As the Canada-Russia World Junior Gold Medal game is about to get underway, I am reminded of some great battles between these two hockey rich countries. There have been so many memorable games between these two teams since the Canadian pros first played the USSR in the storied 1972 Summit Series. Here are a few of my favourite moments.
1972 Summit Series Game 8 and Paul Henderson’s heroics.
I was only 4 years and 9 months old when this series started but I do have some very clear memories of it, including Paul Henderson’s game and series winning goal in game 8. I also remember prior to game one, my father holding on to a desperate hope that his favourite player, Bobby Hull, would play (He didn’t. He was ineligible because he had moved to the rival WHA prior to the 1972 season and only NHL players could play). I remember the change in the air as the USSR dominated an unsuspecting Canada in game one. But mostly I remember racing around with my hockey stick and ball on the still dirt road in front of our house pretending to be Paul Henderson and scoring game winning goals and redeeming Canadian hockey just as Henderson himself had done on so many occasions in that breathless September so many years ago.
1987 Canada Cup. “Mario Lemieux with 1:26 remaining!”
These were the famous words of play-by-play man Dan Kelly when Lemieux, on a feed from Wayne Gretzky on a 2-on-1 rush, buried what became the eventual game winning goal behind the Soviet goaltender to put Canada ahead 6-5 in game 3 of the best of three final. In what is arguably the best three game series of hockey ever played, fans at Hamilton’s Copps Coliseum were treated to 3 consecutive 6-5 games with the USSR winning game 1 and Canada winning the next 2 to win the series. The series is easily my all-time favourite of all the meetings between Canada and Russia. In addition to the great hockey there is one other thing that makes this tournament special. With the dissolution of the Soviet Union just a few short years later, this marks the final time that Canada’s best pros played the best of “The Evil Empire.” The next time that our NHL guys would play the Soviets, they were Russians, and many of them played for our favourite NHL teams. International hockey has never been quite the same since.
2005 World Junior Tournament gold medal game.
With the NHL in lockout mode all countries had their best junior aged players available to them. This enabled Canada to put together what many believe is the greatest junior team ever assembled. The Canadian lineup consisted of many players, such as Sidney Crosby, Corey Perry, Ryan Getzlaf, Patrice Bergeron that have gone on to be superstars in the NHL and have featured prominently on Canada’s men’s Olympic teams in the past two games. The Russians had some pretty good players in 2005, too. The team was lead by Alex Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin, so while there was every reason to be confident, victory was by no means assured. But it soon became evident just how good this team really was. They dominated the Russians from the outset, hounded there best players into submission, including a Dion Phaneuf hit that knocked Ovechkin from the game, and coming in wave after wave at the overwhelmed Russian goaltender. The final was 5-1. Hardly a classic game but the opportunity to see the Russians crushed and the much ballyhooed Ovechkin driven from the game makes it one of my favourites.
1984 Canada Cup Semi Final. Mike Bossy scores in overtime.
Team Canada struggled to a fourth place finish in the round robin and had to play the USSR who finished atop the round robin standings with an unblemished 5-0 record, which included a 6-3 drubbing of Canada. The Canadian team struggled despite having an incredibly talented roster due to some intense internal conflict. The roster was dominated by players from the New York Islanders and Edmonton Oilers who had competed in the previous two Stanley Cup finals against each other and had developed some intense hatreds. They managed to put those differences aside in time to play a great game against the Soviets in the semi-final. Despite playing so well, they needed a late goal from Doug Wilson to tie the game and send it to overtime. In the overtime the USSR developed a 2-on-1 with Paul Coffey defending. Coffey broke up the 2-on-1 and headed up ice where he took a shot at goal that was deflected in for the winner by the sure stick of Mike Bossy. Canada would then beat Sweden who had defeated the favoured team USA in the other semi-final 2 games to none in the best of three final.
1987 World Junior Tournament. The Punch Up in Piestany
It was the final game of the tournament. The tournament was still a round robin tournament where you played each team once and the best record won the gold. The playoff system wasn’t introduced until a few years later. The Soviets were already eliminated from medal contention and Canada needed to win by 5 goals to win the gold medal. Many said that the USSR team of 1987 was one of the most poorly coached teams they had ever seen the Soviets produce. With 6 minutes left in the second period Canada was leading the game by two goals and were starting to dominate making very real the possibility that they could actually get the 5 goal victory they needed to win the gold. The game was a very chippy affair and tempers boiled over when Pavel Kostichkin gave a two handed slash to Canada’s Theoren Fleury. Mike Keane responded and started beating on Kostichkin. That is when Evgeny Davidov famously left the bench to aid his team mate in the fight which resulted in both benches clearing and the brawl was on which resulted in both teams being disqualified.
So these are a few of my favourite Canada vs Russia hockey memories. I am sure lots of people could easily come up with some great games that have been omitted from my brief list and fair enough. Games such as the 2009 World Junior semi-final game where Jordan Eberle scored in the dying seconds to tie and Canada then won in overtime and then defeated Sweden for the gold. Or how about the greatly anticipated quarter-final match-up in Vancouver in which Canada blitzed the Russians early and often on their way to an easy victory and eventual gold, or the great performances by Jimmy Waite and Theo Fleury as the team defeated the USSR and found golden redemption in 1988, a year after the Punch-up in Piestany. Alas, there are so many great games and so little time and space. Hopefully tonight’s game will find it’s way on to a future favourite moment list. Go Canada!