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Friday is the 40th anniversary of the 1972 Summit Series between Canada and Russia, and if you don't know what that is, then lucky you, I guess.
In short: It was a series organized between the best NHL players in the world, represented by convicted criminal and lowlife Alan Eagleson, and the USSR's seemingly invincible superteam of, ahem, "amateurs." Canada won the eight-game series — yes, eight, a number antithetical to everything we now value in hockey — in which there were no overtimes, 4-3-1.
In Canada, this is treated as A Big Deal.
Basically, it was the first time professional players had played against the Soviet juggernaut because, prior to that, they really only competed in the Olympics, where pros weren't allowed until much later. So it was a situation where, sure, the USSR could pummel the best amateur talent from around the world into a fine pulp since 1954 (except in 1960. You're welcome, world ...), but the question was how they'd stack up against the best pros in the world, as represented by a galaxy of Team Canada stars.
All-time great players like Phil and Tony Esposito, Frank Mahovlich, Bobby Clarke, Ken Dryden, Brad Park, Serge Savard, Stan Mikita, and Yvan Cournoyer took part. Paul Henderson was also there for some reason.
Canada's win in the series was, for some reason, treated as a cultural revolution, and more confusingly, still is. Part of this is because Canada, in typical crybaby fashion, had previously withdrawn from all international competitions because of a dispute with the IIHF. But also because it's viewed as some sort of vindication of all the things that separated The West from The Communists, which doesn't seem especially fair.
The Canadian team, again, was comprised of most of the best pros in the world (the NHL wouldn't allow WHA players). The organizers on Canada's side assumed they would win easily.
They didn't. Russia made it very interesting despite their terrible equipment and the fact that the first four games were played on Canadian soil. The Soviets won two of them, and earned a draw in the other. But then Canada went to the USSR, lost once again, but then won the final three games to capture the series. Thrilling stuff.
But it was not, as Steve Simmons suggested on Twitter this week, a moment about sports and culture, or at least wouldn't be considered such if Henderson -- of all the players on that Canadian roster -- hadn't scored the series-winning goal with just 34 seconds remaining in the final period. Certainly no one likes to bring up the fact that the Canadians essentially tried to end the career of Valrei Kharlamov by having Clarke give him a two-hander on the ankle.
What's funny about this month-long Canadian celebration of the Summit Series is that fans north of the border always -- and I mean always -- bring up USA Hockey's continual crowing about the Miracle On Ice as being a sign of pathetically clinging to the past.
The Summit Series, of course, took place eight years prior and people still hold up three goals by Paul frigging Henderson as being a reason he should be in the Hall of Fame.
Yup, absolutely. Well done Canada, your Best Players in the World beat a team that had only ever been dominant on an amateur level. Barely. In eight games. And only needed rampant dirty play and goofy rules to get it done. What an achievement.
Meanwhile, the Miracle On Ice was a joke of the highest order, a fluke win by a team of college guys, several of whom went on to even slightly noteworthy NHL careers. I understand that allowing a few goals to Paul Henderson is the kind of thing that should be eternally embarrassing to Vladislav Tretiak, but Vladimir Myshkin allowing a game-winning goal to Mike Eruzione is roughly a billion times worse.
What separates the Summit Series win, which was expected, from the Miracle on Ice, which was very much not, is that if not for the latter event, you would have never heard of the vast majority of players on that team. The Canadians in 1972 were already rock stars, rich and well-established in the hockey community.
Quick, name the number of Hockey Hall of Famers on the 1980 U.S. team ....
The reason they called the win a miracle is that, y'know, it was. The Canadians should've had the series wrapped by the time it even went to Russia, and their not being able to do so is, in a word, pathetic.
In fact, Canadians should be embarrassed by what their team did in the Summit Series. Only getting nine points from eight games is some pretty weak stuff for an NHL All-Star team, no matter who they're playing. It should also be embarrassed because it makes everyone remember that Eagleson was involved.
Of course, this is the kind of stuff we should have grown to expect by Canada, given its love of revisionist hockey history. You'll recall that the 2010 gold medal, secured by Sidney Crosby on home ice with an officiating crew that included three Canadians, still took overtime to win, and did not take into account that Chris Drury — speaking of players not worthy of the international stage — led a shellacking of said team earlier in the tournament.
The U.S. still won on aggregate.
Further, this is a hockey community that gets itself all worked up over the World Junior Championships every year, and spends most of the run-up to those tournaments facetiously sandbagging its team's chances, so that when they eventually choke like a Russian goaltender in an important international game (which they have the last three times out), they can all say, "Ah well, we weren't supposed to win anyway."
I guess the lesson here is that every Canadian victory on the international stage is a memorable and improbable one.
Even if they weren't improbable at all.
When you watch the replay of Game 8 Friday night, please try to remember that it shouldn't have been remotely close.
Pearls of Biz-dom
We all know that there isn't a better Twitter account out there than that of Paul Bissonnette. So why not find his best bit of advice on love, life and lappers from the last week?
BizNasty on the bright side: "Well at least the NHL has its referee situation under control......"
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