The Summit Series (Part Three): Training Camp Begins

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The team had been chosen, people were angry over the exclusion of various NHL players like Dave Keon, and WHA players like Bobby Hull, but overall the country was excited for the series and sure of winning.

Conn Smythe would weigh in stating quote:

“Hull, in 15 years, has been on one Stanley Cup team. Mahovlich has been on five and holds the series record for goals scored and points made in a Stanley Cup playoff.”

The players in the NHL were considered to be the best in the world, and for good reason, they were among the best in the world. This North American-centric view disregarded the European players who were just as skilled, and in the cases of some players, even more skilled.

The public consensus in Canada was that the Soviets were simply no match for the Canadians and most expected that the Canadians would not even be challenged in the series.

Coach Harry Sinden would say quote:

“Canada is first in the world in two things, hockey and wheat.”

Alan Eagleson would say quote:

“We gotta win in eight games. Anything less than an unblemished sweep of the Russians would bring shame down on the heads of the players and the national pride.”

The Soviets, not wanting to show their hand, simply stated they were going to use the series to learn. It was part of their strategy to ensure that the Canadians did not know exactly just how good the team was.

In a Hockey News poll, most of the hockey analysists stated that the Soviets would not win a single game. One journalist for The Globe and Mail stated he would eat his column stating that the Soviets wouldn’t win a game, shredded in a bowl of borscht at high noon on the steps of the Russian Embassy.

When the analysts and experts did give the Soviets some chance, it was always only winning one game.

Jacques Plante, who had not been offered a spot on the team, likely due to the fact that he was 43 but only three years removed from his last Vezina, would give advice to Vladislav Tretiak in the hope that the Soviets wouldn’t bee too embarrassed. He would say he was quote:

“Thinking of the humiliation he was almost certain to suffer.”

In a piece published in the Windsor Star, he would write quote:

“I believe Russia’s best will beat Canada’s best in hockey eventually. But not this year. I doubt if the Russians will win a single game next month in The Great Confrontation, either in Canada or in Russia.”

Plante believed that Russia would beat Canada’s best in 10 years time.

Tom Keenan of the Sault Star would say the same, stating that the Russians will learn fast. He would write quote:

“Get ready to laugh. However, five years from now, I hope you can still laugh at what I am about to say. Team Canada will defeat Russia in this year’s long-awaited hockey confrontation, but in five years, Russia will be the hockey power of the world.”

He was of course, very wrong. While we all know how the 1972 series turned out, the Russians would win the 1974 Summit Series

The only game that Team Canada scouted Tretiak at, he gave up eight goals. What was ignored was that the game was played the day before his wedding.

Even Plante predicted eight straight wins for Canada.

Bob Davidson and John McLellan, the scouts for Canada, would only spend four days in Russia in August. To them, the Soviets looked like a team of outclassed amateurs and they believed Tretiak to be the weak link of the team.

We know now that Tretiak was not only not a weak link, but one of the greatest goalies in the history of hockey. A future Hall of Famer, and one of six players named to the IIHF Centennial All-Star Team, he was anything but weak.

Today, it is believed that the Soviets downplayed their skill when the Canadians were watching in an effort to give them a false sense of security. The Soviet team was a finely tuned machine of hockey, and anything but an outclassed group of amateurs.

Of course, there were some who said that it would not be easy. John Robertson with the Montreal Star stated that Canada was not prepared for the series. He would say quote:

“This, the most important hockey event of our time, has been tacked onto the front of the NHL season as something only tolerated by the owners and endorsed by the players as a means of enriching their pension plans.”

He would add quote:

“Ask me who I like in the forthcoming Canada-Russia hockey series? Canada. Now ask me who is going to win? Russia. I don’t think it will be close. The Al Eagleson All-Stars will be fortunate to split the four games played in Canada and they won’t even come close to winning one in Russia.”

He would predict Russia would win the series 6-2.

At the time, NHL players didn’t typically work out during the summer. It was not the year-long fitness regime we see in the NHL today. In most cases, NHL players actually had jobs in the summer to boost up their yearly pay. They would only begin to get in shape for the season as training camp approached.

Billy Harris, who had spent 14 years in the NHL and now coached the Swedish national team and had seen the Soviets many times, said that the Soviets would win and it would be because of the goaltending of Tretiak.

As training camp began, the focus was on scoring goals, with little put on defence. For the players, it was about how many goals they were going to score against the Soviets and few worried about how Ken Dryden or Tony Esposito would play. Training camp would run for three weeks in total before arriving in Montreal on Aug. 31 for the first game to happen only in a few days time.

Serge Savard, who was on the team stated quote:

“All through training camp, I don’t think we really put enough emphasis on defence. All the time, it was goals, goals. How many goals are we going to beat them by?”’

Among the players, Ken Dryden was the one to warn everyone that they should not take the Russians lightly. Dryden had played with Canada’s amateur team three years previous against the Soviets. He would say quote:

“You must remember that a North American will appraise the Russians using his own standards. Just because a North American says the Russians pass too much, that doesn’t necessarily mean it is so. It may be true in our judgement but the Russian could still be right.”

None of the players were in particular a fan of training camp, especially Phil Esposito who fell twice on the first day of training camp. Pete Mahovlich would say of the first day and the fatigue he felt quote:

“Yea, you bet I was surprised. I’m sure a lot of them have been skating. The ice wasn’t very good.”

Training camp would also be a bit dangerous. Brad Park had to be taken off on a stretcher after he took a puck to the face on a Dennis Hull slapshot during a scrimmage. Later that day, Stan Mikita was checked after he hurt his shoulder, which had been an old injury for him. Both Brad Park and Stan Mikita would be able to play in the series.

Early on in the series, a leader began to emerge from the players and one who would have a huge impact on Canada’s success in the series. Ironically, it was the man who complained about leaving his hockey school to be on Team Canada.

Coach Sinden would say quote:

“I’ll tell you who’s a pretty good leader. Esposito. Esposito always has had leadership qualities. Maybe you don’t’ see it too much with Bobby Orr on the ice, but Esposito can lead by performance and by what he says in the dressing room.”

Sinden would also say that Mikita was a leader on the team as well.

Overall, players were enthusiastic during training camp, having fun with players they had competed against for years but who were now all united in a common cause to win the series for Canada.

Tony Esposito would say that both sides in the scrimmages looked quote:

“a little rusty but the timing is coming. The shooting is really good.”

Rod Gilbert would say quote:

“I think we’re going to be more dedicated than in a normal training camp. It is all a matter of individual pride.”

During training camp, the NHL Board of Governors also agreed that during the eight-game series, separate flights would be used for the players so that all the players were not on one plane. This was done to avert a disaster in the NHL if a plane crashed, taking out the majority of the star players in the NHL.

Sinden would immediately squash this idea. He said quote:

“What they’re asking is impossible. It was difficult enough splitting them in two for some flights.”

In training camp, the line of Bobby Clarke, Ron Ellis and Paul Henderson impressed the coaches enough that they would earn a place in the starting lineup. As it turned out, Clarke and Henderson would be a vital reason for Canada eventually winning the series.

Coach Sinden would say that he wished he had more time for training camp to get everyone in shape for the games, especially considering that the Russians were seen to be in great shape.

The Soviets had arrived in Montreal on Aug. 30 and stayed at the Queen Elizabeth Hotel where they began to train twice a day at the St. Laurent Arena. To prepare for the games in Montreal, the team had been training on Montreal time for two weeks while they were still in the Soviet Union. With the team were 15 forwards, nine defencemen and three goaltenders.

Excitement was at a fever pitch in Canada, especially for the games within Canada. Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau announced he would be attending the game in Montreal and the game in Toronto. Joining him in Toronto would be Premier Bill Davis of Ontario. Having the two men in the game meant 98 tickets had to be put aside for staff and security.

It was also going to be a big payday in terms of revenue for advertising for the televised games. The going price for one minute in the Summit Series was $27,000, or about $187,000 today. Typically, a minute on Canadian television at the time cost $4,000, and even the Stanley Cup Final or the Grey Cup only brought in $13,000 per minute. By the end of August, $2.2 million in advertising had been sold, comprising 88 per cent of the budget of the Summit Series.

Tickets went on sale on Aug. 10 for the Montreal Forum game, with 12,000 being issued. Not all would go to fans. About 7,000 tickets went to Hockey Canada for various individuals such as officials, politicians, dignitaries, embassy officials, the Soviets and more. The rest went to regular people, who paid $7 for a ticket. Season ticket owners in Montreal were not given precedence to ensure anyone could attend the games.

All of the players on the team would also be insured for $200,000 each to cover them for injury, or even in the event of a plane crash that killed the entire team. Expenses for Team Canada also amounted to $450,000, with an estimated $175,000 going to player expenses, $150,000 for travel, $50,000 for equipment and wardrobes and $65,000 for salaries for the coaching staff.

One person who was not excited, oddly, was co-captain of Team Canada Frank Mahovlich. He would say on Aug. 14 at the start of training camp, quote:

“Funny, I was a lot more excited about this when it was first announced than I am right now. Here we are making what I consider history, even if this becomes an annual affair, there’s only one opening series. I thought I’d be a lot more excited than I am now. I suppose that once we start skating and getting close to the actual series, things will change. I’m sure they will.”

The last bit of business before the start of the Summit Series was who was going to call the English language play-by-play. For many, there was no question who should do it, Foster Hewitt.

For 40 years, Hewitt was the voice of Hockey Night in Canada, and was the man who popularized the phrase “he shoots, he scores!”

The decision was made to bring Hewitt out of retirement so he could call the historic series. While it may seem perfectly logical to have him call the series today, back then there was some who were not happy about it. Many in Montreal preferred Danny Gallivan to call the series.

Johnny Esaw, sports director for CTV, would say quote:

“He may not be the best in some people’s opinion but in the view of the historic significance of this series, I thought he was the only man for the job. Besides, the sponsors didn’t want to be represented by Hockey Night In Canada images.”

As for Bobby Orr, he would come to camp and play in some scrimmages but it was clear that he was not going to play. Sinden would say quote:

“Never count Bobby out if he makes up his mind to something.”

While Orr’s mind was willing, his body simply was not going to let it happen.

Information from Canadian Encyclopedia, Montreal Star, Macleans, Wikipedia, Kingston Whig Standard, Windsor Star, Edmonton Journal, Sault Star, Victoria Times Colonist, Montreal Star, Regina Leader-Post,

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