Nobody will let Clarke forget slash

STEVE SIMMONS -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:58 AM ET

Bobby Clarke would like us all to forget.

But first he wants us to remember.

"We didn't win because of the slash," said Clarke, on the night Valeri Kharlamov was posthumously inducted in the Hockey Hall of Fame. "I don't think it had the big effect everyone thinks it did.

"I think we won because (Ron) Ellis shut him down. I think Kharlamov only scored one goal after the second game. It wasn't like he was killing us. Everybody talks about (Paul) Henderson but not enough people realize Henderson doesn't even get those chances if it's not for Ellis' defensive play.

"The whole thing (the slash that injured Kharlamov's ankle) has been blown up into this big incident. It has been overblown. The attitude has been sold that Canadians will do anything to win. Well, I'm telling you, that was mean hockey back then. They would have done anything to win, also."

Clarke knew he would be asked about this. He knew Kharlamov's name would come up and it's probably one of the reasons he chose to pass on appearing at the Hall of Fame last night.

You can't mention one without the other, then or now, which Clarke figures is a disservice to both of them. Kharlamov was better than that, Clarke says, and what he doesn't say is that so was he.

"I'm tired of it to be honest," said Clarke, the Philadelphia general manager, talking about his role of on-ice hit man. "A lot happened 33 years ago. A lot of bad things went on in that (Canada-Russia Summit) series.

"When you see a pretty calm guy like J.P. Parise threatening to hit a referee over the head with his stick, well, you know it's different. That's how high the emotions were. Everybody always talks about (my slash) but you never hear anybody mention that (Boris) Mikhailov kicked Gary Bergman so hard he broke his shin pad and split his leg open. Kicking in hockey is considered much worse than slashing."

Alexander Kharlamov never saw his father play. He was 5 years old when his parents were killed in a car crash returning from vacation in 1981. He has watched tapes of his dad, but has only a distant sense of the on-ice brilliance. "The tapes are old," he said. "It's hard to see."

But he is aware of the legend and he knows of the Game 6 slash in Moscow that cemented Clarke's reputation and cost his father parts of two games in the series.

"Have you met Bobby Clarke?" Kharlamov was asked yesterday.

"I met Bobby Hull," he answered.

The question was asked a second time. Again, another Bobby Hull reference.

When asked if he was angry about his father being taken out in the '72 Series, he all but shrugged. "It's a hockey game," said the son, now an ex-player himself. "You see my nose, broken maybe five times. It's hockey. It's just hockey."

Maybe more than anyone, Ron Ellis understood the brilliance of Valeri Kharlamov. It was his job to understand. "I did the best I could to stay with him, without fouling him.

"I had the same job every time we played Chicago. Punch Imlach used to say, 'You've got Hull tonight.' I put Kharlamov at the same level as Hull, with exceptional speed and finesse. He could do everything at full speed. I considered it a privilege that they asked me to skate with him."

Ellis was so impressed with Kharlamov that at the 1977 world championship -- the first time professionals played -- he asked an interpreter to introduce him to Kharlamov. "I took that opportunity to express to him how much I admired him as a player," said Ellis, the former Leaf.

"I'm so happy his children were able to come over and be part of this ceremony. As I soon as I met (Alexander) I wanted to express to him my respect for his father."

The respect from the Hall of Fame was long overdue. It came 24 years after his death and 33 years after the most famous slash in Canadian sporting history.


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