All episodes in this series at bottom of this post.
Canada had won, the country was celebrating, and the players were returning as conquering heroes. Before they arrived home though, there was an exhibition game against the Czech team, which they tied 3-3.
Arriving a couple days before the team were the 3,000 fans who had made the trip to Moscow to cheer on Team Canada. They had taken a 12 hour flight to get home and were happy to be back in Canada. Frank Lajambe would say,
“That is sure one police state over there. Everywhere you looked, there were policemen. A group of us counted 63 policemen in front of us at the game. We don’t know how many were beside or behind us.”
Ken Maslen said that the fans yelled themselves hoarse, and they did it to give the team encouragement and to help them win. He would add,
“It wasn’t the best food, but you have to remember, we didn’t pay the top prices. As for adults, there was plenty of vodka and champagne if they wanted it.”
Each person had paid $650 for two excursion tickets to Moscow and everyone felt that it was worth it.
One person who was not happy about Team Canada was Wilder Penfield, the surgeon who many Canadians today know for the “I smell burnt toast” Heritage Minute. He cancelled a trip to the Soviet Union where he was going to attend a Soviet Academy of Science’s jubilee session because he was embarrassed by the behaviour of Team Canada. He would say,
“I was saddened and shamed by the behaviour of our team on the ice in the first and last games, when the players were defeated and when they won. Some of them were childish, unsportsmanlike and unmannerly. They have done a good deal of harm to the image of Canada throughout the world.”
As the team landed in Montreal, they were greeted by upwards of 20,000 people who had come out to welcome them home. Many compared it to when The Beatles had arrived in Canada almost a decade previous. Also on hand to welcome the team home was Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, who had taken time off from campaigning to see the team. He would gain some major photo opportunities when he was hauled up onto the fire truck the team was on by Peter Mahovlich and Bobby Clarke. In the fire truck, Team Canada and Pierre Trudeau made a tour of the terminal building as the red lights flashed and people cheered. Trudeau was also presented with an autographed stick, by all 35 members of the team. It had taken John Ferguson seven weeks to get all the players to sign it. Although it wasn’t supposed to be given to Trudeau. Ferguson would say,
“It was my lifelong souvenir. I’m holding it when suddenly Serge Savard grabs it out of my hand and says ‘Mr. Prime Minister, look what Ferguson brought back for you.’ What could I say? In return, Trudeau autographed my passport.”
Bill Goldsworthy, who had criticized Canadians over the booing of the team after the game in Vancouver, would change his mind about the fans, stating that Canadian fans were the best in the world.
The biggest cheer was for Paul Henderson, who had scored three winning goals, including the most famous goal in hockey history to win the series. He was put on the shoulders of the players and people cheered him. When people would call Maple Leaf Gardens, the operators would answer by saying,
“Maple Leaf Gardens, home of Paul Henderson.”
Phil Esposito, the undisputed leader of the team, was put on the shoulders of his teammates as well.
Rod Gilbert said,
“I didn’t expect such a great reception, but when you think of Montreal, you think of great hockey fans and vice versa.”
A Mr. and Mrs. A.J. Watson had been at the airport since 1 p.m., over five hours before Team Canada’s plane was expected to land. Mrs. Watson said,
“We came because they are the greatest.”
Her husband added,
“Have you ever seen anything like this? It is better than The Beatles ever had.”
The Montreal Star described the entire scene,
“To the stranger in Montreal, Dorval must have been a nightmare. Elderly ladies stood on the couches, entire families pressed against the windows, and young and old alike fought for positions at the coin-operated televisions which gave the best view of the tarmac welcoming ceremony.”
Several of the flights at the airport were experiencing delays of upwards of 15 minutes because passengers couldn’t get through to their gates. Food was fast running out at various restaurants and carts at the airport as well.
People of all ages and makeups came out to see the team in Toronto during a massive parade. Even though it was raining, no one seemed to care. As well, only half the team was able to make it to Toronto, as Montreal players stayed in Montreal, and others made their way to their cities to start playing NHL hockey. One family celebrated their 25th wedding anniversary by standing in the rain under umbrellas to see the team pass. One girl had plastic bags wrapped around her heavily bandaged foot due to inflamed tendons. She would simply say,
“Nothing would have kept me away. This is just fantastic. It is really great.”
Banners of all sorts flew in the crowd. One said Jesus saves but Esposito knocks in rebounds. Another said Team Canada is Beaver Power. In all, it was estimated that the crowd that came to see Team Canada in the rain during their Toronto parade numbered over 80,000.
On hand for the parade were Prime Minister Trudeau, Ontario premier Bill Davis, Toronto mayor William Dennison, two members of the federal cabinet, and of course, Team Canada. As the players appeared on the stage overlooking the crowd, the entire crowd began to collectively sing O’ Canada.
Brad Park said,
“Toronto is the best place I’ve ever been. You fans are just unbelievable.”
Harry Sinden would say,
“I’m speechless. You people are remarkable. Without you, we’d be nowhere.”
The Edmonton Journal described the scene,
“When the team arrived in downtown Toronto heavy rain continued to pour all evening. It was also cold and windy. The weather and the crush of the crowds, which had police genuinely worried at several points, made life difficult for some of the youngsters in the square. A number of them fainted, and scores were seen looking for some warmth and protection from drenched clothes, blue lips, and chattering teeth.”
Phil Esposito was the leading scorer of the entire series with 13 points, seven goals and six assists. Paul Henderson and Bobby Clarke were second with ten and six points. Alexander Yakushev was the leading scorer for the Soviets with 11 points. Tony Esposito finished with a record of 2-1-1, while Ken Dryden finished with 2-2-0.
From Team Canada, Phil Esposito, Bobby Clarke, Yvon Cournoyer, Brad Park, Rod Gilbert, Jean Ratelle, Gilbert Perreault, Frank Mahovlich, Serge Savard, Stan Mikita, Guy Lapointe, Tony Esposito and Ken Dryden all wound up in the Hall of Fame. Harry Sinden would be inducted in 1983 as a builder. There is also an active campaign to have Paul Henderson inducted to the Hall. There is also a special monument outside the Hockey Hall of Fame honouring Team Canada and its win during the Summit Series.
From the Soviets, Alexander Yakushev, Vladislav Tretiak and Valeri Kharlamov were inducted into the Hall of Fame. Tretiak was the first Soviet to be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame, when he was enshrined in 1989.
The biggest impact from the series was that Canada’s belief that it was superior to the other countries in hockey was firmly shattered. The near-loss had woken Canada up and shown it that countries such as Russia had players who were easily good enough to play in the NHL.
As Frank Mahovlich would say, give the Russians a football and they would win the Super Bowl in two years.
Canadians were also introduced to the preparation and conditioning methods of the Soviets, which would gradually see a change in the NHL. Today, conditioning and training through the summer is commonplace, and that is thanks to the influence of European players and the Summit Series. Over time, spending the summer drinking and fishing would be replaced with working out, training and getting into game shape before training camp even began.
The Soviets were equally impressed with Canada, especially the Canadian’s never say die fighting spirit, who lost only one game out of the seven they played on European ice, despite usually trailing in the third period.
With the WHA dawning as a new league, it was more accepting to the use of European players but the door was now open for Europeans in the NHL but it would take upwards of a decade for things to really get going. Players from Finland, Sweden and Czechoslovakia would begin to migrate to the WHA and the NHL, while Canadian players began to play overseas more, integrating Canadian methods into international play.
Boris Mikhailov would say,
‘It was a meeting between two schools of hockey and we have since continued this great exchange and we have learned from each other, taking the best of both styles.”
Fred Shero, the coach of the Philadelphia Flyers, became an avid student of the Soviet style of play and their training techniques. He would coach the Flyers to two straight Stanley Cups in 1974 and 1975 using those methods.
Sergei Priakin would become the first Soviet hockey player to be given permission to play in the NHL when he joined the Calgary Flames for three seasons in 1989.
The Summit Series also began the trend towards international play between NHL players. In 1974, a second Summit Series was played and this time, Team Canada included WHA players. The outcome wasn’t as celebrated though, and Canada lost four games to one against the Soviets.
In 1976, a third Summit Series was organized and many consider this Team Canada to be the greatest team of players ever assembled. Rather than a straight eight games between the Russians and Canada, it was a six-team round robin tournament with a best of three final. Canada would win the tournament and Bobby Orr, in the last bit of glory in his legendary career, was awarded the most valuable player of the tournament award.
The success of this event then paved the way for the Canada Cup, played through the 1980s and into the 1990s, and then to the World Cup of Hockey and the Winter Olympics. All of this began, because of the 1972 Summit Series. The finale game was watched by 10.7 million Canadians, nearly half the country at the time.
The last active player from Team Canada was Marcel Dionne, who retired in 1989 as a member of the New York Rangers.
Today, Paul Henderson’s goal is considered to be the most famous goal in the history of hockey. In 1997, the Royal Canadian Mint released a silver dollar to mark the 25th anniversary of the series. In 2005, the entire team was inducted into the Canadian Sports Hall of Fame. Phil Esposito would say,
“A lot of people will go back and say 1972 changed the face of hockey and actually I believe it did. I’m not so sure it changed for the better by the way, but it did change the way we think and look at hockey in this country.”
In 2007, for the 35th anniversary of the series, the Canadian and Russian national junior teams played in the 2007 Super Series, with four games in Russia and four in Canada. Canada won seven of the eight games, with one tie.
In 2012, the 40th anniversary of the series, Team Canada was given a star on Canada’s Walk of Fame and the entire team was honoured at a dinner at the Hockey Hall of Fame.
In 2010, the jersey that Henderson wore when he scored the final goal was put up for auction and bought for $1.2 million. The goal has also been mentioned in film, television and songs in Canada, including Fireworks by the Tragically Hip.
Corner Gas would release an episode that mirrored the entire Summit Series, except with table hockey. Brent, the main character, served as the Canadian side, against the young and brash Karen, who took the side of the Soviet team.
For Canadians, the Summit Series of 1972 is much more than just a hockey tournament. It was a shining moment, when Canada, for once, had pride in itself and wanted to prove to the world that it was the best in the world at something.
It was also a humbling experience, but one that showed that Canadians could rise up through adversity and prove themselves.
It wasn’t a hockey game, it was a defining moment of Canadian cultural history and a source of immense national pride. Henderson’s goal is the greatest in the history of the game, and who knows, maybe the Summit Series helped the Cold War thaw just a little.
As Vladislav Tretiak would say
“Both teams won in 1972. It was a great series for all of hockey. The best that Russia had and the best of the NHL. The winner was the game of hockey.”
Information from Canadian Encyclopedia, Macleans, Wikipedia, NHL.com, Montreal Gazette, Ottawa Citizen, Ottawa Journal, Montreal Star, Sault Star,