Unsung Summit Series hero Gary Bergman dead at 62

Gary Bergman, one of the unsung heroes of hockey's 1972 Summit Series between Canada and the Soviet Union, died Friday after an eight-month battle with cancer. He was 62.

Bergman was too ill to attend the 1972 Team Canada reunion Nov. 3 at the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto. But he was a major reason Canada beat the Soviet Union in that memorable eight-game series.

"From my perspective, he was one of the great unsung heroes of that series," series scoring star Paul Henderson told The Canadian Press recently. "He just played incredible hockey."

Bergman was a rugged, stay-at-home defenceman when he skated in the NHL from 1964 to 1976, mostly with the Detroit Red Wings. The Kenora, Ont., native played his junior hockey in Winnipeg.

He had a malignant melanoma removed from his back in 1994 and there were no further serious health problems until last April 15 when a new diagnosis confirmed it had spread.

"It was just devastating," Jane Bergman recently told CP from the family's Michigan home. "It was the last thing we expected.

"He had been in marvellous health."

Henderson played his first five NHL seasons in Detroit with Bergman as a teammate. A motivational speaker today, Henderson often mentions Bergman as a man who played an integral role in the '72 series without getting much recognition.

"The guys who played knew Bergie's value to the team," said Henderson. "He was a friend in Detroit, too, and I developed a deep respect for him as a husband and a father."

The Summit Series was a career highlight for the five-foot-11, 188-pound defenceman, who wasn't big by current NHL standards. But he was as strong as an ox, and forwards who infiltrated near his goalie's crease paid a price.

"He was an above-average player in the NHL at that time and he proved that during the series," Bill White, one of the 1972 team's other defencemen, said recently. "Bergie gave a great account of himself in that whole series.

"The steadiness of his play is what I remember most."

Bobby Orr didn't get into the series because he was recuperating from knee surgery, but he travelled with the team and marvelled at Bergman's contribution.

"He was a rock," says Orr.

Bergman was paired with Brad Park by coach Harry Sinden, and they worked so well together that they were among only seven men on the 35-man roster who were used in all eight games.

"We hit it off really good for guys who didn't know each other very well," Park recently said from his Boston-area home. "I was more of an offensive guy so we jelled very well together.

"Right away I realized what a classy guy he was in how he handled himself on and off the ice, and what a great competitor he was. He had a lot of confidence in his ability and wasn't worried about how he was going to play. He just went out and played. He was as solid a defenceman as has ever played the game."

Sinden selected Bergman for the team over some other capable defencemen.

"I'm so happy when I look back on that series that we picked him," Sinden recently said from his Boston Bruins office. "We thought he had the character, integrity and type of personality that would add to our team, and we were exactly right in our assessment.

"He was one of the biggest surprises in terms of contribution that we had. We felt he could be a regular member of the team but his contribution exceeded that. He was a terrific member of the team, and well respected."

Bergman was in the Montreal organization when the Detroit Red Wings selected him in the 1964 intraleague draft.

He stayed with Detroit until being traded to the Minnesota North Stars early in the 1973-74 season. The North Stars traded him back to the Red Wings the following season.

After only one campaign in his second Detroit stint, Bergman played one season with the Kansas City Scouts to finish his career.

Bergman played 838 NHL games, totalling 68 goals and 299 assists.

Bergman, who was selected to the 1973 all-star game, had five assists in 21 career playoff games.

He also served as the president of the Red Wings Alumni Association in 1981 and from 1997 to 2000.

Memorial arrangements were pending.