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Dryden reflects on what Summit Series changed hockey 50 years later

Ken Dryden views the significance of the eight-game 1972 Summit Series between Canada and the Soviet Union most of all in hockey, ever.

“That series clearly and undeniably may be the most significant moment in hockey’s history. Not Canadian hockey history, however in hockey’s history,” the Hall of Fame goalie told NHL.com on Thursday on the eve of the 50th anniversary of Game 1, a sensational 7-3 romp for the Soviets at the Montreal Forum on Sept. 2, 1972.

“Until that moment, hockey was definitively a Canadian game,” Dryden said. “We were the originators of hockey, the developers, the world’s best at it. Our way was the hockey way.

“Others could play differently but that has been their fault. Different meant inferior. Different is interesting, but if different is inferior, who cares? For the reason that series, the Soviet team showed there’s another solution to play and another solution to prepare to play.”

Late photographer Denis Brodeur, Martin’s father, shot a legendary sequence of photos capturing the Summit Series-clinching goal of Paul Henderson (right). Denis Brodeur collection/Melchior DiGiacomo, Getty Images

The Soviets had defeated a team of Canadian amateurs 5-0 at the 1968 Olympics in Grenoble, France, on the solution to the gold medal. Canada won the bronze, leading bombastic Soviet coach Anatoli Tarasov to brag that his team could beat the very best the NHL could throw at him. Hockey Canada accepted the task, negotiating with the Soviets through NHL Players’ Association president and player agent Alan Eagleson to create an eight-game series to be played in September 1972.

Canada would rebound from its Game 1 humiliation with a 4-1 victory in Game 2 in Toronto two nights later. The teams then tied 4-4 in Game 3 in Winnipeg on Sept. 6 prior to the Soviets won 5-3 in Game 4 in Vancouver on Sept. 8.

With that Game 4 loss, a great deal of Canada on the backs of the team, Phil Esposito emptied his heart on live television following the game:

“To individuals across Canada, we tried, we gave it our best,” he said. “Also to individuals that boo us, geez, I’m really most of us guys are actually disheartened, and we’re disillusioned, and we’re disappointed at one particular. If the Russians boo their players, then I’ll keep coming back and apologize to each among the Canadians but I don’t believe they’ll.”

Esposito continued, saying the team suited up for love of country, not money. And at that time, a nation realized these players truly cared in what that they had signed on for.

Ken Dryden prepares for a go by the Soviet Union’s Boris Mikhailov with Alexander Yakushev standing by, Canadian defenseman Gary Bergman at right. Melchior DiGiacomo, Getty Images

Back in Moscow, the hosts won 5-4 in Game 5 on Sept. 22 to create the stage for Canada’s backs-to-the-wall rally and three straight wins — 3-2, 4-3 and 6-5 from Sept. 24-28 — to win the series 4-3-1. Paul Henderson scored the winner in each one of the final three victories, learning to be a national icon along the way.

“It is the most vivid, meaningful hockey experience that I’ve had,” said Dryden, writer of the brand new book “The Series: What I RECALL, What It Felt Like, What It FEELS AS THOUGH Now.”

“In the event that you asked every player on Team Canada, I believe they’d say exactly the same. We were on plenty of Stanley Cup-winning teams. Even though on those teams we’d have played different types of roles, that’s how exactly we feel. You can’t anticipate how you are going to feel. You can’t orchestrate how you are going to feel. You can’t force you to ultimately feel a particular way. You are feeling as you are feeling. That’s what has happened.

“I believe the odd thing, that is really interesting and really revealing, is that I believe virtually all the players on the Soviet team would say a similar thing. They won all sorts of world championships and Olympic gold medals, plus they didn’t win this series.”

Phil Esposito argues having an official throughout a game in Moscow, Canada’s Brad Park at left, the Soviet Union’s Alex Ragulin at right. Melchior DiGiacomo, Getty Images

Dryden was probably the most dominant goalie in the NHL in the 1970s, an excellent performer for the Montreal Canadiens. He won the Stanley Cup six times, the Vezina Trophy because the top goalie in the NHL five times, and the 1971-72 Calder Trophy as NHL rookie of the entire year after he’d won the Conn Smythe Trophy as MVP of the postseason.

Elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1983, Dryden was voted on the list of 100 Greatest NHL Players in 2017 for the League’s centennial celebration.

But most of these achievements are filed behind his experience with Team Canada in the Summit Series.

A half-century later, those eight games remain a defining moment of the overall game — for the vastly different design of play, for the dramatic Cold War politics of your day, for a string that was not the walk-over predicted for Canada.

Over time, there were World Championship, Olympic Games, Canada Cup and World Cup tournaments and different tours and one-off games between NHL teams and squads from the former Soviet Union. But no series has already established the significance of the Summit Series, no other has pitted political ideologies against one another or reshaped the way hockey is played.

The Soviet Union’s Valeri Kharlamov leads his team through warmups at the Montreal Forum before Game 1 on Sept. 2, 1972. Melchior DiGiacomo, Getty Images

“What sort of Soviets played just opened minds,” Dryden said. “It took some time for all those minds to open fully, but from then on series, people did begin to take into account the training another way — off-ice training and the worthiness of this. Of on-ice training, in which a pass ties in and the patterns where you play. Once there is a second solution to play, there is a second way, a fifth way, a 10th way.

“Players begin to imagine various ways to accomplish things and conceiving of these and practicing them and making them happen. And coaches do exactly the same. That all may be the legacy of this series.”

It began with the largely unknown Soviets, laughed at because of their mismatched equipment, demolishing Canada in Game 1.

The opener began predictably enough, the hosts up 1-0 after 30 seconds on an objective by Esposito, up 2-0 by 6: 32 on an objective by Henderson.

Soviet Union goalie Vladislav Tretiak watches Game 1 action through the fog of a steamy night at the Montreal Forum. Melchior DiGiacomo, Getty Images

However the superior conditioning of the Soviets soon was evident; they scored twice on Dryden prior to the first period was over, once shorthanded, then twice more in the next. An objective by Canada’s Bobby Clarke at 8: 22 of the 3rd on Soviet goalie Vladislav Tretiak offered a flicker of hope, however the Soviets then scored three unanswered goals in a span of 5: 05 to help make the embarrassment complete.

Defenseman Pat Stapleton, an associate of Team Canada, tirelessly promoted the series, its historic significance and its own legacy — in schools, with passers-by in the pub and everywhere among — until his death in 2020.

In 2016, sitting in the Montreal Forum, the hockey rink dismantled 20 years earlier with the building’s renovation following a Canadiens’ proceed to Bell Centre, Stapleton thought back again to 1972 and remembered the shell-shock of Game 1.

“We got on the bus following the game, and I was sitting at the window when Ken (Dryden) sat down beside me,” he recalled. “He considered me and said, ‘What happened?’ and I recall saying, ‘I think we lost our composure.'”

Sitting almost wordlessly bound for the airport and their flight to Toronto for Game 2, little did Stapleton or Dryden understand that Canada, as a nation, was having a nervous breakdown.

The 35-member Team Canada as assembled in Toronto for his or her August 1972 training camp. Bottom row, from left: Tony Esposito, Brad Park, Stan Mikita, Phil Esposito, coach Harry Sinden, organizer Alan Eagleson, assistant coach John Ferguson, Frank Mahovlich, Jean Ratelle, Bobby Orr, Ken Dryden. Second row, from left: executive Bob Haggert, Dennis Hull, Mickey Redmond, Paul Henderson, Red Berenson, Wayne Cashman, Vic Hadfield, Ed Johnston, Bill Goldsworthy, Ron Ellis, Rod Gilbert, executive Mike Cannon. Third row, from left: trainer Joe Sgro, Yvan Cournoyer, Gary Bergman, Dale Tallon, Bill White, Peter Mahovlich, Serge Savard, Jocelyn Guevremont, Gilbert Perreault, Pat Stapleton, trainer Frosty Forristall. Top row, from left: massage therapist Karl Elieff, Marcel Dionne, Bobby Clarke, Don Awrey, Brian Glennie, Rod Seiling, Guy Lapointe, Richard Martin, Jean-Paul Parise, equipment manager Tommy Naylor. MacDonald Stewart/Hockey Hall of Fame

“The overall game you want to forget,” Team Canada defenseman Serge Savard said with a good grin. “The overall game we don’t desire to discuss.”

If this series made Henderson a national icon for his winning goals in Games 6, 7 and 8, it had been about a lot more than one man’s heroics. This is about two teams going at one another with hammer and sickle and tong, with Canada winning on Henderson’s dramatic goal with 34 seconds remaining in Game 8 on Sept. 28, 1972.

Sixteen million of 22 million Canadians watched the ultimate game, scratchy television coverage beginning at 12: 30 p.m. ET. Between 9: 30 a.m. on the West Coast and 2 p.m. in Newfoundland, the huge most Canadians were gathered around TV sets at the job and in classrooms, a country holding its collective breath.

Twelve or even more books have already been published in English concerning the Summit Series, a lot more including those in French and Russian. There were scholarly theses written and documentaries produced; the most recent of the latter is really a film titled “Summit 72” which will premiere on CBC in Canada on Sept. 14, running in one-hour segments on four consecutive Wednesdays.

The brand new book by Dryden, a 75-year-old educator, lecturer and award-winning author, is among a few published for the 50th anniversary, his a deeply personal at-the-moment view of the series.

Savard, who with Larry Robinson and Guy Lapointe composed the Canadiens’ “Big Three” on defense before Dryden through the 1970s, views the Summit Series just as much a lot more than 480 minutes of hockey.

The Canadian and Soviet teams shake hands after Game 8 in Moscow. On the list of players listed below are goalies Ken Dryden (second from right) and Vladislav Tretiak (20). Melchior DiGiacomo, Getty Images

“It became a political series, and that wasn’t our fault. We didn’t want that,” Savard has said of the players. “The Russians were leading the series whenever we went over there and the ones guys wished to show the planet that their method of doing things was the proper way, that their method of training was the very best, they had the very best athletes on earth.

“Suddenly, we woke up and said, ‘Hey, we invented this game, not you guys.’ Yet (Soviet leader Leonid) Brezhnev was sitting behind the web in a single corner. It had been political and we were caught in the center of it.”

Political realities of your day have doused international reunion plans, no members of the Soviet team arriving at Canada to mark the half-century anniversary with members of Team Canada. But Dryden expects they too will remember a string for the ages.

“Ultimately,” Dryden said, “it has already established the result that it is wearing the both folks due to the intensity of it and the issue and hardness of it. Ultimately, neither folks got what we wanted and both folks got what we needed.

“We wished to win the series in eight straight games and by big scores. We had a need to win the series. They wished to win the series. They had a need to show they could play, within their way, another way, at the very top. They got that, and we got what we needed. I believe they’re really pleased with themselves for doing that and I believe we’re pleased with ourselves for doing what we had a need to do.”

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