He was smarter than me,” Phil Esposito lamented after Canada’s 3-2 game six win over the Soviet Union in September of 1972, when the subject of Alexander Ragulin came up. A stalwart of the blueline for CSKA Moscow and the Soviet national team for more than a decade, Ragulin died on a Wednesday of this date in 2004 at the age of 63. He won Olympic gold with the Soviet Union in 1964, 1968, and 1972, and he was in on 10 world championship titles.
“Rags,” the Canadians dubbed him in ’72. Along with the rest of Canada’s forwards, Esposito saw a lot of him through the eight games of the Summit Series. In the sixth game, contacts between the two resulted in several penalties for the Canadian. In the first period, Esposito took a double minor penalty after clashing with Ragulin. “After I got the charging penalty,” Esposito recounted after the game, “he came at me and like you’d do in the NHL, I reacted defensively by giving him this,” raising a notional stick. “That’s those international rules. You can’t do that. He was smarter than me.”
In the third period, Canada’s big centreman added a five-minute major to his account after he was seen to high-stick Ragulin. “I wasn’t going to get a penalty until he went begging to the referee,” Esposito groused.
(Image: Frank Lennon, Library and Archives Canada, e010933352 /)