Russia salutes Summit Series

GEORGE GROSS

, Last Updated: 10:06 AM ET

Thirty five years ago -- give or take a couple of days -- life on the streets of Toronto stood still, while in Moscow, there was feverish activity.

It was the day of the eighth and deciding game of the Summit Series between Team Canada and the Soviet Union's all-stars, capitalism against communism.

That was followed by dejection and unhappiness from the Kremlin to the Luzhniki Palace ice rink and jubilation across Canada when Paul Henderson scored the series- deciding goal with less than a minute to go in regulation time.

Today, 35 years later, there is calm in Toronto and the Summit Series is hardly being mentioned. The streets are busy and a cacophony of horns blowing in foreign and Canadian-made cars penetrate the polluted Ontario summer air.

Over in Kremlin-land, they saluted the 1972 series last week in conjunction with the 25th anniversary of the Moscow Spartak Cup. Most of the former Soviet players were invited to a week-long series of anniversary games, presentations and dinners.

Henderson, the Canadian hero, was not invited. Neither was Phil Esposito, the man who rallied Team Canada after fans in Vancouver booed them off the ice for losing to the "Reds." No invitation to Ken Dryden, Ron Ellis or the rest of Team Canada, either.

But through the efforts of Sevo Kukushkin, interpreter of the then Soviet team and now producer of historic hockey films, the Russian Hockey Association invited John Ziegler, former president of the National Hockey League; Aggie Kukulowicz, former interpreter for Team Canada 1972; and R. Alan Eagleson, the organizer of the Summit Series.

"It was a sensational week," said Eagleson, who returned from Moscow a couple of days ago. It felt like my high school home-coming. The invitation came through the president of the Spartak club and coincided with the arrival of Canada's junior all-star team, which will play a similar series against Russia as we did 35 years ago.

"To the Russian media, the 1972 series is still a big event. Anywhere we went, we were interviewed by the Russia media. The organizers gave us a special tour of the Kremlin by the man who is now the head of security for Russian president Vladimir Putin. He told me he was the stick boy for the 1972 Soviet team.

"It was delightful to see the old players such as Yakushev, Maltsev, Kasatonov and Zimin. The latter scored the first goal against us in 1972. They played against a Moscow team called Gazprom. In another game, the Spartak Cup final, they asked John Ziegler to present the trophy to the winning team."

What impressed the three North American amigos was the fact that all living Russian players of the 1972 Super Series attended the affair. They were all dressed in white suits, wearing white shoes. What Eagleson was, perhaps, a bit disappointed in was the absence of Team Canada players, but then, he says, he wasn't sending out the invitations.

He was also mesmerized by the change of Moscow's landscape. Indeed, where 35 years ago, practically everybody wore dark clothes, now they feature creations by the most avant-garde couture houses.

Henderson, a lay minister and grandpa of seven, said he never received an invitation.

"But they can't take away from me that wonderful feeling of having won the series," Henderson told me yesterday. "I guess, my passing gear is getting rusty and my clutch is slipping. I'm very happy staying at home with my family."

But he always will treasure the memories of the greatest day in his hockey life, when he beat Vladislav Tretiak in the Soviet net.

GROSSLY ABBREVIATED

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