“Sport Illustrated”. September
When the Canada Cup was there on the line,
the Soviets rose up, unleashed their big guns and outskated, outscored
and humiliated Team Canada's NHL stars 8-1
All that’s left now for the Soviet Union’s relentless Big Red Machine
to do is to pick up the revered old Montreal Forum, skate it across Ste.Catherine
Street, down through Old Montreal and dump it into the St. Lawrence River,
and the National Hockey League along with it. This time was supposed
to be different. Team U.S.S.R. was supposed to be done for. It would be
Team Canada's and the NHL's day. Eighteen months ago the Soviets had dropped
from sight, stunned by a ragtag U.S.A. Olympic, team not overly talented
but too young to know it. And for the past two weeks, playing in a thing
called Canada Cup II, the Soviets had looked more like just another Team
Sweden or Team Finland than a vaunted international power.
But last Sunday night in the Canada finale, meeting a Canadian team
of NHL pros that everyone was calling Team Awesome, the Soviets took the
ice at the Forum and outskated, outchecked and outfinessed Canada, ultimately
scoring a crushing 8-1 victory. Eight goals. Oh no, Canada.
Other Team Canada/NHL embarrassments at the hands of the U.S.S.R. could
be written off with one excuse or another. In 1972 Team Canada was hopelessly
out of shape. lost some face but still won the series. In 1979 the NHL
had only two days to summon up the Challenge Cup team that was routed 6-0
by the Soviets in the decisive game. But this time Team Canada seemed to
have everything in order. It had tremendous scorers, a mobile defense.
role players. It had enthusiasm. It had a full month of training camp to
get in shape, to iron out any wrinkles. And on Sunday, Team Canada had
only to beat a Soviet team that four nights earlier it had annihilated
7-3 in a preliminary game.
"This was just a one-game deal." said Canada Defenseman Brian Enghlom
after Sunday's debacle, "and they came up better than us."
What happened before 17,033 mostly silent fans was that the NHL finally
ran out of excuses for losing "big" hockey games to the Soviet Union. As
Canada Cup II proved once again, the Soviets play for the sickle better
than the NHL-ers do for the buck.
What Canada Cup II was supposed to be was an extravaganza of nationalism
designed so that Canada could regain its hockey supremacy. What it turned
out to be was a bust, except for the Soviets, of course. Instead of being
a hotly contested two-week tournament pitting the world's six strongest
hockey nations - Canada, the U.S.S.R., Sweden, Finland, Czechoslovakia
and the U.S. - it was a one-game war. Alter the Soviet Union and Canada,
you see, there's a talent gap that even a friendly referee would find impossible
This year, for instance, Sweden was represented by an odd amalgam of
16 NHL pros and seven amateurs who hardly knew each other and played as
if they didn't care to. Finland went winless, and in its five games was
outscored 31-6. While' Team U.S.A. was greatly improved over the t976 Canada
Cup I edition that earned the nickname "Team Useless", the Americans didn't
have a genuine goal scorer, something a hockey team; well, needs.
And the timing for Canada Cup II wasn't exactly perfect. either. Pretournament
exhibition games began in mid-August, when even a Rocket Richard would
prefer to be on a beach. When Canada squeaked past the Soviet Union in
a tune-up at Edmonton a few weeks ago. one sardonic Montreal newspaper-man
was quick to call the game "the greatest hockey thriller ever played in
Certainly. the six exhibition games and the 15-game preliminary round
robin to qualify four teams for the semifinals, not to mention the $25
tickets, didn’t fool Canada’s sophisticated fans. At first Quebec City
was scheduled to host three games, including one of the semifinals, but
after only 4,055 Quebeckers turned out to see Canada play the U.S. in an
exhibition game, Cup organizer Alan Eagleson gassed Quebec and moved the
other two games to Ottawa, which then paked in all of 7,500 for the Soviets'
4--I semifinal win over Czechoslovakia on Friday night. Until Sunday night
no Canada Cup game had been a sellout. The Soviets and Team Canada, did
draw 16,001 to the Forum Wednesday night, but a Team Canada intrasquad
game last month attracted an even larger crowd. At Winnipeg, only 3688
watched Sweden play Finland. "Yeah." said New York Islander General Manager
Bill Torrey, an adviser to Team Canada, "but 1.300 of them were NHL scouts."
With the '79 Challenge Cup disaster in mind, the NHL changed its international
game plan for Canada Cup '81. "This year we shied away from a media dream
team." said Team Canada General Manager Cliff Fletcher. who's also the
general manager or the Calgary Flames. Indeed. Team Canada wasn't a mere
collection of All-Stars. Sure, there was Guy' Lafleur, Gil Perreault.,
Marcel Dionne, Denis Potvin and Larry Robinson, as well as the Stanley
Cup champion Islanders' thrill-a-minute line or Bryan Trottier, Mike Bossy
and Clark Gillies. And, naturally, Wayne Gretiky - gentleman, heartthrob,
star of Pepsi TV ads and not a bad hockey player. But six of the top 16
NHL scorers last season weren't even invited to camp, and one of the early
cuts was the 1980-81 winner of the NHL’s best defenseman award, Randy Cadyle.
So much for NHL glory. "We've taken our heads out of the sand." Fletcher
said. "A player without speed is dead against the Soviets."
Still, the U.S.S.R. was less than awed by Team Awesome, especially if
you believed Anatoly Tarasov, the father or Soviet hockey and the man who
directed the Red Machine to 13 Olympic and world championships. "To say
I'm impressed wouldn't be telling the truth." Tarasov said Friday night
after Canada blitzed the U.S. 4--I in the semifinals. "Your goalie (Mike
Liut) isn't so great. And the defensemen aren't the fastest, either." Only
Gretzky impressed Tarasov. "Very smart." Tarasov said, pointing to his
head. “Very smart. Smartest player I’ve ever seen.”
For their part. the Soviets were a team in transition. Gone were Boris
Mikhailov, Vladimir Petrov and Valery Kharlamov, the guts of the dynasty
of the 1970s. And Soviet team spirit sank on Aug. 27 when news came from
the U.S.S.R. that Kharlamov, cut from the national squad only a few days
earlier, had died in a car crash near Moscow. Further, in many Canada Cup
games the Soviets had seemed lost on the ice. It was as if they were looking
for a teammate. a notable deviation from previous Soviet teams, which seemed
to locate linemates through telepathy. In five chances against the Czechoslovaks
one night, the Soviet power play failed to produce a score. But they still
had Vladislav Tretiak, who at 29 remains the world's No. 1 goaltender.
Tretiak sat out the 7-3 Soviet loss to Canada. but in the six games he
did play in Canada. he allowed only eight 'goals and had by far the lowest
goals-against average in the competition, 1.33.
On Sunday in Montreal, Forum vendors passed out tiny Canadian flags,
and when Jan Rubes began to bellow the lyrics to 0` Canada, just about
every voice in the place joined in. According to plan, Team Canada came
out pressing, shelling Tretiak early, trying to take a lead. Meanwhile,
the Soviets were content to back into their own zone, play things safe,
ice the puck, if necessary. “That’s something we’d never seen them do,”
Fletcher said later.
In a scoreless first period Team Canada pumped 12 shots at Tretiak,
while the Soviets took four at Liut. In the second period, though, the
Soviets changed tactics and moved in on Liut, who played shakily.
Igor Larionov fired from the slot and beat Liut high, but Gillies tied
the score on a wrist shot. Tretiak had no chance. At 11:15 , there was
a pileup in front of the Canadian net and the puck dribbled out to the
right face-off circle; Soviet Forward Sergei Shepelev picked it up and
flicked a backhander into the net. Liut never saw it. Five minutes later
Shepelev scored again. It was 3-1, for the Soviets, and suddenly Canada
was on the ropes. The Soviets scored two quick goals and three late goals
in the final period, and the rout was complete.
Afterward, in the Soviet locker room, a group of players, led by veteran
Aleksandr Maltsev, stuffed the huge, weighty, nickel Canada Cup Trophy
into an equipment bag bound for Moscow. Eagleson spotted the Soviets leaving
the building with the Cup and, as he said, "tried to explain to them that
it belongs to the Canadian Government."
Listen up. Alan. The Soviets don't need to steal the Canada Cup. No,
sir. No, Canada. They own it.