Editor’s Note: This story originally appeared in the Star on September 9, 1972, following Canada’s 5-3 loss to the Soviets on September 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 to Moscow begins to a thunder of boos, with the shining Team Canada banners in disarray and coach Harry Sinden’s stars in a foam of rage at the ridicule meted out to those they had hoped for. most liked: Canadian fans.
Team Canada is widely recognized as the greatest array of hockey talent ever assembled in this country. It was billed as the biggest pushover since Mackenzie King.
Yet in four games on Canadian ice, the Canadians only managed to win once against the highly disciplined nationals of the Soviet Union. One match, the third, ended in a draw.
Last night, as the air escaped the balloon punctured by a national ego, it had the angry sound of disappointment, disillusionment and – excuse the word – almost contempt.
Many of the 18,000 fans who blocked the beautiful home of the National Hockey League’s Vancouver Canucks booed the Good Guys, who they had hoped to send to Europe with a resounding victory over the comrades.
Bill Goldsworthy, whose two penalties helped the Soviets virtually seal a 5-3 victory before the end of the first half, was a particular target of fan abuse.
Boris Petrovich Mikhailov, the 163-pound striker for the Soviet team, beat two goals past Canadian goalkeeper Ken Dryden while Goldsworthy did penance. They were almost identical goals, with the same Russians, Vladimir Petrov and Vladimir Lutchenko, providing assists.
After the second goal, the patrons gave Goldsworthy the old brass razzoo. Their displeasure spread to other members of the team. Ken Dryden, the most valuable player in the 1971 Stanley Cup Series when Montreal eliminated Boston, was mocked when he made routine saves.
Frank Mahovlich must have figured he was in Toronto where the freight payers were on his back. The Big M was booed for sitting on Soviet goalie Vladislav Tretiak, who was the best individual player in the series to date.
But the whole team got the same treatment when they skated in for the third period. At this point, the score was only 3-1, but the Canadians were playing so badly that the air was heavy with defeat.
If that meant the end of a romance, players were ready for it to be. They accused 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 to live up to his potential in the disappointing game, took the first hit against the team’s critics when he appeared on TV to accept a ring as Canada’s Most Valuable Player. precious.
“I’ve since calmed down,” admitted Esposito as he was surrounded by autograph seekers after the game. “What I said still applies, however. We have 35 guys here who have come from across the country to play in this series — not because of the money going into the pension fund, but because we love Canada.
“Damn, half the press said we should win eight games. Most of our guys had never seen the Russian team. Whoever scouted the Russians (Johnny McLellan and Bob Davidson of the Leafs) should be withdraw from the scouting market. They said we shouldn’t have a problem. Is it our fault that they were wrong?
Big Phil was asked what might have happened if the press and scouts hadn’t predicted certain victory. Being a truthful, practical guy, Phil smiled and said, “We probably still would have lost.”
Goldsworthy’s comments were widely censorable. The censor could however allow this sentence: “I am ashamed to be Canadian. He added that he was looking forward to the four games in Moscow where the fans are likely to be more charitable to the big league stars.
Players such as Dryden, Rod Seiling and Ron Ellis – none of them were blowouts – agreed the ridicule hurt. Ellis assured the players would support Big Phil in everything he said.
Dryden, as usual, had the shrewdest analysis when he suggested: “People were just trying too hard – just like we were in that first game (a 7-3 loss). A big party was to take place. So there was no more party.
Though he’s expressed confidence — “You don’t write off a team that’s one game behind in the Stanley Cup” — Sinden is on the same highway that Napoleon took a few years ago, and the results for Napoleon have been disastrous.
Sinden’s case is even more precarious. Napoleon was a winner when he took off. Sinden’s troops are shocked at the loading ramp.
There was reason to believe the Canadians would improve greatly after the comrades beat them 7-3 in the first set. They got better — beating the Soviets 4-1 in Toronto. In Game 3 in Winnipeg, they weren’t as good and settled for a tie after losing a two-goal lead twice.
Last night they hit rock bottom – their worst effort of four games. The irony of their incompetence was that the Russians were ready to be taken. With the exception of Tretiak, their slender, married goalkeeper, they did not 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 national uproar, agreed with that assessment. He was particularly disappointed with Valeri Kharlamov, who he noted “played for a penny all night.”
Fans are fickle and reluctant to waste time theorizing when disappointed – as they had every right to be last night. When they get a chance to think, though, they might decide that the toppling of NHL hockey from its pedestal didn’t happen last night, or last week, or last month.
It’s been going on for years, simply because the techniques and tactics haven’t changed much since the days of Lester Patrick and Art Ross. The Russians knew they weren’t the best, so they had to try harder.
In Canadian hockey, things will never be the same again.
Strictly, out of confidence, the first hockey players encountered after the debacle were Walter Bush, president of the Minnesota North Stars, and Jacques Plante, the unwavering Leafs goaltender.
Said Bush: “The Russians are playing like we forgot to play. The Minnesota Vikings (football) start work at 11 a.m. and leave at 4 p.m. Our wages are getting quite high. We are going to start spending more time at work.
Plante, who had no knowledge of what Bush had said, asked, “Who said an hour a day was enough for a workout?” Who said we should take off three months a year? »
More Summit Series at 50:
Summit Series Game 3: The Canadians tie the Soviets, but there’s no doubt they’ve lost something too
Summit Series Game 2: Canada shows why it’s the star of the NHL Tonight Series vs. Soviets
Summit Series Game 1: Soviets embarrass Canadians at home — and show how the game should be played
dave feschuk | How the 1972 Summit Series changed the way Canada thinks about hockey
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