Gretzky, Fetisov, Kurri, Lemieux, Larionov — all on the ice at once for some of the best hockey ever played.
Marcel Aubut still hears about the time he turned the NHL all-star game into an international extravaganza.
The former president of the Quebec Nordiques was the driving force behind Rendez-vous 87, a two-game series between the NHL's best players and the Soviet national team, which replaced the traditional all-star game 25 years ago.
An NHL squad led by Wayne Gretzky and several of his Edmonton Oilers teammates won the first game 4-3 on Feb. 11, 1987. The Soviet Union, headed by Viacheslav Fetisov, Igor Larionov and especially eye-catching youngster Valeri Kamensky, took the rematch 5-3 two days later.
But there was more than high-level hockey.
There were celebrities, politics, gala dinners and shows by the Bolshoi Ballet and the Red Army Choir, all amid the backdrop of Quebec City's annual winter carnival.
“It was absolutely audacious, a bit crazy,” Aubut recalled this week. “But I said, ‘Let's do it.’
“What I like the most is every all-star game I go to now they say ‘Hey Marcel, we hope for another Rendez-vous one day.’ It doesn't die. It will never die. Even the young people know about the event.”
The Montreal lawyer, now the president of the Canadian Olympic Association, even managed to buy control of the event away from Alan Eagleson, the now-disgraced former head of the NHL Players Association. Eagleson was the tsar of international hockey that involved NHL players in those days.
That gave Aubut a free hand to do it all in his own blustery, over-the-top way. He pulled it off to near perfection while turning a tidy $2 million profit that went to charity.
What made Rendez-vous 87 unique on the Quebec Colisee ice was that unlike the 1972 Summit series between Canada and the Soviet Union, or Eagleson's Canada Cup tournaments, this one did not pit country against country.
The NHL team was heavily Canadian, starting with superstars Gretzky and Mario Lemieux, but it also had Swedes Ulf Samuelsson and Tomas Sandstrom, Finns Jari Kurri and Esa Tikkanen and Americans Rod Langway and Chris Chelios.
Their advantage was playing before a home crowd on an NHL-size rink.
The Soviets' edge was that they played together as a team for most of the year, unlike the NHL squad that was a mix of players from around the league (although it had six Oilers and would have had seven if Paul Coffey was healthy).
Gretzky centred Oilers teammates Tikkanen and Kurri, while the first power play had Gretzky with Mark Messier and Dale Hawerchuk, with Ray Bourque and Doug Wilson on the points. The Soviets countered with the high-speed line of Larionov, Sergei Makarov and Vladimir Krutov.
Game 1 had a Russian referee, Sergei Morozov, who called only one penalty (for too many men on the ice) against the Soviets and four against the NHL.
But Gretzky set up Kurri and Lemieux fed Glen Anderson for a 2-0 lead before the Soviets answered back through Alexei Kasatonov and Viacheslav Bykov. Kevin Dineen and Anatoli Semenov traded goals before Dave Poulin got the game-winner on a feed from Lemieux with 1:15 left in the game.
The second game, with Canadian ref Dave Newell, saw Messier score on a power play 3:22 in, but the Soviets dominated the second frame as 20-year-old Kamesky, who would later play for the Nordiques, put a mark on his international debut with two goals, while Krutov got the other.
Coach Jean Perron's team got one back from Wilson, but Semenov scored and Kamensky fed Andrei Khomutov to put it out of reach before Bourque answered with a late effort.
Gretzky was the NHL's MVP and got a car. Kamensky was named the Soviet's top player and got a stereo. The Soviets were reportedly paid $80,000, while the NHL got $350,000 for the players' pension fund.
The hockey was superb and was played at a pace that was a level up from regular season NHL fare. Goalies Evgeny Belosheikin and Grant Fuhr took turns making brilliant saves.
After trading jerseys on the ice with Fetisov, Gretzky said he had never experienced such a high pace and called for the NHL to enter more international events.
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