Twenty-five years ago today, Canada won the 1991 Canada Cup Tournament when they beat the United States. It would be the last Canada Cup, as the tournament would be renamed the World Cup of Hockey in 1996.
A few months after the 1991 Canada Cup, Upper Deck released its 1991-92 hockey card set, which included a Canada Cup subset. This was the first time that a set of trading cards would feature pictures and players from the Canada Cup. These Canada Cup cards were also the first hockey cards for many of the European players — some who would go on to lengthy NHL careers.
Here’s a look at how each of the six teams, as well as many of the players, performed at the 1991 Canada Cup.
Canada – 1st Place & Gold Medal
Canada went undefeated in the tournament, with five wins, zero losses and two ties. They finished first in the round-robin games, then beat the United States in two straight games in a best-of-three series.
1991-92 Upper Deck #9 – Eric Lindros
Lindros was a bit of a surprise pick by Team Canada coach Mike Keenan, especially when you consider that players like Steve Yzerman and Joe Sakic didn’t make the cut. This was the first and only time a non-NHL player suited up for Canada in the Canada Cup. What is odd about this card is that legally, only Score could make cards picturing Lindros until he played in the NHL. But Upper Deck went ahead and made a card of Lindros anyway. This card — believed to be a short-print — would sell for around $15 in 1991.
1991-92 Upper Deck #10 – Bill Ranford
Ranford beat out Ed Belfour — who won the Calder, Vezina and Jennings Trophies in 1991 — and Sean Burke for the starting job. Ranford was the tournament MVP, going undefeated (5-0-2) and posting a 1.75 GAA. He also got a shutout against Sweden in the semifinals. Needless to say, Ranford was also named to the tournament’s all-star team.
1991-92 Upper Deck #11 – Paul Coffey
Coffey scored one goal and six assists in eight games, and was one of Canada’s alternate captains.
1991-92 Upper Deck #13 – Wayne Gretzky
The Great One led the tournament in scoring with 12 points (4 G, 8 A) in seven games and was named to the tournament’s all-star team. Gretzky, Canada’s team captain, was injured in Game One of the Finals against USA and did not play in Game Two.
1991-92 Upper Deck #14 – Mark Messier
“Moose” almost did not play in the 1991 Canada Cup Tournament, as he spent the summer recovering from knee injuries, but Gretzky talked him into playing. Messier missed most of training camp, but scored eight points (2 G, 6 A) in eight games and was one of Canada’s alternate captains.
That spring, Upper Deck included another six cards of players from Team Canada in their “High Number Series.”
1991-92 Upper Deck #502 – Dirk Graham
Some were surprised that Team Canada coach Mike Keenan picked Dirk Graham and cut Steve Yzerman. However, Graham had just won the Selke Trophy as the NHL’s best defensive forward, so his selection to the team made sense. Graham was an alternate captain for Canada when Gretzky was injured; Canada dressed three alternates for that game.
1991-92 Upper Deck #503 – Rick Tocchet
Power forward Tocchet scored a goal and an assist in eight games.
1991-92 Upper Deck #507 – Luc Robitaille
While Robitaille had only three points (1 G, 2 A) in eight games, he was more of a two-way player in the 1991 Canada Cup. His goal was Canada’s first goal of the tournament.
USA – 2nd Place
Team USA was able to beat every other team during round robin play — except Canada. Team USA finished second overall, defeated Finland 7-3 in the semifinal, but lost two straight games to Canada in the finals by scores of 4-1 and 4-2. Overall, their record was 5-3.
1991-92 Upper Deck #32 – Mike Modano
Modano and teammate Brett Hull had identical stats in the tournament, each scoring two goals and seven assists for nine points each. That tied them for third in overall tournament scoring, and tied them for first in scoring for Team USA.
1991-92 Upper Deck #33 – Brett Hull
Hull’s decision to play for Team USA was much-publicized at the time, as he was a dual citizen and had the option to play for Canada. But Hull felt loyalty to the U.S., as they invited him to play for their team at the 1986 World Championships, whereas Canada did not.
1991-92 Upper Deck #34 – Mike Richter
Richter, who also played for Team USA in the 1988 Olympics, really established himself as an elite goaltender during the 1991 Canada Cup. He played in seven games, while Rangers’ teammate John Vanbiesbrouck played in one game. Pat Jablonski was the third-string goalie for Team USA, and didn’t see action in any games.
1991-92 Upper Deck #35 – Brian Leetch
Like Rangers’ teammate Richter, Leetch also played for the U.S. in the 1988 Olympics. He played seven games in the 1991 Canada Cup, scoring a goal and three assists.
1991-92 Upper Deck #37 – Chris Chelios
Chelios appeared in his third Canada Cup for Team USA; he also played in the 1984 and 1987 tournaments. In 1991, he registered a goal and three assists and was one of the team’s alternate captains. Like Roenick, his teammate on the Blackhawks, Chelios was also named to the Canada Cup all-star team.
Cards of six more players from Team USA were found in the 1991-92 Upper Deck High Number Series.
1991-92 Upper Deck #509 – Eric Weinrich
Weinrich had only one full season of NHL experience under his belt, but was no stranger to international competition, having played in the 1988 Olympics.
1991-92 Upper Deck #510 – Gary Suter
In Game One of the 1991 Canada Cup Finals between USA and Canada, Suter checked Gretzky from behind, knocking him out of the tournament. He also scored a goal and three assists in eight games.
1991-92 Upper Deck #513 – Darren Turcotte
Now, this is a strange card. Darren Turcotte sustained a wrist injury in a pre-tournament exhibition game and actually did not play in the 1991 Canada Cup, so including him in the 1991 Canada Cup subset makes no sense. The front of the card also uses a composited photograph that layered four photos taken with a high-speed camera. Seems like a lot of effort for a card of a guy who didn’t even play in the tournament. Upper Deck should have made a card of Team USA captain Joel Otto instead.
Finland – 3rd Place
The Finns looked awesome in their first game of round robin play, tying Canada 2-2. True, a tie is not a win, but considering the team that Canada had (see above), holding Gretzky & Co. to two goals is no minor feat. Overall, the Finns went 2-2-1, finishing third, but were beat by the U.S. in the semifinals.
1991-92 Upper Deck #21 – Teemu Selanne (RC)
Not yet an NHL player, Selanne quietly scored a goal and an assist in six games for Finland during the 1991 Canada Cup. A year later, he would explode on the scene as the NHL’s rookie of the year. After that, everyone dug through their common boxes trying to find this card.
1991-92 Upper Deck #22 – Janne Laukkanen (RC)
Laukkanen, a defenseman, scored one goal and two assists in six Canada Cup games. A few years later, he went on to play in 407 NHL games, most notably with the Ottawa Senators and the Pittsburgh Penguins.
1991-92 Upper Deck #23 – Markus Ketterer (RC)
Ketterer’s play looked impressive enough to earn him a shot in the NHL. He tied Canada 2-2, shut out Czechoslovakia 1-0 and allowed only one goal in 3-1 win over Sweden. Ketterer played two seasons in the AHL and saw backup duty with the Buffalo Sabres, but never played in the NHL.
1991-92 Upper Deck #24 – Jarri Kurri
Kurri spent the 1990-91 season playing in Italy, so the 1991 Canada Cup was a return to North America for the superstar. Kurri served as Finland’s team captain, and scored two goals in six games.
1991-92 Upper Deck #25 – Janne Ojanen
Ojanen, who had some NHL experience, scored two goals and two assists for Finland in the 1991 Canada Cup. He would spend most of his 24-year (!) pro career playing in Finland.
Sweden – 4th Place
Sweden went 2-3 in five round-robin games, and was clobbered 4-0 by Canada in the semifinals.
1991-92 Upper Deck #26 – Nicklas Lidstrom (RC)
The 1991 Canada Cup was Nicklas Lidstrom’s North American debut, and this card was his first hockey card. The Red Wing’s future captain had a goal and an assist in six Canada Cup games.
1991-92 Upper Deck #28 – Johan Garpenlov
Garpenlov, who spent the 1990-91 season with the Red Wings, would go on to play another nine seasons in the NHL. He had one assist in six games for Team Sweden.
1991-92 Upper Deck #29 – Niclas Anderson (RC)
Anderson, who had one assist in six Canada Cup games, would eventually play in 164 NHL games, mostly with the New York Islanders. Between the NHL, the minor leagues and Europe, Anderson played pro hockey until 2011.
Soviet Union – 5th Place
Everything about the Soviet Union team was kind of messed up in 1991. It was the last time a non-junior hockey team would represent the Soviet Union in an ice hockey competition, as the Iron Curtain was quickly crumbling. A once formidable hockey superpower, the Soveits finished the tournament with a 1-3-1 record. This was mainly because they did not field the best team that they could.
Most of the best Soviet players — such as Igor Larionov, Alexander Mogilny and Sergei Makorov — were now in the NHL and did not want to play for their former coach, Viktor Tikhonov.
Likewise, the Soviet Union would not allow its best up-and-coming players, like Pavel Bure and Vladimir Konstantinov to participate, for fear that they might defect. Oddly enough, the Soviet Union would get help from a defector at the tournament.
Also odd are these cards of “Soviet Stars.” They are not part of the Canada Cup subset, though they feature six players who played for USSR at the 1991 Canada Cup. The text on the card backs even describe how they did at that tournament. The “CCCP” logos have also been airbrushed off of their uniforms, and the cards replace the Canada Cup logo with the words “Soviet Stars” written in Russian.
1991-92 Upper Deck #1 – Vladimir Malakhov (RC)
Malakhov went pointless in five games for the Soviet Union, but he enjoyed a 13-year career in the NHL.
1991-92 Upper Deck #3 – Dmitri Filimonov (RC)
Filimonov went pointless in five games in the tournament. He later played 30 games for the Ottawa Senators in 1993-94, and eventually went back to play in Russia.
1991-92 Upper Deck #4 – Alexander Semak (RC)
Semak scored two goals and an assist in five games for the Soviet Union at the Canada Cup tournament. He would go on to play 289 NHL games, but like Filimonov would also finish his career in Russia.
1991-92 Upper Deck #6 – Sergei Fedorov
Fedorov, who defected from the Soviet Union during the Goodwill Games in Seattle in 1990, was a surpise addition to the Soviet’s Canada Cup roster. According to the back of this hockey card, Fedorov and Tikhonov “settled their differences” — perhaps some sort of “I will play for you only if you promise not to kidnap and take me back to Russia” kind of deal. A pretty standard agreement, from what I’ve heard. Anyway, Fedorov led his team in scoring with four points (2 G, 2 A) in five games.
Czechoslovakia – 6th Place
Czechoslovakia finished dead-last in the tournament, winning one and losing five games, scoring a tournament-worst 11 goals and allowing a tournament-worst 18 goals. It is hard to believe that a team that had both Jaromir Jagr and Dominik Hasek could have such a bad showing.
1991-92 Upper Deck #16 – Ziggy Palffy (RC)
Palffy had one goal in five games at the tournament. He’d go on to a ten-year NHL career.
1991-92 Upper Deck #20 – Jaromir Jagr
Jagr was named to the NHL All-Rookie Team in 1991, and we know what kind of career he’s been having since then. So it is a bit hard to believe that he had only one goal in five games during the Canada Cup.
Up until this point, the two major international hockey superpowers were Canada and the Soviet Union. But that changed in 1991. The United States proved that it was a contender. Five years later, they would win the inaugural World Cup of Hockey, and generally be a thorn in Canada’s side, particularly in the 2002 and 2010 Olympic Games.
At the same time, the Soviet Union’s dominance in hockey was mitigated quite a bit. Whereas the Soviet national team used to play together year-round (as the Central Red Army team), many players went on to play in the NHL, while others in formerly-controlled Soviet states chose to play for their own countries’ teams. The old Soviet methods were disappearing.
Then consider the Czechs. If there’s a silver — or should we say gold — lining to Czechoslovakia’s poor showing in 1991, it is that nine of the players on this team formed the core of the Czech Republic team that won the gold medal at the 1998 Winter Olympic Games. The worst team at the last Canada Cup became the best team at the first NHL-backed Olympics.
The 1991 Canada Cup was the fifth and final tournament to use that name. In 1996, the tournament would be renamed the World Cup of Hockey; a more inclusive name. Whereas “Canada Cup” implies that the trophy belongs to Canada and that other countries are trying to take it away, “World Cup of Hockey” implies that the trophy is up for grabs — that it is anyone’s game. That’s what it became in 1991. ■