Tuesday September 28, 2021’s Smile of the Day: The USSR-Canada Summit Series

On this Day:

In 1972, Canada defeated the USSR in the eighth and final game of the ice hockey Summit Series.

The Summit Series, or Super Series, known at the time simply as the Canada–USSR Series, was an eight-game ice hockey series between the Soviet Union and Canada, held in September 1972. It was the first competition between the Soviet national team and a Canadian team represented by professional players of the National Hockey League (NHL), known as Team Canada. It was the first international ice hockey competition for Canada after they had withdrawn from such competitions in a dispute with the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF). The series was organized with the intention to create a true best-against-best competition in the sport of ice hockey. The Soviets had become the dominant team in international competitions, in which the Canadian professionals were ineligible to play. Canada had had a long history of dominance of the sport prior to the Soviets’ rise.

The first four games of the series were held in Canada and the final four in Moscow. The Soviet Union surprised the Canadian team and most of the Canadian hockey media with an opening game victory, 7–3. Many Canadian sportswriters had predicted an overwhelming victory for Canada in the series. Canada won the next game 4–1; the third game was a tie and the Soviets won game four to take a two games to one lead after the Canadian segment. The series resumed two weeks later in Moscow. The Soviets won game five to take a three games to one series lead. The Canadians won the final three games in Moscow to win the series four games to three, with one tie. The final game was won in dramatic fashion, with the Canadians overcoming a two-goal Soviet lead after two periods. The Canadians scored three times in the third, the final goal scored with 34 seconds left by Paul Henderson.

The series was played during the Cold War, and intense feelings of nationalism were aroused in fans in both Canada and the Soviet Union and players on the ice. The games introduced several talented Soviet players to North America, such as Hockey Hall of Fame inductees Alexander Yakushev, Valeri Kharlamov and goaltender Vladislav Tretiak. Team Canada, the first NHL and professional all-star team formed for international play, was led by Phil Esposito, who led the series in scoring, as well as contributing in other roles. The Canadian line of Bobby Clarke, Ron Ellis and Henderson, which was not expected to start for the team, as none were yet stars, played a surprisingly large role in the Canadian win with Henderson scoring the game-winning goal in each of games six through eight. The series was filled with controversy, starting with the exclusion of top Canadian player Bobby Hull because he had signed a contract to play in the new World Hockey Association (WHA), disputes over officiating, dirty play on the part of both teams and the deliberate injury of Kharlamov by Clarke in game six. Hull had been the second leading goal-scorer in the NHL the previous season and had led the league in goal-scoring seven times. A knee injury forced superstar defenceman Bobby Orr, the second leading point scorer in the league the previous season and scoring champion two years prior, to sit out, Canada was arguably playing without two of its best three players.

Game eight

Controversy ensued when the Soviets wanted to back out of the refereeing agreement. The Soviets wanted to include the German pair of referees originally scheduled for the game. Eagleson threatened to pull Team Canada from playing the eighth game. In a compromise, Kompalla refereed along with Bata instead of Baader. The ill will spilled over into the presentation of a totem pole as a gift from Team Canada. The pre-game presentation was cancelled by the Soviets, but restored on the insistence of Team Canada. According to Sinden, Eagleson stated that they “were going to take this totem pole and bring it to centre ice and they’ll have to take it or skate around it the whole game”.

Heading into the eighth and final game, each team had three wins, three losses and one tie, but the Soviets were two goals ahead in goal differential. In Canada, much of the country enjoyed an unofficial ‘half a day’ holiday, with many students in Toronto being sent home the afternoon of the game (which began at 1pm Eastern Time), while many others watched the game at work or school. In Montreal’s Central Station, 5,000 fans gathered around ten TV sets to watch the game, which was simulcast in English on CBC Television and CTV, and in French by Radio-Canada. Until the men’s hockey gold medal game of the 2010 Winter Olympics, it was the most-watched sporting event in the history of Canadian television.

Team Canada took a number of questionable early penalties. With two Canadians (White and Peter Mahovlich) off, Yakushev scored to give the Soviets the lead 1–0. The game was delayed after a mistaken call against Parise (he was called for interference, but Parise admitted later he was guilty of cross-checking) and emotions boiled over. Parise was called for a misconduct for banging his stick on the ice, and when he saw the misconduct called, he dashed across the ice with his stick raised. Parise nearly swung his stick at Kompalla and got a match penalty. Sinden threw a chair on the ice. Some writers have commented that the incidents resulted in the rest of the game being refereed capably.

After Parise’s penalty was served, it was Canada’s turn to go on the power play, and Esposito scored his sixth goal of the series to tie it at 1–1. The teams exchanged power plays before Lutchenko scored a power play goal on a slap shot to put the Soviets ahead 2–1. Brad Park then scored his only goal of the series at even strength to complete some pretty passing between Dennis Hull and the Rangers’ teammates of Ratelle, Gilbert and Park to tie the score. The period ended with the teams tied 2–2.

In the second, the Soviets started with a quick goal by Vladimir Shadrin after 21 seconds. The last ten minutes saw two goals from the Soviets: Yakushev scoring his seventh of the series followed by Valery Vasiliev on the power play to put the Soviets ahead 5–3 after two periods. White had countered for Canada midway through the period. It was one of few moments for Canada to cheer as the Soviets played an excellent period. The other was a goal-saving play by Phil Esposito who stopped a shot by Yury Blinov, who had faked goaltender Dryden out of position and had an empty net to shoot at. Esposito stopped the puck with his stick on the goal line. Blinov and the crowd had prematurely celebrated the apparent goal, and Blinov shook his head in disbelief.

Sinden told the players to “try to get one back quickly, but play tight defensively and not allow the game to get out of hand. Don’t gamble until after the half-way point if need be.” Esposito scored to put the Canadians within one. The tension rose at the rink, and extra soldiers were dispatched for security. It was matched on the ice as Gilbert and Yevgeni Mishakov had a fight. Veteran Canadian hockey commentator Foster Hewitt noticed: “You can feel the tension almost everywhere!”

At the ten-minute mark, Sinden noticed that the Soviets had changed their style, playing defensively to protect the lead rather than pressing. However, the strategy backfired on the Soviets. The change in tactics gave the Canadians more chances to score and Cournoyer scored to tie the game 5-5.

After the Cournoyer goal, the goal judge refused to put the goal light on despite the fact that it was signaled a goal on the ice. In response, Alan Eagleson (seated across the ice from the Team Canada bench) attempted to reach the timer’s bench to protest, causing a ruckus in the crowd as he made his way to the timer’s bench. As he was being subdued by the Soviet police, the Canadian players headed over and Peter Mahovlich jumped over the boards to confront police with his stick. Eagleson was freed and the coaches escorted him across the ice to the bench. In anger, he shoved his fist to the Soviet crowd, as a few other Canadian supporters also gave the finger to the Soviets. The Soviets continued to play defensively. Sinden speculates the Soviets were willing to accept the tie and win the series on goal differential.

“The Goal”

In the final minute of play, with Phil Esposito, Yvan Cournoyer and Peter Mahovlich out on the ice, Paul Henderson stood up at the bench and called Mahovlich off the ice as he was skating by. “I jumped on the ice and rushed straight for their net. I had this strange feeling that I could score the winning goal”, recalls Henderson. Bobby Clarke was supposed to replace Esposito, but Phil didn’t come off (“There was no way I was coming off the ice in that situation” Esposito said). Cournoyer picked up a puck that had been passed around the boards by the Soviets in a clearing attempt. He missed Henderson with a pass, but two Soviets mishandled the puck in the corner and Esposito shot the puck on Tretiak.

Henderson, who had fallen behind the net, got up and went to the front of the net where he was uncovered. Henderson recovered the rebound of Esposito’s shot, shot the puck and was stopped, but recovered the rebound. With Tretiak down, he put the puck past Tretiak with only 34 seconds to play. Foster Hewitt’s voice rose in excitement as he called the winning goal:

Cournoyer has it on that wing. Here’s a shot. Henderson made a wild stab for it and fell. Here’s another shot. Right in front, they score! Henderson has scored for Canada!

— Foster Hewitt, calling the play-by-play description of Henderson’s goal.”

Paul Henderson’s winning shot scene was captured on film by cameraman Frank Lennon. The picture became iconic in Canada. 

 Paul Henderson's winning shot scene was captured on film by cameraman Frank Lennon. The picture became iconic in Canada. 

Canada held on to win the game and the series, four games to three with one tie. Pat Stapleton picked up the puck for a keepsake after the game.

Somewhat overshadowed by Henderson’s winning goal was a four-point game by Phil Esposito, who tallied two goals and two assists and had a hand in all three goals of the third period. Esposito was the only player on either team to score four points in a game during the series. According to Ron Ellis, he had “never seen another player have a period where there was so much pressure and was still able to accomplish what he did”. Sinden considered it to be Esposito’s “finest hour”. Esposito describes it as “there was no stopping me. And I think some of the guys got a little angry with me. If we had lost, I would have been the goat. But we didn’t lose. I just had enough faith in myself, that I was going to get it done, one way or another.”

First, a Story:

After conceding three goals in a row,  goaltender Vladislav Tretiak got very angry. He looked at the puck and said, “I’ll definitely catch you later”.

Second, a Song:

Here is a video documenting the 1972 Canada – USSR Summit Series Game 8 and aftermath, courtesy of Davey Boy Phelan and YouTube.com.  I hope  you enjoy this!


Thought for the Day:

“I’m so proud to be Canadian. I’ve been to 58 countries, and they’re wonderful countries, but Canada is the best.” – Paul Henderson

Have a great day!

Dave & Colleen

© 2021 David J. Bilinsky and Colleen E. Bilinsky

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