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The Summit Series was the first competition between full-strength Soviet and Canadian national ice hockey teams, an eight-game series held in September 1972. Canada won the series four games to three, with one tie.
The Series was played at a time when only amateurs were allowed to play in the Olympic Games. The Soviet players, who had Olympic experience, were amateurs by strict definition only, as they were elite players playing hockey full-time in their native country. Some were given other titular professions (e.g. Red Army soldiers playing full-time for the Central Red Army hockey team) to maintain amateur status for Olympic eligibility. Team Canada featured the country's best professional NHLers, who by virtue of this status were ineligible for Olympic competition. For this reason, Canada had ceased competing in the IIHF World Championships and Winter Olympics after 1969.
At the time, the National Hockey League, and also its best players, consisted largely of Canadians and was considered to be the where the best hockey players played. The public consensus of hockey pundits and fans in North America was that other countries, the Soviets in this case, were simply no match for Canada's best. The Soviets were not expected to even give the Canadians a challenge, and Canada was going into this series expected to win eight games to zero.
The eight-game series consisted of four games in Canada, held in Montreal (Montreal Forum), Toronto (Maple Leaf Gardens), Winnipeg (Winnipeg Arena) and Vancouver (Pacific Coliseum) and four games in the Soviet Union, all of them held in Moscow at the Luzhniki Ice Palace. The series was played at the height of the Cold War, and intense feelings of nationalism were aroused by the contest in both Canada and the Soviet Union. The series was of particular interest to Canadian residents due to the fact that Canada was the birthplace of hockey.
The games showcased many great Russian players previously unknown in North America, such as Valery Kharlamov, Alexander Yakushev and especially Vladislav Tretiak, who dominated several of the series' games. Against the stiffest competition they had ever faced, Team Canada revealed during the series the leadership of prolific scorer Phil Esposito, as well as the quieter contributions of solid NHL veterans like Paul Henderson and Gary Bergman.
Canada's Bobby Orr, the most dominant NHL player at the time, was named to the team but did not play because of a knee injury. Bobby Hull, another dominant player, was selected for the team by coach Harry Sinden, but was ruled ineligible to play because of his defection from the NHL to the rival World Hockey Association. Alan Eagleson, a player agent and the future head of the National Hockey League Players Association, was involved in forming the Canadian team. He was also considered to be responsible for the decision to exclude Hull and other WHA stars, such as Gerry Cheevers and Derek Sanderson. Some NHL owners also threatened not to free their players to participate if WHA players were permitted.
In Game One, held in Montreal on September 2, Phil Esposito scored for Canada after just 30 seconds of play. When Canada took a two-goal lead six minutes in, Canadian spectators and pundits alike felt that pre-series predictions of a rout had been proven correct. The hard-working Soviets staged a comeback, though, tying the score before the end of the first period. In the second period, Valery Kharlamov scored twice, giving the Soviets a two-goal lead. Bobby Clarke scored to bring Canada within one, but the Soviets pulled away with three more goals in the third and won 7-3. The Canadian players later commented on the superior physical conditioning of the Soviets, as well as their disciplined and relentless playing style. This general scheme—of the Canadians playing well initially but declining near the end of the game due to insufficient physical conditioning—was to be a common feature of the series. Another difference was that the Soviets stayed in peak physical condition all year round, while the Canadians had a summer off-season and relied upon the last-minute training camp to get back in shape.
The Forum was also very, very warm in the summer weather.
Game 2 was played at Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto. Team Canada responded to their previous defeat with strong play in this game, with Tony Esposito taking over goaltending duties from Ken Dryden. With the score at 2-1 in the third period, Peter Mahovlich scored a remarkable shorthanded goal, in which he deked both the Soviet defender 1-on-1, then Tretiak to give Canada a two-goal lead. With enough momentum from the goal to successfully defend their lead, Team Canada won the game 4-1 and tied the series.
Game 3 was held in Winnipeg on September 6th. Team Canada held leads of 3-1 and 4-2, but the Soviet side responded and the game ended in a 4-4 tie.
Team Canada played poorly in Game Four in Vancouver, losing 5-3, and the crowd of 15,570 fans echoed the rest of Canada's sentiments: Team Canada was booed off the ice at game's end. Responding to the negative public and media reaction in light of the expectation for an overwhelming Team Canada sweep of the series, Phil Esposito made an emotional outburst on Canadian national television:
- "To the people across Canada, we tried, we gave it our best, and to the people that boo us, geez, I'm really, all of us guys are really disheartened and we're disillusioned, and we're disappointed at some of the people. We cannot believe the bad press we've got, the booing we've gotten in our own buildings. If the Russians boo their players, the fans... Russians boo their players... Some of the Canadian fans—I'm not saying all of them, some of them booed us, then I'll come back and I'll apologize to each one of the Canadians, but I don't think they will. I'm really, really... I'm really disappointed. I am completely disappointed. I cannot believe it. Some of our guys are really, really down in the dumps, we know, we're trying like hell. I mean, we're doing the best we can, and they got a good team, and let's face facts. But it doesn't mean that we're not giving it our 150%, because we certainly are.
- I mean, the more - everyone of us guys, 35 guys that came out and played for Team Canada. We did it because we love our country, and not for any other reason, no other reason. They can throw the money, uh, for the pension fund out the window. They can throw anything they want out the window. We came because we love Canada. And even though we play in the United States, and we earn money in the United States, Canada is still our home, and that's the only reason we come. And I don't think it's fair that we should be booed."
Great turmoil ensued in Canada as Team Canada prepared to travel to the Soviet Union to play the remaining four games, and Canada contemplated the end to its perceived dominance in the sport of hockey.
During a two-week hiatus, the Canadians played two exhibition games versus the Swedish national team on September 16 and September 17 at the Hovet arena in Stockholm. Canada won game one 4-1; the second game was a 4-4 tie. The second game included an outburst from both teams, which resulted in Wayne Cashman getting his tongue cut open, requiring 50 stitches and forcing him to miss the rest of the Summit Series, although he stayed with the team. The first exhibition game also introduced Canada to two West German referees, Josef Kompalla and Franz Baader. These two referees would figure prominently in Games 6 and 8 of the remainder of the series.
Team Canada was heavily criticized by the Swedes for its "criminal"-style play during the two games. The games in Sweden, however, helped bring Canada together as a team and focused them for the final four games.
Team Canada went to the Soviet Union for the final four games at the Luzhniki Ice Palace, accompanied by 3,000 Canadian fans. Team Canada players Vic Hadfield, Rick Martin, and Jocelyn Guevremont left the team and all went home for various reasons. On September 22, in Game Five in Moscow, Canada led 4-1, but ended up losing the game 5-4. Team Canada was now faced with the hard fact that with three games remaining in the series, the Soviets were ahead by two victories. To add to the Canadian struggles, Gilbert Perreault left Team Canada to focus on Buffalo Sabres training camp.
Game Six was a Canadian 3-2 victory. Prior to the game, the Canadians became upset over a shipment of beer that they believed the Soviets had deliberately "lost" at the airport. Following the game, the Canadians complained that the German referees (the same ones who refereed the controversial Sweden game) was biased, since Canada was handed 31 penalty minutes during the game, while the Soviets only received four. This game also saw the most controversial play of the entire series. In the second period, Bobby Clarke deliberately slashed Valery Kharlamov's ankle, fracturing it. Years later, John Ferguson, Sr., the assistant coach of Team Canada, was quoted as saying "I called Clarke over to the bench, looked over at Kharlamov and said, 'I think he needs a tap on the ankle.'" Kharlamov was the Soviets' best forward, and although he played the rest of the game, he missed Game Seven and was largely ineffectual in Game Eight.
Canada won Game Seven by the score of 4-3, with Paul Henderson scoring the winning goal late in the third period on a strong individual effort. The game also featured a controversial incident: During the third period, a small scuffle broke out between Canada's Gary Bergman, and Russia's Boris Mikhailov, in which the future Soviet captain committed a cardinal sin in hockey, using his skate as a weapon, kicking Gary Bergman two times before the fight ended.
Heading into Game Eight, each team had three wins and three losses, with one tie. Only a win in Game Eight would deliver victory in the series. In Canada, the entire country just about shut down for the game, with many watching it at work or school. Team Canada took a number of questionable early penalties (which wasn't surprising to Canadians, as one referee was the same who were accused of being biased in Game 6. The game was delayed after a marginal call against J. P. Parise, and emotions boiled over. Parise nearly swung his stick at Josef Kompalla and got a match penalty. Sinden threw a chair on the ice. Despite the penalties, the score was 2-2 after the first period, but the Soviets pulled ahead 5-3 after two. Things looked grim for Team Canada. During the second intermission, goalie Ken Dryden was reported to have thought, "If we lose this one, I'll be the most hated man in Canada."
But the Canadians came out roaring in the third period, and Phil Esposito and Yvan Cournoyer scored to even it up. After Cournoyer's goal, Alan Eagleson (seated across the ice from the Team Canada bench) caused a ruckus in the crowd because the goal light had not come on. As he was being subdued by the Soviet police, the Canadian players headed over, Peter Mahovlich actually going over the boards to confront police with his stick. Eagleson was freed, and the coaches escorted him across the ice to the bench. In anger, he shoved his fist to the Soviet crowd, as a few other Canadian supporters also gave the finger to the Soviets.
At that point, with the score tied 5-5 and the series tied 3-3-1, a member of the Soviet delegation unexpectedly informed Canada that, if the score and the series remained tied, the Soviets would claim victory on goal differential.
In the final minute of play, with Phil Esposito, Yvan Cournoyer and Peter Mahovlich out on the ice, Paul Henderson stood up at the bench and called Mahovlich off the ice as he was skating by. Then, with just 34 seconds remaining in the game, Henderson, in perhaps the most famous moment in Canadian sports history, scored for Canada, jamming in a rebound behind Soviet goaltender Vladislav Tretiak. "I jumped on the ice and rushed straight for their net. I had this strange feeling that I could score the winning goal", recalls Henderson. This play is widely known as "the goal heard around the world" and was captured on film by cameraman Frank Lennon. The picture became one of Canada's most famous photographs. Canada held on for the win in the game and thus the series.
This truly memorable moment for Canada was not viewed as a fair win in the Soviet Union. Many Soviet citizens believed that their country would have won had Bobby Clarke not fractured the ankle of their best player, and if Anatoli Firsov and Vitaly Davydov had not sat out the series to protest a coaching change. In response, some offer that Canada was without Bobby Orr due to injury as well as Bobby Hull (due to his departure from the NHL to the newly-formed WHA) These were arguably the best Canadian players at the time (besides Phil Esposito), so neither team had its greatest talent on the ice.
In addition to the eight games against the Soviets and two against the Swedes, the Canadians also played an exhibition game against Czechoslovakia. The game took place on September 29 at the Sportovní hala, and ended in a tie.
CBC and CTV split the coverage, with CTV carrying Games 1, 3, 5, 7 and 8. Meanwhile, CBC aired Games 2, 4, 6 and 8. CTV produced the telecasts. Foster Hewitt and Brian Conacher were the commentators for all of the games.
The success of the 1972 Summit Series would lead to the development of the Canada Cup hockey championships. It also led to regular series "Soviet clubs vs the NHL", known as the Super Series, that also were held since 1976, as did the Canada Cup.
As time passed, the significance of the series grew in the public consciousness, and the term "Summit Series" became its unofficial accepted name. In Canada today, the Summit Series remains a source of much national pride, and is seen by many as a landmark event in Canadian cultural history. In Canada, Paul Henderson's goal is likely the most well-known in the history of the game. Marcel Dionne was the last active player from the Canadian roster. He retired in 1989 as a member of the New York Rangers.
In 2005, the team was honoured, en masse, as members of the Canadian Sports Hall of Fame.
Forwards (and position)
Phil Esposito (C), Frank Mahovlich (LW), Peter Mahovlich (C), Gilbert Perreault (C), Yvan Cournoyer (RW), Bobby Clarke (C), Paul Henderson (LW), Ron Ellis (RW), Bill Goldsworthy (RW), Stan Mikita (C), Wayne Cashman (RW), Vic Hadfield (LW), Jean Ratelle (C), Marcel Dionne (C), Rick Martin (LW), Jean-Paul Parise (LW), Red Berenson (C), Rod Gilbert (RW), Dennis Hull (LW), Mickey Redmond (RW).
Serge Savard, Guy Lapointe, Gary Bergman, Bill White, Rod Seiling, Dale Tallon, Jocelyn Guevremont, Brian Glennie, Pat Stapleton, Don Awrey, Brad Park. (Bobby Orr was also on the roster, but did not play due to injuries.)
Coaches and managers
- Paul Henderson remains best known for scoring the winning goals in the sixth, seventh and eighth (deciding) games of the 1972 Summit Series.
- Only seven Canadians played in all eight games: Phil Esposito, Clarke, Cournoyer, Henderson, Ellis, Bergman, and Park. In goal, Tony Esposito and Dryden each played four games.
- Team Canada defenceman Savard has a unique claim to fame — Canada won or tied all five games in which he played, but lost all three games in which he sat out.
Boris Mikhailov, Vladimir Petrov, Yury Blinov, Valery Kharlamov, Alexander Yakushev, Yevgeni Zimin, Vyacheslav Starshinov, Vladimir Vikulov, Yevgeni Mishakov, Alexander Maltsev, Vladimir Shadrin, Yuri Lebedev, Alexander Volchkov, Vyacheslav Anisin, Alexander Bodunov, Alexander Martynyuk, Viacheslav Solodukhin.
Game 1: September 2, 1972, Montreal Forum, Montreal, Quebec, Canada
|W: Tretiak (1-0-0) L: Dryden (0-1-0)|
|USSR: Zimin (1, 2), Petrov (1), Kharlamov (1, 2), Mikhailov (1), Yakushev (1)|
Canada: P. Esposito (1), Henderson (1), Clarke (1)
Game 2: September 4, 1972, Maple Leaf Gardens, Toronto, Ontario, Canada
|W: T. Esposito (1-0-0) L: Tretiak (1-1-0)|
|USSR: Yakushev (2)|
Canada: P. Esposito (2), Cournoyer (1), P. Mahovlich (1), F. Mahovlich (1)
Game 3: September 6, 1972, Winnipeg Arena, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada
|T: Tretiak (1-1-1), T. Esposito (1-0-1)|
|USSR: Petrov (2), Kharlamov (3), Lebedev (1), Bodunov (1)|
Canada: Parise (1), Ratelle (1), P. Esposito (3), Henderson (2)
Game 4: September 8, 1972, Pacific Coliseum, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada
|W: Tretiak (2-1-1) L: Dryden (0-2-0)|
|USSR: Mikhailov (2, 3), Blinov (1), Vikulov (1), Shadrin (1)|
Canada: Perrault (1), Goldsworthy (1), Hull (1)
Game 5: September 22, 1972, Luzhniki Ice Palace, Moscow, USSR
|W: Tretiak (3-1-1) L: T. Esposito (1-1-1)|
|Canada: Parise (2), Clarke (2), Henderson (3, 4)|
USSR: Blinov (2), Anisin (1), Shadrin (2), Gusev (1), Vikulov (2)
Game 6: September 24, 1972, Luzhniki Ice Palace, Moscow, USSR
|W: Dryden (1-2-0) L: Tretiak (3-2-1)|
|Canada: Hull (2), Cournoyer (2), Henderson (5)|
USSR: Liapkin (1), Yakushev (3)
Game 7: September 26, 1972, Luzhniki Ice Palace, Moscow, USSR
|W: T. Esposito (2-1-1) L: Tretiak (3-3-1)|
|Canada: P. Esposito (4, 5), Gilbert (1), Henderson (6)|
USSR: Yakushev (4, 5), Petrov (3)
Game 8: September 28, 1972, Luzhniki Ice Palace, Moscow, USSR
|W: Dryden (2-2-0) L: Tretiak (3-4-1)|
|Canada: P. Esposito (6, 7), Park (1), White (1), Cournoyer (3), Henderson (7)|
USSR: Yakushev (6, 7), Lutchenko (1), Shadrin (3), Vasiliev (1)
Canada wins series 4-3-1
- Canada Versus the Soviet Union (now Russia) The heyday of the battle for world hockey supremacy (1972-1987)
- The Globe and Mail: The Summit Series, 1972-2002
- CBC Digital Archives - Canada-Soviet Hockey Series, 1972
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