By Milt DunnellStar sports columnist
Thu., Sept. 8, 2022timer5 min. read
Editor’s note: This story was originally published in the Star on Sept. 9, 1972, following Canada’s 5-3 home loss to the Soviets on Sept. 8, and is part of Summit Series At 50 — celebrating the 50th anniversary of the iconic eight-game hockey series between the Soviet Union and Canada.
VANCOUVER The march on Moscow commences in a thunder of boos, with Team Canada’s bright banners in disarray and coach Harry Sinden’s all-stars in a lather of rage over the ridicule heaped upon them by those they hoped most to please — the Canadian fans.
Team Canada is generally conceded to be the greatest array of hockey talent ever assembled in this country. It was touted as the biggest cinch since Mackenzie King.
Yet in four games on Canadian ice, the Canadians managed to win only once over the tightly disciplined Nationals of the Soviet Union. One match, the third, ended in a draw.
Last night, as the air escaped from the punctured balloon of a national ego, it had the angry sound of disappointment, disillusionment and — excuse the word — almost contempt.
Many of the 18,000 partisans who jammed the beautiful home of the Vancouver Canucks of the National Hockey League hooted the Good Guys, whom they had hoped to send on their way to Europe with a resounding victory over the comrades.
Bill Goldsworthy, whose two penalties helped the Soviets to practically sew up their 5-3 win before the first period was half gone, was a special target of fan abuse.
Boris Petrovich Mikhailov, the Soviet team’s 163-pound forward, whipped two goals past Canada’s goalie Ken Dryden while Goldsworthy did penance. They were almost identical goals, with the same Russians, Vladimir Petrov and Vladimir Lutchenko, drawing assists.
After the second goal, the customers gave Goldsworthy the old razzoo in brass. Their displeasure spread to other members of the team. Ken Dryden, most valuable player in the Stanley Cup series of 1971 when Montreal eliminated Boston, was jeered when he made routine saves.
Frank Mahovlich must have figured he was in Toronto where the freight-payers used to be on his back. The Big M was hooted for sitting on Vladislav Tretiak, the Soviet goalie, who has been the outstanding individual player in the series to date.
But the entire team got the same treatment when it skated out for the third period. At that stage, the score was only 3-1 but the Canadians were playing so badly the air was heavy with defeat.
If that signalled the end of a love affair, the players were prepared to have it that way. They accused the fans of being fair-weather friends in no uncertain terms — many of them unprintable in a family gazette.
Phil Esposito, one of the few Canadians who played up to his potential in this disappointing game, took the first shots at the team’s critics when he appeared on television to accept a ring as the most valuable Canadian player.
“I’ve cooled out since then,” Esposito admitted while he was surrounded by autograph seekers after the game. “What I said still goes, though. We have 35 guys here who came from all over the country to play in this series — not because of the money that goes to the pension fund but because we love Canada.
“Hell, half the press said we should win eight games. Most of our guys never had seen the Russian team. Whoever scouted the Russians (Johnny McLellan and Bob Davidson of the Leafs) should go out of the scouting business. They said we should have no trouble. Is it our fault if they were wrong?”
Big Phil was asked what might have happened if the press and the scouts had not predicted certain victory. Being a truthful, practical type, Phil grinned and said: “Probably we’d still have lost.”
Goldsworthy’s comments were largely censorable. The censor could allow this sentence though: “I’m ashamed to be a Canadian.” He added that he was looking forward to the four games in Moscow where the fans would probably be more charitable to the big league all-stars.
Players such as Dryden, Rod Seiling and Ron Ellis — none of them blow-tops — agreed the ridicule had hurt. Ellis gave assurance that the players would back up Big Phil in everything he had said.
Dryden, as usual, made the most astute analysis when he suggested: “The people were just trying too hard — just as we were in that first game (a 7-3 defeat). A big party was to take place. Suddenly, there was no party.”
Although he voiced confidence — “You don’t write off a team that’s one game down in the Stanley Cup” — Sinden is on the same turnpike that Napoleon took some years back, and the results for Napoleon were disastrous.
Sinden’s cause is even more precarious. Napoleon was a winner when he took off. Sinden’s troops are shell-shocked at the loading ramp.
There was reason to believe the Canadians would improve greatly after the comrades clobbered them 7-3 in the opening heat. They did improve — whipping the Soviets 4-1 at Toronto. In the third game at Winnipeg, they were not quite as good and settled for a tie after twice blowing a two-goal lead.
Last night, they hit bottom — their worst effort of the four games. The irony of their ineptitude was that the Russians were ready to be taken. Except for Tretiak, their slender bride-groom goaler, they didn’t play up to their previous high standards.
Bobby Hull, whose ineligibility to play for Team Canada because he defected to the World Hockey Association caused a nationwide rumpus, concurred in that appraisal. He was especially disappointed in Valeri Kharlamov, who he noted “played on a dime all night.”
Fans are fickle and not inclined to waste time on theorizing when they are disappointed — as they had a right to be last night. When they get a chance to reflect, though, they might decide that the toppling of NHL hockey from its pedestal did not happen last night, or last week, or last month.
It has been taking place for years, simply because techniques and tactics haven’t changed much since the days of Lester Patrick and Art Ross. The Russians knew they were not the best, and so they had to try harder.
In Canadian hockey, things are never going to be quite the same again.
Strictly, by confidence, the first hockey men encountered after the debacle were Walter Bush, president of the Minnesota North Stars, and Jacques Plante, the Leafs’ evergreen goalie.
Said Bush: “The Russians play the way we have forgotten to play. Minnesota Vikings (football) start work at 11 a.m. and quit at 4 p.m. Our salaries are getting pretty high. We’re going to start spending more time at work.”
Plante, who had no knowledge of what Bush had said, asked: “Who says one hour per day is enough for a workout? Who says we should take off three months a year?”
More from Summit Series At 50:
Summit Series Game 3: Canadians tie Soviets, but there’s no doubt they lost something too
Summit Series Game 2: Canada shows why they’re the NHL stars, evening series vs. Soviets
Summit Series Game 1: Soviets embarrass Canadians on home ice — and demonstrate how the game should be played
Dave Feschuk | How the 1972 Summit Series changed the way Canada looks at hockey
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