Follow me on Social Media:

Visit Us On FacebookVisit Us On TwitterVisit Us On Linkedin

Facing Elimination, Canada Digs Deep

September 24, 1972

Game 6 (filing from Moscow) When Phil Esposito was introduced Sunday night, he clutched the side boards with mock fear as he skated forward to accept the warm applause, homage to his spill in game 5. His teammates showed similar attention to detail. They skated hard throughout the game and, despite playing two men short for an agonizing seven minutes, they won an important 3-2 win. They beat the Russians at their own game — scoring three quick goals in the second period in the space of one minute and twenty three seconds, with Henderson getting the winner and Ken Dryden redeeming himself for two bad outings with a spectacular game. [The only sour note for Canada was a vicious, intentional slash by Bobby Clarke to the left ankle of Kharmalov that knocked him out of Game 7.]

The game marked the first appearance of the two West German referees, Joseph Kompala and Franz Baader, who had so enraged the Canadian team during exhibition games in Sweden. In Moscow they handed out 31 minutes in penalties to Canada compared to only four for the hosts. After the game, the Canadians unloaded a barrage of fire at the two men for the way they bungled the game. “We felt the officiating was incompetent,” said Sinden with good reason. “It was a product of a system devised by Bunny Ahearne and resulted in two of the worst officials ever to handle a hockey game in my career.” To underline their point, several Canadian players shook hands with the officials after the game — a courtesy normally reserved for the opposing team.

Canada 3-Russia 2

Sinden proved as able as the Soviets at psychology during the game. He claims that after the second period of the game last week [September 22] the Soviet ice crew put more water down than they did before the start of the second period. When the red-uniformed Soviet squad returned to the ice tonight for the final period, there was no sign of the Canadian team. The boisterous Canadian rooting section was abuzz with speculation that the Canadians would protest the officiating by refusing to return to the ice. Not so, as Sinden conceded coyly after the game. “I had Stan Makita go out and look at the ice,” Sinden explained, referring to the Chicago Black Hawk centre who did not dress for the game. “He said there was still a lot of water on the ice, so we decided to wait a couple of minutes until it froze. We were not pulling a Bobby Fischer.” [A reference to the American’s decision to stand up Boris Spassky at the ceremonial draw in their 1972 chess match].

Apparently, the move got through to the two German officials. In the first two periods the refs called 29 minutes of penalties against Canada (including a 10-minute misconduct to high-flying centre Bobby Clarke [for his slash on Kharlamov’s ankle] and a total of nine minutes on Esposito, versus only four minutes on the Soviets. But in period three, with Canadian fans jeering the officials, the refs called only one penalty —a flagrant holding offence against Canadian forward Ron Ellis.

A “clash of lifestyles”

When Soviet coach Boris Kulagin opined that “apparently the Canadian players are not used to playing according to international hockey rules,” he touched off a mini war in the press room after the game. A Toronto radio reporter demanded: “Is it part of international rules to call a play offside when a man is clearly on side?” Toronto Globe columnist Dick Beddoes demanded pointedly whether the illegal interference, which the Soviets customarily throw at players who do not have the puck, is taught in Russian training camps. The jingoistic Canadian questions drew the return fire of the Soviet writers. A Soviet correspondent suggested to Bobby Orr that his teammate, Phil Esposito, had acted in an unsportsmanlike manner during Sunday’s game. “A lot of times,” Orr replied, “you become very frustrated by the kind of officiating we got tonight. I want to know how the hell you were supposed to play your best when you get a officiating like this all bloody night. Whatever Phil did, I’m behind him 100 percent.”

The testiness of the two sides put to rest, for good, all those attempts to paint the Soviet Canadian encounter with the patina of brotherhood and international cooperation. Fed through the high technology grid of instantaneous communications, a new era has dawned in international sport. Soviet gymnast Olga Korbut and hockey star Valery Kharlamov have joined the likes of US swim ace Mark Spitz and pro hockey’s Bobby Orr as international celebrities. Sport — and success therein —may be replacing more traditional avenues of confrontation between east and west. “Politics,” as McLuhan would have it, “now must be cooled through sport.”

If sport has become “warfare under wraps,” in McLuhanese, then the socialist countries of Eastern Europe are winning some important battles. At the current Olympic Games, eleven socialist nations (10 percent of the participants) won almost half the medals. Although there were extenuating circumstances, the Russians won basketball and sprint events over the Americans. The East Germans alone took 20 gold medals. [In subsequent years we learned of their doping agility].

This week as the Canada-Russia series drew to a close at Moscow’s Luzhniki arena, the Soviets were only one win away from clinching the Super Bowl of hockey. Even if Canada does win the two remaining matches, the Soviets have debunked the notion that you have to be a Canadian to play hockey. Vitaly Smirnov of the Soviet Olympic Committee sees these strides as an indication of “the desire to make sport a means of fostering noble feelings in the builders of the Communist society. These are,” he adds, “the distinguishing features of sport in socialist countries.” Harry Sinden tends to agree in his own way. “This isn’t just a series of hockey games,” he concluded this week. “It’s a clash of hockey systems and a contest of life styles.”

Robert Lewis

Twelve years in the Parliamentary Press Gallery, former Editor-in-Chief at Maclean's, author "Power, Prime Ministers and the Press" (2018, Dundurn; available as audiobook).


Leave a Reply

Avatar placeholder