As we finally say goodbye to hockey’s least interesting month, fans are turning their attention toward next month’s World Cup. We’re just a few weeks away from players hitting the ice for a rare best-on-best international tournament (kind of). It’s going to be lots of fun.
The World Cup, of course, is a direct descendent of the Canada Cup, a tournament that started in 1976 and ran every three-to-five years until being rebranded in 1996. The last tournament to carry the Canada Cup name came in 1991 – and it kicked off with the opening of the round robin games 25 years ago Wednesday.
The 1991 Canada Cup had an almost impossible act to follow, coming four years after the 1987 edition that many consider the greatest international tournament ever played. So maybe it’s not surprising that 1991, while entertaining, never really resonated with hockey fans in the same way that previous versions had. We all remember Gretzky-to-Lemieux, but 1991 sort of blends into the background with other tournaments.
So today, in honor of the 25th anniversary of the opening games, let’s refresh our memories by looking back at five of the biggest stories from the 1991 Canada Cup.
Spoiler alert: Canada wins
We might as well cut through the suspense and begin at the end. This edition of the Canada Cup ended the way almost all of them did: with Canada taking home the title. The home team swept Team USA in a two-game final to win the tournament for the third straight time and fourth out of five overall (the Soviets won in 1981).
That win wasn’t exactly an upset, given the strength of the Canadian roster. They were missing some big names, with Mario Lemieux out with a back injury, Steve Yzerman cut by Mike Keenan yet again, and Joe Sakic, Patrick Roy, Ray Bourque and Cam Neely also absent. But the roster was still stacked, featuring in-their-prime stars like Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier and Scott Stevens.
Canada got off to a slow start, managing just a 2-2 tie against Finland in the opening game. But they heated up from there, finishing the round robin undefeated and then knocking off Sweden in the semi-final to set up a showdown with the Americans. More on that in a second.
The biggest story on the Canadian roster was a rookie
Given how much talent was packed onto Team Canada, it seems odd to say that the roster’s biggest attraction may have been a teenager who’d never played an NHL game. But when you’re talking about Eric Lindros in 1991, all the usual rules kind of go out the window.
Lindros was fresh off of being taken by the Nordiques with the first overall pick in the draft. He refused to sign with the team, and was adamant that he’d never do so. There was still some skepticism lingering over whether he’d actually follow through on that threat, but it’s fair to say that he was already a controversial figure by the time the tournament rolled around.
That didn’t stop Keenan from putting him on the team, and the hockey world got their first look at Lindros against NHL-caliber talent. He didn’t disappoint, making an impact early on – literally. He crushed Swedish defenseman Ulf Samuelsson and Czechoslovakian winger Martin Rucinsky with clean hits, knocking both out of the tournament.
Lindros finished the tournament with three goals and five points in eight games, before heading back to junior to make good on his promise to never play for Quebec.