"Anything less than winning is not acceptable," said Wayne Gretzky prior to the 1991 Canada Cup. "The Great One" would be back to help his country defend its 1987 championship, but he would not have his brilliant partner from that series. The back injury that had kept Mario Lemieux out for more than half the 1990-91 season sidelined him for the Canada Cup as well. However, hockey's next anointed superstar would be a member of Team Canada this year. Though he had refused to report to the Quebec Nordiques and was not yet a member of the NHL, 18-year-old Eric Lindros would contribute three goals and a tough, physical presence to the Team Canada roster.
The 1991 Canada Cup witnessed a partial changing of the guard atop the hockey hierarchy, as Czechoslovakia fell to last place with a 1-4-0 record in the round-robin (despite the presence of young Dominik Hasek) and the Soviet Union failed to reach the playoffs after going 1-3-1. The USSR had been on the decline since cruising to an Olympic gold medal in 1988. With veteran national team members Vladimir Krutov and Igor Larionov allowed to join the NHL in 1989-90 and the subsequent defections of Alexander Mogilny and Sergei Fedorov, the Soviets no longer had complete access to their hockey resources.
Sweden edged the Soviet Union for fourth place in the round-robin behind Mats Sundin's six points (two goals, four assists) before losing 4-0 to Canada in the semifinals. Christian Ruuttu, Petri Skriko and Esa Tikkanen led Finland into the playoffs for the first time in Canada Cup history before they lost 7-3 to the United States.
"There is no doubt this will be the best U.S. team ever," said American general manager Craig Patrick before the tournament. Led by Mike Modano, Brett Hull, Brian Leetch and Pat LaFontaine, and featuring solid goaltending by Mike Richter, Team USA lost only to Canada during the round-robin, and it was looking for revenge in the playoffs. Canada scored a 4-1 victory over the Americans in game one of the finals, but the victory proved costly when a Gary Suter crosscheck put Wayne Gretzky out of action. Gretzky watched game two in civilian clothes and saw Mark Messier and Steve Larmer give Team Canada an early 2-0 lead. Jeremy Roenick and Kevin Miller evened the game 2-2 after two periods, but a shorthand goal by Larmer at 12:13 of the third and an empty-netter from Dirk Graham capped a 4-2 clinching victory. Despite missing the final game, Wayne Gretzky earned his fourth consecutive Canada Cup scoring title with 12 points in seven games on four goals and eight assists.
The 1987 Canada Cup featured the emergence of Mario Lemieux as a true superstar. Teamed with Wayne Gretzky, Lemieux finally developed a work ethic to match his immense talent and the combination of hockey's two most gifted offensive players resulted in some of the most exciting games in the game's history.
Wayne Gretzky was late in accepting his invitation to join Team Canada after leading the Edmonton Oilers to the Stanley Cup during the longest season in NHL history, but he arrived at training camp in the best shape of his life. Thirty-four other players also arrived at training camp and the reduction to a 23-man roster left such stars as Patrick Roy, Steve Yzerman, Cam Neely and Wendel Clark off the team.
The Soviet Union brought a veteran-laden lineup to the 1987 Canada Cup and was eager to regain its championship form after losing the most recent world title to Sweden. As for the Swedes, eight national team members would be replaced by nine NHL stars during the Canada Cup, which only figured to make the team stronger. However, the 1984 Canada Cup finalists would not make it past the semifinals this year. The Americans were hurt by injuries to Mark Howe, Bryan Trottier and Neal Broten. Despite strong goaltending from John Vanbiesbrouck, the USA finished just 2-3-0 and was spared last place only by the 0-5-0 record of Finland, who had returned to the Canada Cup this year.
Canada was undefeated in the round-robin, but only had managed a 4-4 tie with Czechoslovakia to open the tournament and a 3-3 tie with the Soviets in the final game. Canada faced the Czechs again in the semifinals and fell behind 2-0 after one period before rallying for a 5-3 victory. The USSR had lost 5-3 to Sweden during the round-robin, but avenged that defeat with a 4-2 victory in the semifinals. Canada and the Soviets would meet for the Canada Cup championship.
Game One in the best-of-three finals was played at the Montreal Forum on September 11 and saw the Soviets defeat Canada 6-5 on Alexander Semak's overtime goal. Two nights later at Copps Coliseum in Hamilton, Mario Lemieux ended a classic game on a feed from Wayne Gretzky at 10:06 of the second overtime period for a 6-5 Canadian victory. With 1:26 remaining in the third and final game on September 15, Lemieux again converted a Gretzky pass for a 6-5 Canada Cup-winning victory. Lemieux had scored a tournament-leading 11 goals in nine games (including four game-winners), while his 18 points were second behind Wayne Gretzky's tournament-record 21 points (on three goals and 18 assists).
Though the 1984 Canada Cup took place just three years after the previous event, it featured a number of differences both on the ice and in its format. Among them was the debut of the West German squad, who replaced Finland by virtue of a fifth-place finish at the most recent World Championships. (Finland had finished seventh.) Another change saw Bryan Trottier jump the border, switching from Team Canada to the United States. Trottier's presence, along with Bob Carpenter, Joe Mullen, Rod Langway and Tom Barrasso (all bona fide NHL stars) gave the Americans their strongest lineup in Canada Cup history. The USA finished second behind the Soviet Union in the round-robin with a record of 3-1-1.
In addition to the loss of Trottier, Team Canada had only five players return from its 1981 roster. Newcomers included Michel Goulet and Paul Coffey (who tied for second behind Wayne Gretzky in scoring with 11 points) and John Tonelli, whose gritty two-way play earned him the tournament's Most Valuable Player award. However, the Canadian team limped through the round-robin with a record of 2-2-1 and finished fourth behind the USSR, the USA and Sweden (3-2-0).
As was the case in the first two Canada Cups, the USSR used the tournament to tinker with its roster. Soviet coach Viktor Tikhonov added 11 fresh faces to his club, including goaltender Alexander Tyzhnykh, who shared netminding duties with Vladimir Myshkin in the first post-Tretiak Canada Cup. Even without Viacheslav Fetisov, who was out with an injury, the Soviets became the first team in tournament history to emerge from the round-robin with a perfect record, capping off their 5-0-0 run with a 6-3 win over Canada on September 10. Three nights later, the two bitter rivals met in a one-game semifinal.
With Pete Peeters replacing Reggie Lemelin in goal, Canada battled the Soviets to a 2-2 tie through 60 minutes. At 12:29 of overtime, Mike Bossy tipped in a Paul Coffey shot and Canada had a 3-2 victory. One night before, the Swedes had crushed the Americans 9-2 to set up a Canada-Sweden final.
Like 1976, the finals of the 1984 Canada Cup were a best-of-three affair, though the series proved to be an anti-climax after the thrilling Canada-Russia game. Sweden featured such NHL stars as Kent Nilsson, Mats Naslund, Thomas Steen and Hakan Loob, but Canada swept the series with a 5-2 victory in the opener and a 6-5 win in game two.
After a five-year hiatus, the Canada Cup competition resumed in 1981 with Canada, the United States, Sweden, Finland, Czechoslovakia and the Soviet Union once again vying for international hockey supremacy. A total of 60 NHL players (22 Canadians, 22 Americans, 12 Swedes and four Finns) participated for their homelands.
As in 1976, the Soviet Union was in a rebuilding mode (after their Olympic loss to the United States in 1980). Only eight players remained from their 1976 Canada Cup squad, and just 11 players were back from the team that had defeated a group of NHL All-Stars at the Challenge Cup in 1979. Among the talented crop of Soviet newcomers were 21-year-olds Alexei Kasatonov, Igor Larionov and Vladimir Krutov. Viacheslav Fetisov made his Canada Cup debut, while veteran Vladislav Tretiak once again tended goal.
Meanwhile, Team Canada had a young phenom of its own in Wayne Gretzky, who had set an NHL scoring record with 164 points in 1980-81. Gretzky headed up a Canadian roster that also featured Mike Bossy, Bryan Trottier, Clark Gillies and Denis Potvin of the two-time, defending Stanley Cup champion New York Islanders. Goaltending duties were handled by Mike Liut. Canada waltzed through the round-robin portion of the tournament with only a 4-4 tie against Czechoslovakia blemishing a record that included a 7-3 victory over the Soviets in the final game on September 9. Despite the loss, the USSR held down second place with a record of 3-1-1. The Canada Cup format had been expanded to include a semifinals round this year, and Canada defeated the fourth-place United States 4-1 while the Soviets bounced the Czechs by the same score.
The one-game 1981 Canada Cup finals took place in Montreal on September 13 and saw the Soviet Union destroy Team Canada by a final score of 8-1. The Soviets frustrated Wayne Gretzky throughout and kept the tournament's leading scorer (12 points on five goals and seven assists) off the scoresheet, while Sergei Shepelev beat Mike Liut three times and Igor Larionov added two goals. Despite their victory, the Soviet team was not permitted to take home the Canada Cup trophy in a decision by Alan Eagleson that nearly sparked an international incident.
Vladislav Tretiak was named the Most Valuable Player of the Canada Cup tournament after the Soviets allowed just 15 goals in seven games. Behind Wayne Gretzky on the scoring list were Mike Bossy, Bryan Trottier, Guy Lafleur and Alexei Kasatonov, who all had 11 points. Bossy's eight goals topped the tournament, as did Kasatonov's 10 assists.
Created by the NHL, the NHLPA and Hockey Canada in 1976, the Canada Cup heralded Canada's official return to international hockey after a boycott that had begun in 1970. The tournament included Canada, the United States and the top four European hockey nations (the USSR, Czechoslovakia, Sweden and Finland) and gave NHL players a chance to represent their respective countries.
Team Canada was built by Montreal Canadiens general manager Sam Pollock and coached by Scotty Bowman. It boasted one of the strongest lineups ever assembled, including Bobby Orr and Bobby Hull, who had missed the 1972 Canada-Russia Summit Series (Orr due to injuries and Hull because he had left the NHL for the World Hockey Association and was thus ruled ineligible). The roster also boasted 15 additional Honoured Members including Bobby Clarke, Phil Esposito, Guy Lafleur, Gilbert Perreault and Darryl Sittler. The Soviet Union, on the other hand, was a team in transition after losing the 1976 World Championship to Czechoslovakia. Many familiar names from 1972 were gone, including Valeri Kharlamov and Vladimir Petrov.
The tournament opened in Ottawa on September 2 with Team Canada scoring an easy 11-2 victory over Finland. Victories followed against the United States (4-2) and Sweden (4-0), but Canada's hopes of an undefeated tournament were dashed on September 9 with a 1-0 loss to Czechoslovakia. Vladimir Dzurilla earned the shutout, while Milan Novy scored the lone goal. Canada rebounded for a 3-1 win over the Soviets two nights later and finished the round-robin portion of the tournament in first place with a record of 4-1-0. The Czechs had dropped a surprising 2-1 decision to Sweden, but still advanced to face Canada in the finals on the strength of a 3-1-1 record.
Despite Dzurilla's initial success against Canada, he was pulled after allowing four goals in the first period in game one of the best-of-three finals. Jiri Holecek finished up in a 6-0 Canadian victory. Dzurilla then replaced Holecek after he surrendered two early goals in game two and was brilliant in a 4-4 tie through regulation time. At 11:03 of overtime, Darryl Sittler streaked down the left side of the Montreal Forum ice and, with a slight deke, slipped the puck past Dzurilla for the Canada Cup-winning goal.
The star of the tournament for Team Canada was Bobby Orr, who enjoyed a final turn in the spotlight before repeated knee injuries ended his brilliant career. Orr had two goals and seven assists for nine points in seven games (tying Viktor Zhluktov of the Soviet Union and teammate Denis Potvin for the scoring lead) and was named the tournament's Most Valuable Player.