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Former Toronto Maple Leafs captain almost didn’t make famed 1987 squad
Sometimes, it really does pay to have influential friends.
Despite coming off a 105-point season for the St. Louis Blues in 1986-87, Doug Gilmour was a bit of a long shot to make Canada’s roster for the 1987 Canada Cup.
So when the Canadian players gathered for training camp in August, sure enough it was coming down to either Gilmour or Dave Poulin battling for the final roster spot.
Mike Keenan was the Canadian coach that year, coming off his third season behind the Philadelphia bench, and leading the Flyers to the Stanley Cup final the previous spring.
Keenan’s captain in Philly?
So it goes without saying Gilmour figured he’d be the odd man out for Team Canada, which was preparing for a fourth Canada Cup international tournament.
It didn’t quite turn out that way.
“Yeah,” Gilmour said Sunday, “rumour has it that Gretz and Mess and a couple of other guys wanted me on the team.”
When Wayne Gretzky and Mark Messier speak, you listen. Even if you’re Mike Keenan.
The ’87 Canada Cup will always be remembered as a classic, famous for the Gretzky-to-Lemieux goal late in the deciding game against the Soviet Union at Hamilton’s Copps Coliseum.
Gilmour, as we mentioned, was coming off a breakthrough year in St. Louis, but was used in a defensive role for Keenan’s Canadian squad.
He certainly didn’t receive the icetime he’d become accustomed to with the Blues.
“But just being there made such a difference to my career,” said Gilmour, in town for Sunday night’s Toronto Maple Leafs’ Alumni game, as part of the Leafs’ training camp festivities this weekend.
“I didn’t play a lot, but just being around these guys, practising with these guys every day and watching them play, and how they prepared themselves. And, of course, there was Mario’s coming out story. It was remarkable.”
“I didn’t play a lot, but just being around these guys, practising with these guys every day and watching them play, and how they prepared themselves. And, of course, there was Mario’s coming out story. It was remarkable.” — Doug Gilmour
It’s said Lemieux elevated his game from star status to superstar status following the 1987 Canada Cup, thanks mainly to Gretzky’s influence.
Canada won the final game 6-5 (all three games of the final against the Soviets ended 6-5), and it came exactly 32 years to the day Sunday, when Gilmour was dressing for the Alumni game against a squad from the Canadian Armed Forces.
“Seriously?” Gilmour smiled. “I didn’t know.”
In the deciding game Game 3, the Soviets scored three goals in the first eight minutes for a 3-0 lead. But the Canadian team, Gilmour said, remained calm during the first-period intermission.
“They came at us hard, but we were very confident. The big boys answered,” he said, alluding to Gretzky and Lemieux, who both had a goal and an assist in the game.
Gilmour scored goals in each of the first two games of the final, playing with Mike Gartner and Lemieux.
But the goal he’s most remembered for came six years later, at old Maple Leaf Gardens.
By now a Leaf, via Calgary, Gilmour’s performance in Game 1 of the Norris Division final is the stuff of legend. It’s one of the reasons he remains a beloved Leaf.
He scored in double overtime, on a wraparound to beat future teammate Curtis Joseph, a tally that’s made the Leafs’ permanent highlight reel.
“Cujo,” said Gilmour referring to Joseph, who was at Mile One for Sunday’s Alumni game, but didn’t play, “always says, ‘You know, he’s scored other goals than that.’”
Gilmour was camped behind the Blues’ net – “I learned that from Gretz” – and was waiting for a play to develop.
Big Dave Andreychuk was off to the side of the goal, to Gilmour’s right, and trying to gain position, while Nikolai Borschevsky was battling to do the same in front of Joseph.
“I was trying to figure something out,” he recalls, “and it was then Andreychuk locked the defenceman and that’s when I spun around, came out and found an opening.
“It wasn’t something that I had planned on.”
The Leafs won the series, but lost the Western Conference final to Gretzky and the Los Angeles Kings.
“The best player on the world stepped up,” he said of The Great One. “It’s one of those things that you wish you could play over.”
Gilmour was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2011, after finishing with 1,414 career points in 1,474 career games, 19th on the all-time scoring list.
He still laces ’em up frequently, as he did Sunday, but admits he doesn’t enjoy playing the game as much as he used to.
Rather, it’s just being around former teammates in the dressing room that’s the fun part.
And after 11 years of involvement with the Ontario Hockey League’s Kingston Frontenacs – three as coach, six as general manager, and the past two as president – he’s ready to slide away from the front office role.
“I live in Burlington, and it’s three hours door to door,” he said of the drive to Kingston, where he was born and raised. “Both my parents are gone now. I still have two siblings there, but it’s time for another phase in my career.
“I have a lot of other business stuff, and personal things that I enjoy. I’m all over the place.
“I’m still going to be part of it (the junior team), but a small part. I’m there more now for support, or if they need advice.”
The Frontenacs would be getting advice from a solid source.