Return to Russia 'enjoyable' for Canadian Summit Series players
Team Canada 1972 Summit Series defenceman Brad Park (right). (QMI Agency file photo)
Brad Park was named the top defenceman of the 1972 Summit Series.
It was a personal highlight after helping Team Canada win the eight-game set against the Soviet Union.
At the end of it all, Park also was able to finally spend some time with another great memory of that time.
His son, James, was born Sept. 3, 1972, perfectly timing his arrival on the day between the series opener the night before in Montreal and Game 2 in Toronto.
It's one of the reasons the blueliner who starred for the New York Rangers, Boston Bruins and Detroit Red Wings during his 17-year Hall-of-Fame NHL career is bringing his son to Moscow for the series' 40th anniversary celebration.
"It'll be great for him to get a sense of where we were and what we were doing," said Park, whose exploits during that series allowed Canada to win without the injured Bobby Orr.
Fourteen of Team Canada's players will be involved in celebratory games in St. Petersburg and then Yaroslavl, where they'll also mark the one-year anniversary of the plane crash that killed every member of the Kontinental Hockey League's Lokomotiv team.
Almost all of the Canadians have been back to Russia, although for a few the first time came earlier this year.
For Ron Ellis, it's his first time since 1972.
"The timing just never seemed right for me with my work," Ellis said. "And I really didn't have a desire to go back. It's hard to explain.
"But I'm ready now. I think this is going to be terrific."
Forty years later, the Summit Series is seen as a victory by Canadians for the fact the collection of NHL stars posted a 4-3-1 record. It's also seen as a victory by those on the other side.
After all, the Soviets proved they were every bit as good as the Canadians.
It adds to a perfect reason to celebrate the past and what's happened since.
"Back then, you'd talk about the Cold War, but I don't think I really appreciated it until we got to Moscow," Park recalled. "My first impression landing at the airport was it wasn't a busy place -- there were only a few planes -- and the army soldiers were walking up and down with machine guns.
"Coming from Canada, you never saw anybody armed in an airport. You see it after 9/11, but never saw it then. Not that I felt threatened, but I came away with the impression it was a different culture and a different way of life, and it made me uncomfortable."
This is Park's fourth trip to Russia since 1972.
"It's enjoyable. It's interesting to see how the country has drastically changed from what it was in '72. Moscow is much more cosmopolitan," he said. "To see it change, with the colours and brightness, is great."
Rod Gilbert thought he'd seen the last of Russia when the series ended. And was happy about it.
But he changed his mind about the former Soviet Union.
"I promised never to go back there," he said. "It was so depressing and the pressure was so high on us that I felt I'd seen that part of the world and was happy to leave.
"My wife (Judy) had never been there and she begged me to go a few years ago. It's really great to see all the history in that part of the world."
More Summit Series events are scheduled in Canada later this month, but one over-riding factor is who knows how many more opportunities this collection of stars will have to unite?
"We see each other once or twice a year, but we're looking at one final hurrah for many guys because we're not getting younger," Gilbert said. "It'll be fun to get together and reminisce."
On Twitter: @SUNRandySportak