Roman Kisselev, official interpreter for Soviet Russia's national hockey team, told Wren Blair, manager of the Whitby Dunlops, the company-sponsored club representing Canada: "We have been kidded about getting exiled to Siberia if we lose, but we know you are the ones who can't afford to lose. Your fans just won't tolerate it."
The Russian did not overstate the case by much. In 1954 the Canadian team lost in the world finals to the Russians, and the defeat was blown up into a national calamity. It happened again in the last Winter Olympics at Cortina. So the Canadians had been sent to Norway to win. Every move they made was part of a carefully calculated plan to defeat the Soviet Union on ice. The Whitby roster included two former big league pros ( Sid Smith and Jean Paul Lamirande) who had been reinstated as amateurs.
So now it was a cold clear night in Jordal Amfi Stadium at Oslo, and operation Beat Russia had succeeded. Some 11,500 fans were packed in cramped rows. The cold ate into the bones of those who stood on eight inches of plank during five hours of bitter weather. (The Norwegians frown on the kind of warmth that comes out of a bottle. There's a strict rule that anyone caught with a jug will be escorted out into the parking lot.) The frozen fans showed both patience and respect as they stood in silence while the Canadian ensign moved slowly toward the top of the flagstaff to the strains of O Canada. Harry Sinden, the stocky captain of the Canadian team, felt a tug at his sweater. Looking down, he saw the gold tooth of the grizzled Soviet Captain Nikolai Sologubov gleaming up at him impulsively. Sinden bussed the Russian on his red neck. The crowd roared its approval, because these rivals had been tearing each other apart for at least 40 of 60 nerve-shattering minutes before Canada had captured the big game with the U.S.S.R. 4-2.
The Canadians had punished the Russkies with crashing body checks. But if the Russians were hurt they refused to show it. To confess injury would have been to admit the Canadian strategy was succeeding, for the Canadians had to slow the Moscow express down to their own speed if they hoped to win. What had looked like a comparatively soft touch had turned out to be a grim struggle. On paper, it had seemed easy to figure. In six previous games Canada had rolled up 78 goals against only four. But hockey isn't played on paper. Five minutes after Norway's King Olav took his rail seat, accompanied by his beautiful daughter, Princess Astrid, the Russians were swarming over the Canadians like locusts. This was the period in which the Russians had a chance to run up a score. They got only one goal for their superiority, scored while Canada had a man in the penalty box.
Penalties came close to being the downfall of the hard rocks from Canada. In their eagerness to flag down the U.S.S.R. they resorted to tactics permitted under the Canadian code but frowned on by the International Federation. At one stage of that desperate first period they had two men doing penance while the Reds were at full strength, but the Russians muffed this big opportunity.
Could the Russians maintain their blistering pace for 60 minutes? The answer came early in the second period. Russian skaters got up more slowly when knocked down, Russian raids became less frequent. Canada now was taking command, but scoring opportunities were gummed up by over-anxiety. Burly Ted O'Connor and Charlie Burns, a slender lad with a metal plate in his skull to remind him of an old hockey injury, broke into the clear. They had the Russian goalie, Nikolay Puchkov, at their mercy, but he outguessed them, the puck was blocked and Puchkov overturned the cage to get a breather. Then the Canadians got the break they needed. Nikolai Khlystov, a tiring winger, drew a penalty for tripping. A moment later Bobby Attersley, a blond magician with stick and puck, flipped in the tying goal. The Canadians forged to the front when Former Pro Connie Broden again beat Puchkov, but the Russians still had one punch left. Konstantin Loktev tied the score. But the Canadians were in the driver's seat by this time. Two goals within 25 seconds settled the issue.
Canada had regained her place at the top of the totem pole, but the hockey world had renewed its respect for the Russians. No team ever gave a gamer display or accepted bitter defeat more gracefully.
Off ice the Russians are individualists who like to improvise and experiment with their equipment. Most of them carry an oilstone in their kit. They use it to finish off sharpening their skates. Canadian and American players like their skates rockered to give them greater maneuverability, but the Russians prefer to have the bottom of their skate blade flat. They get greater speed that way. The sticks are manufactured from what the Russians call buk wood, which comes from the Caucasus, and are much lighter than those used by other nations. On the ice, though, the Russians are members of the most mechanical team in Europe. Speed and precision are their trademarks on skates. The friendly, sandy-haired Anatoli Tarasov, their coach, is a military man. The head of all hockey in Russia is also a military man, and the team's play reflects military thinking. When the club's patriarch, 33-year-old Nikolai Sologubov, a junior lieutenant in the Red Army, wheels the puck around the Russian net, he knows without looking that little Vladimir Elizarov is in position at right wing.
Quick breaks from their own zone, with forwards hurtling into enemy territory, are the comrades' main offensive weapons. Then they fan out, with one man always parked in front of the net to interfere with the goalie's vision and harass him as much as possible. Their defense men move down to provide heavy artillery. In Ivan Tregubov, handsome, dark-haired and swarthy, and Genrich Sidorenkov the Russians have two of the hardest shooters in hockey. When Sidorenkov uncorks his favorite slap shot the puck looks like a cough drop as it whizzes toward the unfortunate goalie.
But precision is perfection only to a point. When it becomes a pattern it's liable to be a weakness. Lynn Patrick, general manager of the Boston Bruins, scouting the Oslo games in the hope of picking up big league prospects, said: "Because they're so well trained, they pass without looking. They know there will be a man there to receive it, but they don't know if someone from the other team has sneaked in to make an interception. But if you think I'm knocking them, I'll tell you how much I like them. There are five players on their team who can move up to the Bruins, and there's a commission of $2,500 for anyone who can get either Sologubov or Tregubov into Boston."