Discovering the 1972 Summit Series
The following article was written by Krystal Yee.
This article is one of the best pieces we've ever reviewed on the 1972 Summit
Series and we thank Krystal for allowing us to post it on this website.
it felt like it was just yesterday."
what my dad said when I asked him if he remembered the Canadian/Soviet Union
hockey series. But it wasn't yesterday, although he's almost positive it was. It
was, in fact, over 25 years ago that this remarkable feat happened, and every
Canadian who watched that series will recall that it was the most famous sports
series ever played in Canadian history.
was to be the only time in sporting history that a team - an entire nation, so
boldly laid their hearts on the line; so positive that they were going to win
without a doubt. To sum it up in just three words, it was, in fact, The Cold
important was the Summit Series to Canadians? Kindergarten children made excuses
to stay home to watch the games on television. Ironically, what those children
didn't know was that teachers from schools across Canada had brought in
televisions so that the entire school could witness the historic series. Men and
women took sick days, and the media all around the world had a field day every
time something went wrong for Team Canada, which happened all too often, if any
Canadian had a say in it.
was the ghostly words of Foster Hewitt that made Canadians proud. It was his
voice that brought the series to life. There wasn't a series in hockey history
before -- there hasn't been one like it since, although many have come close. It
would be eight games of the most memorable hockey ever played.
Hewitt's most famous line came with only 34 seconds left in that wildly
emotional, eight-game series between the best from Canada and the best from the
Soviet Union. It was a quote that sent chills down the spines of hockey fans
nation-wide. That one quote became embedded in the minds of millions of Canadian
fans for years to come.
"Liapkin rolled one
to Savard . . ."
Grinberg, who was born and raised in the Soviet Union, but now lives in Canada,
commented on the series: "I think the chances of the teams are exactly the
same. I am a fan of my team (Team Soviet), and I hope our fellows would win a
good three (games), even though the Canadians are a very serious team. They have
very strong players. I am told the professionals are something special and that
is why we (Team Soviet) shall suffer."
And just like that, the stage was set. Four games in Canada, four in Moscow. It
would be the event of the century.
"Savard cleared the
pass to Stapleton..."
Game One was
set in the Montreal Forum, where some of hockey's greatest players had once
laced them up, such as Joe Malone, Maurice Richard, and Ken Dryden; Team
Canada's starting goaltender for the series. The Forum had to look spectacular
for the opening game of this historic event, between the professional Canadian
players and the Soviet Union's "amateur" players. This was the
beginning of an easy series for Team Canada, and everyone knew it too. They had
fourteen of the top twenty-five scorers in the NHL, and the best goaltender in
the world, Ken Dryden. Who did the Soviets have? A bunch of so-called
"hockey players" with last names too hard to pronounce.
Thirty seconds into the game, Phil Esposito scored for Canada. Six minutes, and
two seconds later, it was Paul Henderson who scored. This would be a cinch. The
only problem Team Canada worried about during the first ten minutes of the game
was whether or not they should take pity on the Soviets. After all, it wasn't
very sportsmanlike to win an international competition by more than 10 goals,
"Do they have the 10 goal mercy rule in international competition?"
one spectator wondered out loud behind the glass of the Russian bench. His
comment was followed with laughter by the fans around him as he sat back into
his seat smugly.
The Soviets were a
sight to see in their ancient three-sizes-too-small equipment and worn-out
sticks. They looked hardly capable of playing (or just looking like) a junior
hockey team, never mind a national team competing in one of the biggest nation
vs. nation competition in sport history.
But by the end of the first period, however, the Soviets had tied the score.
Valery Kharlamov had scored twice in the second period for Team Soviet before
Team Canada's Bobby Clarke answered with a goal in the ninth minute of the
third. Then, an onslaught of three more goals by the Soviets. There was no
answer by the Canadians this time. Final score; Team Canada 3, Team Soviet 7.
How could this have happened? No, a more appropriate question would be, how
could this be allowed to happen? What went wrong? Those were the questions that
thousands of hockey fans all across Canada were asking themselves the next
morning. Total, utter shock. Canada wasn't supposed to lose. Not even one game.
They were the best players in the world, and surly, that would be good enough.
They were professionals. They made money by playing a sport where they were the
best. But maybe, just maybe, this time, being professional wasn't going to be
"He cleared to the
open wing to Cournoyer . . ."
Two nights and
nine player changes later, Team Canada took to the ice in Toronto. They were
embarrassed, and wanted to change their line-up around in hopes of sparking the
offense. Tony Esposito started in net instead of Dryden. The
Ratille-Gilbert-Hadfield line was benched. In its place was the Serge Savard
line. He, better then anyone, put Team Canada's 4-1 win that night in
through training camp, I don't think we really put enough emphasis on defense.
All the time, it was goals, goals, goals . . . how many goals are we going to
beat them by? But in this game," he said thoughtfully, "we brought
some defense into the game."
Now the series was tied 1-1, and all of Canada breathed a sigh of relief. One
loss wasn't all that bad. Canada would win the next six straight. All of the
excitement of the first game had gotten to them. Yeah, that was it. It was the
excitement of all the festivities.
At his house that
night, Tony Esposito crossed his fingers and prayed. He wasn't so sure how well
they would play. Beating the Soviets was a harder challenge then Team Canada had
anticipated. The Soviets were more aggressive and stronger defensively than he
had been told. The Soviets are weak. Their
goaltender is wild, and their forwards are pathetic.
All of that was untrue. Their offense was unbelievable, and their
goaltender was spectacular. Team Canada would need to be absolutely perfect in
the next six games in order to win. After all, they couldn't lose. Losing the
series wasn't even an option.
"Cournoyer took a
started Game Three like they finished off Game Two. In control. On a high. Less
than two minutes into the game, Jean-Paul Paris beat the Soviet goaltender to
make it 1-0. Team Soviet responded by snapping a shorthanded goal passed
Esposito. But Canada answered back by re-established it's one goal lead with a
goal late in the first period. It didn't last.
Canada led the game 3-1 and 4-2, yet, in the end, the Soviets came out of it
with a tie. Team Canada out-shot Team Soviet 38-25, but earned a tie. A tie!
What had happened?
This series was supposed to be an easy win for Team Canada. Another ego booster.
If this was supposed to be easy, then why was it so hard?
"The defenseman fell
any easier in Vancouver, the next stop in the series.
The game started with high hopes for Team Canada. They played hard in the first
period, but things fell apart in the second.
The Canadian crowd knew that Team Canada was trying their best, and gave the
team a polite cheer as they skated to a 3-5 loss. Some fans started ganging up
on Team Canada. Hockey was Canada's game - it always had been, and they expected
it to continue. How could Canada lose to such a mediocre team like the Soviet
Union? It was unheard of! But if you listened closely you would have heard
booing. But by who? They were angry, but surely the Canadian fans wouldn't
betray Team Canada like that.
"Cournoyer has it on
first game of the series was embarrassing enough, but losing their fourth game
in Vancouver was simply pathetic. It left reporters wondering just how hard Team
Canada was trying.
"We're doing our best," Phil Esposito angrily, then almost pleadingly
told reporters after the game. "If the fans in Moscow boo their players,
I'll come back here and personally apologize to everybody, but I don't think
that's going to happen. I really don't."
series 1-2-1, and heading overseas for the last four games, Team Canada looked
pitiful. Their left-winger, Hadfield, who had been benched earlier in the series
decided to go home. Shortly after, rookies Jocelyn Guvremont and Rick Martin
left as well.
Despite the departure of three of their players, Team Canada started game five
higher then they had ever been in the series before. Staked to a 3-0 lead,
thanks to goals by Clarke, Parise and Henderson, they looked to lock up their
second win of the series.
With fewer then eleven minutes remaining in the game, Team Canada led 4-1, and
felt like for once, they would come out of a game with a solid win.
Then the wheels came off.
The Soviets scored twice in eight seconds. A little more than two minutes later,
the game was tied. As Hadfield and the two rookies boarded the plane back to
Canada, Team Soviet completed the unbelievable comeback, winning the game 5-4.
In their private box, the President of the Soviet Union, Nikolai Podgomy and the
Prime Minister, Alexi Kosygin smiled and shook hands. Smiles were everywhere --
except in Team Canada's dressing room.
"Henderson makes a
wild stab for it and fell..."
three games left, and Team Canada was trailing 1-3-1. They were desperate. They
were shocked. Team Soviet wasn't supposed to be this good! They were supposed to
be a bush-league team, hardly capable of international competition.
There was no scoring in the first period of Game Six. The goals came pouring in
in the second though. Hull, Cournoyer and Henderson scored for Team Canada,
despite being shorthanded for seventeen minutes, including two minutes with the
team short two men.
Somehow, by some miracle, they held Team Soviet to only two goals. All of Canada
breathed a sigh of relief. They were still alive, after six games.
And miraculously, Team Canada won two nights later in Game Seven. Team Canada
led 1-0, trailed 2-1, led 3-2, and finally won the game on a Henderson goal with
less than three minutes remaining.
It was on to
the series finale, Game Eight. It was any team's game to win or lose.
Emotionally, there was nothing to match it before, nor has there been ever
since. Not even close.
Coach Harry Sinden (Team Canada's coach) summed it all up by saying, "It
could be the greatest game ever played."
Team Canada matched the Soviets goal for goal in the first period until they
fell behind 5-3 midway through the second.
Esposito scored for
Canada and so did Cournoyer, to tie the game up 5-5. But there was a problem
with the Cournoyer goal. The red
light didn't go on. While Team Canada celebrated the goal, Team Soviet were
yelling and screaming at the referees in rapid Russian that the light hadn't
gone on. But after a lengthy delay, a referee's meeting, and much confusion, the
goal was allowed despite the boos and jeers from the fans. Celebration erupted
on the Canadian bench.
Six minutes left in
the game, with time ticking away. If either team was to score, they had better
do it quickly.
came on, telling the crowd that there was less than one minute left in
regulation time. The Soviet crowd erupted into cheers, hoping to energize their
50 seconds left . .
. 45 seconds . . . 40 seconds. Phil Esposito skated hard into the Soviet's zone,
with Henderson and Cournoyer not far behind. Esposito passed the puck to
Cournoyer. Cournoyer took a shot and missed. Henderson made a desperate stab for
the puck, but went sliding on his stomach. 37 seconds left . . . glancing up at
the clock, Henderson quickly got back up and headed straight to the front of the
net. He picked up the loose puck, spun and shot. The red light came on.
Henderson had scored! Henderson had scored for Canada! Team Canada
erupted into whoops and hollers on the bench.
Crowding. Hugging. Smiles everywhere.
Ken Dryden, Team
Canada's number one goalie for the series, described what he was feeling when
"the goal" was scored.
I was less than 200 feet away. I remember things from just before and just
after, but not then. From where Esposito and Henderson, Liapkin and Tretiak were
standing, from the position of the puck, I remember feeling no sudden rush of
hope. No pattern that made me know what would happen next.
Sprinting, tripping in bulky leg pads, my own whoops shouting in my ears -- I
remember being somewhere in the middle of Luzhnik's vacant ice dashing to catch
the scrum of celebration near the Soviet net. Memory goes away before I reach
the pile. It comes back again several seconds later, in the midst of the joyous
pummeling. Stop, I hear myself say. Get a hold of yourself. There's still
thirty-four seconds to go!
What a spectacular series. Eight games. 480 minutes of the most emotional,
heart-stopping hockey either country had ever witnessed. Canada's best against
the Soviet's best.
Highs. Lows. Desperation. Then . . . and then . . . total pure joy.
scored for Canada!"