Lyapkin was a member of the Soviet Union ice hockey team at the 1976 Winter Games in Innsbruck, Austria. During the tournament, the Soviets dominated their competition as they went undefeated to capture the gold medal. They outscored their opponents by a combined 40-11, defeating Poland, 16-1, Finland, 7-2, and the United States, 6-2.
One of the greatest Soviet hockey players in the 1970s, Lyapkin was a terrific defenseman for the Soviet National team. He helped the Soviets win the World Championship in 1971, and again from 1973-1975. Yuri was also a top player in the Soviet League, playing for Khimik Voskresensk from 1964-1972, and 1976-78, and for Spartak Moscow from 1972-1976, and 1978-1979. He finished his career with 126 goals in 437 League games; quite an accomplishment for a defenseman.
In 1972, he participated in the Summit Series against Canada, a competition that has been described as the most important event in Russian hockey history. For the first time, the Soviets played the top professional players in Canada in a 8-game series that both countries still remember. Former Soviet goalie Vladislov Tretiak (whom many consider one of the greatest goalies in hockey history) said: "Those games brought down the wall between Canadian and Russian hockey, two decades before the other walls came down." The Series opened the door for Russian players, many of whom now play in the NHL.
During the 1972 Series, most people in Canada felt they would easily defeat the Soviets, despite the USSR's legendary prowess against amateurs in the Olympics and World Championships. In Game 1, however, the Soviets surprised the Canadians and rolled to a 7-3 victory. The Series was hard fought; and heading into the eighth, and final, game, it was tied with each team having 3 wins and 1 draw. The final game was tied 5-5 with less than a minute left when Canada's Paul Henderson took a shot that went through Lyapkin and goalie Tretiak and into the Soviet net to win the game, and the Series. Yuri later said, "I'm on all of Paul's T-shirts and all of the kid's hockey cards, standing there frozen in time, looking beaten." Lyapkin played valiantly, however, tying for the Soviet team lead with 5 assists and finishing with 6 total points.
Participants on both sides complimented their opponents and still talk of the importance of the 1972 Series. In 1999, Lyapkin, who is currently the general manager of the Soviet Wings hockey team, participated in a four-game series to commemorate the original Summit. Although the Canadian team won the series by capturing 3 of the 4 games, Lyapkin scored 2 goals and was voted Russia's MVP.
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