Gilbert tells his actor he'd better be a Hot Rod

Gilbert tells his actor he'd better be a Hot Rod

Rod Gilbert never has seen an on-screen portrayal of himself, so it's going to be weird for him to watch the TV mini-series Canada Russia '72.

But the ex-NHL star, who was part of Team Canada for the summit series against the Soviet Union, provided some tongue-in-cheek advice for actor Sebastien Roberts, who landed the role of Gilbert.

"(Roberts) called me at one point and I said, 'Before we start, let me explain something to you,' " Gilbert said in a phone interview from New York, where he still lives and works as a goodwill ambassador in the Rangers organization.

"I told him, 'If you embarrass me, don't do it. And furthermore, if you're ugly, don't even think about it. You have to be good looking and a good skater to play me. If not, pull out.' "

But Roberts has a pretty good sense of humour, too.

"(Roberts) laughed and said, 'Rod, I'm not that happy to play you -- I wanted to play Paul Henderson,' " Gilbert recalled. "And I said, 'Well, you got screwed, didn't you?' "

Henderson's scoring heroics notwithstanding, Gilbert was a key contributor in Canada's victory. He had to put aside the off-ice brouhaha surrounding his linemate with the Rangers, Vic Hadfield, who left Team Canada midway through the series because he didn't think he was playing enough.

"All of us were so focused and so embarrassed (by Canada's poor performance early on), those feelings overtook the disappointment of not having Vic," Gilbert said. "It was too big.

"At the time I obviously didn't know what the result was going to be, but if I had reacted differently, I would have regretted it later. What I'm saying is, although I felt Vic was being overlooked, the other emotion was, 'I can't deal with this right now.' I just wanted the chance to redeem myself. I thought the best thing for me to do was not rebel against the system, because they needed me.

"I advised Vic not to leave, but I'm not questioning how he felt at the time. It was a hard thing to understand."

One thing Gilbert does understand is why the fascination with Canada's triumph lives on, and why it's a ripe subject for a mini-series.

Looking back 34 years, what makes Gilbert most proud?

"We didn't give up in Russia," he said. "Against all odds."