Listen, Dr. Kissinger, would you kindly explain the meaning of your word detente to Bobby Clarke and all the Philadelphia Flyers before they get involved in another international incident? Clarke probably thinks détente is some new Parisian after-shave lotion. Playing Boy Scout and being hospitable and diplomatic with the Russians is, in Clarke's language, treachery, Henry, not deténte. "I hate the S.O.B.s," Clarke snarled last Sunday as the Stanley Cup champion Flyers squared off against Moscow's Central Army Club in hockey's first Super Bowl at the packed Spectrum.
No matter, this was never going to be another one of those "friendlies," as the Soviets like to call their games with the "professionals" from North America. In their earlier friendlies the Army Club—champion of the Soviet major league reinforced by the addition of two stars from Moscow Dynamo—had whipped the New York Rangers and the Boston Bruins, and tied the Montreal Canadiens. Meanwhile, their comrades, the Wings of the Soviets, bolstered by four Moscow Spartak stars, including the brilliant left wing Alexander Yakushev, had defeated the Pittsburgh Penguins, the Chicago Black Hawks and the New York Islanders, losing only to the Buffalo Sabres. "We're in a weird position," said Philadelphia Coach Fred Shero. "All year long people keep telling us that we're bad for hockey, bad for the NHL, bad for Canada because we're too rough. Now we're supposed to save the game for the NHL, for Canada, for everyone. Hah! For the first time we're the good guys."
"The way we figured it," said Flyer Defenseman Joe Watson, "we had to hit the Russians and hit them again every time we had the chance. If you let them skate around and play dipsy doodle with the puck, they'll kill you. If you hit them, though, they'll play just like any ordinary hockey team." For the first 10 minutes on Sunday the Flyers did not just hit the Soviets, they assaulted them. Dave (Hammer) Schultz rubbed his glove in Boris Mikhailov's face. Andre (Moose) Dupont waved his stick under Mikhailov's nose. Ed (Zorro) Van Impe tattooed the stomachs of Alexander Maltsev and Boris Alexandrov. Bill Barber rearranged Valery Vasiliev's helmet. And Clarke reintroduced his hockey stick to Valery Kharlamov's ankle. Clarke had damaged that ankle in the Team Canada-Soviet series of'72. "They didn't like it," Watson said.
What the Soviets particularly did not like was Van Impe's check or elbow or butt end that decked Kharlamov for a 10 count at 11:21 of the first period. When Referee Lloyd Gilmour failed to signal Van Impe for a penalty, Army Club Coach Konstantin Loktev called his players to the bench in protest. Gilmour, in turn, gave the Soviets a two-minute penalty for delay of game. Now Loktev was so irate that he ordered his players off the ice and back into their dressing room. "I had no complaints about the referee," he said later. "My complaints were about the players. It was their intention to damage our players. We never play such animal hockey in the Soviet Union, and we had not seen such animal hockey in this series."
January 19, 1976
NHL President Clarence Campbell and several of his aides rushed to the Army Club's dressing room to caucus with Loktev and his Soviet bosses. "They told us they wanted to take their players back to the Soviet Union in one piece, not on stretchers," said NHL Chief of Referees Scotty Morrison. "As far as I was concerned, they were trying to intimidate Gilmour into calling a one-sided game." Flyer Board Chairman Ed Snider hardly needed an interpreter to get his message across to the Russians: If they did not return to the ice, the NHL would not pay the $200,000 guaranteed to them for the series.
So, after some locker-room brinkmanship and a 16-minute delay, the Army Club skated back onto the ice to a thunderous chorus of boos. "I knew they'd come back," Clarke said, "because they wanted the money." Morrison promised the Soviets nothing. "They wanted a guarantee of no fighting the rest of the game," he said, "and they wanted us to rescind that delay-of-game penalty. No way."
The Flyers capitalized on their power play 16 seconds after the game resumed, Reggie Leach rerouting a Bill Barber shot past Goaltender Vladislav Tretiak to give Philadelphia, the NHL and Canada a 1-0 lead. And it soon became obvious that the Flyers had intimidated the Russian players to the point where they had developed the familiar NHL disease called the Philadelphia Flu.
Van Impe and friends cleaned up their act slightly, but they still rapped every Soviet player who dared handle the puck. Philadelphia scored another goal minutes later, Rick MacLeish, the swiftest skater on the ice, beating Tretiak on a breakaway, and through the first period the Flyers outshot the Army Club 17-2. For the remainder of the game the Flyers thwarted the Soviets with Shero's latest defensive creation, something called the four-and-one. Four Flyers set up along the blue line, and the fifth, always the center—MacLeish, Clarke, Terry Crisp or Orest Kindrachuk—pursues the puck carrier. "The other NHL clubs chased the Russians around and got themselves trapped up ice," Barber said. "Why chase them? They had to come to the blue line sometime. And when they came up ice, we knocked them off the puck."
Philadelphia thoroughly befuddled the nervous Russians the rest of the way, pouring 49 shots at the beleaguered Tretiak while the Army Club, unable to organize its normally efficient short-passing game, managed just 13 at Wayne Stephenson. In the end the Flyers scored a convincing 4-1 victory and, as Shero asserted, were "the champions of the world." For his part, Loktev was emphasizing the plain truth that the Soviets had won hockey's first Super Series with five victories, two defeats and one tie. "We certainly expected the Russians to defeat our mediocre teams," said NHL President Clarence Campbell. "As far as I am concerned, the critical result of the series was that they did not defeat any one of our top three teams—Philadelphia, Montreal or Buffalo." (They're going to love Clarence in Boston.)
Nevertheless, the series had been a humbling experience for the once-lordly NHL. As they surveyed the defeats, some league officials and players attempted to pass off the Soviet triumphs as meaningless exhibitions and even went so far as to suggest that the NHL ought to avoid such competition in the future. One general manager grumbled, "How can we keep charging a $12 top for games against Washington and St. Louis and California when it's pretty obvious that we're not the best league in the world anymore?" Campbell rejected both cop outs. "We cannot claim we're the best by brushing aside our principal rivals," he said. "We cannot solve any credibility question by running from the Soviets. Why deceive people? Our own credibility has been waning, anyway. Why? Some of our fat cats, plainly and simply, are not putting out. This age of affluence in hockey has watered down the zest of far too many players. We need a new era—like these games with the Soviets—in order to reestablish our own identity."
Before the Philadelphia debacle Vyacheslav Koloskov, the Campbell of the Soviet Union, suggested, "Maybe now the NHL should invite a few of our league clubs to compete for the Stanley Cup." Campbell answered Koloskov with a mouthful of nyets. "The deed of trust for the Stanley Cup will not permit it," he said. "In fact, we are stretching that deed right now. The Stanley Cup is supposed to be given to the champion of Canada, and Philadelphia is not in Canada." What Campbell has proposed to Koloskov is an annual eight-game series between the Stanley Cup and the U.S.S.R. champions, starting this November.
Right up to the Philadelphia massacre the Soviet players had enjoyed themselves immensely in North America. Tretiak and his Army comrades saw a porno flick in Montreal, danced the hustle at Lucifer's in Boston, battled the bargain hunters in Filene's basement and discovered that Kentucky fried chicken really is finger-lickin' good.
Yakushev and the Soviet Wings maintained a lower profile, but did raid New York's Orchard Street discount shops, buying everything from baby rattles to Levi's for their wives, to Elton John records for their stereos and Beach Boys tapes for their Volga decks. "We got some very good deals," Yakushev said with a smile.
Out on the ice both Soviet teams generally played textbook hockey, and they baffled most of their NHL rivals with perfect execution of the game's most subtle tactics. They passed the puck accurately, artfully and often—maybe too often. They trapped adventurous forecheckers, and neatly removed them from the action. They patiently advanced on the power play until their extra man suddenly had the puck at point-blank range. They ignored virtually all invitations to exchange punches and they took some theatrical falls to invite the officials' attention to the naughtier NHL men.
"George C. Scott had better watch out," said Boston Coach Don Cherry after observing Mikhailov dive onto the ice when Wayne Cashman rapped him with his stick. After playing dead for several minutes Mikhailov was led to the Army Club bench. "I thought we'd never see him again," Cherry said. Thirty seconds later Mikhailov was back on the ice. "I was surprised that he got back from the hospital so fast," said Cashman. "Hell, I hit my kids harder on their rears than I hit him."
Predictably, the NHL teams tried to blunt the skillful maneuvers of the Soviets with a persistent body-bending attack designed to wear down the speedier visitors. While the Wings seemed to lose heart when Buffalo's Jerry Korab rattled Yakushev into the boards three times in the first few minutes and, in fact, went on to lose the game by the wipeout score of 12-6, the Soviet players gave as many body checks as they received, at least until Sunday—and outscored their eight NHL rivals 35-31.
Tretiak, meanwhile, was the basic robot goaltender once again. "Tretiak always has his balance," said Montreal Goaltender Ken Dryden, "and he always has proper position." According to the statistics Tretiak was terribly overworked in comparison to his NHL rivals, as the Army Club was outshot by the collective total of 168-75, but, in fact, he had a less difficult job—or so Dryden believes. "It's easier to play against NHL teams than Soviet or European clubs, because we have no deception," Dryden said. "A player lifts up his stick and shoots the puck. Tretiak sees that, and has plenty of time to get ready. Once European and Russian goaltenders get over the initial shock of the force of our shots—and the shock of seeing our players shoot from everywhere on the ice—then their jobs are very simple. Our system is not that challenging to Tretiak."
What the Soviets also showed is that they can be the most potent offensive hockey machine in the world, even though they employ slap shots only about once a month. "What has never been said before," admitted Boston Managing Director Harry Sinden, who coached Team Canada in the 1972 war against the Soviets, "is that from certain ranges these guys are much better goal scorers than we are. They never waste their opportunities. They seem to be saying, 'Hey, what's the rush?' Then, zing! The puck is in the net."
For sure, the Soviet attack theory is based not on the number of shots they take but their quality. "They have a different approach," Dryden said. "Their game is geared to quickness: the quick pass, the quick release of a shot, the quick stickhandle. Our game is power. The big windup and the big shot. The Soviets are not only quick but calculating. When we say a team had 15 shots in a period, that's supposed to be something exceptional. Well, the Army Club had only 13 shots against us the whole game but still got a tie."
Although they hardly got what they wanted in Philadelphia, the Russians did make converts in at least one NHL city. "From now on," said Bill Jennings, president of the New York Rangers, who were routed by the Army Club 7-3 in the series opener, "we're doing our recruiting in Russia not Canada." Are you listening, Henry?