History Series: Canadian Hockey and The 1972 Summit

Canada; we consider it the birthplace of Hockey, our national winter sport. There is nothing evident to pinpoint the exact origin of the game, but the first recorded game of ice hockey occurred in Montreal in 1875.

Hockey has been the cornerstone of Canadian identity almost ever since.

The Summit Series: 1972

The Cold War was, very simply put, a time of geopolitical tension between the Soviet Union and the United States, including their allies, after WWII. The Soviet Union won championships and took home Olympic medals in hockey. As Canadians lost hockey games to the Soviet Union, and support for Quebec independence increased, American culture and media was being embraced; Canada not only looked weak, but began to feel a sort of identity loss.

At the time, international hockey was only open to amateur players, therefore Canadian NHL players could not play in the Olympics or world championships. The Soviet Union had a strong hockey team as they were full time players; precise and focused compared to Canada’s more rugged methods. Canadian hockey fans maintained the belief that if the Soviets played against professional players, we would easily win.

Negotiations began for such a tournament. Canadian and Soviet Union planners agreed to an eight-game series, four games in each country. Team Canada was together for the first time. The team included NHL players including Phil Esposito, Don Awrey and Paul Henderson. Canada expected an easy victory.

The Soviet Union’s superior conditioning won them the first game in the series, to the shock of Canadians. The Canadian lineup was revamped and they won game 2. The third game was a tie, and even worse, game 4 was another loss for Canada. Team Canada was booed by their own fans, in their own buildings. They were seen as rough and disorganized.

 About 3,000 fans followed the team to the Soviet Union. It became as much a political, societal match as it was about hockey. Canada lost game 5 in Moscow. Canada won the following two games, as tensions and biases increased between the two countries. The final game on September 28, 1972, was the ultimate tie breaker. At the time, the largest TV audience in Canadian history tuned in to watch the game. The game was tied, and with 34 seconds left of the game, Paul Henderson scores the winning goal.

Canada claims to be the world hockey power, and the nation was united. Canada was seen as tough, our spirits improved, and this series had not only a lasting impact on our country, but on the game of hockey all over the world.

Original photo by Denis Brodeur.

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