Summit Series still resonates with Canadians
Members of Team Canada who played in the 1972 Summit Series Bill White (left), Marcel Dionne (middle) and Ron Ellis. (CRAIG ROBERTSON/QMI Agency)
Imagine if the 1972 Summit Series was little more than a footnote in our hockey history.
Sure, Canadians now look back at the eight-game series against the Soviet Union as being the highest level possible.
Those eight games have become legendary, among those moments in time when those who witnessed them to this day know where they were.
It's woven into the fabric of Canadiana and covered in maple syrup.
But, what if the eight games had gone as predicted? Before the puck dropped, it was expected to be a one-sided bloodbath. Team Canada, a collection of NHL stars, wasn't just going to beat the Soviets, but it would do so with ease.
"If we had won all eight games, you and I probably wouldn't be chatting today. It would have gone down in history as just a very nice hockey event," Ron Ellis said before departing for Russia for the 40th anniversary celebrations of the Summit Series.
"The comeback and all the adversity we had to endure, I think that really speaks to the Canadian spirit. I think that got everybody's heart, 'Wow, our guys reached down and did something spectacular.'
"It showed to never count the Canadians out. Our armed forces had that reputation and so do our athletic teams. We may not be the best, but don't count us out."
You can't deny Ellis's belief.
The way Canada won -- claiming victory in the final three games, capped by Paul Henderson's moment-in-time winning goal with 34 seconds remaining in the finale that erased a two-goal deficit and resulted in a 6-5 win -- is a story usually only found in movies.
It's probably why, four decades later, everybody talks about it with a special reverence.
It was Canadians winning "our game." It was democracy beating communism in the throes of the cold war.
It pulled a country together then, and still resonates today.
"After 40 years, I'm amazed at the people's reaction to it," said Rod Gilbert. "When I go to Toronto, there's not one day when I don't meet somebody that reminisces about it, wants to reminisce about it."
Back then, as soon as the USSR squad won the series opener by a stunning 7-3 score at the Montreal Forum, the intensity built.
"I was amazed at what it was 40 years ago," recalled Don Awrey. "I didn't realize what was happening. When we were playing that series, we didn't realize what it was all about. We didn't realize when we were over there what the Canadian people were experiencing.
"We had no idea until we got home."
Although the players knew a few thousand fans made the trip behind the Iron Curtain and they received countless telegrams of support, they really had no idea how big it was in Canada while they were in Moscow.
"We were just trying to save our asses," Brad Park said with a laugh. "That's it in a nutshell.
"We were so far behind the eight-ball, we didn't have a pool cue in our hands."
They did save their keisters.
And can relish being part of incredible legacy.
"It continues to just blow our minds," Ellis said of the imprint the series has made. "We understand Canadians are so attached to that series and I think part of it was the impact of the series at the time -- the series has been passed down from father to children to children to grandchildren, and that's wonderful. We're thrilled. We had no idea this would happen.
"We're a special group with a very deep bond because everything we went through during the series and the pressure we felt, in the end, representing our country and our way of life. That's what it ended up being.
"For me, there's no question about it, it was the highlight of my career."