Top 10 Most Important Canadian International Ice Hockey Tournaments: Part 2
Source: Dave Sandford/Getty Images
5) 2005 WORLD JUNIORS
FOR MORE INFORMATION, FEEL FREE TO CHECK OUT EPISODE 12 OF THE CPR PODCAST FOR FURTHER ANALYSIS ON THE TOURNAMENT AND GOLD MEDAL GAME
It was a gift that emerged from despair. The 2004-05 NHL campaign suffered through its first full-season lockout amidst a dispute between the player’s association with team owners and league personnel. There was no top-level hockey to enjoy throughout the full year, so many players went to play overseas to keep in shape. As far as junior hockey, however, it became clear that the 2005 World Junior Championships in North Dakota and Minnesota would be free to equip each team with the absolute best players under the age of 20 that they could.
The tournament has always provided viewers with a glimpse of future hockey sensations, and boy, were we ever rewarded with some fine talent this particular year. It can easily be said (and very hard to argue against the fact) that this was the greatest World Junior team Canada ever sent to compete.
Many of the players on this squad most likely would have been somewhat handcuffed to their professional teams had the NHL not been on full lockout. In fact, Patrice Bergeron had played the entire 2003-04 season with the Boston Bruins, and even represented Canada in the 2004 World Championships, winning the gold medal. To ‘regress’ and spend the following year competing in the World Junior Championship is baffling.
Canada had lost the 2004 World Juniors in the final game to the United States (which was the latter’s first ever gold in this respective tournament). What’s more is that Canada had not won the gold medal since the 1997 edition. Coach Brent Sutter and the squad most definitely felt the pressure to redeem themselves and take back the title, and their astonishing lineup included the likes of; Brent Seabrook, Dion Phaneuf, Shea Weber, Jeff Carter, Ryan Getzlaf, Clarke MacArthur, captain Mike Richards, Andrew Ladd, Corey Perry, Nigel Dawes, Bergeron, and a 17-year-old kid who already had experience in the previous tournament, Sidney Crosby.
Not knowing what we know now, there was still a tremendous amount of hype surrounding this team as they were preparing for the much anticipated competition. They were drawn into Group B and faced Slovakia to open the tournament on Christmas Day. Bergeron and Crosby both netted a brace and Canada enjoyed a wholesome and plump Christmas by winning 7-3. Sweden, though now always solid contenders in recent tournaments, were absolutely humbled 8-1 in part to another Crosby double.
Germany, who often fluctuate up and down between the top flight and second tier Under-20 tournament, were unsurprisingly destroyed 9-0, with Crosby netting his 5th and 6th goals in only the third game. A New Years Eve-Eve thumping of Finland (8-1) featured a Jeff Carter hat trick and the most anticlimactic first place round-robin result, as Canada scored 32 goals and Jeff Glass conceded only 5 goals in his three appearances between the pipes (Rejean Beauchemin earned the shutout against the Germans).
Though Canada made easy work of their group stage opponents, things were looking interesting on the other side of the bracket. The defending champion United States, the Czech Republic and the dangerously loaded Russians were throwing haymakers at one another to see who would earn the easier path to the finals. The USA beat Russia in the opening game 5-4, Russia would beat the Czechs 4-1, and then the Czechs would complete the circle by earning a hard-fought victory over the USA 3-1. In addition, perceived cellar-dwellers Belarus shocked the USA with a 5-3 victory, thus putting Russia at #1 in the group, with the Czechs #2 and the USA #3.
Canada and Russia earned byes to the semi finals, and sat back to watch the quarterfinal bloodbath. When the dust settled, it was the Czechs who would face Canada, whereas the USA would have a rematch with the Russians to see if they could beat them once again and make a repeat trip to the finals. In what was Canada’s closest game in the tournament, they came away on top by a score of 3-1, though they comfortably led 3-0 throughout a sizable chunk of the game before Rostislav Olesz gave the Czechs a twinkle of hope. On the other side of the bracket, Alexander Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin strangled the Americans 7-2, and were not shy in showing their exuberance by celebrating directly in front of the American bench.
Russia were definitely formidable opponents….. on paper. But c’mon, this is the greatest Canadian World Junior team of all time! It was never even marginally close! 2020 Dallas Stars playoff hero Anton Khudobin was pulled after surrendering a questionable goal to Carter early in the 2nd period, and from then on, it was a straight up massacre. Getzlaf, Bergeron, Phaneuf, Danny Syvret, and Anthony Stewart would also see the score sheet as the much anticipated gold medal game turned into a 6-1 clinic. It seriously was like watching grown men play little boys. Ovechkin, seemingly a little banged up both physically and mentally, left the game and didn’t play the final 20-minute frame.
With this win, Canada set off on their second five-peat, the final title coming during the year of our #9 selection on this countdown. Phaneuf, Bergeron and Carter would make the tournament All-Star team, with Bergeron also being named MVP while leading the tournament with 13 points in just 6 games. Seabrook, Carter, Crosby, Colin Fraser, Getzlaf, Perry, Richards, Ladd, and Bergeron have all gone on to win Stanley Cups in their remarkable careers, with many of those aforementioned players winning individual trophies along the way. It was just simply a sublime fortnight of hockey; something to wet our appetites as we waited with baited breath for the NHL to return from its brief slumber.
Source: CP Photo/COC/Mike Ridewood
4) 2002 WOMEN’S OLYMPICS
The lucky loonie! A dozen years after the dawn of the Women’s World Championships, the rivalry between Canada and the United States’ women’s teams was at its peak. Canada had defeated the USA in all previous seven World Championships (in which three of the last four were decided by only one goal), but the Americans had won the only Olympic gold medal in Nagano. The 2nd women’s Olympic tournament was going to be the ultimate challenge. Salt Lake City played host to the games, though the two arenas were actually in Provo and West Valley City, Utah.
8 teams were featured in the tournament. Aside from the two North American countries, the other six nations were all poised contenders….. that was, until the tournament actually commenced. Canada was placed into Group A along with Kazakhstan, Russia and Sweden. They opened the tournament by easily dictating the pace and outshooting the Kazakhs 66-11 en route to a 7-0 shutout.
In their second game against Russia, Canada again kept the gas pedal pushed down the entire 60 minutes, this time only allowing 6 shots on goal while peppering goaltender Irina Gashennikova with 60 attempts. Another 7-0 win guaranteed that Canada would qualify for the semi finals. In the final group stage game, Canada ensured that their opponent’s score sheet would remain blank by whitewashing Sweden 11-0. That gave them a goals for/against ratio of 25:0. Simply the best!
This Canadian team was chock full of stars. Some of the finest to ever play the sport wore the red and white (yes, thankfully the pink jerseys took a backseat after the 1990 World Championship). Jennifer Botterill, Therese Brisson, Cassie Campbell, Becky Kellar, Caroline Ouellette, Cherie Piper, Cheryl Pounder, and Sami Jo Small wonderfully complimented the world-class future Hall of Famers that included Geraldine Heaney, Jayna Hefford, Danielle Goyette, Kim St-Pierre, and 23-year-old sensation Hayley Wickenheiser.
The USA and Finland joined Canada and Sweden in a cross-over semi final, with the USA shutting out Sweden 4-0, whereas Canada played spoils to Finland by a 7-3 result. The stage was set for the gold medal match on February 21st. Over 8600 were in attendance at the E Center in West Valley City to bear witness to the 1998 rematch (as well as yet another championship encounter that repeated itself time and time again in the 12 years of competitive women’s international hockey). The puck was set to drop at 5:10pm local time (7:10 Eastern time), and as the camera loomed over the centre circle, a small embedded token of Canadian fortune was ready to work its magic.
Sure, the games were held on American soil, but the crew in charge of maintaining the ice were Canadian citizens. The superior, Trent Evans, noticed immediately when tending to the surface well before the games commenced that there lacked a specific dot to represent centre ice. He first put down a Canadian dime (bluenose side up??) to just get a perspective, but both he and another crew member joked that since their country was going for gold, why shouldn’t they? A loonie was then placed over the dime, and final floodings were executed to keep the coin in place.
Evans’s bosses ordered him to take the loonie out, as it showed a clear sign of favouritism and could be seen as unsportsmanlike to all competing nations. Instead, Evans covered the loonie with a small layer of ice, and then painted a gold splotchy-dot to hide his token of good fortune.
Shortly before the women’s gold medal game against the USA, Evans let the team in on his secret. The oomph and elan kept the team poised to do their country proud, as the loonie represented all the work put forth thus far. There was also a sense of unity the entire nation felt to have a monetary symbol concealed right in the heart of the rink where the game begins.
There were reports that the American team were psyching themselves up for the match by trampling and desecrating a Canadian flag in their dressing room (a rumour that has been denied and lacking official evidence). This enormously motivated the Canadians as the puck dropped on that lucky loonie to start the gold medal game.
Despite having won three consecutive World Championships since their Nagano defeat, the Canadians were actually perceived to be the underdogs. The men’s team, who were to play Belarus in the semis the following day, were all in attendance, rooting themselves hoarse. The game was full of penalties, as the rivalry had been teetering on the precipice of true hatred. The two teams combined for 38 PIMS and Canada took a 1-0 lead into the dressing room after the first period. A Wickenheiser goal early in the 2nd, coupled with a Hefford tally with just one second remaining in the middle frame gave Canada a 3-1 lead with only 20-minutes to go.
As the clock slowly ticked up (remember how international games used to count up to 20-minutes, not down?) Canada killed off the SEVENTH consecutive successful power play against them. They kept their composure even after Karyn Bye snuck one past St-Pierre with three-and-a-half minutes remaining. The buzzer sounded, and Canada had won their first Olympic gold medal (men’s or women’s) in fifty years!
The emotions that come with winning an Olympic gold medal almost rendered Danielle Goyette to spoil everything and reveal the lucky loonie at centre ice. She, Therese Brisson and Heaney all got down on a knee and pointed to the covered coin mark, much to the chagrin of Wayne Gretzky, the men’s manager, who wanted it to be kept a secret until the men’s tournament was complete. Leave it to Goyette to almost ruin something else, as in 2017 she jeopardized the Hockey Hall of Fame’s inducted members book by signing out of place, forcing other signatures from the likes of Teemu Selanne, Paul Kariya, and Jeremy Jacobs into a cramped space. Oh well, nobody noteworthy who would raise a fuss took any action and the coin stayed put.
Wickenheiser and Goyette each registered 10 points, tying at the top of the leaderboard. Wickenheiser would also be named tournament MVP and earn a spot on the All-Star team, of which Kim St-Pierre was also selected. Warranting retribution from the Americans for their victory in 1998 was the sweetest feeling, especially having been deprived of Olympic gold for a half century.
3) 1987 CANADA CUP
In my humble opinion, the Canada Cup seems to have slipped out from the collective minds of hockey fanatics, and it’s a damn shame. IIHF World Championships are weakly promoted due in part to the peak of NHL playoff excitement that transpires during the beginning of the WC, and winning Olympic gold seems to be the pinnacle of international success in the minds of today’s stars. However, how could the Canada Cup be ignored when discussing the summit of displaying international excellence?
Held on five occasions between 1976 and 1991, the Canada Cup was a tournament that featured the six most superior hockey nations in a ‘best on best’ format. Every country would play against one another in a round-robin, and then there would be either a semi final, a best-of-three final, or both to determine a clear cut winner. It was the first true tournament to feature the best players of each respective country, as it would be held predominantly in early September before the NHL would get underway. Independent from the IIHF, the 1991 edition would be the final one to use the title of ‘Canada Cup’, and three subsequent editions in 1996, 2004 and 2016 have been held under the name ‘World Cup of Hockey’.
And that’s essentially exactly what it was. Much like the highly anticipated quadrennial FIFA World Cup, this international tournament truly was a determining factor in figuring out who the ultimate superior hockey nation was. Keep in mind that this is still prior to NHL players being allowed to compete in the Olympics, and the World Championships’ skewed regulations on what constitutes a professional player by the late 1970s rendered the Canada Cup to be the true competition for best-on-best hockey. The tournament was always held on Canadian soil, though various American cities could play host to certain matches along the way.
Canada won the first edition of the tournament in 1976, as their team featured a remarkable 18 future Hall of Famers, including tournament MVP and Donald Trump endorser, Bobby Orr. The 1981 edition looked promising for the Canadians, though they were absolutely humbled by the Soviet Union 8-1 in the final. Canada was able to redeem themselves by reclaiming the title in 1984 over Sweden, but for me, the greatest edition of the tournament was its fourth competition in 1987.
Canada, the United States, Czechoslovakia, Sweden, Finland and the Soviet Union were the combatants. This is still a half-decade before the collapse of the Iron Curtain, thus many of the great Soviet stars were still confined to their borders, unable to compete in the NHL. Some Czechoslovakian stars such as Peter Stastny had defected from the bloc, but he would not feature in the tournament.
Scandinavian players such as Jari Kurri, Christian Ruuttu, Raimo Summanen, Esa Tikkanen, Tomas Jonsson, Mats Naslund, and Kent Nilsson were already enshrined NHL players and filled up the roster for Finland and Sweden. Great American players also made up the Canada Cup ’87 roster, with the likes of Joe Mullen, Pat LaFontaine, Rod Langway, Phil Housley, Chris Chelios, and Tom Barrasso.
However, what makes this edition of the tournament so exquisite is the fact that two of the greatest players to ever live played on the same line together; Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux. Canada would boast a roster of 12 future Hall of Famers, with the blue-line covered by Paul Coffey, Ray Bourque, and Larry Murphy, with great depth in the forwards that included the late Dale Hawerchuk, Mark Messier, Mike Gartner, Glenn Anderson, Doug Gilmour, and Michel Goulet.
Despite their imminent prowess on paper, Canada didn’t clap anybody as badly as the 1939 Trail Smoke Eaters did. They never lost a round-robin game, but they tied both Czechoslovakia in their first game, and the much feared Soviets in their final group stage battle. None of their three wins over Finland, the USA, or Sweden were shellackings, and their goals for/against in the five round-robin matches was only 19-13. Classic Grant Fuhr goaltending.
Nonetheless, their record of 3-0-2 was enough to give them the #1 seed heading into the knockout phase. They would play the Czechs once again, who had finished the group stage with a record of 2-2-1. Solid team play from the entire roster ensured a 5-3 victory, and Canada would play in the best-of-three final against the Soviets, who had disposed of Sweden in the other semi.
It had been 15 years since the infamous Summit Series, and every battle between Canada and the Soviet Union had been a classic. The Iron Curtain may have been tearing at the seams, but the Soviet brand of hockey was still indisputably the most beautiful to watch. Their crisp passing in all three zones and their dreaded counterattack allowed them to win 18 of the last 23 World Championships, as well as 5 of the last 6 Olympic gold medals. They were fucking good. Many of their 1987 team would go on to play in the NHL once the Soviet Union collapsed, including Fetisov, Gusarov, Kasatonov, Larionov, Semak, Makarov, and Semenov.
The best of three finals is perceived by some to be the greatest hockey matches ever played. Game 1 was held at the Montreal Forum, the apex of legendary establishments. Canada erased a 4-1 deficit in the 2nd period and would take the lead with a Ray Bourque goal with only three minutes to play. Andrei Khomutov answered just thirty seconds later to tie the match and force it into overtime. Semak beat Grant Fuhr glove-side to take the first game of the series, much to the dismay of the raucous Canadian crowd.
Game 2 (and 3, if need be) took place at Copps Coliseum in Hamilton. Over 17000 turned up to gutturally squeal at the wondrous hockey they were witnessing. Once again, the game would go into overtime tied at 5 goals apiece. Canada led 3-1 after the first period, but the Soviets would tie it with plenty of time to spare. Canada went up 5-3, and once again, the Soviets erased a two goal deficit. Valeri Kamensky began a rush from behind the red line with only a minute to go to force the extra period in an absolutely sensational effort.
The first overtime yielded no results, and a second additional frame was mandatory. Nearing the halfway point of the fifth period, Larry Murphy centred the puck to Gretzky, who hit the post before the puck came loose to Lemieux at the side of the net, and he made no mistake in slotting it past Evgeny Belosheiken (who was given the nod over usual starting goaltender Sergei Mylnikov). The series needed a third contest to determine the champion. Pandemonium broke loose at Copps, and Lemieux earned a hat-trick, while Gretzky collected five assists in the game.
The third game cemented this tournament as one of the best ever, as once again, it was tied at 5 with only a few minutes to go in regulation. The USSR beat Fuhr with three goals in the first 8 minutes, but he was undeterred, and Canada would tie it thanks to a tremendous effort from Dale Hawerchuk, Murphy, and Brian Propp. Canada would outshoot the USSR by a 2:1 ratio, but Mylnikov stood firm, thwarting the pressing Hall of Fame attack. Then came the famous goal….
Gretzky, Lemieux and Hawerchuk broke out 3 on 1 with just a minute-and-a-half remaining, with Soviet defenceman Igor Stelnov the lone man back. Stelnov slid to try and break up Gretzky’s back pass to Lemieux who was streaking just outside the slot. Murphy was to Mylnikov’s weak side, and Lemieux had all the time in the world to rifle a wrist-shot high over the glove to take a 6-5 lead with only 1:26 to play. Much like his goal the other night to tie the series, absolute bedlam ensued in the stands. Canada was able to defend well during the final 90 seconds, and they won the 1987 Canada Cup.
In the 9 games that Canada played, Gretzky had 18 assists, and 21 points. Lemieux led all tournament participants with 11 goals, and Ray Bourque also appeared on the score sheet quite a bit, with 6 assists and 8 points. Fuhr was named the goaltender of the All-Star team, along with Bourque on defence, and Gretzky and Lemieux up front. Canada would also win the 1991 edition before the Canada Cup tournament went into hibernation and would be renamed the World Cup of Hockey, with its first edition being held in 1996.
The beautiful exhibition of ice hockey in its highest pedigree was cherished by those who witnessed it, and it stirs fond memories and feelings of wonder for those like me who could only dream of how special games such as these would have been to experience live. Ya gotta love best-on-best tournaments.
Source: THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson
2) 2010 MEN’S OLYMPICS
FOR MORE INFORMATION, FEEL FREE TO CHECK OUT EPISODE 3 OF THE CPR PODCAST FOR FURTHER ANALYSIS ON THE TOURNAMENT AND GOLD MEDAL GAME
The Golden Goal! It was a tough choice, but this narrowly missed taking the #1 spot. It has a lot going for it: It’s the zenith of the world’s stage, it was a best-on-best competition, it was chock full of all-stars and future Hall of Famers, but most importantly, it was won by Canada on home soil.
Held from February 16th to the 28th, the 2010 Vancouver Olympics was a delightful success, even beyond the ice rink. Canada would win the most total gold medals with 14, and finish third in accumulative medals with 26 total. However, it would be all for naught if they failed to come away with the gold in ice hockey. The women’s team pulverized all their opponents and shut out the Americans 2-0 in the final. Three days later, the men’s tournament would culminate in the same battle; Canada vs. the USA.
Calgary hosted the 1988 Winter Games, though this was still a decade before full-fledged NHL players were privy to play for their country. This was the fourth edition of the Olympics to allow this privilege, and Canada had finished a horrendous 7th place out of 12 in the 2006 Torino games. They had redemption on their minds, and the pressure of defending home ice was enormous.
On paper, the team looked outstanding. The goaltending threesome of Martin Brodeur, Marc-Andre Fleury and Roberto Luongo appeared overwhelmingly daunting to opposition, and the defensive corps that included captain Scott Niedermayer, Drew Doughty, Duncan Keith, Chris Pronger, Brent Seabrook and Shea Weber were prepared to do whatever it took to keep the opposition off the score sheet. Up front, the likes of Jarome Iginla, Jonathan Toews, Eric Staal, Dany Heatley, Rick Nash, Joe Thornton, Patrice Bergeron, Ryan Getzlaf, and Sidney Crosby (among others) were destined to fill the net with rubber and delight the home spectators with glee.
Really, it was much easier said than done. 12 teams took part in the tournament, separated into three groups of four. Canada was drawn into Group A with their continental rivals, along with the Swiss and the Norwegians. They handily defeated Norway 8-0 in the opening game, but their second contest against Switzerland showed that they were not invincible. Jonas Hiller thwarted the Canadian snipers by turning aside 45 shots, and a 2-0 lead for the home team was equalized.
A shootout was needed, thus rendering the winning team to only take away 2 points, rather than the 3 points for a regulation win. After Crosby, Toews and Getzlaf all echoed the first three Swiss shooters by being unsuccessful, you could pick any shooter to carry out any subsequent attempt. Crosby scored, and Brodeur shut the door, giving Canada the narrowest of wins.
The final game of the group stage pitted Canada against the USA, and boy, the small fissures that were evident in the Swiss game blossomed into legitimate cracks. The States cruised to a 5-3 win, thus leaving Canada with only 5 points out of a possible 9 (which the USA were able to achieve). That put Canada in a bit of a predicament, needing to play in the ‘qualifying knockout’ round to determine if they could even advance to the quarterfinal.
The excuses needed to be checked at the door, and it was time to buckle down. The team turned from Brodeur to Luongo, and were able to put together a solid 8-2 win over the Germans. Iginla scored twice, Eric Staal assisted on three of the goals, and Luongo looked comfortable in his home arena (where the Canucks play).
With this win, Canada qualified for the quarterfinals, where they were to play against Russia. It historically has been Russia/the Soviet Union as our main international foe, so to face them in the quarterfinals seemed way too premature. They had finished top of the table in Group B, but Pavel Datsyuk, Ilya Kovalchuk, and Alex Ovechkin all went cold and the 17740 rowdy onlookers (as well as the millions who tuned in at home) watched Canada dominate the game 7-3. Canada took a 6-1 lead just four minutes into the 2nd period, and Evgeni Nabokov was pulled in favour of Ilya Bryzgalov.
Slovakia had upset Sweden in the quarters, and were Canada’s opponents in the semi finals. The USA walloped Finland 6-1 in the other semi and eagerly awaited their eventual adversaries. Luongo came up with a few big saves, and Canada took a 3-0 lead into the 2nd intermission thanks to goals from Patrick Marleau, Brenden Morrow, and Getzlaf. The Slovakians dug deep and scored two goals just four minutes apart from one another. Jaroslav Halak was pulled for an extra attacker, but Canada held on to face the United States in a rematch from their group stage defeat.
The tension was extraordinary; the stress was palpable. Approximately 26.5 million Canadians turned into a portion of the game on television, which makes it the most watched television broadcast in Canadian history. The ‘where were you?’ the question is always amusing for me to hear friends and family recollect. The final is a massive part of our country’s legacy; especially being a gargantuan victory in the sport that connects so heavily to our heritage.
You know how it goes: Canada took a 2-0 lead midway through the 2nd period thanks to goals from Toews and Corey Perry. Ryan Kesler got one back for the Americans to make it 2-1 heading into the third period. Ryan Miller was sensational in the American goal, preventing many further Canadian tallies. With only twenty-five seconds remaining, Zach Parise (son of Canadian international player J.P.) broke Canadian hearts by netting an equalizer past a sprawling Luongo to force overtime. Just devastating. Twenty-five seconds!
All the momentum had shifted to the Americans’ corner, but the crowd urged Canada on, and the belief that they could win gold carried forth as overtime began. Seven-and-a-half minutes into the extra frame, Sidney Crosby was fishing for the puck in the corner with his line-mate, Jarome Iginla. Luongo had just made a massive save after Niedermayer nearly gave the puck away, and the crowd still seemed to be buzzing as Crosby gave his famous cry: “Iggy!” Crosby had a half-stride over Brian Rafalski, and Iginla hit him with a perfect pass from the corner as Crosby loomed towards the net on Miller’s right side. A low, firm shot beat the American goalie, and alas, the Golden Goal was scored.
Forgive me as I continue to shake with goose pimples every time I see that goal. Still a boy of 15, I can’t recall a time where I’ve shrieked that loudly with triumph when a team I’ve been cheering for won a match. Canada had done it: they had won gold after a shaky group stage round, and they had done it on home ice, in overtime no less. The entire team should forever be regarded as heroes.
Canada is always expected to give a performance that will earn them a title, and here, they had delivered. 66% of the country supposedly witnessed Crosby’s goal live when it transpired, a statistic that will forever give me feelings of boundless national pride. The shame of finishing 7th place in 2006 were forgiven (maybe still not for some, but oh well) and here they were, on top of the world once again. In fact, it remains their last international loss when it comes to best-on-best competition (in which each country is legitimately able to form a team with it’s greatest available stars).
Shea Weber and Jonathan Toews were named to the tournament All-Star team, and Toews led Canada in scoring with 8 points in their 7 games. Eric Staal joined the fabled ‘Triple Gold’ club, having already won a Stanley Cup and World Championship, as did coach Mike Babcock. Toews would go on to join the club later that year as the Chicago Blackhawks were victorious in the Stanley Cup final (of which Seabrook and Keith were also on the roster). It was a tournament that I’ll never forget, and the ‘where were you’ moments will continue to spark great discussion as I grow old and grey.
1924 WINTER OLYMPICS
The first ever Winter Olympics in Chamonix saw the Canadian representatives from the Toronto Granites club outscore their opponents 110-3 over the course of their 5 games, including 30-0 and 33-0 wins over Czechoslovakia and Switzerland. Harry Watson scored a record 37 goals throughout the tournament.
The first Olympic games after WWII. The Ottawa RCAF Flyers proudly represented the nation during a period of scrutiny for the LIHG. Outscored opponents 69-5 in 8 games and were awarded the gold.
1976 CANADA CUP
First edition of the tournament featured a Canadian lineup of 18 future Hall of Famers. Canada defeats Czechoslovakia two games to none in the final.
1999 WOMEN’S WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP
After losing the gold medal to the USA in the Nagano Olympics, Team Canada were able to redeem themselves by defeating the Americans 3-1 in the final, only conceding 2 goals throughout the whole competition.
2008 SLEDGE HOCKEY WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS
Billy Bridges dominated the tournament, collecting 15 points as Canada went 6-0 in the games, including back-to-back victories over Norway to confirm that they were still the best team in the world after their 2006 Olympic gold.
2010 WOMEN’S OLYMPICS
Another triumphant title on home ice over their arch rival, the Americans. A 2-0 shutout in the gold medal game gave the Canadian women’s team their third consecutive Olympic gold in front of their nation’s supporters.
2015 MEN’S WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP
A team chock full of supreme talent won their first World Championship in eight years. Captained by Sidney Crosby, the team went 10-0 throughout the tournament, and only surrendered 1 goal during the knockout phase (a 6-1 whitewash of Russia in the final).
Source: Denis Brodeur
1. 1972 SUMMIT SERIES
If the 2010 Olympics was like riding a bike with no training wheels, the Summit Series was like riding ‘The Behemoth’ without a safety bar. The anodyne bias of having been alive for the 2010 triumphs could easily tip the scales and give it the #1 spot on the countdown, but the fact that I wouldn’t be born for over two decades is what makes me so badly wish that I could personally contribute to the ‘where were you for Henderson’s goal?’ tête-à-tête. 2010 assured us that we could still be on top of the game we spread to the world, but 1972 was critical to us even being able to continue to make the claim that hockey was ‘ours’. No 1972, no life in the game today.
We were close to being seen as inferiors; a mockery of who we used to be and what we used to represent to unwilling competitors. The efforts to make it happen, and its results, make it arguably the most important nationalistic victory aside from efforts on the battlefront.
A huge difference that set 1972 apart from 2010 was that it went beyond hockey. Sure, we had to prove a point to the Americans who were yammering on about how they were coming to avenge the 2002 gold we won from them on their home ice, but the Summit Series against the Soviet Union was inherently political. It was during the peak of the Cold War, and it very much was our way of life against theirs. It was the first time that it was officially our ‘best’ against their ‘best’. No more excuses, no more bullshit, no more contentions. Just let the series speak for itself.
Nearly a decade after the Second World War, the Soviet Union emerged on the international scene with a new brand of hockey, amalgamated from the finesse style of Canadian play (just like those good ol’ boys from the Trail Smoke Eaters in 1939) with tactics they’d use in the game bandy. The communist regime under Khrushchev mandated that many men were to enlist for the army, though they would continue to hone their professions outside the military.
Thus, the Soviet national team were all full-time hockey players, cloaked as military men to maintain their eligibility to compete in IIHF sanctioned events. They muddled that line of what constitutes a professional from an amateur, and they would dominate the international ice hockey scene effortlessly from 1955 through the start of the 1970s.
Of course, Canadian pros were unable to compete in the Olympics or World Championships, so the futile attempts to win back the gold from the miraculous play of the Soviets rendered them obviously frustrated at the loophole their counterparts found.
In 1969, the government of Canada had formed Hockey Canada, which was an organization to better coordinate international play with both the NHL and amateur leagues to find that acceptable balance. The IIHF was open to the idea of maybe allowing some contracted players to compete in the WC, but in 1970, their interest waned, and professionals were still outlawed from competing.
In frustration, Canada boycotted the World Championship that year, which was actually supposed to be held in Montreal and Winnipeg, an event that they refused to attend until later on in the decade. Hence, a separate competition had to develop in which the now bored Soviets (who were absolutely decimating opponents year in and year out) could compete against Canada’s best to actually see who the superior hockey nation was.
And so, talks were formed, and plans were made. Canadian ambassador in the Soviet Union, Robert Ford (not Rob Ford, the former crack-smoking mayor of Toronto) passed the rapidly developing ideas on to Ottawa to try and negotiate an exhibition series. By April of 1972 at the World Championships in Prague, a deal was finalized. The ‘Friendship Series’ was to take place under international rules in September, with four games being held in Canada, and four games held in the USSR (which all ended up taking place in the same Moscow arena, the Luzhniki Ice Palace).
Canada was brimming with confidence as the team was announced in July. The Esposito brothers, the Mahovlich brothers, Brad Park, Rod Gilbert, Yvan Cournoyer, Ron Ellis, a young Bobby Clarke, Ken Dryden, and upstart Gilbert Perreault were amongst the 35 players chosen by coach Harry Sinden and his associate John Ferguson to represent Canada in the first ever professional international ice hockey extravaganza. Keep in mind that training camp and the respective series cut into the normal offseason calendar that these NHL’ers were used to, but hey, the sacrifices you make for your country, right?
Two notable names were absent from the team sheet as Game 1 in Montreal loomed: Bobby Orr was among the 35 players chosen to be a part of the team coming off his 2nd Stanley Cup title with the Boston Bruins, as well as being the recipient of the Conn Smythe trophy, but he was injured. Bobby Hull was banished from competing for Canada, as he signed a lucrative deal with the Winnipeg Jets in the rival World Hockey Association, much to the chagrin of many supporters who wanted to see the Golden Jet wear the red and white sweater.
Game 1 at the Forum brought forth many predictions, including one by sports columnist Dick Beddoes that said he would do something along the lines of eat his shredded column in a bowl of borscht at high noon outside the Soviet embassy should Canada lose a game in the series. Many former players and coaches were certain that Canada would easily cruise to a decisive series victory, maybe losing one of the eight games at the most.
Boom, a 7-3 Soviet slaughter at the Montreal Forum. AT THE MONTREAL FORUM! Phil Esposito scored nearly the instant the puck dropped to start the series, but the patient possessive game the Soviets were famous for soon got its legs warm, and they put a beating down on the Canadians who were still very much out of shape in their offseason. What a horrible sight! 7-3 to this team of foreigners who were rightfully going to claim hockey supremacy if we didn’t smarten up!
Game 2 at Maple Leaf Gardens was much better, as Team Canada (the first time any Canadian ice hockey ensemble had inherited this moniker) enjoyed a 4-1 triumph. Pete Mahovlich scored one of the greatest Canadian international goals as his shorthanded rush from the blue-line to put Canada up 3-1 brought the crowd to their feet. He faked a slap shot just inside the line, then toe-dragged the puck around a defender, went forehand to backhand, and undressed 20-year-old goaltending sensation Vladislav Tretiak.
After a tie in Winnipeg, Vancouver was the last home game for Canada before they went overseas and behind the Iron Curtain. With the series at one game apiece along with the Game 3 tie, Team Canada was flabbergasted to be treated to a chorus of boos during their warm up. They pissed the game away and lost an ugly one, 5-3. The boo’s continued as the players left the ice, and Phil Esposito took the time to patiently chastise those who were booing, saying that the team was doing their best and that despite the obvious surprise results, they loved their country and have been giving it their all to see this series through.
3000 Canadian fans travelled across the Atlantic to support the team during their final four games in Moscow. After playing a couple exhibition games against the Swedish national team to stay sharp, the chemistry between line mates and conditioning they desperately needed started to kick in, and they were ready to carry on and right the ship. Game 5 started off quite well as Paul Henderson struck twice to give Canada a 4-1 lead midway through the 3rd period.
Uh-oh, the Soviets awoke from their slumber. Vyacheslav Anisin, Vladimir Shadrin, Alexander Gusev, and Vladimir Vikulov all scored goals 5 minutes apart from one another to shock the Canadians and win the game 5-4. This put the series at 3 games to 1 (plus the tie), meaning Canada would have to win the final three games to conquer the series.
Bobby Clarke’s infamously vicious slash on Valeri Kharlamov’s ankle in Game 6 may have mired the heart and hustle that Canada was desperately attempting to put forth, but with Kharlamov (obviously the best Soviet forward) out of the game and ineffective for the rest of the series, Canada was able to escape with a 3-2 win. Game 7 also saw Canada come away with a one-goal victory, this time by a score of 4-3, tying the series and forcing it to come down to the eighth and final match.
Gary Bergman and Boris Mikhailov got into an altercation that saw Mikhailov kick out at Bergman twice, lacerating Bergman’s shin. Things were turning into all-out war, as the philosophies on governance and ways of life tainted the beauty of contrasting hockey styles that were exemplified on the ice.
Game 8, the Luzhniki Ice Palace. Canada had endured some tough times in the Soviet Union, be it the theft of their team’s food and beers, the assumption that their rooms were bugged with devices planted by the KGB, Phil Esposito being food-poisoned, Frank Mahovlich’s mental breakdown, and the fear of being banished by their own country should they lose the series.
Everything was on the line here. The future of the game hung in the balance, and the Soviets who were deemed massive underdogs prior to the commencement of the series now had the chance to claim the title as the superior ice hockey nation. War, I tell ya.
Family friends and colleagues of mine still beam with fondness as they recount where they were on September 28th, 1972. The game took place at 1pm Eastern time, thus, school was in session. With the exception of my good friend John Ferrari’s seventh grade class at R. Ross Beattie Senior Public School, it seems like the rest of the country had nice teachers that somehow found a way to tune into the game.
Remember those old box televisions that the teacher might wheel into the classroom that would emit a massive cheer from the student body? I don’t even know what kind of contraptions would transmit the broadcast halfway across the world, but good golly, up until the Golden Goal game in 2010, this was the most-watched sporting event in Canadian history (though of course, our population was far smaller forty years prior. However, the ratio of those who caught the end of Game 8 compared to those who missed it was higher than 2010 by comparison).
Fans across Canada packed into those classrooms, bars, taverns, barbershops, malls, television stores, old folks homes, and confectionaries. The sky was the limit. It was the single most important ice hockey game in the world, and I’ll be damned if something more important comes along throughout my lifetime.
It started in controversy. The officiating crew had been shoddy all series long, especially in Moscow. The German ref crew of Josef Kompalla and Franz Baader were absolute dog shit, and after their officiating nearly caused a riot in Game 6, they weren’t to be used again. However, the Soviets pulled a fast one and requested Kompalla officiate Game 8, and lo and behold, he was calling asinine penalties on Canada instantaneously.
I’m not usually one for complaining about the officiating or making excuses on the matter, but good golly, watching the footage of Game 8 makes me seethe with anger. In fact, a pitiful call for interference on J.P. Parise (father of Zach) nearly caused the former to strike the referee with his stick as he was incredulous to the decision. Rightfully so, he was given a match penalty for nearly decapitating the official.
With extra Soviet soldiers dispatched for security, the teams were tied 2-2 after the 1st period. Vladimir Shadrin used the chicken wire mesh (rather than normal Plexiglas) behind Ken Dryden’s net to his advantage, as he was perfectly placed after an odd bounce to bury a goal and give the Soviets the lead. Alexander Yakushev would score his team-leading 7th goal of the series to keep the USSR ahead, and Valeri Vasiliev gave them some assurance as the Soviets led 5-3 with only one period to go.
Phil Esposito was by far the best player for Team Canada all throughout the series, and it appeared as though he never left the ice during the 3rd stanza. His 7th goal of the series was followed by a controversial Cournoyer equalizer with seven minutes remaining that didn’t trigger the goal light from the judge. Team Canada director Alan Eagleson was outraged and bolted to the score table, demanding the goal count. KGB officers got involved, and Pete Mahovlich led a gang of Canadian players across the ice with their sticks raised, demanding Eagleson not be arrested or harmed. The goal counted, and the game was tied at 5.
Should the game end in a tie, the Soviets would claim the series on total goals scored, as they had accumulated two more tallies than Canada. Therefore, the only way Canada could win the series, was to simply WIN the game. With Esposito gassed, Paul Henderson made his move and beckoned Pete Mahovlich to come to the bench. Mahovlich was livid once he realized it wasn’t Sinden who demanded he be replaced, but soon, it didn't matter.
Henderson bolted for the net, mistimed an errant centering pass from Cournoyer and crashed into the boards behind the cage. The Soviet defencemen seemed to just forget about him, and Esposito’s desperate whack towards the net left Henderson all alone with goaltender Tretiak. After he was thwarted on the first attempt, Henderson still had enough time to compose himself and slot home the rebound to put Canada ahead with only thirty-four seconds remaining!
Legendary play-by-play broadcaster, Foster Hewitt, came out of retirement to gift his voice to the world for the series. His exuberant exclamations ring in my ear: “HERE’S ANOTHER SHOT…. RIGHT IN FRONT, THEY SCORE! HENDERSON HAS SCORED FOR CANADA!” The entire Team Canada bench emptied to corral the hero, and the entire country must have collectively breathed a massive sigh of relief. The series had been won! Our brand of hockey was ultimately able to prevail over the Soviet style of play….. at least this time around.
Of course the country’s mentality shifted from blame and excuses to delight and elation. Sure, the series had been wayyyyy too close for comfort, but it was as thrilling as could be, and in the end, it went our way. 10000 screaming fans awaited the team as they returned to Montreal’s Dorval Airport, and over 80000 attended a parade/ceremony at Nathan Phillips Square in Toronto. The Soviet team earned all of Team Canada’s respect, and rightfully so. For them to push Canada as they did and hold on to the lead until the bitter end signified that their style of play was indeed worth looking up towards.
The Summit Series ultimately proved to the world that the gap between the best Canadian players in the NHL and the rest of the world was much more narrow than we expected. This triggered the notion that yes, best-on-best hockey could very well work out just fine when it comes to the World Championship, or better yet the Olympics. A 1974 edition of the Summit Series between the USSR and the best of the WHA transpired (in which Bobby Hull was able to grace us with his presence), but Canada got slapped around and we don’t like to talk about it much.
Nonetheless, what the 1972 Summit Series gave to the world was a beautiful thing. Its effects will forever be tied to any subsequent international tournament, and whether current day players realize it or not, it has both directly and indirectly led to the game that we witness today. The more finesse style, coupled with the hard-nose dump and chase. Crisper passing, more tactical strategy, and best of all, a more diverse representation of nationalities in the highest league in the world. Even though Canada emerged victorious, the game of hockey was the true beneficiary. But still, we won on paper hehe.