It's without question that September 28, 1972, is one of the most memorable moments in hockey history, not just for Canada and the former Soviet Union, but all of North America and Europe.
Both of Canada's major networks, the CBC and CTV, shared the television broadcasts, with SRC holding the French rights. For American fans wanting to see how Canada fared against their Cold War opponents, the series was also broadcast south of the border in Chicago and Boston.
Thought to be a cakewalk for a Canadian hockey team, stacked with the best the NHL had to offer, against an unknown Soviet amateur team, the Summit Series, was far from that. It was a series that saw virtually every level of emotion possible during eight games.
Every media member polled during Game One in Montreal felt the Canadians would sweep the series, or perhaps give up a charitable loss to their opponents. That all changed after the final buzzer of the third period, of the first contest, followed by the Soviets holding a 2-1-1 series lead, headed back to Russia. The "amateurs" took the fifth game at home, adding more insult to those who thought hockey was "our game."
Canada won the sixth and seventh games, and in a time when it was us against them, fans in across the nation were glued to their TV sets as Game Eight got underway. Televisions were brought into classrooms, and thousands of Canadians watched from home, or at the local restaurant or bar. Yours truly was two years old and reportredly in a stroller in front of a TV display at the Fairview Mall, a shopping centre in Scarborough, ON, when Foster Hewitt made the historic call.
"Cournoyer has it on that wing. Here's a shot. Henderson made a wild stab for it and fell. Here's another shot. Right in front. They score! Henderson has scored for Canada!"
In French, Rene LeCavalier called it,"Cournoyer qui s'avance. Oh, Henderson a perdu la passe! Il a fait une chute. Et devant le but. ET LE BUT DE HENDERSON! Avec 34 secondes encore!
Joe Pelletier, easily one of the best experts on the planet with regards to the Summit Series, has a great feature on the various calls that were heard on that September day.
Game Eight almost didn't happen, after an officiating change that incensed Hockey Canada reps and coach Harry Sinden. "They lied to us. Now they're saying the West German's are going to referee the last game," Sinden wrote in "Hockey Showdown: The Canada Russia Series." On the eve of the final game, the Canadians were duped out of their choice of officials. They were told the German pair of Josef Kompalla and Franz Baader, known as "Baader and Worst," by Team Canada, would call the game. "Can you believe that?," Sinden added, "Spirit of friendship, my ass." They finally agreed on Baader and Czech referee Rudolf Bat'a.
The game went as planend amidst a series of controversial calls against the Canadians, Sinden's berating of the Soviet officials during the game, J.P. Parise threatening to decapitate referee Kompalla, and Peter Mahovlich jumping the boards to save Alan Eagleson from potentially spending a few nights in the gulag. In a case of wishing you knew then, what you know now, one must wonder if rescuing one of the principle architects of the series was such a great idea?
Controversy aside, Canada prevailed. "Never in doubt, was it fellas?," Sinden said as he, assistant coach Ferguson and Eagleson celebrated.
Forty years have passed, and the books, stories, documentaries and anniversary celebrations have been plentiful. Unfortunately a few of those involved are no longer with us. Gary Bergman, who played defense in all eight games passed away in 2000, Bill Goldsworthy (three games) left us in 1996, and assistant coach John Ferguson lost his battle with cancer in 2007. Rick Martin was part of the team, but never saw series action.. He died of a heart attack in 2011.
On the Soviet side, two very notable players are no longer with us. Forward Valeri Kharlamov, thought to be one of the greatest to ever play the game, had his Hall of Fame career cut short by a car accident in 1981, and Vladimir Vaslilev, considered by many as one of the best physical defensemen of his era, passed just five months ago.
We can never forget their contribution to the game, this series and the sport of hockey.
The series made Paul Henderson a household name, scoring not just the series-winning goal in Game Eight, but also winners in the sixth and seventh games. Henderson, whom many feel should be in the Hockey Hall of Fame, has been battling chronic lymphocytic leukaemia since 2009 and missed the 40th anniversary celebrations in Moscow, attended by 14 Team Canada members.
Team Canada was well represented by members of the Montreal Canadiens. Yvan Cournoyer, already known as "The Roadrunner," in the NHL was dubbed, "The Train," by his Soviet opponents for his unstoppable speed down the wing. Peter Mahovlich and brother Frank were part of "Brothers Night," in Game Two, where Canada bounced back from a humiliating 7-3 defeat in Game One. The younger Mahovlich scored one of the greatest shorthanded goals ever seen, a goal that to this day still has Soviet goalie Vladislav Tretiak baffled.
On defence, Serge Savard battled through a broken ankle, while Guy Lapointe thought himself unworthy of participating, only getting the call after Jacques Laperierre withdrew due to his wife expecting a baby. Lapointe and his wife were also expecting, but they both agreed that this was too good a chance to pass up.
Between the pipes, Ken Dryden, fresh off his Calder Trophy winning season shared the work with Tony Esposito. Dryden's numbers weren't exactly a reflection of his career in Montreal (2-2 with a 4.75 GAA). The Soviets were schooled to shoot when the opportunity was perfect, thus they took advantage of Dryden's style of using his size to confront the shooter and passed or shot at the most opportune times. Dryden admitted in his 1983 book, "The Game," that he was not have the greatest reflexes for a goalie, and he just couldn't keep up with the swift Soviets.
It wasn't the first time that the Hall of Fame goalie had seen this. He had faced the Soviets before, playing for Canada's National team. In December of 1969 in Vancouver, Dryden was scored on nine times. "I'd get set for a shot. They wouldn't shoot. They'd pass instead.," he said in an August 1972 Canadian Press article. "Against our National team they looked devastating by passing right in on the net." The Soviets, takingadvantage of a rag-tag Canadian squad, fired what Dryden called 45 perfect shots, and he was content to just keep them from reaching double digits.
At the same, Dryden noted the young 17-year-old Tretiak, and likely could have given the team a better scouting report than what was officially given to the '72 squad. That scouting report was based on an exhibition game, in which a hung over goaltender, with a stripped Central Red Army team, was up against the full strength Soviet National club.
Despite his prior experiences, Dryden still struggled, and saw seven pucks go by him in the first game. The Soviet offense, which too was underestimated by the Canadian scouts, was just that effective. Esposito didn't fare much better, though he made his observations and utilized his butterfly technique to register two wins and a tie (3.25 GAA).
But it was Dryden who was called on for the deciding game., and Sinden liked what he saw in the warmup. The lawyer to be goaltender held his ground in the third period with some huge saves, as the Canadians fought back.
Known for keeping a journal of his games, Dryden's first book "Face-Off at the Summit," published in 1973, chronicled his observations during the series. In the CBC mini series "Canada Russia '72" , Dryden is often seen talking into a tape recorder, often teased by his teammates. After Henderson scored what would prove to be the game-winner, and time still on the clock, Dryden noted, "It was, without doubt, the longest 34 seconds I have ever played. It seemed like 34 days."
In his follow up to,"The Game," Dryden's"Home Game," revisits the series in book and documentary form. In this clip, he recalls the series with Henderson, Savard and Phil Esposito. Thanks to Francis Bouchard for finding the clip.
Since that historic day, there have been notable hockey celebrations for Canada. Mario Lemieux's winner in the '87 Canada Cup (the last true Us vs. Them series) and Sidney Crosby's overtime goal in the 2010 Winter Olympics stand out more to me visually, as I have a memory of seeing them happen. But the '72 Summit Series is the all-time champ. It brought a nation together, and also made us realize we were no longer the only world hockey power.