Phil Esposito returning to scene of his (in)famous 1972 Summit Series speech
‘I was also upset with some of the Vancouver people who were yelling obscenities at me and telling me that communism was better’
VANCOUVER — Phil Esposito is coming back to the Pacific Coliseum next month but not to re-enact his emotional post-game speech from the Summit Series in 1972.
The 70-year-old icon will be part of the festivities Nov. 14 when a Western Hockey League all-star team faces a touring Russian side in the Subway Super Series. The Vancouver Giants are hosting the event and are flying in both Esposito and former Soviet star Igor Larionov as special guests.
Esposito was the emotional leader of Team Canada and his rant to CTV's Johnny Esaw following Game 4 has become part of hockey folklore. Canada lost 5-3 and was booed off the Coliseum ice.
“You know, I never saw the thing for 10 years,” Esposito said Wednesday from his home in Tampa, Fla. “I went right to Boston after the series was over and I had no idea what was going on with it. I was emotional, there is no doubt about it. I was upset, upset with the way we were treated and upset with the way we played, which was more important than anything else.
“I was also upset with some of the Vancouver people who were yelling obscenities at me and telling me that communism was better. They said the wrong thing to me.”
Esposito played another nine seasons in the NHL following the Summit Series so 1972 was far from his final appearance on Pacific Coliseum ice. If there were ever sour feelings, they are long gone now.
“I'm coming to Vancouver because I consider it one of the prettiest, nicest cities going,” Esposito said. “I'm coming out a day early to spend some time and maybe have dinner with Michael Buble, a friend. I'm going to enjoy myself and then go to the game and do whatever it is they have planned for me.”
Esposito was recently in Russia as part of the Summit Series 40th anniversary celebrations. He had a ball. There was no need to worry about KGB spies this time.
“I was over there for two-and-a-half weeks and we were treated like gold, all of us,” he said. “It blew me away how well we were treated. I couldn't believe it. And I still can't believe that kids on the street were coming up to me and asking for autographs. I mean, I couldn't believe that either.”
Esposito is convinced that hockey took a turn for the better following that series as the countries began to adopt each other's styles and blend them into a new-look game.
“They believe and, quite frankly, I agree with them that the face of hockey changed after that,” he explained. “If you think about it, we started playing like them in the 1970s and '80s and now they're playing like we did.”
Never shy in an interview setting, Esposito became suddenly mute when asked for his opinion on the current NHL lockout. As both a player and manager, he's been on both sides. However, he is still employed by the Tampa Bay Lightning as their vice-president of corporate affairs and as a broadcaster and, hence, is muzzled like all other NHL employees.
“I have a good opinion but I can't comment on the lockout,” he said. “I've been warned and told. That's just the way it is.”
It may be one of the few times that Phil Esposito had nothing to say. He had plenty back in 1972.
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