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 )
It’s a leaping Paul Henderson who lives in the national imagination, a Henderson launched by relief and joy at having put one last decisive puck past Vladislav Tretiak — if Yvan Cournoyer hadn’t been there to tether him, Canada’s 1972 goalscoring hero might have boosted up and out Luzhniki Ice Palace and into orbit. Henderson, who’s turning 76 today, is in Ottawa this very morning, where he’s being received and saluted in the brand-new temporary West-Block House of Commons. There will be talk there, count on it, of Henderson’s game-winning goals in Moscow, especially that last one; the calls for Henderson to be admitted to the Hockey Hall of Fame will be front and centre, too, no doubt, reviving one of hockey’s enduring debates: is Henderson due, or no? Here, above, we’ll cast back to 1968, before Henderson had scored any goals in the Soviet Union. He was a 25-year-old winger when he arrived in Toronto that March as part of the trade that sent Frank Mahovlich to the Detroit Red Wings. Toronto GM Punch Imlach was glad to have him: “a fine young player,” he rated Henderson, “just reaching his peak.”