TSN25: Gretzky and Lemieux highlight 1987 Canada Cup

Danny Celia

8/9/2012 9:13:33 AM

In honour of TSN's 25th Anniversary, is taking a look at some of the top sports stories over the last 25 years. Our final flashback is the 1987 Canada Cup, a tournament that many believe delivered as much drama and excitement as the historic 1972 Summit Series.

"Lemieux ahead to Gretzky. Has Murphy with him on a two-on-one. To Lemieux - in on goal - he shoots, he scores! Mario Lemieux, with 1:26 remaining!"

Those immortal words of the late great Dan Kelly will forever be etched in the hearts and minds of all Canadians that were old enough to witness one of Canada's epic moments in sports history, the 1987 Canada Cup.

The tournament highlighted the combination of hockey's two most gifted offensive players; Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux. Hockey fans around the world finally saw the duo play together on the same team (and later, the same line), marking the only time the two played on the same forward unit in a meaningful contest.

The 1987 tournament not only featured The Great One and The Magnificent One, but also stars in their prime or at the edge of their prime. Fellow three-time Stanley Cup champions Mark Messier, Glenn Anderson, Grant Fuhr and Paul Coffey joined Gretzky and Lemieux in the lineup, as well as Doug Gilmour, Dale Hawerchuk, Larry Murphy and Ray Bourque. The team was so deep that future Hall of Famers like Patrick Roy, Steve Yzerman, and Cam Neely were left off the team.

The Soviets iced the other big favourite in the tournament. Igor Larionov, Sergei Makarov and Vladimir Krutov were all at the height of their game, and were complimented with future NHLers that included Valeri Kamensky, Anatoli Semonov, Andrei Lomakin, Igor Kravchuk, Alexander Semak, Alexei Gusarov and Sergei Nemchinov.

The round robin was a two-horse race between Canada and the Soviets. Canada finished atop the round robin standings with a 3-0-2 record, edging the USSR by just one point. The Soviets handed third-place Sweden a 4-2 loss in the semifinal, while Canada fell behind 2-0 to Czechoslovakia after one period before rallying for a 5-3 victory and setting up the greatest showdown in history.

The final face-off between the two teams was a classic confrontation that kept the entire country on the edge of their seats. For the first time in Canada Cup history, the best-of-three series went the distance while providing high-scoring games in every contest.

"I don't think you'll ever see better hockey than what was played in that series," said Wayne Gretzky. "For me, it was probably the best hockey I've ever played."

The first game was played at the Montreal Forum on September 11. With a 4-1 deficit through two periods, the Canadian squad battled back to force overtime before losing 6-5 on an Alexander Semak marker at 5:33 of overtime.

Two nights later, the tournament shifted to Copps Coliseum in Hamilton, Ontario, where Games 2 and 3 where played, providing fans with perhaps the greatest hockey ever played.

In Game 2, Canada jumped out early with a 3-1 lead after the opening frame, but this time it was the Soviets who came from behind to tie the contest in the second period. Canada scored twice more, each time Gretzky assisting Lemieux, but the Soviets replied each time.

After a scoreless overtime period and brilliant goaltending from Fuhr, Gretzky and Lemieux hooked up for the third time of the evening at 10:07 of the second overtime. It was the fifth assist for Gretzky on the night and completed a hat trick for Lemieux. But most importantly, it forced a third and deciding game.

Game 2's momentum didn't catch on in the early going in Game 3. It was a rough opening frame for Fuhr, who allowed four goals on nine shots before the nine minute mark. All of Canada was stunned as the Soviets took a commanding 3-0 lead. Canada replied with goals by Rick Tocchet and Brian Propp to keep the game from being a first period blow-out before a late goal by Khomutov gave the Soviets a 4-2 lead at the end of 20 minutes.

Canada's power play clicked in the second period and goals by Murphy and Brent Sutter tied the game. Before the period was out, Hawerchuk gave Canada their first lead of the game but it was Semak who gave the Soviets the equalizer in the third period.

The stage was then set for one of the game's most memorable goals.

Late in the third period, head coach Mike Keenan sent the Gretzky-Lemieux-Hawerchuk line out to play. With the faceoff in Canada's end, Hawerchuk won the draw from Valeri Kamensky and tied up the Soviet centre while Gretzky, Lemieux and Murphy rushed down the ice on a three-on-one. Once again, Gretzky set up Lemieux, who fired a shot over the glove of goaltender Sergei Mylnikov with 1:26 remaining, making it one of the most memorable plays in Canadian hockey history.

Lemieux finished the tournament with 11 goals in nine games (including four game-winners), while his 18 points were second behind Gretzky's tournament-record 21 points (three goals and 18 assists).

"There is a generation of hockey fans who have grown up not having seen the 1972 Summit Series," tournament head Alan Eagleson later said. "But the 1987 tournament bridged that generation gap. It was that good. To a new generation it will be their 1972 series."