Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Soviets Trounce New York Rangers, 36 years ago today

December 28, 1975, a new era in international hockey competition is begun but the result is eerily familiar. This date was the first in a round of games which NHL president Clarence Campbell said presented, "a new potential for hockey internationally" and hoped "this new development is the forerunner to international competition on a continuing basis".

Having played 'All-Star' teams from Canada in in 1972 and 1974, the Soviets would now send two club teams to play four games each against various NHL teams in the middle of the season. The NHL covered all expenses of the two Soviet squads as well as paying $25,000 to each team for each game played. The New York Rangers would be guinea pigs of sorts in this new format and their star centre Phil Esposito realized that fact,"If we lose it, it's not going to be the end of the world for me...It's an exhibition series that's darned good for hockey. But let's not carried away." Esposito and Rod Gilbert were veterans of that 1972 Summit Series but the Red Army had many more veterans of that classic clash. Four of the very best were present in New York. Valeri Kharlamov, Boris Mikhailov, Vladimir Petrov and Vladislav Tretiak would lead the Army against the NHL teams.

Heading into the game the Rangers sat in last place of the Patrick Divison with a 15-17-4 record and were 10th overall among the 18 NHL teams at that point. The Red Army team of Moscow was defending and perrenial champion of the Soviet league. This apparent discrepency in talent was fulfilled during the game.

Just as in 1972 when Esposito himself scored the first goal of the game a mere 30 seconds in, on this occasion Ranger Steve Vickers scored 21 seconds inton the game beating Tretiak with a six foot backhander. The Soviets bounced back quickly with two tallies in the next four minutes before going up 3-1 after a period. The lead was stretched to 7-1 early in the third period before it ended 7-3 in the Soviet's favour, the exact same score as the first game in 1972.

Esposito poured 10 shots on Tretiak this night and collected a goal and two assists. He was quoted after, "I had 10 good shots and got only one goal. Tretiak was terrific. But we have to learn to exploit our scoring chances the way the Russians do." He would add,"I don't think they dominated us. They were shooting out blind from their zone and we were getting caught."
Petrov notched 2 goals and 2 assists and Kharlamov scored a goal and three helpers. The Rangers attempted to rough it up as the game wound down. Greg Polis was given an unsportmanlike penalty in the last half minute and actually took a run at the Russian referee Karandin. Carol Vadnais was given a five minute call for butt-ending, all the while the Soviets smiled it off.

Soviet coach Konstantin Loktev bluntly said afterwards, "They have a weight problem. They have a carriage problem in skating. They're not as fast as we. They must improve their conditioning."

Esposito summarized, "We killed them in faceoffs (winning 56 of 73) and we outshot them (41-29), but they out did us on the scoreboard and that, unfortunately, is all that matters. Steve Vickers said afterwards, rather candidly,"I reserve my comment until they play some of the better teams. I don't think even if we played our best game we would have beaten them." Perhaps he had a point. When the Soviet Army later played possibly the three best NHL squads they ended up with a .500 record. They tied Montreal 3-3, beat Boston 5-2 and lost to Philadelphia 4-1.

These Super Series would continue off and on around Christmas-time through until the last visit from Moscow Dynamo and Red Army in January of 1991.

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