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In the world of hockey 2012 featured three significant anniversaries: the birth of the World Hockey Association; Canada’s legendary victory over the USSR in the initial eight-game “Summit Series”; and the 60th Anniversary of Hockey Night in Canada.
2013 saw the 90th jubilee of the “Original 6” Boston Bruins.
As for 2014, baseball jumped the gun on Canada’s National Sport, by focusing on the 100th anniversary of Babe Ruth’s first home run in the professional ranks, which he hit as a member of the International League’s Providence Grays against Toronto’s Maple Leafs. This historic event took place on September 5, 1914.
But more recently shinny offered two significant milestones. One is the 40th anniversary of the entry of the Washington Capitals into the world’s premier loop. They became members of the NHL in 1974, as did the Kansas City Scouts. But the latter franchise long ago faded into oblivion, morphed into the Colorado Rockies—and now known as the New Jersey Devils. The Arlington-based club is being rewarded with the annual Bridgestone Winter Classic outdoor extravaganza on January 1.
It was also 40 years ago, going back to September 17th that the World Hockey Association All Stars sought to repeat the success of the 1972 NHL Summit Series.
When this challenge was made public during the summer months, a lot of the ice game’s icons, journalistic types, as well as numberless fans, laughed up their sleeves at the nerve of the upstart rebel loop. As Lance Hornby noted: “Taking on the Soviets? Many of the pundits who insisted Canada would spank the comrades in 1972, now dismissed the World “Rocky” Association of being in way over its head!”
From here and there comments about their being “too old, too young, or too shallow” prevailed regarding their chances against the big red machine. The prevailing opinion was that “they would lose each game by a ‘touchdown or so’”
They were much maligned and vastly underrated, mainly because of the disparity evident in the two major league line-ups. How could J.C. Tremblay, Pat Stapleton, and Paul Shmyr compare with Brad Park, Serge Savard, and Guy LaPointe on the blueline—Ralph Brackstrom, Andre LaCroix, and Johnny McKenzie rate with Phil Esposito, Yvan Cornoyer, and Stan Mikita? Even though the “money goalie” tag was hung on Gerry Cheevers it was a stretch to think he could fill Ken Dryden’s shoes.
Nevertheless, on a positive note, it could not be denied that Bobby Hull, who had been denied a spot in the lineup because of his defection to that same WHA, would make a big difference. In fact, Paul Henderson, the hero of 1972, opined: “Bobby Hull was the good news in that series”.
Unbelievably, another worthy addition was “Mr. Hockey” himself, Gordie Howe, who had been “retired” when the initial kick at the Soviet can was in progress. Frank Mahovolich had since jumped leagues as well, and he added power to the left flank. There were even rumours that Bobby Orr, who had been on the injured list during the ’72 battles, would be given special dispensation to be added to the roster. But that’s all it was—rumours!
Following the pattern of the original summit, the games in Canada were staged in Quebec (this time in the provincial capital instead of Montreal), Toronto, Winnipeg, and Vancouver, while Moscow rolled out the welcome mat (Or was it the rug to pull out from under them?) for the overseas matches.
GAME 1: The “Golden Jet” made his presence known immediately, potting two of the three markers for Canada in a 3-3 saw-off. The Montreal Gazette headlined its lead story, “Better Late Than Never For Hull”. His first marker was typical of his blasts, as he let a wicked drive fly from near the faceoff circle on the play. Vladimir Shadrin showed his frustration by whacking number nine on the thigh after the fact.
Henderson acknowledged that they had no changed their style of play, and observers noted that another factor hadn’t really altered: West German referee Josef Kompalla was still as inept as ever as a whistle tooter.
J.C. Tremblay, Pat Stapleton, and Paul Shmyr earned accolades for their blueline work, and Cheevers was a stalwart between the pipes.
Gordie Howe confessed that he was not in top condition, but his sense of humour was.
He remarked that the Soviets all wore helmets, but the WHA chattels boasted only five with their heads protected—“unless you counted Bobby Hull’s new wig!”
Hull and Kharlamov were voted game MVP’s, and the players exchanged commemorative coins following the contest.
GAME 2: The only win of the series for Canada came in the Queen City, with the host squad pulling off a 4-1 triumph. Typical of the Russian sour grapes mind set, Coach Kulagin “hoped that Canadian referee Tom Brown would not officiate again in the series.” The latter had waved off a goal by the Soviets, and he argued that it was not a “disputed goal”, but an “indisputable goal”. In others words, Brown made the wrong call.
It would have made little difference, in that the “home” team had the best of the “visitors” for the balance of the 60 minutes. In fact, had it not been for Tretiak in net, the score may have been worse.
Among his outstanding saves was one on Mike Walton, who was hauled down from behind, drawing a rare penalty shot call.
Little Andre Lacroix, whom Tommy Ivan predicted would never even make the line-up, scored once, added two helpers, and played an all round exceptional game
It was unfortunate that, with son Mark replacing Mark Tardif on the roster, that Gordie Howe suffered bruised ribs in the initial frame, and sat out the remainder of the match. It was expected he would miss game three as well.
Both goalies were outstanding, and subsequently were judged to be game MVP’s, and were rewarded with Olympic coins. One observer remarked that it was good the prize was not a watch, because Tretiak had no room left on his arms for such time pieces.
GAME 3: This series imitation of game one in the ’72 marathon came in Manitoba’s capital on September 21—an 8-5 drubbing hung on the WHA elite by the Reds. Coach Billy Harris was roundly criticized for inserting “second stringers” into the lineup, who did so mainly because he wanted to give all players a chance to get into the action. The most drastic move was to replace Cheevers with Don “Smokey” McLeod, who had tended goal for Houston the previous campaign. He was one of the league’s best, but not in same class as Cheevers.
He defended his choice with a rather surprising statement: “In 1972 Canada HAD to win to prove hockey supremacy…..but that is no more the case….the myth has been shattered…this is just an exhibition series against the best in the world!”
Marty Howe and Jim Harrison filled in for “Mr. Hockey” and the “Big M” who was, in effect, “benched”. But Paul Henderson finally rounded into his former form by tallying twice. Tretiak, who was judged to have improved even from his all star status in 1972, was the main obstacle in any attempt by Canada to make a game of it. By the time the score was 7-2 for the CCPP, at 11:27 of the middle period, fans started to file out of the arena.
In one of the rare lighter moments of the day, Frank Mahovolich had been approached by an elderly lady in the lobby of the team’s hotel. She asked if he was one of the Russian hockey players, and could she have his autograph. He answered “no”, and added a few choice phrases, in his native Croatian tongue—and she fled the scene!
GAME 4: There was an air of apprehension present as the series moved to Vancouver. Players and press alike were on pins and needles as they recalled the bizarre scene in the Pacific Coast city two years previously when the NHL’s best were routed by the visiting Soviets, prompting local fans to cheer the Russians and boo their own.
But in short order the WHA All Stars jumped to a convincing lead with five first-period goals, prompting the spectators to award them with a standing ovation. Bobby Hull blasted three of those tallies, in each case leaving Tretiak “rigid with unbelief”. Two of them were wristers, while the third was one of his patented slappers, which nearly tore the netting loose. As the teams followed the traditional practice of shaking hands after the match, Tretiak embraced Hull—an obvious show of respect for the superstar. With the summit half over, he led the pack in scoring, with six goal and two assists—with zero minutes in penalties.
Gordie Howe tallied his first in the eight-game tussle, after having missed most of game two and the entire third contest with bruised ribs. It was observed that “Mr. Hockey”, who played a great game, was already in the NHL before Bobby Orr and all but one of the Soviet players was born.
Son Marty had joined the fray once more and stood out with his skilled penalty killing along with Ralph Backstrom, Bruce McGregor, and Paul Henderson. And, of course, with the Polish referee officiating, and some silly penalties on Canada’s part, they got lots of practice.
One goal which really hurt was observed as being the difference between a win and a tie. Readying for the faceoff centre Andre Lacroix was discussing tactics with J.C. Tremblay, when the referee dropped the puck. “Andy wasn’t ready! You wonder what they are going to do to us next” (referring to the official’s action).
GAME 5: As in 1972, game number four switched to the famous Luzhniki rink in Moscow. The scene changed—as did the tempo of hockey. Feeling more comfortable on “home” ice, the red-clad CCPP skated better, passed better, and were more aggressive in their approach to the game. In some ways it caught the visitors flat-footed, with Ralph Backstrom and the father/son combo of Gordie and Mark Howe being the only trio which was affective. In fact, in the 3-2 loss, the Howes scored both markers—one each.
Coach Billy Harris countered the quicker pace by rotating his lines every 45 seconds. Once more the officiating was a factor, with Voitech Shchepek doing the home six favours, assessing seven of the twelve penalties to Canada. One shinny scribe commented that “he was no polish joke”. Even Petrov, whose team benefited from the Warsaw whistle tooter’s ineptness, spoke and gestured at him after the final bell.
Backstrom lost his cool with Kharlamov who kicked the skates right out from under him—in full view of Shchepek—but there was no call made. The normally conservative centre told him what he thought of his oversight in no uncertain terms. But he didn’t realize he spoke English. Voila! A ten-minute misconduct—his lone violation of the rules in eight games. The penalty-killing efforts were hampered because Paul Henderson had the flu and was operating at half speed, and McGregor missed the game because of the same bug.
Unusual interruptions in personal lives entered the picture when Cheever’s father-in-law died in the hospital in Canada, and Marc Tardif flew home to attend his ailing wife and newborn daughter.
On a positive note Tretiak and a several other Russian skaters sought Bobby Hull out for his autograph at the practices that day.
GAME 6: If there was one match which radiated a significant unpleasant aroma, it was this one. Not only did the WHA All Stars lose 5-2, but Russian referee Viktor Dombrowsky made a mockery of rule enforcement. Admittedly the contest was labeled as “vicious”; but much of it was due to his biased officiating, which frustrated the Canadian players to the point of losing control. Even the low key bench boss, Billy Harris, whose philosophy was “good sportsmanship”, blew his cool at the atrocities hobbling his team’s efforts.
Journalist Tim Burke headlined his column with “Russian’s cheap-shot tactics enough to make your blood boil!”
“Dombrowsky ignored every cheap shot in the business handed out by the Soviet team. The Russians used hammer and sickle with impunity, carving and jabbing Canadians as if they were ground beef!” Canada was assessed 33 minutes in the sin bin, while the home red machine was given but nine. In one instance McGregor was dumped by Vasilyev, and the referee’s arm went up. Immediately Bruce accosted him, and a fight ensued. Vasilyev dropped his gloves; but that offense (worth 10 minutes) AND the original infraction were forgotten—with both players given 5-minutes majors.
In retaliation two stalwarts from our Dominion retaliated in kind. Mr. Howe, upon seeing an opponent slash open Mark’s ear quietly sought justice. On the next shift, Gordie yelled, “You want the puck? Well here it is!” He threw it into the corner and his opponent went to get it., and the “old man” broke the assailant’s arm.
Rick Ley, who wore a chip on his shoulder every time he skated onto the ice was the J.P. Parise of ’74. In response to about six inches of butt end courtesy Kharlomov, he berated the incompetent official—and followed up by slugging his opponent after the game had ended. For his trouble the host coach opined: “Under the Soviet criminal code Ley could be put in jail for 15 days!”
Back in Canada, Ontario Senator John Godfrey labeled him a “hooligan”, declaring that he should have been sent home for this “unprovoked” attack. His actions “injured Canada’s reputation in the eyes of the world!”
GAME 7: The ineptitude on the part of arbitrator sporting black and white stripes was missing in the third match in Moscow, because Canadian referee Tom Brown drew that assignment. But it was the off-ice officials who sunk the visitor’s ship. There were two injustices—one resulting from the other. On more than one occasion the local time-keeper allowed the clock to continue running after play had been called. Various estimates from a number of sources—some likely less than objective—included two such seconds padding the CCPP’s advantage, all the way up to 30 seconds gained by the slip of the off-ice official’s trigger finger. But goalie Cheevers spied at least one of them, and sped to the time-keeper’s bench to protest an obvious two-second error.
This one fact is certain. Bobby Hull blasted a shot into the opponent’s twine a split second after time was up. Even if the error was only those TWO seconds, it would have assured the WHA of a victory. Tom Brown was adamant—the puck went in alright—but too late according to the powers-that-be!
One frustrated Canadian maintained “We won that game 5-4!” As it was, it went into the record books as a 4-4 tie.
GAME 8: Aping the treatment afforded the 1972 Canadian squad, behind the scenes tactics—which one writer tagged “cold war games”—to make life generally miserable OFF the ice was an attempt to wage a war of nerves for the visitors. While Paul Henderson shrugged: “Guys like me were used to that stuff by then”, even “Mr. Hockey” was thrown off stride by “the lack of basic necessities”.
As well, countless “sour grapes” comments emanated from the Russian team’s management, bad-mouthing the “rough play common to Canadian teams”. But the coup de grace came just as the WHA skated onto the playing surface previous dropping the disc for the final game. The Secretary General of the Soviet Ice Federation, Andre Starovoitov, instructed the P.A. announcer to declare: “at the first sign of dirty play by the Canadians, the Soviets would leave the ice!”
Billy Harris directed his chattels to respond to the letter, with the result that they played “fast and fancy”, with little bodily contact at all. In fact only three minor infractions caught the referee’s eye—and two were divvied out to the Soviets.
Then, as a ploy to “rub it in” that the locals were comfortably ahead in the series, Kuligin benched five of his regulars including Mikhailov and Tretiak. Perhaps still suffering from the wind being taken out of their sails, the Canadians lost 3-2 in this their final effort at the Summit ’74 can.
POSTSCRIPTS: Stock taking of eight-game confrontation resulted in myriad of second thoughts:
Surprisingly centre Ralph Backstrom, not Bobby Hull or Gordie Howe or Kharlimov or Tretiak, was adjudged to be the best player overall. While we was seventh in scoring—three points back of the leader (“The Golden Jet”) his all around play, his hustle and determination, prompted one shinny icon to claim he played the best hockey of his life.
Another shocker was the declaration by a Soviet coach’s symposium that “J.C. Tremblay was the best defenseman they ever saw!”
Alan Eagleson, who was numero uno in the 1972 series, suggested that a 1976 version of the previous two, should feature a combined WHA/NHL line-up. History reveals that a new format, called the “Canada Cup” replaced that concept. Douglas Fisher of Hockey Canada and Alan Eagleson of the NHL Player’s Association spearhead the event.
Tim Burke of the Montreal Gazette threw this idea into the forum: “let the first four games of any future series be played in Moscow. The treatment of the Canadian players there would then be reciprocated when the Soviets came to Canada for the final quartet of contests”.
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