Wednesday, April 3, 2019

The world had never seen a sporting event like it — the 1972 Summit Series

A dejected Vladislav Tretiak ignores celebrating Canadians.

By Tom Hawthorn
Victoria Times Colonist
September 28, 1997

The Russian equipment was old and ratty. Their uniforms had patches like a hand-me-down quilt. The captain wore a "K" over his heart. The goalie wore No. 20, a defenceman's sweater. Their names — Mikhailov, Yakushev, Tsygankov— were barely pronounceable and certainly unspellable. They all wore helmets (the sissies). Canadian boys said it made them look like robots.
Had they come from Mars, the Soviet Union's best hockey players could not have looked more alien.
Today, 25 years to the day that Paul Henderson's improbable goal decided the Summit Series, when Pavel Bure is a Vancouver Canuck and the Stanley Cup has been paraded through Moscow streets, it is hard to remember just how rare it was for Canadians to see a person from the Soviet Union, never mind an entire fast-skating, crisp-passing team of them.
Stalin was long dead in 1972. Igor Gouzenko, the cipher clerk who defected with tales of Soviet espionage rings, appeared in public only with a bag over his head. For most Canadians, the only Russian to have a name was Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev, round and stiff like a matreshka doll, albeit one with comic eyebrows.
The battle for hockey supremacy was supposed to be a pushover for Canada's professionals.
Infamously, Canada's scouts watched Soviet goalie Vladislav Tretiak play a single game. He was a sieve, and that's what they reported. What they didn't know was that the hungover Tretiak had been married the day before.
Johnny Esaw, the CTV broadcaster, was so certain that Canada was to win in eight straight that he chose to air Games 1, 3, 5 and 7 on his network; he felt viewers would lose interest as the Canadians crushed their opponent.
CBC got to air the decisive Game 8. By that time, the series had become less an exhibition and more a crusade.
It was Sept. 28, 1972. Elementary school pupils gathered in gymnasiums to watch on television. A federal election campaign was ignored for a day. Workplaces slowed, then stopped during the third period. Foster Hewitt did the play-by-play on television, while Bob Cole did the same on radio. Those who watched and listened have not forgotten the precise moment when, in the final minute of the final period of the final game, Paul Henderson, a forward blessed with more perseverance than skill, slipped a rebound past Vladislav Tretiak.
(I skipped junior high in Toronto that afternoon, a 12-year-old who feared crying in front of classmates if Canada lost. When Henderson scored, yahoos in apartments high above our own tossed empty beer bottles from their balcony, the brown stubbies shattering on the blacktop 25 stories below.)
Ron Butlin, who now lives in Victoria, was among the whistling, enraptured spectators at Luzhniki Arena in Moscow, an outdated rink where fans behind the goals were protected by proletarian mesh and not bourgeois plexiglass.
His strongest memory is not so much Henderson's goal, but the arrival of a Soviet V.I.P.
"The Russians jeer by whistling and they were making quite a noise," he said, recalling Game 8. "All of a sudden, the whistling stopped, absolutely stopped. It was so quiet you could hear the skates of the players down on the ice. I looked around and saw Brezhnev walking through the stands to get to a private box at the top of the arena. Until he sat down, there wasn't a sound.
"Midway through the third period, Brezhnev got up and again there was silence, except for the blades of the skates cutting the ice. Once he was gone, everything resumed.
"It was either fear, or respect, or both. Those were the days of tough Communism."
The series had become a showdown between more than just two hockey teams, but between rival systems - Communism vs. capitalism, collectivism vs. individualism.
Team Canada considered their rivals to be unthinking automatons, obedient to their system, incapable of adapting to circumstance or of allowing individual flare to flourish.
For their part, the Soviet skaters felt the pros played only for money, not for pride of country. How wrong they were, too.
Away from the series, among fans, fantastical rumors took hold. It was said here Tretiak had been forced to have surgery to replace his ligaments with artificial ones. The Russians, in turn, believed that goalie Tony Esposito had a plate implanted in his forehead, the better to withstand shots to the head.
Over the years, the series has become a collage on the tape-loop of memory:
The "To Russia With Hull" campaign; the shocking 7-3 Soviet win at the Montreal Forum to open the series; Pete Mahovlich's brilliant dipsy-doodle goal in Toronto; the booing spectators at Pacific Coliseum in Vancouver and Phil Esposito's impassioned, drenched-in- sweat, post-game monologue on national TV ("To the people of Canada, I say we tried. We did our best. We're really disheartened, disappointed and disillusioned. We can't believe we're getting booed in our own building. I'm really, really disappointed. I can't believe it. Some of our guys are really down in the dumps. They have a good team. Let's face facts. We came because we love Canada. I don't think it's fair that we should be booed"); the defection of four Team Canada players who returned home from Moscow; "da da Canada, nyet nyet Soviet"; indecipherable referees named Kompalla and Baader (the players called them Baader and Worse); Bobby Clarke's vicious two-handed slash of Valeri Kharlamov's ankle; Alan Eagleson's scuffle with Soviet officials during Game 8; his rescue from armed soldiers by Pete Mahovlich; Eagle's flipping a one- finger salute to the crowd from the ice; and, unforgettably, Henderson's goal.
"As we got into the last minute of play," Henderson reminisced in Shooting for Glory, his 1992 autobiography, "I stood up at our bench and yelled three times at Peter Mahovlich to come off so I could get on the ice. It wasn't our line's turn, but I honestly felt I could get a goal. I can't explain why, but I just had this feeling, just as I'd had in the previous game. For whatever reason, Peter came to the bench and I catapulted myself over the boards to join the play in the Russian end. As I got on, the puck went to Cournoyer on the far boards. I screamed at him for a pass that I hoped to one-time at the net because I had a clear shot, but I had to reach back for the puck with all my momentum pushing me forward. I missed and their defenceman neatly tripped me, causing me to fall and slide into the boards behind their net. Immediately I thought, Get up. Get the puck and come back down to try to score.
"The Russians, with a great chance to clear the zone, failed to control the puck, allowing the relentless Phil Esposito to whack the loose disk towards the goal. Tretiak stopped Phil's shot but couldn't smother it. By this time I was standing alone in front of Tretiak to pick up the rebound. I tried to slide a shot along the ice, but Tretiak got a piece of it. The puck came right back to me, and with Tretiak down I slid it along the ice for the winning goal. There were only 34 seconds left to play!"
He leaped into Cournoyer's arms, an image captured by Toronto Star photographer Frank Lennon. Henderson, elated, is staring straight at the camera. So, too, is Tretiak, as he lifts his back off the ice, helpless as an upended turtle. To their left, Soviet defenceman Yuri Liapkin, a look of disbelief on his face, appeals silently to the referee for - what? A reprieve? The series was over. Canada had won.
Twenty-five years later, as they gather in Toronto for an exhibition to be played in their honor, Team Canada's alumni are pot- bellied and balding, enjoying the fruits of their labors in their 50s. Bill Goldsworthy has died of AIDS, Kharlamov in a car wreck, but otherwise most are in comfortable circumstances.
The image of Henderson being hugged by Cournoyer has become an icon, reproduced - for profit - on posters, coins, book covers, and, unveiled just this week, a postage stamp.
Meanwhile, on a farm in Ontario, Pat Stapleton claims to have put Henderson's puck in a box with many others. Some have come to his door with money in search of this Holy Grail of the series, but Whitey is having none of it. His dream is to play shinny with his grandchildren on a frozen slough, and to lose the puck in a snowbank.

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

What's black and white and whistles?

Lonnie Cameron (right) worked his final NHL game as a linesman on April 2, 2019.

By Tom Hawthorn
Victoria Times Colonist
May 24, 2000

Kelsey Chow, age eight, brought a zebra to her Grade 3 class for show and tell on Tuesday.
It weighed 225 pounds and had a black and white coat. Its name was Lonnie Cameron.
Cameron is a linesman -- a zebra in hockey slang -- and his natural habitat is the rinks of the National Hockey League.
The Victoria native came to View Royal Elementary with a message.
"Whatever you guys do," he told Kelsey's class, "try to be the best you can be at whatever you do."
Cameron, 35, wore his No. 74 black-and-white sweater with an orange NHL crest over his heart. He brought his hockey equipment, including a girdle and skates and shin pads, as well as a whiskey bag filled with whistles. The kids liked the whistles; they thought the hockey gear was stinky.
"I think I have a really cool job," he said.
Most hockey fans think linesmen have a thankless job that rarely wins them respect. Their daily chores seem mundane compared to the glamour afforded referees with their orange armband and a benevolent dictator's command.
"Kelsey, what does the linesman do?"
"Helps," she said.
"Helps break up fights."
A linesman's job description includes calling icings and off- sides, dropping the puck for face-offs, and helping the referees maintain order on ice. Often that means sticking their noses into fights they would rather avoid.
The NHL rule book has 103 entries and Cameron is supposed to be able to recall any of them at a moment's notice.
"Say Brooke and Kelsey are in the corner," Cameron told the class, "and they're getting their elbows up. I'd say, `Hey, get your elbows down and play the puck.'
"And if she gave me that look," he said, indicating Kelsey's scowl, "she's in the penalty box."
Cameron has known little Kelsey since the day after she was born eight years ago to Ross and Lynn Chow. The linesman went to kindergarten with Ross and the families have kept in touch as Lonnie's hockey career took him from Juan de Fuca to Racquet Club to junior in Estevan, Sask., where his dreams of following Ken Dryden as an NHL goalie came to an end.
Instead, Cameron decided to become an official, working in the Western Hockey League where he won the Allen Paradice Memorial Trophy in 1995-96 as the league's top referee. Cameron also was on the ice for the hockey finals at the 1994 Olympic Games. He made his NHL debut on Oct. 5, 1997.
While some educators may occasionally find need of a linesman's assistance, teacher Catherine Harrower runs a tight ship.
In fact, the children in Mrs. Harrower's class are far better behaved than the scofflaws Cameron encounters in his working life. Just last year, Philadelphia Flyers coach Roger Neilson was suspended two games for throwing a stick on the ice that almost hit Cameron.
(In his defence, Neilson said he had no intent of hitting the linesman, but was keen on getting the referee's attention. He did, though not in the manner he intended.)
Earlier on Tuesday, Cameron addressed the intermediate students at View Royal with an inspirational message.
"If you set a goal, always try to achieve it," he told them. "Shoot for the stars. If you hit the moon, that's just a speed bump."
Later, he said, "It's kind of corny, but I believe in that."
With 30,000 officials working in sports in Canada, Cameron told Kelsey's class that he landed one of only 60 jobs open for refs and linesmen in the NHL.
The class asked good questions. Heidi Shenkenfelder asked if girls could play hockey. (Certainly, Cameron said, and he expects the NHL will one day have women officials.) Jeff Camden wanted to know if his dad, the mayor of View Royal, worked as hard as the linesman? (Maybe even more so, Cameron said.) Tyler Laberge simply wore a Maple Leafs sweater. ("Good team," Cameron said.)
Cameron had a trick question in his classroom quiz. How many teams are on the ice during a game?
"Two!" the children shouted.
"Three teams," Cameron said. "We as officials work as a team. If the team in black and white isn't doing their job, they'll know about it from the fans."
The linesman gave an autographed photo to each students. It showed him standing to the side as Donald Brashear punches the face of Marty McSorley.
"These guys aren't really getting hurt," Cameron cautioned the class. "It's all make believe."
After the presentation, the class returned to their study of insects such as the ladybug (not Lady Byng) and the cockroach (not Claude Lemieux, but close).
Mrs. Harrower was not much of a hockey fan before show and tell.
"When I heard that Kelsey was bringing a linesman, I had no idea," she told her class. "I thought he climbed poles."