Although the history of hockey has many touchstones for any ideal of greatness, there was arguably no finer hockey ever played than in the best-of-three finals of the 1987 Canada Cup between the host nation and the Soviet Union. Of course, there have been other exceptional moments in the game.
But 1987 had it all. It featured games in the modern era, where every minute of every game could be captured on film and appreciated time and again and compared to other great modern moments; it had familiar players; it had late-game heroics; and, most of all, it featured a pure level of skill that has never been matched before or since.
The tournament will always be remembered for Canadian coach Mike Keenan’s mid-tournament decision to play 99 Wayne Gretzky and 66 Mario Lemieux on the same line. Their performance will go down in hockey history as probably as the best one-two punch displayed in one international tournament ever. Gretzky finished the tournament with 21 points (3 goals and 18 assists) in nine games, while Lemieux had 18 (11 + 7).
The Soviet Union reached the final by defeating Sweden in the semis 4-2, while Canada struggled against a pesky Czechoslovak team, but prevailed 5-3. This set up the finals many fans were hoping for, and the anticipation was exceeded only by the drama of the three games; the first at the Montréal Forum, the two last out in Hamilton, Ontario.
In game one, Mike Gartner scored early for Canada but by the end of the first period the Soviets led 3-1 and were in control. The teams exchanged goals in the second, and this set the stage for a dramatic comeback by Canada in the final 20 minutes. Indeed, Canada scored three times to take a 5-4 lead, and it was Andrei Khomutov that tied that game at 17:33 to force overtime. The nailbiting fourth period didn’t last long, but it was played at ferocious speed and both teams had chances to win. However, it was Alexander Semak at 5:33 that scored to give the Soviets a win in the first game.
Two nights later, right back at Copps Coliseum, Canada was in a do-or-die situation. As in game one, both teams had leads and neither team could take full control. Canada again scored first, but this time it was they who led 3-1 after the first period. The Soviets scored twice in the second to Canada’s one, and Canada led 4-3 after two. Again, it was a late Soviet goal that forced overtime. On this night it was Valeri Kamenski with just 1:04 left in regulation who tied the score, 5-5, and this game went not to one overtime periods but two. Mario Lemieux scored the winner at 10:07 of the second OT, and Wayne Gretzky got his fifth assist on the night. He later called this the best international game he ever played, and he estimated he played 55 minutes of the 90 that were played.
15 September 1987, was a special night in hockey history. The Canada Cup was in the building, and after two exceptional 6-5 overtime games, it just didn’t seem possible the series could get any more dramatic. Well, it could, and it did. The teams combined for six goals in a wild first period, but the Soviets headed to the dressing room with a well-earned 4-2 lead. Canada, however, came out and controlled the middle 20 minutes, scoring three unanswered goals and taking a 5-4 lead. Semak tied the game midway through the final period, and the game intensified as a third overtime game seemed inevitable.
Then the extraordinary happened. Gretzky moved the puck up ice after a faceoff deep in the Canada end, and as he got to the faceoff circle in the Soviets’ end he dropped the puck to Lemieux, trailing on the play. Lemieux had defenceman Larry Murphy in a perfect position to his right, but he later admitted that he never even thought about making this pass.
Super-Mario measured his shot carefully and buried a wrister over the glove of goalie Sergei Mylnikov with just 1:26 left in regulation, and Canada held on for the 6-5 win.
The skill and speed of the games, the quality of play and the dramatics and heroics led even the losing coach, Viktor Tikhonov, to call this the most “perfect” hockey he had ever seen. Indeed, the biggest winners were the fans and the very game itself. It never got better than this. The 1987 Canada Cup would also be the last tournament that generated strong “cold war” sentiments between the two ideological rivals. After that, games would be just about hockey.
00:26 – 🇷🇺 GOAL – Makarov (Krutov)
04:59 – 🇷🇺 PEN – Bykov, interference
07:04 – 🇷🇺 GOAL – Gusarov
08:00 – 🇷🇺 GOAL – Fetisov (Makarov)
09:10 – 🇷🇺 PEN – Kravchuk, cross checking
09:50 – 🇨🇦 GOAL – Tocchet (Murphy, Goulet)
10:16 – 🇨🇦 PEN – Sutter, tripping
15:23 – 🇨🇦 GOAL – Propp (Sutter, Tocchet)
17:11 – 🇷🇺 PEN – Makarov, high sticking
19:32 – 🇷🇺 GOAL – Khomutov
28:24 – 🇷🇺 PEN – Bykov, tripping
29:30 – 🇨🇦 PP GOAL – Murphy (Gretzky, M. Lemieux)
31:06 – 🇨🇦 GOAL – Sutter (Crossman, Hawerchuk)
31:34 – 🇨🇦 PEN – M. Lemieux, slashing
32:37 – 🇷🇺 PEN – Larionov, interference
35:32 – 🇨🇦 GOAL – Hawerchuk (Propp, Murphy)
36:05 – 🇨🇦 PEN – Bourque, high sticking
38:51 – 🇨🇦 PEN – Bourque, hooking
52:51 – 🇷🇺 GOAL – Semak (Lomakin)
58:34 – 🇨🇦 GOAL – M. Lemieux (Gretzky)
W: 🇨🇦 Fuhr (18-23)
L: 🇷🇺 Mylnikov (40-46)
SHOTS ON GOAL
🇨🇦 19+12+15 = 46
🇷🇺 9+8+6 = 23
🇨🇦 Goaltenders: Grant Fuhr, Ron Hextall, Kelly Hrudey. Defence: Ray Bourque (A), Paul Coffey, Doug Crossman, Craig Hartsburg, Larry Murphy, James Patrick, Normand Rochefort. Forwards: Glenn Anderson, Kevin Dineen, Mike Gartner, Doug Gilmour, Michel Goulet, Wayne Gretzky (C), Dale Hawerchuk, Claude Lemieux, Mario Lemieux, Mark Messier (A), Brian Propp, Brent Sutter, Rick Tocchet.
🇷🇺 Goaltenders: Yevgeni Belosheikin, Sergei Mylnikov, Vitālijs Samoilovs. Defence: Anatoli Fedotov, Vyacheslav Fetisov (C), Alexei Gusarov, Alexei Kasatonov, Igor Kravchuk, Vasili Pervukhin, Igor Stelnov. Forwards: Vyacheslav Bykov, Valeri Kamenski, Yuri Khmylyov, Andrei Khomutov, Vladimir Krutov, Igor Larionov, Andrei Lomakin, Sergei Makarov, Sergei Nemchinov, Sergei Pryakhin, Alexander Semak, Anatoli Semyonov, Sergei Svetlov.
|🇨🇦 CANADA (C)||vs.||SOVIET UNION 🇷🇺|
(since 13 Sep 1987)
||13 Sep 1987|
(+ 10 ties)
|First IHLC Meeting (CAN vs. URS)
🇷🇺 URS 7-2 CAN 🇨🇦 – 07 Mar 1954 – WC – Stockholm 🇸🇪
|Previous IHLC Meeting (CAN vs. URS)
🇨🇦 CAN 6-5 URS 🇷🇺 (2OT) – 13 Sep 1987 – CC – Hamilton 🇨🇦
|Last IHLC Game
🇨🇦 CAN 6-5 URS 🇷🇺 (2OT) – 13 Sep 1987 – CC – Hamilton 🇨🇦
|Next IHLC Game
🇨🇦 CAN 7-1 NOR 🇳🇴 – 07 Nov 1987 – EX – Oslo 🇳🇴