The newly formed Hockey Canada began negotiations for the Summit Series in 1969. The Series would pit the Soviet Union, the winners of several World Championships and Olympics against the best players Canada had to offer. Unfortunately, even with Canada planning this event as the first international tournament that would actually feature their top players, the fates conspired against them.

With planning in its final stages in 1972, the upstart WHA was formed and the NHL had no interest in a partnership with their new rival. The NHL threatened to pull its support of the Series unless WHA players were banned. That meant Bobby Hull, J.C. Tremblay, Gerry Cheevers and Derek Sanderson would not be suiting up for Canada. Injuries meant Bobby Orr, the best player in the NHL, would also be unable to participate.

However, Canada was still able to ice a formidable team. With players like Rod Gilbert, Bobby Clarke, Yvan Cournoyer, Stan Mikita, Serge Savard, Jean Ratelle, Brad Park and the Mahovolich and Esposito brothers, the Canadians had a lineup filled with all-stars. The wild card, of course, was that they knew very little about their opponents.

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The newly formed Hockey Canada began negotiations for the Summit Series in 1969. The Series would pit the Soviet Union, the winners of several World Championships and Olympics against the best players Canada had to offer. Unfortunately, even with Canada planning this event as the first international tournament that would actually feature their top players, the fates conspired against them.

With planning in its final stages in 1972, the upstart WHA was formed and the NHL had no interest in a partnership with their new rival. The NHL threatened to pull its support of the Series unless WHA players were banned. That meant Bobby Hull, J.C. Tremblay, Gerry Cheevers and Derek Sanderson would not be suiting up for Canada. Injuries meant Bobby Orr, the best player in the NHL, would also be unable to participate.

However, Canada was still able to ice a formidable team. With players like Rod Gilbert, Bobby Clarke, Yvan Cournoyer, Stan Mikita, Serge Savard, Jean Ratelle, Brad Park and the Mahovolich and Esposito brothers, the Canadians had a lineup filled with all-stars. The wild card, of course, was that they knew very little about their opponents.

The series was an eight game affair, with four games in Canada and four games in the Soviet Union. It took place over 27 days in September, just prior to the NHL season. Many North American hockey experts predicted an eight-game sweep for the Canadians and many of the Team Canada members agreed.

Their confidence seemed to be justified as the Canadians jumped to a quick two goal lead shortly after the puck dropped in game one. The fans may have felt they were in for a one-sided game but the feeling on the bench was different. The Canadians were very impressed with the Soviets speed and skill and suspected they might be in for a long night. They were correct. When the buzzer sounded, the Russians had trounced the Canadians by a 7-3 score. Team Canada filed off the ice in a silent Montreal Forum. The team, fans and nation were in shock.

Canada bounced back, winning game two but could only muster a tie in game three. Game four in Vancouver, the last of the Canada-based games, was another Russian win. Team Canada left the ice to a chorus of boos from the crowd. Improbably, the series was slipping away. Right after the game, Phil Esposito, used national television to deliver the wake-up call that turned the series around. Hurt by the booing of Canadian fans, Esposito made an impassioned plea for support from across the country and assured them that Team Canada was doing its best against a worthy opponent.

The series shifted to Russia for the next four games. When a four-to-one lead in the third period quickly vanished and Team Canada lost five-to-four, it seemed the series was all but over. The Soviets now led the series three games to one with a tie.

Clearly, a daunting task lay ahead. The Canadians needed to win the remaining three games in Moscow to win the series. They won the sixth game by a tight three-to-two score and managed to pull out a win in game seven with a late goal by Paul Henderson. The significance of two one-goal victories was huge. Had either game ended in a tie, Canada could not have won the series.

A dramatic Game Eight was in the cards and the Soviets, smelling blood, played well. By the end of the second period, the Soviets led five-to-three and were just twenty minutes away from the greatest hockey upset on record. However, Canada’s inspirational leader, Phil Esposito simply refused to lose. He scored early in the third period and ten minutes later battled through two Russian defenders and got a shot that rebounded out to Yvan Cournoyer who scored.

With time winding down and the game tied, the Soviets announced that they would claim victory if the game ended in a tie, based on their having scored one more goal then the Canadians in the tournament.

As the game entered the last minute, it seemed the incredible Canadian rally would fall just short. Even if the Soviets didn’t claim victory based on the goal differential, Team Canada knew that anything short of winning the series would be deemed a failure. Esposito and Cournoyer worked the puck deep into the Soviet zone while, on the bench, Paul Henderson, who had scored the game winner in the two previous games, called Peter Mahovolich off the ice. Henderson barrelled into the zone and a Cournoyer pass met him in the slot but he could only manage a weak shot before falling and crashing into the boards. The Soviets mishandled the puck and Esposito took possession, fired a shot that Tretiak knocked away. Henderson, back on his feet and right on the doorstep corralled the rebound and fired it at the net, only to be stopped again by a sprawling Tretiak. With the time ticking away Henderson took another desperate swat at the puck and knocked it past the helpless Russian goaltender. At 19:26, the Canadians had taken a 6-5 lead.

When the final buzzer went thirty-four seconds later and the players celebrated on the ice, none of them could have known the cultural significance of their accomplishment. It would become a defining moment for the nation; a unifying moment and a part of the cultural identity.

"The Canadians battled with the ferocity and intensity of a cornered animal," said Russian coach Anatoli Tarasov. "Our players were better conditioned physically and stronger in skills then the Canadian professionals. But we could not match them in heart and desire, always the strongest part of the Canadian game."

© 2001, CHIN. All Rights Reserved.

The success of the 1972 Summit Series built a foundation for many future games between the best of these two countries. The next time the two nations clashed was in 1974 when the WHA put together a team of its top Canadian players to face off against the Russians in an eight game series. Despite having Summit hero and recent WHA signee, Paul Henderson on the roster, the magic just wasn’t there . The WHA squad was easily handled by the Russians who won the series with four wins and three ties in the eight games. The Canadian team included Bobby Hull, Gerry Cheevers and Gordie Howe, as well as his two sons, Mark and Marty. Pat Stapleton, Frank Mahovolich and Paul Henderson were the only players with experience in the previous Summit Series.


The success of the 1972 Summit Series built a foundation for many future games between the best of these two countries. The next time the two nations clashed was in 1974 when the WHA put together a team of its top Canadian players to face off against the Russians in an eight game series. Despite having Summit hero and recent WHA signee, Paul Henderson on the roster, the magic just wasn’t there . The WHA squad was easily handled by the Russians who won the series with four wins and three ties in the eight games. The Canadian team included Bobby Hull, Gerry Cheevers and Gordie Howe, as well as his two sons, Mark and Marty. Pat Stapleton, Frank Mahovolich and Paul Henderson were the only players with experience in the previous Summit Series.


© 2001, CHIN. All Rights Reserved.

Soviet Union vs Team Canada

The Soviet Union and Team Canada ready to begin the Series of the Century.

CHIN

© Graphic Artists/Hockey Hall of Fame


Red Fisher on the Canadian-USSR Series

Red Fisher on the Canadian-USSR Series. Click 'View the Transcript' for video link.

VIDEO

Everybody in Canada felt that when the NHL players met the Soviets, it would be over in eight straight games, we’d win all eight games. You know, I remember talking with some of the Soviet people in July. I was there in July to do a pre-series series on it, on this particular paper, which started in September. And I was asked by their number two man, Andrei Starovoitov: "How do you think this will go?" I said: "Eight straight." And now, it’s after game one at Montreal Forum, and the Soviet after falling behind two - nothing, very early in the game, it’s Soviet 7, Team NHL 3. There is a mob of people in the garage, at the Forum, a mob of media people. And while Mr. Starovoitov talked to me through an interpreter in Moscow in July. Now, he is making his way through the crowd, coming towards me and he says to me: "Do you remember me from Moscow Mr. Fisher?" I said: "Yes, Mr. Starovoitov." "Do you remember what you said to me in Moscow?" I said: "Yes, Mr. Starovoitov, I said "Eight straight". He said in perfect English, well almost perfect English: "Well you could be right". Turned around and walked away. That was the greatest one-liner ever thrown at me, and I certainly deserved it because, I along with so many Canadians just felt this was going to be a breeze.

CHIN

© 2001, CHIN. All Rights Reserved.


Red Fisher on the Canadian-USSR Series

Red Fisher on the Canadian-USSR Series. Click 'View the Transcript' for video link.

VIDEO

There has never been any series quite as emotional as that one. No Stanley Cup series that I’ve ever covered has ever been as emotional. All of us were involved. When I say all of us, I mean the media. We sat there rooting for team NHL obviously, because this was Democracy vs. the Communism. And the Communist had shown that they could really play this game, and play it a lot better then anybody ever thought. Certainly a whole lot better than I thought, better than Team Canada thought, better than perhaps they themselves thought.

So now here it’s going down to the final minute of game eight, when Paul Henderson scores the goal with 34 seconds left. Man… nobody will ever forget where they where when that goal was scored. Which is a whole lot more than anybody can say about any Stanley Cup series that they ever saw, or covered or watched on television.

CHIN

© 2001, CHIN. All Rights Reserved.


Red Fisher Remembers Paul Henderson's Goal

Red Fisher Remembers Paul Henderson's Goal. Click 'View the Transcript' for video link.

VIDEO

All that the Soviets had to do was just tie another game in the remaining three and it’d be over. But, Team Canada simply or, Team NHL simply didn’t allow it. Phil Esposito, who played the greatest series I have ever seen any player, any of the great players, in the National Hockey League play, wouldn’t allow it to happen. Bobby Clarke wouldn’t allow it to happen. And in his own way, Paul Henderson didn’t allow it to happen. It was an unbelievable finish, to an unbelievable series. Not the best hockey I’ve ever seen, at times far from it. But, certainly the most emotional, the most unforgettable. As I said, nobody will ever forget where they were when the goal was scored. When Canada, when Team NHL won that series in the final minute of an eight game series. You can’t write a script for that.

CHIN

© 2001, CHIN. All Rights Reserved.


Tony Esposito Discusses Canadian "Heart" and Determination

Tony Esposito Discusses Canadian "Heart" and Determination. Click 'View the Transcript' for video link.

VIDEO

The thing that I noticed as the series went on over there. They expected us to lay down. Especially, after that first loss over there. They can’t relate to the passion and the grit that we have over here. Because they weren’t brought up like that. They were all brought up in a society where everything is (the same.) No smiles and no playing and no emotion. And they couldn’t realize. They couldn’t understand. How we can get like this, and continue to fight and struggle and win. They expected us to quit. But it didn’t happen."

CHIN

© 2001, CHIN. All Rights Reserved.


Phil Esposito Reflects on the Series and What it Meant

Phil Esposito Reflects on the Series and What it Meant. Click 'View the Transcript' for video link.

VIDEO

"Well, it’s over, let’s forget about it. And, uh, let’s go on with the rest of our lives. And to tell you the truth, I was really wrong in that, because this is a special, special thing. And it wasn’t only a special thing for this country, it was a special thing for us guys, the guys that played together and went through some tough times. And I remember, very vividly, after that series, for years, going against a face-off against Peter Mahovolich or Bobby Clarke or what have you, and this little silly grin coming out --- knowing that we went through hell together. That’s what we felt like. And uh, for me, it was just a tremendous, tremendous thing. And to get back involved with this thing, or which I’m really sorry I didn’t earlier, uh is really, really thrilling."

CHIN

© 2001, CHIN. All Rights Reserved.


Paul Henderson Discusses Phil Esposito's Role in the Victory

Paul Henderson Discusses Phil Esposito's Role in the Victory. Click 'View the Transcript' for video link.

VIDEO

"Let me say this to you. He was the undisputed leader on the team, on or off the ice. And I will say to you today, the finest period of hockey ever played by a hockey player was the third period of the last game in Moscow. This man scored the first goal and he set up the other two. I think it was the finest period of hockey ever played. You see that’s what leadership is all about. Leadership, yeah you can talk it, but can you make it happen? He made it happen."

CHIN

© 2001, CHIN. All Rights Reserved.


Canada-USSR Series Audio Clip. Click 'View the Transcript' for audio link.

AUDIO

"One minute left to go. A 5:5 tie. This is the tie-breaking game. You couldn’t get it any closer. Savard at his own blue line turning around with Pat Stapleton coming out. Stapleton passes on an open wing but here’s Cournoyer coming up for it. A long shot in off the stick of Esposito. Vasiliev goes back in the net. Cournoyer steals it. A pass and Paul Henderson was upended as he tried to shoot it. Here’s another shot. Henderson right in. He scores! Henderson!

- Well the team pours over the boards. They’re mobbing Henderson. They’re mobbing Henderson.

- And Kenny Dryden, I’ve never seen a goaltender [unaudible] over 200 feet, all the way. And team officials are over the board. Henderson has got to be the hero of the entire nation now. Thirty-four seconds left. They’ve got a 6:5 lead. Can they hang on?
- Well, I’ll tell ya. You wouldn’t ask for anything more of Henderson if this turns out to be the game-winning goal. He will have scored the game winner in the last three games of the series."

CHIN

© CBC/Radio-Canada.


Learning Objectives

The learner will:

  • Investigate the role that hockey plays in Canada’s national identity
  • Identify significant people involved in hockey in Canada
  • Explore Canada’s involvement over time in international hockey competitions including the Olympics and the Canada/USSR summit series

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