• The Soviets stole our hockey team’s steaks in 1972 and for that there can be no forgiveness. Forty years later, I think we’re still all agreed on that, right? Regarding the beer the Soviets thieved, though: are we willing to hear about what might be considered extenuating circumstances?
Because, just to say, the summer of 1972 was a scorcher in Moscow. A month before the Summit Series arrived in late September, correspondent Hedrick Smith was reporting in The New York Times on the Russian summer’s extreme heat, worst in a century. According to the local press, this was “a major heat disaster.” August’s temperatures were up in the crazy 90s. Forests were burning. Cars wouldn’t run. At the Moscow zoo, a deer and two penguins died of thirst.
“It’s terrible,” a citizen told Smith in the street. “They never have enough beer, especially when it gets hot like this. They’ve been shutting down beer kiosks all summer — of all years. First they put out an order telling us to stop drinking vodka and drink beer instead. Then this heat. And now they don’t have enough beer.”
That doesn’t excuse the thieves, of course, because stealing is and always will be wrong. Stealing beer even more so. Stealing beer from hockey players is just about as wrong as you can go without committing an actual sin.
What this heat news could change is how we as Canadians think about that beer we lost in Moscow. Given the local conditions, I think it’s fair to say that our hockey players were not so much victims of a crime as they were heroes on a mission of mercy that, if not in scale then certainly in virtue, ranks up their with the Berlin Airlift.
• I also feel obligated to report what happened, steakwise, in 1974. That was the year the Summit Series was revived in all its glory and bad temper, although this time the Canadian team drew its players from WHA teams instead of NHL.
Paul Henderson was back, and Frank Mahovlich. Bobby Hull got to play. And all the Howe boys, Gordie and sons Mark and Marty. Mrs. Howe went along, too, Colleen, an experience she wrote about in her book My Three Hockey Players (1975). The things she learned about the Soviet Union on the trip included:
- Russians are not thin and have no deodorant.
- They are crybabies.
- Howe, in Russian, is spelled Xoy and pronounced Hooo.
- Russian hotels have no Bibles and the rooms compare unfavourably to a five-dollar-a-night skid row flophouse.
- The beds are clean enough, but “they were not conducive to lovemaking.”
As for the steaks Team Canada shipped to Moscow, they went unstolen. “But the Russians, alas, didn’t know how to cook them.” Also, there was a condiment crisis:
Hockey players have never been famed for their gourmet tastes, and ketchup is one of their standard items of equipment. Never was it so desperately needed. But for reasons possibly known only to the KGB, the cases of ketchup flown in from Canada were impounded for three days.