Legends of Hockey - Spotlight - Team Canada '76
Spotlight
One on One Turning Point

Turning Point - Team Cananda '76
Assistant coach Don Cherry recommended to the Canadian team that they draw the goaltender out, force him to commit and hold onto the puck for an extra stride.
Assistant coach Don Cherry recommended to the Canadian team that they draw the goaltender out, force him to commit and hold onto the puck for an extra stride. (Graphic Artists/Hockey Hall of Fame)
The Canadian squad selected to participate in the 1976 edition of the Canada Cup is regularly regarded as the finest congregation of hockey players ever to play together in one tournament. A staggering sixteen of Team Canada's players are now Honoured Members of the Hockey Hall of Fame, joined by the coach, Scotty Bowman, who is also in the Hall of Fame in the Builder Category.

Six countries were chosen by the National Hockey League Players' Association, the National Hockey League and the International Ice Hockey Federation to compete in the tournament -- Canada, Czechoslovakia, Finland, the Soviet Union, Sweden and the United States. Most expected that Canada and the Soviet Union would end up facing each other for the championship, as the two were widely regarded as being the world hockey powers at the time.

At the end of the five-game round robin, Canada sat first with a record of four wins and one loss, scoring 22 goals and surrendering just six. The Czechs were second with three wins, a loss and a tie. They scored 19 goals but allowed just nine. In order, the Soviet Union finished third, Sweden fourth, the United States fifth and Finland was the sixth-place finisher.

The stage was set for the final, a best-of-three series between the top two finishers. Pundits were astonished to see Czechoslovakia emerge as the team that would face Canada in the final. It should be noted that the Czechs were certainly no slouches in hockey at the time. Earlier that year, they had earned a silver medal at the Winter Olympics and had won the gold medal at the World Championship.

Canada's Darryl Sittler scored the winning goal at 11:03  of overtime to capture that 1976 Canada Cup.
Canada's Darryl Sittler scored the winning goal at 11:03 of overtime to capture that 1976 Canada Cup.
(Frank Prazak/Hockey Hall of Fame)
Canada easily handled the Czechs in Game One, toppling them 6-0. But the second game turned out to be the turning point.

At the end of regulation, the teams were tied at four goals apiece, forcing overtime. Don Cherry, an assistant coach for Team Canada, noticed that Czech netminder Vladimir Dzurilla habitually came well out of his net to challenge shooters, and recommended to the Canadian squad that, given the opportunity, they draw Dzurilla out, fake and force the goalie to commit, then step around and they'd have an open net.

After several scintillating saves at both ends of the rink, Marcel Dionne caught Darryl Sittler with a perfect pass as he was flying up the left wing. As Sittler crossed the blueline, approaching the Czech goal, Dzurilla did exactly as Cherry had predicted and came well out of his crease to cut down the angle. Sittler faked a slapshot and then, with Dzurilla committed, went wide and at 11:03 of overtime, fired the puck into the empty Czech net to win the game and the series.

"Scoring the overtime goal in the championship game of the Canada Cup in '76 was my greatest hockey moment," stated Sittler, who earlier that year, had set an NHL record by accomplishing the extraordinary feat of collecting ten points in a single game. "Canada's entry in the Canada Cup that year was, in my opinion, the greatest assembly of players on one team, ever. I was proud to be part of it."

Kevin Shea is the Editor of Publications and Online Features for the Hockey Hall of Fame.