Thursday, January 27, 2011
While the NHL All-Star Game has been almost exclusively a competition between players of the NHL, there have been two occasions when the usual format was bypassed in favor of an international competition against the Soviet Union.
The first such occasion occurred in 1979 with an event called the 1979 Challenge Cup. Up to this point, the Soviets had played against North American professionals three times, the first being the ground breaking 1972 Summit Series against a team of Canadians from the NHL. The 1974 Summit Series revisited the concept, only this time against a team of the best players from the WHA. The first Canada Cup tournament took place in 1976, which had not only Team Canada and the Soviet National Team, but also teams from Sweden, Czechoslovakia, the United States and Finland.
The Challenge Cup was held in New York's Madison Square Garden and took the place of that season's traditional All-Star Game and consisted of a three game series held on February 8, 10 and 11, 1979.
1979 Challenge Cup program cover
The NHL All-Star team was made up of NHL players, regardless of the country they were born in. In all, the NHL All-Stars comprised 23 Canadians and three Swedes.
Guy Lafleur opened the scoring in Game 1 just 16 seconds into the game, but by now the North Americans had learned not to dismiss the Soviets, a lesson learned in Game 1 of the 1972 Summit Series. Each team scored a power play goal before the first period ended with the NHLers up by one.
The NHL extended it's lead in the second period with goals from Clark Gillies and Bob Gainey. Vladimir Golikov pulled one back for the Soviet Union 3:02 into the third, but the All-Stars circled the wagons and held off the Soviets the rest of the way to win 4-2 with Ken Dryden getting the win in goal for the NHL.
Game 2 had the Soviet Union scoring first at 8:10 only to have the NHL score three consecutive goals , a power play from Mike Bossy and an even-strength goal from Bryan Trottier in the first followed by a Gilbert Perrault tally just 27 seconds into the second.
The Soviets fought back with a goal at 2:05 before Larry Robinson restored the All-Stars lead to two again at 5:06. That lead quickly disappeared when the Soviet Union scored at 17:02 on the power play and again 45 second later to even the game heading into the third.
Golikov got one past Dryden at 1:31 for the game winner, as the rest of the period was scoreless as Vladislav Tretiak held the All-Stars at bay to even the series at one game apiece.
Game 3 was simply all the Soviet Union as they put on a dazzling display of complete hockey. There was no score after the first period before the Soviets scored at 5:47 and again at 7:44 on a power play. The third period was all Soviet Union as they solved goalie Gerry Cheevers again and again, scoring four times during a six minute span beginning at 8:44 to win the series 2 games to 1 with Vladimir Myshkin getting the shutout in his surprise debut for the Soviets.
While many people my not remember the Challenge Cup games, the cup itself is a spectacular trophy perhaps best remembered when the Soviet team returned to Madison Square Garden exactly one year later on February 9, 1980 and paraded the Challenge Cup around the ice prior to their 10-3 demolition of the United States Olympic Hockey Team in a tune-up match for the impending 1980 Olympics.
This game occurred just 13 days before the Soviets shocking defeat in the "Miracle on Ice", when essentially the same Soviet team that easily dominated the best of the NHL 6-0 in Game 3 of the Challenge Cup lost to a team of American college players during the Olympics.
Similar to the Canada Cup trophy, the Soviets were allowed to win the trophy, but were not allowed to actually keep the trophy, which now resides in the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto.
The jerseys worn by the NHL All-Star Team for the 1979 Challenge Cup were without a doubt the simplest, most plain ones ever worn by an NHL All-Star Team, and actually managed to make the Soviet jerseys almost look flashy by comparison!
Without so much as a single star on them, the closest thing these jerseys can be compared to are the NHL referee's sweaters worn in the 1940's only with the addition of a pair of stripes and bolder numbers.
The Soviet Union jerseys were their usual utilitarian selves, simply adorned with CCCP in a simple font with legible numbers and some basic striping as adornment, but with the addition of the repeating diamond pattern around the waist for a touch of flair not seen on the jerseys of the NHL All-Stars.
These Soviet jerseys would be the now familiar style as worn in the 1980 Olympic Games in Lake Placid, New York.
The next instance where the normal All-Star Game was put aside for a year came eight years later with Rendez-vous '87, which was similar in format to the 1979 Challenge Cup, where the Soviet National Team faced off against a team of NHL All-Stars, except in a two game format, rather than three as in 1979.
Rendez-vous '87 program cover
Why the teams did not compete for the rights to the impressive Challenge Cup once again, we do not quite understand, but the hockey competition was just a part of the annual Quebec Winter Carnival which was a multi-cultural event that year featuring entertainers and food from Canada, Russia and the United States.
The games were held in Quebec City, Quebec at Le Colisee, home of the Quebec Nordiques.
The Soviet lineup was a strong one, and featured over a dozen players who would eventually compete in the NHL within the next six years. The changing face of the NHL was reflected by the increasing international presence on it's roster, now sporting players from not only Canada and Sweden as before, but with the addition of players from the United States and Finland as well.
Game 1 took place on February 11, 1987 and Jari Kurri got the NHL All-Stars off to a 1-0 lead 5:23 in to the game. The Soviets fell behind 2-0 when Glenn Anderson scored with three minutes remaining in the second period but managed to get on the board before the period ended when Alexei Kasatonov got one by Grant Fuhr with 1:18 remaining.
The third period was an exciting affair, as the Soviets tied the game 2:03 into the period. Canada retook the lead five minutes later with Kevin Dineen's goal only to have the Soviets tie the game once more one minute later thanks to Anatoli Semenov.
The game continued scoreless as time began to wind down before Dave Poulin got the game winning goal for the All-Stars with just a minute and fifteen seconds left when he beat goaltender Evgeny Belosheikin, who had the audacity to wear Tretiak's legendary #20!
After a day of rest, the teams returned to the ice on February 13, 1987 following much the same script, as the NHL again scored 3:32 into the game to lead 1-0 after the first period.
The Soviet Union got two goals early in period two when Valeri Kamensky and Vladimir Krutov scored a minute and a half apart for their first lead of the competition. Doug Wilson evened the scoring at 2-2 with his goal on the power play at 7:33 only to have Kamensky and Krutov each score their second goals of the game to put the Soviets ahead by two. Kamensky's second goal came with 19 seconds left in the second period, while Krutov's game winner came 9:19 into the third period.
Krutov's two goals were key to the Soviet in in Game 2
Andrei Khomutov increased the Soviet lead to 5-2 at 12:59, which proved to be an important goal in not only the game, but in the larger picture of the series as a whole, for when Ray Bourque scored at 19:23 of the third period, it was too little too late as the Soviets not only won the game 5-3, but earned bragging rights for the series by outscoring the NHL All-Stars by a combined 8-7 over the two games thank's to Khomutov's goal.
Following the game, team captains Wayne Gretzky and Viacheslav Fetisov traded jerseys in keeping with the tradition of European soccer players, leading to the most unusual sight of Wayne Gretzky wearing a Soviet National Team jersey emblazoned with CCCP across the front as well as a Cyrillic captain's "K".
"Comrade" Gretzky in his Soviet National Team jersey
Despite the loss in the series, the two games together allowed the Canadian members of the NHL All-Star Team a chance to compete together in advance of that fall's thrilling 1987 Canada Cup.
Today's featured jersey is a 1987 NHL All-Star Team Wayne Gretzky jersey as worn in the two game Rendez-vouz '87. This jersey's unusual customization had sleeve numbers only on the left arm, as the Rendez-Vouz '87 patch was placed on the right sleeve in the location usually occupied by the numbers due to the stars on the chest occupying the usual location for such a patch on the upper right chest.
This style of jersey was worn only for the two games of the series in Quebec City and there was no dark "road" version ever produced, as was the norm with NHL All-Star jerseys since the introduction of the East vs. West format in 1969.
Examples of this style jersey for collectors are rather scarce, as retail jersey sales were still in their infancy in 1987.
Bonus Jersey: Today's Bonus jersey is a 1987 Soviet National Team Sergei Priakin jersey as worn during Rendez-vous '87. These jerseys were some of the less successful of the Soviet Union's, as the dark red stripes on the red body of the jersey were too close in color to create any worthwhile contrast.
Gone were the striking diamond pattern on the waist of the 1979 Challenge Cup jerseys, as well as the more pleasing font for the numbers. Things would improve in the years following, as the jerseys worn in international hockey would soon be made by the Finnish brand Tackla, giving the final jerseys of the Soviet era some much needed graphic design.
Priakin would become the answer to a trivia question in 1988 when he became the first Soviet player to be allowed to compete in the NHL, which he did with the Calgary Flames. He would also suffer the common plight of the Soviet players during this early era of playing in North America, as the spelling of their names on the backs of their jerseys often varied from appearance to appearance. As seen here, "PRYAKHIN" would latter play for the Flames wearing "PRIAKIN".
Today's video highlights begin with all the goals scored in the 1979 Challenge Cup.
Game 1, won by the NHL All-Stars.
Game 2, the Soviets come from behind to win the game and turn the tide of the series.
The Soviet Union's dominant performance in Game 3.
Next, Poulin tips in the game winning goal in Game 1 of Rendez-vous '87.
In Game 2 of Rendez-vous '87, Kamensky is a one man highlight reel, scoring two and assisting on Khomutov's goal for good measure.