The Greatest Day In Canadian Hockey
Or Was It
A Setback For The Development Of Canadian Hockey?
In the 1970’s I had season tickets to the Toronto Maple Leafs and went to every home season and post season game at the famous Maple Leafs Gardens. During that time the Leafs met the Philadelphia Flyers, the famous “Broad Street Bullies”, a couple of years in a row during the play-offs. During that era, mostly what mattered in a hockey player was that you were big as hell and tough as hell and as long as you could shuffle along the ice; you were pretty much good to go. As with a lot of things, much of what happens at the NHL level, filters down to hockey at the lower levels.
Even into the nineties when my son Michael played triple A hockey in the then MTHL, it was still the case coaches were looking for size in recruiting players. There was one famous coach with the Toronto Marlies that went around recruiting in the arenas the biggest players from the other teams to come to his team for the next year. Now actively recruiting a player from another team during a season is known as tampering by the GTHL and not allowed but; a lot of coaches do it because they can’t really coach so, recruiting is their only option.
It was an absurd situation. These recruiting “so-called” hockey coaches hung around arenas talking to the parents of the biggest and toughest players in the league. Their “shtick” went something like this: “your son is really a great hockey player and he would look good wearing a (take you pick; Marlie ,Red Wing, Young Nats,) jersey. I’ve got a solid base this year and a some really great players already committed to next year’s team. Your son is a great player and would fit right in; in fact I think he’s so good that he would be a key part of our success. I’ll make him an assistant captain or maybe even team captain. I’ll double shift him at center and he’ll be a key part of our power play. I’ve got a great program in place for next year and don’t forget; next year is a big year for scouts watching the team and with the ice time he gets, he’ll be assured him of a lot of exposure and it will be great for his draft prospects.” This was all just a complete load of F’n bull shit.
In my mind, here’s the tragic result of all the “BS” that was going on at that time. In a previous Blog I talked about all of the hockey schools that had opened up at that time. Now most of them really sucked in terms of true skills development, however, there were a few that were trying to give a good effort and a couple (a very few really) that were actually starting to get it right. The problem was (and personally I always thought this was tragic) that all of the naturally big kids and their parents were constantly being told that they were great. For the most part they were hearing the same “load” from more than just one so-called coach. The result was that none of these kids ever worked on their hockey skills. Why would they? They were being told they were already great and they believed it; and why wouldn’t they?
An Awful Thing That Happened To Canadian Hockey?
I remember being on a plane coming back home to Toronto as the first game of the 72 Canada Russia summit series started. Virtually every Canadian was extremely confident that the best Canadian hockey players in the NHL would demolish the best of the Russians. As we were leaving the plane the pilot announced the score was 2 nothing after the first 7 minutes into the game. Of course, a big cheer went up and hearing that confirmed our confidence the Russians would be toast.
By the time I got home to watch the end of the game; the Canadians had lost by a score of 7 to 3. In the following 3 games in Canada things didn’t exactly go Canada’s way. After losing game 4 in Vancouver, the team Canada was roundly booed by the Canadian home crowd.
Watch this video of Phil Esposito being interviewed after the game in Vancouver.
Canada went on to lose the 5th game which was the first game played in the Soviet Union. At that point the record was 3 wins for the Soviet team and only 1 win for Canada with 1 game played to a draw. Things were looking more bleak for Canada as the next 4 games would be played in the Soviet Union therefor having the disadvantage of playing on Russia’s turf and using their referees.
The Canadians lost game 5; the first game in Russia. And then, amazingly, the Canadians rallied to win the final 3 games in the Soviet Union. The final Game was a 6 to 5 win on the strength of Paul Henderson’s famous winning goal with just 36 seconds remaining in the period. The Canadians won the series by the slimmest of margins.
Henderson’s Goal Changed Everything
To this day Henderson’s last-minute winning goal is the single most remembered event of the series.
Instead of a devastating and crushing blow to the very core of Canadian identity, the country was actually reveling in what was seen simply as a win; that somehow became to be seen as a triumph and proof that Canadians were still the best hockey players in the world.
I always thought that we missed learning a valuable lesson. We failed to see the development by the Soviets when it came to their incredible individual skills of skating and stick handling and also their team skills of passing, puck control and play making. Ignoring what was right in front of your face and failing to recognize this set back hockey skills development in Canada for at least a decade.
A Setback For The Development Of Canadian Hockey?
Interesting Followup – Phil Esposito
Interesting Followup on the occasion of the 40th anniversary of the 72 Summit Series. Watch this to the end and you will probably come to understand why Canada came back and prevailed in the end; if only by the slimmest of margins. This video is really interesting in many ways.
I hope you don’t misunderstand my intentions. I have a great amount of respect for the players of that era and their skill level. It was a different time and a different game that was played in a different way. As a result of doing my research for this blog and watching the videos of Phil Esposito, I have to say I have a tremendous respect for him (as I do for all of the team Canada players) and actually I love the guy.
I think the game over all has changed a lot since that era and I think it’s changed for the better. I don’t think we’re all the way there yet, but we’re getting closer.
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