Legends of Hockey - Spotlight - Team Canada '72
Spotlight
One on One Turning Point

Team Cananda '72

27 NOVEMBER 2012
Team Canada head coach Harry Sinden behind the bench during the 1972 Summit Series.
Team Canada head coach Harry Sinden behind the
bench during the 1972 Summit Series.
(Photo by Frank Prazak/Hockey Hall of Fame)


Prior to 1972, international hockey tournaments refused to allow professionals to compete, so while Canada was sending senior teams or teams comprised of university players, they were playing against Soviet players who were being paid to be in the military but, in fact, were playing hockey year-round. The Canadian hockey community tagged them as 'sham-ateurs.' In fact, Canada dropped out of international competition in 1970 because the country was denied the use of the nation's best players. Then, in 1972, after much negotiation and for the first time ever, Canada's best hockey players were given the opportunity to face the best from the Soviet Union in a tournament. Alan Eagleson, the president of the National Hockey League Players' Association, was responsible for putting the tournament together in cooperation with Hockey Canada. In April 1972, he announced that an eight-game tournament -- four games in Canada and four in the Soviet Union -- would take place in September of that year, and would pit the best against the best.

Team Canada's Red-White game during training camp at Maple Leaf Gardens leading up to the 1972 Summit Series against the Soviet Union.
Team Canada's Red-White game during training camp
at Maple Leaf Gardens leading up to the 1972 Summit
Series against the Soviet Union.
(Photo by Graphic Artists/Hockey Hall of Fame)


Harry Sinden left hockey in 1970 when the Boston Bruins refused to give him a raise, but when the company he worked for went bankrupt, he made it known that he would like to return to hockey, and in June 1972, Eagleson hired Sinden to be coach and general manager of Team Canada in the tournament that would come to be known as the Summit Series.

Sinden suggested John Ferguson as a playing-coach, but after being out of hockey for a year, Ferguson stated that he did not want to play and subsequently took on the role of assistant coach.

Eagleson, Sinden and Ferguson compiled a list of 35 players that they would invite to camp in Toronto. On July 12, 1972, they announced their roster. In goal, they had Gerry Cheevers, Ken Dryden and Tony Esposito. On defence, they selected Don Awrey, Gary Bergman, Jocelyn Guevremont, Jacques Laperriere, Guy Lapointe, Bobby Orr, Brad Park, Serge Savard, Rod Seiling, Pat Stapleton, J.C. Tremblay and Bill White. The players chosen at forward were Red Berenson, Wayne Cashman, Bobby Clarke, Yvan Cournoyer, Marcel Dionne, Ron Ellis, Phil Esposito, Rod Gilbert, Bill Goldsworthy, Vic Hadfield, Paul Henderson, Bobby Hull, Dennis Hull, Frank Mahovlich, Peter Mahovlich, Richard Martin, Jean-Paul Parise, Jean Ratelle, Mickey Redmond and Derek Sanderson.

Canada's Frank Mahovlich with a scoring chance against Vladislav Tretiak of the Soviet Union during Game 1 action of the 1972 Summit Series at The Forum in Montreal on September 2, 1972.
Canada's Frank Mahovlich with a scoring chance
against Vladislav Tretiak of the Soviet Union during
Game 1 action of the 1972 Summit Series at The Forum
in Montreal on September 2, 1972.
(Photo by Frank Prazak/Hockey Hall of Fame)
From the outset, Clarence Campbell ruled that no NHL players would be permitted to play in the tournament. That summer, Eagleson, with help from Bill Wirtz, the owner of the Chicago Black Hawks, finally convinced Campbell that NHL players could compete in the series, but only if they had a signed contract with their National Hockey League team. And at the same time, the NHL was getting into a long, protracted battle with the World Hockey Association, which was just then starting to take runs at signing NHL players. To protect the NHL and to strike back at the WHA, Campbell insisted that only National Hockey League players would be permitted to play in the series. Campbell ruled that the WHA had not entered into a relationship with the Canadian Amateur Hockey Association, which arranged all international games for Canada. Because the NHL had an existing agreement with the CAHA, only players who had signed a standard NHL contract would be allowed to participate in the series. This ruling eliminated Gerry Cheevers, Bobby Hull, Derek Sanderson and J.C. Tremblay, who had already signed with teams in the WHA. Jacques Laperriere had to decline the original invitation due to the health of his pregnant wife and Bobby Orr announced that knee surgery eliminated him from competing. Replacing those players were Ed Johnston of the Bruins in goal, Brian Glennie from the Leafs on defence, and forwards Stan Mikita of the Hawks and Dale Tallon of the Canucks.

Team Canada celebrates following a goal against the
Soviet Union during Game 2 action of the 1972 Summit Series at Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto on September 4, 1972.
(Photo by Robert Shaver/Hockey Hall of Fame)
A pair of Toronto Maple Leafs executives scouted the Soviet team and reported that the Canadians would win handily. Almost all predictions for the series heavily favoured Team Canada. It seemed difficult to comprehend that that the Soviet team could be a match for the best players of the National Hockey League. The Canadian team took the series lightly - a serious mistake that they would soon regret.

The first game, played September 2, 1972 in Montreal, saw the Canadians leap out to a 2-0 lead in the first period, but that confidence was quickly erased as the Soviets roared back to a dominating 7-3 final score. "The myth of unbeatable Canadian pros is over," declared Soviet broadcaster Nikolay Ozerov. "They completely underestimated us at the beginning," stated Soviet winger Alexander Yakushev.

Jersey worn by Canada's Rod Seiling during the 1972 Summit Series against the Soviet Union.
Jersey worn by Canada's Rod Seiling during the 1972 Summit Series against the Soviet Union. (Photo by Matthew Manor/Hockey Hall of Fame)
The Soviets arrived in Canada well prepared for the series. Their conditioning was very good, unlike the Canadians. "We hadn't trained very much or very hard," remembers Phil Esposito. "We ran out of gas."

In the dressing room after that first game, Harry Sinden just shook his head as he addressed the team. "Gentlemen," he began. "We are in for a long, tough series. And we better get our act together."

Game Two was played in Toronto on September 4, and the Canadians rebounded with a 4-1 win. But the third game, a contest played September 6 in Winnipeg, ended in a 4-4 draw.

And then, the final game on Canadian soil -- September 8 in Vancouver.

Alexander Maltsev of the Soviet Union skates with the puck while Canada's Pat Stapleton defends during 1972 Summit Series game action at Luzhniki Ice Palace in Moscow.
Alexander Maltsev of the Soviet Union skates with the puck while Canada's Pat Stapleton defends during 1972 Summit Series game action at Luzhniki Ice Palace in Moscow.
(Photo by NDE/Hockey Hall of Fame)


The Soviet squad completely dominated Team Canada, and the game ended in a 5-3 win for the USSR. The fans booed Team Canada off the ice. Phil Esposito addressed the hockey nation in a televised post-game interview: "People across Canada, we tried. We gave it our best but they've got a good team. And we don't know what we can do better, but we are going to figure it out."

It was a pivotal moment in the series.

"I gave the whole country a tongue-lashing on national television," Esposito wrote in his autobiography, Thunder and Lightning.

Gloves worn by Canada's Jean Ratelle during the 1972 Summit Series against the Soviet Union.
Gloves worn by Canada's Jean Ratelle
during the 1972 Summit Series against the Soviet Union. (Photo by Matthew Manor/Hockey Hall of Fame)
The remainder of the series was to take place in Moscow. Team Canada had to do their homework if they were to come back to beat the Soviets. Besides conditioning, Canada had to gel as a team. The Soviets had played together for several months and, in some cases, several years while Team Canada was comprised of players from rival NHL teams, many of whom didn't particularly like each other. At this point, they had to play together against a very good opponent if they had any designs on winning the series.

Harry Sinden made some difficult decisions. Having earlier told the entire team that they'd all get the opportunity to play, he was forced to change his tactic and pared the roster down to the players with whom he was confident that he could return to Canada with the series win. The frustration of not being selected boiled over, and a few players returned to the training camp of their NHL team.

Team Canada bonded much better during two games played against the Swedish National Team between the first four games of the Summit Series and the final four. Most members agree that it was in Sweden where Team Canada really became a team.

The Canadians, having been scolded by Phil Esposito, responded with enthusiasm. More than 3,000 fans travelled to Moscow to cheer on their team, and the Canadian players were welcomed with 10,000 telegrams of support upon their arrival on Soviet soil.

Canada and the Soviet Union get set to battle in Game 8 of the 1972 Summit Series at the Luzhniki Ice Palace in Moscow on September 28, 1972.
Canada and the Soviet Union get set to battle in Game 8
of the 1972 Summit Series at the Luzhniki Ice Palace in Moscow on September 28, 1972.
(Photo by John Wilson/Hockey Hall of Fame)
On September 22, the series resumed with Game Five ending in a 5-4 victory for the Soviets. There were some very positive signs for the Canadians, though, including a 3-0 lead going into the third period and the igniting of a player named Paul Henderson, who tallied twice for Team Canada.

Canada muscled through Game Six on September 24 with a 3-2 win, and Paul Henderson scoring the winning goal midway through the second period. He repeated that feat in Game Seven, scoring a magnificent goal by beating two Soviet defenders alone late in the third period to win the game 4-3 on September 26. "I call the Game Seven winner absolutely the best goal I ever scored in my life," Henderson states.

Going into Game Eight on September 28, 1972, the series had the Soviet Union with three wins, Canada with three wins and one contest ending in a tie. The series came down to a single game, and it's one that has been glorified for four decades.

After the first period, the Soviet Union and Canada were tied at two goals apiece, but after the second period, the USSR was up 5-3, yet, there was no panic on the Canadian side. "Despite the deficit, everyone in the dressing room was confident and upbeat," recalls Henderson. "The thought of losing didn't cross any of our minds."

Canada's Paul Henderson celebrates after scoring the 1972 Summit Series winning-goal against the Soviet Union in Game 8 at the Luzhniki Ice Palace in Moscow on September 28, 1972.
Canada's Paul Henderson celebrates after scoring the 1972 Summit Series winning-goal against the Soviet Union in Game 8 at the Luzhniki Ice Palace in Moscow on September 28, 1972. (Frank Lennon)
Canada scored two unanswered goals in the third to tie the score at 5-5. With less than a minute to play, Henderson, the hero of the two previous games, instigated a line change. "I stood up at the bench and called Pete Mahovlich off the ice. I'd never done such a thing before. I jumped on and rushed straight for their net. I had this strange feeling that I could score the winning goal. I had a great chance just before I scored, but (Yvan) Cournoyer's pass went behind me. Then, I was tripped up and crashed into the boards behind the net. I leaped up and moved in front, just in time to see (Phil) Esposito take a shot at Tretiak from inside the faceoff circle. The rebound came right to my stick and I tried to slide the puck past (Vladislav) Tretiak. He got a piece of it, but a second rebound came right to me. This time, I flipped the puck over him and into the net."

"Henderson has scored for Canada!" exclaimed broadcaster Foster Hewitt. It was the shot 'heard 'round the world.' Canada held the Soviets off the scoresheet for the remaining 34 seconds to win the game...and the series. "If you'd been writing the script, it couldn't have produced a more dramatic and exciting final," declared Hewitt.

Helmet worn by Soviet Union forward Alexandre Yakushev during the eight games of the 1972 Summit Series against Canada.
Helmet worn by Soviet Union forward Alexandre Yakushev during the eight games of the 1972 Summit Series against Canada. (Photo by Matthew Manor/Hockey Hall of Fame)
"We were thrilled," recalls Ron Ellis. "In some ways, we couldn't believe that we'd done it. We went into the dressing room, but after a few high-fives and some whooping it up, we went to our seats and sat down. We were emotionally drained. It took us a couple of days before we could really celebrate and realize what we had accomplished."

For Canadians, it was the greatest hockey victory in the history of the nation. The series has taken on mythical proportions. Paul Henderson's series-winning goal has become known as the 'Goal of the Century,' and was named one of the top ten events of the 20th century in Canadian history.

An exhibition series between the finest the Soviet Union had to offer and the best Canada could provide concluded in a titanic struggle that changed the way hockey is played in North America. Although the political sensibilities of the Cold War prevented any of the Soviet players from joining the National Hockey League, NHL teams introduced elements of the Soviet style and conditioning into their programs. Eventually, with the fall of the Iron Curtain, elite Soviet players were able to join NHL teams. And the Summit Series paved the way for the best from each nation to participate in hockey events, including the Canada Cup and World Cup tournaments and later, Canadian professionals were finally allowed to play in International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) events, first at the World Championships and then, in the Winter Olympic Games.

"I cherish the opportunity I had to be part of that team and represent Canada," concludes Ron Ellis. "We knew at the time that we were involved in a wonderful series, a unique series, but I don't think any of us expected (the Summit Series) to live as long as it has. I am so grateful that I was able to represent my country and our way of life in the Series of the Century."

Kevin Shea is the Editor of Publications and Online Features for the Hockey Hall of Fame.