Harry Sinden

Harry Sinden needs no introduction. He is as legendary figure of the Boston Bruins as is Bobby Orr or Ray Bourque, although not everyone loves Sinden. He was a long time coach and general manager of the Original Six team.

And he will always be remembered as the head coach of Team Canada 1972.

But most people don't know of Sinden's international hockey background. During the 1950s and 1960s Sinden was too small to play hockey in the six team National Hockey League. Instead he served as a playing-coach in the Boston Bruins minor league system, but not before establishing himself as a top international level defenseman.

Sinden played as a defenseman for the Whitby Dunlops in 1958, leading the Canadian amateur champions to the world championships gold medal in 1958. Two years later he helped Canada win a silver medal in the 1960 Winter Olympics.  While most people know Sinden is a member of the Hockey Hall of Fame as a builder, not everyone knows he is also a member of the International Hockey Hall of Fame as a player.

After guiding the Bruins farm team to a championship victory, Sinden was promoted to head coach of the Bruins in 1966. By 1970 he led the Bruins to the Stanley Cup - the first championship in Boston in 29 years. Sinden stepped away from the Bruins after the victory as he wanted to have more managerial powers as well. He decided to pursue non hockey business interests and spend more time with his young family.

Sinden would soon miss the game he loved so dearly, and desperately wanted to become coach of the Canadian team representing the National Hockey League. Team Canada in fact was a term he coined.

No NHL coach was seriously interested in the gig, as that would mean giving up too much valuable practice time with their respective teams. Later rather than sooner, Sinden was named as the head coach, a position which he clamoured for. Sinden was the obvious choice to coach Team Canada 1972. He was a top coach that the players respected, and he had an international background. 

Sinden was named coach and general manager in the summer, giving him just precious few weeks to organize his team. The first thing he did was to name John Ferguson as his right hand man. Sinden actually wanted Fergie to play in the series, but the feared tough guy had hung up his blades that summer.

Of great concern for Sinden was Team Canada's conditioning. Sinden predicted, accurately, that it would be impossible to get the Team Canada players into top shape, physically, for the series opener on Sept. 2. In that era NHL professionals rarely worked out in the off seasons like they do today. Instead they used training camp as their fitness regiment.

Sinden was one of the few who knew the job would not be easy. While the media was predicting an 8 game Canadian sweep, Sinden was cautious in his optimism. He would always deflect premature praise for his team. He knew his opponents were stronger than his players and his nation was giving them credit for, but it wouldn't be until after the shocking loss in game one that he would get their full attention.

Every Canadian over the age of 45 recalls how the Soviets shocked us by winning Game 1 in Montreal 7-2. Canada won Game 2 in Toronto but Game 3 in Winnipeg ended in a disappointing 4-4 tie.

Then, Game 4 in Vancouver was another disaster. Many knuckle-headed spectators booed Team Canada as the Soviets won 5-3.

But that was the turning point. Phil Esposito, angry and sweating, went on post-game television to chide Canadians for failing to support the team. A week later, 2,700 Canadians had responded to Phil's challenge and they flew to Moscow to give their heartfelt support to Team Canada in the final four games

Sinden would never have trouble finding NHL work again. He returned to the Bruins as the general manager. He served in that position for nearly 30 years before retiring - but not before being inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame.

The absolute best way to get in the mind of Harry Sinden during the 1972 Summit Series is to read his book Hockey Showdown. During the series he kept a journal which was later published. It is a fascinating read.

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