Czech victory in 1969 surpasses 1972 dramatics
When Canada defeated the United
States in the gold medal game in the 2002 Olympics, Canadians from coast to
coast to coast and all around the world celebrated. It was the greatest
international hockey victory since the 1972 Summit Series.
But to Canadians, there is no
more significant victory in hockey than the 1972 Summit Series. Never mind the
fact that it should be one of our worse moments - narrowly escaping a series
everyone overconfidently predicted we should have won handily - the series
became much more than a hockey victory.
The players described it as
war. Time has built up the myth that at stake wasn't the unofficial hockey
championship of the world, but our free world values vs. the communist regime.
But for 28 days in September '72, especially on Sept. 28, 1972, there was an
element of truth in that myth, and when we won the nation erupted and celebrated
The win had such a profound
effect on Canadians. More than any other moment in Canadian history, this event
overwhelmed a nation with pride and unity. Anyone with any knowledge of Canada
knows that is hard to do in a nation that is so diverse. The event transcended
it's realm, and changed us forever.
It will be hard to ever
duplicate such an effect on ice ever again. It was a time of us-against-them,
not just in hockey, but in everything else. That era is gone, hopefully forever.
Every once in a while, the
sports world sees an event where the result transcends not only the tangible
victory, but the world itself. The result can mean so much to a large audience -
often including non-sports fans. Probably the best example would be when
African-American track and field star Jesse Owens set world records in the 1936
Olympics. Those Olympics were held in Berlin, Germany. It was supposed to be a
display of Aryan greatness as racist leader Adolph Hitler watched from the
stands. Owens overcame the political and racial hot-seat to put Hitler in his
place. Even the German fans cheered on Owens.
Every country can come up with
their own example of a sporting event that had bigger implications than just
result of a game. For many nations in the world it is probably a soccer victory,
or maybe an Olympic triumph.
Someone once asked me if there
are any other hockey events that rival the 1972 series effect on such a large
group of people. The answer I came up with was yes, there was a few hockey
events that rivalled it, and one that even surpassed it.
In 1969, not only was the
effect matched, but it was bettered, perhaps significantly. The Czechoslovakia
national team defeated the Soviets in front of 8000 Swedish fans at the World
Championships. A year earlier the Soviet Union rolled their tanks and armies
into Prague and crushed a reform movement. Czechoslovakia leader Alexander
Dubcek, an earlier version of Mikhail Gorbachev, was trying to introduce reforms
that would create "socialism with a human face." The Russians put a
quick and authoritative end to that.
The meeting on the ice in the
1969 World Championships was much more than just a hockey game. It was
politically charged. The Czechoslovakian players were determined to regain
Czechoslovakian pride in their own little way.
The Czechoslovakians, who were
famous for playing very conservative hockey, came out with an effort that
stretched the meaning of the word intensity. The atmosphere was so tense that it
was revealed later that Anatoli Tarasov suffered a mild heart attack during the
The game started with a
shocking act of defiance by the Czechoslovakian players. The Czechoslovakians’
jersey always displayed the Czechoslovakian emblem of a crest with a lion. A red
star above the lion pledged allegiance to the USSR. The players covered up the
red star with hockey tape despite great fears of repercussions.
The players played with an
unmatchable level of desire. There was no denying their victory. Their hatred
was real, very real. Their composure was commendable, but the emotion was
incredible. The Soviet players were bewildered. They didn't understand why these
players hated them so. One Czechoslovakian player, Josef Golonka, displayed his
emotion by converting his hockey stick into a pretend rifle.
The game itself was a scoreless
affair for the longest time. The great Jan Suchy scored on a two-man powerplay
to open the scoring. From that point on goalie Vladimir Dzurilla was the star of
the show. He would keep all the Soviet shooters at bay as he recorded the first
shutout in World Championship play by any nation against the Russians since
1955. Josef Cerny scored a spectacular goal to put an exclamation point on the
But the victory on the ice
wasn't important as the victory in the hearts of Czechoslovakians. The
Czechoslovakian players cried uncontrollably. The Swedish crowd knew of the
political ramifications, and joined in the celebrations by chanting "Dubcek!
Dubcek!" Once the news of the game reached Prague, thousands of proud
Czechoslovakians spilled out into the streets. They weren't concerned about
possible repercussions either.
Russian winger Yevgeny Zimin
remembered the game in Lawrence Martin's book The Red Machine:
"We saw this joy. It was
so overwhelming. The whole stadium stood up. The applause was incredible. We
realized what was going on. But we didn't view the Czechoslovakian players as
our enemies. We didn't have any influence on the decisions of the Kremlin. But,
in our hearts and our minds, we did not agree with the policy of the occupation
of Czechoslovakian and the use of tanks against the people of that country. We
didn't have anything against the Czechoslovakian players."
He also added "The
integrity of the Czechoslovakian players and their pride was on the line. They
decided that, if they couldn't beat us with tanks, then they could beat us on
the ice rinks. You must understand that even before that year practically every
game between us and the Czechoslovakians was played at a very high emotional
level. But what happened in Stockholm, I must say, nobody expected."
While Canadians spilled out
into the streets in 1972 and in 2002, nothing could match the emotion of this
Just a few short days later,
the hysteria was repeated as the Czechoslovakians again met the Soviets in a
match. This time the Czechoslovakians won 4-3, thanks in part to weak
goaltending by Russian goal keeper Viktor Zinger.
Ultimately the Czechoslovakians
exhausted their passion before they could claim the World title. Needing only a
tie in the final game to clinch the gold, the Czechoslovakians lost 1-0. The
Soviets, Swedes and Czechoslovakians all tied for 1st but the goals for/goals
against ratio gave the title to the Soviets.
Very few sporting events could reach the level of Jesse Owens or the Czechoslovakia national team. Compared to those two, the 1972 Summit Series doesn't quite match up.