NEW YORK – Although the 2008 Victoria Cup is the inaugural contest in what will become an annual battle for global hockey supremacy, the NHL’s New York Rangers and Russia’s Metallurg Magnitogorsk are in a way re-enacting a historic matchup from almost 33 years ago.
On December 28, 1975, the Rangers received the honour of being the first team in NHL history to compete against a European club, hosting CSKA Moscow – better known as the Central Red Army team in North America – at Madison Square Garden. It was the first game in the Super Series ’76, an eight-game tour through the NHL by CSKA Moscow and Krylya Sovietov Moscow – the “Soviet Wings”.
The Rangers were essentially a guinea pig in this grand experiment hatched between NHL and Soviet officials. New York had little to no knowledge of their counterparts from Moscow, but the seven other NHL clubs scheduled to participate in Super Series ‘76 scouted the contest to see what awaited them.
“I don’t remember any extra pressure for us because we didn’t know what to expect,” said Rangers goaltender John Davidson, now the President of Hockey Operations for the St. Louis Blues. “It was around Christmas time and it wasn’t anything of real seriousness to us. We were heavily into our own season and this game came along and we played it.”
Harry Sinden, coach of the Boston Bruins, was in attendance wearing two hats, one as a scout and the other as a guest analyst in the broadcast booth with Bob Cole and Dick Irvin for the Canadian Broadcasting Company (CBC). Sinden was already familiar with the Soviets, having coached Canada to a narrow victory in the eight-game 1972 Summit Series.
After an icing call early on, the broadcasters set the tone for the matchup.
Irvin: Harry, we heard that maybe there wasn’t all that much interest down in the States for this series. I was very impressed with the crowd atmosphere when the introductions were made.
Sinden: A lot of excitement here tonight, Dick. I know in Boston they’re looking forward to it.
The contest couldn’t have started better for New York. Steve Vickers beat CSKA goaltender Vladislav Tretiak only 21 seconds into the first period. Vickers backhanded a loose puck at the side of the net off a shot from Phil Esposito. Rod Gilbert also earned an assist.
“Phil was a real competitive guy,” Davidson said of his teammate who finished with a goal and two assists. “Whenever you mentioned the Russians his heart would beat a little fast.”
But the celebrating was short-lived, and what followed was unthinkable. The Soviets answered with seven consecutive goals, two from Vladimir Petrov, en route to a 7-3 victory that stunned the sellout crowd of 17,500.
“We were shocked with the ability they had. Not just individual talent but team concept,” Davidson said. “Their power play was designed and practiced and re-practiced, they were like a machine out there.
“They had a lot of set plays we hadn’t seen in our league. Left-handed forwards playing right wing and vice versa. Same with the defencemen. On their power play they flip-flopped the defenceman and took the shot off the pass, which everybody does today. That was the first time I had ever seen that as a goalie. It made the offensive style much quicker.”
CSKA displayed their trademark crisp skating and exceptional passing and puck control, which was no match for the physical style of the Rangers. New York was called for 10 penalties by the Soviet referee (the linesmen were from the NHL), leading to three power play goals by CSKA.
“They (the Soviets) are like a team of Yvan Cournoyers, with Gordie Howe’s hit,” said Rangers defenceman Doug Jarrett, whose first-period penalty led to CSKA’s first goal of the game.
“Valeri Kharlamov scored on a breakaway on me. His body movements were going so fast, deking and shooting. I’ll be honest, I didn’t realize he released the shot,” Davidson said. “It was a wrist shot in sync with his body. I remember it so clearly. It was very surprising. It was almost shocking to see him move that fast, his shoulders, legs and arms moving all at once, and then the puck was gone.”
“I thought we were high enough for the game. I also thought that most of us played our best,” said Rangers star Rod Gilbert, who scored a goal and an assist. “But it wasn’t nearly good enough.”
When the Super Series’ 76 ended two weeks later, CSKA Moscow and the Soviet Wings combined for a 5-2-1 record against the NHL.
“Once everybody got over the shock of different things, we realized the game would be better because of this,” Davidson said. “They brought a ton of skill, a lot of very well-coached players, and different views conditioning wise and on power play strategy. They were very progressive in their thinking. To get to their finest movements, they took a different avenue than we did. It was a different world back then. It was a dominating regime those players had above them.
“Since then we’ve combined a lot of different things. A lot of their skill and our grit and tenacity, and they’ve blended well together and made the world of hockey a much better place no matter what side of the ocean you’re on.”
CSKA Moscow 7 at New York Rangers 3
Sunday, December 28, 1975
Madison Square Garden
Attendance: 17,500CSKA Moscow:
Boris Alexandrov, Sergei Glazov, Alexander Gusev, Valeri Kharlamov, Viktor Kutergin, Viktor Kuzkin, Vladimir Lutchenko, Alexander Maltsev, Boris Mikhailov, Vladimir Petrov, Vladimir Popov, Viacheslav Solodukhin, Gennady Tsygankov, Vladislav Tretiak, Valeri Vasiliev, Vladimir Vikulov, Alexander Volchenkov, Alexander Volchkov, Viktor Zhlutkov.NY Rangers:
John Bednarski, Nick Beverley, John Davidson, Wayne Dillon, Phil Esposito, Bill Fairbairn, Rod Gilbert, Ron Greschner, Jerry Holland, Doug Jarrett, Eddie Johnstone, Rick Middleton, Greg Polis, Larry Sacharuk, Pete Stemkowski, Walt Tkaczuk, Carol Vadnais, Steve Vickers.First Period
1. NYR - Vickers (Esposito, Gilbert) 0:21
2. CSKA - Alexandrov (Petrov, Gusev) 4:04 PP
3. CSKA - Vikulov (Zhluktov, Alexandrov) 5:19
4. CSKA - Kharlamov, (Vasiliev, Petrov) 19:42 PP
Penalties: Jarrett 2:46, Greschner 7:20, Greschner 10:13, Greschner 18:16.Second Period
5. CSKA - Petrov (Kharlamov, Mikhailov) 1:26
6. CSKA - Vikulov (Zhlutkov, Alexandrov) 14:21
7. CSKA - Mikhailov (Kharlamov. Gusev) 16:54
Penalties: Popov 7:34, Gusev 8:46, Johnstone 19:11.Third Period
8. CSKA - Petrov (Mikhailov, Kharlamov) 3:16 PPG
9. NYR - Gilbert (Esposito) 15:31
10. NYR - Esposito (Vickers, Sacharuk) 17:47 PPG
Penalties: Vasiliev 0:38, Esposito 1:40, Fairbairn 8:04, Fairbairn 12:42, Volchkov 16:04, Polis 19:38, Vadnais (major) 19:38.Shots on goal
Tretiak (CSKA) 10-14-17 – 41
Davidson (NYR) 12-9-8 – 29
Super Series ’76 results
Dec. 28, 1975: CSKA Moscow 7, New York Rangers 3
Dec. 29, 1975: Krylya Sovietov 7, Pittsburgh Penguins 4
Dec. 31, 1975: CSKA Moscow 3, Montreal Canadiens 3
Jan. 4, 1976: Krylya Sovietov 6, Buffalo Sabres 12
Jan. 7, 1976: Krylya Sovietov 4, Chicago Blackhawks 2
Jan. 8, 1976: CSKA Moscow 5, Boston Bruins 2
Jan. 10, 1976: Krylya Sovietov 2, New York Islanders 1
Jan. 11, 1976: CSKA Moscow 1, Philadelphia Flyers 4