Just the title alone should make fans of hockey in the 1980s excited as those are two of the greatest players to ever don a sweater in the NHL. Add in the fact that many other greats played alongside them in the 1987 Canada Cup and they faced the Soviet Union national team on their last great run before the team was broken up when the USSR dissolved and you have a great book for capturing the excitement of those three games. Here is my review of “Gretzky to Lemieux.”
“Gretzky to Lemieux: The Story of the 1987 Canada Cup” by Ed Willes
Ice Hockey, professional, history, international
October 2, 2007
4 ½ of 5 stars (very good)
In 1987, the power structure of international hockey was beginning to undergo a seismic shift. The Soviet Union national team, which had long been the most powerful team in the world, was beginning to crack as players were looking to either play elsewhere or became bolder in the criticism of their system thanks to the political shifting of their country.
The other powerful nation in hockey, Canada, was also undergoing a change of leadership among the players as Wayne Gretzky was widely considered to be the best player in the National Hockey League while an up-and-coming player named Mario Lemieux was thought to be the one person who could possibly match Gretzky. When these two nations met in the finals of the Canada Cup series in September 1987, it produced some of the best hockey played in that era, with the two players in the title working together to score the winning goal in the third game. The three games in those finals, along with some great storylines, are described in this book by Ed Willes.
Just a glance at the rosters of both teams makes a reader realize that this was a special series as many all-time greats were playing for both teams. Instead of listing them in this review, it should just be noted that Willes does a very good job of writing about the star players of both squads as well as the contributions of those who may not be as recognizable to the casual fan. The coaching methods of both coaches, Mike Keenan for Canada and Viktor Tikhonov for the Soviet Union. It was widely believed that the latter’s decisions in the third game may have led to the ultimate victory by Canada, but Willes doesn’t make that claim – instead he lets the reader make that decision. Willes does offer thoughts and analysis as well as recaps, and together they make for excellent reading.
It should also be noted that all three games in the series ended up with a score of 6-5 – the first game was won by the Soviet Union and the next two by Canada. Those scores are reflective of the wide-open offensive that was typical for professional hockey at that time and was very thrilling for fans to watch. This book, even though it is nearly 15 years old, is still worth the time to read to look back on a thrilling series that many still talk about nearly 35 years later.
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