Canada's Top Ten teams

Best Canadian national teams from since 1920.

26.04.2008
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The Canadian national squad that won the legendary 1972 Summit Series against the Soviets

With the World Championship soon to arrive in Canada for the first time, let’s take the opportunity to look back at the best Team Canada teams that have represented the country that gave the world the fastest sport.

1—Team Canada ‘72

Without doubt the most important series in international hockey, the 1972 Summit Series pitted the pros of the NHL against the best from the Soviet Union in an eight-game showdown. Canada was led by Phil Esposito, Yvan Cournoyer, and a roster of future hall of famers. But the hero in the end was Paul Henderson who scored the game-winning goal in each of the final three games. In the first four games, played across Canada, the Soviets surprised the Canadians in a way no one expected. They flew home to Moscow after having lost only one game. The misery for Canada began soon after it built a quick 2-0 lead in the first game in Montreal. By the end of the night, they huffed and puffed off the ice after being humiliated 7-3. They recovered to win a crucial game two in Toronto, tied in Winnipeg, and were again embarrassed in Vancouver as the fans booed the team off the ice. After a travel break, the Soviets continued their dominance, winning game five by a 5-4 score. Then, Henderson took control, and his decisive score at 19:26 broke a 5-5 tie and gave Canada an historic 6-5 win in the game and 4-1-3 record in the series.

2—2002 Olympics

Canada was the favourite going into the tournament, but after the first game the team seemed in disarray. Sweden easily dismantled the Canadians, 5-2, and the vaunted roster on paper looked vulnerable on ice. Coach Pat Quinn made a goaltending change, taking Curtis Joseph out and inserting Martin Brodeur, and Brodeur played the rest of the way. Canada eked out a close 3-2 win over Germany and earned an exciting 3-3 tie with the Czechs, and in the playoffs the team grew stronger and stronger. A 2-1 quarter-finals win over Finland led to an easy 7-1 win over Belarus and a gold medal showdown with host USA. The final game saw many heroes emerge. Captain Mario Lemieux was magnificent; Jarome Iginla scored twice; Steve Yzerman played with incredible pain in one knee; and, Brodeur was terrific in goal. The result was Canada’s first Olympic gold in half a century.


Mario Lemieux with the 2002 Olympic gold medal.

3—1987 Canada Cup

Some say—among them Soviet coach Viktor Tikhonov—that the 1987 Canada Cup was simply the best hockey ever played. Of course, these comments are reserved exclusively for the best-of-three finals between Canada and the Soviets. Each game was won by a 6-5 score, and each game was close right down to the final goal. Canada became a “team” late in the training camp when captain Wayne Gretzky called Mario Lemieux’s desire into question, making clear Mario could be so much greater a player than he was to this point. Lemieux responded, leading the tournament in goals and teaming with Gretzky on the decisive marker. Game one went to overtime and was won by the Soviets. Game two went to double overtime before Lemieux scored the winning goal. Gretzky had five assist and later called this his best international game of all time. Game three was tied as overtime loomed, but numbers 66 and 99 broke up ice and Gretzky made a simple drop pass to Lemieux at the top of the circle. His pinpoint wrist shot beat goalie Sergei Mylnikov at 18:34 of the third period, and Canada held on to win the game and series.

4—1924 Olympics

Quite simply the most dominant and impressive hockey team of all time, the Toronto Granites were so far superior to their opponents that to even compare them is not fair. Canada defeated Czechoslovakia, Sweden, and Switzerland in the preliminary round by scores of 30-0, 22-0, and 33-0, respectively. In the final round they beat Great Britain 19-2 and USA 6-1 to win the gold medal with the greatest of ease. This magnificent team was led by Harry Watson who scored 36 goals in five games, including a record 13 against Switzerland and eleven against the Czechs. Bert McCaffery averaged four goals a game and Hooley Smith and Dunc Munro better than three a game. All except Watson went on to great NHL careers. Watson refused to give up his amateur status, however, and today remains the greatest amateur of all time.

5—1955 World Championship

There was never more pressure in the early years of international hockey for Canada than in 1955. The previous year was the first time the Soviets participated and they shocked the mother country by hammering them 7-2 in the decisive game for the gold medal. The next year, the CAHA chose its team more carefully, electing to send the Penticton Vees to West Germany to reclaim the title of world’s champions. Such was the importance of the event that the great Foster Hewitt left Maple Leafs Gardens while the Leafs were in the playoffs to call the games in Germany. Led by the Warwick brothers—Grant, Bill, and Dick—Canada waltzed to a perfect 8-0-0 record, including a substantial 5-0 shutout of the Soviets on the final day to secure the gold. Goalie Ivan McClelland played most of the games, and Canada allowed just six goals in those eight games while scoring 66 times.

6—1976 Canada Cup

The inaugural pro invitational tournament was the result of the success of the Summit Series and the continued withdrawal from international hockey by Canada as a result of the country’s inability to use pros at the World Championship. The 1976 Canada Cup ended with a best-of-three showdown between Czechoslovakia and Canada. The Canadians were led by Phil Esposito, Darryl Sittler, and Bobby Hull, as well as Bobby Orr who, on one good leg, led the tournament in scoring and was named MVP. In the first game of the finals, Orr was dominant, scoring twice and assisting on another goal in an easy 6-0 game. Game two was different, however. Canada had leads of 2-0 and 3-2, but it was the Czechs who led 4-3 late in the third until a Bill Barber goal sent the game into overtime. At that point, Darryl Sittler became the newest Canadian hero. Midway through the first overtime period he skated down the left wing, faked a slapshot which froze goalie Vladimir Dzurilla, and quickly tucked the puck into the vacated goal as Dzurilla had come out to cut down the angle on the shot.

7—1961 World Championship

Of course, no one knew at the time, but history shows that after the Trail Smoke Eaters won gold for Canada in 1961, the country didn’t win gold again for another 33 years. There were several reasons for this. The 1960s were a time when Father Bauer’s National Team, composed mainly of university students, was playing against the pros from the Soviets. The 1970s was mostly a time of non-participation for Canada, and later the NHLers who played in the World Championship didn’t really want to be there. The Smoke Eaters wanted to be there, in Switzerland for the 28th World Championship, and they were dominating. They had but one blemish on a perfect record and that was a 1-1 tie with Czechoslovakia. All other six games were victories, including an impressive 5-1 win on the final day against the Soviets. Indeed, it was Canada and the Czechs that finished in top spot with 13 points each, but the Canadians had the superior goals differential and claimed gold through that tiebreak. Goalie Seth Martin was spectacular for Canada.

8—1920 Olympics

The first truly international hockey tournament took place in April 1920 when teams from Canada and the United States played European teams from Sweden and Czechoslovakia during the Summer Olympics. That Canada won easily and was opposed only to any degree by its southern neighbour is no surprise, but the very organization of the tournament was of historic importance. Fans and media were so impressed by the refereeing of William Hewitt that Canadian rules were adopted, and the Canadians played with such a skill that this was, in many ways, the first taste of true European hockey and the beginning of the end for bandy which had been the more popular form of hockey in Europe. Canada played only three games beating the Czechs 15-0, Sweden 12-1, and the USA by a close 2-0 count. Leading the way was fast-skating Mike Goodman and future NHL star Frank Fredrickson. Goalie Wally Byron had little to do, but Canada’s remarkable superiority helped lead to the establishing of an Olympic Winter Games four years later and an annual IIHF World Championship starting in 1930.

9—1984 Canada Cup

Lost among the great Canada Cups was the 1984 edition, largely because it was an overmatched Swedish team that faced Canada in the best-of-three finals. The best game of the tournament came in the semi-finals when Canada beat the Soviets 3-2 in overtime. A goalless first period gave way to a John Tonelli goal in the second, but the Soviets scored twice in quick succession in the third to take the lead. Doug Wilson tied the game later in the period to send the game into a fourth period, and Mike Bossy was the hero when he tipped in a point shot from Paul Coffey at 12:29 to give Canada a 3-2 win. In game one of the finals, Canada easily handled Sweden, 5-2. In the second game, two nights later, the score was closer but the result the same. Canada scored five times in the first 17 minutes of the opening period and coasted to a 5-4 win, the score close only because the Canadians let up. Nonetheless, the team, led by Wayne Gretzky, Paul Coffey, and Michel Goulet, got stronger as the tournament went on, even though it won only two of five games in the preliminary round-robin portion of the tournament.

10—2003 World Championship

Perhaps the least assuming of the great Team Canadas. The 2003 edition that participated in the 67th IIHF World Championship in Finland was spectacular for several reasons. First, the team went through the tournament with eight wins and a tied in nine games. Second, the roster was impressive. Andy Murray was the coach, and his players included Dany Heatley, Jay Bouwmeester, and Roberto Luongo, plus a host of lesser names such as Jamie Heward, Cory Cross, and Steve Staios. Murray’s incredible skill in getting the team to play as a whole and buy into a system that could work for three weeks was the key, though. Canada was not without a bit of good fortune. The quarter-finals matchup against Germany should have been an easy game, but it wasn’t decided until overtime. Canada hammered the Czech Republic 8-4 in a wide-open semi-finals, and the finals turned into a classic. Sweden pulled ahead 2-0 only to see Canada tie the game in the third period. In the overtime, being played 4-on-4 for 20 minutes for the first time, Anson Carter scored a goal on a wraparound. The goal had to be verified by video review, however, and after an agonizing wait of ten minutes and countless evaluations of every conceivable angle, the goal counted. This win started a run of three gold medals in a five-year span for Canada.

ANDREW PODNIEKS

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