The Summit Series (Part Six): Games Five And Six

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The Soviets were up 2-1-1 in the first four games of the Summit Series. Canadians were shocked to find that the Soviets were anything other than a pushover on the ice, and Team Canada itself was trying to solve the riddle that was the Soviets.

For the players, leaving Canada would come as a blessing as they were able to get away from the spotlight and begin to focus on coming together as a team and overcoming adversity.

With the series now moving to Moscow, there would be two weeks as players rested and then took on Sweden for two games. Those two games would turn out to become a vital part of the legend that would become the 1972 Summit Series.

The players on Team Canada were behind in the series, but they were beginning to come together as a team. Many of the players on the team had played against each other for years and for some there was a real hatred. All of that had to be overcome for the team to win.

During the hiatus, the teams would begin to practice so that they could plan for how the Soviets would play. This meant that the 35 players were split into two teams. One side would play as Canada, the other would play with the tactics of the Soviets.

Rod Gilbert said quote:

“We practiced against that and we got more familiar as we went along.”

On Sept. 16, Team Canada played its first game against Sweden, defeating them by a score of 4-1 and outshooting the Swedes 34 to 24. The game was anything but pleasant, with 12 penalties, which included eight against Canada. Wayne Cashman would need 50 stitches on his tongue after the game after Ulf Sterner slashed him.

Two days later on Sept. 18, Canada was up 2-1 in the third period but the game would finish 4-4 thanks to a goal late in the game to tie it for Canada after they fell behind.

The games were not seen as important back in Canada, but they would become incredibly important for Team Canada.

Rod Gilbert would say quote:

“In Sweden, we became more of a team. Don’t forget, that we played against each other all these years, guys like Esposito, Cashman, Cournoyer and Savard. It was hard. Now we were all on the same team. It was desperation, we had to get our act together and play as a unit, rather than as individuals. They were teaching us a hockey lesson like we had never seen.”

The two games allowed Canada to get their legs into game shape. Paul Henderson would say quote:

“Once we got on the bigger ice in Sweden, by that time we had skated 10 to 12 days, maybe two weeks, and we got our legs.”

In the days leading up to Game 5, Team Canada began to analyze the Soviet rinks, which were very different from what they were used to. The rink was wider, and it had fish netting draped over the ends of the rink above the boards instead of glass. A puck was also considered in play if it hit the netting, which was strung tight and would send a puck back onto the ice at nearly the same speed it had hit the net at.

On Sept. 22, Team Canada took on the Soviets for the fifth game of the series. At the arena, Team Canada found that despite how some fans were mad at them, many others still supported them. Of the 15,000 people gathered at the arena in Moscow, 3,000 were Canadians who had made the trip to the Soviet Union for the game. Several members of Team Canada would say later, that those 3,000 fans that travelled to Moscow were why Canada won the series.

Tickets were hard enough to get for the trip and the games that even Maurice Richard was told he would only get tickets to two of the four games.

On top of that, tens of thousands of telegrams of support were sent to the players from Canadians.

For Team Canada, that support would help lift them up as they attempted to get the series back on track and in their favour.

One letter of support came from Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau who told the team quote:

“We’re with you all of us. Get in there and win. We are 22 million supporting you.”

Of course, not all the cards were nice. One to Wayne Cashman said quote:

“If you love your country, go jump in the Moscow River and let the hockey players play good hockey.”

Before the game, Harry Sinden spoke of the change for Team Canada, stating quote:

“We are underdogs now. That is one of the reasons we should play better.”

In the pregame introduction, Jean Ratelle, the captain for the game, was given the traditional gift of bread, and all the players received red and white carnations. This would lead to a funny situation when Phil Esposito skated to receive a flower but his skate blade hit a flower stem on the ice, sending him down to the ice. Esposito laughed at the fall and bowed to the spectators.

This game showed that things were beginning to change for Team Canada. With goals by Clarke, Parise and Henderson, the team was up 3-0 by the end of the second period. The Soviets would bounce back with a goal in the third, but Henderson scored to make it 4-1. Then, the Soviets laid down a major attack, scoring four straight goals over five minutes, including two goals eight seconds apart, to take a 5-4 lead.

Henderson would be hurt in the third period, but would return to play in time to score his second goal of the game.

The Soviets would win the game by that score, and they would take a 3-1-1 lead.

The Canadians in the stand did not boo Team Canada this time. Instead, they sang O Canada as the team left the ice. Clarke would say quote:

“It was a long, long way from home, and having those people there was comforting.”

After the game, Coach Harry Sinden stormed into the coache’s room and threw a cup of coffee against the wall.

While the team had played better, they needed to win all three games that remained in the series, in Moscow, to win the series. At the same time, budding superstar Gilbert Perreault left the team after Game 5 to focus on the upcoming NHL season. As well, the supplies of beef, milk and beer that the Canadians had shipped from Canada had been stolen and were now being sold to the guests of the same hotel that the Canadians were staying at.

Through the night after the game, people would call the rooms of the Canadians to keep them up and get them off their game.

Gilbert would say quote:

“We lost the first game in Moscow. We had a 3-0 lead. We got together afterward and said we weren’t going to lose another game. We had to fight the referees and everyone else. They tried to distract us. It really united the team.”

Assistant Coach John Ferguson agreed with that assessment, stating quote:

“We played 50 minutes of hockey, but you’ve got to play 60 minutes against this club.”

Heading into Game 6, most probably did not think that it was going to be a turning point for Canada. It was likely that it was seen as the game that the Soviets would officially win the series. That was not to be the case though, as Canada was ready to take back the series and the title for hockey supremacy.

The Soviets were unhappy with the 3,000 fans who were cheering for Canada during Game 5, and they would break up the visitor section and scatter the fans around the building. All this did was cause the Canadian fans to cheer louder.

Throughout the first period, no one was able to score and Ken Dryden stood on his head, stopping 12 shots as Canada killed off three powerplays.

It would not be until 1:12 into the second that the Soviets opened the scoring. This time though, Canada was not about to lose its confidence.

During a lapse by the Soviets, Canada roared back to score three goals in only one-and-a-half minutes, taking a 3-1 lead. Dennis Hull scored to tie it, Yvon Cournoyer scored the go-ahead goal and Paul Henderson put in the third goal on a 30-foot slapshot.

By the end of the second, the score was 3-2.

For Brad Park and Ken Dryden, two players who had not been playing at their peak during the series, this was the game they would put in a solid effort and play their first big game. The Canadians were also able to hold the Soviets to only one powerplay goal, despite the Soviets getting many more powerplays than the Canadians. Through the game, Canada had received 31 minutes in penalties, while the Soviets had only four. The Canadians were able to even shut down a two minute, two-man advantage for the Soviets when Phil Esposito was called for a high sticking major and the bench was given a minor for protesting the call.

Rather than rely on the dump and chase method they had previously, they kept possession going into the offensive zone.

Commentator Brian Conacher would say quote:

“For the first time, the Soviets had opened the door a crack and Team Canada had rushed through like a freight train.”

One thing that was done in Game 6 that would likely turn the tide of the series was Canada focused heavily on Soviet superstar Valeri Kharlamov. Anytime there was a chance, Kharlamov was ridden into the boards. Brad Park focused on him especially, and in the second, Kharlamov knocked down Bobby Clarke, which proved to be a bad move. Clarke rubbed his glove in the face of Kharlamov to cause him to lose his temper, and the two began to fight. Other players would harass Kharlamov including Peter Mahovlich giving him an elbow.

Then came the event known simply as The Slash. It occurred when Clarke raced down the ice to catch Kharlamov who was skating into the offensive zone. He then slashed Kharlamov on the ankle, injuring it and, some believe, fracturing it. Clarke was given a minor penalty and a 10-minute misconduct, while Kharlamov went to the dressing room. Kharlamov would return to play, and nearly scored on the powerplay, but he would be severely changed in his play for the rest of the series.

Kharlamov would say quote:

“Bobby Clarke was given the job of taking me out of the game.”

John Ferguson, assistant coach of Team Canada would say to this quote:

“I remember that Kharlamov’s ankle was hurting pretty bad. I called Clarke over to the bench, looked over at Kharlamov and said, I think he needs a tap on the ankle. Don’t think twice about it. It was Us versus Them, and Kharlamov was killing us. I mean, somebody had to do it.”

In 2006, Clarke would say he was unaware of the sore ankle, and didn’t remember Ferguson telling him to go after Kharlamov.

He said quote:

“We were going for the puck together, he pushed me with the stick, then turned around and skated away. I caught up with him and hit him on the leg, not thinking at all where and how I hit. I could hit them on the leg, but don’t forget that they did the same things to me. I am all for fairness, so the players who play tough hockey have to be prepared to get the same thing back. And I was ready for that. Soviet hockey had no fights so the players used other methods to get the point across. Like a little bit of ‘stick work’ here and there, you know. And I personally don’t mind this. I am a tough player and I respect toughness in others. But if I am poked with a stick I will do the same. We just had to adapt to the new ways of doing things, that’s all.”

In Canada, people were divided about the incident. Some saw it as retribution for what the Soviets were doing to the Canadians on the ice and not getting called, others would consider it a dirty play. Opinion is divided on whether or not it had an outcome on the series. Kharlamov had been one of the best players for the Soviets, but he would miss game seven and while he played in game eight, he was not at 100 per cent.

The refereeing in the game remained a topic of discussion and many felt that the refs were aiding the Soviets. It didn’t help matters that after the game, the referees shook hands with the Soviet players, but did not shake the hands of the Canadian players.

Coach Sinden would say quote:

“Those were two of the worst officials I have ever seen handle a hockey game at any time in my career.”

Jim Coleman wrote quote:

“In case you doubt that the officials were biased you should have seen the charming little scene at the conclusion of the game. In the great traditions of Soviet diplomacy, Russian team captain Alexander Ragulin skated over to both referees and shook them warmly by the hand. Some of the Canadian players, who noticed Ragulin’s noble gesture, skated back to the referees, grinning sardonically as they held out their hands. The referees, both of whom at least had the grace to blush violently, declined to accept the Canadian peace offering.”

Clarke would say of the whole matter quote:

“In Moscow we played much better than in Canada. We were almost equal to the Soviet team physically by then, we passed much better, we shot the puck much better, we became faster and played better on defence. Besides, when you have nothing to lose, it is easier to play. And after the fifth game we had nothing to lose.”

Rod Gilbert would say of the win, quote:

“The most important thing was the psychological power that derived from not wanting to be what my brother called a bunch of bums and a disgrace to my country. We didn’t want to lose. We couldn’t have come back to Canada.”

As for the two West German referees, they would be replaced and not used again for the rest of the series.

Information from, Canadian Encyclopedia, Wikipedia, Macleans, Montreal Gazette, Montreal Star, Ottawa Citizen, Regina Leader-Post, Edmonton Journal

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