Saturday, July 30, 2016

1980 World Hockey Challenge

The second World Hockey Challenge got underway on August 30, 1980 in Prague Czechoslovakia. With two new nations participating and a new format, there were some interesting plotlines from the get-go. The host country, Czechoslovakia, was determined to make some noise in their first appearance in the tournament and would face a tough challenge immediately in the opener against the defending champion Soviets. The Czechs put out a strong effort against the Soviets, as Jaromir Hladec scored early to give Czechoslovakia an early 1-0 lead. Czech goaltender Jaroslav Danek made a heroic 67-save performance, but unfortunately, the Soviets managed to get 70 shots on net including three unanswered third-period goals to give them a 3-1 win. Meanwhile, the other new addition to the tournament, Great Britain, made their debut against Canada in what was nicknamed the inaugural “Commonwealth Cup”. The British also made things surprisingly difficult for Canada. After the Canadians took a 1-0 lead, Boston Bulldogs defenseman Trevor Duffas, the only PHL player on the British squad, tied the game with a hard point shot. Minutes later, Harry Hayes, projected to go high in the 1981 PHL draft, beat Bobby Sorel but couldn’t beat the post and the tie held up. Just as the Canadians were starting to get concerned, Danny Stevenson finally beat goaltender Jackson Byrne to restore Canada’s lead. The game remained close until the third period, when goals from Dennis Yates and Brian Hunt secured a 4-1 victory for Canada. In other day one action, Sweden defeated Norway 3-2, while the United States shut out Finland 2-0.

September 1 was a fairly uneventful day featuring a pair of predictable shutouts, The Soviet Union beat Norway 5-0, while Canada became the second team to shut the Fins out with a 3-0 win, while the Czechs came up just short once again losing 4-2 to Sweden. The final game of the day was not so predictable, however, as the British took on the Americans. Alan Chadwick and Ray Fowler each scored early as Team USA immediately jumped to a 2-0 lead. When the Americans hit the post twice shortly afterwards, the British team began to panic, pulling Jackson Byrne and replacing him with Grant Moody, a 39-year-old local church pastor from Liverpool who was actually not even currently playing organized hockey. Moody absolutely stunned the Americans, turning away shot after shot, giving his team the confidence they needed to create some chances of their own. Finally, forward Bryan Blake put the Brits on the board just three minutes into the third period. Five minutes later, George Gardiner beat American goaltender Tim Massey to tie the game. Both Moody and Massey turned away shot after shot before British winger Will Saunders finally broke the deadlock. As the seconds ticked down, the British players poured off the bench and lifted Grant Moody, the most unlikely of heroes, on their shoulders. The British had pulled off the biggest upset so far in WHC history.

Moody would be rewarded with another start two days later against Finland and would once again play very well despite a 3-2 loss to the Fins. By this point, even fans from the other countries couldn’t help pulling for the British and their unlikely hero. While much attention was focused on the surprising British club, one team in particular remained focused. Still angry after their heartbreaking loss to the Soviet Union in 1976, the Canadians refused to buy into the fanfare surrounding the tournament. Canadian captain Guy Dupont, never one to shy away from bold statements, made a big one just moments after an emotional 4-2 win over the rival Americans. “We know why we’re here and we’re going to finish what was started four years ago, We know we’re going to be here at the end of this thing and we know they-and you know who I mean-will be there too and we came here to beat them. This is about more than just hockey.” The Soviets showed the same focus in a 4-1 win over Sweden as the two hockey Giants completed the Round Robin at the top of their respective pools, while the host Czechs closed the Round Robin with their first win over Norway.

After a two-day break, the playoff round began. Grant Moody’s magical ride finally came to an end as Sweden shut the British out 3-0. The Americans, who had struggled mightily throughout the tournament, once again barely escaped their quarterfinal matchup against Czechoslovakia with a 3-2 win. Stuart Holly’s hat-trick helped Canada to a 4-2 win over Norway, while the Soviets won a surprisingly close game against Finland 3-1 with young Soviet star Alexei Yurlov scoring twice. Yurlov would come up big again in the Semis against the United States. The 19-year-old had points on all four Soviet goals with two goals and two assists while Alexander Orlov had two goals of his own as the Soviet Union marched on to the final with a 4-2 win. Meanwhile, the Canadians once again looked like a team on a mission as they faced the Swedes, a team featuring more PHL talent than any other European country. The teams battled hard through regulation to a 2-2 tie, with Bobby Sorel and Victor Malmsten both making several spectacular saves to keep the score tied. Two minutes into overtime, David Appleby proved to be the hero, deking every Swedish player on the ice before sliding the puck under Malmsten to send the Canadians back to the final.

Just as Guy Dupont had said a week earlier, Canada now found themselves in a long-desired one-game rematch with the Soviet Union to decide who the ultimate hockey superpower was. Canadian photographer Merv Wilson summed up the mood of the day perfectly, snapping what eventually became a very famous photo of the intersection at Yonge and Dundas Street in Toronto, the busiest street in Canada, completely devoid of traffic on Wednesday morning. Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau had actually declared the day an unofficial holiday so people could watch the game.

As the game began, tension boiled over almost immediately. When Alexander Orlov ran over Bobby Sorel, a scrum immediately ensued. Soon after, Canadian defenseman Cliff Lyle leveled Alexei Yurlov at the blue line. Orlov immediately attacked Lyle and before long, everyone on the ice jumped in. Suddenly Don Shelburne stood up on the boards in front of the Canadian bench and began hurling threats at the Soviets, Orlov in particular. He would not get down until one of his assistants pulled him aside and pointed out Czech KGB officers making their way to the Canadian bench. Shelburne finally relented and out of the ruckus, the Soviets ended up with a powerplay. With the man advantage, Sergei Krayev finally opened the scoring for the Soviets. Four minutes later, Appleby tied it for Canada. By the end of the second period, the game was tied 3-3, until Dupont scored to give Canada a 4-3 lead. Just seconds later, Stuart Burns put the Canadians up by two. Now desperate to tie the game, the powerful “Red Line” of Krayev, Orlov, and Yurlov led a strong charge throughout the third period, scoring with twelve minutes remaining to bring the game within a goal. The following eight minutes would be among the most tense few minutes in Canadian history. The entire nation held its breath as the Soviets peppered Bobby Sorel with shot after shot. Finally, the Soviets pulled goaltender Valeri Rusanov. It appeared that Danny Stevenson had a clear shot on the empty net at with just 13 seconds left but it was blocked by a Soviet defenseman. When Canadian defensemen Claude Clark and Freddie Huff jumped into the play to try for the open net, it led to a 2-on-0 with Alexei Yurlov and the puck-carrier Alexander Orlov bearing down on Bobby Sorel. With five seconds remaining, Sorel committed to Orlov, dropping to his knees. Orlov then passed the puck to Yurlov who immediately fired it at the wide open net. Sorel stretched out his blocker hand just in time to tip the puck over the net. The clock hit zero before the Soviet players could retrieve the puck and the Canadian players mobbed Bobby Sorel, while across the country people celebrated in the streets. Bobby Sorel went on to become a Canadian hero and icon for what became known as “The Save.” “For years people would approach Bobby in the street and tell him where they were the moment he made that save” said Guy Dupont at a 30th anniversary event in 2010. “It was a very special moment for the game and for our country and I was honoured to be a part of it.”

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