Dave Bidini takes us back in time, to the afternoon of September 28, 1972, the 40th anniversary of what many regard as the most important sporting event in Canadian history. The Canada-Russia Summit Series, a series that meant far more than just winning hockey games, a series that would prove to be more about nationalistic pride and protecting the sanctity of our nation’s freedoms. Canada had been pre-ordained as the hockey superpower and many so-called hockey experts had handicapped the series as a whitewash in Canada’s favour. It would turn out to be anything but.
Hockey fans across Canada who, on that day, filed into school gymnasiums, played hooky from work or watched through storefront windows witnessing THE GOAL, Paul Henderson’s game-winning goal with 34 seconds left, a goal they would never again forget, a goal that would prove to have cemented a nation's identity and hockey prowess in one wild stab for the puck. Bidini writes in his latest book, A Wild Stab For It (ECW Press, 2012), “Writers are challenged on where to start when it comes to describing the stunning events of the third period of Game Eight because, in Canada, there was no reference point – no template – to the relentless drama and surging gusts of passion that were played out in full view. In the USA, the confrontational and emotionally fraught birth of their country – to say nothing of VE Day, the moon landing, “Who Shot J.R.?” and 9/11 – affords citizens a scale by which historic events can be measured. It’s even truer in the case of sport, which, to many Americans, is about a battle of will and superstars whose achievements are expressions of pure individualism.”
Bidini manages to precisely encapsulate the drama of Game Eight in Moscow’s Luzhniki Ice Palace, he writes, “Only a few players could sense the weight of what might happen to their reputations if Canada lost to Russia, but everyone knew it would be bad. As for the Soviets, they’d been to Montreal, they’d been to Toronto, they’d been to British Columbia. No man could stay the same after doing what millions of their countrymen had only dreamed.”
TTQ – How important was the '72 Canada-Russia Summit Series in hockey history?
Dave Bidini – It probably changed the way Canadian/North American hockey was played. Russian hockey, not so much.
TTQ – Some hockey experts like Mike Kennan have said that the '87 Canada Cup 3-game final between Canada-Russia was a better series and better brand of hockey. What would you say to that assessment?
Dave Bidini – It was faster, more skilled-- because of the Russian influence-- but without the Cold War backdrop; without the fear or nausea or intrigue. Still, ‘87 was a wonderful event. I loved every minute of it, coming across Canada on our first tour.
TTQ – There have been many books written over the years about the Canada-Russia Summit Series. What makes your book A Wild Stab For It different and stand out from the rest?
Dave Bidini – Well, I wrote it. Naturally, it would be different. And better. Because I'm really, really good. (smile)
TTQ – It’s no secret that Canada got off to a slow start in the Summit Series and when the series moved to Moscow many thought it would be virtually impossible for Canada to comeback and win the series after losing game five. What do you think the turning point was in that series that turned the momentum in Team Canada's favour?
Dave Bidini – They had to go to Sweden in between games in Canada and Russia, and, being away pulled them together. Classic road trip closeness, as well as being away from the heat of the press and public here.
TTQ – How differently do you think the storyline would have been had Bobby Orr and Bobby Hull participated in that series?
Dave Bidini – Tough call. The Russians were prepared for every scenario. Would have loved to have seen how they prepared for Orr; how they thwarted his skating and passing.
TTQ – Do you think it's a crime Paul Henderson isn't a member of the Hockey Hall of Fame and do you think he'll ever be voted in?
Dave Bidini – His achievements are beyond the Hall of Fame, in a way. He is part of our lexicon, our fabric. No plaque can make that greater or lesser.
TTQ – What was your trip to Russia like and how do Russians view the Summit Series 40 years later?
Dave Bidini – Check out Part One of my Hockey Nomad Goes to Russia video.
TTQ – Do you think the '72 Summit Series could be duplicated in today's era and be filled with the same kind of intense drama?
Dave Bidini – No, but that's a good thing. It's a better world in some ways. Hating an entire country because of their political system was a drag and wrong, but it's how it was. Still, I'm so glad we can travel freely between places. The hockey isn't as intense but the world is more open.