Philadelphia Flyers radio announcer
Brian Propp has many memories from his
stellar hockey career. The one that tops
them all was getting the opportunity to play
on the same line as Wayne Gretzky and
Mario Lemieux in the 1987 Canada Cup.
Doug Ward | NHL.com correspondent
Feb 3, 2007, 12:00 PM EST
Brian Propp has a long and impressive resume in hockey. It shows that the left winger played 15 NHL seasons between 1979 and 1994 and that he scored 40 goals in a season four times on his way to 425 career goals.
Also detailed in Propp’s career summary is the fact he was a first-round pick of the Philadelphia Flyers in the 1979 Entry Draft and went on to score 1,000 career points.
While playing junior hockey for the Brandon Wheat Kings, Propp had 94 goals and 100 assists — in one season. That was 1978-79. In all, the prodigious Propp spent three years in Brandon, scoring a total of 219 goals and 511 points.
The most recent entry on Propp’s resume shows he is an analyst on the Flyers’ radio broadcasts.
It’s all very impressive. But it might be a little excessive.
Here’s what Brian Propp’s resume should say: “Played on a line with Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux at the 1987 Canada Cup.”
After that, what else is there?
When you’ve played alongside what are quite possibly the two greatest players of all-time, in what is widely regarded as the greatest hockey tournament ever contested, what else need be said?
Propp was a member of the 1979-80 Philadelphia team that went a record 35-consecutive games without a loss. It’s an accomplishment that would probably be the lead entry on the career compendium of most players. For Propp, it’s almost superfluous.
“I remember when I found out I’d be playing with (Gretzky and Lemieux),” Propp recalls. “I looked at them and said, ‘I’ll play defense. Maybe get the puck up to you two guys.’”
Over the course of the ’87 Canada Cup, Michel Goulet and Dale Hawerchuk also took turns on the left side of the historic line, but mostly the job belonged to Propp.
When you’re teamed up with guys whose nicknames are “The Great One” and “Super Mario”, there’s every possibility you’ll be left feeling a little like a third wheel. Propp, however, recalls feeling only excitement.
“I didn’t really feel and pressure,” he says. “I had played against them both since ’79, so I knew how to play against them, and I figured this would be a great opportunity to play with them. Those guys work so well together. You just make sure you take care of your end.”
Propp, who had two goals and two assists in nine games for Team Canada, fondly remembers that year’s Canada Cup as the best hockey he’s ever been a part of. Most everyone — including Gretzky — who played in, or watched, that series says the same thing.
“As far as I’m concerned,” Propp says, “that whole tournament was the best hockey I’ve ever been involved with. Russia, at the time, did not have any players in the NHL, and they had a powerhouse. Every country in the tournament had a great team. The hockey was fast and it was played at a high level. Those were the best games I ever played in.”
Growing up in the small town of Neudorf, Saskatchewan, population 200, Propp spent countless hours skating and shooting pucks on outdoor rinks.
“We were living in a town that did not have artificial ice,” Propp says. “So in the winter, I’d sometime go after school and skate for an-hour-and-a-half outside on the pond. Or, I’d play street hockey. Shooting was something I really worked on a lot. I worked on picking corners and I always wanted to get the shot on net.”
Propp’s Team Canada, which was loaded with star players like Mark Messier, Ray Bourque, Doug Gilmour, and Paul Coffey, had made it to the Canada Cup finals, where they squared off with the Soviet Union in three-game series to determine the tourney champ.
The two teams split the first two games. The Soviet Union won Game 1 in Montreal, 6-5, in overtime. Team Canada evened the series by winning Game 2 by an identical 6-5 score, also in overtime.
That set up a one-game showdown for the title. It’s the game Propp will never forget.
The landmark match up was played Sept. 15, in Hamilton, Ont., and everyone in the building that night knew they were on hand for something special.
“In Canada,” Propp says, “any time you get a chance to play for your country, you know everybody is watching. It’s very special. In Hamilton, the fans were great. They had painted faces, and they were screaming all night.”
Despite the raucous backing of the home fans, and the momentum Team Canada carried from the previous game, things did not start well for Propp and the rest of the Canadians.
“What I remember about that last game is that we were trailing 3-0 in first 10 minutes,” Propp recalls. “Then, Rick Tocchet got a goal. And then I got a goal. Next thing you know, we had tied the score and made a game of it.”