The most historic document in Canadian hockey is in a safe in a law office in southeast Calgary. Given its significance, it isn't much to look at, just two pieces of 30-year-old paper with no letterhead and no official seal.
Four names are scribbled across the middle of the second page, yet not one belongs to Alan Eagleson, the fallen icon many regard as the man most responsible for organizing the 1972 Summit Series. Bunny Ahearne's signature is on page two as president of the International Ice Hockey Federation. Andrei Starovoitov's signature is there as the general secretary of the USSR Ice Hockey Federation. So is Fred Page's as the former president of the Canadian Amateur Hockey Association. And so is Joseph J. Kryczka's.
A lot of hockey fans have never heard of Kryczka. Others have simply forgotten he had anything to do with the showdown between Canada and the Soviet Union. After all, it wasn't Joe Kryczka who commandeered centre stage, soaked up the spotlight, then raised a finger as he shuffled across the ice in the irresistible drama that was the eighth game of the series. But it was Kryczka, not Eagleson, along with Hockey Canada president Charlie Hay, who sat down with the Soviets in Prague on April 18, 1972, to negotiate the terms of the series. It was Kryczka, as the CAHA president, who helped shape the document that outlined how the Soviets would be paid $5,000 a game in Canada and the Canadians 5,000 rubles a game in Moscow.
Eagleson lamented last weekend in The Globe and Mail that critics and revisionists are now writing him out of the history books, that he isn't getting his due for delivering the stars of the National Hockey League as the leader of their players association. ("When I die, maybe they'll say I had nothing to do with it," Eagleson said.)
For his part, Kryczka was barely written into the original accounts. His death 11 years ago pushed his memory and his achievements even further into the background.
Kryczka was inducted into the Canadian Sports Hall of Fame two months before he died of cancer. But his posthumous application for enshrinement in the Hockey Hall of Fame came up empty five years ago, a disappointment for Kryczka's son, Patrick, who notes that other backroom dealers from '72 (Hay, Ahearne and Gordon Juckes of the CAHA) have found their place in hockey's hallowed hall.
"Our whole purpose has been to set the record straight so when they celebrate the 100th anniversary of the series, people will know it wasn't just Alan Eagleson," Patrick Kryczka said. "There was a team, and Charlie Hay and Joe Kryczka were the lead negotiators."
Make no mistake: a lot of people were involved in making the '72 series a reality. At the time, hockey in Canada was a calamitous mess. The CAHA was feuding with the government-formed Hockey Canada for national control. Canadians were tired of seeing amateurs sent to the world championships only to have them waxed by the Soviets. (In 1970, Canada withdrew from the world tournament held in Winnipeg because it wasn't allowed to use nine professionals.) Sending the country's top NHL players to lay a licking on the Soviets seemed a good way to smooth over at least a few of the problems and put Canadian hockey back on top. Kryczka's role was crucial in that he and Hay had to complete the terms of the Summit Series (the selection of on-ice officials was changed from being "acceptable to Canada" to "acceptable to both parties") plus get everyone's signature on paper.
A long-time hockey administrator, Kryczka had coached minor hockey, had been a referee and had run the Alberta Amateur Hockey Association before moving to the CAHA. More important, Kryczka had two distinct advantages in dealing with the Russians -- a legal background and an understanding of their language.
Born to Polish parents in Coleman, Alta., Kryczka grew up next door to Russian immigrants who never spoke to him in English. Kryczka's ability to recount words and phrases he'd heard as a child struck a bond with his Soviet counterparts and made him the best choice to close the deal.
"Eagleson was pivotal in putting together the team, but predating him were a number of people," said Douglas Fisher, the Ottawa political columnist and a former board member of Hockey Canada. "Kryczka played a role at the negotiations because he was the only one on the Canadian team who could deal with the Russians in Ukrainian and Polish, or a blend of both. [Kryczka]was a key player at that point in time, but it was a complicated deal overall and a lot of people were involved."
Kryczka and Eagleson were constantly at odds and Kryczka's ability to communicate directly with the Russians may have driven the wedge between the two men even deeper. Marion North, Kryczka's wife, said she had to sit between the two at every series game they attended, including one in Moscow where Kryczka and Eagleson both carried a totem pole to centre ice as part of the pregame ceremony.
"I remember there was always a hate-hate relationship with Joe and Eagleson," North said. "They were both loud-mouthed lawyers and the Russians only wanted to deal with Joe. Joe was always saying he knew who was responsible for the series, but he would have liked to have been recognized for his contribution. He was disappointed, very disappointed."
Those sentiments are echoed by Kryczka's son.
"My dad would have liked the acknowledgment and he would have acknowledged others," Patrick Kryczka said. "He understood Eagleson's role as far as the NHL players' involvement, but it always concerned him there was a pass-over of all the other people involved."
Kryczka's star faded as Eagleson's ascended in the post-Summit euphoria of Paul Henderson's heroics. Six years after the series, Kryczka was diagnosed with intestinal cancer. He worked as a member of Calgary's successful bid team for the 1988 Winter Olympics and served as a Court of Queen's Bench judge for more than a decade. Before his death, Kryczka alerted his oldest son that the document signed in Prague was in Calgary in a safe. On the 30th anniversary of its signing, Patrick Kryczka said he would like his father's handiwork to find a suitable home.
"It belongs in the Hockey Hall of Fame and I'd like to see it there some day, along with my dad," he said.
Summit Series Millions of Canadians are reminiscing this month about the eight-game 1972 hockey series between Canada and the Soviet Union. The Globe and Mail marks the 30th anniversary of the Summit Series with a five-part series this week. Monday -- The Russians remember (Mark MacKinnon) Tuesday -- The media coverage (William Houston) Wednesday -- The speech (Grant Kerr) Yesterday -- The two Bobbys (David Shoalts) Today -- The deal (Allan Maki)