Fifty years ago this month, the Canada vs USSR eight game hockey tournament of 1972 galvanized the nation. One of the standouts for Team Canada was Montreal Canadiens defenseman Serge Savard.
While TV ratings were an even more inexact science back then, it is estimated that 16 million Canadians, out of a nation of 22 million, watched the final game on September 28, 1972. All I know is that if you looked past the hockey game on TV and out the window from my parent’s house, Dundas Street was so eerily empty you could have played ball hockey.
The players we all remember were Paul Henderson, who scored three-straight game-winning goals, and Phil Esposito, who many feel carried the team on his back. Here is something I never realized, however, back when I watched the series on TV with my high school pals: Canada never lost a game when Savard was in the lineup. He went four wins, one tie. A hairline fracture mid-way in the series kept him out of two losses, and an unfortunate decision by coach Harry Sinden sidelined him for the opening blowout loss.
Savard, proud owner of ten Stanley Cup rings, looks back on the series with passion and insight on the podcast. He hated the culture clash, feeling “we got caught up in a political affair.” Looking back, it is no wonder patriotism was such a talking point. There were no Russians in the NHL back then, and very few Americans. Professional hockey was as Canadian as ketchup chips and bag milk.
What Savard did love, surprisingly, was the bigger international rink in Moscow where the last four games of the series was played. He wonders how much of an impact a mobile Bobby Orr, injured and unavailable at the time, would have had on that larger ice surface. If Savard, also a two-time Stanley Cup winner as Canadiens’ GM, had his way, every new NHL rink would be built to the international standards.
Also joining me on this episode is author, rocker and documentarian Dave Bidini. The Rheostatics guitarist is the co-writer and co-director of “Summit 72,” a four-part documentary premiering Wed., Sept. 14 on CBC and CBC Gem. Bidini helped line up some vintage sounds of the ’70s for the docuseries, including cuts from Rush, Triumph and Leonard Cohen.
Come for the drama, stay for the cool music Bidini archived and the fully restored and seldom seen 16mm footage of the original series. Before you watch, simply click on the blue and white arrow above to hear why this was the greatest hockey series of all time directly from Savard and Bidini.
ALSO: If you like this episode, check out my conversation from earlier this year with author and hockey commentator Scott Morrison. His book, “1972: The Series That Changed Hockey Forever,” is a revealing look at how the Summit series came together and how the players dug deep to make Canada proud.