Memories Alive In Moscow

The following article was mailed to me by an anonymous donor. It is from the Nov 10, 2000 edition of the Ottawa Citizen, and is written by Fred Weir. Normally I would supply a direct link to the article, but no link seems to exist.

MOSCOW - When Paul Henderson scored the winning goal in the final 30 seconds of the 1972 Canada-USSR hockey series, Yury Lyapkin was the Soviet defenceman who tried to intercept the shot.

``I'm on all of Paul's T-shirts and all of the kid's hockey cards, standing there frozen in time, looking beaten,'' says Lyapkin of the famous photo that shows a prone Henderson slipping the puck past Soviet goalie Vladislav Tretiak and himself -- wearing No. 25 -- crouching on the ice a few feet away.

``That was unbelievable hockey.''

Members of that Canadian team will congregate in Toronto tomorrow for the unveiling of a monument to their triumph over the Soviet Union in the eight-game series 28 years ago.

Lyapkin is general manager of the Soviet Wings hockey team in Moscow today. He and other Russian players, young and old, seem unanimous in describing that 1972 series as a watershed that changed Soviet hockey forever.

``Those games brought down the wall between Canadian and Russian hockey, two decades before the other walls came down,'' says Tretiak, who is president of the Canada-Russia Friendship Society today.

``The present generation of Russian hockey players has to be grateful, because it was us who blazed the trail to the NHL for them.''

Though Russia has never made a film, minted a commemorative coin or unveiled a monument to the 1972 series, young players know all about it.

``That was when our guys proved to the world that they could skate and play with the best,'' says Leonid Konarekin, 24, a defenceman with the Soviet Wings.

``The clash of Soviet and Canadian hockey styles created a new game for both sides. The hockey we're playing in Russia now is a mixture of the highly technical Soviet method and very physical, individual Canadian style.

``The changes started with that series, and I think we're better off because of it.''

Oleg Mikulchik, a 36-year-old veteran with the Soviet Wings, says he never watched the original series because his family didn't have a TV set at the time.

But, he says, people talked about it constantly.

``That team that went over to Canada in 1972 were pure Soviet players,'' he says. ``They had been taught to see hockey as a game of gentlemanly manoeuvres, almost like chess on ice.

``They were amazed at the rabble-like Canadian attack, and stunned by all the body checking. But they adapted and taught the Canadians a thing or two. We've all benefited from what they learned in that series.''

Alexander Yakushev, a top Soviet player in that series who recently retired as an official of Russia's national hockey team, says the 1972 games were great but the hockey actually improved later on.

``Before the first game we imagined the Canadian players like gods, but in fact they were way too cocky,'' he says. ``The clash between the two teams created high drama that has never been matched.

``But I remember the Canada-Soviet encounters in the 1980's as being more interesting. Both sides evolved their tactics, learned a lot from the other. We're much closer together today.''

In the past decade most of Russia's best young hockey players have migrated to North America, where many have become top NHL stars.

``If it weren't for us, and that series, Russians probably wouldn't be in such great demand in Canada nowadays,'' says Alexander Ragulin, a player on the 1972 Soviet team who now runs an association for hockey veterans. ``To some extent those youngsters are riding on our reputation and benefiting from the lessons we learned.