TORONTO – So, we meet again. Former Soviet great Boris Mikhailov popped in to the Hall of Fame in Toronto and ran into Ron Ellis. The two stars of the unforgettable 1972 Summit Series had lots to reminisce about.
Some things will never go away. In hockey, the 1972 Summit Series will last forever. When the Soviet Union clashed (and that was softly put) with Team Canada in September 1972 it was the first time in the history of the game that the motherland of hockey was able to ice its best players on one team in an international event.
Mikhailov was in Toronto with journalist Seva Kukushkin, who is making a documentary about the series. Next year will mark the 40-year anniversary of the eight games which changed hockey forever.
The series between the perennial World and Olympic Champions from the USSR and the Canadian NHLers were so much more than just about hockey. It was society vs. society, east vs. west, capitalism vs. communism, “amateurs” vs. professionals and above all – it was about the most basic thing in sports – to determine who was the best.
Both right wingers, Boris Mikhailov and Ron Ellis played their teams’ best lines. Mikhailov with centre Vladimir Petrov and left wing marvel Valeri Kharlamov, while Ellis was put together with Bobby Clarke and Paul Henderson.
While all observers (except from the Canadian ones who didn’t have a clue about the Soviet team) knew that the Petrov line was the Soviet’s best unit, very few believed that Clarke’s line would even play as much as a marginal role.
But while supposed stars like Vic Hadfield, Stan Mikita, Frank Mahovlich, Jean Ratelle, Wayne Cashman and Gilbert Perreault had to accept lesser roles, the Ellis-Clarke-Henderson line was the only Canadian threesome that not only stayed intact but played in all eight games.
The ironic thing is that both lines collected 19 points each in the eight games. Of course, it was Ellis’ linemate Paul Henderson who scored the series winner with 34 seconds left of Game 8 in Moscow on September 28.
One thing that can never be said about the 1972 encounter is that it was a “friendly” series. Far from it. The hostilities were evident, not from the very beginning, but as soon as it was clear that the series weren’t going Canada’s way.
But 39 years later, the same players (both 66 years old) who were prepared to maim each other in back in 1972, are utterly respectful. They know that they were part of sports history, something unique that will never happen again. It’s an eternal bond.
Today’s games, even the most passionately played between Russia and Canada, are only about hockey.
Mikhailov was seen keenly studying the special 1972 display and the IIHF Hall of Fame honour roll. He could see his name plaque, picture and biography under 2000, the year he was inducted to the IIHF Hall, which is part of the Hall of Fame’s new World of Hockey zone, which was opened last year.
For Ron Ellis to come down and see his old foe was not a huge challenge. He works at the Hall of Fame in Toronto as Director of Public affairs.
After the 1972 series, they only met one more time as active players; when they both represented their countries at the 1977 IIHF World Championship in Vienna, the year Canada returned to the Worlds after a seven-year hiatus.
This time Mikhailov and the Soviets got their revenge. They won gold, while Team Canada only finished fourth.
Both legends of hockey retired in 1981.
Footnote: Boris Mikhailov is inducted to the IIHF Hall of Fame, but not to the Hall of Fame.