Summit Series 40th anniversary: Clarke’s Game 6 slash on Kharlamov was turning point for Team Canada
The biggest question heading into Game 6: how would the professionals react after blowing 3-0 and 4-1 leads after the Soviets scored five goals in the third period, including four in a row in the final 10-plus minutes of the game? A win on this night, and the Soviets would lock up this eight-game series.
How devastating was the Game 5 loss? This was Phil Esposito’s post-game view of the debacle: “Do I think losing this game will hurt us psychologically in the next game? It’s nothing psychological. We know now who’s the better team!”
There was no scoring in the first period, but 1:12 into the second Yuri Liapkin scored in a game that was to see Canada assessed 31 minutes in penalties, while the Soviets only received four. Astonishingly, however, only minutes after the Liapkin goal, Team Canada got goals from Dennis Hull, Yvan Cournoyer and Paul Henderson in 1:23 before Alexander Yakushev lifted his colleagues to within one with fewer than three minutes remaining in the period.
As it developed, that was to be the game’s final goal despite the rash of penalties Team Canada received from German referees Josef Kompalla and Franz Baader, including a double minor for charging in the first period and a high-sticking major in the second to Esposito.
This “must-win” game for Team Canada could have been over early because of the penalties that had them playing short-handed for 17 minutes.
The Yakushev goal came only nine seconds after Hull was caught with a slashing penalty and only 25 seconds after the teams were at full strength, Team Canada was left short-handed two men for a full two minutes when Esposito was called for a high-sticking major and the team with a bench minor.
What turned Team Canada around? Ken Dryden, who had allowed 12 goals in his two previous starting assignments, was the difference. So were penalty-killers Peter Mahovlich, Ron Ellis and Red Berenson. The defence corps, led by Serge Savard, who had missed Games 4 and 5 after suffering an ankle injury in Game 3, brought their ‘A’ game to the Ice Palace.
This game was notable, as well, for a slashing minor and a misconduct to Bobby Clarke midway through the second period that is remembered even to this day. Nobody knew it at the time, but it was a major turning point in the series.
What happened was that Clarke chased down Valeri Kharlamov and struck him with a two-hander that left the Soviets’ best player with a broken ankle. Kharlamov finished the game, missed Game 7, but was ineffective in the series finale.
Years later, assistant coach John Ferguson admitted: “I called Clarke over to the bench, looked over at Kharlamov and said: ‘I think he needs a tap on the ankle.’ I didn’t think twice about it. It was Us vs. Them. And Kharlamov was killing us. I mean, somebody had to do it, and I sure wasn’t going to ask Henderson.”
On his part, Clarke always has insisted he doesn’t recall Ferguson telling him this, but added: “If I hadn’t learned to lay on a two-hander once in a while, I’d never have left Flin Flon.”
On the 30th anniversary of this once-in-a-lifetime series, Henderson was to describe Clarke’s slash on Kharlamov as “the low point of the series.”
“If Clarke hits him with a bodycheck and knocks him out, that’s fair and square,” Henderson said. “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.
“We had a lot of tough guys on that team, but there weren’t many guys who played hockey that way,” Henderson added. “We had guys who would stand up and look you right in the eye, punch you in the nose if you had a fight, but I don’t think they would bushwhack.
“It’s not something I would subscribe to. That’s not sportsmanship. Hockey is meant to be a tough game, and it’s a physical game, but to go out and deliberately try to take a guy out, I don’t think there’s any place in hockey for that.”
Needless to say, Clarke had a quick response to Henderson’s criticism.
“Why is he saying those things now? Clarke asked reporters. “All I can say is it’s improper to criticize someone 30 years later.”
Henderson, you should know, promptly retracted his criticism of his Summit Series teammate and linemate.
Red Fisher’s eight-part feature series on the 40th anniversary of the Summit Series will continue on Wednesday, when he focuses on Game 7. You can follow the series online by going to montrealgazette.com/summitseries. To download The Gazette’s free 40th anniversary Summit Series e-book — featuring game stories from Montreal hockey legends Fisher and Ted Blackman, plus classic illustrations from The Gazette’s award-winning cartoonist, Aislin — go to hockeyinsideout.com/summit-ebook
SUMMIT SERIES GAME 6
Sept. 24, 1972 At Soviet Union
CANADA 3, USSR 2
Penalties: Bergman (tripping), 10:21; P. Esposito (double-minor, charging), 13:11.
1. USSR - Liapkin (Yakushev, Shadrin) 1:12.
2. Canada - Hull (Gilbert) 5:13.
3. Canada - Cournoyer (Berenson) 6:21.
4. Canada- Henderson (unassisted) (GWG) 6:36.
5. USSR - Yakushev (Shadrin, Liapkin) (PPG) 17:11.
Penalties: Ragulin (interference), 2:09; Lapointe (roughing), 8:29; Vasiliev (roughing), 8:29; Clarke (slashing, misconduct), 10:12; Hull (slashing), 17:02; P. Esposito (highsticking major), 17:46; Team Canada bench minor, 17:46.
Penalties: Ellis (holding), 17:39.
Shots on Goal
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Pete Mahovlich, number 20, Bill White, 17, goalie Ken Dryden, Phil Esposito, 7 and Gary Bergman 2 of Canada celebrate after winning Game 6 of the 1972 Summit Series on Sept. 24, 1972, at the Luzhniki Ice Palace in Moscow, Russia.
Photograph by: Melchior DiGiacomo, Getty Images