Whereas there is little doubt that anything can rival winning the Stanley Cup, let alone the four occasions Larry Murphy won hockey's greatest prize during his NHL career, the 1987 Canada Cup series proved to be one of the pinnacles in the career of Larry Murphy.
Although he had been married just a short while before, Murphy interrupted his prolonged honeymoon to participate in the Canada Cup tournament in 1987. "There was no way I'd have missed the Canada Cup once the invitation came through," admits Larry. "You might only get one chance like that in your lifetime."
Nine Honoured Members of the Hockey Hall of Fame played for Canada in the tournament Grant Fuhr in goal, defensemen Murphy, Ray Bourque and Paul Coffey as well as forwards Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux, Mike Gartner, Michel Goulet, and Dale Hawerchuk. Other Canadian stars included Doug Gilmour, Mark Messier and Glenn Anderson.
Coach Mike Keenan made the call to Larry Murphy, his former Peterborough Petes star of 1980's run for the Memorial Cup. "It was pretty gratifying," beams Murphy, "Especially because I wasn't one of the defensemen on the first list they were inviting to training camp. They called me later after they found out a few guys wouldn't be able to play."
Wayne Gretzky, who had led the Edmonton Oilers to the Stanley Cup that season, was late to accept Team Canada's invitation. The Soviet Union had a veteran team, including Sergei Makarov, Igor Kravchuk, Viacheslav Fetisov and a young Valeri Kamensky, ready to avenge their loss to Sweden in the World Cup. Sweden replaced eight national team members with nine NHL stars, including Mats Naslund, Kent Nilsson and Tommy Albelin. A young Dominik Hasek starred in goal for the Czechs. Finland featured Kari Takko in goal, with Jari Kurri, Esa Tikkanen and Christian Ruuttu. Team USA showcased future Hall of Famers Rod Langway, Pat LaFontaine and Joey Mullen as well as Chris Chelios and Phil Housley.
In the round-robin, Finland, who had returned to the Canada Cup in 1987, finished last, unable to pull out a win. The United States finished fifth, hampered by injuries. Czechoslovakia finished fourth and Sweden third.
Canada, who finished first, and the Soviet Union, second, met for the championship of the 1987 Canada Cup in a thrilling best-of-three series.
Game One, played in Montreal on September 11, ended in a 6-5 overtime win for the Soviets, with Alexander Semak scoring the deciding goal.
Game Two, played in Hamilton, Ontario on September 13, ended with an identical 6-5 overtime score, this time favouring Canada after Mario Lemieux's game-winning tally at 10:06 of the second extra frame.
This set up a 'do or die' scenario for Game 3, played September 15 in Hamilton. The Soviets pumped in three goals after only eight minutes of play. Canada rebounded, including a goal and two assists from Larry Murphy, to even the score. Midway through the third period, Canada was up 5-4 but the Soviet Union tied the score to build the drama to a heart-wrenching climax.
"There was a faceoff in our end and we got the draw," recalls Larry Murphy. "I was on defense and the first thing I knew, Gretzky was carrying the puck up the left side. The Russian winger didn't pick me up the way he should have so I followed the play. I had an absolutely clear path the length of the ice so I went in real deep."
"I was right beside the net and I was expecting the pass to come to me. I know the Russian goalie (Sergei Mylnikov) had the same idea. He was looking at me out of the corner of his eye when Gretzky gave it to Lemieux and he drove it upstairs." It had been a perfect pass from Gretzky to Lemieux with 1:26 left to play. Larry Murphy's role was crucial. "I remember I was wide open," adding, with a chuckle, "I was the greatest decoy in the history of hockey. Believe me, it made no difference who scored. What a moment that was!"
Canada had won the game and the tournament! All three exciting games in the final had been decided by scores of 6-5. Ironically, it was a 6-5 score that capped the Summit Series between the Soviet Union and Canada in 1972.
Gretzky and Lemieux had been unstoppable, leading all tournament scorers by a wide margin. Wayne Gretzky collected 21 points in the 9 contests while Mario Lemieux had finished with 18, including four game-winning goals. Larry Murphy, who enjoyed a strong series, had collected 7 points.
Two countries, long considered hockey powers, each embracing their own unique culture. Drama, intrigue and excellence. Many consider the 1987 Canada Cup the greatest hockey ever played. "I don't think you'll ever see better hockey than what was played in that series," stated Wayne Gretzky. "It was probably the best hockey I ever played."
Adds Larry Murphy, "How could you ever forget it?"
Kevin Shea is the Manager of Publishing and Editorial Services at the Hockey Hall of Fame.