Tag Archives: KLM line

September Was Canada Cup Time

 

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.

No Room For Alex. Wow, Those Russians Must Have Some Kind Of Team.

Former 1980’s Russian player, Vyacheslav Bykov, who now coaches Team Russia, told Alex Kovalev through a text message that there’s no room for him on the team which is now in Canada for the 2008 World Hockey Championship.

No room for one of the best forwards in the NHL. Too slow, said the text message. Those Russians have been a barrel of laughs since 1972.

With the Russians, it’s always something else than what the official party line says. They’re masters at being cagey. The years they dominated NHL teams, particularly in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s, they politely said they were here to learn from the pros, which was almost laughable. They have a history of manipulating on-and-off ice officials. In 1972, they made sure Canadian food went missing when Team Canada was holed up at their Moscow hotel. They awoke Canadian players in the middle of the night with telephone calls. And they’ve held a gun to Hockey Canada’s head for more money on more than one occasion throughout the years. 

There’s always a questionable agenda, and some unsavoury activity, when it comes to the Russian hockey family.

Why wouldn’t Alex Kovalev, one of the smartest, shiftiest, magical talents in hockey not be invited to play for his home country? This guy should not only be on the Russian squad, but should be captain.

He’s not slow. Or if he’s slower than the chosen players on Team Russia, then they must be lightening-fast. It must be three lines of Alex Ovechkin’s, and Valeri Kharlamov risen from the dead. It must be the KLM line reincarnated.

Kovalev has probably upset the Russian Ice Hockey Federation somewhere down the line. Maybe he’s spoken too much about how great it is in North America, because by all accounts, he loves it here. Heck, he doesn’t even want to be called Alexei anywhere, but simply Alex.

It’s possible he’s critized the Russian way of doing things from time to time. Kovalev has never been one to keep things bottled up. And the Russian hierarchy certainly has long memories. Kovalev has probably never towed the line. He would’ve made a great hippie in the 1960’s. 

If Alex Kovalev can’t make this team, then Teams Canada, USA, Finland, Sweden, Slovakia, and the Czech Republic don’t stand a chance. These teams will be too slow. Like Kovalev.

I don’t particularly want Kovalev playing in the World’s anyway. He’s 35 years old and needs to rest his weary bones after the long and stressful season of being a leader and star with his Montreal Canadiens. I want him fit, healthy, and renewed for next season when the Habs take a more serious stab at the Holy Grail.

It’s bad enough that Andrei Markov will be joining the Russian squad. He hasn’t been 100% healthy lately, which showed drastically in the playoffs, and this tournament better not set him back. He needs to be firing on all cylinders, along with Kovalev, when October rolls around.