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My Canada Cup: Mats Naslund

by Staff Writer / Montréal Canadiens

MONTREAL – The hostilities between Canada and the USSR grabbed most of the headlines during the 1987 Canada Cup, but there were still a few other countries that earned some well-deserved attention at the tournament. Like Mats Naslund’s Team Sweden, for example.

Naslund received a Standing O from the Forum faithful before his game against Canada.

Fresh off completing his fifth season with the Canadiens, Naslund jumped at the chance to represent his country in the summer of 1987. Sweden had already turned some heads at the previous Canada Cup tournament, losing in the final to the host Canadians and they were about to do so again.

After helping his team to a 2-1-0 record through the first three games of the tournament, the “Little Viking” found himself in unfamiliar territory on Sept. 4, 1987, playing the role of bad guy in his home rink against Team Canada.

“It actually wasn’t all that weird playing at the Montreal Forum with my national team teammates,” admitted Naslund of playing in front of the fans in his NHL home wearing something other than a Habs jersey. “It wasn’t the first time I had done it. We had also played at the Forum during the World Junior Hockey Championships in 1978.”

While Team Canada counted superstars like Lemieux, Gretzky, Bourque and Messier, the home crowd was just as supportive of Naslund despite his Tre Kronor jersey. The Canadiens forward managed to buy himself some leeway with the Forum faithful after leading the Habs in scoring for the past three seasons.

“I remember that tournament in particular because I received a standing ovation from the fans at the Forum,” recalled Naslund, who racked up one goal and two assists during the Canada Cup that year. “They had a lot of great players; Mario Lemieux and Raymond Buorque and all those guys. But I got the biggest ovation of any of them! That was a big moment for me and for Swedish hockey.”

Even having the Habs sniper in the lineup couldn’t help the Swedes pull off an upset, with Canada managing to hold Naslund off the scoresheet in a 5-3 win. Swedish coach Tommy Sandlin and his crew still managed to bounce back two days later, capping off the tournament with a 3-1 win over the Finns to finish third overall.

Canada wasn’t the only stiff competition for Naslund and his teammates that year. After upsetting the U.S.S.R. 5-3 in the round robin, the Swedes couldn’t repeat the feat in the semifinal, losing to the eventual silver medalists 4-2.

“We felt like we didn’t really get the easiest schedule, playing games pretty much all across Canada in a short amount of time. The organizers wanted to make sure they had a Canada-Soviet match-up in the finals,” shared Naslund with a laugh, recalling the nearly 5,000 km he and his teammates had to travel for games in Calgary, Hamilton, Regina, Montreal and Sydney.

“Canada and the Soviets may have been the overwhelming favorites that year,” he added. “But we definitely weren’t intimidated by them in the least.”

Hugo Fontaine is a writer for Translated by Shauna Denis.

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