Even though major ice hockey tournaments don’t grace the IIHF’s summer calendar, it’s not as if fans are deprived of high-level action during these warm months. Take a look at the modern history of the sport.
The first four games of the 1972 Summit Series, pitting Canada versus the Soviet Union in a landmark clash for global hockey supremacy, were all played before hockey leagues around the world started (September 2-8). They provided us with unforgettable moments.
The Soviets stunned the hockey world by trouncing Canada 7-3 in the sweaty opener at the Montreal Forum, paced by two spectacular Valeri Kharlamov goals. Canada rallied to win 4-1 in Game Two in Toronto, best remembered for Pete Mahovlich’s solo dash that beat Russian goalie Vladislav Tretiak. After a hard-fought 4-4 tie in Game Three in Winnipeg, Game Four saw gritty Soviet captain Boris Mikhailov leading his team to a 5-3 victory in Vancouver with two identical power play markers.
It all set the stage for Canada’s heroic, Paul Henderson-led comeback with three straight wins to take the eight-game series in Moscow – by which time it was autumn.
The first three games of the 1974 Summit Series, featuring nearly the same Soviet team versus World Hockey Association all-stars, were also highly competitive and yielded the same results as in 1972 (one win apiece for Canada and the USSR, plus a tie). However, this tournament didn’t gain the same attention or historical significance as ‘72.
From 1976 onward, however, the Canada Cup and its successor, the World Cup of Hockey, provided excellent summer hockey entertainment.
Although never staged on anything resembling a regular schedule, the existence of the Canada Cup was important in itself. It was part of Canada’s negotiated return to the international hockey family after its absence from Olympic and World Championship play from 1970 to 1976. (The Canadians came fourth at the 1977 Worlds in Austria.)
Laden with NHL superstars, Canada won convincingly in 1976, led by MVP Bobby Orr in his last hurrah. The host nation suffered its most crushing defeat ever in the 1981 final when the Tretiak-backed Soviets triumphed 8-1.
But Canada would capture the last three Canada Cup tournaments with varying degrees of thrill value. The best-remembered goals include Mike Bobby’s OT winner over the Soviets in the 1984 semi-final before Canada ousted Sweden in two games in the finals; Mario Lemieux’s late wrister, set up by Wayne Gretzky, over Sergei Mylnikov’s glove to climax an amazing three-game 1987 final; and Steve Larmer’s shorthanded breakaway winner on U.S. goalie Mike Richter in Game Two of the 1991 final.
When the World Cup of Hockey was introduced in 1996, the Americans turned the tables on Canada. They won a brutally physical three-game final with two straight 5-2 victories in Montreal. Richter was the biggest difference-maker for the U.S., while teammates Brett Hull and John LeClair finished 1-2 in tournament scoring.
Canada reasserted its dominance at the 2004 World Cup, going undefeated and never trailing once in six games. Its closest call was a 4-3 OT win over the Czechs in the semi-finals prior to earning a 3-2 decision over the Finns in the final on Shane Doan’s first-minute goal in the third period.
The victory, however, proved to be a mixed blessing for Canada in an IIHF context. It convinced the Canadian braintrust to bring largely the same roster to the 2006 Olympics. In Turin, older, slower players were exposed on the big ice surface as Canada finished seventh, its worst Olympic result ever.
Summer hockey isn’t restricted to the elite international ranks, of course. Many European pro leagues kick off their regular seasons a week or so before the official start of autumn. Pre-season action in the KHL is already garnering attention this month, with Lokomotiv Yaroslavl preparing for its KHL return after last September’s tragic plane crash.
As long as today’s NHL schedule is – with pre-season hockey, 82 regular-season games, and the playoffs – it doesn’t usually extend into summer. But an exception occurred in 1995. Due to a work stoppage that led to a 48-game slate and a late start to the post-season, the New Jersey Devils were awarded the Stanley Cup on June 24 after sweeping the Detroit Red Wings in four straight.
Amazingly, if that series had gone to seven games, the deciding match would have taken place at Detroit’s Joe Louis Arena on July 1. That would certainly have given a different complexion to Canada Day, the national holiday north of the U.S. border, as Canadians might have clustered around their TVs in lieu of barbecues by the lake.
This month, fans in Canada and Russia are already gearing up for a taste of summer hockey. The 2012 Canada/Russia Challenge will pay tribute to the 40th anniversary of the 1972 Summit Series, featuring U20 players who could represent their respective nations at the 2013 IIHF Ice Hockey U20 World Championship in Ufa, Russia over the Christmas holidays.
The first two games will take place in Yaroslavl, Russia (Aug. 9, 10) and the second two will be in Halifax, Canada (Aug. 13, 14). Canada will aim to be as dominant as it was during the 2007 Super Series between these countries, posting seven wins and one tie. Russia, which has dashed Canada’s dreams of gold at the last two World Juniors, will be looking to continue its upward trend.
More summer hockey. Bring it on.