1969 – man walks on the moon. 1971 – man walks on the moon…again. Then for a long time nothing happened. Until 1987.

So, here we are, it’s the second week of September 2012 and we have yet to see a game of hockey which makes this year pretty much exactly the same as every other year. That being said, it’s been a little while since we’ve had an actual game to talk about here on Backhand Shelf so we’re firing up our flux capacitors (televisions) and going back in time (turning on the television) to 1987 for game 1 of the Canada Cup. We may still listen to Huey Lewis. I may still listen to Huey Lewis.

Yes, that’s right, this week TSN will be broadcasting the entire Canada Cup final series between Canada and the USSR as it’s a little known fact that if TSN does not show at least one hockey game every three weeks the network will, in fact, implode upon itself. Thus creating a vortex in which its viewers will be struck with the overwhelming feeling of not giving a shit. Or so it was declared in the Gospel of Pierre (“and lo, he dost sucketh the dirty pond water and became a Monster.” It’s easily one of the top 5 worst Gospels.)

For those who need a refresher in the scene heading into this series, allow me to, uh, refresh. In 1987 players from the Soviet Union were not yet allowed to play in the NHL, making this series one of the few times that North America got a chance to see what these guys were made of. Turns out they were made of whatever that stuff is that makes ridiculously good hockey players. Some of those players of ridiculousness included Vyacheslav Fetisov, Igor Kravchuk, Igor Larionov, and Valeri Kamenski. The Soviets cruised through the round robin, losing only to Sweden and playing Canada to a draw in the last game of the round. In the semi-finals the USSR got revenge on Sweden for that lone loss, defeating them 4-2.

Canada, on the other hand, was no slouch themselves. Boasting arguably the best roster ever assembled including the likes of Mario Lemieux, Mark Messier, Ray Bourque, Paul Coffey, Grant Fuhr and some guy named Wayne that you may have heard of. The Canadians went undefeated in the round robin with two ties (remember ties? I miss ties) before beating Czechoslovakia (remember Czechoslovakia? I miss Czechoslovakia) in the semis by a 5-3 score.

This all set up the final between the two countries in what Wikipedia thinks is the greatest exhibition hockey final to ever be played. We’re here to find out if Wikipedia is right (so help me God, I will disprove you one day), to see how this compares to a more recent fantastic hockey final from 2010, and to try to avoid starting a war and undoing all the diplomatic work done by the great political mind of Rocky Balboa. Here we go.

Pre-Game: Seems like The Mac Daddy has some thoughts on the greatness of this series.

He follows this up by agreeing with me.

Full disclosure, though, I have never watched these games in their entirety. I know, I know. The thing is, I was barely a zygote when these games were played which made it very difficult for me to watch them at the time. I know I could have gone back and watched them since but, you know, I was really busy and stuff. I mean, Final Fantasy IX isn’t going to replay itself for the 17th time. Snark aside (just for a second), I’m very curious to see how this series stacks up. I think this is going to be fun. I really hope I’m right.

More Pre-Game: Sportscenter ends with some shots of Gary Bettman and Donald Fehr. Thanks for reminding us, guys.

Even More Pre-Game: Mike Johnson is our host for the evening, reminding us that game 1 was played a year ago tonight. Game 1 took place at the AMC Forum in Montreal, a building that I will always remember as the place I watched The Dark Knight. Apparently other stuff happened there too.

PRE-GAME!!: Johnson actually just said “we’re moments away from puck drop.” Um, no you’re not. You’re a little late. Oh, God, now they’re showing highlight clips and analyzing it like this game is actually about to happen. I can’t tell if this is amazing or if everyone a TSN has just gone insane from the prospect of another lockout.

Puck-Drop: Sergei Mylnikov and Grant Fuhr are your goalies for the evening and Gretzky and Larionov come to center ice to take the draw. They didn’t even bother to re-paint the ice, the Habs logo is still at center. This is now the lobby of a movie theatre. I’d say more but Maple Leaf Gardens is now a Loblaws. 2012 kind of sucks.

19:50, 1st period: TSN has thrown their modern day score overlay on for this game. I know this is probably because this game didn’t have an overlay on at the time but it looks really odd. Things that don’t look odd – Mike Keenan’s moustache. This may or may not be the zenith of hockey, but it was definitely the zenith of moustaches.

18:11, 1st period: GOAAAAAL. A bullet from Mike Gartner from just inside the faceoff circle beats Mylnikov to put Canada up 1-0. I think that was how 87% of goals were scored in the 80s. Just walk up close and take a slap shot.

17:00, 1st period: – Wayne, buddy, may I have a word? Look, you’re the greatest; it’s in your nickname and everything. But, oh man, how do I put this lightly? It’s just that, well, that helmet makes you look like an asshole. I hate that helmet. If you were to wear it today, your head would be a muffin.

Seriously, how has that helmet not been a bigger knock on Wayne in his post-playing days? It’s the Dane Cook of helmets. If I had a Hall of Fame vote, I’d totally take that helmet into consideration. This is almost certainly why I do not have a Hall of Fame vote.

16:41, 1st period: It’s a little jarring to go from watching a game from 1987 to watching a commercial for NHL 13. NHL 13 has better graphics.

15:43, 1st period: The game seems a lot more “glidey” than it is today. Lots of push off strides. I wonder if this would work today?

14:49, 1st period: Awesome old school graphics tells us Lemieux leads all scorers with 7 goals in 6 games coming into the final. Let’s see how long that lasts.

13:59, 1st period: TSN throws up this stat. I am not making this up. “Rick Astley’s ‘Never Gonna Give You Up’ was no.1 on the Billboard chart in September 1987.” TSN is rick rolling us.

12:57, 1st period: We’re not even 10 minutes into the 1st period yet and I’m at 1150 words. I think I’m going to drink for tomorrow’s game.

12:15, 1st period: Here’s why I don’t care for the trapezoid in today’s NHL – it’s totally taken away from the skill of stick handling for goalies. I remember being amazed at Ed Belfour’s ability to handle and move the puck from anywhere in the vicinity of his net. Grant Fuhr is also staggeringly good at this (at least from what I’m seeing here). Maybe I’m alone in this but I find that skill amazingly impressive. I’m not saying goalies in the NHL today can’t handle the puck (okay, I kind of am) but there’s a huge difference from what I’m seeing here. It’s really cool, is what I’m trying to say.

11:20, 1st period: I’m sure I will say this quite a few times over the next few days but Wayne Gretzky is ridiculous. He’s just everywhere. I love watching Crosby but there is no way he’ll ever reach the heights of utter domination that Gretzky exhibited in his prime. He’s unstoppable.

10:53, 1st period: Speaking of anachronisms, Labatt’s is our sponsor for the evening.

10:27, 1st period: Kasatonov pots the tying goal on the power play with a deflection off Doug Gilmour and now nothing else matters because I just learned Gilmour is on this team and that is the best thing. Love you, Douglas.

9:10, 1st period: This has been said many, many times before but holy hell, goalie pads have gotten big. Fuhr’s leg pads barely go above his knees. I think the pillows on my bed have more padding.

8:22, 1st period: TSN flashes another factoid that tells us that the USSR was not allowed to take the trophy home when they won the tournament in 1981. A replica was eventually made for them, though. I like to picture this going down thusly – a bunch of Mounties running away with the trophy as the Soviets chase after them with Yakut Sax playing in the background. I’m pretty sure that’s not what happened.

Commercial Break: You know how I said this Canada team was kind of ridiculous? Well…

6:53, 1st period: Craig Hartsburg takes a penalty because hah, Craig Hartsburg. The Soviets head to the power play.

6:07, 1st period: Just some poor rebound control from Grant “Gustavsson” Fuhr there as Vladimir Krutov takes the rebound and puts it in the net. USSR 2, Canada 1.

5:53, 1st period: There has never been a more terrifying team nickname than “The Red Army.”

4:37, 1st period: The announcers’ constant explaining of who the Soviet players actually are really isn’t all that far off than what it’s like to watch a game against, say, Belarus today. The more things change, I guess.

3:26, 1st period: There’s been something bugging me this entire period and I just figured out what it is. There’s almost no body checking or physical contact of any kind in this game. Not even guys being checked off the puck. I don’t hate this, it’s just very odd. Of course just as I’m typing this Andrei Lomakin gets a penalty for high sticking. Further proving I don’t know what the hell I’m talking about.

2:16, 1st period: Sergei Makarov scores an absolute beauty on a shorthanded breakaway. He just made Grant Fuhr look a-fool. That was awesome. Uh, I mean, Go Canada! Down with the Soviets!

1:00, 1st period: As a Canadian, if I were watching this game live, I would be freaking the fuck out right now. The Soviets are totally dominating this game so far.

End Of the 1st Period: The horn sounds and we head back to the TSN studios forcing me to imagine a world in which Coach’s Corner and Twitter existed in 1987. I’m pretty sure whatever Don Cherry said would have started World War III.

I’m also at 1780 words. We’ve only finished one period. Kill me.

20:00, 2nd period: And we’re off.

18:59, 2nd period: Brutal giveaway by Fetisov leads to a great chance for Hawerchuk but he shoots it wide. Good God, I’m starting to write about this thing like it’s actually happening.

18:00, 2nd period: Grant Fuhr does his best Marc-Andre Fleury impression (TIME PARADOX!) and allows a horrible goal on a shot from the blue line by Valerie Kamensky. That’s why they invented the butterfly, folks. The goalie stance, not the insect. I think.

17:20, 2nd period: Larry Murphy goes off for holding and every Leafs fan grimly nods in remembrance.

16:50, 2nd period: Carelessness is starting to pick up here as we have some four on four action here. I’m legitimately excited about this. This game has so much space already; I wonder what four on four is going to look like?

16:42, 2nd period: Well, that didn’t last long. Sergei Pryakhin goes off for high sticking to make it 4 on 3 for Canada. Those 8 seconds looked fucking awesome, though.

16:25, 2nd period: I feel the need to reiterate the fact that this team is able to put Lemieux, Gretzky and Messier on the ice at the same time. Think about that for a second.

16:12, 2nd period: We have another TSN factoid: “John Ziegler was NHL president until he was forced out after the 1992 strike.” Wait a minute; we can force people out of the NHL due to strikes? Is this still possible?

14:17, 2nd period: I don’t like that this tournament is called the Canada Cup. Yeah, I know it takes place in Canada but, I don’t know, it seems presumptuous. It’s like if the Olympics were called “The Greece Games.”

13:22, 2nd period: Oh, things are getting chippy. Rich Tocchet just got sent to the box for cross-checking. I’m seriously shocked there hasn’t been more on-ice violence in this game. I’m not condoning it; I’m just surprised considering that whole Cold War thing. Does anyone know if this was true for the United States/USSR games as well?

13:01, 2nd period: Craig Hartsburg cross-checks Krutov to the ice from behind because hah, Craig Hartsburg. Krutov is taken off the ice by the trainers and Brendan Shanahan just gave Hartsburg a 2 game suspension.

11:24, 2nd period: I haven’t mentioned them yet because I know we’ve all seen them but the old Team Canada jerseys are really, really awesome. I like the USSR jerseys too. I mean, there’s not a lot to say other than “they’re red,” but it’s the USSR. What else do you need? Maybe a sickle.

9:14, 2nd period: Great save by Fuhr to keep it a three goal game. He’s been shaky and hasn’t done a lot to shake the “decent goalie on an amazing team” label that I’ve always associated him with (yeah, I said it) but, credit where credit’s due, that was a great save.

8:45, 2nd period: I miss Saul Goodman. Oh, right, the hockey game.

7:37, 2nd period: Paul Coffey takes the puck from center ice, around the back of the Canadian net and to the Soviet’s blue line without being touched, prompting me to say out loud and to no one in particular, “Hey Brian, it’s Marvin. Your cousin, Marvin Burke. You know that defenseman you’ve been looking for? Well look at this.”

6:13, 2nd period: Some controversy as a pile up in the Soviet’s crease leads to the puck rolling into the net. I mean, it wasn’t a goal and there’s no controversy but, whatever. Narrative. Canada to the power play.

Commercial Break: I would do anything for love, but I won’t watch that new Charlie Sheen show. Go away, Wild Thing. Dorn was right about you.

4:42, 2nd period: Canada is 0/4 on the power play so far which, based on their power play unit, should be impossible. Two man advantage here. Oh, wait, never mind, Ray Bourque gets sent off for cross checking. This is a horrendously sloppy game. I know it becomes exciting and I know it’s seen as a relatively important moment in Canada’s hockey history but its zenith? I don’t know.

2:46, 2nd period: Another great save in close by Fuhr. He’s currently balancing on that line between being the cause of a deficit and also being the reason that said deficit is not significantly larger.

Commercial Break: What’s that you say, Red Lobster? It’s endless shrimp? Oh, this will not end well for you. I plan to eat all your shrimp and two plastic lobsters for I am no man, I am a remorseless eating machine!

1:52, 2nd period: Anatoli Fedotov heads to the box and wins the award for the best name I’ve heard so far. I am disappointed in the quality of names in this tournament. Not a Zemgus Girgensons in the bunch.

0:42, 2nd period: The Ridiculously Awesome Power Play Unit (henceforth known as Voltron) and finally scorers as Bourque gets a screened shot past Mylnikov and the crowd goes crazy. I swear I saw a guy in a Flyers jersey cheering. In Montreal. The Americans really did not care for those Soviets, huh?

End of the Second Period: The board reads 4-2 as the teams head to the dressing rooms. The third period should be a blast. But first, pointless conjecture by the TSN guys!

20:00, 3rd period: Here we go. You’ve got one more period (and two more games) to convince me of your zenith, 1987 Canada Cup.

18:25, 3rd period: GILMOUR! It’s 4-3. Zenith is approaching. Doug Gilmour – the only man that matters.

17:34, 3rd period: I just noticed that all the refs have their last names on the back of their jerseys. This is something that should continue. It’s so much easier to assign blame for your team’s failures when you can easily identify which referee is which. Also, heh, Koharski.

16:18, 3rd period: Irving Grundman has a hilariously awkward clap. It’s just a constant stream of never-stopping clapping. I wish GIFs existed in 1987. That would have been a great one.

Commercial Break: Harvey’s advertising for the Great Canadian Burger during the broadcast of the Canada Cup? I see what you’re doing here, Harvey. I’m onto you. Whoever you are.

15:37, 3rd period: Messier goes to the box which separates him from Voltron. This can’t end well for Canada.

15:20, 3rd period: Holy crap, a body check! I don’t know who it was (though a Canadian hit a Russian) but it seemed very out of place.

14:47, 3rd period: A Russian fully grabs a hold of Gilmour’s stick prompting a rage blackout from me and a cry of incredulousness from the crowd. That was the first really blatant missed penalty call of the evening.

12:47, 3rd period: There’s a sponsorship logo on the boards for Air Canada Sports. This was a thing? Odd. Also on the boards, Tip Top Tailors, Pizza Pizza, Westin Hotels, McDonald’s, Honda and something called Kone Elevators. These are the things I feel you all need to know.

Commercial Break: The Canada Cup trophy looks really dangerous. It’s exactly like the 80s Team Canada logo except huge and made out of silver. I’m suspicious of this trophy.

11:23, 3rd period: The Soviets get called for Too Many Men and their entire bench goes mental and all the bench-area press cameras suddenly appear to take pictures of the chaos. It’s kind of funny how they just popped up. What’s not funny is Viktor Tikhonov, the Soviet’s coach. He is terrifying.

10:34, 3rd period: Messier reforms Voltron and scores on a beautiful tip that gets immediately waved off as Messier looks like he’s going to explode. It’s too bad as that was a truly beautiful tip. Unfortunately, Mess tipped it with his skate which is kind of not allowed.

10:12, 3rd period: The Russians are doing an amazing job of keeping Voltron off the score sheet but, once again, it needs to be repeated how amazing it is to watch this power play unit play together. They’re so in sync and just so damn good at playing hockey it’s amazing they don’t have 17 goals. If anything is reaching the Zenith, it’s this line. Really cool stuff.

7:30, 3rd period: Lemieux just stole the puck from a Russian and then went through three guys before shooting it wide. If he doesn’t have the trademark on that move, he really should. That was the most Mario-y thing that ever Mario’d.

6:00, 3rd period: I know what the final score of this game is and I am therefore bracing myself for the insanity I must be about to witness. I am excited. This must be what pushes this game from “good” to “great.”

5:21, 3rd period: Holy crap. Glenn Anderson ties the game with a cannon of a wrist shot that finds the back of the net. Absolutely ridiculous shot. Here we go.

4:18, 3rd period: Fuhr makes another fantastic save to keep the game knotted up at 4. I have to be honest, I was expecting to get really invested in this, despite knowing the result of the game beforehand, and be all nervous and excited and live and die with each play and what not. But I’m not. I’m honestly not sure why. I’ve felt that way when re-watching the gold medal game from 2010; I’ve even felt it while yelling at Corey Schwab during old Leaf games. But not here. I’m hoping this changes by Thursday.

2:58, 3rd period: Voltron is on the board! Who else but Wayne Gretzky and his stupid fucking helmet could take the lead in this game? Here’s what’s odd about the goal, however. The entire Canadian team poured off the bench to celebrate with Wayne. With 3 minutes left in the game. That’s going to seem mighty dumb in a couple of minutes.

2:31, 3rd period: Or it’s going to seem mighty dumb in 27 seconds. The Soviets tie it on a goal by Khomutov. Crazy.

1:27, 3rd period: Everyone in the Forum is sitting down. Is the crazy Montreal fan a new phenomenon or something? Why in pluperfect hell would the crowd be sitting down at this point in the game? How is that even possible? Get it together, Montreal.

0:26, 3rd period: Canada almost scores on a blatantly missed offsides call. I’m glad that didn’t happen. That wouldn’t have been fun to hear about for the last 25 years.

End of the Third Period: We’ve got Overtime, folks.

20:00, OT: I enjoyed the graphic of “SUDDEN DEATH” on the screen. I think this should proceed all overtimes from now on. Makes it seem like there’s more at stake.

19:26, OT: Messier almost ends this game in quick fashion but is turned aside by a great save by Mylnikov. I would be absolutely losing my mind if this were live. Meaningful hockey overtime is the most stressful thing known to man (sorry, Breaking Bad). Every time the puck crosses the blue line into your team’s end you feel like you’re going to die. Man, I really hope there’s hockey this year.

17:44, OT: Lots of chances for Canada right off the bat. I know how this ends. This must have sucked for Canadians. Though, I’m curious, how big a deal was this tournament at the time? I know that, in retrospect, this is seen as a huge moment in hockey, Canadian or otherwise, but what was the mood like in 1987? Was it seen as a big deal in the same way that 2010 was? What about for Oiler fans who had just won a Stanley Cup? How did this measure up?

16:01, OT: Finally, in overtime, I’m starting to get that nervous feeling I was hoping for. It’s helped by Fuhr making three tremendous saves and the fact that this is in overtime. I’m almost invested. This bodes well for our future.

14:27, OT: And there it is. Alexander Semak ends the game in a victory for the Soviets. Heartbreak for 1987, the expected result for 2012. It’s a goal Fuhr probably should have had and just the beginning of a pretty ridiculous series. Though what’s really shocking about the goal is a somewhat subdued reaction from the Russians. In such a tight game, you’d think there’d be an explosion of emotion. Hell, the Canadians mobbed Gretzky for tying the damn thing. I’m curious to keep track of this going forward.

Thanks for reading if you made it this far. I’ll be back tomorrow to cover game 2. Possibly with a lot of bourbon. Probably with a lot of bourbon. See you tomorrow.

Comments (12)

  1. I love you too Jake

  2. I think a drinking game is in order for Game Two…

  3. I can drive to Canada in 20 minutes; but I can’t get TSN.
    This’ll do just fine though; that was a fun narrative.

  4. Final Fantasy IX is the best of them all. I’m still pissed someone stole that game off me years ago.

  5. Thanks for such detail. I love playing ice hockey. Whenever I find any hockey match on the television I leave my all other work and first I watch that match complete.

  6. Well done sir, er, young man not Old enough to remember this. As a red blooded American I have never seen said game sadly. Just might have to find a way to check it out.

    I do find it funny when watching hockey from the 80′s wondering just what the hell everyone love about it. Contact barely existed unless it was a scrum after the whistle. And the gliding, oh the gliding. Someone skating like that today would find themselves stapled to the bench or have a 6 minute Kovalev type shift.

  7. You could not be more wrong about Gretzky’s helmet. That’s akin to not liking the oversized jersey tucked in (only on the left side).

  8. No mention of the Adidas hockey jerseys worn by the Soviets? The 3 stripes down the arm…makes me think Adidas needs to get back into hockey.

  9. “Hey Brian, it’s Marvin. Your cousin, Marvin Burke. You know that defenseman you’ve been looking for? Well look at this.”

    Classic

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