Other International Stars
It is a common argument by proud Canadians that if Bobby Orr was not unable to play due to injury, the 1972 Summit Series would have been a much different story. Orr was at the prime of his career and the best in the world.
Russia too was missing one of their biggest stars, if not their biggest: Anatoli Firsov
Firsov is one of only 4 players to have his number retired in Soviet hockey (Bobrov, Tretiak and Kharlamov being the others). Firsov was perhaps faster than Kharlamov, who of course wowed Canadian audiences with awesome speed. It was Firsov's scoring exploits that helped establish the Soviet Union's dominance of the international hockey scene. Firsov, along with names like Vyatcheslav Sharshinov, Vsevolod Bobrov and Victor Populanov paved the ways for the powerfully awesome Red Army squads that would prove that they were the equals of the professionals in the National Hockey League.
Firsov's finest moment came in the 1968 Olympics in Grenoble France. Firsov led all scorers with 12 goals and 16 points as the Soviets won every game to become the Gold Medal champs.
In all fairness, by the time 1972 rolled around, Firsov was near the end of his career and was not the dominant player in Soviet hockey at that time. The torch had been handed to Valeri Kharlamov earlier in 1972 as Kharlamov led the Red Army to Olympic Gold. The Soviets believed that young hockey players were better because of their fitness level and biological clock, and almost as a rule would retire hockey players in their early 30s. That changed after the 1972 and 1974 Summit Series after they saw first hand the greatness Canadian aging stars like Gary Bergman or Gordie Howe.
Firsov likely would have been a part of the 1972 series had Anatoli Tarasov been the coach. Tarasov and Vsevolod Bobrov, who ended up coaching the 1972 team, were undergoing a power struggle at the time, and Bobrov was winning at that point and time. Firsov however was a staunch Tarasov loyalist, and refused to participate in the series against Canada. The official reason for his absence was injury.
Many years after it happened, it was revealed that Firsov had contacted Larry Regan in 1968. Regan was then the general manager of the Los Angeles Kings and they were holding discussions concerning Firsov's defection from the Soviet Union and playing in the National Hockey League. The arrangement fell through, as it is believed Russian authorities must have learned of this possibility. In the suppressed Communist Soviet Union, the story never been revealed until Gorabechev's Glasnost.
Anatoli Firsov never had the chance to prove to the world that he could play and excel against North American professionals. That's a shame because that means only a precious few saw perhaps the greatest Russian hockey player ever.
Born: 2.1.1941, Moscow, USSR. Died: