Hockey's classic

"The New Year's Eve game against the Red Army was pretty special. It was the North American style against the European style; the best in North America against the best in Europe," remembered Steve Shutt of the Canadiens. (File photo)

TERRY JONES

, Last Updated: 12:58 PM ET

It was New Year's Eve 1975 and it was "The Greatest Hockey Game Ever Played." With the capital letters. It became something of a title.

In Canada, where hockey is the game which makes our blood boil, that makes it the greatest game ever played, any time, any where, any sport.

Over the years, several games such as the Wayne Gretzky-Mario Lemieux Game 3 final of the 1987 Canada Cup or the Paul Coffey-Mike Bossy Canada Cup in 1984 and any number of games featuring Wayne Gretzky and that Edmonton Oilers glory gang have been suggested by some, including me, to have been just as good if not better.

But every time a new great game comes along, that New Year's Eve game has managed to remain "The Greatest Hockey Game Ever Played" point of reference.

And the New Year's Eve game in the Montreal Forum in 1975 still has a phenomenal "I was there" value. So if I have to pick a game, as was the assignment for this series, why not claim this game?

It wasn't planned that I be there when I embarked on an eastern road trip with the Edmonton Oilers in the World Hockey Association. But a couple days before the game it was suggested I make a detour to Montreal.

The game was getting huge hype. Two Soviet Elite League teams were on tour and beating NHL teams on the other side of the border. The '72 Canada-Russia Series was only three years earlier. And the year before the WHA version of the Summit Series went to the hammer and sickle squad. This was the only game of the eight involving the Soviet squads to be played on Canadian ice. It featured the top club team in the USSR and the first-place team in the NHL.

The press box was full. I was assigned to a seat in the stands.

Funny the way it's worked with the lore of the 1975 New Year's Eve game. In soccer terms, it was a friendly.

The other seven games on the Christmas tour by the Russian teams didn't have an "us vs. them," hockey world hangs in the balance. But this one did.

Outside the Forum, scalpers were asking $150 for a pair of tickets an hour before game time. That was an insane amount of money to pay to go to a game at the time. Those of the standing room-stuffed crowd of 18,975 who paid that kind of money had no complaints.

What made this game great was that, in the end, it turned out to be about the glory of the game. Hockey that night, in the building which was the cathedral of the sport, was, with apologies to the Brazilians and soccer, The Beautiful Game.

The Montreal Canadiens and the Soviet's Central Red Army ended up in a 3-3 tie.

"The New Year's Eve game against the Red Army was pretty special. It was the North American style against the European style; the best in North America against the best in Europe," remembered Steve Shutt of the Canadiens.

"That was the best game that I ever played in."

The Soviets were outshot 38-13. The hero was Soviet netminder Vladislav Tretiak.

I remember they gave Valeri Kharlamov and Vladislav Tretiak as big a hand a most of the Canadiens received in introductions but from the time Roger Doucette sang O Canada with a little more oomph than normal until they applauded Tretiak as the game's first star for an almost flawless goaltending performance, this game was no "exhibition" game.

"God was Russian tonight. They had three chances to score and they scored on all three of them," Serge Savard said when it was over.

"A tie is a tie," said Konstantin Loktev, coach of the Red Army. "It's better to have one dollar in the pocket than nothing."

Canadiens coach Scotty Bowman met the press in a corner room and had the calm of a winning coach.

"They're good hockey players. But we don't have to take any back seat. We had more scoring chances and played more disciplined than in any other game this year."

Asked if the tie might be considered a morale victory for the Soviets, Bowman exploded.

"They were completely outclassed from start to finish. The only place they were in the game was on the scoreboard and in the nets."

Peter Mahovlich, the game's second star, threw his arm around Tretiak's shoulder when it was over.

"I'm proud of the way we played and the way we showed this country we could play those guys. But I couldn't prepare for every game like I did this one. I would end up in a sanatorium."

I still have the ticket for the seat in the stands that night. It featured the Canadiens logo and the USSR hammer a sickle logo with a red star at the top. The price on the ticket they gave me to cover that game was $12: Admission $10.90. Tax $1.10. Lower Gallery South. Section 67. Row B. Seat 3.

I never thought about it before but when the Canadiens moved out of the Forum and sold the seats, I should have tried to buy that one.


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