Simply magnificent

ERIC FRANCIS -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 7:40 PM ET

I still have the shoes I wore that night.

And I still get goose bumps every time I see a replay of Mario Lemieux go high glove side to clinch the 1987 Canada Cup.

Almost 20 years to the day after sitting in Hamilton's Copps Coliseum as a teenage fan to witness my generation's version of the Paul Henderson goal, memories of the greatest game I've ever seen linger like the smell of the cheese-stained Nikes I bought just before the game.

Having secured a pair of ducats at the box office a week earlier (an unheard of practice these days for such an event), my best friend Craig and I watched the first two games of the final against Russia praying they'd split so that we'd have a chance to attend Game 3.

While the rest of the nation remembers it being the punctuation on Lemieux's coming out party, I think largely of the heroics of Dale Hawerchuk and Rick Tocchet that night.

POOR START

Following an emotional overtime win in Game 2 of the series, Canada fell behind 3-0 eight minutes into the deciding match.

I distinctly remember calling my parents during the first intermission -- as if they had an answer for the poor start -- and it was agreed Mike Keenan's squad needed to start hitting a visiting team so talented that quite literally looked capable of scoring every time they brought the puck up ice.

Hawerchuk and Tocchet apparently overheard the conversation as they laid out several Russians to kick-start a comeback that had Canada leading 5-4 at the end of two.

One Tocchet hit in particular was so jarring my pal spilled a tray of nacho cheese on my spiffy new shoes as the crowd jumped to its feet to roar its approval.

When Lemieux took a Wayne Gretzky pass late in the third to break a 5-5 tie by roofing a perfect shot past Sergei Mylnikov, I vowed never to clean the shoes in which I stood screaming for the next hour.

In a series in which both teams had already erased three-goal deficits, the final 1:26 of the game was as nerve-racking an experience as I've ever had.

What followed was a euphoric state I doubt will ever be duplicated in my life.

An overwhelming sense of national pride washed over a crowd that exploded into what must have been more than an hour of deafening roars.

As the Canada Cup was passed around, Craig and I couldn't hear one another -- we simply pointed at the various on-ice celebrations that caught our teary eyes.

Only 18 at the time, we partook in the flag waving, high-fiving and anthem singing while heading to my friend's dad's car, which took an hour to negotiate a few city blocks amidst raucous celebrations.

Never before had I seen such patriotism, jubilation, celebration or even relief. We'd defended our title as the game's greatest. Barely, once again.

MVP FOR HAWERCHUK

And although Hawerchuk was the game's MVP and Tocchet triggered the comeback, Canada won on the shoulders of Gretzky and Lemieux, who Keenan chose to put on the same line. The result: In nine games, Gretzky had 18 assists and Lemieux had 11 goals, including a hat trick in Game 2. Gretzky would later say he played the best hockey of his career at the tourney. (He also admitted he peed his pants late in the first overtime period of Game 2 out of shear exhaustion.)

A team so good it cut Denis Savard and Steve Yzerman in camp, the Canadian squad was arguably the best team ever iced with stars such as Paul Coffey, Ray Bourque, Mark Messier and others in their prime.

The Russians countered with Igor Larionov, Sergei Makarov, Vladimir Krutov, Viacheslav Fetisov and Val Kamensky who would start trickling into the NHL two years later.

Interestingly, all three games ended 6-5 -- the same score as the final Summit Series game.

Throughout, Grant Fuhr did what got him into the Hall of Fame: Allowed plenty of goals, but made miraculous saves when needed most.

In a series many agree was the greatest exhibition of hockey in the sport's history, I still remember thinking that Lemieux should have passed to Larry Murphy who had jumped into the rush and could easily have been the scoring hero. But no, it was Lemieux who seized the moment to complete his ascension to superstar after several years of being questioned about his work ethic and interest in the game.

And I was there. As a fan.

It was one of the last times in my life I was able to stand up, scream, soak in and revel in a win by the home side.

The biggest sacrifice sports writers make in exchange for travelling the world covering sporting events is the losing the joys of rooting blindly for your team. No more pedestals for the players, no more mystique, no more cheering ... for anyone.

I've since seen Tiger Woods win at St. Andrews, Canada win hockey gold at Salt Lake and Cindy Klassen dominate in Turin. But none of it compares to that night in Hamilton with my cheesy shoes.


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