Thursday, December 31, 2015

The Greatest Game Ever, 40 Years Later; Part 2

"Probably the most important and far-reaching sporting contest ever held in this country." This is how Montreal Gazette writer Tim Burke described the New Years Eve 1975 game between Montreal Canadiens and the Soviet Central Army. He continued,"The Canadiens resurrected one of our proudest heritages and enshrined it with an un rivalled display of determination and sportsmanship."

In Burke's analysis "the fact the Canadiens had to settle for the most lopsided tie in memory; 38-13 in shots on goal, takes nothing away from their stupendous effort against a great and dauntless opponent." He summarized that Montreal was, "supreme in all facets of the game, save goaltending and shooting."
The Soviet Central Army team had just managed to tie the Montreal Canadiens 3-3 despite being outplayed by all accounts. In referring to the aforementioned goaltending of Ken Dryden, Bob Gainey offered, "Do you realize that it was more than an hour between the warmup and the time the Russians got their first shot (10:03 into the game), no goaltender can be inactive that long without it affecting him." The Soviets put four weak shots on Dryden in the first period and only three in the second. Two of the three second period attempts ended up as goals. However, Dryden after the game refused to use his lack of work as an excuse,  "I wasn't cold because I'd broken into a nervous sweat at the beginning of the game. I had an awful lot of shots at my glove and tonight they were just dropping out of it." Coach Scotty Bowman described the first goal when Dryden stopped Boris Mikhailov's shot with his glove at shoulder level, then let it drop into the net, "I think there was a good chance that if Dryden doesn't stop it, the puck goes over the net."
Burke describes how the Canadiens employed Gerry Duggan who charted all their games since Bowman took over. Duggan said, "The Canadiens in the first period didn't give up the puck in their own end once, the first time that's happened since I've been charting them. In the second period they gave it away in their end just once, and in the third period five times." Larry Robinson added, "We made only four mistakes in the whole game and they scored on three of them. On the fourth one, they hit the inside of the crossbar,"- Popov's shot at 14:11 of the third period.
Burke also hinted that, "There is a suspicion that the Forum ice was 'slowed down' for this one -bumpier and chipper than usual - to impair Central Army's precision passing. If so, it may have cost Steve Shutt the winning goal. "At 15:39 of the third period, Shutt had - or thought he had - the winner on his stick about five feet out and his whole side of the net open, thanks to another beautiful pass from Pete Mahovlich. But when he made the shot, the puck wasn't there. 'Darn it,' he said afterwards, 'the ice was chewed up enough to get the puck weaving and dancing a little."
Canadiens superstar Guy Lafleur was a bit more blunt with his analysis of the game, "I didn't learn a thing from them. It was an easy game. We proved tonight that our system is still good. We can dump the puck in and still be more dangerous than them." He went on, "After their power plays I wasn't even tired. That never happens with an NHL team. You just wait at the line. You don't have to skate at all to keep up with them."
Even Soviet coach Loktev agreed, "This was not one of our best performances. Most of our problems came as a result of Montreal's style of play. Their checking was very effective, they played their positions well and they worked very hard. Montreal played a very fine hockey game."
It was a fine hockey game indeed.

1 comment:

Estimated Prophet said...

I remember watching this game in Lorain Ohio. We lived on the shore of Lake Erie and had a rotating roof antenna, originally installed by my dad to watch the Browns telecasts from Toledo. In those days all NFL home games were blacked out, whether sold out or not. I had discovered Hockey Night in Canada around 1970 on CKLW-TV Channel 9 from Windsor, and occasionally CFPL-TV 10 from London. Although the reception this New Year's Eve was poor I was able to catch enough to stick through all three periods with Danny Gallivan, Dick Irvin and John Ferguson. What a night and what a game! I'm glad the Habs made it available on DVD as part of a multi-game set several years ago. I will always consider it the Greatest Game Ever until I see a better one. Ties were not all bad you know.

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