From 1976 to 1991, the be-all-end-all tournament of pro ice hockey was the Canada Cup, an international invitational tournament sanctioned by the International Ice Hockey Federation, Hockey Canada and the National Hockey League.
Every year, the Canada Cup was an unbelievable amount of fun — gathering fans from across the world to watch the best professionals in the sport representing their country. The winning team got to reign as the world’s best for the next three years, until the tournament was played again — which was a point of pride for anyone who held the trophy.
However, one year things weren’t so simple at the Canada Cup, and the controversy sparked enough turmoil and embarrassment to make people consider whether the Canada Cup really should be hosted by Canadian officials, after all.
I remember the 1981 Canada Cup like it was yesterday. It was the second time that the tournament was being played, and six countries were competing to take the title away from the reigning champion — Canada (of course). I figured Canada would win the tournament again that year, since the team was highly favored.
However, things didn’t go as I expected. Canada did reach the finals of the Canada Cup — but so did the Soviet Union, not only a rivaled hockey opponent, but also an extremely controversial political opponent. In the end, Canada fell to the Soviets; they snagged the Canada Cup and the title of world’s best hockey team from Canada.
If all had gone according to plan, the Soviet team would have taken the Canada Cup, gotten on a plane to Moscow and flown home. However, that’s not how it happened.
The Soviet Union had recently invaded Afghanistan, and many countries were discussing boycotting the 1980 Summer Olympics, which were going to be held in Moscow. So, tournament organizer Alan Eagleson decided that the Soviet Union team members shouldn’t be allowed to bring the actual trophy home with them.
Eagleson gathered the Montreal Police and headed to the airport. He took the Canada Cup away from the Soviet team, stating that the Canada Cup should remain in Canada at all times.
Everyone was pretty embarrassed for Eagleson after the event. I remember feeling bad for the Soviet players; after all, they won the cup fair and square! Luckily, a group of Canadians got together to fund the making of a replica of the cup, which was then given to the Soviet team.
While people questioned whether it would be appropriate for the Canada Cup to happen again after such poor judgment was shown by the organizers, the tournament was held three more times, after which it was replaced with what we know now as the World Cup of Hockey.