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A minor hockey league player carries the Canadian flag (Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press)
A minor hockey league player carries the Canadian flag (Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press)

The 1987 Izvestia tournament: Canada’s little known Miracle On Ice Add to ...

“Because there was always this thing – that their guys were like machines. So for me, it was the realization: ‘Hey, these guys are pretty normal. They’re just like we are when they start to lose.’ There are a few antics on the bench. There are a few problems on the ice. Everybody’s shrugging their shoulders and complaining to each other as they’re coming off. Watching them come unglued a like that – the human way to lose – was kinda neat.”

Vilgrain said that he was never more exhausted before or after a game than he was that day.

“The year before, when we played them, I wanted to ask the ref for a second puck because they wouldn’t let us touch the one they were playing with,” said Vilgrain. “But Sean Burke was unbelievable and we were blocking shots like crazy because we knew we were so close. When we won, we were so tired, even in the dressing room afterward, we just sat there. It was so quiet, so surreal. We knew we’d accomplished something unbelievable.

“The Izvestia was very important to the Russians and a lot of the fans went home mad. They whistled their team off the ice. They were so sure they were going to go on to win that they didn’t have the Canadian national anthem ready to play. So they played the Russian anthem instead.”

But even after that monumental victory, the tournament wasn’t over. Because of its round-robin format, Canada needed wins over Germany and Finland to win it all. King was only too aware that there could be a letdown after such an emotional win.

“The Russians had no respect for us and the Germans had total respect,” said King. “They just backed up and backed up. It was a tough game to play.”

Canada did just squeak past the Germans 2-1, leaving them in control of their own destiny.

On the night before the Finnish game, with their departure from Russia in sight, Sherven wanted to do what Canadian players of that era often did – exchange blue jeans and athletic gear on the black market for Russian souvenirs such as stacking dolls, champagne and caviar. He and defenceman Randy Gregg had been approached by a couple of Russians, who wanted to meet them outside, at night, in the parking lot behind the Sport Hotel. Sherven wanted to be prepared in case they had something to celebrate after the game against the Finns, so he planned to smuggle in some champagne in his hockey bag.

“It’s minus 30 outside,” said Sherven. “There’s frost on the windows of this little Lada, so you can’t see out the front. We got in, Randy Gregg in front, me in the back between two Russian guys. All of them were smoking, so the driver had the window rolled down. All of sudden, they started chattering because they could see shadows coming. It was the police, the KGB or something, so the driver throws it into gear and takes off, spinning in the parking lot on the ice. Randy and I were like, ‘holy s***.’ “This guy, the policeman grabbed onto the window that was open and we’re dragging him around the parking lot until he finally let go. They drive about two, three miles and park behind some apartment building and I’m thinking, ‘this is the end of us.’ Randy, his red hair was standing up on the back of his neck. But no, we made the exchange and they brought us back and it all was good.”

Sherven scored the first goal against the Finns and Vilgrain the insurance goal in what ended as a routine 4-1 win. In the dressing room afterward, Sherven popped open his bottle of champagne and managed to spray most of it up his nose. It’s what comes from not being used to celebratory moments.

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