Other posts in this series at end of post
When training camp finished, it was only a couple days before the Canadians and Soviets got down to their first game.
Throughout Canada, as we saw in the last episode, there was the high expectation that Canada would dominate the Soviets and easily win.
As the first game approached, the Russians stated that they were impressed by some members of the team. Alexander Maltsev would say in particular that Brad Park, Yvon Cournoyer, Stan Mikita and Phil Esposito impressed him. He would add he was disappointed that Bobby Hull and Bobby Orr would not be playing. He would say quote:
“It would be an honour to play against them because both are considered the stars of pro hockey. They are great sportsmen.”
Yuri Lebedev would say quote:
“They’re really good. They’re as good as I thought they’d be. Just as I had imagined.”
Overall, the Russians were described as having a relaxed confidence with no panic or feeling that their team must win. One player would say quote:
“We just want to play a good level of ice hockey just to show that all the talks leading up to the series were not in vain, that they were fruitful. After the games, all will be quite clear. Only then will it be possible to make comparisons.”
Team Canada itself was ready. Bobby Clarke would say quote:
“I am proud that as a pro hockey player I’ve been given the opportunity to play for something more than money. There’s so much more at stake here. We’re representing our country and finally getting the chance to prove that we are what we believe, the best hockey players in the world.”
Brad Park would say quote:
“There are other things you’re playing for in this. You find out the guys you had feuds with are great, that what you’ve been fighting about has just been part of the game and doesn’t extend off the ice.”
Prior to the game, Canada was the favourite to win the first game by a spread of two-and-a-half goals. Anyone who bet $6 would need Canada to win by three goals in order to win $5.
Bobby Orr would show up prior to the first game and the Russian players began to swarm around him, asking him for his autograph. Orr found the entire incident funny and gladly signed autographs for the Russian players.
On Sept. 2, 1972, game one was held in Montreal in front of 18,818 fans. From the beginning, it was clear there were going to be issues. The Soviets, for example, refused to reveal their lineup until they saw the lineup of Team Canada, which was opposite of what would usually be done for a visiting team.
Eventually, the official scorer in the Montreal Forum had to go and demand the lineup from the Soviets in their dressing room.
The puck would be dropped by Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, who was joined in the stands by former prime minister Lester B. Pearson.
Phil Esposito’s line was given the honour of the opening face-off and this would pay off immediately when Esposito scored for Canada only 30 seconds into the game. This only encouraged Canadian fans in their belief that Canada would dominate the Soviets.
Before long, the Soviets were beginning to break through the Canadian defence but Paul Henderson would score six minutes in to give Canada a two-goal lead.
At this point, Canadian fans were ready to watch a rout, but the Soviets were over whatever jitters they had facing the NHL players and they soon tied the game before the end of the first period.
At this point, the Canadians lost their poise on the ice, and Sinden would say they were running all over the ice to establish their hitting game while the Soviets began to make a long pass to break a man out of the defensive zone, something the Canadians were not used to.
When the Soviet players would get into the offensive zone, the Canadians would drop to the ice to block a shot, only to have the Soviet player skate around them to get a better shot.
Tretiak, who had given up two goals on two shots, found his game and quickly shut the door on the Canadians.
The Soviets would go up 3-2 in the second period quickly, then moved up to 4-2 soon after. Within the Forum, due to a game being played in summer technically, the temperature began to rise and by the end of the second period, it was 46 degrees in some areas of the Forum.
The Soviets played a game of short, quick passes and shooting only when there was a true scoring chance, rather than simply firing at the net.
In the third period, Bobby Clarke scored to bring Canada within one goal and Yvon Cournoyer hit the post on a shot that would have tied the game.
From this point on, the Soviets took over as the exhausted Canadians attempted to keep up with the Soviets who scored three more goals in the third period to win 7-3.
When the game ended, Team Canada refused to shake the hands of the Soviets.
The Montreal Star wrote quote:
“A funny thing happened at the Forum on Saturday night. Team Canada lost, and the score wasn’t close.”
Back in Russia though, the victory was celebrated as the Soviets drew first blood in the Summit Series.
Sinden would say quote:
“I was stunned by their performance. They beat us in almost every department. They outplayed us in goaltending, shooting, passing, in bodychecking, forechecking, backchecking and sportsmanship.”
Claude Ruel, a former coach for the Montreal Canadiens said quote:
“They are always moving, never standing around, they head-man the puck as well as anyone has ever done — and they always seem to be in the right place.”
Ken Dryden would say quote:
“We didn’t play our game at all. After they tied it up, we started playing a panic type of game. Sometimes there were five men going for the puck at once.”
Bobby Clarke said quote:
“One game is worth at least 20 practices. When you are tired after 30 seconds in a scrimmage you coast for a half minute to regain your breath and then go again. In the games you can’t, not against these guys. You’re beat in 30 seconds. That is it.”
Montreal mayor Jean Drapeau said quote:
“Hockey is like politics. It is a game of teamwork. And when a team doesn’t play with team spirit and togetherness, that’s the result. It is not because our players were not good. It is because maybe their physical condition was not as good as that of the Soviet players.”
Harold Ballard would lose $650 after he bet that Canada would win by three goals.
Issues began to appear with the organization of the games and logistics around this time. One issue was that most veteran sportswriters from across North America were forced to pay for their own seats, rather than be provided seats. As well, the Toronto hotel assigned to the Russians did not have rooms reserved for them when they arrived. The press was also barred from entering the dressing rooms at any time.
The Windsor Star wrote quote:
“Why did our hockey’s finest behave like spoiled brats in the concluding toils of Saturday’s ignominious defeat? This writer is appalled and dismayed at the over-organized confusion and directionless leadership on the part of the people in charge of Team Canada and Hockey Canada.”
NHL president Clarence Campbell would say of the entire series that there would never again be a team organized as a group of All-Stars on the international level again. He stated quote:
“There is no way we’re ever going to have an all-star team that plays together all the time as the Russians do now. I just can’t visualize this type of all-star team being put together again.”
Two days later, the second game of the Summit Series was played at Maple Leaf Gardens. Before the game, former prime minister Lester B. Pearson presented the Lester B. Pearson trophy to Jean Ratelle.
Howie Meeker would say of what Team Canada needed to do, stating quote:
“Team Canada has got to play the National Hockey League way. If they go out and they try to win 1-0, then they’ll win 4-1.”
To prepare for the game, Coach Sinden scratched Ken Dryden, Rod Gilbert, Vic Hadfield and several others. For Hadfield, the scratch hit hard as his hometown was Toronto. In all, seven of the 17 players were switched to provide a more defensive lineup.
Hitting the ice would be Serge Savard, Pat Stapleton, Bill White, Stan Mikita, Wayne Cashman and Tony Esposito would go in net.
Sinden said he made the changes to quote:
“Get the diggers into the game and grind the Russians down. We had went for speed and quickness in our first lineup, yet the Russians were still faster and quicker.”
Red Fisher with the Montreal Star wrote quote:
“Have the numbers seven and three, which is the score by which the Soviet Nationals overwhelmed Team Canada, been gnawing at your innards for the last couple days? Try nine. Nine, that’s the number of changes Team Canada is putting on the ice in an attempt to turn around The Embarrassment tonight.”
Even before the game, bookies still had Canada as a favourite, with the spread being two goals for Canada, a decline of only half a goal from the first game.
Team Canada was prepared for the second game and while the first period was scoreless, Canada focused on hitting the Soviets hard and getting them off their game.
Esposito scored to open the scoring in the second period. Yvan Cournoyer would bring Canada up 2-0 in the third period but the Soviets came back to make it 2-1.
Peter Mahovlich would score a shorthanded goal to take Canada up 3-1, while his brother Frank scored to make it 4-1.
In the game, Team Canada took five of the nine penalties but Valary Kharlamov was given a 10 minute misconduct for brushing against the referee while arguing a minor call. While he was off the ice, Canada scored three goals. Harold Ballard was so impressed with Kharlamov that he stated he would pay $1 million for him to play for the Maple Leafs.
With that win, the series was tied at one.
Harry Sinden would say quote:
“We found out a lot by losing Saturday night. We played a much closer checking game and a little more sensible. Those were the key factors tonight.”
After the game Phil Esposito would say quote:
“This is bigger than winning the Stanley Cup. This is as excited as I’ve ever been in my life.”
He would add on how the team was coming together, stating quote:
“The game Saturday was a conditioner for us and by the third period tonight we seemed to be getting over the hump. After two games now, we’re pretty close to being in condition and this is going to make a big difference.”
Ted Blackman of the Montreal Gazette would say that the team had improved greatly over the previous game. He wrote quote:
“Every aspect of Team Canada’s game was improved. Which wasn’t hard to do. But few expected Sinden’s club to attain this level of efficiency in so short a time, including the rats who jumped ship at the first.”
The Soviet coaches would blame the officiating for the loss, stating that the American referees let the Canadians get away with everything.
Andrei Starovoitov, the head of the Soviet Hockey Federation, would charge at the door of the official’s dressing room and kicked chairs over.
He would say quote:
“The second game saw much power play and the American referees often ignored violations of rules by the Canadians. But the moment the Soviet star player, Valery Kharlamov, asked a referee why his partner had been sent to the penalty box, he was ordered off the ice for 10 minutes.”
The two referees, Frank Larsen and Steve Dowling, were supposed to ref game four in Vancouver but they would be replaced by the referees who were the refs for game one, and would ref game three as well.
Information from Canadian Encyclopedia, CBC, Montreal Gazette, Wikipedia, Vancouver Province, Montreal Star, Red Deer Advocate, Windsor Star, Sault Star, Vancouver Sun,