New Hall of Fame inductees Raymond Bourque, Paul Coffey and Larry Murphy chased each other up and down the ice and in the National Hockey League record books for two decades. But for a few weeks in September of 1987, the three were teammates at the Canada Cup.
Murphy was part of the three-on-two attack with Mario Lemieux and Wayne Gretzky when Lemieux scored his memorable game-winning goal on Sept. 15, 1987, against Soviet goalie Sergei Mylnikov to give Canada a 6-5 lead with just over a minute remaining in the third period.
Coffey was also on the ice and Bourque said, "If I wasn't on the ice, it didn't take me long to jump on when Mario scored."
"I was on the ice, but I was playing back," Coffey joked. "No, I was trying like heck to jump into the play, but I couldn't catch up."
Winning the 1987 Canada Cup is one of the many championships and trophies the three talented offensive blueliners, inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame last night along with long-time hockey executive Cliff Fletcher in the builders' category, won in their storied careers.
Where was Fletcher in 1987 when his three fellow inductees were celebrating the Canada Cup title?
"I was at home in Calgary, watching the game on television," the former Flames general manager said. "If you remember, I was put in charge of the 1981 Canada Cup team, the first one that didn't win. So I didn't want to jinx it."
It's about the only blemish on Fletcher's wonderful career. In his 48 years in the NHL, Fletcher's ultimate accomplishment was building the expansion Atlanta Flames into a contender when they moved to Calgary. They lost the 1986 Stanley Cup final to the Montreal Canadiens, the first team Fletcher worked for, but won the 1989 championship at the Montreal Forum.
Fletcher, a native of Montreal, also said yesterday that he believed his 1992-93 Toronto Maple Leafs club was going to win the Stanley Cup, but were foiled by a motivated Gretzky and the Los Angeles Kings.
"We got off the plane for Game 6 in Los Angeles leading the series three games to two," Fletcher said. "There was a columnist in the Los Angeles Times who wrote that Gretzky had lost his motivation. After that, Wayne played some of his best hockey."
The four inductees supplied some of the best hockey in the past two decades-plus. They stood on stage last night, having won a combined 10 Stanley Cup championships -- four each for Coffey and Murphy and one each for Bourque and Fletcher.
"Stanley Cups are years into the process, sometimes they take years to come," the 43-year-old Coffey said. "Canada Cups are something that come together quickly."
If you add up the lengthy careers of Bourque, Coffey and Murphy, they combined to play 64 seasons, 4,636 games and scored 1,093 goals and 3,233 assists for 4,326 points. They registered another 529 points in 623 playoff games.
Only Scott Stevens of the New Jersey Devils has played more games as a defenceman, 1,635, than Murphy's 1,615. Bourque and Coffey are one-two, respectively, in points (1,579-1,531), goals (410-396) and assists (1,169-1,135).
"If you look at all three of us and see the numbers, it's phenomenal," Bourque said.
Murphy and Coffey were teammates with the Pittsburgh Penguins and with the Toronto Marlboros minor bantams. Imagine having two future Hall of Famers, plus future NHLers such as Mark Osborne and Steve Ludzik, and not winning the provincial championship.
"Bad coaching," Murphy joked.
Bourque, Coffey and Murphy broke into the league at relatively the same time and left the game together in the summer of 2001. Bourque was drafted eighth overall in 1979 by the Boston Bruins. A year later, Murphy was selected fourth overall by the Kings, two spots before the Edmonton Oilers drafted Coffey.
All three remain on the fringes of the game today. Bourque, 43, is a good-will ambassador for the FleetCenter in Boston, where the Bruins play, and he closely watches the collegiate career of his son Christopher, a Washington Capitals prospect forward who is in his freshman season at Boston University.
Murphy, 43, and his wife Nancy have a horse farm just north of Detroit. He also fills in as a radio analyst on occasion for the Detroit Red Wings.
Coffey recently opened a Toyota dealership in the Toronto suburb of Bolton and is a special teams consultant with the Phoenix Coyotes.
"They are three of the greatest defencemen to have played the game," added the 69-year-old Fletcher, in his fifth season as a Coyotes executive.