Casting Call For Canada's Shining Moment

Hundreds expected to try out for role in miniseries about 1972 Summit Series

Wednesday, February 16, 2005 - Page A3

FREDERICTON -- Today before dawn, Joel Cousins and buddy Todd Baird will pile with sticks and skates and pads into Mr. Baird's '89 black Mercedes and head to the Aitken Centre arena in Fredericton with dreams of being part of the most celebrated hockey team in Canadian history.

Both natives of Saint John, the veteran part-time hockey players will be among hundreds expected to mob an on-ice audition for a miniseries about Canada's most glorious moment in sports history -- the 1972 Summit Series with the Soviet Union.

Mr. Cousins, who works seasonally as a contractor and plays for the Blacks Harbour Silverkings of the Southern New Brunswick Senior Hockey League, was already growing his dirty blond hair for the playoffs. He decided to go all out for the audition and nurture a bushy handlebar mustache, too.

"I've got a good seventies look going right now that I hope will help increase my chances of getting picked," the 33-year-old said. "If I cut my hair, I'd make a pretty good Russian. But obviously my first choice is to be one of the Canadians."

The four-hour miniseries, tentatively titled Canada Russia 1972, is being produced for CBC by Dream Street Pictures of Moncton and Summit Films Inc. of Halifax, the latter best-known for its hit Showcase series Trailer Park Boys.

Mr. Cousins, who asked that his love of the Trailer Park Boys be included in this story because it might help him be chosen, was barely one year old when Canada and Russia battled in eight games to determine the greatest hockey nation in the world.But any Canadian worth his or her citizenship stores the footage of Paul Henderson's winning goal in the dying seconds of the last game in the mind's eye, and Mr. Cousins is no exception.

"Even when I was a kid, I realized it was a huge deal and part of our culture as a country," he said. "My mother remembers it. She was a big Paul Henderson fan. She is really impressed that I am trying out."

The series will be shot in New Brunswick over eight weeks beginning in March. Saint John's creaky old Beaverbrook Arena will stand in as Moscow's Luzhniki Ice Palace and the Aitken Centre will likely serve as the old Montreal Forum and Maple Leaf Gardens.

Mr. Baird, 39, has been playing senior hockey for two decades. When not on shift as an inspector at the Irving Oil Refinery, he patrols the Silverkings crease.

With jet-black hair and sideburns growing out just for the audition, he thinks he looks a little like goaltender Tony Esposito. At 5 foot 10, Mr. Baird knows he's too short to play Ken Dryden, who towers well over six feet tall.

"The series was a classic," Mr. Baird said. "That's when hockey was played for the love of the game. It would be nice to get a role in a movie like this. I've never acted but I've been acting like a hockey player for 34 years, so why not?"

Some professional actors have already read for bigger roles such as Mr. Dryden, Mr. Henderson, Allan Eagleson and Harry Sinden. But with more than 100 speaking roles, including 35 Canadian and 21 Russian players, the producers are willing to cast newcomers.

"Just because someone isn't a full-time actor doesn't mean they can't play a bigger role," Dream Street producer Rick LeGuerrier said. "We're trying to balance the look of people with their abilities. We're looking at people and thinking, 'He skates like so-and-so and he shoots like so-and-so.' "

Brian Whitehead, New Brunswick Amateur Hockey Association executive director, is assisting with the hockey aspects of auditions and filming. He has seen those trying out strive for realism beyond the decade's groovy grooming.

"Hockey had a different look and skating styles back then," Mr. Whitehead said. "We had one guy show up with the old SuperTack skates and the straight stick and leather gloves up to his elbows. He was a keeper.

"Another guy came in and said, 'I'm not going to warm up, just going out back to have a smoke.' Well, that's pretty much how it was in those days. I told all the boys, 'Start growing your sideburns.' "

The filmmakers are searching for enough seventies-era gear to outfit both teams: the tube-style skates and thin leather pads and the same brands of sticks used by the players. Phil Esposito used a Northland stick, and must in the miniseries, even though the company is long out of business.

Mr. LeGuerrier envisions a miniseries that is more documentary than dramatization and without the syrupy overtones of Disney's Miracle, last year's film about the 1980 U.S. Olympic team and that country's definitive hockey moment.

Canada Russia 1972 will feature the highs and lows, including the controversial officiating, the 5-3 loss in Vancouver that saw Team Canada booed off the ice and Phil Esposito's televised criticism of the fans, as well as the ugly feud between the World Hockey Association and the National Hockey League that kept scoring star Bobby Hull off the ice.

"It's an iconic Canadian story that is part of our history as a culture," Mr. LeGuerrier said. "The challenge for us is making sure it's not just the hockey nuts that get it, because it's about so much more than hockey."