Saturday, December 26, 2015

The Greatest Game Ever, 40 Years Later; Part 1

"That goal was one of the greatest moments of my life," declared Yvan Cournoyer about his 1972 Summit Series Game 8 tying goal in the third period. This statement was made mere days before he and his fellow Montreal Canadiens were to play the Soviet Union on New Years Eve 1975. As the 40th anniversary approaches of the game many call the greatest ever, let's look at the anticipation from players and media alike in the days before the historic match.
Cournoyer's teammate on both the '75 Habs and '72 Team Canada, Pete Mahovlich said, "After Paul Henderson scored that winning goal, I wanted to cry. We had come so far to take victory away from the Soviets." In this updated version of the Russia/Canada matchup, the Central Army team and the Soviet Wings would play four games each against eight different NHL teams. "This series is very important to me, Cournoyer said, "because a lot of people are trying to say that the Russians are better than us." He added, "Our guys will be ready. Every team in the NHL has pride and the players want to do their best."
Mahovlich added,"I wouldn't mind another full series against them... this time, we know what to expect."
As for the Soviets, Central Army head coach Konstantin Loktev flat out stated, "We do not like players like Ferguson (former Canadien, John) because of their style of play. Because there are so many good ice hockey players in Canada I can't understand why some of your players have switched to a rough style of play." Soviet goalie Vladislav Tretiak chimed in with his pre-series thought, "All the games here are going to be interesting and difficult because I know Esposito, Hull, Clarke and Cournoyer but I know very little about players on the other teams, and they all know me well."

The Soviets first test was against the New York Rangers on December 28th and they passed with flying colours besting the Rangers by a score of 7-3. Defenceman, and one of six Montreal Summit Series veterans, Serge Savard said," I want to win badly but I don't feel any extra pressure because the Rangers lost. Did anyone expect them to win?" The day before the New Years match, Mahovlich exclaimed, "I think if we play the right way, we can beat them. If we can allow them fewer than three or four goals, I think we've got a heck of an opportunity to win. If they score that many, it's not going to be Kenny's (Dryden) fault."
As for Dryden, he didn't hide his feelings about beating the Russians, "It's a very big thing as far as I'm concerned. I don't understand that other attitude, that sort of professional cool, it's simply a way of underscoring whatever you do." Mahovlich summed up his pre-game thoughts, "We have no excuses and we're not making any. If we lose, we'll lose to a better hockey club for that game. And if we win, we'll be the better hockey club for that game."He finished by saying,"It's like Bobby Clarke says, You get a hell of a lot of satisfaction out of playing the best. I know I do."
Montreal Gazette writer, Al Strachan laid out the Canadiens roster that would line up for the game;

Lafleur, Lemaire, Lambert
Cournoyer, Mahovlich, Shutt
Tremblay, Risebrough, Wilson
Roberts, Jarvis, Gainey

Robinson, Bouchard
Lapointe, Van Boxmeer
Awrey, Savard

Strachan, along with his fellow Gazette writers made predictions in the December 31st edition.
"It won't be a high scoring game," commented Strachan, Canadiens win 3-2. Tim Burke called it 6-4 for Montreal saying, "Seldom have I seen the Canadiens in as good physical condition as they are right now." Doug Gilbert was the one hold out for the Soviets predicting an 8-4 Russian victory. He was however amazingly close in predicting what actually transpired as he summed up his comment, "I go to the Forum hoping for the most exciting tie in the history of hockey - and expecting the Soviets to pull out all stops and win 8-4."
He came close to nailing it.

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