While Paul Henderson has been forever immortalized
for his series winning heroics, Phil Esposito's effort in the tournament was
equally as memorable. In fact, almost every member of Team Canada would be quick
to point out that Espo - their undisputed leader - was the real hero of the
Right from the get-go, Phil was the
leader of this team. He had a commanding stature and he oozed charisma. Players
were quick to literally follow him in training camp and away from the rink. When
his team struggled out of the gate, he fired them up, and wouldn't accept losing
as an option. In fact, he never once felt Canada would lose, not even after
falling behind 3-1-1 after the first game in Russia.
No one was more intense than Espo.
In the ceremonial puck drop before game one, he vigorously won the usually
friendly draw. Then just 30 seconds into the game he scored and celebrated
The Russians soon proved that they
would be no pushover, and in fact dominated the rest of game one, winning easily
in Canada's cathedral of hockey - the Montreal Forum.
The humiliating defeat in game one
seemed easy to take compared to the game 4 loss. In the final game played in
Canada, Vancouver fans loudly booed Team Canada off of the ice. That would be
Team Canada's lingering reminder of their lack of success as they headed to
But Espo would have none of that. He
went on national television following the game and, with his heart and the Maple
Leaf on his sleeve, he spoke his mind.
"To the people across Canada,
we tried. We gave it our best. To the people who booed us, geez, all of us guys
are really disheartened. We're disillusioned and disappointed. We cannot believe
the bad press we've got, the booing we've got in our own building.
"I'm completely disappointed. I
cannot believe it. Every one of us guys - 35 guys - we came out because we love
our country. Not for any other reason. We came because we love Canada," he
ranted off the top of his head.
Listen To Phil
Esposito Speaks Out After Game Four - CBC Radio (1:08)
Team Canada rallied around perhaps
the most famous speech in Canadian history (yes, perhaps even more important
than any political speech ever offered).
In fact, it was until after the
speech Phil himself realized the battle Team Canada was in - a battle he termed
"a war." As he left the post game 4 interview a heckler in the crowd
continued to shout insults at him.
"I was so mad I felt like
ramming my stick right down his throat," said Espo. "That's when I
realized we were in a war, man. This isn't a game. This is a war and we'd better
get ourselves together."
TV interview the day after "The Speech" - CBC (1:45)
Team Canada headed to Russia, and
Russian fans were quickly introduced to the charisma of Esposito. During the
player introductions Phil stepped on a stem of a rose that was handed out to the
players moments earlier. The big Italian fell flat on his butt. The arena
erupted in laughter which turned into cheers as Espo got up and blew a kiss into
the crowd and took a bow. Phil insists he was directing the kiss towards Soviet
dictator Leonid Brezhnev, and that Brezhnev was not impressed.
Canada unthinkably blew a three goal
lead in that first game in Moscow. That forced them to win all the remaining
games. Thanks to Esposito's leadership and incredible play and Henderson's
timely goal scoring, Canada was able to save face and win the tournament.
Espo led the tournament and scoring
and tied for the goal scoring lead. He was as charismatic as the Soviets were
stone-faced, which was symbolic of the sharp differences in the two societies.
He played the tournament as is if he was possessed. He scored 30 seconds into
the first game, and assisted on Paul Henderson's "goal heard around the
world" with just 34 seconds left in game 8. Twice he was named the
MVP of a game, and was instrumental in the game 8 victory, scoring twice and
assisting on two others.
Paul Henderson as said that
seemingly everyday of his life someone thanks him for scoring the dramatic goal
in Moscow. Thank you too, Phil Esposito.