I’m probably in a small group of Canadians who saw the Soviet Nats play prior to the 72 series. Back in 1969, the Soviet Nats played the Canadian Amateur team various times across Canada as part of a tour. I attended a game with my parents in December, 1969, at Maple Leaf gardens in Toronto. I was 9 years old. The Gardens was sold out / packed to the rafters for the game. It’s apparent interest in the game was very high. While I don’t remember every moment of the game, a few key memories prevail even today.
1. the Soviets dominated the game, but our goalie Bill Stephenson (who later played for the Philadelphia Flyers) stood on his head and held off the Russians for a 3-2 Canada win.
2. the different style of the Soviet team was immediately and consistently apparent. I had never seen anything like it before. They passed with amazing accuracy. They re-grouped and inter-changed positions constantly making it very difficult for their opponents to predict their next move. They rarely, if ever, used a dump and chase style. Puck possession was at the core of their offensive strategy.
I remember, even as a 9 year old, being very impressed with their style and skill. I later came to the conclusion that I wasn’t old enough to have developed a bias that just because they weren’t NHL players, didn’t mean they couldn’t play the game well. My 9 year old brain just evaluated what I was seeing and told me “these guys can play!”
Fast forward 3 years to the afternoon of Sept 2, 1972. I’m at lunch with my family and some friends and the topic of discussion is tonight’s game 1 of the 72 series. My father is insisting Canada will demolish the Soviets this night and start a domination in this series. He turns and asks me what I think. I remember pausing and the memories of the 1969 game are still clear in my head. I somehow blurt out “I think the Russians will win tonight 5-3.” Snickers and laughter fill our restaurant table. Some of my parents friends are holding in their laughter so as not to upset a 12 year old kid. I could clearly see it on their faces; “what does this kid know!?”
My grandfather has the only colour TV in our family so we all gather to watch the game at his place. Esposito scores 30 seconds in, Henderson 6 minutes later and my father says “I told you!” I don’t say a word. When Kharlamov scores in period 2 to give the Soviets their first lead, 3-2, the shock is fully setting in. Even my mother, who rarely watched hockey exclaimed “what’s going on!??” Now my father is also silent. After we lose 7-3, all my remember is my father shaking his head repeatedly.
see a pic I have from that 1969 game!