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

Team Cananda '76

26 NOVEMBER 2013
The Canadian team celebrates after a goal
against the Czechoslovakia during Game 1 of the
1976 Canada Cup best of three series.
(Frank Prazak/Hockey Hall of Fame)
The Summit Series of 1972 had pitted the world's two hockey superpowers - Canada and the Soviet Union - in a tournament that, for the first time, saw both countries able to use their best players. Previous to that series, international competitions had been restricted to amateurs only. But the massive success of the Summit Series spawned further international tournaments. It is important to remember that these series were played at the height of the Cold War, so while on the surface they were simple hockey tournaments, they also pitted ways of life against each other. Intense feelings of nationalism permeated these series, both on and off the ice.

In 1976, Alan Eagleson, president of the National Hockey League Players' Association, and Douglas Fisher, head of Hockey Canada, worked collaboratively with hockey officials in the Soviet Union to plan for a new tournament - the Canada Cup.

Canada's Bobby Clarke celebrating after his team's
goal against Czechoslovakia during Game 2 of the 1976 Canada Cup best of three series.
(Frank Prazak/Hockey Hall of Fame)
To be played in the September prior to the 1976-77 NHL season, the Canada Cup featured Czechoslovakia, Finland, Sweden and the USA in addition to Canada and the Soviet Union.

Team Canada invited a strong group of candidates from across the National Hockey League. There were some sensitivities that went back to 1972. At that time, a handful of players invited to participate in the Summit Series were disappointed by their lack of icetime and returned to their NHL training camps after the first four games of the series. "That was the topic when we first went to the training camp," recalled Larry Robinson. "We were reminded that we were all there to play for Canada."

Canada's Bobby Orr sets up behind the goal during Game 2 of the 1976 Canada Cup best of three series against Czechoslovakia. (Frank Prazak/Hockey Hall of Fame)
Scotty Bowman was chosen to coach Team Canada, assisted by Don Cherry, Bobby Kromm and Al MacNeil. The goalies who would participate in the series were Gerry Cheevers, Glenn Resch and Rogatien Vachon. On defence, there was Guy Lapointe, Bobby Orr, Denis Potvin, Larry Robinson, Serge Savard, Carol Vadnais and Jimmy Watson. The forwards selected were Bill Barber, Bobby Clarke, Marcel Dionne, Phil Esposito, Bob Gainey, Danny Gare, Bobby Hull, Guy Lafleur, Reggie Leach, Richard Martin, Peter Mahovlich, Lanny McDonald, Gilbert Perreault, Steve Shutt and Darryl Sittler.

"My knee was not great, and to be honest, I considered declining the invitation to play in the Canada Cup," Bobby Orr wrote in his autobiography. "If the tournament was going to be the world's best against the world's best, I didn't want to be playing at half speed. That would not have been fair to the rest of the team. But after a couple of workouts, I knew that the chance to play for my country was something I could never pass up."

Guy Lafleur roomed with Orr during the series and found the experience enlightening. "He was my idol when I was playing junior. I had a big poster right over my head where I used to dress in the dressing room in Quebec. He was a great guy to be with. We talked about the game, from when he first started up to the Canada Cup, and how much he loved to play for Boston. He was playing on one knee because he was injured."

Canadian players celebrating after a goal against Czechoslovakia during Game 2 of the 1976 Canada Cup best of three series. (Frank Prazak/Hockey Hall of Fame)
But while Canada iced a strong team, there wasn't a great deal of knowledge on just how good the competition was going to be. "We all know that great '72 series (the Summit Series). It was always Canada and the Russians as the two hockey powerhouses of the world," recalled Darryl Sittler. "We didn't hear a lot about the Swedes and the Czechs, but you saw guys like Borje Salming and Inge Hammarstrom come over to the NHL and knew that these countries had good players."

Canada opened the tournament with a dominant 11-2 win over Finland on September 2, 1976. It was relatively smooth sailing after that for Team Canada, doubling the United States 4-2 and blanking Sweden 4-0. But then, they were shocked to be shut out by Czechoslovakia, with veteran goaltender Vladimir Dzurilla earning the shutout in a 1-0 win. Canada concluded the round-robin with a 3-1 victory over the Soviets. With a record of four wins against one loss, Canada finished in first place. "When you are in a six-team, one-game knockout round-robin, anything can happen," said Darryl Sittler. "The Czechs, the Swedes and even the U.S. had competitive teams, and the Czechs were getting good goaltending from Dzurilla."

Darryl Sittler's 1976 Canada Cup jersey.
While most believed that, once again, the final would see Canada face the Soviet Union, Czechoslovakia surprised everyone and earned a shot at the inaugural Canada Cup. "No Canadian player or fan thought the Czechs would be in the final," admitted Sittler. The final was a best-of-three series between the Czechs and Canadians.

Game One took place on September 13 in Toronto at Maple Leaf Gardens. Team Canada pumped four goals past Dzurilla in the first period, including a tally by Gilbert Perreault in the first minute of play, driving the Czech netminder from the goal. He was replaced by Jiri Holeček, who played well but surrendered two more Canadian goals. Riding a shutout by Rogie Vachon, who was sensational, Canada waltzed to a convincing 6-0 victory.

Game Two, played two days later at the Montreal Forum, was an entirely different game. Holeček started in goal for the Czechs, but with Canada coming out of the gate blazing, scoring two goals in the first three minutes, he was replaced by Dzurilla. Czechoslovakia was much stronger for the rest of the game, tying the score early in the third. Captain Bobby Clarke put Canada ahead midway through the third but the Czechs responded with goals by Josef Augusta and Marian Stastny within a minute of each other to give the Czechs a 4-3 lead with four minutes remaining in the period. Then, Bill Barber scored to tie the contest and send the game into sudden-death overtime.

Czechoslovakia's Vladimir Dzurilla makes the save while Vladimir Martinec keeps close watch on Canada's Guy Lafleur during Game 2 of the 1976 Canada Cup best of three series. (Frank Prazak/Hockey Hall of Fame)
The action was fast and furious, as both teams had designs on ending the game. Both Dzurilla and Vachon were amazing in their respective goals. "I made one of the best glove saves of my career," recalled Vachon. "Vladimir Martinec came in about thirty feet away. I just grabbed it." Meanwhile, Guy Lafleur looked to have scored the winner when his shot snuck past the Czech netminder, but Ivan Hlinka knocked the net out of place just before the puck crossed the goal line, and while he was assessed a delay of game penalty, his action prevented the Canadian victory. Later, Guy Lapointe beat Dzurilla, but the goal was waved off as the buzzer had sounded to end the first ten minutes of the overtime period. International rules called for play to be stopped at the ten-minute mark of any overtime period in order for teams to switch ends.

"Don (Cherry), who was an assistant coach on the team, had been watching the game from the stands," remembered Bobby Orr. "He came down to give us some advice on Dzurilla. He was coming way out of his net to cut down the angles. 'If you get the chance,' Don said, 'fake the shot and go by him.'"

Just a minute later, Marcel Dionne fed a pass to Darryl Sittler on the left boards. Sittler broke down his wing, but as he approached the Czech goal, Dzurilla came way out to challenge him. Using Cherry's advice, Sittler faked a slapshot and then took an extra stride, revealing a yawning goalmouth, and neatly slipped the puck into the empty net at 11:03 of overtime.

Team Canada had won the Canada Cup!

A wild celebration ensued, not only with the players on the ice but by the fans in the stands of the Montreal Forum.

Czechoslovakia's Jiri Holik skates with the puck while Canada's Guy Lafleur chases him down during Game 2 of the 1976 Canada Cup best of three series. (Frank Prazak/Hockey Hall of Fame)
In a sign of goodwill, the Czechs and Canadians exchanged jerseys. Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau presented the beautiful newly-minted Canada Cup to team captain Bobby Clarke.

Rogie Vachon was awarded a new car as Team Canada's MVP, ironic, as Ken Dryden had been the odds-on favourite to play goal during the tournament, but had been injured. Then, popular opinion suggested that Gerry Cheevers would be Team Canada's goaltender, but it was Vachon who grabbed the role and shone. Vachon posted two shutouts in 7 games, earning a sparkling 1.39 goals-against average and a .963 save percentage. "That was pretty awesome," Vachon grinned. "It's totally different from winning the Stanley Cup because you're playing for your country. We had such a great team and I was really hot in goal, but we still had to go into overtime to win. That's how good the other teams were."

Bobby Orr, with 2 goals and 7 assists yet playing on a ravaged knee, had been phenomenal in what would prove to be the final hurrah of his extraordinary playing career, and was presented with the tournament's Most Valuable Player award while wearing a Czech jersey.

In his book, 'Orr,' the tournament MVP concluded, "For fans and players alike, it didn't matter what province you were from or what political party you voted for. We were all Canadians, and it was an honour to have been part of something that brought people together like that."

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