On January 26, 2011, Wayne Gretzky turns 50. The IIHF looks back at his greatest moments in international hockey, one a day for ten days, starting with number 10 and working towards the top story to be published on his birthday.
The hockey world was seeing Wayne Gretzky at the very height of his powers by the time the 1984 Canada Cup began. And he came to the event with something to prove. Despite his incredible achievements in the NHL, he had yet to win at the international level, his bronze at the 1978 U20 followed by a runner-up finish to the Soviets at the 1981 Canada Cup and bronze at the ’82 World Championship.
But Gretzky took his NHL team, the Edmonton Oilers, to its first Stanley Cup in the spring of 1984 and then immediately had minor surgery to remove bone chips from his ankle so he could be ready and healthy in time for the Canada Cup. “Winning the Stanley Cup is what you play for. It’s what we get paid for. It’s what we live on,” he explained. “But it’s a different feeling to play for your country.”
The lineup for Team Canada ’84 resembled the Oilers in many ways, starting with Gretzky and including Mark Messier, Glenn Anderson, goalie Grant Fuhr, and a trio of defencemen – Randy Gregg, Kevin Lowe, and Charlie Huddy. The team was coached by Glen Sather, and he put Gretzky on a line with Michel Goulet of the Quebec Nordiques and “Nifty” Rick Middleton of the Boston Bruins.
Gretzky had three goals and an assist in the team’s first game, an easy 7-2 win over West Germany, but the rest of the round robin was decidedly unimpressive for the host nation. Canada tied the United States, 4-4, lost to Sweden, 4-2, finally picked up a solid win, 7-2 over Czechoslovakia, and lost the final game to the Soviets, 6-3.
Unfortunately for fans in Alberta, where most of the games were played, this set up a semi-finals against the Soviets, the two teams most fans wanted to see compete in the championship best-of-three series.
The game was, of course, a classic, won by Canada in overtime thanks to a Mike Bossy goal. The other semi-finals was not even close, the Swedes routing the Americans by a 9-2 score and setting up a Canada-Sweden finals.
Prior to game one of the finals in Calgary, the rhetoric was flying. Swedish coach Leif Boork called Messier and Anderson unsavoury characters who played dirty, while his counterpart, Glen Sather, said, “Sweden has more cheap-shot artists than we do.”
Although Sweden had won the first meeting between the teams, in the round robin, it was a different Canada that showed up for the finals. Goalie Pete Peeters was sensational when he had to be, and Gretzky’s line produced in the clutch, accounting for four of the five goals.
Gretzky had a goal and two assists; Goulet had two goals and an assist; and, Middleton added a goal. For Gretzky, it was his first goal in six games, since the opening game against the Germans, and Goulet was making up for a lack of touch around the net, having missed several great set-ups from Gretzky in recent games. Regardless, the win gave Canada control of the event.
“Because he is the greatest player in the world, I have to adapt my game to his style,” Goulet said after the win. “Tonight is definitely the best game we’ve played so far.”
The three points gave Gretzky four goals and eleven points to lead all scorers, moving him ahead of teammates Paul Coffey (two goals, ten points) and Goulet (five goals, nine points).
Tre Kronor could not overcome a dreadful start in game two. The Swedes trailed 5-0 after 17 minutes and 6-1 early in the second, but although they mounted a ferocious comeback, they fell just short, losing game two, 6-5, and ceding the title to Team Canada.
Gretzky had now played four international tournaments in his career, and for the fourth time was the leading scorer (after one point in the final game he finished with 12 points). But in 1984, he became champion of an international event for the first time. Coupled with his first Stanley Cup ring, 1984 was a very fine year for number 99.
Number 10 – Gretzky has five points vs. Sweden in final game of his only World Championship to win tournament in scoring.
Number 9 – Number 99 unofficially retired by hockey world
Number 8 – Gretzky has a goal and two assists in game one of the 1984 Canada Cup finals vs. Sweden