The ’87 Canada Cup produced some of the greatest hockey ever displayed, and the three-game final between the Soviet Union and Team Canada was one for the ages.
Team Canada had NHL star players like Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux, Paul Coffey, Ray Bourque, and Mark Messier, all in their prime. And on the other side of the ice were Vladimir Krutov, Igor Larionov, and Sergei Makarov. Together with Slava Fetisov and Alexei Kasatonov, they were the Green Unit—one of the best five in all of hockey history.
The expectations were high before the highly anticipated final. And nobody was disappointed. But many things were special for the players before and during the tournament. The hockey players weren’t the only team from the Soviets in Canada. The Cold War was still a thing, and the KGB followed the Soviet team closely in Canada.
“Walter Gretzky came to my room after we beat Canada 9-4 in an exhibition game (Aug. 22 in Hamilton) before the tournament, I think Mario scored all four goals,” Larionov told The Athletic. “Walter comes to the hotel, knocks at my door and says: ‘Igor, Wayne has been asking if you guys can come over to have a barbecue.’ I thought it was a fantastic idea. But I didn’t think we could go.”
Three years earlier, during the ’84 Canada Cup, Larionov had snuck out of his hotel to have a beer with some players from Canada. This time, it wouldn’t be that easy.
“But I said to Walter, ‘We better ask coach if we can go. Because we got a KGB guy with us.’ I didn’t think we can sneak out this time,’’ Larionov said.
The head coach was nonother than Viktor Tikhonov. And when Larionov and Walter Gretzky arrived at his hotel room, everything went great.
“He was in a good mood,’’ Larionov said of the demanding Tikhonov. “We had just beat Canada 9-4. So he was happy. I said, ‘This is Mr. Gretzky, Wayne’s father. He would like to invite you and the five of us to go to his house, visit his trophy room, have a BBQ.’”
Tikhonov agreed but on one condition. That he, and the KGB officer, could join them. So of they went, home to Mr. Gretzky. The Green Unit, Tikhonov, and a KGB agent.
Wayne Gretzky and Flyers captain Dave Poulin, Gretzky’s training camp roommate at the time also joined.
“The night began with all of the conversation going through the interpreter,” Poulin said. “But then when we separated them and got a few of them downstairs in Gretzky’s trophy room, Igor suddenly is speaking perfect English.’’
The beers were on the table, but the Russian superstars didn’t drink any. At least in public and in front of their coach and the KGB agent.
“Walter said to me quietly, ‘There’s beer in the fridge downstairs,’” Larionov said.
So the Soviet players went downstairs from time to time to go to the ”washroom,” but didn’t pass the opportunity to drink some beer on the way each time.