Soviets shock Canada in Summit Series opener
September 2, 1972 – Montreal, Canada
The withdrawal of Canada from international hockey in 1970 was the result of an increasingly bitter feud between that country and other top European countries, notably the Soviet Union. Canada had long believed that Iron Curtain countries used professional players in World Championship and Olympic competition because their players did nothing but play hockey eleven months of the year.
The withdrawal, though, did have one benefit—it produced the Summit Series in September 1972, an eight-game showdown between Canada’s professionals from the NHL and the best from the Soviet Union (essentially their World Championship/Olympic team).
Leading up to the series, the consensus in Canada was simple: Canada would win all eight games or, on an off night, CCCP would sneak in one win. Scouts and general managers argued that once Canada’s pros were allowed to play, there was no way the Soviets could match Canada for skill, speed, toughness, and ability to win.
The first game of the series, at the Forum in Montreal on September 2, 1972, goes down as one of the greatest moments in hockey’s history. Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau was on the red carpet at centre ice for the opening ceremonies, and once the puck was dropped the apparent slaughter began. Phil Esposito scored 30 seconds after the opening faceoff, and as he laughed on his way to centre ice for the faceoff, fans felt the romp was only just beginning. Six minutes later, Paul Henderson upped the score to 2-0, and fans cheered good-naturedly for their country.
Then something happened, and things went really, really wrong. For Canada. The Soviets started to skate their jitters away. They grew in confidence and started to attack the way they knew they could. They circled with the puck in their own end, and they waited for a perfect scoring chance before shooting. Most important, they used their incredible fitness to outhustle and outlast Canada, a team which had been training for less than a month. Evgeni Zimin scored midway through the first period and Vladimir Petrov scored short-handed before the end of the period to make it a 2-2 game. That was the last time Canada was close in this game.
The Soviets scored the only two goals of the second, and although Canada got one back early in the third, CCCP ran up the score with three more goals on an overwhelmed goalie, Ken Dryden, who perhaps had never given up seven goals in an NHL game with his dominant Montreal Canadiens. The fans at the Forum were in a state of shock, and at the end of the game the players stood at the blueline hunched over, huffing and puffing from exhaustion. There would be no eight-game sweep, no domination, no laughing series.
In one night, the Soviets proved they could play with Canada’s best. They introduced to their opponents a new style of play, and played with a level of fitness Canada could not match. The rest of the series was evenly played, and although Canada won thanks to Paul Henderson’s heroics, the real winner, as goalie Vladislav Tretiak often said, was hockey itself. This game was, for all intents and purposes, the start of professional international hockey.
About the Top 100 Stories
As part of the IIHF's 100th anniversary celebrations, www.IIHF.com is featuring the 100 top international hockey stories from the past century (1908-2008). Starting now and continuing through the 2008 IIHF World Championships in Canada, we will bring you approximately three stories a week counting down from Number 100 to Number 11.
The Final Top 10 Countdown will be one of the highlights of the IIHF's Centennial Gala Evening in Quebec City on May 17, the day prior to the Gold Medal Game of the 2008 World Championship.
These are the criteria for inclusion on this list: First, the story has to have had a considerable influence on international hockey. Second, it has to have had either a major immediate impact or a long-lasting significance on the game. Third, although it doesn't necessarily have to be about top players, the story does have to pertain to the highest level of play, notably Olympics, World Championships, and the like. The story can be about a single moment — a goal, a great save, a referee's call — or about an historic event of longer duration — a game, series, tournament, or rule change.