Some of the more recent Winter Olympics have seen NHL players taking the ice for their home countries in some exciting tournaments. That wasn’t always the case, though, as it was mostly held for amateurs. Because of that, players decided to hold their own tournament called the Canada Cup, which would start in 1976. All in all, there were five Canada Cup tournaments, with the most recent in 1991. The most exciting one, though, came in 1987.
In seven different Canadian cities; Canada, Czechoslovakia, Finland, Sweden, the United States and Soviet Union would play 20 matches to determine a winner. The rosters were packed with some of the most memorable future NHL players, many of whom found themselves in the Hockey Hall of Fame.
Ultimately, it was the Soviet Union and Canada in the finals in a best-of-three series. The Soviets took the first game 6-5 in overtime, and Canada returned the favor with a 6-5 win in double overtime. The championship also finished 6-5 in Canada’s favor, and Wayne Gretzky was named the MVP. So what happened with some of the biggest names in the tournament (including Gretzky)? Here are 15 players from the legendary 1987 Canada Cup, and what they’re doing today.
15 15. Paul Coffey
We start the list with Canadian defenseman Paul Coffey, who was able to secure nine points during the Canada Cup with two goals and four assists. Coffey’s career had started back in 1980 after being a first round pick by Edmonton. By the time the Canada Cup had come around, Coffey was already an established All Star that would join the Pittsburgh Penguins the same year as the Canada Cup.
Coffey would play for eight different franchises in his career, finally calling it quits after the 2000-01 season with Boston, retiring with 1,531 points. Coffee would start to get into coaching, getting into midget hockey with the Greater Toronto Hockey League. Coffey has also been on the business side of things and is the part owner of the Ontario Junior Hockey League’s Pickering Panthers.
14 14. Kent Nilsson
Sweden would reach the semi-finals of the Canada Cup, and part of their valiant effort came because of Kent Nilsson. Nilsson already had a decade of pro hockey experience under his belt at the time with the WHA and then three NHL teams before the Canada Cup. Nilsson would tally four points (all assists) in his six games. Nilsson would win a Stanley Cup with Edmonton in the same year as the Canada Cup before leaving the NHL in 1987.
Nilsson would head overseas and play in several different leagues before making a surprise return with Edmonton in the 1994-95 season, playing in six more NHL games before ending his career. These days, Nilsson is a member of the Florida Panthers organization, working as a scout in Europe.
13 13. John Vanbiesbrouck
In terms of save percentage, no goalie was better than American John Vanbiesbrouck during the Canada Cup. In four games, Vanbiesbrouck gave up just nine goals on 116 shots, good enough for a .922 save percentage. In the NHL, Vanbiesbrouck would be a two-time All Star, and took home the Vezina Trophy the year before the 1987 Canada Cup. All in all, he played for five teams and notched a record of 374 wins, 346 losses and 119 ties.
The Michigan native would head back to his home state after retiring in 2002, becoming the head coach of the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds. Unfortunately, Vanbiesbrouck would have a falling out with the team after verbally berating an official, leading to his firing. He has landed back in hockey once again, though, working as the Muskegon Lumberjacks of the USHL as their general manager.
12 12. Chris Chelios
Chris Chelios didn’t quite make a big splash during the Canada Cup, but did contribute to the Americans in five games with two assists and a plus/minus of +3. It seems odd to say, but Chelios was already 25 years old at the time of the tournament. Chelios had been playing for Montreal at the time, and found a home in Chicago for many years before finishing with 10 years in Detroit and one year in Atlanta.
Chelios would retire after the 2009-10 season, collecting a total of 948 points, seven All Star appearances, three Stanley Cups and a Hall of Fame induction. Since retiring, Chelios has been working with the Red Wings organization in a few different roles. Now, he works on player development with the team, specifically on the defensemen.
11 11. Teppo Numminen
Needless to say, Finland didn’t make it very far in the Canada Cup, but at least the country was able to showcase an exciting young player. Teppo Numminen was just 19 years old at the time of the tournament, and was able to notch a goal in the round robin play. Numminen’s NHL career wouldn’t actually start until the 1988-89 season with Winnipeg. He stuck around for many years, retiring in 2009 after playing for three franchises and scoring 637 career points.
Numminen would have his number retired by the Coyotes shortly after retiring, and became an assistant coach with the Buffalo Sabres. However, that wouldn’t last long as he was let go in 2011 and decided to enjoy a more quiet retirement. Numminen is now also married with three children.
10 10. Mark Messier
A young Mark Messier had himself a fine tournament for Canada in the host country’s event, notching onen goal and six assists with a plus/minus of +2. Messier had already been a multiple All Star by the time of the tournament with Edmonton, and his career would continue for 17 years after the Canada Cup. Messier played for a total of three NHL teams, scoring 1,887 points with six Stanley Cup wins in a Hall of Fame career.
Messier’s career ended in 2005, and it wasn’t too long until he toyed with the idea of working in the front office for the Rangers. When that didn’t happen, Messier decided to go into the hotel business while enjoying retirement out on his boat. Then, in the past three years, Messier would become a member of the media, working with Rogers as a part-time analyst.
9 9. Grant Fuhr
Of all the goaltenders that were part of the Canada Cup, none found more success in terms of wins and losses like Canadian Grant Fuhr. Fuhr played in nine games for his native country, finishing with a record of six wins, one loss and two ties and a goals against average of 3.34. Fuhr had been Messier’s teammate in Edmonton at the time, a team that he played 10 seasons with.
Fuhr would spend time with five other NHL teams, finishing with Calgary in the 1999-2000 season before calling it quits after a 403-295-114 record. Fuhr would be named to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2003, and even became an author in retirement. His most recent release in 2014 was a biography called “Grant Fuhr: The Story of a Hockey Legend” that detailed his ups and downs, including cocaine use.
8 8. Mario Lemieux
People were already pretty sure that 21 year old Mario Lemieux was going to be a terrific hockey player, and he got to display his talents at the Canada Cup. During the tournament, Lemieux put up 11 goals and seven assists for 18 total points (second in the tournament). Lemieux also scored an impressive four game-winning goals as Canada took home the gold medal.
Lemieux’s initial run in the NHL would come to an end in 1997 due to Hodgkin’s lymphoma, but he would return from 2000 to 2006. Since his second retirement, Lemieux has been in the front office for the Pittsburgh Penguins. Just months after that retirement, he has been part of a group that has a stake in the franchise, and is consistently seen during the team’s broadcasts.
7 7. Igor Larionov
The Soviet team was loaded with some big talent in the Canada Cup despite not winning gold, and they had many stars that included Igor Larionov. Larionov played in nine games for the USSR, scoring three points on a goal and two assists. Larionov would eventually find his way to the NHL in 1989 with the Canucks at 29 years old, and remained in the NHL through the 2003-04 season with a total of five franchises.
Larionov ended his career with 644 points and three Stanley Cup wins, as well as an induction into the Hockey Hall of Fame. Since his retirement, the 56 year old Larionov has been working as an agent while also working in the front office for SKA Saint Petersburg in Russia.
6 6. Dominik Hasek
Czechoslovakia had a decent showing at the Canada Cup, and most of that was thanks to their amazing goalie, Dominik Hasek. Hasek took three losses compared to two wins and a tie, but had the second best save percentage at .894 and a goals against average of 3.33. “The Dominator” would be just as good in the NHL, playing for four teams over 16 seasons, notching a 389-223-95 record with a .922 save percentage and 2.20 goals against average.
Hasek didn’t retire until he was 43 years old, finally doing so in 2008. The retirement wouldn’t last long, though, as he played overseas for another four years before finally wrapping it up in 2012. Now, Hasek is once again living in Buffalo, and has said that he wants to focus on other things away from the world of hockey.
5 5. Joe Mullen
One of the veterans for the United States team, a 30 year old Joe Mullen played in five games for the U.S.A., scoring three goals to tie for the team lead. Mullen’s Hall of Fame career would continue for another decade after the Canada Cup, as he played for four different NHL teams. Along the way, Mullen won a pair of Lady Byng trophies with three Stanley Cups and a milestone crossing 1,063 career points.
After retiring in 1997, Mullen had a brief comeback in international play before once again leaving the ice and heading into coaching. After becoming a member of the Penguins staff in 2000, he would be let go five years later. The next year, Mullen joined the Philadelphia Flyers coaching staff, but was just recently let go from the team's staff.
4 4. Rick Tocchet
Coming in from the forwards group for Canada, a 23 year old Rick Tocchet played in seven of his team’s games, scoring three goals and adding two assists. Tocchet would prove valuable on special teams, notching a powerplay goal and a shorthanded goal during the tournament. Tocchet’s career in the NHL would continue throughout the 1990s and into the 2000s. Along the way, he played for six different teams and scored 952 points, winning the 1992 Stanley Cup.
Following Tocchet’s retirement in 2002, he would start to work for the Colorado Avalanche as an assistant coach before joining the Coyotes in 2005. Tocchet would also join the Lightning staff, and acted as interim head coach after Wayne Gretzky (Phoenix) and Barry Melrose (Tampa Bay) left their posts. After being fired by Tampa Bay in 2010, he joined the Penguins four years later and has been an assistant coach with the team since.
3 3. Ray Bourque
A star defenseman by the time the Canada Cup had rolled around, Ray Bourque would be one of the highest scoring players in the tournament. In his nine games, Bourque scored two goals (both on the powerplay) and six assists to be the sixth highest scorer out of all players. Bourque’s biggest accomplishment, however, was winning the 2001 Stanley Cup after many years of trying. The Hall of Fame and 19-time All Star retired after winning, marking the end of a 22 season career.
Once he left Denver, Bourque headed back to Boston, the place that he called home. Most of Bourque’s post-retirement career has been watching his two sons (Christopher and Ryan) break into the NHL. Overall, though, Bourque’s post-playing days have been quiet ones (outside of a 2016 OUI charge).
2 2. Sergei Makarov
Outside of the two Canadian stars, nobody had more points in the Canada Cup than Soviet Sergei Makarov. Makarov scored seven goals (tied for second most) and added eight assists for 15 total points, and had two game-winners as the Soviets took second place. Makarov would not spend much time in the NHL, only playing from 1989 to 1997 with three teams. He would finish his career with Dallas, notching a Calder Trophy win and 384 career points.
Makarov would eventually be inducted into the International Hockey Hall of Fame in 2001, and the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2016. Now back in his native Russia far away from the NHL, but Makarov has been working with junior hockey players as an agent that hope to make it to the world's most notable hockey league.
1 1. Wayne Gretzky
Of course, all eyes were on Wayne Gretzky in the Canada Cup, and he did not disappoint. No player had more points than “The Great One”, who found the net three times and had an insane 18 assists (more than twice as much as second place Makarov) to lead Canada to victory in the tournament. Gretzky would go on to become the greatest player in hockey history, holding just about every record imaginable. In more than 20 years in the NHL, Gretzky scored 2,857 points with four Stanley Cups and 15 All Star appearances.
Gretzky would immediately be inducted into the Hall of Fame after retirement, and had his number 99 jersey retired around the entire league. He quickly bought a share in the Phoenix Coyotes, becoming their head coach in 2005 before he stepped down in 2009. Gretzky stepped away from hockey for a period, but then returned in 2016 when it was announced that he would be part of the ownership group for the Edmonton Oilers.
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