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Challenge Cup 1979

And it all came crashing down...

It was the first big international meeting since the 1976 Canada Cup. The Challenge Cup was a bit different then other series because it seemed stacked in the NHL's favor. Consider that it was in mid-season so both teams should have been in fighting form. Add to that it was team NHL, not just team Canada, which actually meant only the addition of 3 Swedish players to the All-Stars (Borje Salming, and former Winnipeg Jets Ulf Nilsson & Anders Hedberg). Finally, all 3 games would be played in an NHL rink giving our boys both the home ice advantage and the smaller rink. I anticipated that this series would stop the rapidly changing status of hockey powerhouse that had been going toward the Soviets ever since 1972.

The first game seemed to confirm that view as the NHL beat the Soviets 4-2 at Madison Square Gardens in New York City. In fact Guy Lafleur scored 16 seconds into the first period, playing on a line with teammate Steve Shutt and Bobby Clarke. It was Tretiak against Dryden in the nets.
Game two went two days later on February 10th, again at MSG in New York. This time however the Soviets would come out on top 5-4. The NHL led 4-2 going into the final minutes of the 2nd period. But the Soviets pulled within one goal at 17:02 on the Power Play with Barry Beck sitting in the box.
Forty-five seconds later the Soviets not only scored the tying goal but perhaps the turn around of the series. Team NHL would not score again in the final 4 periods of the series. That's right, the best the NHL had to offer held scoreless for over 80 minutes of play, not just by Tretiak but also my Myshkin.

The deciding game was played on February 11th, 1979, the very next night. Knowing what we do now about the Soviets its fair to assume that this was an advantage for the team commonly called the Red Army by Canadian fans. The Soviets single minded purpose, lifestyle, and dry land training made them the team with the better stamina in this series.
I was 9 years old, and we had just finished a hockey game of our own. Our coach had the team and parents over to his house to watch the final game. I remember that most of the other kids soon lost interest in the game and went off to play. Later in the game most of the parents too had lost interest, as I continued to watch the massacre unfold.
In what shocked the hell out of me, the CCCP elected to start Myshkin in net instead of Tretiak. Why? Was it because of the conditioning considering they were playing two straight nights? Or was it because of Tretiak's play? Perhaps just as surprising was that Team NHL started Gerry Cheevers over Ken Dryden.
The Soviets absolutely steamrolled Team Canada. I remember watching this game as the Soviets ragged the puck from one end of the ice to the next, making the NHL'ers look silly. You would have sworn that in the first 5 periods of this series the Russians must have been playing possum.
After a scoreless first period the Soviets scored two goals in the 2nd, and then embarrased the NHL'ers with 4 goals in the 3rd.
Not since the first game of the Summit Series in '72 had Canada been so humiliated. Sure this was Team NHL, not Canada, and sure the games had been played in New York for some strange reason, but you can be certain that it was the nation of Canada who truly felt like the losers in this series.
Myshkin had previously been thought of as a sieve, and Canadians were wringing their hands waiting for Tretiak to slow down with age as he had been so dominant since 1972. But in this game the Soviet "backup" goalie who wore that strange cage instead of a cool facemask like Cheevers' which was adorned with scars, stopped all 24 shots fired at him. By comparison Tretiak had faced 40 shots and let in 8 goals (a save % of only .800).
Game #1 of the Summit Series in 1972 announced the arrival of the Soviet program inInternational hockey, but game 3 of the Challenge Cup 8 1/2 years later would eliminate any doubt as to which nation had the best national team.

Team Rosters

NHL All-stars 1979
Guy Lafleur, Larry Robinson, Bob Gainey, Steve Shutt, Gil Perreault, Marcel Dionne, Darryl Sittler, Lanny McDonald, Bobby Clarke, Bryan Trottier, Mike Bossy, Clark Gillies, Barry Beck, Serge Savard, Guy Lapointe, Robert Picard, Denis Potvin, Bill Barber, Don Marcotte, Tony Esposito, Ken Dryden, Gerry Cheevers, Ron Greschner, Borje Salming, Ulf Nilsson, Anders Hedberg

Soviet Union 1979- Sergei Starikov, Viktor Zhluktov, Vasily Pervukhin, Vladimir Kovin, Sergei Makarov, Mikhail Varnakov, Alexander Skvortsov, Vladimir Golikov, Alexander Golikov, Boris Mikhailov, Vladimir Petrov, Valery Kharlamov, Gennadiy Tsygankov, Valery Vasiliev, Sergei Kapustin, Yuri Federov, Zinetul Bilyaletdinov, Helmut Balderis, Irek Gimayev, Viktor Tuminev, Sergei Babinov, Vladislav Tretiak, Vladimir Myshkin

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Not too many people were still tuned in to watch this painful ending

Clarke Gillies played the Canadian brand of the game

Howie Meeker after the 1979 Challenge Cup;
 "Every player on their team can stick handle and pass better than us. They skate lighter than we do and seem to have lighter contact with the ice. They skate differently and when they come over here I can always tell which ones are the Europeans because of the way they skate. I don't know, maybe it's their teaching methods?"