The Mystery Article
To be bluntly honest, I don't have a clue who wrote this article, but it is worth reading.
I found this article on something called The Sadducee Printouts at http://www.root-1.co.il/ch_8_iiiii.htm. These Sadducee Printouts jump around from odd ball to odd ball topic, and then out of nowhere Chapter 8 Section 5 starts talking about hockey.
I've given up trying to figure out what these Printouts are about. I don't have a clue why these hockey articles are included in it. But I'm glad I found them and am able to share them with you because they are extremely well written.
The Mystery Article.
The year 1972. The Cold War at its height. Also the hypocrisy in all matters touching upon amateur sport. It wasn't easy to organize a series between the NHL pros and the "amateurs" of the Soviet Union. Finally they agreed on eight games, four in Canada, four in Moscow, autumn pre-season, amateur rules, and no overtime in case of a tie at the end of regulation play.
No one among the Canadian public knew anything about the Russians. So what? There was no cause for worry even without Bobby Orr, then recovering from an injury. Orr was to the NHL in those days what Michael Jordan was to the NBA later. He was in a class by himself, simply an artist.
The atmosphere before the series, at least in my part of Canada, was a carnival of smugness, disdain, complacency. It was going to be like the Harlem Globetrotters vs The Neighborhood Pickup Team, the result known in advance. Sweet revenge week after week. The players, chosen from the 14 teams at that time, related to the game as to an all-star game, much show, little woe.
In those days private Soviet citizens did not voice their opinions, at least they were not heard abroad. But the official government spokesmen did not miss this golden opportunity to fill the Canadian media with their political propaganda. "The Soviet Union has the most advanced and efficient socio-political system in the world and therefore our country is the leader in very many fields and we will prove this in the hockey series." To which the ordinary Canadian citizen answered, "All that and they invented the telephone too."
Not long ago I talked with a Russian immigrant here in Israel and I asked him what they expected before the series. Years before CÚline Dion, the NHL stars were the most famous Canadians in Russia. He said, "We knew of (Phil) Esposito, (Yvan) Cournoyer, (Ken) Dryden, and really all the big stars. For us they were bigger than life. We hoped our team would be competitive, perhaps back in Moscow they could steal a game or two. No more than that. That they could win the series, of that we didn't even dream."
Hockey is the fastest team sport in the world. Play flows like quicksilver. Forwards, there are three, stay on the ice for about 90 seconds, defencemen, there are two, somewhat longer, and they are changed. Hockey is the only game in which changes are made while the play goes on. There's heavy body contact all the time which causes outbursts of fighting, not legal but recognized as part of the game. Winter, as a Darwinian laboratory, makes people tough, fit to survive in the arenas of hockey. And someone not able at least to absorb blows, and better still, to give them, won't last long in the sport. As Ballard, quoted above, put it," If you can't beat them in the alley, you can't beat them on the ice." So unlike other sports, up to the Russian series, no attempt had been made to develop such esoteric aspects as cerebral strategies, complex tactics, and choreography. Not necessary, it was thought, and moreover, impossible. The prescription followed by all was: speed, blows, improvisation, and there'll be bluebirds over the white cliffs of Dover.
The Russians landed at Montreal, the Mecca of the sport.
During the latter part of the 50s and much of the 60s the Canadiens were the dominant team, winning championship after championship with a game based mainly on non-stop high speed, Firewagon Hockey it was called. The sophisticated fans who populated the Forum looked upon anything less than a championship as a colossal failure and demanded excellence in every play in every minute.
The Russians announced their roster. In goal Vladislav Tretiak. Gales of laughter. Not that there is anything funny in the name in English or French. His age. Tretiak was all of 20. There was no such thing. Forwards at that age, yes, defencemen, yes. But children you don't let play with matches and children you don't put between the pipes in professional hockey. The heavy and accurate cannons of the NHL will turn the boy into Swiss cheese within 10 minutes, it was said. Apparently the Russians came to play under the white not the red flag.
Game 1. The Canadians stepped onto the ice and scored twice. Guffaws all around. Canadian scouts had only seen Tretiak play once. He let in eight goals that night. What they didn't know was that he was getting married the next day and his mind was elsewhere. Now he settled down and began marking very good stops. But the excellent play didn't stop with Tretiak. And more. The Russians were doing something that was thought impossible. They were playing hockey like basketball. Complicated set plays. No one could recall seeing so many rink-length blind passes with someone to receive them, isolated, and with an open path to the net.
Their team played like a well oiled machine as if somewhere behind the Iron Curtain they took human beings and forged them into one big robot. Very quickly the jaws of the robot began doing to the professionals what it had done times uncounted to the amateurs, chew them to pieces.
It had been thought that the Canadians would have a big advantage in speed; the Russians could accelerate to the sound barrier. And what players! It was plain Tretiak would be an all-star in the NHL and so too Vladimir Petrov, Boris Mikhailov, Valeri Kharlomov, Alexander Yakushev, and Yuri Liapkin, the Jew who led the defence. The advertisement said, Harlem Globetrotters vs The Neighborhood Pickup Team, and that's exactly what it was. Russia 7, Canada 3.
Rage from coast to coast. "National Disgrace." "Catastrophe." "Black Day For Canada" were some of the headlines. And what was said on the street the newspapers couldn't print. The players were castigated without mercy. They were: selfish, frauds, spoiled slackers who think only of their bank accounts and don't give a damn for their country. The boos that convulsed the Forum had hardly subsided when the scene switched to the Gardens in Toronto for the second game and they broke out again with the playing of the national anthem. The players made an effort and overcame the Russians in Toronto and tied them in Winnipeg but then the business collapsed again in Vancouver. The situation after four games at home: one win, two losses, one tie. The team had the good fortune of getting to the airport fast before those volatile Vancouver fans could find a place with enough sturdy trees suitable for a lynch party.
Learned commentators gave the Canadians no chance to get out of the mud in Moscow. Three reasons. 1. The Russians will play on a larger ice surface and that will enable them to implement their fancy manoeuvres without hindrance. 2. The amateur rules narrow the chances for body contact, the Canadians' strong suit, but the amateur referees act as if they have never heard that there is body contact in hockey. Now the Moscow crowd will pull the attention of the referees to every infraction real or imagined. The result, the Canadians will be playing shorthanded a lot. 3. The Canadian players are in a state of total demoralization.
"Back in the USSR. You don't know how lucky you are, boy."
Far from the fire and brimstone in Canada the players did some deep soul-searching. The players were in an iron furnace and in the heat of that furnace was forged a genuine team.
The Russians were that much better at home and easily won the next game. All they had to do was taken one of the next three and they had the series. The Canadians rose to the challenge. They played with inspiration, determination, discipline, ignoring the pathetic mistakes of the so-called referees. Two prodigious victories with Paul Henderson scoring the winning goals. The situation? Three wins, three losses, one tie. All the marbles on the final game.
In the Cold War Canada's role was to stand on guard and the moment the Russians invaded via the North Pole, to react. But on this night the Canadian soldiers in the bunkers did not have their eyes on the radar screen but on the television like all patriots. They knew for certain that if a Soviet general ordered an all-out nuclear attack on America that night, the Russian soldiers would refuse to carry out the order. First the hockey game and only then Armageddon.
The action was breathtaking. Hockey is played in three 20-minute periods. Each whistle stops the clock and in this game started the spectators breathing again. But now as the second period ended the very life breath of the dominion seemed to be winding down too. Russia 5, Canada 3.
Twenty minutes to go.
The period started and Esposito scored. Ten minutes later. Counoyer from Esposito. Tie.
The first 52 minutes was the best hockey you'll ever see in this world. Now the players took it up a level. Hockey not from this world. You'll never see the like of it again. As in the mythical battles of ancient days, a titanic struggle, second, second, inch inch, they flayed away at one other as if to each of their heads was held a cocked gun and a voice was whispering, "Victory or Death."
Last minute. Canada swarmed to the attack in the Russian zone. Henderson shot. Tretiak saved. Rebound. Esposito shot. Tretiak saved. Rebound. Henderson shot, point blank. Tretiak saved. Rebound. Henderson shot. Da, da Canada. Nyet, nyet, Soviet. Game over !! Jubilation, exaltation, celebration, and elation, throughout the nation. Felicitation, congratulation, exhilaration. A sensation!!