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Prime minister Pierre Trudeau drops the puck for Canada's Phil Esposito, right, and Soviet winger Vladimir Vikulov to open the 1972 hockey series. (Peter Bregg)
Prime minister Pierre Trudeau drops the puck for Canada's Phil Esposito, right, and Soviet winger Vladimir Vikulov to open the 1972 hockey series. (Peter Bregg)

'72 SUMMIT SERIES

The story of the Summit Series, as it's never been told before Add to ...

Lang: The task force decided between February and July of ‘69 that Canada was fundamentally playing with a handicap. The Russians were using their top 20 players. Our top 500 players were all in the NHL, so we were essentially using players 501 through 520 – and that’s why we kept losing.

Gary Smith, Canadian embassy, Moscow: One of my jobs was I had to read the government newspaper Izvestia every day. One night, this was December, 1971, there was a very interesting column by someone calling himself the Snowman. The Soviets had won the Izvestia tournament again, and he wrote that it was now time to play the Canadian professionals. When I saw that, I knew that you didn’t just write something like that in a Soviet paper. This guy must have some official authorization.

Kuperman: The Soviets had won nine championships in a row from 1963 to 1971. They won three Olympics in a row: ‘64, ’68 and ’72. They needed better competition, and the idea that there was someone else who may play better hockey across the ocean wasn’t well received. There was some hesitation: If you lose to the NHL, what’s the worth of all those championships?

Lang: [Columnist] Doug Fisher came up with the idea: We know the Russians want to use sport as a medium to promote their way of life, so why don’t we unilaterally take them on? When the announcement finally came, we needed Eagleson because he was the head of the NHL Players’ Association and he was going to deliver the players.

Eagleson: So they announce this series and, the minute they do, [NHL president] Clarence Campbell holds a press conference in Montreal to say there will be no such series because “we will not permit our players to play.” The owners said they were worried about giving up their players, their assets, without anything in return. I got Clarence and the owners onside by guaranteeing that every player would have a signed NHL contract and by guaranteeing that part of the profit would go toward the players’ pension fund.

Sinden: It was pretty good luck on my part that Al Eagleson called when he did. I’d been out of hockey two years.

Eagleson: We hired Sinden, paid him $15,000, I think, and then Fergie [John Ferguson] as his assistant at $10,000. We met at the Skyline Hotel in Toronto to pick the roster. The first 12, everyone agreed on, then it got tricky.

Sinden: We had a lot of discussion all night about the players. We had to pick 35 guys.

Eagleson: We called six or seven guys each. I called my clients. I called Marcel Dionne first, I think. [Dale] Tallon and [Brian] Glennie were replacements at the very end when other guys didn’t show up.

Esposito: I got the call some time in July. And I said, “No. I’ve got my hockey school. I’m not going to do it.” So, a couple weeks later, I get a call from Bobby Orr, saying, “Phil, I cannot play in this series with the Russians because of my knee. We really need you to play.” And I said, “Are you really asking me?” And he said, “Yeah, we really need you.” I said, “Fine, count me in.”

Stapleton: I remember thinking, “Oh, my God, what did I do?” after accepting. I was in Chicago at the time. My partner and I had built one rink and were in process of building another. We had farming to do and hockey schools. We had a lot going on.

Sinden: I have no real regrets about the lineup. The only guys I would have added to that team had either signed in the [rival World Hockey Association], like Bobby Hull, or were hurt, like Bobby Orr.

Terry O’Malley, creative director, Vickers & Benson: Al was calling the team the NHL All Stars. We were marketers and we said no one is interested in the NHL All Stars playing Russia. It should be Canada. Myself and a couple of copywriters went away and came back with 20 or 25 names. A guy that worked for me named Terry Hill, from Detroit, on his list was Team Canada.

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