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Lemieux's Canada Cup winner remains historic

by Tal Pinchevsky

The list of Canada's most historic goals starts with Paul Henderson's winner in the 1972 Summit Series, and for the moment ends with Sidney Crosby's overtime tally that won the gold medal at the 2010 Winter Olympics. Squarely between them is Mario Lemieux's winning goal at the 1987 Canada Cup -- a perfect give-and-go with Wayne Gretzky that remains one of hockey's most-replayed highlights.

With Canada and the Soviet Union tied 5-5 in the deciding third game of the tournament final and less than two minutes remaining, Canada coach Mike Keenan placed Dale Hawerchuk between Gretzky and Lemieux, then sent the threesome out for a defensive-zone faceoff.

The rest is history.


The 1987 Canada Cup was an international hockey tournament which ran from Aug. 28 to Sept. 15 and involved teams from Canada, the Soviet Union, the United States, Sweden, Czechoslovakia and Finland. The three-game final contested between Canada and the USSR is considered by many to be the best exhibition of hockey in history. The tournament also was the only time in a meaningful contest that Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux, the greatest players of their generation, played on the same forward unit. NHL relives the tournament with a five-piece look at an unforgettable tournament.

"Not many times in a 5-5 game does a coach throw out three of his more offensive guys to take a faceoff in the D zone," Gretzky said. "Dale is just a hard-nosed guy and he poked the puck past the defenseman and gave us that opportunity to get a 2-on-1 break."

With an odd-man rush developing in front of Soviet blueliner Igor Kravchuk, Canada defenseman Larry Murphy raced down the wing and headed for the front of the net. Hustling into the play, Hawerchuk appeared to get away with a borderline hook on Soviet backchecker Slava Bykov just as Gretzky dropped a perfect pass to the oncoming Lemieux.

"Murphy, without question, made the goal possible. He went to the net, and in going to the net he took the defenseman all the way to the goaltender," Gretzky said. "Mario was left wide open."

With Murphy perched beside the Soviet goal, Lemieux snapped a perfect wrister: top shelf, glove side.

Final score: Canada 6, Soviet Union 5.

In a career full of historic goals, this would be one of Lemieux's most memorable.

"He loved top glove. You prepared for it, and somehow he would still fool you with his release," said Kelly Hrudey, a Canada teammate who saw plenty of Lemieux as a goaltender with the New York Islanders, Los Angeles Kings and San Jose Sharks. "I had seen that so many times from him. He looks like he's going low stick side and just at the last moment, with that amazing release, he went top shelf."

The goal was a shining moment in Canadian hockey history, but also symbolized a changing of the guard in the sport's balance of power. Lemieux, not quite 22, emerged as a star under the tutelage of 26-year-old Gretzky -- and in the end, the Great One literally passed his legacy on to No. 66.

"I give Wayne a lot of credit. He taught Mario everything he knew about the game in a very short period of time," Keenan told "I think he saw a youngster on the horizon who would challenge his individual ability. At the same time, he knew this would make the team better."

It was a historic exchange hockey fans aren't likely to forget -- and for the man with the best view of Lemieux's goal, it's been a source of some good-natured razzing.

"I thought maybe he was going to slide it to me, but he found the corner and buried it," Murphy said of Lemieux. "Any type of discussion of international hockey, that highlight always comes up. I'd get ribbed about it. Guys say, 'There was no way you were going to receive the puck.'"

Gretzky was traded to the Los Angeles Kings 11 months later, ushering in a new era of hockey -- one in which the man he teamed up with on that Canada Cup classic was suddenly included among his sport's greatest ambassadors.

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