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E.M. Swift
February 23, 1987
The National Hockey League All-Stars played the Soviets' best at Rendez-Vous 87 in Quebec City, and although they split their two games, everyone had a grand time and saw some truly great performances
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February 23, 1987

D�tente On Ice

The National Hockey League All-Stars played the Soviets' best at Rendez-Vous 87 in Quebec City, and although they split their two games, everyone had a grand time and saw some truly great performances

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On Tuesday, Lee Iacocca addressed a businessmen's lunch of 2,500. That evening the International Gala took place, a black-tie affair featuring such singers as Crystal Gayle, Paul Anka and Gordon Lightfoot, plus the world-acclaimed Red Army Choir and dancers from the Bolshoi Ballet. President Ronald Reagan, Soviet President Andrei Gromyko and Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney appeared on videotape. Sports figures such as Wilt Chamberlain, Pel�, Gary Carter, cyclist Eddy Merckx and Vladislav Tretiak, the great Soviet goal-tender who retired in 1984, had been flown in for the occasion. Capping the affair was an original song of peace written by David Foster (love theme from St. Elmo's Fire) and performed by the entire troupe, athletes included. "If you think I can't sing, you ought to hear Tretiak," critiqued 1980 U.S. Olympic hero Mike Eruzione. There wasn't a dry eye in the house.

Two international fashion shows and a rock concert featuring the Russian group Autograph (two encores and three standing ovations) rounded out the week's festivities. All of these goings-on are worth mentioning because they marked the first time in memory that the NHL had operated on something other than a minor league basis. This was first class all the way. And it happened before a frigid but festive backdrop, as Quebec City glistened in all the winter finery of its annual 10-day carnival. Ice sculptures and snow castles lined the streets, which, despite temperatures in the subteens and 30-mph winds, were jammed Thursday night for the carnival parade. How cold was it? "There were six more ice sculptures after the parade than there had been at the start," remarked Walt MacPeek, a writer for the Newark Star-Ledger. "My favorite was of the man hailing a cab."

Of the 21 NHL teams, only the Toronto Maple Leafs balked at putting up the $11,000 to have a float in the parade. The Leafs owner, of course, is that miserly curmudgeon Harold Ballard, who won't have anything to do with the Russians. So stern are his convictions that this will be the eighth straight season he has fielded a sub-.500 hockey team. Winning teams must remind Ballard of the Sovietskis.

Oh, yes. There were a couple of hockey games on the schedule too. The NHL All-Stars went into this series scared of being embarrassed, which is pretty much the way you have to play the Russians—not scared witless or into timidity, mind you, but scared of humiliation in their own Ail-Star Game. The NHL squad, which was selected by a consortium of eight past and present general managers, had only two full days to practice before the first game. A coaching troika of Jean Perron ( Montreal), Bob Johnson ( Calgary) and Michel Bergeron ( Quebec) did a good job of preparing the team, but the NHL was missing its two most mobile defensemen, Mark Howe and Paul Coffey, both of whom were injured. The NHL's other top rearguard, Ray Bourque, had a pulled groin muscle and was less than 100%. All of this meant that slow, stay-at-home types like Montreal's Rick Green and Washington's Rod Langway would have to anchor the defense.

The NHL thought that the sheer talent on its forward lines, great puck-handlers like Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux and Mark Messier, would generate the necessary offense. In addition, because the Soviets dictate that a great portion of the game be played without the puck, the league formed a checking line of Dave Poulin, Kevin Dineen and Dale Hawerchuk to stop the Soviets' big guns: Sergei Makarov, Vladimir Krutov and Igor Larionov, a unit that has been among the best in the world since 1981. Team NHL was fervently hoping to escape the first period of Wednesday night's game in a scoreless tie so that the players could get their feet under them.

From the theatrical opening ceremonies—the Red Army Choir, the Harvard Glee Club and a choir from Quebec City engaged in dueling anthems (the Red Army Choir won)—to Poulin's game-winning goal with 1:15 left, this game was a classic, everything that hockey can be. It took only two hours, twenty minutes to play—considerably less than the average stop-and-fight-and-start NHL game. "Discipline over emotion!" was the NHL battle cry. Messier, whose intensity terrified both the Soviets and his fellow NHL-ers—'He had me quaking in my boots," said Langway—repeated it over and over on the bench. It sank in. "They weren't going to outmuscle the Soviets," said former Sabre GM Scotty Bowman, one of the eight who selected the NHL Team. "They weren't going to intimidate them, so they were told to just play hockey. That's what they did."

Soviet referee Nikolai Morosov handed out only five minor penalties (four to Team NHL) despite a great deal of pre-game concern about his possible bias. There was no shoving or badgering after the whistle. And the level of play! There was only one offsides call in the first two periods. Gretzky later said that it was the fastest-paced game he had ever played in.

Team NHL took a 2-0 lead on goals by Jari Kurd and Glenn Anderson—the entire six-player Edmonton Oilers contingent was spectacular this night—as both shots went between Soviet goalie Evgeny Belosheikin's legs. A 27-page scouting report prepared by former Ranger G.M. Craig Patrick, who followed the Soviets for 10 games in December and January, had encouraged the NHL team to shoot for the 20-year-old Belosheikin's five-hole; as it was, he proved nearly impossible to beat anywhere else.

The Soviets started tentatively but began to hit their stride in the third period, tying the game 2-2 and again at 3-3, when Anatoly Semenov beat Edmonton's Grant Fuhr on a spectacular, cage-crashing breakaway. The game seemed destined for overtime. Then Lemieux, who had played so lethargically that he was drawing boos in his home province, took the puck at center ice and, breaking over the blue line, cut to his right. At the same time, Poulin drove for the net. "I was just trying to take the two defensemen out, and suddenly I popped through," said Poulin, who had never played against the Soviets before and hadn't even seen them on television since 1976. Lemieux shot, and Poulin, the captain of the Flyers, tipped it over Belosheikin's left shoulder for the game-winning goal.

But it was the penalty killers who were the real heroes, particularly the twin towers of Langway and Green. Four times they beat the Soviet power play, which passed crisply around the perimeter of the slot but was unable to penetrate and create scoring chances. "The guys who had no speed came through," said an exhausted Langway. "We couldn't keep up with them, but we knew where they were going. I didn't realize we could play so well defensively."

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