TORONTO -- Watching the World Cup of Hockey 2016 the past two weeks has reminded Igor Larionov of the game he loved playing.
He's enjoyed how Team Europe has surprised almost everyone by reaching the best-of-3 final against Team Canada, which begins at Air Canada Centre on Tuesday (8 p.m. ET; ESPN, CBC, TVA Sports). And in the 23 or younger players from Team North America, Larionov saw a creativity and aggressiveness he would like to see more of.
"That North America team was a phenomenal team the way they played," he said. "That's the way the game is supposed to be played. … These guys played very entertaining hockey for 60 minutes. It was all attacking and all defense, so it kind of reminded me of the 1987 Canada Cup when we played against Team Canada for three games."
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Larionov said he remembers the 1987 Canada Cup final between the Soviet Union and Canada as hockey as its highest level. All three games ended 6-5, with the first two games requiring overtime. Canada won in the back-and-forth deciding game on Mario Lemieux's game-winning goal with 1:27 left in the third period.
Team North America, which was eliminated in the preliminary round despite going 2-1-0, made Larionov think back to that series. Larionov, 55, retired in 2004 after a Hall of Fame playing career in Russia and in the NHL, where he won the Stanley Cup three times with the Detroit Red Wings. He still plays occasionally in the World Legends of Hockey League, which features players 45 and older and includes teams from Russia, Sweden, Finland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Germany and France. A team from Switzerland is expected to join soon.
Larionov and fellow Hockey Hall of Fame member Pavel Bure were part of a group that met with NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly and IIHF president Rene Fasel in Toronto on Tuesday in an attempt to get the NHL and players from North America involved.
"Last year my line was Sergei Fedorov and Pavel Bure, and on defense Slava Fetisov and Alexei Kasatonov. So that's not bad," Larionov said. "It's nice to have a banner event when we play together and kind of show, maybe not the speed of today but the mind and the understanding of the game. You can still see that. Maybe youth coaches watching the games can take examples to the younger generation to see how the game can be played."
Larionov said he would like to see more of the creativity and attacking style of Team North America in the NHL and in hockey in Russia. The state of hockey in his homeland is a hot topic after Team Russia lost 5-3 to Team Canada in the World Cup semifinals Saturday.
"Russia was OK," Larionov said. "Not great. But OK."
Bure gave a similar assessment, saying of Team Russia, "They did OK."
Coming after three consecutive Olympics without a medal, the World Cup semifinal loss once again has raised questions about why Russia hasn't had success in these best-on-best tournaments.
"It's hard to say that because I've watched a lot of hockey here and I'm based here in North America, so I can't really make any statements," Larionov said. "But I expected more creativity, more finesse from this team and more unity as a team. That's what I was hoping to see. But that wasn't the case."