1972 Canada-Russia Series 2/2

September 15, 2022   ·   0 Comments

By Keith Schell

When Team Canada left the country for Moscow with a 1-2-1 record after the first four games, they left behind a frustrated country who expected their team to roll over the Russians eight straight games right from the outset. Nobody knew how good the Russians actually were and a lot of Canadian eyes were opened with the precise Russian style of play. Team Canada knew they had their work cut out for them in Russia and after a quick stopover in Sweden for a couple of exhibition games they continued on to Moscow, USSR, for games five through eight.  

GAME FIVE, SEPTEMBER 22, MOSCOW: RUSSIA 5, CANADA 4. ALL OF CANADA WAS STUNNED! This was the first game of the final four in Moscow. As a twelve year old kid, it was the first time I had ever seen the size of the European ice surface. It looked to be as big as a football field!

“DA, DA, CAN-A-DA, NYET, NYET, SO-VIET!” was the battle cry of the Canadian fans who took over approximately 3,000 of the 13,700 seats of the Luzhniki Ice Palace in Moscow for this game.  According to most reports, the normally stoic Russian fans were shocked by the exuberance of the boisterous Canadian fans, who were making all the noise they could to support their team. In contrast, Russian fans tended to sit in stony silence at their hockey games in something reflecting the dignified nature of a Tchaikovsky Opera or a Bolshoi Ballet.

When the Russian fans adjusted to the noise the Canadian fans were making, they began to respond with their own noise; chanting over and over again, “Shayba, Shayba”, which, roughly translated into English, means, ‘puck’, or ‘get the puck’. There were other cultural differences as well: when we didn’t like something, we would verbally boo; when the Russians didn’t like something, they would shrilly whistle.

These were evening games in Russia, but they were afternoon games in Canada because of the time difference. And because of that, our school, and I think every other school in the entire country, shut down classes to watch the hockey game. (Also, I’m certain a significant portion of the country played hooky from work on game days to watch the proceedings.) 

The teachers arranged to have all of the library black and white TVs set up in the various classrooms in the school for the different grades to watch the game.

When Canada took a 4-1 lead we were ecstatic. But when Canada eventually lost the game 5-4 we were in absolute shock! When Russia scored their fifth goal I remember the stoically quiet Russian crowd literally exploding with as much noise as the Canadian fans had made the entire game. I also remember Tony Esposito slamming his goalie stick on the ice in frustration after that go-ahead goal.  

The defeat was devastating for the team and the country at the time. It seemed like the series was all but lost after that game. I wasn’t prepared yet to jump ship after that game but I admit I had one foot in the water.

GAME SIX, SEPTEMBER 24, MOSCOW:  CANADA 3, RUSSIA 2. This game was played on a Sunday. A little friend of mine called me earlier that afternoon and invited me to come over to his house to play. I wanted to watch the game but I agreed to go over to my friend’s place because in my heart I thought there was no hope of a Team Canada comeback.

My friends’ parents had the game on at their place and even though I was playing with my friend all that afternoon, I had to walk past their TV every 10 minutes to see what the score was. When Paul Henderson scored to give Canada a 3-2 lead, there was a still lot of time left to play in the game. I kept walking past the TV, every 10 minutes like clockwork, to see what the score was. When the game ended and Canada won, I could then give my full attention to playing with my little friend with a happy heart.

GAME SEVEN, SEPTEMBER 26, MOSCOW: CANADA 4, RUSSIA 3. Another game through the week, and the entire school shut down again to watch the action. In hindsight, I am beginning to wonder if the teachers simply wanted to watch the game and the students were merely the beneficiaries of their actions! But it really didn’t matter. It was history in the making, and the vast majority of the country took the opportunity to take the time to watch the game.

When Paul Henderson scored that beautiful goal to make it 4-3, beating two Russian defenders and then going in alone to beat Tretiak, our whole classroom exploded into a gigantic cheer!

And with that victory, the series was now knotted at three games apiece with one game tied. With momentum clearly on the side of Team Canada the pressure began to mount on both teams for game eight. 

GAME EIGHT, SEPTEMBER 28, MOSCOW: CANADA 6, RUSSIA 5. WE WIN! Another mid-week game that shut down our school. When Paul Henderson scored the game and series-winning goal with thirty-four seconds left to go he wrote himself into the history books and the cheer that arose from our classroom with that goal was almost deafening! Canadian pride and patriotism mixed in with joyous raw emotion and relief as the clock finally ticked down to zero.

My late father was working the day shift in his factory in town when the announcement came over the company public address system: “ATTENTION, ATTENTION! FINAL SCORE: CANADA 6, RUSSIA 5!” He saidthe cheering throughout the entire plant could be heard over the sound of the machinery! People were shaking hands, hugging, and jumping for joy! The series was won and Canadian pride was restored.

The mood on the school bus going home that day was ebullient! Canada was finally restored back to its rightful place at the top of the hockey world.

But as the entire nation basked in the glow of victory in 1972, little did we realize how much that series was going to change the face of Canadian hockey forever. It took a long time for Canada to realize that hockey-wise, our way may not always be the best way.

While slow in coming at first, the Russian influence eventually began to be seen in strategy, off-ice training, conditioning techniques and individual skills training over the years as the Canadian game began to evolve to meet the upcoming challenges of international hockey competition. 

Other significant international hockey series have come and gone since then; but this was the first and by far the most important one from an historical standpoint given the political climate at the time. Hard to believe that this September is the fiftieth anniversary of the series. It has long since faded into memory, as every event does, and people today no longer care about it.

But the 1972 Summit Series helped shaped the attitudes and memories of an entire generation of Canadians, like myself, who were young at the time.

Readers Comments (0)

Please note: Comment moderation is enabled and may delay your comment. There is no need to resubmit your comment.