There is a noise a hockey crowd makes a few times a year. It is like a high sustained chord, pounding and jubilant, bouncing back from walls and roof and ice. We heard it then; and as the forechecking went on and the Russians were kept off stride, we heard it again, less than two minutes later, with the tying goal; and again in less than three with the goal that proved to be the winner; and again, diminishing now, more relaxed, with apprehension removed, twice more before the end of the period. The second period was scoreless, but the Russians never hit their early stride again, and in the third Whitby added two more to make the final 7-2.
Yet, as Russia headed out to continue its tour against teams of about the same caliber as Whitby, the scare remained. (Two days later it had scarcely abated after the Russians had held the Windsor Bulldogs to a 5-5 tie). The Russian team was chosen just a week before it came to Canada. Many good players were left behind and will be added later. Russia undoubtedly will improve, Whitby not as much.
And the Russians, even in one-sided defeat, impressed. This wasn't purely on the hockey side. Canadians liked a return to the symbols of sportsmanship, long gone from most hockey that we watch. Before the game, the teams exchanged mementoes and handshakes in center ice. Sid Smith, a 186-goal man in the NHL who recently was released by Toronto to Whitby as playing coach, gave Nicolai Sologubov a silver cup, received a purple pennant in return. And Sologubov, handing out the first heavy body-check of the game, cleared the puck and then turned to help the fallen Whitby player to his feet. Other friendly incidents were repeated through the game.
Later, also, the Russians refused to alibi, on any grounds. The heat of the rink obviously sapped the energy of men used to playing outdoors, or in colder rinks, but they wouldn't admit this. And Coach Antoly Tarasov established a striking new mode for losing coaches in his comment on the refereeing: "Very objective."
The Russians started playing ice hockey seriously only 10 years ago. They are already among the world leaders in speed skating for years. Essentially what they have done so far is to give hockey sticks to speed skaters and teach them the game, a superimposed rather than integrated process.
But now they are starting youngsters of 13 in organized leagues, as Canada does at an even earlier age. In that respect, Roman Kisselev, official interpreter with the team (he stands near the player bench at all times, for emergencies), made perhaps the most significant postgame remark. "It was a good lesson for us," he said. "This is what we came over here for. Your teams can teach us a lot."
To which a Canadian might make wry reply: "That's exactly what we are afraid of."