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A win, if not victory, with 34 seconds left in Game 8

September 28

Game 8 (filing from Moscow)

My original report for TIME

[Sixteen million Canadians and 100 million Russians tuned in for Game 8 in the aptly named Super Series. They were not disappointed. It had all the drama of Italian Opera with a tinge of Wrestlemania. There was a dispute over referring that almost caused a Canadian walkout. There was an ugly stick incident when a Canadian appeared poised to slice the head of a despised German referee. There was a cavalry charge of Canadian players across the ice when they rescued Alan Eagelson from the clutches of Soviet security. And, then, the final drama of Paul Henderson’s winning goal with only 34 seconds left on the clock].

Surely it was a scene unprecedented in the recent history of Moscow. Here were the grey-uniformed militia hustling a Toronto lawyer named Alan Eagleson from the stadium. What the cops apparently didn’t realize was that “The Eagle” just happens to be the Executive Director of the National Hockey League Players’ Association and the impresario of the Canada-Russia series.

Like any red-blooded North American boys, the Canadians stopped playing and went to rescue their chief. With sticks turned upside down like spears, and with a Soviet official wisely intervening, Eagleson was sprung from the clutches of the constabulary and hustled across the ice to the relative safety of the Team Canada bench.

The drama started to unfold just after Montreal’s Yvan Cournoyer tied the score of the eighth and deciding game at 5-5 late in the third period. The Russians passed word [through Canadian official Gary Smith] that if the game remained tied, they would consider themselves victorious on the basis of goals scored. One last challenge to Canada’s hockey hegemony. Then, after Cornoyer’s goal, Eagleson apparently did not realize that the red goal light was not working . He leapt from his seat to make a boisterous protest —and the next scene was one that rivalled the see-saw hockey game that had most fans on the edge of their seats all night.

Three times the hard-bitten pros of the NHL overcame a one-goal Soviet lead. But their luck appeared to have run out late in the second period when Yakushev, the Soviet star of the Moscow games, and Valeri Vasiliev scored unanswered goals. The score was 5-3 when Team Canada appeared on the ice for the third period. It seemed that the end of the legend was only 20 minutes away.

But schooled as they are to cope with pressure situations, the Canadians used every trick in the NHL bag to salvage of 6-5 win and, ultimately, a face-saving, one-game edge in the series, which partisans claimed they would win eight games straight.

It was poetic justice that Toronto Maple Leaf forward Paul Henderson got the winning goal. Throughout the series, he and his line mates, Bobby Clarke and Ron Ellis, have overshadowed the stars of Team Canada. After the goal, a neat backhand flip past Tretiak, Henderson lept into Cournoyer’s open arms while his skating mates, other team members dressed in civvies and team officials rallied on the ice to celebrate. That was a rare spectacle in an arena where habitual circumspection mixed with the obvious home-town excitement at the bruising Canadian style of hockey.

Canada 6

Photos of Time Canada cover story

Octobr 9, 1972 issue

Russia 5

Even before the game started, officials on both sides had engaged in a messy wrangle over refereeing that threatened to end the series prematurely. Canada did not want the West German Kompalla back on the ice after his disastrous officiating in Sweden and his clear favouritism of Russian players in Game 6. There were threats of a Canadian pullout and heated negotiations — even a temper tantrum at one meeting by John Ferguson.

When Kompalla called an interference penalty on J-P. Parisé early in the game — the third Canadian penalty in the first four minutes — the spirited winger hurled epithets at the ref and slammed his stick. Assessed a 10-minute misconduct penalty for the onslaught, Parisé went berserk, skating the ice in circles, charging the cowering ref along the boards and, raising his stick with two hands, appearing poised to slash Kompalla on the head. For that he drew a game misconduct. Coach Sinden was livid. He hurled a wooden stool onto the ice, then a folding chair, making a “choke” sign at the referee.

From the stands, Canada’s boisterous fans made their displeasure loud and clear. “DA,DA CAN-eh-DA,” they chanted, “NYET, NYET, SOV-eh-ET.” On the ice, a melee of players continued for several minutes. Finally, the teams settled down and played outstanding hockey — with nary a whistle from the shaken Kompalla [years later his partner, Rudy Bata, allowed: “I refereed the rest of the game. He was on the ice, but for nothing.”]

When the smoke cleared, with three minutes left in the second period, defenceman Brad Park scored his second goal of the game on a feed from New York teammate Jean Ratelle to tie the score at 2-2. A quirk of the stadium led to the next Soviet goal: an errant shot from the blue line ricocheted off the end netting, out past a surprised Dryden and Vkladimir Shadrin slapped it home. Ten minutes later defenceman Bill White evened the score at 3-3. But a minute later the Soviets went ahead 4-3 and ended the period with a fifth goal, the result of yet another Canadian penalty.

In retrospect, the third period was one of the most exciting 20 minutes of the series. The honour of Canadian hockey hung in the balance as fans across Canada settled into watch nervously. Fortunately, Canada scored first and early, with just 2:27 gone in the period — and on a battling effort by Phil Esposito, assisted by Pete Mahavolich and Cournoyer.

At the 10-minute mark, the teams change ends. The Soviets fall back into a defensive posture, trying to protect the one-goal lead. Team Canada is on the offensive. Esposito fires a blast from 15 feet and, when Tretiak bobbles it, Esposito knocks it our of the air and behind the net. Swarmed by three burly Soviets, Esposito centres the puck with brute force. Cournoyer shoots, Tretiak blocks — but the puck dribbles away from him. Cournoyer backhands it over four Solviet bodies sprawled on he ice and the game is tied, 5-5.

When the red light doesn’t flash on, Eagelson fears the worst — another plot. He jumps out of the stands, headed toward the goal judge.

Rescuing the Eagle — snapped from my seat during Game 8 (Bob Lewis photo)

As they would for any crazed spectator, Soviet authorities grab the Eagle in a head lock, lone arm behind his back. Skating by, Pete Mahavolich turns his hockey stick into a lance, stabbing the cops, while the Canadian bench across the ice empties in a full assault. The Eagle finds freedom, storming back across the ice to his team bench, his index finger praised in triumph as startled Russian fans look on — including Communist party boss Brezhnev and premier Kosygin.

There are now seven minutes and four seconds of playing time left as the exhausted teams trade scoring chances. The Esposito-Cournoyer-Peter Mahavolich line is nearing the end of its shift. Less than a minute to go. Henderson jumps on the ice and replaces Mahavolich. The other two stay on the ice. Cournoyer, exhausted, gets the puck and shoots it into the Soviet end, preparing to go off. As he changes his mind, Vasiliev clears the puck — right onto Cournoyer’s stick

[Cournoyer fires a shot wide of Soviet goalie Tretiak. Paul Henderson, falling to the ice, stabs at the puck trying to direct it to the net, but he crashes into the boards and the puck bounces to Tretiak’s right, at the feet of two Soviet defensemen. They both fail to clear it. Esposito grabs the lose puck and, his back to the net, fires a weak shot on Tretiak. Improbably, he fails to smother the soft shot and the puck bounces in front. By now, Henderson is back on his feet in front of the net. He slaps at the puck. Tretiak stops it. But there is another rebound. This time, Henderson slides it under the sprawling net minder. Broadcaster Foster Hewett, in a call for the ages, tells millions back home watching on national TV: “Henderson has scored for Canada.]

The sweet outcome hardly obscured the fact that the Soviet Union has arrived as a major hockey power. Only six weeks ago it was inconceivable to most Canadians that they would have to go to the 34-second mark of the third period on the eighth game to win the series.

I believe I am a better individual.

Peter Mahavolich

Team Canada coach Sinden asserted that the series proved “the character of the Canadian professional hockey player.” But he also conceded that Canadians have learned that hockey “can be played as well, about as well, as we play it, elsewhere in the world — particularly in the Soviet Union.”

“What a beautiful feeling,” exclaimed defenceman Gary Bergman in the dressing room din after the historic game. “My adrenaline is running so high I could run a four-minute mile.”

Bobby Clarke, 23, in only his third NHL season, was so anxious to get to the post-game receptiopn that he forgot to dry his curly, blonde hair. “I don’t know if I’ve ever played better than I did in this series,” he said. “But I can say I never played harder. Every hockey player deserves this feeling once in a lifetime. I have never played in a Stanley Cup game but if I ever do, it won’t come close to matching how I feel now.”

Lanky Peter Mahavolich, who led the ‘rescue’ of Eagleson, declared: “I think I am not only a better hockey player after this series, I believe I am a better individual.”

Next: From the pages of Time Canada, October 9, 1972 issue

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).


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