February 11, 1979 — New York
North Americans just seemed slow to learn — or perhaps they were just stubborn. Canadians dismissed World Championships results from the 1950s and ‘60s leading up to the 1972 Summit Series — and were given a rude awakening. And the NHL didn’t seem to learn anything from the results of that historic, eight-game showdown in 1972, either.
Why else would the league organise a best-of-three series during the NHL season between a collection of the league’s best players who had never played a game together against a team from the Soviet Union which had played and practised as a unit eleven months of the year for several years? The Challenge Cup replaced the 1979 All-Star Game, and these three games at Madison Square Garden were meant to showcase the league at the expense of the Soviets.
Coached by Montreal’s Scotty Bowman and featuring a hand-picked group of international players from the NHL, how could they not win? In truth, the roster included 19 Canadians and three Swedes — Borje Salming, Ulf Nilsson, and Anders Hedberg. Indeed, game one was won fairly and impressively by the NHL, 4-2, thanks to goals from Guy Lafleur, Mike Bossy, Bob Gainey, and Clark Gillies. Game two was close and tense, a 4-4 game after 40 minutes being decided only by a goal early in the third period from Vladimir Golikov.
That set the stage for a dramatic final game — what more could the NHL have asked for? Shockingly, the Soviets were so confident in victory that they even gave their number-one goalie a rest and started their back-up! That is, Vladislav Tretiak watched the final game from the bench and Vladimir Myshkin played the full 60 minutes for CCCP. Myshkin didn’t have much to do. The NHL players fired 24 shots at him, and not one got past him.
At the other end, the Soviets pulled away. After a goalless first, they scored twice in the second and added four more in the third, the 6-0 victory emphatic and embarrassing for the NHL and putting an end to such a challenge series.
Although not admitting that officially, coach Viktor Tikhonov and the Soviet hockey authorities valued this slap in the face at the hands of the NHL as much as any World Championship or Olympic victory. Not only did the Soviets put down the best NHL had to offer, they did in mid-season when the NHLers where at their best, and the win was accomplished in the “capitalist capital of the World”
The next time the NHL replaced the All-Star Game was eight years later. The event was called Rendez-vous ’87, and the format was the same save for one major difference — it was a best-of-two, not best-of-three series.
As part of the IIHF's 100th anniversary celebrations, www.IIHF.com is featuring the 100 top international hockey stories from the past century (1908-2008). Starting now and continuing through the 2008 IIHF World Championships in Canada, we will bring you approximately three stories a week counting down from Number 100 to Number 11.
The Final Top 10 Countdown will be one of the highlights of the IIHF's Centennial Gala Evening in Quebec City on May 17, the day prior to the Gold Medal Game of the 2008 World Championship.
These are the criteria for inclusion on this list: First, the story has to have had a considerable influence on international hockey. Second, it has to have had either a major immediate impact or a long-lasting significance on the game. Third, although it doesn't necessarily have to be about top players, the story does have to pertain to the highest level of play, notably Olympics, World Championships, and the like. The story can be about a single moment — a goal, a great save, a referee's call — or about an historic event of longer duration — a game, series, tournament, or rule change.