Training Camp

This tournament highlighted not only some of the major differences between Canadian and Soviet cultures but our theories on hockey as well. Perhaps this is best illustrated in the differences between the two nations as they prepared in training camps for the original Summit Series. .

Ahead of our time

Essentially, the Soviets trained back then like all NHLers do nowadays - 12 months a year. In the short off seasons they would concentrate on fitness and weight training more so than actual on ice training. Getting a couple off weeks each summer, they would train as a team the rest of the summer. They worked hard on their flexibility - they were decent gymnasts as well as hockey players. They trained their players to be great athletes - playing and combining sports such as football (soccer) and basketball. They hit the weight rooms and jogged for miles. This would be part of their daily routine during the hockey season as well.

The Soviets were on the ice by July 3, 1972. That was a full 43 days ahead of Team Canada. In addition to gruelling drills never seen over here and energetic intra-squad games, the Russian coaches put their players through classroom sessions on hockey theory and technical and tactical preparations. They also focussed in on such things as nutrition, something that was years ahead of their Canadian counterparts.

The Russians also focussed on drills and practices for individual players. They would meet with the players individually, both on and off the ice, and work on their weaker aspects.

Bottom line: No one was more prepared than the Soviets.

Before coming to Canada the Russians trained against two East German teams and defeated them in exhibition games handily - beating Dynamo Berlin and Dynamo Weisswasser 10-2, 8-1 and 11-5.

The Russians came to Canada on August 30th. It was a calculated decision by the Russians - they came with enough time to allow their players to adjust to North America and the food and time zone differences, but not so early so that they would lose their focus.

Party Time

On the other side of the spectrum was Team Canada. The Canadians enjoyed their off season as they always had. Most of the players - especially established players - wouldn't even think about hitting a weight room. The most exhaustive exercise most would attempt back then would be fishing or golfing, maybe they'd do some jogging a bit before NHL training camps. But they'd use training camp as the main vehicle for getting in shape for the season. It didn't matter if they weren't in peak form by opening day, no one else was either.

Team Canada assembled together in Toronto on August 13th but didn't begin until the 15th. They thought they were undergoing an extreme hardship by ending their summer early and hitting training camp a full month earlier than they would have normally. Yet while the Soviets trained very seriously, Team Canada's training camp was anything but.

Part of the reason was lack of respect paid towards the Soviets. The Canadians were the revered professionals - the absolute best in the world, or so they thought.  The Soviets had beaten Canada's amateurs for the past decade, but the confident professionals were sure - too sure - that they' put the Soviets in their place and return Canada to the top of the international hockey world.

Because of this cockiness the Canadians spent much of training camp going through the motions. Remember they thought they were working hard since they were on the ice in August, but in reality it was a jovial affair. The attitude of superiority - by the players, the media, the fans - contributed to a lack of intensity. And a lack of knowledge about their opponent made for disorganized and non-creative drills. The scouts kept telling the team how bad the Russians were, so the long camp became boring and tedious.

The players seemed to be more interested in their new found friendships than preparing for the task ahead. Before 1972, players from opposing NHL teams understood the unwritten rule - you don't have friends on other NHL teams. They are opponents, not friends. But for the first time all these opponents were together and in order to create a team the players needed to gel and create a chemistry with one another. It was a great opportunity for long time rivals to make new friends, and it made for "a party, one big happy time" as Dennis Hull called it.

The "Sovietization" of the NHL

After all was said and done, preparation and training is one of the areas that Canadian hockey players benefited from the Soviets the most. Nowadays all professionals whether they are in the NHL or in the minors, as well many juniors and college players train year round, although almost exclusively on their own accord, not the team's. Although many NHLers spend too much time in the weight room and could benefit from some more flexibility training.

The result is better hockey players and better hockey. The Russians, with some help from Canadian Lloyd Percival and his largely ignored book "The Hockey Handbook," revolutionized hockey training around the world. We owe the Russians a big thank you for that.