Maybe not all problems; hockey, as we know, has trouble keeping its own house order on even the best days. That headline phrase was narrowly focussed when it appeared, 50 years ago, as a headline on a newspaper article by Anatoly Tarasov. This was 1971, when the ebullient coach known as the Father of Russian Hockey was still at the helm of the mighty Soviet national team.
Tarasov, who was born on this date in Moscow in 1918, had long been angling to arrange a meeting of his team with a deputation of the best Canadian professionals, i.e. NHLers. In April of ’71, when his team cruised to another World Championship, the Soviet Union’s ninth a row and 11th overall, hockey politics and hubris saw to it that Canadians were again missing from the action.
That September, Tarasov concentrated his thoughts on the subject into an article — and a challenge — for Sovetsky Sport. “We know that in Canada along with amateur hockey there lives professional hockey — original, rough, but bright at the same time, in which technique is perfect and sportsmen are fanatical to the limit. We had a feeling that this was a new type of hockey with many bright and talented performances. And our desire as coaches to meet with professionals was understandable.”
Why so shy, Canada and, specifically, the NHL? After years of hearing excuses from across the icy divide, Tarasov had no words left to mince. Again and again, he wrote, Canada’s “hockey leaders” had shown “the white feather.”
“It seemed to me that though they shout about the strength and invincibility of their hockey, they are subconsciously afraid of defeat, afraid to lose their indisputable authority.”
“It is clear to any reasonable person that self-isolation will be harmful only to Canadian hockey,” he wrote, building up to his big finale. Soviet teams would happily take on club teams. “If the NHL leaders do not want to risk their prestige, they can keep their leading clubs, such as Montreal Canadiens, Boston Bruins, or Chicago Black Hawks, in reserve. We agree to start with team from St. Louis, Los Angeles, and Vancouver.”
But if Canada truly wanted to test its hockey mettle? “If they want to play against the united team of the USSR — world champions for nine years running — they are welcome; let them organize a team of professional hockey stars. We are ready to accept this challenge also.”
He finished with a flourish. “So now what is your answer, gentlemen from the NHL? Agree — and then your spectators in Canada and the USA, as well as Soviet spectators and hockey enthusiasts in Europe and in the whole world will be able to enjoy hockey games with the participation of sportsmen of two principally different schools. And though each team will strive for victory, world hockey will not lose; on the contrary, it will enrich itself.”
It was, of course, almost exactly a year to the day later that Canada’s bright professionals were processing the 7-3 loss to the team that Tarasov had forged over the years to open the 1972 Summit Series at the Forum in Montreal.
Tarasov himself was out, having lost his job as Soviet coach in February of that year in the wake of another gold-medal performance by his team at the Winter Olympics in Sapporo, Japan; for the Summit, he was replaced on the bench by Vsevolod Bobrov and Boris Kulagin.
Anatoly Tarasov died in June of 1995 at the age of 76.
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 /)
September 27 was an off-day in 1972 for the Canadians and Soviets who were locked in the battle for hockey supremacy at the Summit Series. The day before, September 26, Canada had prevailed in game seven on Luzhniki ice in Moscow, with Leafs left wing Paul Henderson scoring the decisive goal in a 4-3 win. Frank Mahovlich, another leftside winger, didn’t dress for that game, but Canadian coach Harry Sinden planned to bring him back in place of Bill Goldsworthy for the series finale the next day, September 28. “You’ve got to have Frank on the ice in the big one,” Sinden said of the Montreal Canadiens star. “He can bust a game wide open. He wants to beat ’em badly, perhaps too badly, but I’ve got to have him.”
Depicted here is Soviet defenceman Vladimir Lutchenko taking the man in game four of the series, where the man = Frank Mahovlich, and the taking = punching him in the face.
(Image: Frank Lennon, Library and Archives Canada, e010933356)
“They’ll never beat us again,” said Team Canada’s spare goaltender Eddie Johnston, and guess what: he was right. It was on this date 49 years ago, a Sunday in Moscow, that Johnston’s teammates outlasted their rivals from the Soviet Union to win the sixth game of that fall’s epic Summit Series by a score of 3-2. The Canadians followed up with wins in game seven and eight, too, with Toronto Maple Leafs’ left winger Paul Henderson scoring the deciding goal in each of those final three games. That’s his September 27th game-seven goal here, above, with Vladislav Tretiak in the Soviet goal and defenceman Valeri Vasiliev sprawled at left. That sixth game wasn’t pretty, it has to be said, featuring iffy refereeing by the West German duo of Josef Kompalla and Franz Baader as the bad blood flowed freely between the two teams on the ice. In the second period, a slash by Canada’s Bobby Clarke fractured Valeri Kharlamov’s ankle.
In 2002, on the Summit’s 30th anniversary, Henderson lamented the swing of his teammate’s stick. “If Clarke hits him with a bodycheck and knocks him out, that’s fair and square,” Henderson said then. “To go out and deliberately try to take somebody out, there’s no sportsmanship in that. To me, it’s the same as shooting a guy in the hallway. Clarke was probably the only guy on the whole team that would have done it.”
Clarke wasn’t best pleased: he thought Henderson’s comments were “foolish.”
“I think it’s improper to criticize a teammate 30 years later,” Clarke seethed. “If it was so offensive, why didn’t he bother to say something after the game?”
Henderson apologized to Clarke that same week, “for causing him aggravation.” The then-GM of the Philadelphia Flyers wasn’t buying it, though. “Henderson called me,” Clarke told TSN. “He used his grandson as an excuse. His grandkids said it was poor sportsmanship. But to me it was all phony.”
(Image: Frank Lennon. Library and Archives Canada, e010933339 )
“Sunny becoming cloudy by midday with a few showers in the afternoon is the forecast for the Montreal area:” that was the weather the local Gazette was promising for Saturday, September 2, 1972. Of course, the deluge in Montreal came in the evening, 49 years ago, on Forum ice, when Canada’s confident hockey team defied (homegrown) prognosticators and stumbled to a 7-3 defeat at the sticks of the visitors from the Soviet Union. The vodka ad here ran in the Toronto Sun’s special Summit Series edition that morning, the cover of which appears below. The headline on Ted Blackman’s column in Monday morning’s Gazette: “A dark day, Sept. 2, 1972: when pride turned to trauma.”
Born in Regina in 1939 on a Friday sharing this date, Red Berenson turns 81 today. Would we agree that it’s long past time he got his invitation into hockey’s Hall of Fame, as a builder if not as a player? He was a left winger in his day, a junior star with his hometown Pats, and played for two Memorial Cups in the late 1950s. As a 19-year-old, he helped the Belleville McFarlands win the 1959 World Championships in Prague, finishing tied atop the tournament’s scoring chart with a Czech and an American. He hit the NHL ice as a Montreal Canadien, then joined the New York Rangers, before making his mark with the expansion St. Louis Blues as the ’60s turned into the ’70s. On memorable night in 1968, Berenson scored six goals in an 8-0 win over the Philadelphia Flyers. He played five seasons with the Detroit Red Wings before finishing his career back in St. Louis. He was a member, too, of Team Canada in 1972.
And as a coach? He was an assistant in St. Louis before succeeding Barclay Plager as principal on this very date in 1979, his 40th birthday. His Blues tenure lasted three seasons; he won a Jack Adams as the NHL’s top-rated coach in 1981. In 1984, he returned to his alma mater, the University of Michigan, to take over as head coach as the hockey Wolverines. His 33-year stint there yielded a pair of NCAA championships, in 1996 and ’98, before he retired from the bench in 2017.
The years of pupilage, when the new game kept nonplussing the most experienced players, were left behind. Its intricacies were mastered and it was funny to think there was a time when the players could not tear the puck away from the ice.
Born in Morshansk in the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic on a пятница of this date in 1922, Vsevolod Bobrov was a star soccer striker for CSKA Moscow — he captained the Soviet Union at the 1952 Olympics, too — as well as a hockey left-winger who’s remembered as one of the greatest players to have skated his country’s ice.
The hockey, in fact, came first. Until he was 18, Bobrov only dreamed of soccer. That’s according to the 76-page official Bobrov biography pictured here above. Produced in the USSR in the late 1950s for foreign consumption, it’s a stiffly written (or at least stiffly translated) bit of propaganda that finishes up with a friendly if not particularly enthusiastic letter to the reader from the man himself.
Russian hockey is the hockey that Bobrov played as a boy, which is to say bandy, with a ball, eleven-a-side, on a big stretch of ice — the Soviet embrace of Canadian-style hockey was still more than a decade away. Bobrov’s father, Mikhail, was a good (Russian) hockey player in the ’30s when Vsevolod was growing up in Sestroretsk, near what was then Leningrad, as was his older brother, Vladimir.
Seve is what Lawrence Martin calls the younger Bobrov in his very fluently written, not-a-fleck-of-propaganda-to-it history of Soviet hockey, The Red Machine (1990). “He was scrawny,” he writes,
… poorly fed by parents who first met at a skating rink. They started their boys on the ice at age five, and when little Seve played on the youth team, Lydia, his mother, promised him a pretzel for every goal he scored. She was always running out of pretzels.
On the soccer field, Bobrov ended up in the starting eleven for CSKA Moscow in 1944. That’s skipping over a lot of wartime ground, bypassing all kinds of fine detail. The upshot is that by the late ’40s, he was playing soccer in the summer, hockey in the winter. Canadian hockey, now: in 1946, the Soviets had undertaken to figure out what the puck, the six-a-side, the smaller rink was all about, launching a league of their own, and thereafter, slowly, bit by bit, making strides into the international arena.
Adjusting to the new game wasn’t always easy. Even those who’d played bandy — and excelled on the soccer pitch — were bamboozled, at first. That’s the pupilage that The Wizard of Hockey talks about up above. Viktorov on Seve’s struggle:
Bobrov soon overcame his bewilderment and feeling of helplessness, traits that were totally alien to his character. He made the puck obey him. Well, he told himself, if necessary he would start learning from the ground up again. If the Canadians were playing ice hockey for 80 years and found pleasure in the game, if the Swedes liked it and scored substantial successes, if the Czechs unravelled its secrets and won the world title twice, surely it was not beyond the powers of Soviet hockey players.
In his second winter of domestic hockey, Bobrov used his puck powers to score 52 goals in 18 games for CSKA Moscow. He kept on with the soccer, though by 1953, he’d decided he’d had enough of the grass, retiring at the age of 30 to focus full-time on the ice.
The Soviets were supposed to make their international debut at the 1953 World Championships in Switzerland, but Bobrov was injured, so they delayed a year. The Canadians skipped the ’53 tournament, too, but both teams were on hand the following year, in Stockholm, Sweden.
The first impression the hockey newcomers made there was not exactly to Canadian tastes, as the Soviets bushwhacked Canada’s team 7-2 to take the World title for the first time. Wearing the maple leaf that year were the East York Lyndhursts from Toronto; leading the overwhelming was Bobrov, who captained the champions and scored their deciding goal to earn the championship silverware that IIHF supremo Bunny Ahearne was waiting to hand over.
Bobrov’s playing career on the ice lasted until 1957, whereupon he took up coaching. When the great Anatoly Tarasov was deposed as coach of the Soviet national team in 1972, it was Bobrov who succeeded him — just in time, of course, to surprise another Canadian line-up, this one of overconfident NHL stars rather than Lyndhursts.
Vsevolod Bobrov died at the age of 56 in 1979.
A birthday today for former Montreal Canadiens captain Yvan Cournoyer, so here’s to him. Born in Drummmdville, Quebec, on a Monday of this same date in 1943, the man they called The Roadrunner is 77 today.
Cournoyer made his debut with Montreal in 1963 and played a total of 16 seasons on the right wing, winning 10 Stanley Cups along the way. His pile of 863 regular-season points is the sixth-largest in team history, and he scored another 127 in playoff games. He won the Conn Smythe Trophy in 1973 for post-season merit. Cournoyer had begun that season, of course, playing with Team Canada, among whom he was the first member to hug Paul Henderson after he scored that final goal of his in Moscow.
(Image: Antoine Desilets, Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec)
“He was hardness itself,” Hanford Woods wrote of John Ferguson the elder, in a 1975 short story about a famous fearful fight, “The Drubbing of Nesterenko.” Born in Vancouver in 1938 on a Friday of this date, Ferguson was a left winger who was, yes, renowned through his eight-year career with Montreal’s Canadiens for his rugged, fist-first, penalty-incurring brand of play. He had some goals in him, too, scoring 20 one season and 29 in another. In 1963-64, he finished runner-up to teammate Jacques Laperriere in voting for the Calder Trophy, recognizing the NHL’s best rookie. Before he retired, Ferguson helped Montreal win five Stanley Cups; afterwards, he served stints as coach and GM of the New York Rangers, as well as GM of the Winnipeg Jets. He died in 2007 at the age of 68.
It was 1972, of course, that Ferguson was blooded as a coach, answering Harry Sinden’s call to aid in steering Team Canada through its epic eight-game showdown with the Soviet national team that played out 48 years ago this month. In the cover story for the early-August edition of The Canadian Magazine pictured above, Ferguson was front and centred as Sinden explained how he’d gone about building his team for the series that everybody was talking about “as if it’s as important as the Second Coming.”
“I got this job June 7,” Sinden wrote, “and the very next day I hired John Ferguson as my assistant. … The main reason I chose him is that my personal record against the Canadiens, when he was playing for them and I was coach of the Bruins, was not good. The Canadiens kept beating us all the time. When I analyzed it, I figured it was Fergie who was blame as much as anyone. If anyone’s a born leader on the ice, it’s Fergie.”
The second day of September was a Saturday in 1972, and in Montreal the forecast called for the morning’s sun to give way to clouds and afternoon showers with no chance whatever, come the evening hours, for a Soviet win over our invincible homegrown hockey heroes.
It’s 48 years ago today that the momentous Summit Series first hit the ice, at Montreal’s famous Forum. For Canadians, nothing went as it was supposed to that night, of course, with the good guys ending up on the wrong end of a 7-3 rout. For a sense of just how much that result dazed and confused the nation, I’ll refer you to the prophecies that hockey’s non-Russian cognoscenti were making on the morning of that shocking day, weighing in with predictions for the eight-game series.
“Canada will win handily,” ventured Toronto Star columnist Milt Dunnell; “they might lose one in Moscow. Say seven to one.”
Mark Mulvoy, from Sports Illustrated, was just as generous: “Canada, seven to one.”
“Here’s a flatly positive that Canada will win at least seven of the eight games,” wrote Southam columnist Jim Coleman. “This prediction isn’t based on flag-waving chauvinism. This is a cold-blooded prognostication.”
Foster Hewitt, who’d be up in the gondola on play-by-play when he puck dropped: “Canada’s two goals a game better. It looks like eight to nothing Canada.”
“The NHL team will slaughter them in eight straight,” advised Gerald Eskenazi from The New York Times.
Toronto Maple Leafs’ goaltender Jacques Plante agreed: “Eight straight for Canada.”
Fran Rosa, from Boston’s Globe? “Eight to nothing Canada — and that’s the score of the first game.”
Globe and Mail columnist Dick Beddoes had placed his bet a few days earlier. “Make it Canada eight games to zero. If the Russians win one game, I will eat this column shredded at high noon in a bowl of borscht on the front steps of the Russian embassy.”
To his credit, if not his digestive delight, Beddoes was true to his word, and took his soup a few days later.