It was always around this time, in early September, when those beautiful Canada Cups were held, when the Russians were still the enemy, when Sweden, Finland, and Czechoslovakia offered up National team excellence, and when the United States was becoming, slowly, a team to be reckoned with too.
It was when Alan Eagleson appeared to shine, demanding and getting his way about money, times, the choosing of officials, and maybe even deciding what kind of mustard and relish went on the hot dogs. He pounded desks and swore and bullied his way through five successful ventures, and as rotten a bastard as he was, he got the job done.
Sadly, it was discovered later, with the perseverence and fight of Carl Brewer and his partner Susan Foster, that these tournaments, along with the annual all-star games, were lining Eagleson’s pockets, making him a rich man beyond his wildest dreams. It was money belonging to the players, that should have been deposited into the NHL Players Association pension fund and wasn’t, and Eagleson would later be forced to set up shop in the crowbar hotel for his dastardly deeds.
There were five Canada Cups, all in September, and each held special magic. These tournaments gave us supreme hockey, brilliant hockey, fast, back and forth, with drama and suspense, great goaltending and memorable goals, and if you were rooting for Canada, you celebrated four of the five times.
Canada won in 1976 thanks to the tournament-winning overtime goal by Darryl Sittler against Czechoslovakia. Myself and other E.B.Eddy workers in Hull, Quebec hid in the mechanic’s room where a television was stored, and we watched the final game with one eye on the TV and the other on the boss’s van that he’d drive around in. It wasn’t perfect by any stretch but we got to see much of it.
Many pick this team as possibly the best ever, and it’s easy to see why. Bobby Orr was the tournament MVP. Denis Potvin said out loud that he was as good or better than Orr in the series, and maybe he was. Larry Robinson, Bobby Hull, Bobby Clarke, Guy Lafleur and a barrel full of other stars were in the lineup. Future Hall of Famers from top to bottom. We were proud in Canada.
Russia came back with a vengeance in 1981, clobbering Canada 8-1 in the final game, and the KLM (Vladimir Krutov, Igor Larionov, and Sergei Makarov) dazzled and made NHL teams drool at the prospect of getting these guys signed to a contract. That would come later.
Russia also boasted the brilliant Vyacheslav Fetisov and his partner Alexei Kasatonov on the blueline. These two despised each other but played like brothers-in-arms on the ice. And regardless of how powerful this five-man unit was, the Soviets also had an ace up their sleeves – the great Vladislav Tretiak in goal, who once again gave the NHLers fits as he had in the past. Tretiak was named MVP in this 1981 series and all in all, we weren’t so proud this time.
Canada met Sweden in the finals of the 1984 edition of the Canada Cup, and won two games to nil over Mats Naslund, Hakan Loob, Kent Nilsson and company. Gretzky, Michel Goulet, Paul Coffey, Mike Bossy and the rest of the ususal suspects proved too much for the Swedes, and the Canadians redeemed themselves from the previous 1981 embarrassment.
!987 proved to be maybe the most exciting of all the tournaments, at least in my eyes, and one of the most dramatic and memorable goals ever scored happened in the final game. On September 11th, the Soviet Union beat Canada 6-5 in overtime. Two days later, in Hamilton, Canada returned the favour and beat the Soviets by the same score, 6-5, again in overtime. And in Hamilton two days after that, Wayne Gretzky charged up the ice, passed it back to an open Mario Lemieux, and again, it was a 6-5 game, only the winner came with 1:26 seconds remaining instead of going into overtime.
I was in Leningrad, Russia, (before it was changed back to St. Petersburg) when the 1991 Canada Cup was held, and it’s an odd feeling to be sitting in a Russian home watching this tournament. Out hosts often cheered wildly for Canada, but maybe they were just being nice. But it wasn’t the Russians that Canada faced in the final, it was the U.S., and although the Americans managed to go so deep for the first time, Canada swept them in two games to win it again.
I miss the days of the Canada Cup very much. It was us against them, like it was in 1972, only without the initial shock of finding out that great hockey was being played elsewhere, and it offered the added bonus of the other European powerhouses involved. The Olympics now may present the same countries going head to head, but back then, European players still weren’t household names in North America the way they are now. They were still a curiosity, a mystery, and gawddam we wanted to clobber them.
The Canada Cups were a terrific time for hockey fans around the globe. It’s just too bad Alan Eagleson walked away with most of the money.