The Summit Series (Part Five): Games Three and Four

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Links to other parts of this eight-part series at end of this post.

After tying the series 1-1, Canada was back on track to believing that Team Canada was going to dominate the series. It was the hope that the team had found its legs and would soon run away with the games.

Of course, that was not the case and the Soviets were quick to learn and adapt to the changing Canadian game.

The Soviets had felt that they had strayed too far into playing the Canadian style, as a team of individuals, rather than their tight team style.

Bookies had Canada the favourite by two goals, the same spread that was seen for the previous game.

With Canada having won the second game, Coach Harry Sinden went with the same lineup for game two, except that Jean Ratelle was replacing Bill Goldsworthy. The Soviets decided to reunite the line of Alexander Bodunov, Yuri Lebedev and Viachaslav Anisin. This would be a major decision for the Soviets that would pay off.

This game would take place at Winnipeg Arena on Sept. 6.

At 1:54 in the first period, Canada opened the scoring in the game. Once again, the Canadians were out to a fast lead, having scored the opening goal for the third time in three games. Then, less than two minutes later, the Soviets tied the game after Frank Mahovlich had a giveaway.

By the end of the first period, thanks to a goal by Ratelle, Canada was up 2-1 in the game but the team was beginning to play sloppy but their hard hitting play helped keep the Soviets from putting too many goals in the net and fans were confidence that the Canadians would be winning the game.

Canada would increase its lead to 3-1 with a goal by Wayne Cashman off a pass from Phil Esposito.

The Soviets were not about to be left behind and they soon moved to within one goal with superstar Kharlamov scoring after going on a breakaway and putting the puck past Esposito. This was the second short handed goal of the game for the Soviets, and their third of the series so far.

Canada was able to make it 4-2 after a goal by Paul Henderson. Then, the Youngsters Line of Yuri Lebedev, Vyacheslav Anisin and Alexander Bodunov scored twice to tie the game before the end of the second period. The line would display the first real indication of emotion among the Soviets when they leaped in the air and hugged each other to celebrate the goal.

After the game, Sinden would say quote:

“They put out that young line we hadn’t seen before and they dominated us.”

The Toronto Star wrote quote:

“This threesome was lifted from the Soviet team which won the hockey championship of the World Student Games at Lake Placid last winter.”

The Calgary Herald wrote of the line quote:

“The youngsters owned the puck whenever they were on the ice and Canadian goaltender Tony Esposito was hardpressed to hold them off the scoreboard in the final period.”

After two periods, the score was tied but Canada had outshot the Soviets 32-17.

The third period would have no goals and since there was no provision for overtime, the game finished 4-4 and the series was now at 1-1-1. The game was nearly won by the Soviets with only 13 seconds left when Alexander Maltsev shot the puck from 20 feet to the left of Tony Esposito. Esposito was screened and had trouble seeing the puck, but in the last second he made the save while his brother was trying to check Maltsev during the shot.

Maltsev would say to Esposito quote:

“You could have won, but you almost lost.”

Esposito responded quote:

“We should have won but we’re damn happy to settle for a draw.”

Years later, Paul Henderson would say quote:

“We felt we should have won. We had a couple of breakdowns in the second period. They jumped on them and we might have gotten a little complacent.”

Bobby Clarke would say quote:

“In Toronto, the emotions were so high and they carried us. In Winnipeg, the emotions were just as high, but we weren’t in condition to play at that level. It caught up to us.”

Assistant Coach John Ferguson would say that Team Canada was too overconfident. He would state quote:

“I was fooled again. I felt that after we had taken a 3-1 lead, the final score might be something like 7-1. But those two shorthanded goals. When you score one shorthanded goal, it can turn it all around, but two, that is almost fatal.”

Coach Sinden, for his part, did not criticize the players after the game to the media. Instead, he praised the play of the Soviets. He would say they could compete with the best of the NHL, including the juggernaut of the Boston Bruins.

With the series tied still, things moved to Vancouver and the Pacific Coliseum.

Sinden would replace Esposito with Ken Dryden in goal and Serge Savard was out of the game due to fracturing his ankle in practice.

Things did not get off to a good start after Bill Goldsworthy had two consecutive penalties. On both penalties, Boris Mikhailov scored powerplay goals and the Soviets were up 2-0 by the end of the first period.

In the second period, Gilbert Perreault scored on Vladislav Tretiak to bring Canada within one, but the Soviets answered back with a goal less than a minute later. For only 57 seconds in the entire game, Canada would trail the Soviets by one.

Rod Gilbert would soon score, but it was disallowed and while the Canadians protested the call, the goal remained off the board. As it turned out, this would be the turning point of the game, at least according to Coach Sinden.

The Soviets were soon up 4-1 after two periods. In the third period, Goldsworthy would score a goal to make up for the two goals he cost Canada with his penalties.

The fans were becoming restless and would yell at Goldsworthy when he was on the ice, and whenever Dryden made a routine save, he would be jeered by fans.

Canada would be within two when the score was 4-2 but the Soviets scored to make it 5-2.

A late goal by Dennis Hull made it 5-3 but the game was soon over and Canada now found itself behind in the series.

Sinden would put the blame for the loss on several players, but others would specifically point out that Dryden was shaky in goal and that the Soviet tactic of cross-ice passes in the attacking zone caused problems for him in net.

When the game was over, Team Canada was booed off the ice in what was the last game in Canada before the series moved to Moscow.

Bill Walker with the Vancouver Sun wrote quote:

“Suddenly, it is now or maybe never for Team Canada. It could be that serious a situation for the National Hockey League All-Stars without too much dispute before the month is out even. Because right now, it appears that Russia has conned the world and plays the best ice hockey anywhere.”

As it turned out, this would be the turning point for the series in many eyes and when Phil Esposito emerged as the true leader of the team in the eyes of Canadians. His post-game interview speech would become the stuff of legend.

Brad Park would say of the booing quote:

“We get nothing, not a dime for this. Brother, I’m sick.”

Dryden would say quote:

“I’m disappointed, but I can understand it. The fans wanted us to do real good, and they’re frustrated we didn’t. I didn’t think I deserved to be booed. Tretiak frustrated us but I guess I didn’t frustrate them enough.”

Goldsworthy would say he was ashamed to be Canadian and that he was looking forward to playing in Moscow. He stated quote:

“It is a good thing all eight games aren’t in Canada. Would USSR fans treat their team that way? I don’t think players in Russia are going to get booed like we got booed here.”

Paul Henderson said years later quote:

“We really looked forward to Vancouver. We figured if we won that one we’d be in good shape. But they got two powerplay goals in the first seven or eight minutes and they took us right out of the game.”

The players, and fans, would consider the game in Vancouver to be the rock bottom point for Canada. Bobby Clarke would say quote:

“We weren’t in condition to play at that kind of level physically. We were lousy in Vancouver. It was like the bottom dropped out.”

Coach Sinden said quote:

“We were never in the game. They just took control and as hard as we tried, we seemed to get a little worse all the time.”

The Toronto Star said of the game quote:

“Last night, they hit bottom. Their worst effort of the four games. The irony of their ineptitude was that the Russians were ready to be taken. Except for Tretiak, their slender bride-groom goaler, they didn’t play up their previous high standards.”

Overall, there was little in the way of sympathy for the Canadians. John Robertson, who was travelling with Team Canada for the Montreal Star, would write quote:

“I don’t blame the Canadians for being bitter and frustrated. I do blame them for being so narrow-minded that they couldn’t understand that maybe the fans were bitter and frustrated too. All of Canadian hockey is suffering from a badly ruptured ego today. There is no way back for Team Canada in this series. They’ll be lucky to win one game, let alone three out of four they’ll need to come out on top. As of today, the Russians are No. 1 and we are Brand X.”

With the game over, the series was suspended for two weeks. The Soviets would go home to play in a tournament, while the Canadian players took a few days off and then went to Sweden to play two exhibition games before going to Moscow.

When Canada left for Europe, only a handful of fans were there to see them off.

The Star wrote quote:

“In Canadian hockey, things are never going to be quite the same again.”

That would very much prove to be the case.

Information from Canadian Encyclopedia, Macleans, NHL.com, Toronto Star, Wikipedia, Calgary Herald, Montreal Star,

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