September 13, 1981 – Montreal, Canada
The 1981 Canada Cup was all about momentum. It was the second edition of the event started five years earlier, and Canada was the prohibitive favourite. There was one significant difference, though. In 1976, the Soviet Union had sent an “experimental” team, not fully knowing the level of competition it would face and worried some of its top players might try to defect. The result was a performance not befitting the country that had claimed World Championship and Olympic gold many times over. In 1981, it would make no such mistake.
The Soviet lineup included Vladislav Tretiak in goal and a defence featuring Slava Fetisov, Alexei Kasatonov, and Zinetula Bilyaletdinov. Up front, the Soviets presented Sergei Makarov and Igor Larionov among their many stars. The six teams played a preliminary round robin, and Canada had an undefeated record including a 7-3 thrashing of the Soviets on the last day before the playoffs. In that game, however, Vladimir Myshkin was the goalie, not Tretiak, and many people felt that coach Viktor Tikhonov was luring Canada into a false sense of confidence by having his team not try too hard in this more or less meaningless game. Indeed, the score was 2-2 after two periods, but Canada scored five goals in a row in the third to seal the victory.
In the semi-finals, Canada beat the United States 4-1 and the Soviets rolled over the Czechs by the same score. This set up a one-game showdown for the championship between the two great hockey powers.
The final game was decided largely by the play of one player – the great goalie Tretiak. In the first period, Canada outshot the Soviets 12-4, but the shots didn’t tell the whole story. Much of the period was played in the Soviet end, and Tretiak made one spectacular save after another to keep the game scoreless after 20 minutes. Canada’s lineup included eleven future members of the Hockey Hall of Fame, notably Wayne Gretzky, Marcel Dionne, Gilbert Perreault, Bryan Trottier, and Mike Bossy. But none of these stars could beat Tretiak.
In the second period, it was Larionov who broke the ice with a goal at 4:56, but three minutes later the New York Islanders line of Bossy-Trottier-Clark Gilles finally solved Tretiak to tie the game. Sergei Shepelev scored twice before the end of the period, however, to give the Soviets a 3-1 lead after two periods, but Canada was stymied time after time by the great Soviet goalie.
The deciding period was all Soviets. They scored five times on eight shots on Mike Liut who was clearly out of his element on this night at the Forum in Montreal. Five different scorers put the game out of reach, giving Canada an 8-1 humiliation it had never experienced in a championship game at this level. Canada would go on to win the 1984, 1987, and 1991 Canada Cup events, but on this night, the Soviet Union was at the very height of its powers. This was arguably the best game played by the CCCP-team in the history of Soviet hockey.
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.
Click here for the 100 Top Stories