YORKTON - When a moment in time proves to be the greatest moment in Canadian sports history it is not surprisingly that it inspires memories in many.
The 1972 Summit Series between Canada and the Soviet Union is the event.
Paul Henderson’s goal as the clock was winding down in game eight to salvage a Canadian victory is the moment. It still causes goose bumps for this writer when he sees the goal on film.
But, that was 50 years ago.
Those of us who remember the series and goal most vividly are declining in number, yet there remains this great interest in anything to do with the Summit Series.
Given that interest it is perhaps no great surprise that in the year which marks the 50th anniversary of the series a number of books are being published which look back at the greatness of the event.
It was only recently this space looked at Ice War Diplomat by Gary J. Smith, a book which looked at the series from the behind-the-scenes seat of a Canadian diplomat in Moscow who was at the table for much of the negotiations which led to the series being held. It was an interesting perspective which made for a fine read.
It was not so long after that book was shelved that another arrived – 1972: The Series That Changed Hockey Forever by Scott Morrison.
The question in my mind as I cracked the new arrival to read was whether reading another book – even about such a distinct series of history – would feel too repetitive to enjoy.
It proved an unfounded fear as Morrison uses extensive interviews with players on both sides of the series to bring an event now 50 years in the past back to life.
For example, Phil Esposito, who emerged as the team leader for Canada initially balked at participation when asked by Allan Eagleson and Harry Sinden.
“The third phone call I got was from Bobby Orr. Now I wasn’t going to turn down my teammate and my friend. Bobby called and said, “Phil, I can’t play, my knee is bad. We really need you and your brother.” I said, “Bob, geez, I have to give up my hockey school. I’ve got to give all these people their money back.” He said, “I understand, but we need players. It’s just going to be a fun time anyway.” That’s what he said. A fun time, like an exhibition all-star game. I said, “Bob, I don’t know, let me talk to Tony and I’ll call you back,” Morrison quotes in his book.
“So when we got off the ice after the session, I told Tony (his brother), ‘I gotta go. I’m going.’ And he said, ‘A you sh&^%ing me? You promised me.’ I said, ‘Tony, I gotta do it because Bobby asked me to do it. Not Eagleson, not Harry – Bobby. That’s the truth, I did it for Bobby Orr – not Eagleson, not for me country, not for anybody. I did it because Bobby Orr asked me.”
The insights are many in this book, and therein lies the great joy of reading it for a writer who was a 12-year-old in awe of the series in 1972.
Morrison himself said it is the player’s remembrances which help make the book what it is.
In covering the NHL for 40 years Morrison said he had “a relationship with virtually all the players.”
It was those relationships he relied on to collect material for the book.
“They knew me. They trusted me, so they gave me more stories than they’d share with others,” he told Yorkton This Week. “They were totally onside with me about the project.”
The series wasn’t without its controversies; for example, Bobby Clarke slashing the ankle of Russian superstar Valeri Kharlamov.
Morrison said he appreciates we see things differently from the viewpoint of 50 years, but he said it has to be remembered the series was played in a very different era. He delved into that in the forward to the book.
“Part of what made it the greatest series ever was that the world was a much different place in 1972,” he wrote. “It was a hockey series with pride and bragging rights on the line, but it was also a battle of political ideals. It became country versus country, society against society. It was our way of life versus their way of life. That’s how it felt. The Russians were saying communism was better, we were saying capitalism was better. I hated communism and still do. And this battle of “political” and “social” issues was being fought on the ice. The Russians were the enemy, a big, powerful country feared on the political stage. Like I said, it wasn’t just hockey pride that was on the line, it was real-life pride.”
Of course it was the emotions of the series from the stunning loss in game one after Canada led early, to the Henderson goal in game 8, are what created a series to remember.
For those too young to have lived it, famed announcer Foster Hewitt, captured the historic final-seconds goal; “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!”
As a young student watching in a shop classroom a half century ago it was and is an unforgettable moment.
“When the goal was scored, the celebration was incredible. The three thousand Canadian fans went crazy; the twelve thousand Soviet fans went silent. The Team Canada bench emptied, and even players not dressed to play ran onto the ice. Dryden, who had saved his best for the final game and especially the final period, skated the length of the ice to join the mob scene,” writes Morrison in the book.
“When it was over, when the buzzer went, the celebration was crazy. Three thousand Canadian fans in the stands at the Luzhniki arena cheered and hugged and cried and cheered some more, singing the anthem and giving anyone who cared shivers. On the ice, there was an enormous mass of humanity in front of the Canadian goal. And there were tears and hugs . . .”
Thereon lies the strength of this book, readers relive every game, the highs and the lows, as if it were happening today, yet perhaps tempered just a little by the passage of time.
It is for that, a must read for hockey fans.
As for the series, well the players look back now and see largely a sport which won the day.
“Both teams won in 1972,” said Russian netminder Vladislav Tretiak in the book. “These games will be part of history as long as hockey lives. The winner was the game of hockey.”
“They accomplished what they wanted to do,” said Paul Henderson. “They wanted to prove they could play with the best in the world and they did that. We were the best and we had to win. To represent our country, a team voted ‘team of the century’ and that goal the ‘sports moment of the century,’ well, let’s just say thank goodness for ’72.”