Memories of Team Canada

It was September of 1972. I was only eight years old — wouldn’t turn nine until late October — and in grade four at Snowcrest Public School. (That’s fourth grade, for those of you who speak American.) I started playing hockey that year too, although I wasn’t very good yet.

There’s actually quite a lot I still remember about that school year.

But nothing was bigger than the Canada-Russia series!

You can pretty much draw a straight line — well, maybe not all that straight, really — from that series in 1972 (it wasn’t called the Summit Series until some time later) to today, and what I do for a living 50 years later, and have been doing for more than 30 years. So, how could I not write about it?

That being said, I really don’t have anything new to contribute to the collective memory. Even my one bit of original insight is discussed (a little bit) in Ken Dryden’s new book, The Series: What I Remember, What It Felt Like, What It Feels Like Now.

I came to know Ken when he was president of the Toronto Maple Leafs. (He has helped me, from time to time over the years, with answers to questions for some of my own projects.) We at Dan Diamond & Associates did a lot of work with the Leafs when they were moving from Maple Leafs Gardens to the Air Canada Centre (now the Scotiabank Arena) and Ken and Dan became good friends. He came to a few of our office Christmas parties and curling bonspiels.

At one of those events, I’d mentioned to Ken that I’d recently watched the entire ’72 series, which had come out on DVD around that time, and how exciting it still was! This was probably in 2002. At that point, Ken had never seen the games since having played in them 30 years before. I asked him how come he and the others who had played with the Canadian national team (the Nats) before going pro hadn’t been able to impart to their Team Canada teammates just how good the Russians really were. He basically told me, “I thought the NHL players were that much better.”

A Ken Dryden hockey card from the time period… and Ken and my brother
Jonathan at a Dan Diamond bonspiel attempting to replicate
Dryden’s famous goalie stick pose with curling brooms.

Dryden had seen the Soviet team in action for the first time when he joined the Nats for the 1969 World Championships in Sweden in March. He would face them for the first time on December 20, 1969. Dryden writes that the game was in Victoria, but it was actually in Vancouver. The Nats beat the Soviets the next night in Victoria 5-1 with Wayne Stephenson in goal, but in Vancouver on the 20th, they’d beaten Dryden and the Canadians 9-3.

“Rod Seiling,” says Dryden of his Team Canada teammate in his new book, “had played against the Russians with the national team, Red Berenson [another new teammate] with the Belleville McFarlands, and a few others against touring Russian teams as juniors. And when I said the Russians were good, I knew they were — I’d lost, 9-3, in Victoria! Some of the others might have known too. [Brian Glennie, who was with Team Canada, had played at the 1968 Olympics.] But the Russians had only been good against the national team and junior teams, few of whose players ever played a minute in the NHL. This was Team Canada. These were NHL stars, the best in the world. So, I knew, but really, I only kind of knew.”

As for me, at the age of eight … I knew nothing!

I didn’t even know there was such a thing as international hockey. Had no idea of the string of Soviet successes. I’m not 100 percent certain I actually remember the announcement that was made in April of 1972 that the series would happen, or the unveiling of the roster in June. But I certainly do remember the fuss about Bobby Hull being ineligible for the team because he’d left the NHL to sign with the World Hockey Association. And I remember all the talk of how Canada would beat the Russians in all eight games.

Dryden with the Nats facing the Russians in Vancouver,
from the Vancouver Sun, December 22, 1969.

I believed it

Why wouldn’t I?

Like I said, I knew nothing about international hockey. I’d watched the Apollo moon landings, but I really knew nothing of the Space Race either. The Russians might as well have been men from the moon as far as I knew. We played hockey in Canada. No one else did! There were plenty of American teams in the NHL … but all the players were Canadians.

Of course we’d win all eight games!

Game one was played on September 2, (a Saturday night) in Montreal. We watched in Toronto at my Zweig grandparents’ apartment. My grandfather had died at the end of August. This was still a night of sitting shiva, the weeklong mourning period in Judaism. I was at the apartment with my mother and father and my two brothers. I remember my father’s Uncle Abe being there too. I think Uncle Saul as well. (They were my grandmother’s brothers.) I’d been to my grandfather’s funeral just five days before … but the memories are completely separate.

What I remember from that night is the excitement of Canada’s two quick opening goals; Phil Esposito after just 30 seconds, and Paul Henderson’s goal six minutes later. I don’t remember when it dawned on us that the Soviets were starting to take over. I do remember it was 4-2 for them after two periods, and that the heat in Montreal was making our guys look slow, sweaty, and tired. (Did I realize how much it was the Russians making us look slow, sweaty, and tired? I don’t remember.) I do remember Bobby Clarke scoring in the third period to cut the lead to 4-3, and that it was all downhill after that until the 7-3 final.

Was I stunned?

I can’t really say that I was.

When you’re eight years old, I think you take the world as it comes.

I don’t remember anything hockey from the Sunday off day, but Monday was Labour Day so Tuesday was a school day. For that reason, I was only allowed to watch the first period of game two from Toronto on Monday night. I may have listened to more on the radio after going to bed, but I’m sure I didn’t know the final score (Canada won, 4-1) until I woke up on Tuesday morning. I don’t remember talking about it at school … although we must have! I do remember talking to my friend, Alan Rusonik, later in the week about the Soviet national anthem. We all liked that!

On September 6, I likely watched only the first period of game three from Winnipeg as well. That one ended in a 4-4 tie. What I actually do remember about that game came the next day, when a young woman who was going to Seneca College arrived at our house. She would be living in a bedroom in our basement that school year, and helping to look after my brothers and me. The first thing I remember Cheryl saying to us was, “Don’t you think they should be playing overtime in a series like this?”

I knew I was going to like her!

But, of course, that tie game would later help in the dramatic finish.

A recent real estate picture of the house at
44 Beardmore, where my cousins used to live.

Game four, in Vancouver, was played 50 years ago tonight, on September 8, which was a Friday in 1972. We watched that one at our cousin’s, the Freedman’s, house. As it wasn’t a school night, I guess we were allowed to stay up and watch it all, but I can’t say I remember too much of this one either.

I do remember the booing.

Especially when Frank Mahovlich fell on top of Soviet goalie Vladislav Tretiak … and took way too long to get up off him.

I must have seen Phil Esposito’s speech after the game, where he basically took Canadian fans and media to task for the boos and bad press. I’ve seen the clip many times in recent years, so it’s hard to be sure what I know and what I remember. It’s possible that I mainly remember it from pictures in the book Twenty-Seven Days in September, which came out in 1973, and which I’m sure I studied more closely than any school book I ever read.

After the Vancouver game, the series took a two-week break before it resumed in Moscow. The Canadian players had a few days off, and then travelled to Sweden for a pair of exhibition games with the Swedish national team. There was no coverage of those games here in Canada, but I do remember the bad press and the Swedes accusing the Canadians of being thugs.

Game five, the first game in Moscow, was played on September 22. Another Friday. I watched the opening ceremonies, with the exchange of gifts and flowers, while I was home for lunch. Definitely saw Espo slip and fall, then bow to the crowd. And then it was back to school.

At some point that afternoon, probably after recess, I remember just walking out of my classroom. Mr. McMinn’s class was up the hall. His kids were what we called “the slow learners.” They had a TV in their room. I suppose they used it to watch Sesame Street, or other educational programs on TVO. This afternoon, they were watching the hockey game!

I sat in the hallway, outside the door, and listened.

I can still sort of see myself, sitting there.

I don’t really remember what I heard, but I know that Canada blew a 4-1 lead in that game and lost 5-4. Still, the noisy gang of 3,000 Canadian fans in the stands cheered the team off the ice. Team Canada trailed the series 3-1-1 … but the tide was about to turn.

I don’t remember if, back in Canada, we knew what was going on in Moscow at the time. Over the years, we’ve heard about the phones ringing all night. The food (and beer) disappearing. (I feel like I knew about that at the time.) I also don’t remember any discussion of Bobby Clarke’s slash to the ankle of Valeri Kharlamov in game six. In fact, for some reason, I don’t remember much of game six at all. It was played on a Sunday afternoon, Toronto time. I remember hearing some of it in the car while running errands with my father.

I have no idea why I wasn’t at home watching.

Around the back of Snowcrest, my public school. That’s the gym on the left,
and what we called the “open area” on the right. The upper windows
at the back were my classroom in grades five and six.
I was pacing this pavement anxiously at recess during game eight.

Radio would play a big part in my following game seven on Tuesday afternoon. Once again, I watched the early part of the game on TV at lunchtime, but this time I brought a transistor radio to school with me. I remember listening to it while walking in the school yard. Might still have been lunch time, but definitely at recess later.

It was 2-2 after two periods … and Canada needed to win this game to have a chance to win the series in game eight. Back at my desk in our classroom, I turned the radio down, but I didn’t turn it off. Our teacher, Ms. Tadman (the first Ms. I ever knew) didn’t seem like a hockey fan (I remember her as a terrible skater), but she said something to me along the lines of, “if you’ve got a radio, turn it up so we can all hear.” Which I did … and we listened to Canada score a 4-3 victory. The series was tied 3-3-1.

Two days later, for the eighth and final game, Ms. Tadman brought a TV into our classroom!

Again, I don’t really know what I remember because I saw it that afternoon or what I remember because I know it happened. There were all the bad penalty calls early in the game. There was J.P. Parise nearly swinging his stick at the referee. Later, there was the goal judge failing to turn on the light to signal a Canadian goal, and the players skating across the ice to rescue Alan Eagleson from the Soviet police after he’d protested.

As for the score, it was 2-2 after one period, but it was 5-3 Russia after two.

One of the things I remember for certain was that, when it was time for recess, the school made us go out and play. Normally, recess was my favourite part of the day, but that day, I wanted to stay inside and watch the game! I guess because we’d have the TV in our classroom, I hadn’t brought my radio this time so it was 15 minutes of pacing outside and waiting to get back in!

Prudential Insurance Great Moments painting of the Paul Henderson
goal along with Henderson’s Team Canada hockey card.

I don’t know for sure, but I think I saw the early third-period goal by Phil Esposito that cut the lead to 5-4, and I’m certain I saw the later goal from Yvan Cournoyer that tied it 5-5. But another thing I remember for sure is that when our school day ended at 3:10, the game wasn’t over yet.

Ms. Tadman didn’t make us leave this time … but I know that plenty of kids left anyway!

Were they crazy!?!

Of course, I stayed. And I saw Paul Henderson’s goal with 34 seconds left.

I watched Canada hold on for the 6-5 victory.

I remember throwing things into the air.

I can’t honestly say if that was after the goal, or after the game ended.

Maybe it was both times.

But it doesn’t matter.

Clearly, after 50 years, I can’t remember it all … but I’ll still never forget it!

21 thoughts on “Memories of Team Canada

  1. Thanks for sharing Eric. Great memories – I was a little older and remember watching all of the games and taking a long lunch break to watch the final game with several colleagues. I was living and working in Toronto at the time. It’s one those events that everyone (who is old enough) remembers where they were when it happened – like JFK assassination, the Miracle on Ice, the last Leafs’ Stanley Cup parade, and others.

  2. I was only 5 when all this happened so I have very little memory of it but what I DO recall is that I was in Kindergarten and my teacher (Mrs. Bickerton) had as well brought in a TV for Game 8. As I also remember, having two older brothers who were really into hockey I was the only one in the class who knew or cared at all what was going on and I specifically remember that my teacher was kind enough to let me sit UP on my mat to watch the game while the rest of the class was lying down for our customary “rest time”! It’s still very vivid to me and one of my earliest of all memories. I wish I can say I recall the moment of Henderson’s goal but sadly I cannot 🙁

  3. Sadly Bobby…er…sorry…Bob Clarke (should have two O’s between the two B’s) is still a jerk. His firing of the Flyers coach Roger Neilson, and explaining “I didn’t tell him to get cancer” stays with me.That and breaking the Soviet player’s ankle define the man.
    Esposito and his misogyny also doesn’t buff up well.. But Dryden is a different story. He belies the image of hockey players being those guys who had skill on skates, but in a real world situation couldn’t score on an empty net.
    Great story.
    And now a Soviet may break Gretzky’s goal-scoring record.
    I say put a plaque in the Hockey Hall listing his goals, but don’t put an aficionado of Vlad Putin in a Hall of Fame. Infamy yes. An Honoured place? No!
    But then hockey took decades to recognize women players so to expect dinosaurs to do the right thing is asking too much.
    I remember the final game. When I worked for North York Parks and Rec and suddenly no one had to be out in the community. We all were at our desks in the Head Office, near a radio. Foster Hewitt shouting “Hen-der-son…” As the puck went into the next. And in a short while Russians and other Europeans were in the NHL. Kids today can’t imagine how “wrong” that felt for “Canada’s Game” to us young adult males.”Ruskie? Gosh, soon they’ll start hiring women!”

    1. It’s certainly hard now, to condone Bobby Clarke deliberately injuring the best Russian player … but the Russian officials were engaging in so many dirty tricks behind the scenes. Our guys may have crossed the line in their on-ice tactics, but certain Soviet beaurocrats were acting like goons behind the scenes…

  4. Fascinating “play by playground.”
    We were out at my wife’s family’s waterfront home on Hood Canal.

    It was hard to get the game on TV in the States. We watched the game when Peter Mahovlich scored a big goal. Interest in the States was minimal. But thanks for the Canadian kids-eye-view.

  5. Wow, for heaven’s sake by the end of the story I was in tears-& since at that time my American upbringing had over-rode my Canadian hockey DNA I don’t even (gasp) remember the series! I do remember being in a hotel room in Montana jumping up & down watching the Miracle on Ice game between the US & Russia. Maybe we had similar emotions at different games/series. What vivid wonderful memories!

    1. I honestly don’t know how much of a news story it was in the United States … even among hockey fans. And even if it was news, it was hard to find it on American TV. (See Stan Fischler’s comment.) And there was a lot going on at the time. The Fischer-Spassky chess championship had just finished. Mark Spitz was winning 7 gold medals at the Munich Olympics. The Israeli athletes were killed. There was also the controversial USA-USSR gold medal basketball game that took place at the Munich Olympics in early September. A lot was happening…

  6. I remember game 1 because it was on television in the Boston area and I believe it was a Saturday night so the venue I was at had the game on the television. Like everyone, we just assumed that Canada would romp. I do remember being shocked after that first game. The other games in Canada were also televised but I don’t remember the games from Moscow being on the air so it was hard to follow them. The interest in the states was lacking unlike the spectacle of 1980.

  7. What a great story! I was an 18-year-old student at the Ontario College of Art, and Morris Wolfe, our film studies teacher, suggested that our time that day be better spent watching the game at a local watering hole. I remember the waiter dancing when Henderson scored! Six years later, during my wanderjahre, I made a pilgrimage to Luzhniki in Moscow. The Russians could not speak a word of English, but Henderson and Esposito they understood very well! Can’t wait to read Dryden’s book!

  8. Great story, Bear. I remember watching Game 8 with, what I thought, was the WHOLE school (I was grade 2) in the gym, on what we’d consider now a tiny TV. Obviously tho, both my brothers weren’t there. I was probably with our cousin Bobby (back then) Freedman and maybe ever Stuart Shector. I remember it like a dream, my view, the atmosphere, but definitely the eruption when Henderson scored. Still remarkable they pulled it off after being down 3-1-1, and blowing a 4-1 lead in game 5.

    1. I was always under the impression that it was the entire school in the gym with the exception of my kindergarten class. I don’t think I ever knew about Bear not being in the gym until I read this……and truth be told I think he might be mistaken lol!

  9. Well since my three sons have commented on this blog, I guess I should too. Of course I remember the first night at Nanny’s with everyone watching and the disbelief when Canada lost. I don’t remember the games in between but I do remember the final game. I was in our family room alone watching in our most comfortable chair, not thinking about cooking or cleaning, just glued nervously to the TV, probably biting my nails as I did then. So many ups and downs and then Paul Henderson scored and we won. I was drained. But when people call us a “sports family”, it probably started then.

  10. Eric, I hope you know how much I love all of your articles and stories, but THIS ONE WAS EXTRA SPECIAL! Such amazing memories! As you know, I was at a different school but my experience and memory of that afternoon for Game 8 is still very vivid and was very much the same as yours, as it was for a whole generation of young Canadians in school that day! Teachers throughout Canada had to succumb to the realisation that something truly historic was taking place!

    And yes, the Soviet anthem was pretty cool!

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