Discovering the 1972 Summit Series
The following article was written by Krystal Yee. This article is one of the best pieces we've ever reviewed on the 1972 Summit Series and we thank Krystal for allowing us to post it on this website.

"I remember, it felt like it was just yesterday."

That's what my dad said when I asked him if he remembered the Canadian/Soviet Union hockey series. But it wasn't yesterday, although he's almost positive it was. It was, in fact, over 25 years ago that this remarkable feat happened, and every Canadian who watched that series will recall that it was the most famous sports series ever played in Canadian history.

It was to be the only time in sporting history that a team - an entire nation, so boldly laid their hearts on the line; so positive that they were going to win without a doubt. To sum it up in just three words, it was, in fact, The Cold War.

How important was the Summit Series to Canadians? Kindergarten children made excuses to stay home to watch the games on television. Ironically, what those children didn't know was that teachers from schools across Canada had brought in televisions so that the entire school could witness the historic series. Men and women took sick days, and the media all around the world had a field day every time something went wrong for Team Canada, which happened all too often, if any Canadian had a say in it.

It was the ghostly words of Foster Hewitt that made Canadians proud. It was his voice that brought the series to life. There wasn't a series in hockey history before -- there hasn't been one like it since, although many have come close. It would be eight games of the most memorable hockey ever played.

Hewitt's most famous line came with only 34 seconds left in that wildly emotional, eight-game series between the best from Canada and the best from the Soviet Union. It was a quote that sent chills down the spines of hockey fans nation-wide. That one quote became embedded in the minds of millions of Canadian fans for years to come.

"Liapkin rolled one to Savard . . ."

Alexander Grinberg, who was born and raised in the Soviet Union, but now lives in Canada, commented on the series: "I think the chances of the teams are exactly the same. I am a fan of my team (Team Soviet), and I hope our fellows would win a good three (games), even though the Canadians are a very serious team. They have very strong players. I am told the professionals are something special and that is why we (Team Soviet) shall suffer."

And just like that, the stage was set. Four games in Canada, four in Moscow. It would be the event of the century.

"Savard cleared the pass to Stapleton..."

Game One was set in the Montreal Forum, where some of hockey's greatest players had once laced them up, such as Joe Malone, Maurice Richard, and Ken Dryden; Team Canada's starting goaltender for the series. The Forum had to look spectacular for the opening game of this historic event, between the professional Canadian players and the Soviet Union's "amateur" players. This was the beginning of an easy series for Team Canada, and everyone knew it too. They had fourteen of the top twenty-five scorers in the NHL, and the best goaltender in the world, Ken Dryden. Who did the Soviets have? A bunch of so-called "hockey players" with last names too hard to pronounce.

Thirty seconds into the game, Phil Esposito scored for Canada. Six minutes, and two seconds later, it was Paul Henderson who scored. This would be a cinch. The only problem Team Canada worried about during the first ten minutes of the game was whether or not they should take pity on the Soviets. After all, it wasn't very sportsmanlike to win an international competition by more than 10 goals, was it?

"Do they have the 10 goal mercy rule in international competition?" one spectator wondered out loud behind the glass of the Russian bench. His comment was followed with laughter by the fans around him as he sat back into his seat smugly.

The Soviets were a sight to see in their ancient three-sizes-too-small equipment and worn-out sticks. They looked hardly capable of playing (or just looking like) a junior hockey team, never mind a national team competing in one of the biggest nation vs. nation competition in sport history.

But by the end of the first period, however, the Soviets had tied the score. Valery Kharlamov had scored twice in the second period for Team Soviet before Team Canada's Bobby Clarke answered with a goal in the ninth minute of the third. Then, an onslaught of three more goals by the Soviets. There was no answer by the Canadians this time. Final score; Team Canada 3, Team Soviet 7.

How could this have happened? No, a more appropriate question would be, how could this be allowed to happen? What went wrong? Those were the questions that thousands of hockey fans all across Canada were asking themselves the next morning. Total, utter shock. Canada wasn't supposed to lose. Not even one game. They were the best players in the world, and surly, that would be good enough. They were professionals. They made money by playing a sport where they were the best. But maybe, just maybe, this time, being professional wasn't going to be good enough.

"He cleared to the open wing to Cournoyer . . ."

Two nights and nine player changes later, Team Canada took to the ice in Toronto. They were embarrassed, and wanted to change their line-up around in hopes of sparking the offense. Tony Esposito started in net instead of Dryden. The Ratille-Gilbert-Hadfield line was benched. In its place was the Serge Savard line. He, better then anyone, put Team Canada's 4-1 win that night in perspective.

"All through training camp, I don't think we really put enough emphasis on defense. All the time, it was goals, goals, goals . . . how many goals are we going to beat them by? But in this game," he said thoughtfully, "we brought some defense into the game."

Now the series was tied 1-1, and all of Canada breathed a sigh of relief. One loss wasn't all that bad. Canada would win the next six straight. All of the excitement of the first game had gotten to them. Yeah, that was it. It was the excitement of all the festivities.

At his house that night, Tony Esposito crossed his fingers and prayed. He wasn't so sure how well they would play. Beating the Soviets was a harder challenge then Team Canada had anticipated. The Soviets were more aggressive and stronger defensively than he had been told. The Soviets are weak. Their goaltender is wild, and their forwards are pathetic.  All of that was untrue. Their offense was unbelievable, and their goaltender was spectacular. Team Canada would need to be absolutely perfect in the next six games in order to win. After all, they couldn't lose. Losing the series wasn't even an option.

"Cournoyer took a shot..."

Team Canada started Game Three like they finished off Game Two. In control. On a high. Less than two minutes into the game, Jean-Paul Paris beat the Soviet goaltender to make it 1-0. Team Soviet responded by snapping a shorthanded goal passed Esposito. But Canada answered back by re-established it's one goal lead with a goal late in the first period. It didn't last.

Canada led the game 3-1 and 4-2, yet, in the end, the Soviets came out of it with a tie. Team Canada out-shot Team Soviet 38-25, but earned a tie. A tie! What had happened?

This series was supposed to be an easy win for Team Canada. Another ego booster. If this was supposed to be easy, then why was it so hard?

"The defenseman fell over Liapkin..."

Winning wasn't any easier in Vancouver, the next stop in the series.

The game started with high hopes for Team Canada. They played hard in the first period, but things fell apart in the second.

The Canadian crowd knew that Team Canada was trying their best, and gave the team a polite cheer as they skated to a 3-5 loss. Some fans started ganging up on Team Canada. Hockey was Canada's game - it always had been, and they expected it to continue. How could Canada lose to such a mediocre team like the Soviet Union? It was unheard of! But if you listened closely you would have heard booing. But by who? They were angry, but surely the Canadian fans wouldn't betray Team Canada like that.

"Cournoyer has it on the wing..."

Losing the first game of the series was embarrassing enough, but losing their fourth game in Vancouver was simply pathetic. It left reporters wondering just how hard Team Canada was trying.

"We're doing our best," Phil Esposito angrily, then almost pleadingly told reporters after the game. "If the fans in Moscow boo their players, I'll come back here and personally apologize to everybody, but I don't think that's going to happen. I really don't."

"There's a shot!"

Trailing the series 1-2-1, and heading overseas for the last four games, Team Canada looked pitiful. Their left-winger, Hadfield, who had been benched earlier in the series decided to go home. Shortly after, rookies Jocelyn Guvremont and Rick Martin left as well.

Despite the departure of three of their players, Team Canada started game five higher then they had ever been in the series before. Staked to a 3-0 lead, thanks to goals by Clarke, Parise and Henderson, they looked to lock up their second win of the series.

With fewer then eleven minutes remaining in the game, Team Canada led 4-1, and felt like for once, they would come out of a game with a solid win.

Then the wheels came off.

The Soviets scored twice in eight seconds. A little more than two minutes later, the game was tied. As Hadfield and the two rookies boarded the plane back to Canada, Team Soviet completed the unbelievable comeback, winning the game 5-4.

In their private box, the President of the Soviet Union, Nikolai Podgomy and the Prime Minister, Alexi Kosygin smiled and shook hands. Smiles were everywhere -- except in Team Canada's dressing room.

"Henderson makes a wild stab for it and fell..."

There were three games left, and Team Canada was trailing 1-3-1. They were desperate. They were shocked. Team Soviet wasn't supposed to be this good! They were supposed to be a bush-league team, hardly capable of international competition.

There was no scoring in the first period of Game Six. The goals came pouring in in the second though. Hull, Cournoyer and Henderson scored for Team Canada, despite being shorthanded for seventeen minutes, including two minutes with the team short two men.

Somehow, by some miracle, they held Team Soviet to only two goals. All of Canada breathed a sigh of relief. They were still alive, after six games.

And miraculously, Team Canada won two nights later in Game Seven. Team Canada led 1-0, trailed 2-1, led 3-2, and finally won the game on a Henderson goal with less than three minutes remaining.

"Here's another shot..."

It was on to the series finale, Game Eight. It was any team's game to win or lose. Emotionally, there was nothing to match it before, nor has there been ever since. Not even close.

Coach Harry Sinden (Team Canada's coach) summed it all up by saying, "It could be the greatest game ever played."

Team Canada matched the Soviets goal for goal in the first period until they fell behind 5-3 midway through the second.

Esposito scored for Canada and so did Cournoyer, to tie the game up 5-5. But there was a problem with the Cournoyer goal.  The red light didn't go on. While Team Canada celebrated the goal, Team Soviet were yelling and screaming at the referees in rapid Russian that the light hadn't gone on. But after a lengthy delay, a referee's meeting, and much confusion, the goal was allowed despite the boos and jeers from the fans. Celebration erupted on the Canadian bench.

Six minutes left in the game, with time ticking away. If either team was to score, they had better do it quickly.

"right in front..."

An announcement came on, telling the crowd that there was less than one minute left in regulation time. The Soviet crowd erupted into cheers, hoping to energize their team.

50 seconds left . . . 45 seconds . . . 40 seconds. Phil Esposito skated hard into the Soviet's zone, with Henderson and Cournoyer not far behind. Esposito passed the puck to Cournoyer. Cournoyer took a shot and missed. Henderson made a desperate stab for the puck, but went sliding on his stomach. 37 seconds left . . . glancing up at the clock, Henderson quickly got back up and headed straight to the front of the net. He picked up the loose puck, spun and shot. The red light came on.  Henderson had scored! Henderson had scored for Canada! Team Canada erupted into whoops and hollers on the bench.  Crowding. Hugging. Smiles everywhere.

Ken Dryden, Team Canada's number one goalie for the series, described what he was feeling when "the goal" was scored.

I was less than 200 feet away. I remember things from just before and just after, but not then. From where Esposito and Henderson, Liapkin and Tretiak were standing, from the position of the puck, I remember feeling no sudden rush of hope. No pattern that made me know what would happen next.

Sprinting, tripping in bulky leg pads, my own whoops shouting in my ears -- I remember being somewhere in the middle of Luzhnik's vacant ice dashing to catch the scrum of celebration near the Soviet net. Memory goes away before I reach the pile. It comes back again several seconds later, in the midst of the joyous pummeling. Stop, I hear myself say. Get a hold of yourself. There's still thirty-four seconds to go!

What a spectacular series. Eight games. 480 minutes of the most emotional, heart-stopping hockey either country had ever witnessed. Canada's best against the Soviet's best.

Highs. Lows. Desperation. Then . . . and then . . . total pure joy.

"Henderson has scored for Canada!"