Go to the Globe and Mail homepage

Jump to main navigationJump to main content

Rendez-vous 87 hailed as a hockey, and cultural extravaganza Add to ...

Technically, the Soviets won the series 8-7 on aggregate, but Soviet coach Viktor Tikhonov said: “The NHL didn't win and neither did we. The person that won was hockey itself.”

He called it: “Two of the greatest hockey games you'll ever see.”

The Summit Series had broken the ice between the NHL and the Soviet Union and Eagleson was quick to cash in on the interest that created by staging Canada Cup tournaments in 1976, 1981, 1984 and, only six months after Rendez-vous, in 1987. The last Canada Cup was in 1991.

The NHL took over by organizing World Cup tournaments in 1996 and 2004, but with their players already taking part in Winter Olympics since Nagano in 1998, the World Cup quietly died away.

Rendez-vous 87 was special in its own way largely because of the big-time spectacle its organizers created. Top chefs from around the world put on lavish and expensive dinners. There was a show by a Soviet rock group called Autograph. Aubut said former Chysler boss Lee Iaccoco gave “his best speech ever” that week in Quebec City.

The event had its own mascot and a theme song composed by Canadian David Foster.

It took two years and $8.5-million to organize, but paid for itself by taking in about $11 million.

When he won the rights to the 1987 all-star game, Aubut approached NHL president John Ziegler about bringing in the Soviets and was directed to Eagleson.

“We decided to do something that it would be big enough to get the attention of the whole world,” Aubut said. “Not just hockey games. Bigger than that.”

He recalled Eagleson being quoted in newspapers saying Rendez-vous would flop, but Aubut still needed his blessing to get the NHL and Soviets to participate.

“When I went to see Alan, he's my friend, and I said ‘I'll make a deal with you,” Aubut said. “I'm going to buy with cash money all the rights you have. All the tickets, everything. Then you're sure to make your money.’ I can't remember the amount. I found the money and I paid him and he released us. From that day, he had nothing to say in the organization.

“One month before, when they saw it was going to be the event of the century, they all wanted tickets, and we said there are no tickets (left). He was frustrated as hell. Probably if you asked Alan today what was the deal you regret most in your life, he's going to mention selling to Marcel as number one.”

The Soviet Union was waning at the time and would break up for good four years later. Leader Mikhail Gorbachev was opening relations with the west. Russian and other Soviet players would be playing in the NHL in only a few years.

But it was still the Soviet Union. Still a mysterious place for North Americans.

Aubut said and former Prime Minister Joe Clark met Eduard Shevernadze in Canada and he had a second meeting in Moscow with the Soviet foreign minister, who would later be president of the Republic of Georgia, to secure Soviet involvement.

The deal was sealed, but then came logistical problems. The Soviet entourage, including hockey players, singers, dancers and chefs, were to be picked up in London and Paris by Air Canada, but were refused permission to land because they arrived on military planes.

“Fortunately, the chairman of the whole Rendez-vous was Brian Mulroney, the Prime Minister, and he really helped me to arrange it,” said Aubut. “They came back with an Aeroflot plane. Air Canada sent two new planes to pick them up and they arrived on time.”

There were complaints at the time that everything was too expensive for the average fan and that the series overwhelmed the carnival, but Aubut said it was all worth it.

He called it the biggest event ever to hit the city.

“I would say it's number one, modestly said,” Aubut said. “I don't think there's been anything that brought such attention to the world, because it was not only hockey fans.

“It was also because of the timing and about peace and communism and the Cold War and everything. That's why it became so huge. Nothing (bigger) happened in Quebec City since. Nothing happened even close in the NHL as far as the magnitude of the event.”

Aubut claims it even did it's part to promote world peace.

“I think we changed partly the world,” he said. “The precedent we created changed the whole world.

“That was the goal of Rendez-vous. Peace. The U.S. with the Soviet Union sitting down for cocktails and dinner all over the place. We were the reason for that. Canada brought them together. It was lots more than two hockey games.”

Single page

In the know

Most popular video »

Highlights

More from The Globe and Mail

Most Popular Stories