I was standing on the ice in St. Petersburg. The game had just ended. Veterans of Russia’s 1987 Canada Cup team, including Slava Fetisov and Igor Larionov, and more recent stars such as Pavel Bure, Alex Mogilny and Alexei Yashin, had beaten a Canadian team with former National Hockey League greats Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier and Brett Hull, by a score of 7-5.
All 14 players from the 1972 Team Canada who made this month’s trip and the Soviet players from 1972 had filed on to the ice. It was time for pictures.
I was excited, and waiting for what I would feel next.
Then I saw Alexander Gusev. I don’t know him. I don’t speak Russian; he doesn’t speak English. I know him only as a tall, reliable, puck-moving defenceman for the great Soviet teams of the 1970s. He saw me as I saw him and broke suddenly into a light-up-the-arena smile.
There was a lot of living in his face – in hockey, out of hockey, good and who knows what. A few years ago, I was told later, he suffered a slight stroke. We walked toward each other, put our arms around each other’s shoulders and smiled deep, proud smiles into the camera.
I don’t like to go back. I loved my time at university and have never attended a reunion. Only a few times, and only when I felt I had no choice, have I watched footage of games in which I’ve played, have I read anything I’ve written. Those games, those articles and books are over. They’re done. I won’t like what I see if I see them again – I know that – and there’s nothing I can do to change them now.
I’ve never watched any of the movies or documentaries about Team Canada, or read any of the books. Now, 40 years after the series ended, my feelings are clear. While I was at Cornell, we won a national collegiate championship. In Montreal, we won six Stanley Cups. In most of those, I played a more important role than I did in the Summit Series of 1972, but, even if I wanted to, I couldn’t persuade my feelings otherwise.
The Summit Series is my favourite hockey memory. And I have too much of a stake in that memory to risk it on someone else’s version of the series, on seeing things again many years later with different eyes, and wondering if I got it right the first time. I’m not interested in wondering. I feel what I feel.
But this time I had to go. Many other players were going. I knew these ceremonies meant something to Russian fans, for whom the series is almost as special as it is for Canadians.
I had been to the old Soviet Union many times from 1969 to 1989, but I had never been to Russia. And mostly I went because 40 years is a long time, and you can never count on 50.
I didn’t know it, but what was ahead was a good old-time road trip.
On road trips, things always go wrong. A bag doesn’t arrive; someone oversleeps – 29 people wait for one. Three things on the agenda for the day; some want to do only two. No problem in Toronto or St. Louis – you meet up later at the arena. Big problem in Moscow, St. Petersburg and Yaroslavl: no local organizer to stay with you; nobody to explain who you are, why you don’t have the right credential, and, if you say who you say you are, why aren’t you with everyone else?
And the traffic. When the Soviet Union collapsed and Russians discovered money, they all bought cars, it seems. On this trip, we spent more time on a bus going from airport to hotel to arena to hotel to airport than junior teams spend going from city to city in an entire season.