Summit Series at 50: Sweden
by Andrew Podnieks|14 SEP 2022
Team Canada's only win on home ice came in Game Two in Toronto, but the two exhibition games they played in Sweden prepared them for an historic comeback in Moscow.
photo: HHOF Images
Team Canada flew to Toronto after game four in Vancouver, and the players were given three days off to see their families and pack for a lengthy European sojourn. It was a tough break. Instead of celebrating a joyous cross-country tour of dominant hockey, the team had won only one of four games and was in a precarious situation. Fans and media had turned on them, and the mood was anything but happy. They were a desperate and downcast group searching for answers, happy to get away, but dreading it all the same.

On 12 September everyone left for Stockholm, the team flying in two planes at the insistence of NHL owners. The only player not with the team was Frank Mahovlich, whose allergic reaction in Vancouver to ragweed had caused excessive swelling around his eyes (not to mention a knee injury). He flew directly to Moscow on 20 September. 

The players arrived in Sweden on the 13th, held an intra-squad game the next day, and then played back-to back games against a collection of Swedish all-stars on Saturday and Sunday. They practised again on Monday and Tuesday and flew off to Moscow on Wednesday the 20th.

Having been in Stockholm for three days to practise on the much wider European ice, Canada took to the ice knowing it had a monumental task ahead in Moscow. Trailing in the series, it had to adjust to a rink size totally unfamiliar to every player, who had been raised on NHL-sized ice and never set foot on the bigger European sheet (except goalie Ken Dryden). Their focus wasn’t on their Swedish opponents, but soon enough scenes of dirty play and violence got their attention and brought them together.

Coach Harry Sinden inserted several players in the lineup who hadn’t played at all against the Soviets in the first four games in Canada, notably Jocelyn Guevrement, Brian Glennie, and Marcel Dionne.

Canada won the game, 4-1, but it was by no means a work of creative or artistic triumph. Nonetheless, it was a great game for getting the players to think of each other as a team – us against the world – instead of a collection of superstars.

It was only in retrospect that the Swedish team could be appreciated for what it would bring soon enough to hockey’s history in Canada. In purpose, it was merely a collection of top players Canada could use to play against, but the roster was, in fact, more important than anyone could have known at the time. Ulf Sterner, the first European ever to play in the NHL, with the New York Rangers nearly a decade earlier, was one of the Swedish players. One of the defencemen was Borje Salming, whom the Toronto Maple Leafs signed a year later and who went on to establish the ability of Europeans in the NHL. Inge Hammarstrom joined him but didn’t fare as well. 

Lars-Erik Sjoberg signed later with the Winnipeg Jets in the WHA and became the first European team captain in NHL history in 1979. And then, of course, the pair of Anders Hedberg and Ulf Nilsson also played a starring role, first in the WHA with the Jets, playing with Bobby Hull on the first truly international forward line, and later in the NHL with the Rangers as the highest paid players in the league. In truth, this wasn’t a random collection of Swedes – this was the future of hockey in the NHL.

Game two saw the teams play to a 4-4 tie, but there was more to the game than that. Sinden started Ed Johnston for the first time, and the goalie responded with a terrific performance. Indeed, he was Canada’s best player in a game that devolved into mayhem on several occasions, none worse than at the end of the second period when Wayne Cashman received an horrific spear to his mouth from Ulf Sterner, cutting his tongue for 18 stitches and forcing him to miss the rest of the Summit Series altogether. 

Not to be outdone, Vic Hadfield broke the nose of Lars Erik Sjoberg with a nasty high-stick that was, in the eyes of the Canadians, due comeuppance for Cashman’s injury. Although the game ended in a tie, players questioned the purpose of playing two games in a country that had nothing to do with the Summit Series at a time when focus was critical.

Said Sinden right after the second game: “Obviously our players were not motivated for these games in Sweden. How could they be? They’re thinking about the Russians, not the Swedes.”

Nevertheless, everyone later agreed that the days in Sweden were essential to later success in Moscow. The players became a team. They learned how to play on the big ice and got into better shape. And, they had developed a win-at-all-costs mentality they would need heading into four games in an alien arena in which they needed to win three.