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'Da, da, Canada!'

Summit Series remains legendary after 30 years

Posted: Friday September 27, 2002 4:05 PM
  Paul Henderson Paul Henderson beat Vladislav Tretiak with 34 seconds left in Game 8 with the series-deciding goal. AP

By Jon A. Dolezar,

It was the most basic of propositions.

An exhibition series prior to the start of the 1972-73 NHL regular season. A series to showcase the best professionals from Canada against the top amateurs from the Soviet Union's internationally dominant hockey system. A series that would be competitive, for sure, but no one expected it to turn into what it did.

"It was obviously our way of life against their way of life," Team Canada right wing Paul Henderson said this week. "They had no scruples whatsoever, as far as we were concerned. ... It really was a whole ideology. It was freedom against communism."

It was us against them. Capitalism vs. socialism. Good vs. evil. Physical hockey vs. the prissy European game.

Over 27 days in September of 1972, Canada and the Soviet Union played some of the most scintillating hockey in history. And one game, played in Moscow 30 years ago Saturday, remains among the most important -- and best -- games ever played.

The final game came down to the final minute. Canada entered the third period down 5-3, but clawed back with goals from Phil Esposito and Yvon Cournoyer to tie it at 5. The Canadians were motivated after hearing between the second and third periods that the Soviets would claim victory in the series on goal differential if the eighth game ended in a tie, despite the fact the series would've been deadlocked 3-3-2.

The Series
An exhibition which turned legendary
1972 Summit Series Game Recaps
Defining event in Canadian history
Russian hockey changed drastically
Oppression bred creativity on ice
From SI
Eliot: A lasting impression
Flashback: Still blushing
Flashback: Off to Hockeyland
Flashback: Narrow victory
Q&As: Henderson | Tretiak
Team Stats: Canada | Soviet Union
More stories
Canada bodychecked communism
Slap in face to Canadians
Hopes were dim heading to Moscow
Too much garbage with series
The last moments unfolded in glorious back-and-forth action. The Canadians skated as beautifully as the Soviets. The Russians checked as hard as the best North Americans. Hockey already had been changed forever by the previous seven games, but the finish of the decisive eighth game is the stuff of fairy tales.

And Hall of Fame defenseman Brad Park nearly missed it. Park was just finishing a shift and barely caught the most famous moment in Canadian sporting history.

"We had the puck in our end," Park said. "I'd gotten it up the ice, it was going down to their end in the last minute and I was heading to the bench. I had just gotten to the bench and was sucking wind and I just looked up and saw him in front putting it in the net. I looked up just in time to see him alone in front of the net, chipping it home."

Henderson recalls the event as a bit fluky. Peter Mahovlich thought the coaches had called him off the ice, so he skated over to the bench. Henderson jumped on and rushed toward the net as Cournoyer gathered the puck along the far boards. Henderson called out for it, hoping for the one-timer as he raced down the slot. Cournoyer's pass eluded him, too far out of the reach of Henderson's right-handed shot, and Henderson fell, sliding into the back boards. He regained his feet as Esposito was whacking the puck at Soviet goaltender Vladislav Tretiak.

"I had gotten up so fast that I was actually right there," Henderson said. "I had the puck right on my stick and I tried to immediately fire it into the corner. And Tretiak got it with his pad. I thought, 'Oh, no!' But the puck came right back to me and Tretiak was down. I had about a foot to put it in and so I buried it in the net, jumped into Cournoyer's arms and have been celebrating for 30 years."

And celebrate a nation did, as well.

Legendary broadcaster Foster Hewitt's simple call of "Henderson has scored for Canada" are the five most famous words uttered in that nation's history. The team was selected Canada's "Team of the Century" in 2000 by The Canadian Press, and Henderson's goal was named "Sports moment of the Century," as well.

The Russians looked around in disbelief. They had blown a commanding 3-1-1 lead in the series on home ice.

"That's what I remember the most," Soviet left wing Alexander Yakushev said. "I felt right away emptiness. Nothing else, just emptiness. It felt like something had been broken in my soul."

The 3,000 Canadian fans at Luzhniki Ice Palace went crazy as the Team Canada players poured onto the ice to mob Henderson. The chant of "Da, da, Canada! Nyet, nyet, Soviet!" rang down from the stands, as it had for much of the four games in Moscow.

"It was a great celebration, but we weren't crazy," Henderson said. "I think we were done, physically, mentally and emotionally. We just sat there and sort of savored it. Then we went back to the hotel and we were going to have a celebration back there, but they had closed all the restaurants on us, so we sat in the hallway with peanut butter and crackers, and a beer. I can't even remember how late we stayed up, that's a mirage now."

The Russians shared a very different fate as the evening of Sept. 28 wore on.

"After the game when we got to the locker room, there wasn't any conversation," Yakushev said. "There wasn't any talk from the Russian officials or coaches. We were all in silence. We didn't even undress. We just sat there in our equipment in silence. We were down."

Time has healed some of the pain. The series is now remembered with pride in Russia, as people realize its significance to the evolution of hockey.

But while the Canadians have a weekend full of activities planned to commemorate their triumph in Game 8, the Russians won't be celebrating this weekend.

"The Russian Federation already had their celebration," 1972 USSR team representative Jan Jdanov said. "They celebrated in the first half of September in the period when they were in Canada. They played Team Canada much better in Canada, that's why they celebrate in the first half of September. Canada celebrates the second half when they played very good in Moscow."

The Soviet team members graciously sent a telegram to the members of Team Canada to be presented at their weekend gathering in suburban Toronto. They recall the Summit Series fondly and realize it's impact on hockey as much as Canadians do.

We congratulate the members of Team Canada '72 and all Canadian hockey fans on the 30th anniversary of the hockey series of 1972 USSR-Canada. As time shows, the interest of the Russian hockey fans to this match with each year grows. It was reflected in all actions, which were dates for this historical sports event in Russia. Analyzing the past and present, we can say, that super series '72 has essentially affected development of hockey in the world. Once again, we congratulate the members of Canada's Team of the Century. Like we mentioned before, you have achieved what any team all over the world can dream only. You guys have brought together the whole nation into one multimillion Team of Fans. You have built Canada's Team of Fans, which will always remember you as Canada's Team of the Century.

The members of the Soviet Hockey Team 1972

People will forever debate the Summit Series' place in hockey history in terms of the quality of play.

"I think until 1972 it was the best, no question," Henderson said. "But I think the 1987 Canada Cup series with Mario Lemieux and Wayne Gretzky was unbelievable hockey, too. I was there, I watched it, and I think that was some of the best hockey I've ever seen. But times change, you see, so it's like comparing apples and oranges. The game changes and so at that point in history, it was the best."

"I don't think the 1972 Summit Series was the greatest quality hockey ever," hockey researcher Joe Pelletier said. "I think 1987 Canada Cup was better and I think the 2002 Olympics were better. But you can never match the '72 Summit Series just because of the off-ice events."

When the members of Team Canada gather in Mississauga, Ontario, this weekend for a reunion on the 30th anniversary of the series, they will recount tales of the magical Summit Series against the Soviet Union 30 years ago. They will recall a time when their hairlines were lower, their waistlines were skinnier and the Cold War was raging, on and off the ice.

More than a few lies will be told. Perhaps they'll inflate their goal totals. Maybe they'll tell a fib or two about their golf handicap. Some may even spin a yarn about a summer fishing trip.

But the truth is they were part of one of the most unforgettable moments in their nation's history. And no matter what tales they tell, not even time can improve that fact.

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