SPORTS

From Russia with gold

HAL QUINN January 4 1988
SPORTS

From Russia with gold

HAL QUINN January 4 1988

From Russia with gold

SPORTS

It lacked the heart-stopping drama of Team Canada’s 1972 Summit Series victory, but the Canadian Olympic team’s gold medal triumph at the Izvestia hockey tournament last week was equally satisfying—and even more surprising. Following a stunning upset of the highly favored Soviet national team and wins over Sweden and West Germany, the Canadian Olympians defeated Finland 4-1 to finish first in the six-nation roundrobin competition. In the previous 20 Izvestia tournaments, the host Soviets captured 16 titles and Czechoslovakia four. In 11 attempts, Canada’s best efforts were second-place finishes in 1969 and 1986. And when this year’s tournament opened on Dec. 16 in Moscow, the Canadian team was rated behind the Soviets, Czechs and Swedes— ahead of only the Finns and the West Germans. Said Canadian head coach Dave King, who celebrated his 40th birthday with the championship: “To be playing for the whole ball of wax in the Izvestia tournament is some-

thing we certainly didn’t expect.” The unexpected win was perfectly timed, coming just two months before the Calgary Winter Games. For the

Canadian Olympic team, the Izvestia tournament provided the final preGames tournament test. Before taking to the ice at Calgary’s Olympic Saddledome in February, the team will play eight exhibition games against the

touring Moscow Selects in Canada and four times against the U.S. Olympic team. But the opposition in Moscow represented the Olympic standard. Said King, before the opening Izvestia match against Sweden: “Of course, you would like to win as many games as you can, but the most important factor is player evaluation. If a player shows that he can’t play well in this tournament, then he can’t play well in the Olympics.” From that first game and the next against Czechoslovakia, it was clear that the Canadians could play anywhere.

anywhere. Neither Peter Lindmark, the outstanding Swedish goalie, nor Dominik Hasek, the superb Czech net-minder, played in Moscow. Both missed the

tournament because of injuries but are expected to play in Calgary. Still, neither was really missed in his national team’s game against Canada. In Canada’s 3-2 victory over Sweden, the Canadians fired just 14 shots at Lindmark’s replacement—Anders Bergman. In the Czech’s 3-1 win, Canada managed 25 shots against Hasek’s substitute—Jaromir Sindel. But the Swedes unleashed 40 shots at Team Canada goalie Sean Burke; the Czechs, 30 at Andy Moog, who shares net-minding duties with Burke. Said Canadian right-winger Gord Sherven after the Sweden game: “If there is such a thing as winning ugly, then we did it.”

King acknowledged that the reason for Canada’s first win “was Burke’s goaltending.” And in tandem with the 27-year-old NHL veteran Moog—who twice earned NHL All-Star berths before being replaced by superstar Edmonton Oilers goalie Grant Fuhr— Burke, 20, provides Canada with the calibre of goaltending that can transform a team from congenial Olympic host to serious medal contender. Burke dramatically demonstrated the difference a goaltender can make in a short tournament when he faced the Soviets in Moscow. That team, which extended the best NHL players to three 6-5 games before losing in the Canada Cup

last September, poured 15 shots at Burke in the first period alone. But while the Soviets outshot Canada 3819, the Canadians recovered from a 2-0 deficit and held onto a 3-2 lead for more than half of the third period.

It was the first Team Canada win over the Soviets at the Luzhniki Ice Palace since Paul Henderson’s dramatic goal won the 1972 Summit Series. Said defenceman Randy Gregg, a member of the 1987 Stanley Cup-winning Oilers, who was a 16-year-old spectator at Luzhniki when Henderson scored: “Memories came flooding back like 1972 was yesterday.”

Indeed, while boasting the world’s best hockey players, Canada’s true strength is only on display in the Canada Cup hockey tournament, when the NHL’S best wear the red and white. While freeing a number of players to bolster the Olympic side, the NHL teams—concentrating on the Stanley Cup—will never allow players like Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux to play for the Olympic team. The critical difference between the players available to the Canada Cup and Olympic teams is measured in inches—the difference between a shot wide of the net and a historic goal. Explained Czech head coach Jan Starsi, following his team’s victory over the Canadians:

“The difference the Canada Cup team had was in star players who could finish up attacks.”

Following the emotional win over the Soviets—keyed by two goals from Ken Berry, 27, of Burnaby, B.C., a national team member since 1979—Team Canada finished off enough attacks to survive its obligatory encounter with the tournament’s weakest team, West Germany, winning 2-1. All that remained then was the game with the Finns—who had tied the Soviets and the Swedes—for the gold.

The Canadians opened their medal quest with a goal by Sherven after just one minute of play. The Finns tied it 1-1, but the Canadians clinched the tournament victory midway through the second period with goals by Claude Vilgrain, 24, of Charlesbourg, Que., and Chris Felix, 23, of Bramalea, Ont., in a span of one minute and three seconds. As the news of their triumph reached halfway around the world, Canadians recalled the thrills of 1972. And they remembered, too, that the host Team U.S.A. won the gold medal at the Lake Placid Olympics in 1980. Suddenly, the possibility of another miracle on ice seemed very real.

— HAL QUINN with correspondents’ reports