For 12 years Canadian hockey fans have lived with the suspicion that the stars of the National Hockey League may not be the world's best players of Canada's game. Their fallibil ity was first exposed during a memora ble Challenge Cup series in 1972 when Paul Henderson and his teammates had to fight a desperate come-from-behind battle to defeat the Soviet national team in Moscow. Since that series, the NHL's best have lost four critical games to the Soviets, but last Thursday night, in a thrilling Canada Cup semifinal, Team Canada defeated the best of the Soviets 3-2 in overtime. The pride and the repu tation of the Canadian players have been battered relentlessly by the fleet and powerful Soviets, but last week's victory evened the post-1972 confronta tions at four games apiece.
A generation of Canadian hockey fans still savors the memory of Henderson’s dramatic goal in the dying minutes of the deciding game in 1972. And another will almost certainly remember Mike Bossy’s goal in last week’s sudden-death overtime to win the game for Canada. With one unintentional wave of his stick, Bossy deflected a shot from Paul Coffey, defeating the Soviets in a critical game for the first time since the 1980 Olympics, and eliminating them from this year’s Canada Cup. The victory, declared most commentators, went a long way toward restoring Canada’s hockey pride and reputation.
Prior to the showdown with the powerful Soviets, Team Canada co-captain Wayne Gretzky said, “The only way we can beat the Russians is to play a flawless game.” And to the astonishment of many Canadian hockey fans—and perhaps to the surprise of the players themselves—the Canadians did just that. For the first time, a collection of Canadian pros played the game the way the Soviets have re-invented it—with speed, ingenuity and discipline. Said Soviet coach Viktor Tikhonov: “They had many good players, but Larry Robinson, Coffey, Bossy and the goalie Pete Peeters were very good. The Russian press is going to be very puzzled.”
Team Canada’s dramatic victory restored excitement and competition to the third Canada Cup. The six-nation tournament had been set up virtually to ensure a U.S.S.R.-Canada best-of-three final. The Soviets did not lose a game in the early rounds. But Canada’s erratic play, in losing to the Soviets and Sweden and tying Team USA , led to last week’s meeting in one of two semifinals. The
surprising Swedes had already eliminated the Americans 9-2 in the other semifinal, and the very real possibility loomed of a Soviet-Sweden finale. Although this week’s Sweden-Canada meeting does not have the magic of a series between the game’s two giants, last week’s remarkable exhibition en-
sures that at least Canadian hockey fans can care again.
Team Sweden clearly demonstrated, especially in defeating Canada 4-2 in the early going, that it is a worthy finalist. They play with characteristic Swedish flair and speed, but this year’s team has also played with uncharacteristic durability and physical strength. But regardless of the outcome of this week’s final, it will be the victory over the Soviets that will be cherished. As Bossy said, “ It was a great game, a great team, a great experience and a great night in Canadian hockey history.”— HAL QUINN
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