Players shed new light on memorable Canada-Soviet Summit Series in "1972" book

·4 min read

Every time there's a Summit Series anniversary, hockey fans are reminded of Canada's thrilling comeback victory over the Soviet Union and Paul Henderson's where-were-you-when Game 8 winner.

While many cherish the memories from that 1972 showdown, it remains somewhat difficult for others to reflect on it.

Alexander Yakushev, who led the Soviet Union with seven goals in the series, has a videotape of all eight games that has remained on a shelf at his home for years. He has never watched it and doesn't plan to.

"The pain of that last game is so great that I still can't digest it all," he said in Scott Morrison's book, "1972: The Series that Changed Hockey Forever."

The 339-page publication, released ahead of this month's 50-year series anniversary, looks back at the event while sharing new stories from the players and others involved.

"It was just amazing to have those conversations and (discover) how vivid the memories were and how sharp they were," Morrison said from Toronto. "The details that they could remember just blew me away in many ways."

Morrison calls it the greatest hockey series ever played, a defining event in this country's history and a tipping point for the game itself. The backdrop of the Cold War only added to the dramatics.

Unlike previous international tournaments, Canada would use many of its top professional players against so-called amateurs from the Soviet Union. Expectations were high given that NHL stars were participating.

A 7-3 Soviet win in Game 1 at Montreal was an early wake-up call for Canada. The Soviets fell in Game 2 at Toronto, earned a Game 3 tie in Winnipeg and picked up a victory in Game 4 at Vancouver.

Once in Moscow, a Game 5 win gave the Soviet Union a 3-1-1 overall edge and an apparent stranglehold on the series. But the plucky Canadians fought back with three straight victories, capped by Henderson's game-winning goal with 34 seconds left in Game 8.

"Initially, we were ecstatic," Canada forward Ron Ellis said in the book. "But then the emotion starts to hit you. We just sat there in our chairs (in the dressing room) and looked across and shook our heads.

"There's a great shot of Paul leaning back, exhausted. More emotionally exhausted than physically."

While the loss was a crushing blow for the Soviets, there were some small victories to be had. They made quite a statement in that stunning Game 1 win and gave the powerhouse Canadians all they could handle in the series.

"They were also very proud of what they were able to accomplish and achieve," Morrison said. "They showed the world that they could play at the top level which was a big impetus for that series happening in the first place."

As interesting as the ups and downs were along the way, there are many story nuggets peppered throughout the book that readers should enjoy.

They include misadventures from Canadian fans who made the long trek to Moscow. Some players thought their hotel rooms were bugged. Unexpected challenges during their time in the city proved to be quite unique.

Tales from later years also made the cut.

Brad Park shared details of an interaction with Viktor Tikhonov after the longtime Soviet coach was upset that defenceman Valeri Vasiliev shared a beer with the Canadian during a 1987 old-timers series and reunion.

There was also an unexpected road trip after a game at that event — a few Canadians hopped on the Soviets' bus after making arrangements with the interpreters — and took them out to a club before picking up the tab.

"They kind of bonded together and went out drinking the old-fashioned way," Morrison said. "Come together, have a beer — or a beer and a vodka I imagine — on the table.

"It was kind of old-time hockey how these guys sat around and really started to understand each other and appreciate each other."

An eight-game event marked by animosity and tension slowly cooled over the years. Given the social, political and sporting dynamics in play at the time, there will never be another series quite like it.

"(They) learned a lot about each other from a playing and training perspective," Morrison said. "And then all of a sudden the hockey world became a much bigger and inclusive place."

"1972: The Series that Changed Hockey Forever," is published by Simon & Schuster Canada. It has a retail price of $34.99.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 9, 2022.

Follow @GregoryStrongCP on Twitter.

Gregory Strong, The Canadian Press