50 nifty facts on 50 years since Summit Series (2022)

Author of the article:

Lance Hornby

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Sep 01, 2022September 1, 202212 minute read Join the conversation

50 nifty facts on 50 years since Summit Series (1)

This is not the way the 50th anniversary of the Summit Series was supposed to be celebrated.

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Canada and Russia are at odds on the world stage over the invasion of Ukraine, COVID-19 is still a concern and thus a reunion of players of both teams on either side of the Atlantic is on hold.

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Yet every Sept. 2 rekindles the historic shift in hockey hierarchy, when mystery men from Moscow stunned a nation which assumed it would win in eight straight. Canada got its comeuppance, learning that inventing hockey didn’t mean we couldn’t get beaten at it.

The Sun has compiled 50 factoids about the four games in Canada through the early stages of the Russian matches, with 50 more to follow later this month around the emotional comeback and Paul Henderson’s heroics:

1. Henderson was among those Team Canada players who considered turning down the invitation to play. He and his wife planned a European vacation that summer, but his agent and series’ poobah Alan Eagleson talked him into going. Phil and Tony Esposito considered sitting out, too, as it meant refunding a number of applicants to their lucrative summer hockey school. But they changed their minds when Phil’s persuasive Boston teammate Bobby Orr intervened.

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2. For the chance to represent their country in the long-anticipated showdown, the NHLers were to be paid $200 for each of their two weeks of camp and $100 for every game they played. The gate, broadcast and concession revenues generated for the NHL Players Association were also an incentive.

3. Goaltender Ken Dryden was signing autographs before Game 1 for an appreciative audience, except for one stern-looking young man who stick out his pad for a signature and walked away without saying thanks. A peeved Dryden was going to shout something until he saw his jacket crest and realized it was a Russian player.

4. When actor John Bregar had to portray combative Bobby Clarke in the 2006 TV drama about ’72, he phoned Clarke to better understand how the Flin Flon Bomber played on the edge. The right-shooting Bregar also learned to snap left and deliver his lines through a special dental plate to authenticate Clarke’s gap-toothed grin.

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5. Recalling how the Penticton Vees targeted him in the 1955 world championship final, former Russian captain and now coach Vsevolod Bobrov advised his team to take some boxing lessons as part of their series’ prep.

6. Harold Ballard, owner of the Maple Leafs, gave the Gardens free of charge to Team Canada for its camp and for proceeds of any games there to be channelled to the NHLPA pension fund. It was largely a PR move, as Ballard was about to come to trial on several tax and fraud charges. He also formed a partnership with Eagleson and Orr to pursue TV rights to the series.

7. Another reason for Team Canada’s optimism before Game 1 was a scouting report from John McLellan and Bob Davidson, the respective head coach and chief scout of the Leafs, who’d studied the Soviet national team in Europe. Davidson thought maybe one Russian was good enough to make the NHL and that they telegraphed their passes so early they’d surely get broken up.

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8. McLellan and Davidson also dismissed goalie Vladislav Tretiak as nothing special after they watched him in a one-sided loss. They didn’t know that game was the day after his raucous wedding celebration.

9. There were Russian mind games right from the opener in Montreal. Bobrov wouldn’t submit his starting lineup first, even though he was the visitor. Canadian coach Harry Sinden had wanted to put Henderson’s checking line out in anticipation of matching Valeri Kharlamov. But when Bobrov stalled, Sinden went with Esposito at centre, who scored at the 30-second mark.

10. Among those predicting an eight-game Canadian sweep was Habs’ goaltending great Jacques Plante. He felt so sorry for Tretiak before the series that he came to the Russian dressing room and gave him advice on facing the NHL shooters.

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11. Not only did Henderson score the last three winning goals of the series, but he also took the first penalty at the 1:03 mark of Game 1.

12. Months before signing with Winnipeg in the WHA blackballed him from the series, Bobby Hull had warned Canada could lose. He cited its lack of conditioning in early September and that the Russians would never have agreed to such a test without the confidence they’d do well.

13. Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau was at Game 1, performing the ceremonial faceoff. In attendance was a young lawyer who’d become PM almost 12 years to the day: Brian Mulroney.

14. While all of Canada partied after Game 8 in Moscow, the Russians had their biggest celebration in the wee hours of the morning as Game 1 unfolded. Many took the next day off work. In his Moscow apartment, Boris Kharlamov, father of Valeri, was pouring vodka as his son led the 7-3 rout.

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15. Kharlamov scored or assisted on all three game-winning goals for the Russians. He also led them with 16 penalty minutes. Five Russians played at least six games without any, while the only comparable Canadians with clean sheets were Frank Mahovlich and ‘Gentleman’ Jean Ratelle.

16. Game 1 goalie Dryden estimated the Canadians were on average 10 to 12 pounds heavier and one to three inches taller than the Russians. Yet he guessed they won 90% of the puck battles that night, because of speed, back-checking and a bowlegged stance that made them harder to knock over or separate from pucks.

17. A cartoon by the Montreal Gazette’s Terry Mosher (a.k.a. Aislin) after Game 1 showed embarrassed NHL president Clarence Campbell bringing the Stanley Cup to a late-night pawn shop.

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18. Defenceman Brad Park’s wife Gerry gave birth to son James between Games 1 and 2. Park had to hustle back to the hospital in Toronto after the debacle in Montreal to attend. Forty years later, James was his father’s guest when Team Canada was invited back to Moscow.

19. Ex-Leaf Cup winner Brian Conacher, initially chosen to be a TV colour analyst for Foster Hewitt in the series, found himself out of the job after NHL execs objected to his critical book about their league. Father Athol Murray, founder of the hockey program at Notre Dame College in Saskatchewan and influential in the sport, heard about the injustice and personally called CTV owner John Bassett Sr. to reverse the decision.

50 nifty facts on 50 years since Summit Series (2)

20. During the series, forward Vyacheslav Starshinov asked the Canadian players to fill out a survey on “the moral and spiritual qualities of hockey” as part of his university thesis. Most Canadians cooperated.

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21. Ed Johnston backed up but did not play a game in net behind Dryden and Tony Esposito. In Canada, the team used Canadiens draft pick Michel ‘Bunny’ Larocque as a practice goalie. And during Canada’s time in Toronto, a young stopper named Greg Keelor was wrapping up his tryout with the junior Marlboros at the Gardens when the injured Orr and others came on the ice early for practice. Keelor stayed around for a memorable session, a great story to share with fellow hockey fan Jim Cuddy when they formed Blue Rodeo a few years later. In the early 2000s, the group accompanied NHLers overseas to visit Canadian Forces personnel.

22. Young Tretiak’s backup was 30-year-old Viktor Zinger, who was supposed to play in the middle of the series. However, the Russians didn’t want to tamper with success.

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23. Before practice prior to Game 3 in Winnipeg, Dryden could not find one of his skates. Playing behind Tony Esposito after the latter won Game 2, Dryden was something of a forgotten man at that stage. That was punctuated when he finally found his skate, being used to prop open a dressing room door.

24. Sinden made no lineup changes in the Game 3 tie, but the Russians made five, including the youth-infused line of Alexander Bodunov and Yuri Lebedev, centred by Viacheslav Anisin. Conacher nicknamed them The Headache Line as they would cause the Canadians many problems.

25. During their air travel across Canada, the Russians devoured in-flight magazines for pictures of pretty girls in display ads or cut-out photos of forbidden foreign products, such as cars and stereos. They were also surprised as the series went on in Canada to be approached for autographs.

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26. Not only was Team Canada booed loudly in its 5-3 loss at Vancouver in Game 4, but the chirping had also started in warmups. Phil Esposito was heckled by some youths post-game at Pacific Coliseum who yelled at him “Communism is better. “I wanted to throw my stick at them like a spear,” he told Scott Morrison in the book ‘1972, The Series That Changed Hockey Forever.’ Later that evening, Espo, Wayne Cashman and Bill Goldsworthy nearly got in a bar fight with some fans.

27. Phil’s emotional interview with CTV’s Johnny Esaw after Game 4, was a turning point in the series. Yet hardly any teammates saw or heard his rally rant because there was no television set inside the dressing room. Eagleson did not forget the fan abuse and said Team Canada would not return to Vancouver for any future games he organized, a vow he kept until the 1984 Canada Cup.

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28. Stan Mikita, born in Czechoslovakia, tried to teach his Canadian mates some Russian cuss words — but they couldn’t master the accent enough to make the insults effective.

29. A group of Canadian players who were being used sparingly or not at all met before Game 5 in Moscow to discuss leaving. But only four took the drastic step, Vic Hadfield, Gilbert Perreault, Rick Martin and defenceman Jocelyn Guevremont. As a top NHLer at the time with the Rangers, Hadfield was the most vocal about feeling disrespected by Sinden omitting him from the lineup. But years later, when series’ veterans set up a royalties deal from various business projects, the quartet and all those who had not played a game were included in the profits.

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30. Russian officials gave home spectators at Luzhnicki Arena small cards with the translation to O Canada should they wish to follow along during the anthems.

31. Unable to get much cooperation from Russian TV technicians in Moscow, producer Ron Harrison bribed the mostly female staff with perfumes and candy so his crew would have access to tape machines.

32. Incensed that his radio broadcast pew was hemmed in by plexiglass that prevented him from experiencing crowd noise, Bob Cole was told no Luzhnicki staff could be found to remove it. Until Cole, with help from journalist Dick Beddoes, unscrewed the plate himself just before Game 5. Suddenly, six soldiers appeared with hardware and sealed him back in, though it was eventually negotiated that the glass would be removed.

33. While in Moscow, many Canadians thought their hotel rooms were either bugged or being searched while they were out. Some tried to trap the Russians by leaving personal objects in a certain order to see if they were disturbed. Alone in his room, TV exec John Spalding complained loudly about the lack of soap and his burnt-out light bulbs, which were mysteriously replaced.

34. Not only did Cashman fear hotel eavesdroppers, he thought the Russians were looking at him through two-way mirrors. So, he tossed anything reflective into the hallway. One player was suspicious of a device protruding from his floor, unscrewed it, then heard the crash of a chandelier falling from the ceiling a floor below.

35. Russian goal nets had extra mesh hanging under the crossbar to snare pucks. Dryden made a key save on Kharlamov in Game 6 that most players believe crossed the line, but that Dryden pulled back off the spare twine.

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36. Assistant coach John Ferguson, the Canadiens’ enforcer picked for the team before he announced his retirement, was given a bench penalty in Game 6 for a major temper fit after Phil Esposito was assessed a major.

37. During Dryden’s off-day visit to the ‘Department of Hockey’ at the Russian Institute of Physical Culture and Sport, a staff member declared the 6-foot-4 goalie would have been too tall for their national team.

38. Visiting Lenin’s Tomb in Moscow, cheeky capitalists slapped stickers on everything inside. They included Maple Leaf logos and the bright yellow Happy Faces popular in North America at the time.

39. Familiar food was so scarce for Team Canada’s wives during Games 5-8 that some came to the dressing room looking for handouts. On an off-day, mischievous Pat Stapleton and Bill White claimed to have found a Chinese restaurant that would take the large group. Almost the whole hungry team and their partners showed up in the hotel lobby, only to find Stapleton and White behind a pillar, convulsing in laughter at their prank.

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50 nifty facts on 50 years since Summit Series (3)

40. The Canadians had brought plenty of food with them, including steaks and beer, half of which disappeared somewhere between customs and their hotel. Relating the story many years later to an elderly Russian businessman in Moscow, defenceman Rod Seiling was told “that’s all true. I was selling it on the black market.”

41. Also in short supply in Moscow were bottles of Coca-Cola, the go-to beverage for NHLers on practice and game days. Invited to a reception at the Canadian Embassy, the players thought for sure their favourite drink would be in abundance, only to be served expensive Champagne.

42. When the police and soldiers tried to confiscate the Canadian fans’ horns and noisemakers at the games, Aurora, Ont.’s Jim Herder recalls his quick-thinking countrymen passed them briskly undetected through the seats. And when the security officials sat at the end of the benches at Luzhnicki to try and intimidate the rowdy visitors, the Canucks perfected getting more bums on the row until the cop was squeezed off the end.

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43. In the series postmortem, Tretiak said Bobrov’s one major mistake might have been allowing his players to return to their families after the games in Canada, thus losing their focus.

44. Soviet sports officials initially said the primary purpose of the series was to study Canadian hockey. Late in Game 8 when it seemed it might end in a 3-3-2 tie, they announced they’d win the series on total goals. When they lost, they claimed the world championships were a more important tourney.

45. Orr, injured throughout the tourney with his frequent knee issues, took the Game 8 morning skate, leading to rumoured start. He did not, but his day would come in the 1976 Canada Cup as tournament MVP.

46. The Russians did lag behind in equipment – witness Tretiak’s crude cage mask.

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It took many years to get new technology to the furthest regions of the old Soviet empire. In his book ‘When Canada Shut Down’ co-author Sean Mitton related a story from Alexei Kochetkov, the Russian equipment manager in ’72.

Still working with the Russian junior team in the early 2000s as its general manager, Kotchetkov explained why Andrei Vasilevskiy of the Tampa Bay Lightning catches with his non-dominant left hand. In Tyumen, where the all-star Cup winner grew up, no one had a right goalie mitt.

“Because it was Russia, it was a tough time, so basically I had no choice,” Vasilevskiy said.

“It’s appropriate to compare Vasilevskiy with me,” Tretiak told NHL.com in 2018. “I was the first to play the butterfly and he plays an outright full butterfly. He’s tall (6-foot-3). I like his style. He’s got the character I had, I’m absolutely sure of that. And he competes for every puck, just like me.”

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47. A Russian barber, who had attended the Moscow portion of the series, eventually emigrated to Boston where one of his regular customers was Sinden.

48. White was gifted a large chess set after the series, with the pieces all themed on the maple leaf and hammer and sickle. He donated it to the Hall Of Fame.

49. Though Clarke’s slash on Kharlamov in Game 6 that effectively put the Soviet star out of the series remains one of the most controversial deeds in international hockey, Bregar recalls that scene being one of the most fun to film in the TV show.

“We did it about 99 times. But there was lots of padding. Because so many of us (actors) played hockey, we could do a lot of that stuff for real.”

50. A half-century on there are still people who insist Team Canada should have some group Hockey Hall Of Fame honour or Henderson be inducted on his own.

“There’s no team category (in the Hall), but if you’re called (Canadian Press) Team of the Century, then you’re not too hard done by,” Dryden said.

lhornby@postmedia.com

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