Forty years ago, Canada was wrapped in the emotions of what we now
know as the Summit Series, a battle against the Soviet Union for hockey
CBCSports.ca is bringing back the original radio
broadcasts of the legendary eight-game series, featuring the voices of
Bob Cole and Fred Sgambati.
You can listen to the games as they
were originally heard, and then hear Hockey Night in Canada Radio host
Gord Stellick talk to some of the key Canadian players about each of the
The clips will be available here beginning Saturday at noon.
In our first written installment, Stellick sets up the series.
was finally happening. A chance to prove what we had all had known for
years: There was no hockey power in the world as strong as Canada.
had suffered the indignity of watching our amateur players being shamed
time after time by the top "amateurs" from the powerhouse Soviet Union,
who we all knew were actually professional hockey players but were
deemed by nefarious bureaucrats to be amateurs.
Then came the
Summit Series. We had no doubt that we were going to prove once and for
all that we were superior. The creme de la creme of the National Hockey
League, the very best Canadian hockey players, the true NHL
professionals, would take on the best of the Soviet Union. And teach
them a lesson.
An "exhibition" of sorts was arranged for Team
Canada and the Soviet Union to engage in an eight-game Summit Series in
September, 1972. Team Canada would also play two games in Sweden before
heading on to Moscow for the final four games of the series on Soviet
soil. They would also play one game in Czechoslovakia after that and
come back to a triumphant return.
Thirty-five of the best
players in the NHL were selected to teach the Soviets how to play the
game. But calling the group the "best" Canadian players would prove to
be a misnomer. The upstart World Hockey Association was about to begin
its first season as a rival professional hockey league in direct
competition to the NHL. Four WHA players who had been slated to be on
the 35-man roster were declared ineligible by virtue of their signing
with the NHL's new bitter rival. Bobby Hull, J.C. Tremblay, Derek
Sanderson and Gerry Cheevers were omitted as Team Canada became more of a
Team Canada NHL.
Looking back, it's hard to believe that Harry
Sinden was unemployed and looking for work. The perception now is that
Sinden enjoyed a long uninterrupted executive career with the Boston
Bruins. In fact, he had left the Bruins to work in private business and
was back looking for work when his new company went bankrupt.
was hired as the head coach who would have to work at getting all 35
players into games as Team Canada was expected to roll to an easy rout.
put it in perspective, Team Canada '72 was expected to dominate the
Soviet Union on the ice in the manner that the U.S. Olympic Basketball
Dream Team would at the Olympics in 1992.
It didn't quite happen that way.
No 'friendly' exhibition
He'd later become one of the most controversial figures in hockey, exiled and shunned by many of those Team Canada players. But in 1972, Alan Eagleson was the unquestioned architect of the Summit Series and a pivotal and important individual throughout.
The pretense of a "friendly exhibition" would quickly unravel during the first game at the Montreal Forum on September 2, 1972. Canadian hockey fans would see their confidence and smugness shattered in one evening and it would never return to the same degree. They would ride a month-long rollercoaster of every emotion imaginable. In the end it would all be worth it, the many twists and turns making it an event that has stood the test of time and continues to be an incredible hockey benchmark event and memory.
Head coach Harry Sinden and his assistant, John Ferguson, would have to do some of their best coaching and handling of players both on and off the ice. All 35 players had been promised at least one game, but that wasn't to be the case. A few never hit the ice, including future Hall of Famer Marcel Dionne. Four disgruntled players would leave the team while in the Soviet Union and return to their NHL training camps.
While superstar Phil Esposito would play arguably the best hockey of his illustrious career, it wasn't the biggest stars that made the difference in Canada ultimately winning the series by the slimmest of margins. It was great team players like J.P. Parise, Peter Mahovlich, Gary Bergman, Bill White and the lesser-known line of Paul Henderson, Bobby Clarke and Ron Ellis that would shine. Serge Savard was hampered by injuries throughout the series, but he established a presence as a very underrated leader as well.
When it was all over, Canadian hockey fans were able to exhale in unison and thump our chests with pride once again as the greatest hockey nation in the world. But it was a different thump. We had gained an admiration for the Soviet players' abilities and their style. As they had with us. And the loathed and despised "commies" were actually humanized to a degree over the month. It would signal the start of greater things in the international world for "our" great game, as the following years would see an overall softening of the Cold War and Russian and other players would be joining "our" NHL.
But in September, 1972, it was simple for a teenage kid to figure out. It was Us vs. Them. Our "proper way of life" vs. their "oppressive society." Our "innovative" style of hockey vs. their "outdated and inferior" style of hockey.
And it would be much, much more than that.
To those now age 50 and over, the 40th anniversary of the Summit Series is a fabulous opportunity to relive being younger and all that passion that has been rarely repeated. For those under 50, hopefully this is a chance to enjoy and maybe understand why the series has retained such significance and why Team Canada '72 has been named Canada's Team of the Century.
Back to accessibility links