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1972 Summit Series
Transcript of 1972 Summit Series
What was it?
The 1972 Summit Series, also known as the Super Series or simply the Canada-USSR Series, was an eight-game hockey tournament between the Soviet Union and Canada, held in the September of 1972. What made the games so compelling was the fact they were held during the height of the Cold War. Nationalistic feelings were incredibly intense at this time, and the Soviets used the series as an opportunity to demonstrate the superiority of the socialistic system of communism to those who were uncommitted in other countries. The first four games were played in Canada and the final four games were played in Moscow. Prior to its commencement, it was believed by sports writers that Canada would dominate the competition. However, that prediction was thrown out after the USSR opened the series with an astonishing 7-3 victory over the Canadians. After the seventh game, the tournament was tied at 3-3, with one tie. The final game was won in dramatic fashion by the Canadian team. The Canadians were down 2-0 in the second period, coming back to score 3 in the third. The final goal was scored by Paul Henderson with just 34 seconds left in the game.
This was one of the most symbolic moments in hockey history. Many Canadians who watched or attended the games also consider it one of the defining moments in Canadian history. It was the Summit Series that ultimately brought European players to the National Hockey League. It strengthened the concept of international ice hockey competitions, such as the World Championships and the Winter Olympic Games.
Political & Cultural Backdrop
In 1972 the Cold War was at its peak. The differences in social, political and economical beliefs between the USSR and the United States caused great tension that could be felt throughout the rest of the world. The term "cold" is used because there was no direct conflict due to the knowledge that any attack by either side would lead to total destruction. This idea is referred to as "mutually-assured destruction". However, both nations armed heavily in nuclear weaponry in order to prepare for what would have been World War III. The struggle for dominance was demonstrated through proxy wars (third party wars) all over the globe, propaganda and espionage, psychological warfare, and technological intelligence competitions such as the race to develop and utilize spacecrafts. All throughout the 40 or so years of the issue, nationalistic feelings grew, causing nations to display a sense of hatred and animosity towards others who did not believe the same thing. The 1972 Summit Series was so important because it brought Canada and the USSR to tolerate, and even respect each other despite their opposing beliefs.
Impact on Canada
From a political view point, the 1972 Summit Series was about much more than just hockey. For the Soviets, it was an opportunity to demonstrate the dominance of socialism to the rest of the world. But for Canada, hockey was a way to build closer ties with the Soviet Union and demonstrate its independence and distinctiveness from the United States. Canadian autonomy was an extremely important concept in the late 20th century. Hockey is central to Canadian national identity, and the winning of the series showed the rest of the world that Canada was a serious and powerful nation. Many people see the series as Canadians winning "our game." Ultimately it was democracy beating communism. It pulled a country together then, and still resonates today.
The Summit Series had a lasting effect on the sport of hockey, as well as on the countries that participated. The tournament became a Canadian legacy. The world was unaware of the skill level and the perseverance of the Soviets. Hall of Famer Rod Gilbert mentioned that the Canadian team "didn't know anything about them" and that they "had no idea how good [the Soviets] were". Hockey itself changed in way that fans, coaches, organizations and players had never seen before. The game became faster and more focused on puck handling rather than hard hitting. The Soviets style of play was a 180-degree difference from most of the National Hockey League at that time. After the series, the NHL opened its doors to an international community. Teams began scouting players from all across the world, and the league really diversified itself in terms of nationality. The Summit Series also solidified the idea of international competitions. Prior to the games, people from North America viewed the Stanley Cup as the ultimate victory, while people in Europe believed that the Olympics and other world championships as more important. The series allowed for a common ground to be established, and made the Olympics and the World Hockey Championships popular and prestigious tournaments. In 2013, the NHL was made up of players from 18 different countries. This kind of cultural variety would not be present without the happening of the 1972 Summit Series.
Unlike most significant events, the Summit Series was not without controversy. At the time, Robert Alan Eagleson was a promoter and an organizer of the series. According to the Globe and Mail, his role as "manager and motivator, travel agent and godfather, firebrand and peacemaker" for the first team ever to be known as Team Canada earned him vast recognition and the nickname "Uncle Al" among the players. During the final game of the tournament, Eagleson raised eyebrows when he confronted off-ice officials after the goal judge had failed to light the goal lamp when a Canadian player scored. His actions resulted in him being seized by soldiers of the Red Army. The Canadian players and the few Canadian fans came to his defence in order to prevent his arrest. This provided one of the most memorable off-ice moments of the series. As they walked back across the ice, Eagleson was said to have extended his middle finger to the Soviet crowd. However, his controversial actions did not end there. As his influence grew, people began to question his intentions and it was feared that he was reaping significant rewards from several unknown arrangements. In 1990, Russ Conway, a sports editor from "The Eagle-Tribune" began investigating Eagleson after hearing numerous rumours about the suspicious inner workings of the NHL - especially regarding pension payments. Throughout 1990, Conway interviewed many NHL personalities. In 1991, Conway published the first of many articles in a series called "Cracking the Ice: Intrigue and Conflict in the World of Big-Time Hockey". Conway wrote that Eagleson had embezzled player pension funds for years. For example, after Bobby Orr's contract with Boston ran out, Eagleson told Orr that the Blackhawks had a deal on the table that he could not resist. It later became known that the Bruins had offered Orr one of the most lucrative contracts in sports history, including an 18 percent ownership of the team. Yet, Eagleson falsely stated the Blackhawks had made a better offer. Prior to this, Orr was once one of Eagleson's most avid supporters. Orr, whose career ended in 1978 due to a knee injury, later learned that he was near bankrupcy from tax liabilities, despite having earned high salaries while being represented by Eagleson. It took Orr many years to regain his fortune.
However, Conway's most shocking revelation concerned Eagleson's actions regarding disability claims by former players. Eagleson was accused of taking large payments from insurance claims before the players filing them received their share, telling the players that he earned the "fee" while fighting against the insurance companies to get the claims paid. However, the insurance companies later shared that there had been no fight, and they had agreed to pay what was asked of them. Conway published several other stories over the next decade about Eagleson's various crimes. For example, he had been reimbursed more than $62,000 for personal expenses in the late 1980's. He also revealed that the National Hockey League Player's Association had unknowingly paid for expensive clothing, theatre tickets and a luxury apartment in London for Eagleson. Many players had been led to believe that they were playing in tournaments without charge because all the money was going to their pensions. Eagleson was charged with 34 criminal offences, including racketeering, embezzelment and fraud. Later, Eagleson was expelled from the Hockey Hall of Fame and removed from the Order of Canada. Most players from the '72 Summit Series team still hold a grudge not only for the loss of money but also for Eagleson's "complete lack of integrity". Although Eagleson's actions cast a dark shadow on the tournament and the NHL, the legacy of the Canadian Team truly outshines the controversy.
In conclusion, the 1972 Summit Series was an incredibly significant event, not only for hockey, but also for Canada and international relations. It is something that is still celebrated today, and it is often said that if you watched the series, then you would know exactly what you were doing and where you were when Paul Henderson scored the tournament winning goal. The Summit Series will forever be a Canadian legacy, and hockey will always be "our game".
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