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Walling: Memories of covering the 1972 Summit Series

A.J. Walling
8/15/2012 3:53:37 PM
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As we approach the 40th anniversary of the famed Summit Series - I look back at the memories of being in Moscow to actually cover it.

I was just 24 years old and perhaps the youngest sportscaster there, alongside Brian Williams (who was working for a Toronto radio station), Jim Hunt (CKEY), Mr. CFRB Bill Stevenson and of course, Montreal writer Red Fisher.

I find it very hard to believe that 40 years ago we were talking about a hockey series against the Soviet Union that we going undoubtedly going to win eight straight.

We've called it the Summit Series - but that name actually came after the fact (Just like in football the Super Bowl was not branded that until Joe Namath won the third NFL-AFL championship series).

For the 1972 event, it simply started out as the Russia-Canada Hockey Series.

Now of course, we've just finished the Canada-Russia Challenge, a series of four games between junior clubs of both countries with our top juniors vying for consideration in the 2013 World Juniors.

Some big names were in town to watch this this series - and I mean big.  

Ken Dryden, Don Awrey, Pat Stapleton and Yuri Lyapkin were there, along with two of the best from that 1972 Soviet team - goalie Vladislav Tretiak and forward Alexander Yakushev.

Yakushev was a big, tall and muscular 6-3 forward who had a wicked shot. He impressed me more than many of their forwards.

Tretiak has gone from a 20-year-old kid in 1972 to a big wig in the Russian hockey movement. And he is forever thankful for the chance to play in the 1972 series.

"Both teams won in 1972," the president of the Russian Ice Hockey Federation told TSN. "It was a great series for all of hockey. The best that Russia had and the best of the NHL. The winner was the game of hockey."

He's probably right.

Ken Dryden was asked to evaluate that young 20-year-old goalie he faced back then. "The thing I remember the most about him was the mental toughness he had to play in the series," he said.

Of course, Canada's juniors weren't around in 1972 but many of them know the history. 
 
They've heard about the series, they've heard of Paul Henderson and as one player told me, "I've heard Foster Hewitt describe the goal that won it so often…my father has the entire series at home and talks as if it was held last month."

I covered the Moscow games in 1972 - for my local station in Halifax and for Broadcast News and The Canadian Press.

Now we're going to hear a lot of the 1972 series over the next month and the festivities started with Canada's wins over the Russians in Yaroslavl and Halifax. And wouldn't you know it, the four game series finished in a tie with a specially formatted overtime to decide it.

This time, the heroes aren't names like Henderson and Esposito but youngsters like Ty Rattie and Ryan Strome.

It may have been part of an evaluation camp for the upcoming World Juniors, but both teams wanted to win. And as we saw in 1972, the players on both sides still represent strong hockey nations.

And while the names of Rattie, Strome and even Nail Yakupov may not go down in hockey history alongside that of Yakushev, Henderson, Tretiak and Esposito, they certainly enjoyed their day in the spotlight.

For TSN.ca, I'm Alex J. Walling.

Alex J. can be reached via email at: ajw@eastlink.ca

This marks the first of several columns Alex J. Walling will do on the classic 1972 series.

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