Monday, January 2, 2012

When We Relived the 1972 Summit Series

We had just finished watching the Winter Classic (a great ending, by the way, with a penalty shot awarded with 19 seconds left in the game) when a weary Bob Costas implored us to go over to the new NBC Sports Network to watch "Cold War," a two hour special that brings to life the 1972 Summit Series between hockey dynasties Canada and the U.S.S.R.  Booby Orr vs Viktor Tretiak.  At least that's what I thought hockey between Canada and the Soviet Union would be from the early 1970's would be.

Consensus is that this guy is Weird.
A little history...The Soviet Union, despite picking up the game only 25 years before, had developed a hockey program that dominated the European leagues and championships as well as the last couple of Olympic gold medals - most experts believed that the Russians had the best program in the World.  Canadian hockey players and administrators sneered that the Russians had only dominated inferior teams since they never had to play Canadian professional hockey players from the NHL (they weren't allowed to play in the Olympics at the time).  The rhetoric was heating up!  Who had the best program - natural skaters/hitters/shooters being allowed to do what they did best (Canada) vs. a team-building atmosphere that stressed motion, pressure and stamina (USSR)?

Alan Eagleson and Harry Sinden (Wasn't this particular tandem spelling doom from the beginning?) responded by entering into an agreement with the Soviets to play 8 games for hockey supremacy - 4 in Canada and 4 in the USSR.  The games would be played in September 1972, before the NHL season started.  Pride, honor and (if Phil Esposito had his way) booze were at stake. 

The boys looked hopeful as the video montage showed bruised and bloodied guys with no helmets skating around taking swings at each other. Just like the latest video game they were playing - ninja zombies or something like that.

"That's really dangerous" my nine year old remarked as he watched the Canadian team skating around without helmets on during the prologue.  The question I have would be if I could keep C interested in the series for its entire two hour run - we already lost G when he found out that the Hartford Whalers weren't playing.  I'm hopeful myself, I put it at about 60% that C stays the entire time.  It is Canada vs. the Soviet Union after all.

Here are the 5 things that we took away from the Summit Series.

1.  Paul Henderson was a great player.  With 7 goals in the series - including three game winners, Henderson was the star of the Canadian team.  Not that I'm a hockey historian, like the weird historians they trotted out for this series, but I had never heard of Paul Henderson in my life.  And apparently he's some hero in Canada like Benjamin Franklin is a hero in the United States.  No, seriously.

2.  The Canadians were dirty players.  Now that we know that the Soviets were essentially forced at gun point to train for every sport that the country competed in, they seem almost quaint when compared to the ruffian Canadians.  Bobby Clarke was told by a coach to take out the Russians best player by swing his stick at his leg; Jean-Paul Parise threatened a German referee with his swinging stick when called for a penalty, the braintrust (Eagleson) and his cronies went after the goal judge because he didn't immediately turn on the red light after the tying goal was scored in Game 8 and Canadian players admittedly won Games 2, 6 and 7 by playing "goon hockey."

3. "Paranoid" does not mean that two people annoy someone.  When the Canadian players were convinced that they were being followed in Moscow and that their rooms were bugged, some though that they were just being paranoid.  When I explained this meaning to C, he thought that paranoid meant that two people were being annoying.  For example, his brother and sister were "pairannoying" him when they were both playing their recorders in the car.  That is incorrect, although cleverly conceived.

4.  Canada's win in this series was as big in Canada as the Miracle on Ice was for the United States.  The historians said that Canadians remembered where they were when Henderson scored the Series-winning goal just like American remember where they were when JFK was shot.  That's an absurd comparison but a comparison nonetheless.  As for the Miracle on Ice comparison, I might believe this if Canada didn't go into this game thinking they were going to sweep the series because they were the best players in the world.  And whether you believed in a sweep or not, no one predicted that the Soviets would give the Canadians much of a challenge, remember, the Soviets were the underdogs.  I disagree with that comparison, too.  Incidentally, C was not impressed when I showed him a you tube video of the Miracle on Ice.

"They didn't win the Gold Medal in that game, you know that Dad, right?"  Yes, I know.

5.  Phil Esposito is a weirdo.  While he was initially impressed that Esposito played for the Boston Bruins, he grew more and more tired of him.  He swore too much, his clothes were too weird (it was the 1970's, after all) and he was all sweaty and gross after Game 4 of the Series when he was interviewed after the game to call out all Canadians everywhere.

We watched the whole thing though.  He even made me rewind one play when he thought the Russians were offside on one of their goals.  Although no one in my family will be playing hockey, maybe the kids can become hockey fans after all?  The next stop is to have everyone watch that Miracle on Ice game.  Do you believe in miracles?  Yes!

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