Mother Russia opened her arms to Canada's All-Star hockey players last week—and gave them a bear hug they will not soon forget. Napoleon would have felt entirely at home. Needless to say, Team Canada had not expected Moscow to be all vodka and caviar. Its self-proclaimed supermen had, of course, been knocked on their national myths by the Russians on their own home ground earlier in the month. But there was something especially humiliating about the Canadians' 5-4 defeat Friday night as the teams opened a four-game series in the Russian capital. Canada had led 3-0 and 4-1, but even those handsome margins were not good enough that night as the Russians, in a shivering display of hockey power, rose up and destroyed their guests in the third period.
This is an article from the Oct. 2, 1972 issue
"We have our ups and downs," said Canada Coach Harry Sinden with perfect truth. "We can't put two good periods together, but they could play the same way 24 hours a day until midnight of the third Thursday next February. Maybe I should have stuck to building houses."
Things were not quite that bad. On Sunday night the Canadians made Sinden swallow some of his words as they overcame their mental depression, put together the three solid periods of hockey Sinden had been pleading for and shocked the confident Russians 3-2. The Russians pressed furiously for the tying goal on their power play for most of the game's last two minutes, but four times Ken Dryden thwarted them with miraculous saves around the goal mouth. For Dryden, who gave up 12 goals in the two games he played in Canada—and lost—the victory was at least partial redemption. "I had to change my style," he said. "I like to come out of the goal and challenge the shooters, but the Russians never shoot. They pass the puck, and they were passing it around me for easy goals. Tonight I stayed in my net and stayed on my feet more. It worked."
The Canadian comeback partly atoned for the disastrous collapse two evenings before and made it possible, if unlikely, for the NHL All-Stars to take the entire eight-game series by winning the final two games in Moscow. Although nothing would remove the shock of the Canadian losses, Sunday's victory at least proved that Canada belongs on the same rink with the Russians.
Having suffered the summer-long dismantling of Boris Spassky by Bobby Fischer at long range, Leonid Brezhnev, Aleksei Kosygin and Nikolai Podgorny, the Big Three of Soviet politics, chose a box at center ice on Friday night from which to relish the Russian hockey men close up. So great was the demand for tickets that Yevgeny Yevtushenko, the poet, had to sit high in the end rafters. Yes, hockey is a big game in Moscow.
The Canadians came 2,700-strong—35 players, the rest Intourist trippers—supplied with beer, Scotch, mineral water, steak, Coca-Cola, towels, soap, toilet paper, miniature maple leaf buttons, regulation Canadian flags, enough gum to dam the Moskva River and enough clothes to outfit the Soviet Army for the next 10 years. For the most part the Russians were ready for them. Although the players consumed their own imported steaks, their traveling fans had few, if any, complaints about the quality of the Russian food, particularly the chicken Kiev, or the speed at which it appeared on the table. The hotel rooms may have been closet-size, but facilities were quite reasonable if not lavish. Besides overnight journeys to Leningrad and Kiev, the Russian hosts scheduled tours of the Kremlin and the subway during the day and visits to the Bolshoi Ballet and the Moscow Circus at night. "One day I took a bus and saw all the buildings from the front," said one Canadian, "and the next day I took a barge and saw them all from the back."
Late at night the Russians relaxed their drinking hours and kept the dollar bars open until the vodka supply ran out, usually after four a.m. The bars resounded with choruses of the Saskatchewan Roughriders' fight song and Les Canadiens sont l√†, and when they closed the revelry moved upstairs to the Scotch closets or outside into Red Square for a parade with the Canadian flag that was in competition with the hourly changing of the guard at Lenin's tomb. Naturally, the Canadians managed to lose that game, too.
They did win the button war. Every day hundreds of Russian children would crowd around the hotel lobbies and the entrances to the Palace of Sports and offer to trade their lapel buttons for maple leaf buttons or anything else—especially the chewing gum—the Canadians happened to have with them. "Look at this," said the still-injured Bobby Orr one day, unbuttoning his dress shirt. Pinned to his superboy shirt underneath were rows and rows of maple leafs that he would soon be exchanging at a profitable three-for-one ratio.
The best deal was Assistant Coach John Ferguson's trade of one stick of Wrigley's spearmint for a Lenin button. "An embassy guy told me the Lenin buttons are the hardest things to get in Moscow," Ferguson said smugly.
What the Russians were not prepared for was the faddish clothing and the distinctly different training habits of the NHL stars. Everyone in Russia seems to wear drab gray or shiny black. When the Russians got glimpses of Yvan Cournoyer's Halloween jacket, a dazzling blend of burnt orange, black, red and blue, Paul Henderson's checked flared pants and Tony Esposito's brown and white patent leather shoes with stepped-up heels, they poked one another, pointed at the Canadians and shook their heads as if viewing madmen.
They were equally dumfounded when they saw the Canadian players smoking cigars, cigarettes and Tiparillos, playing tricks on one another during practice sessions on the ice and relaxing afterward with a beer or two. "They don't understand our habits, and we don't understand theirs," said Phil Esposito. "That's what makes the world go round."
While in Moscow the Canadians also were subjected to a good deal of bragging by the Russians, who have, among other things, a government Department of Sports Propaganda. The Russians were still gloating over the remarkable showing of the Communist bloc at Munich. As every Canadian read or heard several times, the athletes of 11 Socialist countries accounted for only 10% of all participants in the Olympic Games, yet won 285 medals—47.5%. Said Vitaly Smirnov, first deputy chairman of the Soviet Committee for Physical Culture and Sport: "The attempts to ascribe the success of athletes from the Socialist countries to alleged special properties of the Socialist systems are unconvincing. There are no secrets, as sport in the Socialist countries has become extremely popular. The success of the Soviet teams is based on the solid foundation of participation of millions in sports activities in the U.S.S.R."
Take hockey, as a not so idle example. The Russians estimate they have 600,000 senior amateur players and more than three million youngsters registered in various hockey programs. "I cannot give an exact figure on the kids," said Kirill Romensky of the Soviet Ice Hockey Department, "because it is difficult to keep track. In Siberia, you know, they start to skate the minute they get out of the napkin." Maybe so, but for Goaltender Vladislav Tretiak, who seems to be a model product of the Soviet sports system, active participation in athletics did not really begin until he reached the ripe old age of 7.
Like all Russian youths, Tretiak, who was born in Moscow 20 years ago, began to attend state-sponsored sports classes when he turned 7. For the next three years he worked at many sports—hockey, volleyball, basketball, soccer, ski jumping, gymnastics, tennis—and began to develop his physique under the watchful eyes of special physical training instructors, all graduates of physical culture institutes. Besides teaching Tretiak the strict, state-approved method of, say, shooting free throws, these instructors also tested his mental and psychological qualities. Their appraisals were then forwarded to the Committee for Sports and Moscow's Physical Culture Research Institute for official examination. Tretiak obviously possessed the traits of the perfect goaltender, so at the age of 11 he was given some armor and told to become the next Jacques Plante. At this point he was separated from the majority of young Russians and placed in a junior sports school at the Central Army Club in Moscow. There are only three standard indoor rinks in Moscow, including the Army Club arena, and only selected youths such as Tretiak ever get to play on them. The club is one of the top training grounds for Russia's best athletes, and it makes the average YMCA or high school sports complex look like a one-hole golf course.
Among other facilities, the Central Army Club has large separate buildings for hockey, tennis, weight lifting, swimming, gymnastics and basketball, as well as a 7,000-seat soccer stadium. Between the buildings are outdoor basketball courts, volleyball grounds and mini-sized soccer fields. In the hockey building there also is a special rink strictly for figure skaters, and one day last week two dozen teen-aged Russian girls spent hour after hour practicing their splits under the steely supervision of a coach.
In time Tretiak proved to be the best young goaltender in the country. When he turned 15 he came under the tutelage of Anatoly Tarasov, the innovative head coach of the Central Army Club and Russia's foremost hockey expert. He was coach of the national team until he had a falling out with his superiors over his request for a pay raise after Russia won another gold medal last February at Sapporo. Tarasov spent hours every day with Tretiak, drilling him on the finer points of goaltending as he himself had learned them from the Canadians.
Tretiak was now a member of Russia's young elite, someone who would not be spending the rest of his days manning a lathe in Minsk. One of the attractions of sport in Russia is that it is the fastest way out of gray-black anonymity and into the world of wash-and-wear shirts, automobiles and large apartments—not to mention those midnight-blue, double-breasted blazers with hammer and sickle patches on the breast and those royal blue sweat suits with two thin stripes down the side Russian athletes seem to wear everywhere they go.
Appreciating what goaltending excellence could mean to him, Tretiak continued to improve, and in 1970 Tarasov considered him ready not only for the Central Army Club's team in Russia's major hockey league but also for the national team in world competition.
However, since the Russians insist that their players are unpaid amateurs—jobless people in the U.S.S.R. may be arrested on a charge of parisitism—Tretiak had to find permanent employment. No problem. He was made a lieutenant in the Soviet Army and assigned the task of developing, well, another Tretiak. As a lieutenant-goaltender his salary is about 400 rubles ($488) a month, or roughly the same as a general's. But Tretiak, like the other Soviet hockey players, also earns sizable bonuses for outstanding athletic accomplishments such as winning Olympic gold medals and victories over Canada. His bonus for the Canada-Russia series reportedly might be some 2,000 rubles. As a result Tretiak can well afford to buy the new cars and live in the big apartments that are unavailable to 99.9% of the Russians in his age group.
One day a group of Canadians was kidding Tretiak about all the money he makes, and Alan Eagleson, who is Bobby Orr's lawyer, thought to ask Tretiak if he would like to attend Orr's hockey school in Orillia, Ontario next summer. As an instructor, of course, not a student. "You pay to bring my wife, too?" Tretiak asked. "Sure," Eagleson answered. "Boy, you're becoming quite a pro already. Next you'll want to know about the pension plan." Tretiak laughed as the interpreter relayed Eagleson's remarks. "Da, da" he said, nodding his head.
Tretiak plays hockey 11 months of the year, taking a vacation only in early summer. When he is not playing for the national team he is the regular goal-tender for the Central Army Club. Not surprisingly, the Central Army Club has had the best record in its nine-team league the past few seasons. All the teams in the major league are supported by various Russian trade unions or factories, not by the state as such. Spartak, the most popular team among the fans because of its hell-for-leather style, represents a cooperative of light industries. Dynamo is sponsored by the police and the KGB. Games involving the Central Army Club, Spartak and Dynamo always sell out the Palace of Sports, but when Traktor comes from Siberia to Moscow to play Lokomotiv, there are empty seats everywhere. Just like Los Angeles when the Buffalo Sabres drop by.
Although Tretiak has been Russia's No. 1 goaltender for several years, he was hardly considered in a class with Dryden and Esposito until he began to outplay them a few weeks ago. In fact, after the Russians were upset by the Czechs for the world title last April, there were rumors in Moscow that Vsevolod Bobrov, who had replaced Tarasov as the Soviet head coach, was going to option Tretiak to Siberia. "He had a terrible glove hand," said Stanislas Kaskta, the Czech coach. "I don't know how he did it, but he must have learned to use his glove hand during the summer."
That he did. After every workout this summer Bobrov and his assistant, Boris Kulagin, kept Tretiak on the ice for at least another hour and forced him to face the firing squad, a shooting machine that fires a puck every four seconds at speeds up to 100 mph. Tretiak now owns the fastest glove hand in the U.S.S.R. "He certainly is not the same goalie we used to plan our game around," said Kjell Svensson, Sweden's coach.
Tretiak's development also reflects the total commitment of the Soviet coaches, who can devote all their time to coaching because they do not have television shows to tape or newspaper columns to write. Last Friday, for instance, Bobrov and Kulagin spent 90 minutes on the ice in the morning with the team that was to play Canada that night, and then they worked for 90 minutes more with the 12 players who were not going to play.
After those players practiced their passing, stick handling and shooting for about half an hour, they scrimmaged for a solid hour. Nonstop. No substitutions. All the while Kulagin stood against the boards with a microphone in his hand and barked pertinent comments as the players swirled about.
"Bystree, bystree!" he shouted. "Faster, faster! You can do nothing without moving!" A forward made a bad pass, fell down and took his time getting up again. "Shto ty delayesh?" Kulagin screamed angrily. "What are you doing?" Later one of the players tried a solo down the ice and was easily stopped. Kulagin shook his head at the guilty individual. "Can't you count to two?" he said, meaning that he had better pass the puck the next time—or else.
Reflecting on the Russian workouts, Harry Sinden said, "Why couldn't we think of using a microphone on the ice during practice? No, we have to yell at players, and they either don't hear us or don't want to hear us. And the way they work at passing is fascinating.
"Look at it this way. The best product of the Canadian teaching system the past few years probably has been Gilbert Perreault. He is a magnificent individual performer, but he has no real idea how to use the other four players on the ice with him. It's not his fault. No one has taken the time to teach him. Its that simple.
Or is it? The Socialist system, of course, attempts to play down the so-called "cult of personality" and emphasizes attitudes of cooperation, dedication and anonymity. There are no postgame television interviews, no star-of-the-game shows, no locker room interviews for the afternoon papers, no endorsements of automobiles or clothes or shaving cream. Bobrov and Kulagin will say only, "The goaltender was good"—never "Tretiak was good"—and if someone suggests that Valeri Kharlamov played a strong game, they answer, "All the left wings were very good."
Sinden sees the merits of the Soviet approach, although he doubts that such tactics—particularly downgrading individual performances—could survive very long in the NHL. "The ironic thing," Sinden said, "is that our best players in this series against the Russians have been the so-called nonstars—people like Bobby Clarke and Paul Henderson and Gary Bergman, to mention a few. Except for the Esposito brothers, all of our so-called stars have been total busts."
Vic Hadfield of the New York Rangers, who scored 50 goals last year and then signed a $200,000-a-year contract, quit Team Canada last week and returned home when he could not beat out J. P. Parise, a relatively unknown left wing for the Minnesota North Stars, for a place in the lineup. "Parise came here and worked," Sinden said, "Hadfield didn't. You look at what the two of them did for five or six weeks, and it makes you wonder about all this star business." Hadfield wasn't the only Team Canada player to bug out. So did Rick Martin, Jocelyn Guevremont and Finest Individual Gil Perreault.
"I don't understand it," Sinden said. "Twelve and 15 years ago Canada beat the Russians with guys who hauled lunch buckets all week. Guys who delivered milk. Guys who tended bar. Why can't these guys we have here—the highest-paid players in the world—beat them?"
Maybe Boris Kulagin had the best answer. "The Canadians," he said simply, "are not as serious about hockey as we are. Everything in hockey is in the seriousness of the approach." Concluded Sinden: "Maybe hockey has to become a year-long job in Canada, too."
Meanwhile, Team Canada fans were losing their aplomb. One day an irate Canadian man spotted NHL President Clarence Campbell at the dollar bar in the Hotel Intourist and started to insult Campbell's hockey intelligence.
"I know more about hockey than anyone in it," Campbell told the man.
"Ah, you mean you know more than Tarasov and Bobrov?" the fan asked.
Campbell thought for a moment. "I was speaking about North America," he said.