Sunday, September 28, 2008

1976 Canada Cup, Orr vs. Potvin

Pictured is the book I picked up while in Toronto last month. It was published in 1976 right after the first ever Canada Cup tournament. The book is just loaded with photos, text (by Scott Young) and Game Summaries for each game. The ’76 Canada Cup was an attempt by Hockey Canada and Alan Eagleson to capture once again the magic that was the ’72 Summit Series. Canada, of course won the tourney, beating the Czechs in the final on Sittler’s OT goal.
The tournament was basically the swan-song for one Robert Gordon Orr, as he was returning from yet another knee operation. His 1975-76 season had consisted of a mere 10 games and an amazing 18 points. He didn’t actually arrive to Canada’s training camp until two weeks in, he remained at his Parry Sound hockey school easing the knee back into shape on his own. Orr would excel throughout the tournament being awarded the MVP and placing on the All-Star Team along with Sweden’s Borje Salming.
Recently while sitting around the hockey dressing room, one of my friends challenged that Denis Potvin may have outplayed Orr in the ’76 Canada Cup, (this pal of mine is a huge Islanders fan). After he was ridiculed for blasphemy by all present, I thought I’d look into it further.
Having this fantastic book as a resource for each and every game allowed me to really analyse the argument. At first glance, Potvin does actually seem at least equal to Orr, each leading Canada with 9 points in the 7 games. Potvin actually beats Orr in +/- rating, 10 to 8, and +5 to +1 in the two final round games. Hmmm, we may be on to something here.
I decided to create a pointing system for each goal or assist scored depending on how important the tally was. Points scored in the 3rd period are obviously more valuable than points in the first, unless of course the first period point stands up as a winner. Scoring during the later stages of the tournament is more important than scoring in preliminary round routs. What follows is the rating system I came up with.



I believe the assigned point weighting is both fair and accurate. Next, I went game by game for the top defensemen in the tourney; Orr, Potvin, Salming, Jiri Bubla and Alexander Gusev.
Both Orr with 3 assists and Potvin with a goal and assist started off well in an 11-2 romp over Finland. Each of their points worth only one point in my scoring system. Game two, a 4-2 win over USA saw Orr earn assists on each of the first two goals in the first period and 4 rating points. Potvin assisted on the 3-0 goal. The 4-0 win over Sweden saw Potvin shutout and Orr assisting on the last goal.
In the meantime Salming was leading Sweden to a win over the US and a suprise tie with the Russians. He tallied a total of 5 points though the first 4 games before scoring two power-play goals in the 3rd period to beat the Czechs 2-1. These 7 points give him 20 rating points over the 5 games in which he played.
The fifth game for Canada was a do or die against the Russians. Potvin assisted on two big goals in the first period of the 3-1 win earning 10 rating points in the process. Game one of the finals versus the Czechs saw Orr score 2 goals and a helper with Potvin tallying one of each in a 6-0 win for Canada.
The final game, the 5-4 OT win for Canada saw Potvin assist on the first two goals with Orr not registering a point. In the end Potvin's 9 points translate to 27 rating points while Orr's 9 give him 14 points. At the very least, Potvin should have been a tournament All-Star with Orr, this however bumps Salming, and his 20 rating points. Perhaps Orr was more of a sentimental pick as most knew his career was pretty much done. He would, of course, only play 26 more games over the next three seasons tallying 29 points. See the follwing chart for final numbers for the top defenseman.

2 comments:

Billy Zeats said...

Nicely done Nitzy, but I think if we are going to compare defensemen in a tourney style event, the offense and plus/minus aren't the only things that are considered in naming an MVP. Big defensive plays are never given a stat., nor is the ability to control the pace of the game by mere puck control.(Especially during crucial times in the game.) There is also no stat or point given for the 4th man who may have started the goal scoring play with a huge defensive play.
I think if we were to watch the entire series we would see Mr. Orr make incredible plays that lead the voters to select him as MVP. I am not discounting Potvin at all, just clarifying what I think are some other reasons why Orr was chosen as the MVP...that and stopping Greeny from absolutely exploding!!!
Who was the Russian player who said that Bobby Orr was the best player he had ever seen...

Again.. nicely done and congrats on your book.

Billy

Michael said...

I just finished watching this series on DVD - first time I'd seen it since I was 9 watching it live as a kid. Absolutely amazing! Even though the quality of the DVD left much to be desired, it was incredible to watch Bobby Orr again.

One thing that stood out for me was that Canada essentially went most of the series with only 5 defencemen, after Watson went down. I am guessing Vadnais was injured before the tourney started? And I heard Park was supposed to be on the team but was injured as well? Anyway, it was incredible to see 5 d-men go all the way, and do it so well. Plus Robinson was used on the wing several times AND Bowman often used 3 defencemen killing penalties. I remember seeing Potvin in the box (big surprise) and Savard, Orr and Robinson all killing the 2 minutes. That left Lapointe as the only other D on the bench! I can't see that ever happening in today's hockey, but they were absolute warriors and did an amazing job.

Anyway, I digress. I do think Orr outplayed Potvin, although I only base that on watching the games - nothing scientific here. I was very impressed with Potvin - I forgot he was even on the team, as I still associate he and his fellow Isle stars as excelling in the 1980-84 era. But even back in 76 he was a dominant d-man.

But Orr.....wow. Born in 1967, I was pretty young during his heydey so this was a treat. The way he skated and played - it was like he was playing against juniors. He was so dominant and made it look so easy. Incredibly fluid skater - made it look like he could do whatever he wanted.

Anyway, enough from me. Orr over Potvin. Nuff said.

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