Canada 4, USSR 1, September 4, 1972. Hey, I was there!

fifty years ago today

Canada vs Russia Sign

The older I get, the more nostalgic I get about things that happened on This Day In The Past. Especially if I can remember them! Or even better, if I was involved! That means I must not be getting older.

On September 4, 1972, Team Canada played the USSR at Maple Leaf Gardens, in Game 2 of the classic Summit Series – the first ever tournament between the best Canadian NHLers and the perennial Olympic champions from the USSR.

It’s hard to imagine today just how big a deal this series was. By game 8 in Moscow, the entire country was glued to their TVs (in my case, glued to the TV in my Grade 9 English class at London Central.) We saw Paul Henderson score for Canada, and Canada edged the USSR with 4 wins, 3 losses and 1 tie.

But that was by no means what we THOUGHT was going to happen on September 4, 1972. Admittedly, up until a few days earlier, most people thought Canada would win all 8 games. Or that the Russians might squeak out a tie.

game 1

Then game 1 happened in Montreal on September 2. USSR 7, Canada 3. We watched this one at the cottage, and I knew it was special because we NEVER watched TV at the cottage.

Canada had lost, big, to the Soviets. What did it mean? Was this a fluke? Were they really that much better than us? Oh, wow, what if this keeps happening for all 8 games?

game 2

Game 2 was in Toronto at Maple Leaf Gardens. There had been a lottery of sorts to get tickets. You wrote a letter,with a stamp and everything, and you were entered for the chance to buy seats.

I sent in 10 entries. Because Bobby Hull hadn’t been added to the team, I wrote To Russia With Hull! on each one in a minor bit of activism.

Somehow I won, and I persuaded Dad to come up with the $50 it would take to get the two seats.

Can you imagine that? We had really great tickets, on the goal line about 10 rows back, and they were only $25? If that series were played today, those tickets would cost thousands.

So we went to the game. We drove from London to Toronto, along with my friend Richard Collyer and his father who’d also obtained (not nearly as good) tickets.

Dad actually filmed the trip on his (silent) Super-8 camera, and 10 years ago my brother had the presence of mind to upload that to Youtube. I promise I’ll come up with a higher quality render, but here’s our home movie:

our glorious Super 8 film

It starts out slowly as we drive to Toronto and take the subway to Maple Leaf Gardens, but here are a few timestamps of interest

  • 0:24 Richard Collyer and his father and me on the subway
  • 0:46 USSR takes the ice
  • 3:27 I try to speak to Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau
  • 3:42 Margaret Trudeau says to me “He’s pretty busy, isn’t he”
  • 4:00 a sign, “We’ll settle for 7 out of 8”
  • 4:06 Taking my seat. Note, nobody in the crowd wears a jersey, few if any flags. A different era for sure.

Canada wins, 4-1 behind a strong goaltending performance from the legendary Tony Esposito.

the book


For Christmas I think I got a copy of the book Death of a Legend, by Henk W. Hoppener, a retrospective of the whole series.

Amazingly, you can see Dad and me in a picture from that book!

Book Excerpt

I vaguely recall that Time Magazine also had a picture from the game that showed us. I’ll have to find that.

the aftermath

Canada won, 4-1, and the series was tied at one game each. I believe that if the Russians had clobbered Canada again, it would have been all over, and Canada would have entered a decade of darkness, punctuated by Royal Commissions on What’s Wrong with Canadian Hockey.

I think this was also the time we used the term Team Canada to refer to our national team in any sport.

So where does this game rank? If you ask me, these are the great Team Canada mens hockey matches played here in Canada.

  • 1972 Summit Series. Canada 4, USSR 1
  • 1976 Canada Cup. Canada 5, Czechoslovakia 4 on a beauty overtime goal by Darryl Sittler
  • 1987 Canada Cup. Canada 6, USSR 5; Gretzky to Lemieux … hey I was at this one too! the 35th Anniversary is coming up September 15th…. but that’s another blog post.
  • 2010 Olympics. Canada 3, USA 2. Sidney Crosby with the Golden Goal.

Which one was the most important victory? As Ken Dryden has said,

The Golden Age of hockey is “whoever was playing when you were 12 years old.”

For me, that 1972 game was the greatest. And not just because I was 12, but because of the huge hype around the series and the way a vastly overconfident Canada had been soundly thrashed two nights before.

50 years later

Well I was very lucky to see that game, so today, September 4 2022, for the 50th Anniversary, I’m breaking out the 1972 Jersey (which I bought for the 40th Anniversary.)

Me and my Team Canada 1972 Jersey

Thanks, Team Canada. I think we’ll be hearing more about this series this month. Ken Dryden’s written a new book, too. Gotta go get that – and see what he says about letting in 7 goals in Game 1.

and thank you Team Canada Women!

Today our womens national team beat the USA to claim the world championship! September 4. A great day for Canadian hockey.


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