“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.”
A live look into Canada’s quarter-final match-up with Russia at the IIHF’s World Championships shows the Canadians leading 1-0 at the end of the first period in Copenhagen, Denmark. In March of 1967, in Vienna, the score was the very same at the end of the opening frame, as Jackie McLeod’s Canadians went ahead of the Soviet Union on a Fran Huck goal in that edition of the tournament. It was a round-robin affair in those years, and this meeting of undefeated teams looked like it would decide the title. Canada had a tie to go with their five wins to date, while the Soviets had won all their games. They had dispatched Sweden by a score of 9-1, whereafter Swedish coach Arne Stromberg held Anatoli Tarasov’s group to be “the greatest team in the history of hockey, amateur or professional.”
The Soviets tied the game in the second period in ’67, with Anatoli Firsov lofting the puck high in the air from the Canadian blueline, whereupon goaltender Seth Martin lost sight of it as it dropped over his shoulder into the net. The Soviets scored again in the third, when Martin couldn’t control the rebound of a shot from Boris Mayorov, leaving Vyacheslav Starshinov to score the winner and secure the championship for the Soviets.
The Canadians were upset. “You know,” coach McLeod said afterwards, “it’s a great disappointment to lose after coming all this way, particularly when the winning goal was offside.”
Canadian defenceman Carl Brewer left the game when he took a stick to the eye shortly after the Soviets tied the score in the second. He did return for the third once trainer Bill Bozak had succeeded in taping the eye open.
Canada had one last game left in the tournament, which didn’t go well: Stromberg’s Swedes beat Canada 6-0, good enough to give Sweden second place, bad enough to leave Canada third.
If a hockey tournament at a Winter Olympics fails to feature a Canadian team is it, in fact, really a hockey tournament at all?
Yes, in fact, it is. Having looked it up, I’m able to confirm that Olympic hockey does go on, even in years that Canadians choose to stay at home, as happened in 1972 and again 1976, during a dispute with the IIHF over the use of professionals in international hockey. In ’72, in Sapporo, Japan, Anatoli Tarasov’s team from the Soviet Union was only too happy to continue the golden streak that had begun two Olympics before, edging out the United States (silver) and Czechoslovakia (bronze).
The story ended the same way in 1976, in Innsbruck, in Austria, though the plot was a little different. Boris Kulagin was the Soviet coach this time, and Czechoslovakia looked like they possibly might — just maybe? — overthrow the champions. They were up 3-2, at least, with five minutes left to go in the February 14 final, looking good until … well, Aleksandr Yakushev scored to tie the game and then, 24 seconds later, Valeri Kharlamov netted the winner.
West Germany took the bronze that year, surprising everybody, including themselves. Led by Erich Kühnhackl (father of the Pittsburgh Penguins’ Tom), the Germans lost comprehensively in medal-round games against the Soviets (7-3) and the Czechs (7-4), but beat Bob Johnson’s United States (4-1) to finish in third. They hadn’t done that since 1932, in Lake Placid, which made it modern-day German hockey’s finest hour right up until last night, when this year’s team won silver after looking like they possibly might — just maybe? — beat the Olympic Athletes from Russia for a miraculous gold.
September’s calendar in 1972 made a Friday of September 22, just like ours today. Back then, Canadians and Soviets were playing hockey again after a two-week hiatus. Maybe you remember: the upstart Communists had dominated the Canadian leg of the eight-game series, winning two, losing one, tying another. Home in Moscow, they scored five third-period goals in a 5-4 win at the Luzhniki Palace of Sports.
As many as 3,000 Canadians had travelled with the team to cheer them in Moscow. If you were back home watching in the rec room, you might have had in hand Hockey Canada’s Official Home TV Program. The 16-page brochure included handy summaries, line-ups, and stats from the series to date, along with uplifting messages from the likes of NHLPA executive director Alan Eagleson and Team Canada coach Harry Sinden. “I’ll say this,” the latter assured fans on their couches: “I have complete confidence in the ability and determination of our players. I firmly believe they are the finest team ever assembled in the world. As we open the series in Moscow, I sincerely hope all Canadians share this confidence with me.”
Broadcasters also weighed in (above) on what they saw for the final four games. Johnny Esaw would, of course, be disappointed along all the rest of Canada: Bobby Orr wasn’t ready for any action, let alone lots of. Brian McFarlane got it just about right: Canada’s final edge could hardly have been sliced slighter. Most interesting, though, is Howie Meeker having his tetchy say. Nothing in here about winning. Ever the teacher, he just hoped for a Team Canada that would be returning home smarter about how to play the game we so desperately like to claim for our own. Hard to say, still, 45 years later, whether he got his wish.
The Olympics go out, as they tend to do, in a salvo of light and colour and national pride. The stadium, one observer writes, is filled with the overwhelming goodwill of youth. A streaker who takes the field cavorts near dancing girls. spectacle and the striving Was it worth all that money? The questions float up and flutter among the flags. One flame goes out, a new one flickers its fingers. Leave it, maybe, to the novelist Morley Callaghan to pronounce: the Olympics are madness, he says, “and madness is beautiful regardless of price.”
Time, when it’s all over, for the hockey players to stand to the fore.
This year, it was Rio’s Olympics that’s giving way to the end of summer and a hockey World Cup pitting nation against nation against — well, of course, there’s a pair of continental teams, too, one of which is U23, so it’s a strangely asymmetrical tournament, a format that we’re still getting used to. Maybe we’ll even learn to love it.
Forty years ago, it was the Montreal Olympics that a great Canadian novelist lauded as they ended in August. The hockey players in question that year were participants in a more traditional international tournament spread among six old-fashioned national teams in the inaugural Canada Cup.
With all due respect to this year’s edition, Canada ’76 was loaded with talent and savvy and experience — and that’s just the braintrust. Montreal’s genius GM Sam Pollock was in charge of the whole operation, with Keith Allen as a principal aide and Toe Blake standing by as counsel. Then there was Pollock’s advisory committee of wise men: Jean Béliveau, Gordie Howe, and Syl Apps. Scotty Bowman was the first choice to coach, but he said no, at first: his Montreal Canadiens had just completed a successful Stanley Cup campaign, and his wife was pregnant with twins.
There was a rumour that Fred Shero had agreed to the step up, but Pollock said he hadn’t, in fact, spoken to the coach of the Philadelphia Flyers.
In the end, Pollock decided four heads were better than one. Bowman was back in, joining with Boston’s Don Cherry, Bobby Kromm of the Winnipeg Jets, Al MacNeil, coach of Montreal’s AHL farm team, the Nova Scotia Voyageurs. There was so much enthusiasm to generate, Bowman said. “I used up much of my adrenalin during the past season and have another season ahead. Having four coaches spreads it around a little and eases the pressure.”
“This will be the coaching style of the future,” was Cherry’s take on it. “Each of us will contribute something. We’ll work in harmony. There won’t be any friction. We all want to win. We’re going to be the favourites and there’s going to be nothing but pressure on us. It would be too much for one man.”
Picking a preliminary 31-man roster in June, Pollock selected 29 players from the NHL with three more drawn from WHA clubs. The coaches would trim the squad in August to 25, 20 of whom would dress for each tournament game. Injuries ruled out several significant players, including goaltenders Ken Dryden and Bernie Parent and defencemen Brad Park and Jim Schoenfeld.
There was uncertainty about Bobby Orr, too, coming off two 1975 surgeries on that troublesome left knee of his. He’d gone in for an arthroscopic exam in June, and his lawyer, at least, was hopeful. “Bobby is in A-1 condition,” reported Alan Eagleson, who also happened to be running the tournament as director, “and he’ll probably play in the Canada Cup.”
Even without the poorly, it was hard to see the Canadian roster as diminished, exactly.
Gerry Cheevers, Glenn Resch, and Rogie Vachon were among the goaltenders summoned to report to a 23-day training camp in Montreal in August. Defencemen included Larry Robinson, Serge Savard, Denis Potvin, and Guy Lapointe. Guy Lafleur, Bob Gainey, and Reggie Leach were competing were jobs on the right wing, with Bill Barber, Bobby Hull, Bob Gainey, and Steve Shutt over on the left. At centre: Bobby Clarke, Darryl Sittler, Phil Esposito, Gil Perreault, Marcel Dionne, and Pete Mahovlich.
In Montreal, the players moved into the Bonaventure Hotel. August 10 they headed for the ice for the first time at the Forum. Morning drills led to an afternoon scrimmage. In the evening, the team headed to Jarry Park to watch the Montreal Expos play ball with the San Francisco Giants. The next day, and for the rest of the camp, they started the morning with a three-mile run up Mount Royal.
“It was easily the toughest training camp I’ve ever attended,” Dionne was saying by the time it was over.
Bobby Orr stayed at his summer place, in Orillia, Ontario, working on his own — and making progress. “Two months ago there was no way I thought I could play but in the last month the knee has felt just super,” he updated. “I will skating hard and if there isn’t a bad reaction I will be going to Montreal.”
Bobby Hull was 37. Shut out of the Summit Series in 1972, he was thrilled to be aboard this time out. He was pleased, too, to be playing in a tournament where the hockey had evolved beyond the intimidation inherent in his home and native WHA. “It will be a pleasure to play without the worry about being stabbed in the back. Everyone will be back to hockey’s basics, the way hockey should be played and was played before the goons took over.”
Phil Esposito was feeling renewed after the shock of the trade that had taken him from Boston to New York the previous November. “It affected me mentally,” he was saying, “and because of it I couldn’t function properly. It just devastated me.” But: he was ready now, he said. Don Cherry, for one, thought it showed. “Espo was showing the snap I hadn’t seen for a couple of years,” his former coach said after the team’s first workout.
He was one of the vets from ’72, Espo. Savard, Lapointe, Clarke, and Mahovlich had played in the Summit Series, . That epic series was even fresher in the national mind, of course, than it is today, with coaches and players vowing that they wouldn’t be making the same mistakes they’d made back then. Arrogance wasn’t a word they were using: mostly what they mentioned were matters of conditioning and team unity.
They wasn’t much joy, looking back. There was wariness, weariness , grim memories tinged at the edges by the unshakeable sense of just how near run a thing it had been. Even as he and his team readied this new challenge, Serge Savard talked to Montreal Gazette columnist Tim Burke about how very, very exhausted the Canadians were, four years earlier, how disarrayed, how downspirited, who knows what might have happened if they’d hadn’t left the country after the first four games.
Lessons had been learned. Exhibition games would help, this time around. “Mental preparation is also important,” said Harry Sinden, the coach in ’72. “We went into that series saying to ourselves we couldn’t lose. We now know what we’re up against and that’s in our favour.”
Not that we weren’t still having problems imagining anything other than victory. What else was there? Our game, our tournament. “If ever a team appeared to be invincible,” Tim Burke effused in that same Savard-quoting column, “I’d put my dough on this lot.” What we had here, he’d decided, no doubts, was “the greatest aggregation of hockey talent ever assembled.”
The Soviets, if they showed up, would be lacking in their line-up. Valeri Kharlamov was recovering for a summer car accident, Alexander Yakushev had a bad knee. Veteran Vladimirs, Petrov and Shadrin, weren’t coming, and nor was Boris Mikhailov. Goaltender Vladislav Tretiak was supposed to be staying home, too — to study for military exams, the word was.
Esposito, for one, wasn’t fooled. “A psyche job,” he warned in August.
“The Russians are clever. They’re leaking these stories in hopes it will throw us off our game. When they arrive, they will be tough.”
Team Canada sent Tom Watt, coach of the University of Toronto, across the Atlantic to scout the Soviets and Swedes. “Objectively,” he said on his return, “I think Team Canada has the talent to win. But sometimes you find a kid with a high IQ doesn’t do very well in math. Performance and talent are always two different things.
But maybe the Russians wouldn’t come at all — that was a possibility, for a while. As the Olympics drew to a close in early August, the Soviet Olympic Committee was threatening both to pull out of the Game’s remaining events, and there was talk that the hockey team would stay home, too. A 17-year-old diver, Sergei Nemtsanov, had asked for and been granted asylum in Canada — defected — and the Soviets were livid.
He’d been abducted, they said, maybe drugged, certainly brainwashed. There was a meeting involving the diver, his lawyers, and Soviet and Canadian officials that proved, to the Soviets, that he was not in his right mind. Why was his face so pale, his look so absent? Why did he repeat, “like a parrot,” “I want freedom, I want freedom.”
A Russian official charged that “a group of terrorists” had been roaming the Olympic Village, preying on Soviet athletes.
Other press reports noted that young Sergei had an American diver as his girlfriend, and that this was all about her, though the girlfriend’s family released a statement to say firmly that she wasn’t Sergei’s girlfriend.
Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau weighed in: he said it was up to the diver to decide what he wanted to do. Which he did: after a week or two in Toronto, concerned for his “aged and ailing grandmother,” he elected to go home. Continue reading
From Moscow, Monday’s early morning brings word that legendary Soviet-era coach Viktor Tikhonov has died after a long illness. He was 84. Three times his national teams won Olympic gold, and his world championships were eight. “He was a man consumed by hockey,” Lawrence Martin writes in The Red Machine (1990). “For him it was like gambling or alcoholism, an addiction. He had to win and win again — and keep winning.” He was repairing buses in the 1940s when Vsevolod Bobrov took note of his soccer and ball-hockey exploits in the depot yard, which led to a place on defence on Vasily Stalin’s Air Force hockey team. Martin quotes Tikhonov explaining his coaching credo:
All that I know of myself is that nothing was ever given to me without effort, not when I first stepped out on the ice or now, when I am carrying the coach’s burden. Stubborn labour, self-sacrifice, fanatical devotion to a favoured activity, tireless perfection of athletic professionalism — these are, in my understanding, the key to success for every hockey player and every athlete. And these principles I always and everywhere defend.
The United States won Olympic gold for the first time in 1960 at Squaw Valley and when someone writes a book about that, modern-day American teams can study it for guidance. In the meantime, American blueprints for Olympic victory will have to make do with the many volumes commemorating that other golden campaign, in 1980, which include Miracle On Ice: Victory For America! and One Goal (“the victory that united a nation in an explosion of joy and pride”) to Going For The Gold and The Boys of Winter. The latter, by Wayne Coffey, is the best of these chronicles, if not not the one we’re talking about here today in our review of Olympic-hockey how-to books. What does Joe Dunn’s Miracle On Ice (2008) have that the rest of those others don’t? More pictures, fewer words, a whole bunch of very angry and obviously steroid-ridden Russians, and the quickest guide to getting hold of the gold.
It’s tough times in the 1970s for America. The energy crisis, inflation, Iranians taking hostage. The world is in turmoil.
Forget all that. Focus on the Olympics. Can anybody beat the Soviet Union? They’ve won five out of the last six gold medals. Their players are wily and old and, also, young and quick. They have square heads, and scowls on their faces.
Hire Herb Brooks. Convene a number of tryout camps. Test your players mentally as well as physically. Pick a team. Condition them. Train them to work hard and be fast.
Play a gruelling exhibition schedule. Lose your last game to the Soviets by a score of 10-3.
Go to Lake Placid. Don’t worry about the Canadians — in fact, you know what? Don’t even mention them. Tie Sweden. Dominate the Czechs 7-3. Beat Norway, Romania, Germany.
Meet the still-scowling Soviets in the medal round. Scowl at them. Let them be aggressive in the first period, taking shot after shot. Have a goalie named Jim Craig be up to the task of stopping them all.
See Krutov finally score.
Don’t be discouraged. Tie the game. See Makarov score. Tie it up again, scowlingly.
Be shocked when the Soviet coach pulls Tretiak after the first period in favour of Myshkin. Wilt a bit, but don’t collapse. Eventually take a 4-3 lead. Hold on to it. Win. Skate around with a flag for a cape while the crowd chants U!S!A! and U!S!A! Call it one of the greatest moments in sports history, a miracle, but don’t forget, you still have to beat Finland if you want to win the Olympics.
Miracle On Ice
by Joe Dunn, illustrated by Ben Dunn
(Edina: Magic Wagon, 2008)
It was 33 years today that the United States miracled on ice at the 1980 Olympics, surprising the mighty Soviet Union with a 4-3 in the semi-final. I don’t know if it was the greatest sporting event of the 20th century, as it’s sometimes called — but then I’m Canadian, so of course I’d say that. It was a famous victory that the fact that I have no idea where I was when it happened should in no way be allowed to tarnish the significance of the event, which put the U.S. into the gold-medal game, where they beat the Finns, 4-2. I never liked the branding, I will say, all that “Miracle On Ice” fuss. If you’re going to give the Lord the credit, doesn’t that kind take away from the effort put in by Jim Craig, captain Mike Eruzione, and the rest of those college boys all those many winters ago?
Eruzione was the one who scored the winning goal against the Soviets. If you’re a big fan of his with a big wallet, then tomorrow’s your day. That’s when Heritage Auctions of Dallas is auctioning the sweater off his Lake Placid back, number 21, in New York City. Continue reading