Summit Series Game 1: Canada reels at shocking loss
Poorly conditioned Team Canada trounced by so-called amateurs
For Montrealers, hockey always has been more than just a game. It is our hopes, our dreams, our culture, our national identity.
And nowhere was it played with more success and more passion than at the Forum. It was the place to be for more than seven decades on a Saturday for men and women dressed in their Sunday best, where so many treasured memories were born for generations of Canadiens fans.
Careers were born and flourished there. A few died there. However, there was a special buzz in this hockey cathedral on a Sept. 2 night 40 years ago.
On one side, most of the NHL’s best professionals. On the other, the very best of the USSR’s “amateurs.” Team Canada, wearing rich-looking uniforms, versus a shabbily dressed, ill-equipped Soviet team meeting for the first of four games in Canada followed by four more in Moscow.
The Forum had put on its best face for this game. The building’s box seats were awash in red, white and blue bunting. The floors shone. The lighting seemed brighter, the ice whiter.
Bobby Hull, now with the World Hockey Association, wasn’t on the team. Off-season surgery had sidelined Bobby Orr, but Phil Esposito had come off a 1971-72 season with a league-leading 66 goals and 67 assists. That same season, Team Canada snipers Jean Ratelle, Vic Hadfield, Rod Gilbert, Frank Mahovlich, Yvan Cournoyer and Bobby Clarke also had finished in the top 10.
This series was supposed to be a laugher, even though the visitors had dominated at the Olympics and world championships for years. Perhaps even eight straight, particularly after Esposito beat Vladislav Tretiak 30 seconds into the game with Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau leading the cheering. And when Paul Henderson made it 2-0 at 6:32, it was party time for the 18,818 fans.
Alas, from that point a funny thing happened on the way to the Forum.
The Soviets got goals from Yevgeni Zimin and Vladimir Petrov in the last half of the period, and Valeri Kharlamov added two more at 2:40 and 10:18 of the second period. It wasn’t until almost midway through the third that Clarke lifted his teammates to within a goal, but that celebration was short-lived when Boris Mikhailov, Zimin and Alexander Yakushev beat Ken Dryden in a matter of only a little more than five minutes.
Soviets 7, Team Canada 3.
How could this happen? Why was it allowed to happen? What went wrong? Why?
Much of it was an outgrowth of Team Canada’s arrogance. The team was ill-prepared. The Soviets started training in mid-July, Team Canada not until mid-August in Toronto, where penthouse parties outnumbered practices.
The first time Team Canada players and their coaches saw the Soviets on the ice was the day before the first game. They almost collapsed in laughter watching this poorly dressed, horribly equipped group of amateurs go through a silly-looking series of drills on second-hand skates no NHLer in his right mind would wear.
This stunning loss was an amalgam of many things: selfishness, little preparation, no respect for an opponent and five-and-dime scouting. More than anything, it was because on this night the amateurs outplayed, outskated and outworked the professionals.
I can remember a Soviet journalist named Vyacheslav Chernkyshoff describing the first period as a Buffalo-Boston game when the teams went into the first intermission locked up 2-2. After the second period, when Team Canada trailed 4-2, he had changed his mind:
“It is not a Buffalo-Boston game. It is Switzerland against Boston!”
Team Canada coach Harry Sinden, who awoke the next morning determined to make nine lineup changes for Game 2, was equally unimpressed with his team’s performance. His face was the colour of chalk at his team’s practice, but there were no weak excuses from him for the Game 1 debacle.
“How do I feel?” he asked. “How do the players feel? There’s a feeling of surprise, I think, and acknowledgement,” Sinden said. “I think that’s good. You should have respect for your opponent.
“There’s no doubt what we’re up against now,” he added. “On Saturday, we ran around trying to be everywhere the puck was. When you run around doing more than what you’re supposed to do, that comes from being too high. That’s where we ran into all sorts of trouble.
“It’s a real competition now,” he added. “It wouldn’t have been worth a damn if it was easy. On the other hand, maybe they’re not thinking it’s so much fun because it was easy for them. I wonder how much they learned from us last night.”
The message to players and fans across our land on Sept. 2, 1972, was that the NHL no longer was the only game in town.
“It’s all about conditioning,” Red Berenson said. “We didn’t have it. We simply weren’t ready, but I didn’t think they would play as well as they did. That really surprised me, but we didn’t have the conditioning we needed to handle them.”
It brought me back to a day in July when I met with roughly 20 Team Soviet officials in Moscow. Andrei Starovoitov, the secretary-general of what was then the USSR Hockey Federation, looked unhappy — perhaps because he had been called to the meeting in 100-degrees-plus weather to discuss a September hockey tournament.
He sat there, unsmiling, an interpreter at his side, his lips a thin slash in a chalk-white face that hadn’t seen nearly enough sun. Comrade Starovoitov had questions he wanted answered, silly questions it seemed at the time.
“Seth Martin, is he on your team?” he asked.
“Your (Ken) Dryden, is he as good as Martin?” Starovoitov asked.
“Martin was a very good international amateur goaltender, but he wasn’t good enough to play in the NHL,” he was told. “Dryden is the best goaltender in the NHL.”
Eventually, this question: “How do you think the series will go?”
“The games will show,” Starovoitov said.
Shortly after the Game 1 loss, Starovoitov made his way through a mob of several hundred shocked media people gathered in the Forum’s garage. Now, as expected, the colour was high in his cheeks. He almost put music to his first question – this time without the help of an interpreter:
“Do you remember me from Moscow, Mr. Fisher?” he asked.
“Yes, Mr. Starovoitov.”
“Do you remember what you said to me in Moscow, Mr. Fisher?”
“I said eight straight, Mr. Starovoitov.”
“You could be right,” he snapped.
Then he turned abruptly, and walked away …earing a broad smile that seemed it would never go away.
Laughing, while the rest of Canada wept.
Look for the second instalment of Red Fisher’s 40th anniversary Summit Series feature in Tuesday’s Gazette, focusing on Game 2 in Toronto, which was played on Sept. 4, 1972. Other stories will run on the same dates the games were played in 1972: Sept. 6, 8, 22, 24, 26 and 28. For more on the Summit Series, go to montrealgazette.com/summitseries
USSR 7, CANADA 3
Sept. 2, 1972
At Montreal Forum
Canadian roster: Bergman, Park, Ellis, P. Esposito, Gilbert, Hadfield, Cournoyer, Berenson, Seiling, Ratelle, Henderson. P. Mahovlich, Redmond, Lapointe, Awrey, F. Mahovlich, Clarke, Dryden (goalie).
USSR roster: Gusev, Lutchenko, Kuzkin, Ragulin, Vasiliev, Tsygankov, Blinov, Maltsev, Zimin, Mishakov, Mikhailov, Yakushev, Petrov, Kharlamov, Vikulov, Shadrin, Liapkin, Paladiev, Tretiak (goalie).
1. Canada — P. Esposito (F. Mahovlich, Bergman) 0:30.
2. Canada — Henderson (Clarke) 6:32.
3. USSR — Zimin (Yakushev, Shadrin) 11:40.
4. USSR — Petrov (Mikhailov) (SHG) 17:28.
Penalties: Henderson (tripping), 1:03; Yakushev (tripping), 7:04; Mikhailov (tripping), 15:11; Ragulin (tripping), 17:19.
5. USSR — Kharlamov (Maltsev) 2:40.
6. USSR — Kharlamov (Maltsev) (GWG) 10:18.
Penalties: Clarke (slashing), 5:16; Lapointe (slashing), 12:53.
7. Canada — Clarke (Ellis, Henderson) 8:32.
8. USSR — Mikhailov (Blinov) 13:32.
9. USSR — Zimin, 14:29.
10. USSR — Yakushev (Shadrin) 18:37.
Penalties: Kharlamov (high-sticking), 14:45; Lapointe (cross-checking), 19:41.
Shots on Goal
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