SPORTS

Two finalists worthy of the Cup

HAL QUINN September 21 1987
SPORTS

Two finalists worthy of the Cup

HAL QUINN September 21 1987

Two finalists worthy of the Cup

SPORTS

When the six-nation Canada Cup opened at the end of August, tournament organizer Alan Eagleson, the CTV television network, ticket holders in Montreal and Hamilton and hockey fans from Victoria to Vladivostok were clearly hoping for a Canada-Soviet Union final. Last week, after the Soviets eliminated Sweden and Team Canada struggled from behind to defeat Czechoslovakia in the sudden-death semifinal games, those hopes were answered. And after the thrilling opening game in the best-ofthree final, the fourth Canada Cup had already earned an honored place in the sport’s history.

After the Soviet Union’s dramatic 6-5 overtime victory, an emotional Team Canada captain Wayne Gretzky said: “It’s not over yet. We may not have had the best talent in these tournaments in the last 15 years, but one thing Canadian players have always had is pride.”

Indeed, the Canadians’ pride and determination in the first game drove them to duplicate the rare feat achieved by the 1972 Team Canada in Moscowcoming back against the Soviets after trailing by three goals.

Canada opened the scoring at the Montreal Forum on Sept. 11 after just one minute and 49 seconds. But the Soviets, led by their superb top line—Vladimir Krutov, Igor Larionov and Sergei Makarov—took a 3-1 lead. And just over two minutes into the second period, Valeri Kamensky’s long slap shot eluded Canada’s goalie, Grant Fuhr. Behind 4-1, Canada faced a seemingly impossible task.

But Ray Bourque scored with just 42 seconds left in the period and Canada scored three straight goals in the furiously paced third to reclaim the lead. Then, just 32 seconds later, and with less than V-k minutes remaining, a shot from the corner of the rink by Viacheslav Bikov glanced off Gretzky’s skate, hit Fuhr’s stick and bounced into the Canadian net off Bourque’s skate. Canada’s stirring comeback had been matched, and a brilliant shot over Fuhr’s shoulder by Aleksandr Semak in overtime ended it. Said Bourque: “We have to take the positive from this game and carry it to the next. Coming back from a three-goal deficit was really something.”

It was not Canada’s first remarkable comeback of the week. For 30 shocking minutes in the semifinal in Montreal Sept. 9, the Czechs appeared on the verge of scripting an all-iron Curtain finale. The previous night in Hamilton, the Soviets advanced past Sweden 4-2, and after one period the Czechs were leading Canada 2-0. But in a preview of the final, Canada scored three straight goals—in just two minutes and 25 seconds—and went on to win 5-3.

Had it not been for the superb play of Grant Fuhr—the netminder for all of

Canada’s games—the score would have been much higher. And explaining Canada’s comeback, left winger Brian Propp declared: “We forced their defencemen to handle the puck, and then hit them. The Czech attack is based on the defencemen trailing the play, but by the third period they were just too tired.”

The Soviets utilize their defencemen the same way, but the Canadian strategy is markedly less effective against the Soviets. In the first game of the final, Mario Lemieux delivered two heavy body checks to defenceman Viacheslav Fetisov. But rather than tiring, the Soviet captain responded in kind and was instrumental in two of the Soviets’ goals.

But fatigue was a factor in the Sovi-

et-Sweden semifinal. After his team lost 4-2, a bitter Swedish head coach Tommy Sandlin complained that his entire team was exhausted. Because of poor ticket sales for games scheduled in Calgary and Ottawa, two games involving the Swedes were moved, the first to Regina, the second to Sydney, N.S. As a result, Team Sweden travelled more than 9,000 km during the tournament, more than double the distance travelled by any other team. Sandlin, whose team defeated the Soviets 5-3 in their round-robin meet-

ing, complained that the rescheduling drained his team and helped assure the Canada-Soviet final. Said Sandlin, who coached Sweden to this year’s world championship: “We were all too tired. This is not a sport tournament; it is a business.”

At week’s end, the business at hand for Team Canada was clear. They had to defeat the Soviets in consecutive games in Hamilton to retain the Cup. Said head coach Mike Keenan: “They are all professionals. When you have just two games left, you can ask a great deal from your players.” After only one game in the final series, hockey fans could ask for nothing more.

HAL QUINN