In the history of Ice Hockey, there are few greater rivalries than the one between Canada and Russia. The history of this fierce competitiveness dates back to 1972 when the all conquering Canadian NHL stars came face to face with an un-fancied Soviet Union outfit.
The Soviets pushed their supposedly superior opponents to the brink of defeat until a late Paul Henderson goal secured a 6-5 victory to cap an amazing comeback in the final game of the series.
The 1972 Summit Series
The game in question finished an eight game tournament known as the ‘Summit Series’. The Soviet team consisted of amateur players, many of whom featured for their country at the 1972 Olympics while the Canadians boasted a squad made entirely from professional NHL stars.
Clearly Canada’s side was expected to win the series with ease but the final result was the narrowest of victories by four games to three with one match tied.
The first game
In the very first match, the Canadians were stunned by the skill and physicality of the opponents. The game had started in fairly predictable style however with Canada scoring after just thirty seconds and doubling their advantage shortly afterwards.
From that point the Soviets dominated and ran out eventual winners by seven goals to three. It’s hard now to emphasis just what a shocking result this was for world hockey as a whole but for Canada, it was a huge wake up call for a complacent squad.
Games two through to five
In the second match, Canada fought back to take the game by four goals to one and after leading 4-2 in the third encounter, it seemed as if the balance of power had been restored. However the Soviets fought back to tie the match before winning the fourth game and taking a 3-2 overall lead.
The Soviets began to believe in themselves and in the fifth game, they won by five goals to four to leave them needing just one more win to take the series.
It seems that with all Soviet sports, from athletics right through to chess, there has to be a level of controversy and by game six, things had turned ugly.
Arguments broke out concerning a shipment of beer that the Soviets claimed to have lost before the Canadians accused the match officials of bias. Worse was to come when Bobby Clarke executed a deliberate slash on Valeri Kharmalov’s ankle. Kharmalov had been the Soviet’s star man but the assault effectively ended his tournament.
Under this cloud, Canada fought back to level the series at 3-3 with one match to play.
In the eighth and deciding match, the game was riddled with incidents in a bad tempered encounter that saw fights and a chair thrown onto the ice by Canadian coach Harry Sinden.
The Soviets came through with their physicality to lead by 5 goals to three but after Canada pulled level, Paul Henderson claimed the glory for his side with the winning goal just 34 seconds from the end.
It was an incredible series and many of the Soviet participants became legends of the game. Sadly, the best of the Soviets, Kharmalov died in a car accident at the age of 33 but he is widely acknowledged to be up there with the greats.
The series lives on in the rivalry between these two sides and Canadian squads have been shown videos of the decider before they take to the ice against Russia. For most ice hockey fans, it was quite simply the greatest series ever played.