Fifty years ago was the 1972 Summit Series, where the best NHL players from Canada faced off in an eight-game exhibition series against the top hockey players from the Soviet Union. But, as it turned out, this was no mere exhibition series. In the book “1972: The Series That Changed Hockey Forever,” author Scott Morrison gives a comprehensive, almost exhaustive history of the Summit Series. Many books have been written on this subject, but “1972” might be the best.
“1972” starts with a foreword by Phil Esposito, which is wholly appropriate, given that Espo led the tournament in scoring and became the voice of Team Canada during the series. Morrison then spends the first three chapters explaining how the series came to be, and the problems along the way. One huge pitfall was when Bobby Hull was not allowed on Canada’s roster because he had signed a deal with the Winnipeg Jets of the newly-formed World Hockey Association. Only NHL players were going to be allowed to play, so other NHL stars who jumped ship to the WHA, like Gerry Cheevers, were not invited. Morrison covers this fiasco in detail.
The book then settles into a nice pace of one chapter per game, with other chapters dispersed throughout that expand on the series away from the ice. For example, one chapter focuses on the Canadian fans who made the trip to Moscow for Games Five through Eight, a chapter on the aftermath of Canada’s surprising Game One loss to the Soviets, and a chapter about the players who left Team Canada midway through the series due to lack of playing time. Even the exhibition games in Sweden and Czechoslovakia are covered.
In the latter half of the book, when the series moved to Russia, we learn of many of the problems the Canadian players had to put up with: the food they packed to eat — Russian food was not very good at the time — was stolen; players got phone calls at odd hours of the night, disrupting their sleep; players and their families were monitored by Soviet agents whenever they were in public; and the officiating by two German referees was heavily tilted against Canada. And then, without spoiling too much, there was the fight between the Canadian players and Red Army soldiers in the middle of Game Eight. Yes, that actually happened.
Practically every member of Team Canada alive at the time this book was being written was interviewed, such as Phil Esposito, Ken Dryden, Tony Esposito (since passed), Dennis Hull, Pete Mahvolich, Brad Park, Bobby Clarke, and, of course, Paul Henderson, who scored the game-winning goals for Canada in Games Six, Seven and Eight. Morrison also interviewed many of the great Soviet players, including Vladislav Tretiak, Boris Mikhailov, and Alexander Yakushev. This gives “1972” a very balanced feel. Yes, it is told from the Canadian perspective, but it addresses what the Soviet players were thinking and feeling before, during, and after the series. Quotes from past interviews from previously-published books or articles are used for those who have since passed away, such as Russian star forward Valeri Kharlamov and Team Canada assistant coach John Ferguson.
Later chapters in “1972” focus on the players and personnel from both teams who have since past away, giving sort of a mini eulogy for each one, as well as complete stats for both teams. There are also 16 pages of photos, including game-action photos from the series. The eight chapters that focus on the series games also picture the front page of The Toronto Star newspaper the day after the game, showing the press’ reaction to the game, as well as giving an interesting glimpse at the other important news of the time.
Excerpt that Epitomizes “1972”: Turns out the pundits were right, after all. The series opener was an exercise in flexing muscle, an exhibition of great speed and skill, the proverbial cakewalk. It just wasn’t the one almost everyone had imagined. Instead, it was the one every Canadian feared, the worst nightmare they could imagine. This one game shocked the hockey world, and no matter what happened the rest of the series, the Soviets had proved they could play and they could win. And in some ways, it wasn’t the score that shocked the most, but how easily it came to be.
What I like about “1972”: Morrison left no stone unturned in his tome about the 1972 Summit Series. It gives a thorough history, but does not read like a history book. Many parts of the book feature long (two to three paragraph) quotes from Canadian and Soviet players; while quotes add color to any story, these long quotes are especially welcome, as they really give insight to what the players were feeling back then, or how they feel now. Many of the photos are in color, including a great team photo of Canada.
What I do not like about “1972”: With no disrespect to the hockey greats who have passed away, the 31-page “In Memoriam” chapter felt a bit like filler to pad the page count.
I learned a great deal about the 1972 Summit Series from this book; heck, I practically learned everything there was to know about the series. Granted, I only really knew the major details, so much of the material covered was new to me. But even someone who knows a lot on the topic would probably learn something from Morrison’s book. People who remembered where they were during Game Eight of the Summit Series would undoubtedly enjoy “1972.” And any hockey fan who wants to know more about hockey’s most important series needs to read this book.
Follow Sal Barry on Twitter @PuckJunk. ■