Tuesday, September 11, 2012
In many ways it was more than a simple hockey series, it was a battle between communism and capitalism. It was a battle between two very different ways of life.
The Iron Curtain shrouded the USSR in mystery, which led many in Canada to severely underestimate the Soviets' ability, which was evident by the total shock the reverberated from coast to coast after the 7-3 drubbing Canada received in the opening game.
Eventually, thanks largely to Paul Henderson, Phil Esposito, and a tomahawk chop from Bobby Clarke, Canada prevailed, although the myth of Canadian superiority was shattered. In addition to showing the talent gap between East and West was miniscule, the series made it apparent that not all of the best players in the world were in the NHL.
The success of the Summit Series led to demand for a true world championship of hockey, which eventually led to the creation of the Canada Cup in 1976. That year both Bobby Orr and Bobby Hull, two players who were forced to miss the Summit Series for various reasons, helped Canada capture the tournament's inaugural championship.
The Soviet Union won the next edition in 1981, with a 8-1 drubbing of Canada in the final. It was a national embarrassment, and one that was only slightly avenged in 1984 as Canada eliminated the Soviet Union in the semifinal, before defeating Sweden for the gold.
Nothing could compete with the tournament in 1987, however. Canada met the Soviet Union in the final, which Wayne Gretzky described as "the biggest thing since '72." The two hockey super-powers had another chance to determine who was the greatest hockey playing nation on Earth. More importantly, the tournament marked the first and only time that Mario Lemieux and Wayne Gretzky, the two greatest hockey players ever, donned the same uniform. The pair didn't disappoint.
Besides Gretzky and Lemiuex, Team Canada boasted nine other Hall of Famers, including Mark Messier, Paul Coffey, and Ray Bourque. The team was so stacked that players like Al MacInnis, Patrick Roy, and Steve Yzerman didn't make the team. It might just be the greatest collection of hockey players ever assembled.
TSN is replaying the classic final (Sept. 11, 12, and 13 at 7:30 PM ET) and it is definitely worth the watch. It might just be the best series in the history of hockey. It's also pretty easy to find on YouTube if you don't want to wait. And if you want to own a piece of hockey history yourself, it is also available on DVD.
Over the next three days I will have a three-part series recapping each game in detail. Here is a running diary of the classic first game, in which the Soviets stunned Canada and put them on the brink of elimination.
- Right off the draw Ray Bourque fires the puck down the ice from behind his own blueline. Hmm, does icing not exist in the 1980s? Oh, there's an icing call. He was just being dumb.
- It's amazing they've played a handful of games already because in the first few minutes this game looks about as sloppy as a beer league. Oh, that's right, this is the time NHL players are usually weaning themselves from cigarettes, late night poutines, and limiting themselves to 12 beers a night.
1-0 Canada - Wow, just like that we have our first goal. Normand Rochefort, a defenceman for the Nordiques, just calmly rushed the puck straight up the middle and fed it to Mario Lemieux, who made a sweet pass to a streaking Mike Gartner whose slap shot opens the scoring.
- We have a Doug Gilmour sighting! He's blocking a shot on the penalty kill.
- Whenever Gretzky touches the puck the crowd loses it. He almost loses his life at the blueline, however, as Alexei Kasatonov comes close to flattening him.
- We have the first penalty of the game and it goes to the Soviets. Here's the first chance to see Lemieux, Gretzky, Mark Messier, Bourque, and Paul Coffey work with some open ice. They are passing like crazy, generating a few quality chances in the slot and this just doesn't seem fair to allow these guys on the ice at the same time.
- The announcer just informed us that "being here is a good experience for Mario Lemieux". Considering since coming into the league the 21-year-old Lemieux has more points than anyone but Gretzky and Jari Kurri (who owes most of his points to Gretzky), I'd say his inclusion is a good experience for Team Canada.
- In the 1980s, hooking the body was not illegal. You could hook onto a guy and water ski up and down the ice for all the referees cared. I think they drew the line at impaling, although Gary Suter made a living, so maybe that's fair game too.
- There isn't much hate so far between these teams. Probably because Claude Lemieux is injured and he was going to play the role of Bobby Clarke this tournament and cheap shot the Soviets into submission.
- Brent Sutter has taken a holding penalty in front of the Canadian net. To get an obstruction call in the 1980s you must have really done something bad. If this was the 2012 equivalent, Sutter would have tied the player up, locked him in his basement, and demanded ransom.
1-1 - The Soviets have score the equalizer on a rocket point shot that deflects off Gilmour, who isn't quick enough to get out to the point. Somewhere, Don Cherry is having a conniption.
- Canada takes another penalty. This time it's Craig Hartsburg. The crowd is pissed, but the ref is Canadian Don Koharski, who the Soviets agreed to, somewhat surprisingly. Apparently, they were pissed that the American ref in the last game didn't give them any power plays, so they settled on Koharski.
2-1 Soviets - Uh oh, I've seen this before. Canada gets in penalty trouble and the Russians/Soviets pounce. Vladimir Krutov, who is nicknamed "The Tank", gets in behind Bourque and picks up a loose rebound and pots the go-ahead goal.
- The Canadian announcers are praising Krutov for his complete, two-way game, and get this, his back-checking. A legion of young hockey announcers everywhere vow to never say another nice thing about a Russian player ever again.
- Mario Lemieux is the only player hitting anybody. He just drove the Soviet hard into the boards with a little bit of an elbow coming up at the end. Mark Messier is shedding a tear on the bench, "That's my boy."
- Paul Coffey is flying all over the ice. He is basically skating circles around everybody. Mike Green really was born in the wrong era. If he was a defenceman in the 1980s he would have been considered one of the best ever. Instead, he gets blasted by everyone for not really being a defenceman.
- Maybe Coffey is the only one who knows about fitness. It's possible.
3-1 Soviets - It's Canada on the power play, but the Soviets pick off a pass at the blueline at send Sergei Makarov in on a breakaway. He dekes Grant Fuhr out of his jock strap and extends the lead.
- Keenan must be pissed because he's replaced the Lemieux-Gretzky power play with Glenn Anderson, whose gaudy 80s stats are about as cliché as his dirty 80s moustache.
- The period ends with Lemieux-Gretzky back on the ice and they almost connect for a goal, only to be robbed by Sergei Mylnikonov.
- Rick Tocchet is dressed and on the bench, but isn't playing due to an injury. Or maybe it's because by staying on the bench he can gamble on the game with a clear conscience.
4-1 Soviets - 80s goaltending alert: Fuhr is surprised by a brutal slap shot from just inside the blueline on the most innocuous of rushes. I'm so glad this team passed up on Patrick Roy for this tournament.
- All the Soviets are wearing Torspo helmets, which look even worse than those brutal Jofa helmets. This is when everyone should have known the Cold War was really over. They gave their players what!? Although the Soviets could look at Gretzky's paper helmet and think the same thing.
- The two teams trade penalties and trade chances. Fuhr is redeeming himself with a couple nice saves, one a monster glove save on Makarov. He's playing so deep in his net, however, that he might as well be the net cam.
- The first sighting of Tocchet on the ice and he stupidly cross checks the Soviet player right into Mylnikonov. He gets a penalty and confirms to everyone that he does have money on this game.
- Hartsburg narrowly avoids his second penalty after the referees somehow miss a blatant cross check that sends Krutov to the dressing room. The announcers are moralizing here, saying, "What in the world are we degenerating to?" Umm, did you not watch the Summit Series? Bludgeoning the opposition is how we win. Plus, this is the Cold War, you do what you have to do to win. Although, technically, Rocky ended the Cold War in 1985 with Rocky IV.
- Now the pace has really picked up and the back-and-forth action is too quick to keep up with. Fuhr is under fire and is helped out by the post at one point.
- The Canadians are crashing the net more after Tocchet's brazen stupidity. Glenn Anderson just runs the goalie, who is understandably pissed, but you know Anderson's just smiling about it like a dick.
- Keenan is rolling with so many different line combos now it's dizzying. I think I just saw Lemieux on a line with the usher.
- Gilmour is wearing No. 28 and it looks so wrong.
- Gretzky thinks there's a goal, but it's called off. There's a Soviet penalty and the replay shows that in the mad scramble the puck never crossed the line. And, really, it wasn't even close, Gretzky is just trying to game the refs.
- All the organist has been playing is Van Halen. I bet when 1984 came out organists everywhere cried the first time they heard it.
4-2 - With less than a minute to play, Gretzky crosses the blueline and drops a between the legs pass to Bourque, whose point shot deflects in off someone in front of the net. Just like that Canada is back in the game.
- The Soviets have played an almost perfect game so far and almost break the game open as Igor Larionov, who has been nearly invisible thanks to an injury, is in close and almost dekes out Fuhr. A desperation glove stabs what would be a sure goal and Canada breathes a sigh of relief.
4-3 - DOUGIE GILMOUR!!! Keenan has put Gilmour on a line with Lemieux and Mike Gartner and it pays off. The puck is kind of bouncing around the net and comes out to Gilmour, who is gifted a goal by Mylnikonov, who just stands there like a sieve.
- Canada has totally shifted the momentum and are buzzing. This Gilmour-Lemieux-Gartner line is full of energy and is carrying this team. I haven't seen these players on a line since my NHL 97 super teams.
- Everyone is hitting now and three players fly at the goalie. One is Messier, who goes after the defenceman on the way there, elbows first of course. He gets a penalty, and Gretzky tries to argue with the ref, presumably by saying, "Hey, no one knows what concussions are yet, so that's just a hockey play."
- The announcers laugh at the Soviet player being attended to on the bench, saying, "Someone has a headache." A simpler time, the 80s.
- There's a too many men on the ice penalty for the Soviets. The assistant coach who speaks some English gets the call, but the head coach, who knows no English, is going crazy. Apparently the Soviet educational system failed to teach proper arithmetic. "In Soviet Russia, five players plus one player equals give all your grain to us or face Gulag."
- We almost have a tie game. Gretzky feeds a beautiful cross-crease pass to Messier, who unfortunately kicks it in. Gretzky is arguing with the refs, saying Messier directed it, not kicked, but you don't see Messier putting up too much of a fight. I would tell you what happened, but there's only one camera angle for the replay and a large defenceman is in the way.
- Gretzky is making a killing at the half-boards in this game. He rushes in with deceptive speed, stops up, and almost every time finds a streaking player through the middle. The back of the net may have been his office, but this half-boards is a pretty good place of business too.
- Canada is really pouring it on now with a little over six minutes to play. Fuhr has come up big when they need him and has totally regained my trust.
4-4 - The crowd erupts as Anderson takes a Messier pass in the high, high slot and floats a wrister past Mylnikonov.
- Canada can smell a victory here as Gretzky makes another remarkable pass to Michel Goulet, who is stoned by the keeper.
- We get a picture-in-picture of the time, finally. And by that I literally mean a picture-in-picture of someone physically filming the scoreboard in the arena. Seriously, is that the best technology they had in 1987? It's almost 20 years after the moon landing and they show the time by filming it. What did Neil Armstrong take to the moon? A roll of duct tape and a couple rubber bands?
5-4 Canada - Gretzky plays the bounce perfectly behind the net and shovels a quick shot past the oblivious goalie. That's four straight Canadian goals and the Soviets are stunned.
5-5 - Oh, I guess they aren't too stunned as they march right back down the ice and tie it up on a crummy goal of their own. A shot from almost behind the net banks in off Bourque's skate and the game is tied.
- On the play a Soviet's helmet flies off and it's a good thing Messier isn't on the ice because he was probably drooling at the thought of a swift elbow to the mellon.
- Coffey almost ruins a great individual game by throwing a brutal giveaway in his own end with less than 15 seconds. Nothing comes of it, however, and we're headed for overtime.
- This will only be the second overtime game for the Soviets in their entire history. Their last came in 1984, as Mike Bossy scored the winner for Canada.
- Rochefort sends the puck over the glass. It's really nice that this game won't be decided over a stupid delay of game rule.
- Anderson is hitting ferociously now, leading with the stick to the face every time.
- The Gilmour-Lemieux line is working fantastically, and the announcers praise Gilmour, saying, "He's been an act unto himself."
6-5 Soviets - Fuhr is stopping the Soviets on a few chances, but eventually breaks as a nice slap shot from Alexander Semak beats him right under the bar.
- The Montreal crowd applauds as this has probably been the best hockey game most of them have witnessed.
- The players of the game are Vladimir Krutov for the USSR and Mike Gartner for Canada. Doug Gilmour is the Five Minutes for Fighting Underrated Player of the Game.
1:49 - Mike Gartner 2 (Mario Lemieux, Normand Rochefort)
9:34 - PP - Alexei Kasatonov 1 (Alex Semenov, Viacheslav Fetisov)
13:53 - PP - Vladimir Krutov 7 (Sergei Makarov, Viacheslav Fetisov)
17:44 - SH - Sergei Makarov 6 (Vladimir Krutov)
22:10 - Valeri Kamensky 5 (Alexei Gusarov, Andrei Khomutov)
39:18 - PP - Ray Bourque 2 (Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux)
41:35 - Doug Gilmour 1 (Mike Gartner, Craig Hartsburg)
54:39 - Glenn Anderson 2 (Mark Messier, Larry Murphy)
57:01 - Wayne Gretzky 3 (Ray Bourque)
57:33 - Andrei Khomutov 2 (Viacheslav Bykov)
65:33 - Alex Semak 2 (Alex Semenov, Andrei Lomakin)
Penalties: USSR: 16 min, Canada: 12 min
Shots: USSR: 43, Canada: 33
Click here for game two's retro diary.