1972: what we lost

Dennis Hull says there’s a woman — actually, she’s a lady — Dennis Hull met this lady last year and what she told him is that her father, who lives in Russia, very close to the Chinese border, he doesn’t know that Canada won the Summit Series in 1972.

It’s not that he isn’t interested or never cared. It’s not a case of one guy that the news never reached because of a brokendown TV or he was hunting and got lost on the wrong day many Septembers ago. None of that. What the Hull-lady said is, incredibly, this:

She said her father thinks the Russians won the Summit Series. The whole town thinks that’s the case. They’ve been brainwashed. She said maybe they didn’t show the last game.

This from The Third Best Hull (ECW), Hull Minor’s 1998 memoir (writer Robert Thompson helped) that’s out again this month in a new edition. It’s more or less the same book as it was before, which is to say a chatty breeze through Hull’s 13-year career with the Chicago Black Hawks (he had a year’s coda in Detroit) with some inside scoop on the Summit Series of ’72. (“Russian toilet paper was terrible stuff.”)

New here is a 16-page afterword to get us all caught up on the past 15 years. Hull got married again, did a bunch of the speeches at banquets he does so well, says he wouldn’t swap his NHL career for a modern-day million one, even though the most he ever made was $100,000. The camaraderie was better in the old days, for one thing. For another, if he’d made a lot of money playing hockey, he never would have gone to university after he retired, or gone on to teach school, he would have missed out on all that, and that would be too bad.

It was last year, during the various 1972 commemorations, that Hull met the lady with the misguided father. He also met Stephen Harper and Vladimir Putin, but it’s vague secondhand story that’s newsworthy, as far as I’m concerned. We’re going to need to know, first off, where this was. Checking the map, I’m guessing Blagoveshchensk. I don’t know why — it could just as well be Konstantinovka, Vyazemskiy, Dal’nerechensk. Something about the look of Blagoveshchensk on my map — I have a feeling.

But even if I’m right, so many questions remain. Was it just the town that suffering hockey hoodwinking or was it the whole Amur Oblast? What about over the border, across the Amur River, in the Chinese city of Heihe? Do they know what Paul Henderson did with 34 seconds left in the last game? How did the brainwashing work, exactly? Who ordered it? What ends have the authorities gone to, over the years and succeeding generations, to fortify the lie? You want to get over there — maybe to get Dennis Hull over there — to let them know, at last, what they missed. Is it too late? Could they handle the shock? Would it be better, now, for the poor deluded people of Blagoveshchensk if, after all these years, we didn’t tell them the truth?

“She said maybe they didn’t show the last game.” That last line of the lady Hull met is kind of a letdown. It would be a better unsolved Cold War mystery/unprecedented international hockey conspiracy without it. Still, we’re going to need some answers here.

More to follow.