Dale Hawerchuk’s strongest memories of one of his greatest moments in international hockey revolve around how tired everyone was.
The Team Canada forward had a key goal and an assist in the 6-5 Game 3 win over the Soviet Union, one that ended on a memorable late goal by Mario Lemieux at Hamilton’s Copp’s Coliseum.
But to get there, the team had to fight through exhaustion. To combat the fatigue, the coaches decided to emphasize quick shifts by the players.
“One of the things that was really special about that game was the short shifts, it really helped keep us a little more fresh than them,” Hawerchuk told the Toronto Observer on Friday. “ I really think that in the third period we had more left in the tank than them and that helped us win the game.”
The two teams were tied at one win a piece, with Canada winning 6-5 in double overtime, after Mario Lemiuex banged in his tenth goal of the tournament.
The third game was for all the marbles and the stakes couldn’t be higher as one of hockey’s greatest international rivalries would write another historic chapter.
“Going into the final game we were pretty confident in our ability,” said hockey hall of famer and team Canada member Dale Hawerchuk. “We knew that it was a big stage but it was such a talented team that we really liked our chances.”
The Russian migration to the NHL hadn’t occurred at this point in hockey, therefore both teams were unfamiliar with each other, more so than international teams are today.
“We knew about their big guys but other than that we didn’t have much of a book on their team,” said Hawerchuk, the current Barrie Colts head coach.
“We were more focused about playing our game, we figured that if we did that everything would work out.
Canada had a slow start out of the gates and the Russians pounced, scoring three goals in the first eight minutes of the game.
“It was an unfortunate start but we knew that it was going to be a high scoring, back and forth game, so there wasn’t much panic on the bench,” said Hawerchuk, who had a terrific game, playing with several different line combinations but almost always with Brent Sutter by his side.
Ten minutes into the second period, Hawerchuk made a slick pass to Sutter in front of the net to bring Canada within one goal of the Soviets at 4-3.
Five minutes later, he blasted a slap shot off goalie Sergei Mylnikov, picked up the rebound before circling around the net and banging the puck in to tie the game at 4-4.
“I didn’t see a lot of ice time earlier in the tournament, just from the way the lines were working out” said Hawerchuk, the former Winnipeg Jets captain.
“By the end of the tournament though, I had the full confidence of the coaching staff and they were putting me in positions to succeed.”
By the end of the game, coach Mike Keenan had the confidence in Hawerchuk to put him in with Mario Lemieux and Wayne Gretzky with 1:36 left in the third period to take one of the biggest faceoffs in Canadian hockey history.
Hawerchuk won the faceoff and burned up ice to catch his linemates and by the time he caught up to them they had the 6-5 lead in the game that would win them the Canada Cup.
“It was just such an honour to play with so many great hockey players on that team and represent Canada,” said Hawerchuk.
“At the time you don’t really think about how big the moment is, you’re just trying to get the job done but looking back it was definitely one of the best feelings.