With the '79 Challenge Cup disaster in mind, the NHL changed its international game plan for Canada Cup '81. "This year we shied away from a media dream team," said Team Canada General Manager Cliff Fletcher, who's also the general manager of the Calgary Flames. Indeed, Team Canada wasn't a mere collection of All-Stars. Sure, there was Guy Lafleur, Gil Perreault, Marcel Dionne, Denis Potvin and Larry Robinson, as well as the Stanley Cup champion Islanders' thrill-a-minute line of Bryan Trottier, Mike Bossy and Clark Gillies. And, naturally, Wayne Gretzky—gentleman, heartthrob, star of Pepsi TV ads and not a bad hockey player. But six of the top 16 NHL scorers last season weren't even invited to camp, and one of the early cuts was the 1980-81 winner of the NHL's best defenseman award, Randy Carlyle. So much for NHL glory. "We've taken our heads out of the sand," Fletcher said. "A player without speed is dead against the Soviets."
Still, the U.S.S.R. was less than awed by Team Awesome, especially if you believed Anatoly Tarasov, the father of Soviet hockey and the man who directed the Red Machine to 13 Olympic and world championships. "To say I'm impressed wouldn't be telling the truth," Tarasov said Friday night after Canada blitzed the U.S. 4-1 in the semifinals. "Your goalie [ Mike Liut] isn't so great. And the defensemen aren't the fastest, either." Only Gretzky impressed Tarasov. "Very smart," Tarasov said, pointing to his head. "Very smart. Smartest player I've ever seen."
For their part, the Soviets were a team in transition. Gone were Boris Mikhailov, Vladimir Petrov and Valery Kharlamov, the guts of the dynasty of the 1970s. And Soviet team spirit sank on Aug. 27 when news came from the U.S.S.R. that Kharlamov, cut from the national squad only a few days earlier, had died in a car crash near Moscow. Further, in many Canada Cup games the Soviets had seemed lost on the ice. It was as if they were looking for a teammate, a notable deviation from previous Soviet teams, which seemed to locate linemates through telepathy. In five chances against the Czechoslovaks one night, the Soviet power play failed to produce a score. But they still had Vladislav Tretiak, who at 29 remains the world's No. 1 goaltender. Tretiak sat out the 7-3 Soviet loss to Canada, but in the six games he did play in Canada, he allowed only eight goals and had by far the lowest goals-against average in the competition, 1.33.
On Sunday in Montreal, Forum vendors passed out tiny Canadian flags, and when Jan Rubes began to bellow the lyrics to O Canada, just about every voice in the place joined in. According to plan, Team Canada came out pressing, shelling Tretiak early, trying to take a lead. Meanwhile, the Soviets were content to back into their own zone, play things safe, ice the puck, if necessary. "That's something we'd never seen them do," Fletcher said later.
In a scoreless first period Team Canada pumped 12 shots at Tretiak, while the Soviets took four at Liut. In the second period, though, the Soviets changed tactics and moved in on Liut, who played shakily.
Igor Larinov fired from the slot and beat Liut high, but Gillies tied the score on a wrist shot. Tretiak had no chance. At 11:15 there was a pileup in front of the Canadian net and the puck dribbled out to the right face-off circle; Soviet Forward Sergei Shepelev picked it up and flicked a backhander into the net. Liut never saw it. Five minutes later Shepelev scored again. It was 3-1 for the Soviets, and suddenly Canada was on the ropes. The Soviets scored two quick goals and three late goals in the final period, and the rout was complete.
Afterward, in the Soviet locker room, a group of players, led by veteran Aleksandr Maltsev, stuffed the huge, weighty, nickel Canada Cup Trophy into an equipment bag bound for Moscow. Eagleson spotted the Soviets leaving the building with the Cup and, as he said, "tried to explain to them that it belongs to the Canadian Government."
Listen up, Alan. The Soviets don't need to steal the Canada Cup. No, sir. No, Canada. They own it.