1972 Canada/Soviet Union Summit Series
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1972 Canada/Soviet Union Summit Series

"I remember, it was just yesterday."

That's what my dad said when I asked him about the Canadian/Soviet Union hockey series. But it wasn't yesterday, although he's almost positive it was. But it wasn't. It was 25 years ago that this remarkable feat happened. It was the most famous series of any kind that any Canadian over the ages of six at the time remembers.

It was the ghostly words of Foster Hewitt that made Canadians proud. It was his voice that brought the series to life. There wasn't a series in hockey history before -- there hasn't been one like it since, although many have come close. It would be eight games of the most memorable hockey ever played.

Hewitt's most famous line came with only 34 seconds left in that widely emotional eight-game series between the best from Canada and the best from the Soviet Union. It was the quote that sent chills down people's spines. That one quote became embedded in the minds of millions of Canadian fans for years to come.

"Liapkin rolled one to Savard..."

Alexander Grinberg, who was born and raised in the Soviet Union, but now lives in Canada, commented on the series. "I think the chances of the teams are exactly the same. I am a fan of my team (Team Soviet), and I hope our fellows would win a good three (games), even though the Canadians are a very serious team. They have very strong players. I am told t he professionals are something special and that is why we (Team Soviet) shall suffer."

And just like that, the stage was set. Four games in Canada, four in Moscow. It would be the event of the century.

"Savard cleared the pass to Stapleton..."

The Montreal Forum was where hockey's greatest players had performed, such as Joe Malone, Maurice Richard and Ken Dryden. The Forum had to look spectacular for the start of game one, between the professional Canadian players and the Soviet Union's "amateur" players. This was the beginning of an easy series for Team Canada, and everyone knew it too. They had fourteen of the top twenty-five scorers in the NHL, and the best goalie in the world, Ken Dryden. Who did the Soviets have? A bunch of so-called "hockey players" with last names too hard to pronounce.

Thirty seconds into the game, Phil Esposito scored. Six minutes, and two seconds later, it was Paul Henderson who scored. Easy. Eight straight.

But by the end of the first period, the Soviets had tired the score. Valery Kharlamov scored twice in the second period for Team Soviet before Team Canada's Bobby Clarke scored in the ninth minute of the third. Then, three more goals by the Soviets. Final score; Team Canada 3, Team Soviet 7.

How could this have happened? No, a more appropriate question would be, how could this be allowed to happen. What went wrong? Why did it happen? Those were the questions that reporters across Canada were asking themselves. Total, utter shock. Canada wasn't supposed to lose. Not even one game. They were the best players in the world. They were professionals. But maybe, just maybe, being professional wasn't good enough.

"He cleared to the open wing to Cournoyer..."

Two nights and nine player changes later, Team Canada took to the ice in Toronto. Tony Esposito in net instead of Dryden. The Ratille-Gilbert-Hadfield line was benched. In it's place was the Serge Savard line. He, better then anyone, put Team Canada's 4-1 win that night in perspective.

"All through training camp, I don't think we really put enough emphasis on defense. All the time, it was goals, goals, goals...how many goals are we going to beat them by!? But in this game," he said thoughtfully, "we brought some defense into the game."

Now the series was tied 1-1, and all of Canada breathed a sigh of relief. One loss wasn't all that bad. Canada would win the next six straight.

At his house that night, Tony Esposito crossed his fingers and prayed. He wasn't so sure how well they would play. Beating the Soviets was a harder challenge then Team Canada had anticipated. They would need to be perfect in the next six games in order to win.

"Cournoyer took a shot..."

Team Canada started game three like they finished off game two. In control. On a high. Less than two minutes into the game, Jean-Paul Paris beat the Soviet goaltender to make it 1-0. Team Soviet responded by snapping a shorthanded goal passed Esposito. But Canada re-established it's one goal lead with a goal late in the first period.

Canada led the game 3-1 and 4-2, yet, in the end, the Soviets came out of it with a tie. Team Canada outshot Team Soviet 38-25, but earned a tie. A tie! What happened?

This series was supposed to be an easy won for Team Canada. Another ego booster. If this was supposed to be easy, then why was it so hard?

"The defenseman fell over Liapkin..."

Winning wasn't any easier in Vancouver, the next stop in the series.

The game started with high hopes for Team Canada. They played hard in the first period, but things fell apart in the second.

The game ended with Team Canada losing 5-3. The Canadian crowd started booing and jeering Team Canada. But if you listened closely you would have heard cheering. But by who? Surely the Canadian fans wouldn't betray Team Canada like that.

But if you had looked closely, up very high in the stands, a little patch of red would have caught your eyes. Just ask Phil Esposito, he saw it. What he saw was a small Soviet Union crowd who had traveled all the way across the Atlantic Ocean to cheer their team on.

"Cournoyer has it on the wing..."

Losing the first game of the series was embarrassing enough, but losing their last game in Vancouver was simply pathetic. It left reporters wondering just how hard Team Canada was trying.

"We're doing our best," Phil Esposito angrily, then almost pleadingly told reporters after the game. "If the fans in Moscow boo their players, I'll come back here and personally apologize to everybody, but I don't think that's going to happen. I really don't."

"There's a shot!"

Trailing the series 1-2-1, and heading overseas for the last four games, Team Canada looked pitiful. Their leftwinger, Hadfield, who had been benched earlier in the series decided to go home. Shortly after, rookies Jocelyn Guvremont and Rick Martin left as well.

Despite the departure of three of their players, Team Canada started game five higher then they had ever been in the series before. Staked to a 3-0 lead, thanks to goals by Clarke, Parise and Henderson, they looked to lock up their second win of the series.

With fewer then eleven minutes remaining in the game, Team Canada led 4-1, and felt like for once, they would come out of a game with a solid win.

Then the wheels came off.

The Soviets scored twice in eight seconds. A little more than two minutes later, the game was tied. As Hadfield and the two rookies boarded the plane back to Canada, Team Soviet completed the unbelievable comeback, winning the game 5-4.

In their private box, the president of the Soviet Union, Nikolai Podgomy and the prime minister, Alexi Kosygin smiled and shook hands. Smiles were everywhere -- except in Team Canada's dressing room.

"Henderson makes a wild stab for it and fell..."

There were three games left, and Team Canada was trailing 1-3-1. They were desperate. They were shocked.

There was no scoring in the first period of game six. The goals came pouring in in the second though. Hull, Cournoyer and Henderson scored for Team Canada, despite being shorthanded for seventeen minutes, including two minutes with the team short two men.

Somehow, by some miracle, they held Team Soviet to only two goals. All of Canada breathed a sigh of relief. They were still alive after six games.

And miraculously, Team Canada won two nights later in game seven. Team Canada led 1-0, trailed 2-1, led 3-2, and finally won the game on a Henderson goal with less than three minutes remaining.

"Here's another shot..."

It was on to the series finale, game eight. It was any team's game to win or lose. Emotionally, there was nothing to match it before, nor has there been ever since. Not even close.

Coach Sinden (Team Canada's coach) summed it all up by saying, "It could be the greatest game ever played."

Team Canada matched the Soviets goal for goal in the first period until they fell behind 5-3 midway through the second.

Esposito scored for Canada and so did Cournoyer, to tie the game up 5-5. But there was a problem with the Cournoyer goal. The red light didn't go on. While Team Canada celebrated the goal, Team Soviet were yelling and screaming at the referees that the light didn't go on. But after a lengthy delay, a referee's meeting, and much confusion, the goal is allowed despite the boos and jeers from the fans. Celebration erupted on the Canadian bench.

Six minutes left in the game, with time ticking away. If either team was to score, they had better do it quickly.

"right in front..."

An announcement came on, telling the crowd that there was less than once minute left in regulation time. The Soviet crowd erupted into cheers, hoping to energize their team.

50 seconds left ... 45 seconds ... 40 seconds. Phil Esposito skated hard into the Soviet's zone, with Henderson and Cournoyer not far behind. Esposito passed the puck to Cournoyer. Cournoyer took a shot and missed. Henderson made a wild stab for the puck, but fell on his stomach. 37 seconds left...glancing up at the clock, Henderson quickly got back up and headed straight to the front of the net. He picked up the loose puck, spun and shot. The red light came on. Henderson had scored! Henderson had scored for Canada! Team Canada erupted into whoops and hollers on the bench. Crowding. Hugging. Smiles everywhere.

Ken Dryden, Team Canada's number one goalie, described what he was feeling when "the goal" was scored.

I was less than 200 feet away. I remember things from just before and just after, but not then. From where Esposito and Henderson, Liapkin and Tretiak were standing, from the position of the puck, I remember feeling no sudden rush of hope. No pattern that made me know what would happen next.

Sprinting, tripping in bulky leg pads, my own whoops shouting in my ears -- I remember being somewhere in the middle of Luzhnik's vacant ice dashing to catch the scrum of celebration near the Soviet net. Memory goes away before I reach the pile. It comes back again several seconds later, in the midst of the joyous pummeling. Stop, I hear myself say. Get a hold of yourself. There's still thirty-four seconds to go!

What a spectacular series. Eight games. 480 minutes of the most emotional, heart-stopping hockey either country had ever witnessed. Canada's best against the Soviet's best.

Highs. Lows. Desperation. Then...and then...total pure joy.

"Henderson has scored for Canada!"

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