Precisely 48 years to the day — Sept. 28 — that Paul Henderson demoralized the world of Russian hockey fans with his Summit Series-winning goal that gave Canada its greatest sporting victory ever, the Tampa Bay Lightning needed the outstanding play of two sensational Russian players to win the 2020 Stanley Cup.
Yes, times have changed.
Forty-eight years ago, in 1972, it’s not an overstatement to say the Russians were hated by Canadians.
The Russians claimed to be ‘amateurs’, we lamented, but spent 48 weeks of the year pretending to be members of the Red Army but did nothing militarily — simply perfecting their hockey skills.
Our hockey guys, meanwhile, went boating, drank a lot of beer, played some golf … and then did two weeks of training in preparation for the hockey season.
Thankfully for Canada, Henderson rescued our country from what could have been a sporting humiliation. The best professionals in ‘our game’ losing to a bunch of Russian amateurs? Say it ain’t so.
Thanks to Henderson, it wasn’t so. But hockey relations between the two superpowers has softened in the 48 years since that famous hockey Summit Series, and now Russians, Swedes, Slovaks, Germans, Americans and Finns are an integral part of the best hockey league in the world.
We now applaud Russians and their skills on ice.
Nikita Kucherov is the Lightning’s offensive leader and was last year’s NHL scoring champ. Andrei Vasilevskiy is regarded as the one of the NHL’s best goaltenders.
Tampa Bay’s final opponents, Dallas Stars, were led by their Kazakstanian goaltender, Anton Khudobin, and two Russian offensive stars up front, Alexander Radulov and Denis Gurianov.
How dull would the NHL be without the flashy exploits of Alex Ovechkin?
Artemi Panarin, who finished third behind German-born Leon Draisaitl and Nova Scotia’s Nathan MacKinnon, calls Korkino, Russia, home.
Evgeni Malkin is a longtime superstar with the Penguins.
Yes, someone going to sleep in Saskatoon or Trois Rivieres in 1972 and waking up in 2020 wouldn’t believe how beloved the Russians have become to Canadian hockey fans. W
e marvelled at the skill of Pavel Datsyuk. Philly Flyer fans cheer mightily for the team’s No. 1 defenceman, the sturdy Russian Ivan Provorov.
Quite a transition from the story about Flyers’ centre Bobby Clarke infamously slashing Russian star Valeri Kharlamov so hard on the ankle that he broke the Russian’s bone, forcing him to miss Game 7 and badly reducing his effectiveness in the decisive Game 8.
It was a true cold war, fought on ice. Now the only thing ‘cold’ about the Russian-Canadian hockey world is the ice itself.
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by Bruce Penton