on the ice together again really brings back memories. Wayne Gretzky scored 3 goals and had 18 assists (the most in the tournament). Guess who benefited from a lot of those assists? Well, Mario Lemieux of course, who scored 11 goals (the most of the tournament) and had 7 assists. Keep in mind, they pulled off these totals in nine games. Watching them on the ice again was just magic. The finesse they show just doesn’t exist today. Someone like Sidney Crosby might get close, but he’s much more about not giving up on the puck than finesse. These guys could all pass, and it was amazing to watch what they were capable of. Just consider the names on the Canadian roster: Dale Hawerchuk, Mark Messier, Mike Gartner, Glenn Anderson, Kevin Dineen, Michel Goulet, Brent Sutter, Rick Tocchet, Brian Propp, Doug Gilmour, Claude Lemieux, Mario Lemieux, Wayne Gretzky, Doug Crossman, Craig Hartsburg, Normand Rochefort, James Patrick, Raymond Bourque, Larry Murphy, Paul Coffey, Ron Hextall, Kelly Hrudey, Grant Fuhr… a veritable who’s who of hockey celebrity of the day.
Watching the Soviet side was just as spectacular. At the time, those players were not allowed to play in the NHL, you’d have had to defect to do it. This made the tournament that much more exciting, because most of North America had never seen most of these players before. Imagine suddenly being dazzled by Sergei Makarov without knowing anything about him, or facing a shot from Vladimir Krutov, or facing off against Igor Larionov… they were every bit as powerful as Canada. Heck, they had 7 of 10 of the top points getters in the tournament! Of course, #1 and #2 on that list were Gretzky and Lemieux… they really were that good and were a big reason the Soviets didn’t win the tournament.
So yeah, not quite what I was expecting to see on a flight overseas to London. It’s made me want to look back at some other historical hockey. I’m thinking 2002 in Salt Lake, where US and Canada was the rivalry. I’d like to compare it to this 1987 game, just to see how another 15 years makes a difference in play style. Heck, the 2002 (men’s) game features several of the same cast members!
I did notice one thing glaringly absent from the game, and it was a good thing. I don’t think I saw one high and dirty hit for the whole game. Good checking, no head shots. The coaches that are coaching kids today into this kind of “hurt’em if you can’t beat’em” hockey should all be fired, if not put in jail for what they are getting the kids to think. There, that’s my Don Cherry moment for the post.