TEAM CANADA IN WAR AND PEACE
“Do we really have to go to the Bolshoi, Phil?” “It’s okay, Tony, we can leave at half time”
Say you wanted to do it all as a film script. Who would believe you? Who would believe that a country harbored a grand illusion that it was mighty in only one thing, hockey; that in order for this might to remain supreme it had to destroy the pretender following in its wake? Canadians, men and women, held to the credo that hockey was our game. When the Soviet Union and Czechoslovakia started winning in international competition and in the Olympics no Canadian had any doubt that we could absolutely demolish the opposition if we would only put our best hockey players together on one team and not the tenth-raters classed as “amateurs” who had been wearing Canada’s colors in recent sad international hockey years.
We knew that five, six or seven hundred “better” players were made ineligible by international ice hockey rules. Top among these were, of course, the 100 or so “very best” playing in the NHL. These guys, we knew, could whip the pretenders any day of the week: we wanted a series between the USSR and a team of NHL stars not to prove anything to ourselves. Our convictions required no proofs. We wanted that contest only as a means of teaching the usurpers what hockey was really all about.
Most of us thought the match would never come off. That fools in international federations and fools in the NHL would never find a way to make this match happen. Suddenly, however, the NHL and the NHL Players’ Association and Hockey Canada put together this Team Canada; just as suddenly the confrontation devoutly to be wished was here. We couldn’t wait to see the USSR wiped out on the ice.
That was the script we turned out to see shot on September 2, 1972, in Montreal. We saw another script unfold. We saw Canada lose 7-3. We watched an entire nation plunge into the depths of a terrible doubt: if we weren’t the country that could do it all in hockey, who were we? If our illusion about ourselves on the ice was so palpably false, what was there that we could cling to as true?
Some observers tried to find working alibis: cop-outs abounded. We’d been outfoxed, or, to shift animals, the Soviets had been playing possum when our scouts weaseled their way into the USSR. They played together more. They played together longer. We were just
an Itsy-bitsy country and they were so-o-o-oo-o big. Their winters are longer, I, a Winnipegger, had to hear!
Yet, when the new Soviet-scripted script began to unfold, it, too, was full of surprises. By game four, in Vancouver, which Team Canada lost 5-3 and might have lost 8-3 or 93, the Canadian myth hung by a hair: by game five, the first played in Moscow, in which Team Canada blew a three-goal lead and ended up losing 5-4, Canada’s situation seemed hopeless. A once mighty hockey nation acted as if it had been castrated. But then, out of a seemingly hopeless situation,
down in the series three games to one, with one game tied, Team Canada regenerated itself, and regenerated this nation. Three games in a row we won — each one with Toronto's Paul Henderson scoring the winning goal. From the slough of despond — call it the Moscow River — a cartoonish Jackie Canuck emerged drenched and dripping, put his hat back on at a cocky angle, and walked off Into the European sunset!
Oh how the unmighty had risen!
Canadians in Moscow shot champagne corks into the night air. Gallons of the sweet bubbly foamed over glasses in salute to the team — and us\ Our nation was restored. The myth still hung by that thin hair. Our manhood, our macho, our national selves were, even If pounded a bit, still intact. Drunk or sober, show a Canadian in Moscow even a
lapel flag and he was just as likely as not to break right into O Canada. When Paul Henderson scored what proved to be the winning match goal in game eight, Canadians in Moscow went wild, but Canadians at home went even wilder. People in offices jigged a dance not seen in the country since World War II ended. Cars stopped on the 401 in the middle of the rush hour. O Canada was sung here and there and again and again and again. The Team Canada players who had been bums and bushers and lushes and louts now were only heroes, and Canadians were the baskers in victory’s heroic lights.
But all the questions raised by the series yet remained. Was hockey still our thing the way we thought it was before this series began? Were our players getting all the help they required in order to make the most of their talents?
We wanted simple answers to the questions raised by the heroic Canadian turnaround: the fans in Moscow wanted to be told their flags and cheering were the cause of it all. Mystics sought a more profound cause, something to do with Canadian will and the triumph of the indomitable Canadian soul. How else could a team come back when down so low and win?
I suggest a partial answer. I suggest that hidden behind the Show Biz shoot-it-in-andchase-it hockey played by the NHL was the natural hockey talent Team Canada players didn’t always have to use in that NHL. I suggest that in the days that followed that 7-3 Montreal loss, each and every one of the players painfully dredged up his memories of hockey past: that someone like Phil Esposito, who in the past years had become a creaseparker waiting for a Wayne Cashman or Kenny Hodge to get the puck to him, turned himself back into a brilliant all-round hockey player who, in spite of the fantastic speed of the USSR men, forechecked with them and back-checked with them and did his own digging in the corners: that Paul Henderson, almost instantly recognizing the challenge in the actual play of the USSR, rather than the silly reports about their failures, pitched his performance at the high level set by Valeriy Kharlamov and Aleksandr Yakushev, driving himself relentlessly from shift to shift in ways nobody had seen him perform either as a Detroit or a Toronto NHLer: that Pat Stapleton and Bill White — as weil as Gary Bergman and Guy Lapointe — joined the injured Serge Savard in changing their style of play so that they once again were defensemen with some commitment to keeping the play away from their goalkeeper: that, in short, the Team Canada players went to school to the USSR team, that they learned and adapted and did this by giving up the bad habits picked up in the lazy years of NHL Show Biz.
And thus the Canadian identity crisis passed with only a long “Whew!” On the brink of a national wipe-out, the team gave up its carousing heavy-drinking John Wayne image and, like the Soviet team, played hockey. It withstood the turmoil caused by someone like Vic Hadfield quitting the team, and going back to the United States, which paid his tab year after year. That Rich Martin and Gil Perreault and Jocelyn Guèvremont went back too was no help to Team Canada’s spirit or practice. Both Harry Sinden, Canada’s coach, and Jean Béliveau told me they were shocked by Hadfield’s action. Béliveau said Hadfield, like the rest of the men
on the roster, knew only 19 men could dress for each game: he knew the coach’s decision as to who those 19 men would be had to stand as final. That, said Béliveau, was a gentleman’s agreement. Those who left the team broke that agreement. Béliveau thought it was very bad that they did.
To start at the beginning, though, is to remind us all what it was we felt as the first game neared. We didn’t feel any apprehension at all, I suggest, only a great excitement because a wished-for event was finally coming to pass. Almost nobody I knew entertained the slightest notion that Team Canada could lose a game, let alone the series. It was going to be the greatest exhibition of good hockey ever seen — this was our expectation
as the first game in Montreal approached.
On Saturday, September 2, 1972, a very warm day in Montreal, I sat sunning on the lawn of some friends in Westmount, talking hockey. Before six on a sultry evening this Montrealer, as much of a hockey nut as I am, and I were eating dinner at Moishe’s, and talking hockey. All around us hockey was the only subject at every table. Be a woman or a man a doctor, lawyer, merchant, thief, or a writer, a broadcaster, a fan, everyone this night was some kind of hockey nut. Our game — our myth, our mystique. It might be hard to figure out how grown-up people with very serious concerns in all sorts of areas of human activity could connect existentially with a game like hockey. Hard to figure out,
maybe, but to observe, a cinch. Nothing else mattered this night. Even the horrible Blue Bird Café tragedy of the night before, in which 37 people were killed, had to step aside in Saturday's newspapers for The Match of the Century. Mark Spitz, the U.S. swimmer, was on his way to winning seven Olympic gold medals, but even that accomplishment was as nothing compared to the game soon to get under way.
Shortly after Team Canada’s training camp opened in Toronto I began watching the players work out in that familiar kibitzloaf-spurt style that goes with being an NHLer. One of the firmer assumptions still alive in those late August days was that anybody good enough to make the NHL didn’t need further coaching. We assumed, too, that the USSR guys, with their “shoddy skates" (as NHLers and hockey writers referred to those things carrying the Soviet players in a blur around the Forum) and crummy sticks and lousy pads and gloves and helmets were born losers. Canada wept a little for the poverty of these guys, and
rushed to deliver some real equipment to them so that the contrast between pro and have-not would not be too blatant. The Soviet players, in contrast to Team Canada and its equipment-handler “valets," carried their own equipment, or came to the rink already dressed. After practice, one of their firststringers would actually gather pucks up in a green plastic pall! It was as If some hick intermediate team from Neepawa had blundered into an NHL enclosure, oblivious of the fate waiting inside the “bullring."
Their coach, Vsevolod Bobrov, carried a hockey stick in practice, and looked much like the coach of a university team — terribly erect though, in great shape, balding a little, a man with obvious class. He was the only USSR hockey player ever to receive the Order of Lenin — no small recognition in that country. He and his assistant, Boris Kulagin, had lovely titles like “Honored Coach" and “Honored Sports Master" of the USSR. When asked about his team, Bobrov was modest: when asked about Team Canada, he seemed, like his players, in awe. Many of
his players had a dream fulfilled — not just to play against NHL “stars" but to see Bobby Orr in the flesh, and, If lucky enough, get Bobby’s autograph. An ex-student of mine, Hedrick Smith, now chief of The New York Times Moscow bureau, told me that in coldest Siberia, when visiting a high Soviet official, he was ushered into this Bratsk “rumpus room" in the heart of Yevtushenko’s dream wilderness, and there on a wall, in the very centre of dozens of autographed pictures of USSR hockey stars, was a mammoth photograph of Bobby Orr!
So, finally, it was here. We filed into the Forum like small kids anxious to get first crack at Santa Claus. We believed the stories about scalpers asking, and getting, $200 to $250 for a pair of $7.50 tickets. We even believed it when, as game time approached, the ante was upped to $200 a single seat. Americans, naturally enough, was our explanation.
Team Canada came out on the ice in their dazzling bright red uniforms with a huge white sunburst maple leaf disappearing down their fronts. The fans cheered loudest for the Montreal Canadiens on the team — building up to “high" for Yvan Cournoyer, a little restrained for Pete Mahovlich and Guy Lapointe, then “higher” for Frank Mahovlich, and deafeningly “highest" for Ken Dryden. Everyone was in a good mood. Even Prime Minister Trudeau, walking the red carpet to where the ceremonial puck was to be dropped, got a hand — terribly dégagé this night, our PM, in summer flare trousers, a shirt open at the neck, and an ascot. As the game wore on, the heat, and the USSR had Mr. Trudeau stripped down to his shirt sleeves, and still suffering.
Almost as soon as Mr. Trudeau got back to his seat, after the national anthem was sung, silently in French, and falteringly in English, Team Canada did exactly what we all expected. Gary Bergman got the puck to Frank Mahovlich who passed it onto Phil Esposito's stick and poof — Canada was leading, 1-0, and only 30 seconds had passed. At that rate of scoring Canada would win 120-0.
But when at 1.03 Paul Henderson was called for tripping, the USSR team began to look formidable. Twice they got off shots that Dryden had to be good on. They didn’t score, but something was quite evident. In races for the puck, they won. When a team Canada player and a USSR player banged together the Soviet guy barely budged and the Team Canada man frequently bounced back. Ron Ellis went charging into a Soviet player whose head was seemingly down, hit what felt like a concrete pillar, and himself went down. At 6.32, however, Henderson caught USSR goaler Vladislav Tretiak nod-
ding, and banged home a pass from Bobby Clarke. This made it 2-0. At that goal rate Team Canada could only win by 10-0, a sudden drastic drop. Five minutes later, the USSR did the impossible — they put a puck past Ken Dryden.
At 11.40, a big stoopshouldered hardskating left-winger, Aleksandr Yakushev, took a pass from Vladimir Shadrin and set up Evgeni Zimin: Dryden was beaten. His defense was nowhere. His forwards, were being outskated, outhustled and outgunned.
A pall settled over the Forum. Team Canada so obviously lacked spark. Even explosive Yvan Cournoyer looked slow. At 17.19 Aleksandr Ragulin tripped Brad Park. Team Canada coach Harry Sinden sent out Park, Seiling and the highest-scoring line in NHL history, Ratelle, Hadfield, Gilbert. Gilbert clumsily fanned on the puck, Boris Mikhailov shot into the clear, passed to Vladimir Petrov and, unbelievably, the score was tied.
We could not believe what we were seeing. The USSR had more cool, better puck control, better recovery. Their goalie, when tested, showed incredible skill and command. Tretiak. The man, we realized, was young enough to be playing junior hockey in Canada!
The crowd sat in silence: when the organist tried to get the usual NHL response to FIGHT, or GO CANADA GO, the cheers were chokingly unenthusiastic. Almost no sound and even less fury.
In front of TV sets fans watched in horror. Not only Canadians but Americans who believed, with us, that Team Canada was the greatest because the NHL was the greatest: hadn’t Gerry Eskenazi, hockey reporter for the astute New York Times, said, "The NHL will slaughter them in eight straight"?
With less than three minutes to go in the
second period the predicted "slaughter" began, but the victim was Team Canada: number 17, someone called Valeriy Kharlamov, stickhandled his way around the All-Star defense as if he were playing against peewees, scored, and the USSR was in the lead! All of Team Canada looked terrible. Errant passes went skimming over the ice. Suddenly, "big leaguers" who couldn’t catch up with a USSR guy tried, instead, to trip him or hack at him. Chippy bush play — from NHLers!
At 9.46 of the second period the Montreal crowd actually booed Team Canada — for icing the puck. By 10.18, when the USSR went ahead 4-2 on an incredibly fast wrist-shot release by that same Kharlamov, he was the man Montreal applauded. Kharlamov, and goalie Tretiak.
At 17.50 of this same period Montreal’s organist played I’m Dreaming Of A White Christmas. A guy near the press box said, "Man, this makes the Stanley Cup pure sh—.”
What was evident, by then, was not only the USSR’s superb physical condition but its equally superb preparation: Bobrov and Kulagin said they had looked at films of 1971 and 1972 Stanley Cup play. They had obviously seen a lot. For example, the NHL defense: Brad Park had just signed a $200,000-a-year contract; the USSR indicated there were better things to do with "hard" American currency. They came in on Dryden believing he could be stickhandled around, made to drop to the ice. A man his height — six-foot-four — had to have trouble handling low off-the-ice shots on his glove side. Put pushpins in graph paper scaled to Dryden’s goal and they cluster on that left side with only few exceptions.
The Montreal crowd came to life only once in the dreaded third period: when Bobby
Clarke, assisted by Ron Ellis and Paul Henderson, scored. Team Canada looked alive and almost well. But at 13.32, Boris Mikhailov broke in on Dryden, drew him to one side, and lifted a backhand past him. It all looked so easy. Less than a minute later Evgeni Zimin took advantage of a Brad Park goof to make the score 6-3. With five minutes left the same people who had been dying to get into the Forum couldn’t wait to get out. They were spared, as Dryden wasn't, Yakushev's backhand score and the mock cheers tor Dryden that followed. They didn’t hear tue boos another Canadien, Guy Lapointe, got for what the crowd thought was a cheap shot at a Soviet player. Phil Esposito was booed for the same kind of chintzy play. At the buzzer Team Canada, led by Esposito, charged off the ice. Only three men — Ken Dryden, who had given up seven goals, Red Berenson, and Peter Mahovlich — stayed around to congratulate the winners. Team Canada had not been told to line up to shake hands, Harry Sinden told me. Doug Fisher of Hockey Canada said it certainly had: the Montreal crowd took the omission to be willful. Its heroes had let the country down, so people said, even in deportment.
Montreal’s Sunday Express headlined the national disbelief in letters big and black enough to announce the start of World War III — WE LOST. A headline in Dlmanche-Marm
said, LE CANADA ECRASE 7-3: "écrasé" -
crushed, overwhelmed, humiliated. The loss on September 2 raised doubts about even our national purpose. Sagee recalled that Harold Wilson had lost his bid for reelection after England had surrendered the World Cup at its game, soccer. People looked at the sporty unaware Prime Minister Truaeau, and sorrowed. An Aussie in Munich, watching the Team /continued on page 90
...and ESPOSITO FAILStO CLICK on his p&ssto CLIRN...
...anyway TSIGANKOVjust scored
TEAM CANADA from page 33
Canada loss when Canada could win no gold medals at the Munich Olympics, said: “Aye, mate, isn’t this your game? What’s going on losing to the Ruskies?”
We all believed in “our game.” The 3,000 fans who went to Moscow with Team Canada wanted that fact reestablished. Canadian boys were weaned, weren’t they, over to skates rather than bottles? At three a boy had his first hockey stick — or perhaps earlier. Someone would drop a puck, a ball, a bathroom stopper, a potato, a rubber heel, an ashtray — anything smaller than a football but bigger than .a dime — and the kid would begin to shoot. A threeyear-old handled a stick like a scythe, fanning away or making inelegant contact with his lavish broomsweep. At six he was supposed to show promise of being “the next Bobby Orr.”
Hundreds of thousands of people who “live” hockey all season long went into shock with that 7-3 loss. In Toronto on September 4, Team Canada turned things around 4-1, but nobody was convinced. And the way the team won bothered Scott Young of the Toronto Globe and Mail a lot: he didn’t like guys clobbering the Soviet players or pulling all that Junior OHA slapping, slugging stuff. Wayne Cashman, the top practitioner of the rough-up, emerged, however, as the man who knew just how to intimidate the Soviet speedsters — in a counter-opinion also published in the Globe and Mail by Dick Beddoes. The entire country suddenly divided into hawks — “the important thing is to win” — sounding like the U.S. prize Vietnam hawk, Barry Goldwater: and the doves, who said “the important thing is to play hockey.” In Winnipeg Team Canada carried a 4-2 lead half way through the second period, only to have the Soviet “university line,” three men of 21, Lebedev, Bodunov, Anisin, combine to tie it up. And the doubts began all over again.
But what almost destroyed Team Canada was the 5-3 loss in Vancouver. The USSR made that one look so easy. Many of us believed they had actually “laid off” when they could have scored three or four more goals in the third period. In that game Bill Goldsworthy took over the Cashman role for Team Canada, was hit with two deserved penalties for essentially meaningless muscling: two identical power-play goals quickly followed. And booing. The booing stepped up later in the second period when an easygoing clean player like Frank Mahovlich held goalie Tretiak so he couldn’t get back to his nets. The booing became loud and bitter at the end of the second period. The Vancouver fans didn’t mind the team losing as much as they clearly objected to a classy player like Frank Mahovlich doing something unworthy.
It was this booing that embittered
quite a few Team Canada players, Phil Esposito most prominent among them. Nobody could have booed Phil for his own play since game one. In Toronto, Winnipeg, Vancouver he became the take-over guy who cooled his side, getting bigger and bigger with each game. Esposito was truly a giant in those Canadian games, he and Paul Henderson — who also got better and better and, for my money, was the outstanding player in the total range of eight games. Nobody wanted to boo Tony Esposito either; or even Ken Dryden, who, after two games, had the incredible goalsagainst average of six!
What had happened was, truly, in the eyes of hockey nuts, a national disaster: places like Dieppe and Dunkirk turned up in accounts of the Montreal and Vancouver games. Pendulumniks who had
WELL WHAT ABOUT
A KEN DRYDEN,
THREE BOBBY CURRES,
TWO WAN COURNOYER'S TWO PAUL HENDERSOHS AFWIL ESPOSITO,
ANJD SEVENTEEN KiC HADHELDS TOR YOUR V1KULÛY?
predicted a clean Team Canada sweep now swung over to saying the USSR would win all four games in Moscow. Rumors of dissension sprang up. The benched New York Rangers were as unhappy with Team Canada as Canada was, obviously, unhappy with those Rangers.
But lo! in Edmonton, Toronto, Montreal a great band of hockey nuts was gathering for a flag-displaying invasion of Moscow. Being down two games to one was as nothing to these True Believers. Decked out with red maple leafs on their hats, sweat shirts, waving mammoth flags, their lapels covered with flag pins, Canada’s hockey pilgrims hit Moscow with tons of Kleenex, toilet tissue, instant coffee, and booze. The various hockey tours brought together a cruise crowd, devout Grey Cuppers who had the cirrhosis to prove their commitment
to sports. Women were even more fanatic than men. Americans from Boston, Detroit, Chicago, New York — all oldestablished NHL towns — joined other Americans from “new” NHL cities like Philadelphia and Minneapolis and even Los Angeles to infiltrate the Canadian invaders converging on Moscow. Redeyed, impossible to surfeit alcoholically, the hockey nuts staggered into Moscow, hot to go, with cheers busting in their throats, and a million unsung O Canadas too.
Those who came early were swept into guided tours as carefully selected as a Canadian prime minister’s trip through the urban alleys of “progress.” Some spent their days and nights locked away from the realities of the Soviet police state, blind to the KGB — secret police — thronging the streets, hotel rotundas, Berezka gift shops, great Moscow museums, its circus, its opera, its other obvious display places.
The Canadian team, an Air Canada hostess who had worked one of their two planes told me, carried more booze with them than she had ever seen before in her life. They were a wonderful bunch of guys, she added, “except for one or two.” I wondered how much stuff the men would have brought with them had they been leading, as we once thought they would be, the USSR by four games to none.
Once in Moscow the players stayed more or less to themselves, working out at the Dvoretz Sporta — Sports Palace — every day for a couple of hours, then taking short walks around the Intourist Hotel which was quite close to the Kremlin, the Bolshoi Theatre, and GUM, Moscow’s large department store. One night they attended a reception at the Canadian Embassy, anxious to find there the Cokes their provisioned had neglected to bring along in sufficient quantity: at that reception they were offered, alas, only champagne. It was like being booed in Vancouver.
Only Ken Dryden, of all the people on the team I knew about, ventured out on his own. He was also one of the few people on the team who, with his wife, looked forward excitedly to seeing Plisyetskaya dance in her own ballet, Anna Karenina. That took place on the eve of the all-important eighth game. In the dressing room, after practice that morning, I asked a bunch of players who was going.
“We have to go, Phil?” asked brother Tony Esposito.
“We can always leave at half time,” Phil reassured him.
A number of the players wouldn’t be caught dead at a “fag” thing like the ballet — even though their wives or girl friends were dying to attend the famous Bolshoi. Those who went went, in large part, reluctantly. I sat near Frank Macontinued on page 91
TEAM CANADA continued
hovlich and his wife: at the first intermission he raised his eyebrows to ask me if this was it, I shook my head. Ron Ellis, who was on the other side of me, never did come back after intermission one. At the second break Frank asked, “Is that it?” Again I had to tell him no. He stayed to the end — which was a lot more than could be said for his teammates. That night I asked Harry Sinden what his players would do if it were established that ballet exercises were the precisely right muscle-builders for a guy getting ready to play hockey:
“Don’t be silly,” he said.
Yet, from what I had learned in my tour of the editorial offices of Soviet Physical Culture and Sport, and the Army Club (with Ken Dryden), and the Institute for Physical Culture and Sport (again, with Dryden), I was convinced that were someone to tell the USSR players that ballet was what they needed they would turn to it — without fear that by doing so they were surrendering their “tough guy” athletic manhood.
Most Canadians were struck by the clean streets in Moscow and it’s true that the tourist areas were remarkably clean. But far more interesting were the old slum areas of Moscow the authorities didn’t want people to visit. Here the streets were narrow, humped, filled with litter among other signs of human pres-
ence frowned upon by the commissars. The houses were wooden, askew, battered, winter-harried, something like the western Canadian slum areas immigrants settled in years ago. In the clean, well-lit tourist enclosures little kids hustled for “chooin gawm,” but in this remote part of town Terry Mosher (Aislin) and I wandered into one Sunday at noon the kids had other things on their mind — birds and fish. This place, the Ptitsi Rinok or Bird Market, was the most remarkable sight we saw in all of Moscow. Hundreds, thousands of buyers crowded around hundreds of sellers holding up tropical fish in every kind of glass container from drinking glass through to mammoth fish tank. On bare-wood counters sellers spread out seashells, Black Sea pebbles, bits and chunks of colored glass, and plants for miniature aquariums — and, fish food! Such fish food! Mounds and mounds of tiny squirming red worms old women dropped into a paper cornucopia with their bare hands. I thought of all our nice cruise ladies at the tourist hotels at that moment. And about the starched observers who had thrice blessed Moscow for being so clean. A cop tried to chase Terry and me for taking pictures of all that great lively action. I pulled my hockey press pass, covered the word xokkeñ on it, and told the man in my
best Stanislavsky accent we were blessed by pravda: I meant, of course, “the right,” but if he chose to take me to mean I had the blessings of Pravda, the newspaper, I, for one, wasn’t going to disenchant him.
As Terry and I left the fair two little boys, showing each other a purchased yellow bird, had it get away, and fly to the top of a high leaf-bare tree. Up to the top the bird owners scooted, joined by two, three, four other little boys: when they reached the top the bird, sadly, flew off and out of sight. The watching crowd gave a very human compassionate groan.
Back in clean, police-littered Moscow, where the Supreme Soviet had just passed a iaw making its “education tax” on all desiring to leave the country legal, few, if any, on the hockey tour knew that Jews, against whom the “education tax” was largely directed, had staged a hunger strike at the site of the meetings! Few fans, in fact, cared to find anything in the society around them other than the pap being fed by the on-the-whole personally very attractive guides.
Canadians and Americans accommodatingly suffered hotels like le gâteau I was quartered in (The Ukraine), and its ghastly cuisine tourism-ik, a sodden parody of flophouse North Americana continued on page 92
TEAM CANADA continued featuring an indescribably hideous version of bifstek and an even more farfetched imitation of chicken.
But let me turn from depressing “things” to the USSR’s lovely people; a great cabbie I met on a trip to the rink has to be memorialized: he was dressed in a chauffeur hat rakishly pulled over to one side, in a turtleneck sweater, a worn old topcoat. I got in beside him, he started the car.
“Shoos shoos shoos,” he said, aiming three bullets at his chest and smiling broadly.
Three wounds, 1 transcribed.
“Shoos shoos shoos,” he said again as we came to a stop light, and this time rested his head on his hand to show me he’d almost croaked.
Quickly he held two fingers ready to accept a Canadian cigarette: poor guy, he had the wrong passenger. I don’t smoke. Puffing the nonexistent cigarette in a mime style rival to Marceau he forgave me my lack of vices, winked, reached into his pocket, and pulled out a stick of chewing gum, his head cocked to the side, enquiring. Again I flunked. I carried no gum. Tossing his head he forgave me this omission too, took two chews of his own gum and — swallowed! While I slid to the floor he rubbed his belly with utter joy, proud to have shown the man from KANADA how a guy who enjoys gum really enjoys it.
Moscow teemed with extraordinary human beings, and choked on secret police and finks you couldn’t move two steps without bumping into. Resentment against this kind of terrorism made some Muscovites welcome Team Canada with a political significance none of us had foreseen: in the halls of hotels, on the streets, even in the rink itself, people who knew they weren’t being observed — on staircases, say, or passing in the top-floor press corridors — would flex a thumb-up salute with one hand, and say “Kanada, da,” or “Feel Esposeeto,” referring not to Phil as a player only, but as a counterforce.
The correspondents stationed in Moscow saw the series far differently from the way North American observers watched it. For them every action, from a challenge to the referee to any other rejection of absolute authority, was a showpiece Soviet citizens were witnessing for perhaps the first time. Most Muscovites were genuinely shocked by the antics of Esposito or Gary Bergman or Rod Gilbert in the penalty box: others, quite political in their orientation, took the act to mean far more than what our guys intended it to mean. A choke sign was somehow a semaphor of freedom: someone giving a cop the finger or the arm wasn’t being a boor but a political hero.
Pravda, reporting on the first game in Moscow (game five in the series), began continued on page 94
TEAM CANADA continued with a wry observation that anyone who wondered how strong the roof was at the rink now knew it was pretty strong if the incredible cheering of the Canadians hadn’t lifted it off: it added a comment that Soviet eardrums, on the other hand, could not so easily be vouched for. Pravda — and Izvestia, and Trud, and Soviet Sport, and Football — could be expansive after this game. The USSR, pouring five goals in on Tony Esposito in the last period, had overcome a 3-0 and 4-1 lead to win 5-4 and go up in the series three games to one, with one tie.
At the end of the game Tony Esposito slammed his stick down on the ice as brother Phil rushed over to console him. “There’s no way we lost that game,” Rod Gilbert told me, “we gave it away.” On the press bus later that night I encountered Jean Béliveau. “I wondered,” he said, “when I was vacationing in Germany, how we could lose that one in Montreal. Now I know. We collapsed. We just fell apart in the last 10 minutes.” Béliveau wasn’t too happy about signs of dissension in the club: a team man himself he expected every man on the Team Canada roster to do what was required of him in order to help “his country.”
Those questions that had been raised not about Team Canada but about the USSR were with me when I got up the next morning. I decided to go to see the editorial minds of the publishing house Soviet Physical Culture and Sport and talk with them about USSR sports philosophy. A man from the Tass Agency, who spoke English very well, joined in our talks. From these people I learned that the hockey program was only one of a vast and complicated assortment of programs calculated to keep the population in top physical condition — and the USSR teams internationally competitive. The put-down line in our talks came later: “We have our eyes,” an editor said to me without blinking, “not on this interesting match but on the international world championships to be played in March.”
The following morning I passed this message on to Ken Dryden who was terribly nervous about getting back into the nets after his bad experiences in Montreal and Vancouver. He wanted to follow up this investigation if I didn’t mind him joining me, which I didn’t. Ken kept saying “I don’t know, I just don’t know” about what might happen to Team Canada and him this night of September 24. He had referred to himself after the Vancouver game as “odd man out,” and voiced doubts that Sinden would take another chance on him in goal.
He played, as all of us who saw him know, like the Ken Dryden Team Canada had selected to open the series in goal. He played as he had in the Stanley
Cup games of 1971, and as he was to play in the Canadiens’ NHL opener October 7, against Minneapolis, when he — in obvious relief at not having to cope with a Yakushev or Kharlamov or a slap shot like Vladimir Lutchenko’s — recorded the season’s first shutout!
In spite of a certain number of silly Team Canada penalties and an undulating defense Dryden handled the USSR beautifully, letting in only two goals while Dennis Hull, Yvan Cournoyer and Paul Henderson were scoring for Canada.
Next day he and I decided to head out to the Army Club, that great Moscow sports complex that delivered a dozen players to the Soviet team — including Tretiak. Dryden had the usual Moscow difficulty picking up a cab so while waiting for him I decided to see what was happening in sports other than hockey. It was 2.30 in the afternoon as I started to walk through the Army Club’s sporting facilities. At the main gate young boys and girls leaped out of every bus and streetcar and taxi, running through the rain and slop, dragging briefcases and hockey sticks, tennis rackets, skates; the girls — women’s liberation hasn’t made that much of a mark on the USSR, in spite of grandiose revolutionary claims to the contrary — carried girl things, skipping ropes and figure skates, and some had tennis rackets, too. The whole scene was reminiscent of what one might see in after-school activities at home: mothers ran alongside the smaller children, trying to see that a coat was buttoned, or a hat kept on. The children were all neatly and cleanly dressed, in the European style: the younger boys wore short pants and knee socks, knitted caps, and carried their books in back packs. The little girls almost all had long hair, wore skirts and cotton stockings, and plastic-coated raincapes and rainhats. The fastest running boys, I soon discovered, were heading for the katok, the rink: the others fanned out all over the complex.
In one of the largest buildings I found a dozen children doing gymnastics with an astonishing ease and almost balletlike grace. They stayed with no exercise overly long, but moved effortlessly from one motion to another. They all seemed most anxious to do what they were doing, and had great rapport with their instructors, most of whom were Olympics participants of fairly recent date. In the swimming pool building I again saw children learning how to dive, and swim, with tremendous emphasis on form. It was almost as if each sport had been subjected to sophisticated systems analysis which then prescribed exactly what the muscles should be able to do in order to facilitate, say, freestyle swimming, or the butterfly, or the breaststroke.
continued on page 96
TEAM CANADA continued
What was even more impressive was what the boys were doing outside. Kids between eight and 10 were practising slap shots against a kind of handball wall. The purpose of the exercise, as far as I could see, was to keep the ball moving, and not trap it with the stick but rather smack at it and set up a rebound or ricochet someone else would have to deal with.
Just before Dryden turned up I went into the rink in search of former USSR coach and now Army coach Tarasov: he was nowhere to be found. But two other ex-USSR stars, Brezhnev and Vinogra-
dov were busy talking with kids terribly anxious to get on the ice. The rink, however, was occupied at this moment by the Bulgarian national team, certified losers in international competition in recent years. They didn’t look like losers to me this afternoon. They skated well and shot well. I wondered if they were part of the same development program that had popped the USSR team on unsuspecting Canada.
Outside once again, I found Dryden and together we walked over to where those eightand nineand 10-year-olds were continuing their workout. They
had put down their sticks and, arms linked, back to back, were taking turns pulling each other up on their respective backs, holding for a count of three, then smoothly settling the boy’s feet down so he in turn could pick his partner up on his back. A steady rhythm was as evident here as it was with the little kids at the ballet-gymnasium bar. I thought of all the pointless calisthenics I had seen kids — and adults — perform, and realized that the things these children were doing made much better sense athletically and aesthetically than any of those silly one-two-threes we’re all brought up on in Canada.
For a second the grinning boys — not one of them puffing — set up a rhythm so that their play area resembled an assembly of two-headed rocking horses. Then they unlinked arms, and took turns carrying each other, walking first, and then running. All this time Coach Brezhnev kept up a steady good-humored chatter, always calling the boys by their first names, hurrying them along. When the carrying-and-running was over — in about two minutes — the boys picked up their sticks and began to stickhandle rubber balls through a medicine-ball slalom obstacle course Brezhnev had set up. Swiftly and deftly they moved, close on each other’s heels, running easily to avoid being touched by the stick or ball of the boy behind them. When all the kids were through the slalom course they turned immediately to stickhandling the ball all over the play area, trying, again, to stay out of each other’s way, and keep the ball moving with the same darting, thrusting, pullback motion we had seen on the ice with Valeriy Kharlamov. Gary Bergman had told me most NHL forwards, if they’re good, have one move they can put on a defenseman: the rare player has two moves — which almost nobody can handle. Kharlamov, Bergman said, put three moves on him. As I watched these kids go through their routines, I could understand that.
I asked Dryden if anything like this went on at hockey camps such as small boys attend in Canada during the summers. He assured me no. I asked him if peewee coaches had any such routines to teach the fundamental skills to young kids — again he said no, not as far as he knew. The hockey camp, like the NHL, was clearly a form of Show Biz — just a summer camp with the hockey rubric added for those little kids who want to get a few NHL autographs.
There was nothing Show Biz about what we were seeing. Even to the eyes of people like us, who had never seen this stuff before, the rationale of why the kids were doing what they were doing was clearly apparent. This was to develop the muscles needed to hold the stick firmly so that an opponent couldn’t lift it easily and thus steal the puck. That continued on page 98
TEAM CANADA continued was for the skating muscles, to toughen the shoulders for rough stuff in the corners — to build muscle mass that might not be used for seven or eight or even 10 years!
From the freestyle stickhandle the boys began to weave over the area, still stickhandling, but standing on only one foot; smoothly, the ball ever in motion, they switched feet, hopping and shuffling, turning, backing, sidestepping. Then they sat down, their feet off the ground, rocking on their bottoms, and continued to stickhandle that way, rotating, reversing, cheered on or bugged by a laughing, handclapping Brezhnev.
They left their sticks then, sprang up, started to play leapfrog, faster and faster, laughing as they poured it on; then, in a sudden switch, they began to run, leaping finally into a sawdust pit they ran out of — obviously to strengthen their ankles for skating.
When Dryden and I left these little boys and went into the rink we found two groups of older boys already out on the ice, with Coach Vinogradov up against the boards, calling into a hand microphone, again shouting to each boy by his first name. These, he told me, were the boys born in 1959 and in 1960. For the most part they were big, and looked awfully healthy. They all wore skates, but the only other equipment some of them had was a hockey stick. Others had only a sweater, or only hockey pants. Among them, however, were about 30 12and 13-year-olds in ill-fitting pants, oversized sweaters, bulky stockings, carrying heavily taped sticks, wearing battered skates and worn hockey gloves. The only item they wore that fitted perfectly was their helmets.
On the ice these kids were doing almost all the things we’d seen the smaller boys do outside — the stickhandling, the rotating on their bottoms, the falling, rolling clear, and picking up again full stride. They skated all out, stopped, started again, turned, stopped dead, reversed, broke after a loose puck, stopped — all this without any shooting. The goalies, meanwhile, stickhandled around the ice as if they were forwards, broke in on the defense, did all the striding^ stretching things Dryden said nobody had ever taught him but that he had worked out just to ease his muscles before a game. Why had nobody taught him this kind of stuff? He had been a goalie from the time he was seven years old. Dryden couldn’t say why nobody had taught him to develop the muscles and motions that clearly belonged to goaltending.
Then the goalies started to warm up, using a slowly building practice pace, first one pad, then the other, one glove, then the other, the kind of stuff we’d all seen Tretiak and his teammates do. Dryden here wasn’t sure the tele-
graphing of the shots was the right kind of warm-up, but he did see the sense in getting all the muscles one might have to use in a game limbered up and ready.
Before the final game I spoke to Arkady Tchernishev, coach of the Moscow Dynamos and assistant to Anatoli Tarasov — the man I never could find — during the USSR’s best years in Olympic and international competition. He told me a couple of things I think Canada should know: that these boys we had been watching were strictly forbidden to body check until they were a certain size — and age, usually close to 16. The emphasis on stickhandling and skating continued through the first seven or eight years of a boy’s hockey beginnings. Ninety-nine percent of the kids in the Soviet Union — unlike the ones we had seen at the Army Club — skated only on outdoor rinks the whole of their playing
lives. Apart from the Dvoretz Sporta where the Team Canada-USSR series was being played, and the Army rink we had seen, the only other artificial surface at that moment was strictly for figure skaters. Dynamo was building its own rink with an artificial ice plant — but did not have those facilities right now.
The other thing Tchernishev told me was that if the Soviet Union had followed Canadian training and coaching methods, “it would have taken us 100 years to catch up to you. We realized that we knew more about what to do, and how to connect the training of muscles with the coaching of players. Our results so far show we are rather ahead of all our schedules.” When I told him what I had seen at the Army Club he smiled — though the Army Club is, of course, his main opposition: “Those little boys you saw,” he said, “all model
themselves after some Soviet star. They won’t answer each other unless they’re called ‘Yakushev’ or ‘Shadrin’ or ‘Firsov.’ ” I told him that at the Army Club I had seen at least six “Yakushevs,” two “Tretiaks,” and even a few “Kharlamovs”: the prospect before Canada was most unrosy.
So next day, Tuesday, September 26, when game seven was coming up and Tony Esposito, not Dryden, would be in goal, I picked Dryden up at the Intourist and we took a long taxi ride out to the academic institution behind all the coaching and training going on in the Soviet Union, the Institute of Physical Culture and Sport — by this time I understood the significance of the “and” in its title.
It poured this day and Dryden was without a raincoat — his having been pinched in Sweden. We found ourselves in an old villa once the home of Count Romansyev. It was in an advanced state of decay, something like the temporary buildings set up during World War I on the University of Manitoba Broadway campus and used for the next 50 miserable years. From the entry on Kasakova Street we ran through a series of arches and then made our way into the old building. Entering, we found ourselves — astonishingly! — in an anatomy lab: at both ends of this long narrow room hideous plaster statue imitations of Greek poses presided: the walls held specimens of human bone, and detailed diagrams of the muscle structure of all parts of the body, including the face. In the narrow room, called the Anatomy Kafedra (department), narrow tables and small white stools took up a minimum of space. After gawking, we decided to investigate further, opened a door onto a room lined with specimens of tissue and organs. In that room we found our first student, a young man named Andrei who knew as much English as I knew Russian. It took us no time at all to realize we both needed help.
Soon faculty members of the institute came out to greet us: in my faltering Russian I introduced them to Dryden and explained that I myself was a writer and university professor anxious to understand what this institution was all about. In a few minutes Dryden and I found ourselves seated across from six or seven institute faculty members and a very pretty young lady who was to be our interpreter.
Before starting she had a few things to say about the Team Canada-USSR series herself, like this bit, about Gary Bergman: “She [sic] behave very bad in the penalty box.” About the difference between Canadian and Soviet styles of play: “Our hockey is very early, and your hockey is very old.” About how young men in the Soviet Union are coached to avoid rough stuff: “By here continued on page 100
TEAM CANADA continued we have no such bad behavior.”
Before we could get properly under way, the chief of the Hockey Department, a man in his early sixties, at most five-foot-six, stared at Dryden:
“You are too tall,” he said.
“We,” the man continued, “would never let someone your height try to become a goalie.”
“There are disadvantages,” Dryden said, “but there are advantages too — my reach. I can cover a lot of goal.”
“Never,” the little man said. “The disadvantages are much bigger than the advantages.”
The younger men on the faculty looked down on the floor and smiled.
From this conference we learned that the institute was one mammoth phys-ed department to which Soviet stars in all sports came to study coaching. The ordinary course of events would take five years to complete, but someone engaged in Olympic competition or international hockey, say, could stretch that out. The institute offered a regular university degree and was the highest form of education for aspiring coaches. In order to coach, men had to learn all about the body, about what the body could do and what it should not be expected to do. A coach was a master of physical culture as well as a strategist and tactician: he would no more think of sending underconditioned athletes into a contest than he would try to drive a car without filling its tank with fuel.
When we told the institute people what it was we did in Canada we felt a little like Gulliver trying to explain Western imbecility to the King of Brobdingnag. They couldn’t believe that coaches would leave the body and its conditioning completely to trainers. Our coaches of the young, to them, were either pretty dumb, or worse, incompetent. Uneducated — in the USSR sense — and consequently dangerous.
At the publishing house and at the institute I had been told again and again that nobody can be an athlete in the Soviet Union unless she or he is engaged in some kind of educational work — even a correspondence course. There seemed to be such sense in what the Soviets were up to I wondered why few outside of Lloyd Percival — and through him, it appears, the Detroit Red Wings — had picked up their sound ideas. My three days at the various Soviet institutions were, on one level, the most important ones I spent in Moscow.
On any level, the most important day was Thursday, September 28 — when Canada took it all. But first, on the night of our institute visit, Canada had to come through victorious: with everyone playing at the top of his bent the team, at 17.54 of the final period, scored
the winning 4-3 goal — and again the player who got it was fabulous Paul Henderson.
So the stage was set for the final game. For this one Dryden was considerably calmer than he’d been for Game Six. And confident. Whatever he had had to prove about himself as a goalie had been proved in the 3-2 win. Now it was just tough hockey to the very end.
That game, as everyone knows, was a wild one. In the first period J. P. Parise, objecting to a penalty, charged the referee, and was kicked out, which made Sinden explode and send a chair skidding across the ice. Later there was the incredible sight of Alan Eagleson, held by the Soviet cops like a New Year baby in a stork’s bill, being rescued by an armored division of Team Canada’s padded finest, led by Pete Mahovlich, six-
foot-eight on skates, and all of him swinging; released, Eagleson gave the cops an unplanned full-arm and singlefinger salute television cameras have recorded for posterity. No Soviet newspaper mentioned Pete Mahovlich’s unpunished assault on the militsia. But everyone in that rink this night saw it, this obviously unconcerned attempt to get justice done swiftly the Soviet authorities would like to forget. To show they were still the toughest force in the building, they rushed reserves in on the double. Those reserves were standing shoulder to shoulder when, with only 34 seconds left in the game tied 5-5, Paul Henderson took a Phil Esposito pass and banged home the winning goal. Every Canadian flag in the rink was out and waving: people who had been drunk with despair at the end of the second period when Team Canada was be-
hind, 5-3, found victory a transforming lift. The moment the light went on for that goal Ken Dryden took off for the fastest length a goalie ever skated, ending with him draped around Paul Henderson who was being pounded by players, coaches, Team Canada officials, all of them suddenly on the ice and whooping. The countdown of the final 12 seconds was the loudest sounds the Soviets had heard that night — even louder than the blasting O Canada that roared out of Canadian throats — and American throats too (they were provided the words to O Canada on small orange cards), as well as from a few furtive Russian throats (the singers reading from a transliterated text!).
“I don’ care how we won, we won!” a Calgarian roared in vodka-ese.
His was probably the majority view. I have little doubt that his was the majority Team Canada view. After all, now women and men could stand in the streets and shout, “We’re Number One, we’re Number One” in another American imported catchphrase, and that upraised forefinger would get its message across to any Muscovite. Now it was assumed Canada’s primacy in hockey had been clearly demonstrated — and in what dramatic terms!
Dieppe was turned into V-E Day!
Dunkirk was forgotten as metaphor or actuality. Oh what a great day this was to be a Canadian! An entire nation rose from the barroom floor and rocketed up over the moon. It was in many ways touching, the people gathered at the Intourist Hotel to cheer each and every Team Canada player and his wife or fiancee back into the hotel after the victory party at Hotel Metropole down the street. “For he’s a jolly good fellow” rang out for the manager of the Intourist Restaurants (though the guy who had been serving glop at my hotel didn’t dare show his face). Let anyone in Moscow say “O” and the whole of O Canada was sure to follow.
It was a great comeback, and a fantastic victory. And should have no “buts.”
As I think of it all — and celebrate the great players who really came through in that final game — Henderson, Phil Esposito, Dryden, Pat Stapleton, Bill White and — for his one and only good hockey night — Brad Park: when I remember the look on Yvan Cournoyer’s face when he scored the tying goal — the team was full of hockey at that brilliant end.
Yet, as I think of it all, I come back to those kids at the Army Club and wonder if we have the stature to learn anything from what we experienced that Septem-
ber. Whether it isn’t time for a real double take that shows us we’ve been deluding ourselves and hoaxing our hockey players — no, all our young people engaged in athletics.
What’s needed now, I suggest, is a revolution. The NHL is just another emperor with no clothes. But those young Canadians who play hockey are real human beings who deserve the preparation, the conditioning, the training, and — above all — the coaching Soviet kids get, and will continue to get from members of this outstanding USSR team.
The revolution will turn its attention to helping boys who want to play hockey build the muscles and the skills needed to play hockey best. The NHL will have to rethink its training camp programs: the NHL will have to get itself some coaches: and people who want to coach in hockey will have to use their imaginations, and their intelligence, and open hockey up to new possibilities.
Unless that happens this great Moscow triumph could only be a final epitaph:: it would make a mockery of Team Canada’s achievement if the final word on Canadian hockey became:
Their greatest victory was also their last.
“We’re Number One,” right? But for how long? ■