At the 1976 Canada Cup tournament, a young Guy Lafleur was over the moon to learn that he’d been assigned to share a room with his idol Bobby Orr. Though they were rivals in the NHL, the two quickly hit it off and spent hours talking about the game, about winning, about getting the most out of their God-given talent. Lafleur later said the experience of playing with the legend whose poster hung in his locker changed his life.
Five years later, at the 1981 Canada Cup, Lafleur paid that debt forward by taking a young Wayne Gretzky under his wing. Six years after that, it was The Great One’s turn to challenge a rising star, to help him build a bridge from stardom to hockey immortality.
“I learned so much about how the great players work and conduct themselves,” Mario Lemieux said years later. “Remember, I was only 21 years old at the time. To be around guys like Wayne and Mark Messier and Paul Coffey, guys who’d already had so much success and had won Stanley Cups, was a tremendous learning experience. It gave me an opportunity to start my career and really learn what it meant to be a champion and the best in the game.”
That opportunity for one generation to pass along its wisdom to the next will present itself again next month in the 2014 Winter Olympic Games. Returning home with gold will be the primary goal of every player who heads to Sochi, but for young ones like P. K. Subban, John Tavares and Matt Duchene, the opportunity to study under a master for two weeks could wind up being more important to them and their careers than a medal that ends up in a drawer somewhere.