An oral history of what really transpired in September of 1972, with material from nearly 100 interviews.
Game 1: Nothing would ever be the same
Brad Park, Canadian defenceman: It was hot in the Montreal Forum that night. Up in the 80s, maybe 90s. You knew the ice would be good for half a period. Then everything would get messy.
Rick Noonan, Canadian trainer assisting the USSR: Game time was 7:30, I think, but by 6:45 the Soviet players weren’t on the bus yet. I go up to the hotel dining room [and] the whole team was lounging up there, sipping back black coffee, Coke, eating pastries.
Phil Esposito, Canadian forward: We were confident in the dressing room. We were going to go out there and have some fun and win a hockey game.
Noonan: We got the Soviets to the Forum just in time. All the Soviets carried their own gear. There was no star treatment.
Alan Eagleson, Team Canada manager and executive director of the NHL Players’ Association: We really did it up. [Prime minister Pierre] Trudeau dropped the ceremonial first puck and all that.
Yuri Liapkin, Soviet defenceman: We had never seen so many people at a hockey game. When the teams were presented, 18,000 people cheered for five minutes straight. They were national heroes, these hockey players. We had never seen anything like it.
Igor Kuperman, Russian hockey writer, then just 14: I watched all the games from Moscow. They were tape-delayed and I would shut down all the radios the day of the game so as not to spoil the result. I was sure the Canadians would win eight in a row.
Howie Meeker, broadcaster: I knew as soon as I saw the warm-up. All you had to do was watch the Russian passing. Geez, could they pass that puck.
Brian Conacher, broadcaster: I was up in the booth with Foster Hewitt. He was nervous. He was a legend by then, of course, and he had come out of retirement for the series. But primarily he had been a radio man. Foster was never entirely comfortable with television.
Pat Stapleton, Canadian defenceman: Was there tension? None. Not a bit. Not for us. It was just another hockey game. We didn’t really respect the Russians.
Eagleson: I’d seen the Russians play. Just three years before, we had sent a national team with some retired professionals over and they beat the Russians five out of six games. I thought, “Christ, if we can beat them with a rag-tag crew like that, this team of all-stars is gonna whomp ’em.”
Conacher: The NHLers were arrogant. No one at the time thought that international hockey was anything but second-rate. I could feel a rude awakening about to happen. I was one of the very few to say the Soviets are better than we think.
Liapkin: In Russia, we had watched a film of NHL players. There was music playing in the background. They looked so fast on that film, so powerful. I couldn’t believe it when we skated with them.
Esposito: Thirty seconds in, bang, I score. “This is going to be a cakewalk, boys” – that’s what I’m thinking. Sure enough, Paul Henderson scores a few minutes after me. We’re off to the races.
Harry Sinden, head coach, Team Canada: After we scored two, I didn’t think it would be a cakewalk, but I thought we’d be okay.
Alexander Yakushev, Soviet forward: When the Canadians scored, we woke up. We finally got into the game and started playing. They weren’t so big and fast as we’d thought.
Park: They were disorganized at first, but then something clicked. They started coming at us in waves. With two or three minutes to go in the first, it was tied up. [Defenceman] Gary Bergman asked me what I thought and I said, “We are in big trouble.”
Don Awrey, Canadian defenceman: It was like nothing I’d ever seen. As they came at you on offence, they would pass the puck backward to another fella, who would be coming up with speed. If we stood them up at the blue line, they’d just walk right around us.