CBCSports.ca is re-living the 1972 Summit Series. You can hear the play-by-play commentary of Bob Cole for every game in the series.
It was Labour Day, 1972. Less than 48 hours earlier, the world as we knew it had come to a screeching halt.
Team Canada, with players on the bench who were supposedly better than anyone else in the hockey world, had been defeated by the Soviets. Humiliated may be a better descriptor. The unthinkable had played out in front of millions of hockey fans.
There's always an extra energy to Labour Day long weekends as we prepare ourselves for back to school and back to the realities of life. But this time around that energy had been replaced by a national numbness, a sense of disbelief, and, for some, a sense of despair.
As Canadians, we were certain of one thing. We were the very best at anything to do with hockey. The 7-3 loss to the Soviet Union two days earlier had us doubting the one thing that we had been so certain of.
Victory a necessity
Game 2 at Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto did not have the same storyline as the one heading into Game 1. This was now a case of every North American sports cliche imaginable: "Our backs were to the wall" for a "must-win game" and "there was no tomorrow." There would be a Game 3 in Winnipeg two days later, but a second consecutive loss would make Canada a nation in mourning, rather than one in shock.
Ken Dryden, the goaltender in Game 1, talked about how eerily quiet it was for Team Canada after the disastrous defeat. The team had flown to Toronto and spent the day there, trying to come to grips with what had just happened.
Downtown Toronto was subdued as most enjoyed their final long weekend of the summer. Remember, this was an era without a Sunday newspaper, which meant the players were spared the sensational headlines screaming out their failures.
Team Canada head coach Harry Sinden made wholesale changes before Game 2. He had stressed skating and speed in lineup choices for Game 1, and even with that philosophy, the Soviets had skated faster than his Canadian squad.
It was time to get more of the "diggers" in the lineup for Game 2. "Diggers" like Wayne Cashman and J.P. Parise were added along with Stan Mikita. Three changes on defence included the Chicago Blackhawk pairing of Pat Stapleton and Bill White, along with Serge Savard.
Out of the lineup was one of the best NHL lines from the New York Rangers. The GAG (Goal A Game) Line of Vic Hadfield, Jean Ratelle and Rod Gilbert took a seat for Game 2. Other scratches were Rod Seiling, Don Awrey, Mickey Redmond and Red Berenson.
Tony Esposito replaced Dryden in goal.
The next day would signal the return to school and a sense of normalcy. Would our kids be returning to school with our national hockey pride still in place?
These 60 minutes of hockey in Maple Leaf Gardens on a beautiful summer day would make that difference.
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