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January 15th 2014 10:04 am
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International Hockey:

For years, the balance of power in hockey resided in North America. European teams simply did not have the talent to compete. However, as the WHA showed by recruiting European players and as the Soviets showed in the Summit Series, the rest of the international hockey world was finally catching up (with the rest of the hockey world being essentially Europe). The European game developed into a different entity than the North American game, emphasizing speed and skill with less focus on physicality. While North American hockey liked speed and skill just fine, they also loved their bruisers, and Europe didn’t play that style very much.

In international hockey tournaments (both the World Championships and the Olympics), the Soviets ruled, though this was helped greatly by the fact that both the World Championships and Olympics were played by amateurs and not NHLers. Still, no one could deny the Soviet might; almost all of the Soviet stars of the ‘70s and ‘80s could (and should) have played in the NHL, but were barred from doing so by the Iron Curtain. In particular, Soviet goaltender Vladislav Tretiak was considered by most to be the greatest goaltender in the world (and is still thought of that way in many circles). Their international dominance – from 1956 to 1988, the Soviet Union won seven out of a possible nine gold medals – is a major part of what made the 1980 Olympic games such a surprise. The United States, made up of a group of college players, beat the Soviets in one of the greatest upsets in sports history, 4-3, in the semifinal match of the tournament. The U.S. went on to beat Finland in the gold medal game.

In the ‘90s and ‘00s, international teams started using their professionals to play, and in 2002, Canada won its first Olympic gold medal in 50 years, beating the U.S. in the gold medal game. Eight years later, in the Olympic games in Vancouver, Canada succeeded on home ice, winning another gold medal – again, beating the U.S. in the final. In the last fifty years, only five teams have won gold medals: the Soviet Union (and, in 1992, the “Unified Team,” a squad made up of the former Soviet republics and Russia), Canada, the U.S., the Czech Republic and Sweden.

The Great One: The ‘80s:

The 1980'smarked the first decade since the ‘50s that the NHL did not add a single franchise, though the Atlanta Flames moved to Calgary (where they still reside) in 1980 and the Rockies moved to New Jersey to become the Devils (where they remain to this day) in 1982. 1980 also saw the end of an era: Gordie Howe, who had moved from the Houston Aeros to the New England Whalers two years before the WHA merged into the NHL, played one season with the Whalers (in their new location, Hartford), retiring for the final time after the season. At 52 years old, Howe led the Whalers in scoring for the vast majority of the season, finishing with 41 points and playing in all 80 games.

Early in 1981, after two years with the new WHA teams, the NHL realigned itself. Although they kept the conference and divisional names, the conferences and divisions themselves were reorganized geographically: previously, the Wales and Campbell conferences (which had been, respectively, the East and West Divisions) were a mish-mash of east and west teams. Now, the Wales Conference was made up of teams entirely from the eastern parts of the U.S. and Canada, while the Campbell Conference was made up of teams from the west and Midwest. The playoffs were also redone: teams now competed with teams in their own division in the division semi-finals and finals, then advancing to the conference finals before reaching the Stanley Cup finals. Additionally, the Prince of Wales trophy and Campbell Cup were now awarded to the team who won their conference in the playoffs.

But perhaps the biggest addition of the 1980s was two players who came over from the WHA with the Edmonton Oilers: Mark Messier and Wayne Gretzky. Messier, considered one of the all-time great captains of the game, ended his career with six Stanley Cup victories (including five with the Oilers in the ‘80s and 1990's) and would probably have finished with a large number of NHL records if not for Gretzky. Wayne Gretzky, nicknamed “The Great One,” ended his career considered the greatest hockey player of all time. He won the Art Ross trophy an unmatched ten times, including seven in a row in the ‘80s, won the Conn Smythe twice, won the Hart Trophy nine times, including eight in a row (only one other player won a Hart Trophy in the 1980s: Mario Lemieux) and won the Lady Byng five times. To this day, Gretzky holds or shares 61 different NHL records, from the regular season, playoffs and All-Star game, including career points, goals and assists. Messier is second to Gretzky in many of those records.

However, before Gretzky and Messier’s Oilers could dominate in the later half of the decade, the New York Islanders had something to say first. Following the Canadiens’ four-peat to close out the ‘70s, the Isles opened up the 1980s with four straight Stanley Cup championships, coached by Al Arbour (who, ironically, won his only Adams award the year before the Islanders went on their run). The Islanders streak ended when they lost in the Stanley Cup finals to Edmonton in 1984. The Oilers would win back-to-back titles twice in the decade, their string of four Stanley Cup victories interrupted by the Montreal Canadiens in 1986. The ‘80s also marked the end of long-lasting dynasties in the NHL; in the two decades since, no team has won more than two consecutive Stanley Cups.

The Oilers success, however, clearly did not rest solely on Wayne Gretzky; theirs was a complete team, from Messier to winger Jarri Kuri, from defenseman Paul Coffey to goaltender Grant Fuhr, all of them Hall-of-Famers. Still, a shockwave was sent through the hockey world when, on August 9, 1988, Gretzky was traded from the Oilers to the Los Angeles Kings. Many blamed penny-pinching Oilers owner Peter Pocklington for Gretzky’s departure, while others also pointed fingers at Gretzky’s wife, the Los Angeles native Janet Jones. Whatever the reason, Gretzky’s trade stunned both Oilers fans and hockey followers across the globe. While the Oilers would go on to win one more Stanley Cup, however (in 1990), Gretzky would never win another.


Leave A Comment | 5 people already have

Purred by: Teresa S

January 15th 2014 at 12:13 pm

Oh, the Great One! Big Bro Will used to love "Misser Wetsky" and one time Dad was able to take him to a game, Edmonton against the Canucks. Gretzky was on a big scoring streak at the time and Will was all excited that he was going to get to see a goal by the Great One. Wouldn't you know it, that was the game that broke the streak. Well, they had a fun night out anyway.
Purred by: K Kato (Catster Member)

January 15th 2014 at 12:50 pm

Leaving a treat today
Purred by: Lucy the Cat Fairy (Catster Member)

January 15th 2014 at 1:31 pm

This be so much fun. We not know much about hockey, so it fun to read all this! Kentucky be all about basketball cause they can win it. We gonna learn to be the Kentucky hockey gurus!
Purred by: King Whiskers (Catster Member)

January 15th 2014 at 5:52 pm

Sorry for running so late buddy. I left you a treat. We'll read your blog tonight. We like to take our time and enjoy it!

"I don't mind a cat, in its place. But its place is not in the middle of my back at 4 a.m." - Maynard Good Stoddard
Purred by: Pete (Catster Member)

January 16th 2014 at 5:55 am

Another great blog today for the halfway point.
Purrs and headbonks buddy, leaving a treat.

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