at The Summit in 1972
This column features
stories and unique views on the
Summit'72 submitted by our visitors.
Passion on Ice
by Michael Joyce,
I find it incredible that most Americans are unaware
of the most amazing sporting event of the 20th century.
It occurred exactly 30 years ago this weekend. Never
at any time was so much on the line. It was a battle
of pride and ideologies. Favourites became underdogs
and bit players became unforgettable stars. Smugness
turned to humility and under confidence turned to
What was this remarkable event? It was the 1972
Summit Series. An "exhibition" series between the
Soviet National Hockey team and Team Canada comprised
of stars from the NHL.
Why was this series so remarkable? The major reason has
to do with the world geopolitical situation in the early
1970s. Country after country was falling to Communism.
The East Block countries had carted away piles of gold
from the previous Olympic Games. The Red Menace was stalking
the world. Heck, they even beat the US at its own game:
Russia was a relative late comer to the game of hockey.
Hockey had been played in Europe for some years. While
the Soviets had played what they called "Russian" hockey
or bandy which was a game played on a frozen soccer pitch,
they really didn't get into actual hockey until the late
40s after the game was popularized by Canadians in post
war Europe. The Soviet Union was intent on demonstrating
to the world that its Communist ideology was superior
to all other philosophies. They intended to set an example
to the world that the collective form of government was
supreme in all things: space, military, the arts, sports.
All this done in the name of spreading the Communist revolution
around the world. This was the form of hegemony on all
fronts that was battled by the West during the "Cold War".
In a very short time the Soviets had emerged as a sporting
superpower. In 1954, the Soviets rose from obscurity the
win the ice hockey gold medal at the World Championships.
The major hockey power in the world at that time had always
been Canada. So good were they that Canada would send
club champions from amateur leagues to gobble up the gold
at practically every international tournament. Canada
had been put on notice that there was now another kid
on the block when it came to international play. Canada
would win a few other major international tourneys in
the next few years but the age of total domination was
over. In fact Canada stopped competing internationally
by the late sixties because their true amateurs couldn't
compete against the Russian "amateurs". Why participate
when Canada couldn't send its best players? It wasn't
a fair contest to match guys who carried lunch buckets
during the week against guys who trained three times a
day for 11 months of the year with the nominal title of
officers in the Red Army.
It was to be settled once and for all. The best from
Canada would face off against the best from the USSR in
an exhibition series. The USSR were the reigning Olympic
Champions from the 1972 Games and Canada would send its
stars from the National Hockey League (the fledgling World
Hockey Association players were not allowed to join because
the NHL resented the competition). The Soviets wanted
to show the world that it could do everything and anything
better than the west. Canada wanted to cement the fact
the they were and would forever be the undisputed masters
of the world's fastest game. As far as Canada was concerned
the worst thing that could happen would be winning the
series so convincingly that they would be accused of poor
sportsmanship for piling up goal after goal on the over
matched Commie upstarts. The Russians wouldn't stand a
It didn't turn out that way at all. The first game was
played in the Mecca of hockey: the Montreal Forum, home
of the winningest team in the history of pro sports, the
Montreal Canadiens.The teams skated onto the ice that
warm September evening. The Canadians to a thunderous
ovation and the unknown Russians with the unpronounceable
names to the polite applause of the knowledgeable Montreal
fans. The Canadians were swaggering and confident. They
were about to hand the Soviets a lesson in how hockey
was really played. Their pros against the "amateurs" from
behind the Iron Curtain. The Soviets were cowed. They
had tremendous respect and even awe for the stars of the
best hockey league on the planet. This was a chance for
the Canadians to set some things straight. Sure, the commies
were winning the war in south east Asia and their tentacles
seemed to be spreading everywhere but this was the one
thing in which they could never match the patriot sons
of the "True North, strong and free". The Canadians would
send a powerful message to the Soviets: don't think that
you can dominate the world any more than you can dominate
Canada at its national passion. This was the height of
the Cold War after all and Communism was a definite threat
to freedom throughout the world.
The Canadians owned hockey. They invented hockey. They
were practically born with a stick in their hands. Hockey
was their birthright. Canadians worshiped the game. It
was a symbol of Canada. It was ingrained in the Canadian
heart. A tough, fast game played by real men. Men who
would sacrifice all for the team with skills developed
from boyhood. A legacy to be passed on through the generations.
Masters of the ice.
The Soviets won the Montreal opener 7 - 3.
Shock! Anger! The world was coming apart! "If we don't
know hockey, do we really know anything?" Are the Soviets
going to conquer the world? Did they actually have a superior
society? The Soviets simply made the NHL stars look bad.
They did everything better than the vaunted Canadian heros.
They skated better. They passed better. They were faster
and more agile. They scored almost at will and kicked
the Canadians' butt.
Canadians don't have their focus distracted by other
sports. Football was what you did until hockey season
started. Baseball was a pastime for summer days. The greatest
athletes in the nation all played hockey. Hockey was IT.
Multiply "Mudville" a million times and one might come
to the same feeling that hit the Canuck psyche. Mighty
Canada had struck out!
In game 2, Canada won 4 -1 in Toronto but the game was
unsatisfying. The Russians still out played Team Canada.
Game 3 saw Canada surrender a healthy lead and the Game
ended in a 4 all tie. The Soviets still looked better.
Vancouver hosted game 4. The Canadians never had the
lead in a 5 - 3 loss. Boos rained down on Team Canada
for almost the entire game. The Russians with a 2-1-1
record heading to their home ice humiliated Canada. The
Canadian players were starting to loose heart. In a post
game interview, Phil Esposito, a famous centerman said
he couldn't believe the treatment his guys were getting
from the fans. He said they were trying the best they
could. Facts had to faced. The Russians were good. The
Team Canada members were playing for their country as
hard as they could and didn't deserve to be booed in their
own building. He stuck up for his team against their own
countrymen. A real team was forming.
The series was set to resume in Moscow 2 weeks later.
Before the series resumed Canada played a couple of exhibition
games against the Swedish National Team to get used to
the larger European ice surface. They won one and tied
one. These were rough dirty games marred by terrible officiating
and dirty play. The Canadians felt all alone. Everything
was against them. It was team Canada Vs everything. Reputations
sullied, heart questioned and skills derided. But, they
were becoming a team. They were becoming bothers. Old
rivalries from the NHL were disappearing.
Game 5 in Moscow saw the Canadians play their best game
yet. Awaiting Team Canada were thousands of telegrams
pouring in from the faithful and 3000 Canadian fans making
the trip from Canada to cheer on their team. The Canadian
team was heartened and gained strength from the support.
The outnumbered Canuck fans out cheered the staid Russian
bureaucrats that had snapped up the majority of the tickets.
Canada lost the game but they played great. They were
figuring out how to deal with the Russian tactics. They
were getting into good physical shape. They were gaining
confidence in themselves. However, the team was now down
3 games to the Russians. They would have to win the 3
remaining games on Soviet ice to win the series. A Herculean
task. Could they do it?
Game 6 Canada won despite officiating so horrendous that
it bordered on bias. The Russians stole the food and the
BEER that the team had brought from Canada. Phones rang
in the middle of the night in their hotel rooms with no
one on the other end.
Game 7 Canada won again. Maybe. Just maybe. Focus. Heart.
Give everything for your team. The Canadian fans constantly
chanting, "Da, da, Canada! Nyet, nyet, Soviet!"
Game 8. The nation of Canada was shut down for this game.
Factories slowed and school lessons postponed. Combines
sat idle with crops in the field. The Russians built a
5 - 3 advantage heading into the third and final period
and there was to be no overtime in these "friendly" matches.
All the marbles in this one game and the excellent Russian
team had a good lead. The Russians told the Canadian management
that in event of a tie the Soviets would claim victory
because they had scored one more goal over the course
of the series. This was a standard method of determining
the winner of international tournaments in case of a standings
deadlock. This news made Team Canada all the more determined
but the cards were heavily stacked against them. They
had to score against the Russians at least three times
and shut down their potent offence if they were to regain
their face, reputations and their country's national honour.
The Russians had a great team. No one could ever dispute
that and their young goalie, Tretiak, was almost unbeatable.
The refereeing. The politics. The gamesmanship. But Canada
had heart. It was as close to war as one could get without
someone getting killed outright. One could, daresay, imagine
that if an opportunity had arisen to end a player's career
or life with a hard body check, that no mercy would have
been spared. The stakes were too high. The Russians loved
hockey. The Canadians loved hockey. Who loved it more?
Whose passion was truer? Who would succeed? Who would
prove to all who was the best?
One of the hardest things to do in hockey is trying to
protect a lead. Where is the balance point between losing
the initiative and good solid defence? The Canadians had
failed at this several times during this series. Would
the Russians be as susceptible? Canada needed a quick
goal to get back into the game. In a two goal game, the
next goal is very important. Either you're right back
into the game or you're down three. Early in the final
frame, Canada got their goal. Then, two almost incredible
things happened. Yvon Cournoyer tied the game with a goal
but the light the goal judge flashes to signify that the
puck has officially crossed the goal line didn't come
on even though the referee had signaled "goal". The Team
Canada management leader and prime mover for the Summit
Series was shocked and angered. Team Canada needed that
goal. He bolted down to ice level, heading for the goal
judge through a cadre of scores of Soviet Militia (read
police) who were there to stop the crazed Canadian fans
from getting out of hand. The militia grabbed Alan Eagleson
and put him in an arm lock and head lock and were frog
marching him to where? Siberia? A Canadian player jumped
over the boards and slashed one of the militiamen holding
Eagleson with his stick. The Canadian players crowded
around the boards, grabbed Eagleson from the startled
militiamen and hauled him onto the ice. Now the Canadians
were fighting the Soviet Army! The goal stood. The game
was tied but the Soviets would get the glory and their
precious propaganda victory if the score stayed as it
But, time was running out. Canada had to win, just had
to! What would happen if they were only second best at
the game they thought they truly loved? Minutes turned
into seconds. Precious time. Then the most famous words
in Canadian sport were uttered, "He scored! Henderson
has scored for Canada!" with 34 seconds remaining! Delirium!
Ecstasy! The specialness of the world that is felt at
the moment of utmost passion! The warm glow of the aftermath.
Canada loved hockey the most! Canada beat the mighty Soviet
nemesis! Democracy and freedom wins! The Red Machine beaten
by the patriot sons of freedom! The glory! Redemption!
Justice! Sweet, sweet victory!
The 1972 Summit Series changed hockey forever. The outcome
was the biggest defeat the USSR ever suffered in the sporting
arena and the greatest victory in Canadian sports. It
showed that the communist system would not conquer all.
It unified Canada in the wake of the Quebec separatist
crisis only months before. It made the world a better
place. Congratulations to both teams for providing the
greatest sports spectacle the world has ever experienced.
This was the true "World Series" or, better yet, an actual
"War of the Worlds".
Michael Joyce lives in Chicago, IL. Originally
from Winnipeg, Canada, he was an 11 year old Canadian
hockey fan and player at the time of the milestone
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