Summit Series an inspiration for a young Larionov

The Detroit Red Wings Igor Larionov (R) loses his balance as the Anaheim Mighty Ducks Dmitri...

The Detroit Red Wings Igor Larionov (R) loses his balance as the Anaheim Mighty Ducks Dmitri Mironov slams into him in this 1997 file photo. Larionov described to QMI Agency how he watched every Summit Series game on a black and white television in Russia when he was 11 years old. (REUTERS)

RANDY SPORTAK, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 5:35 PM ET

MOSCOW - Igor Larionov grew up in Moscow.

But during the 1972 Summit Series, he very well could have been from Moose Jaw or any other Canadian city.

Larionov, who was 11 years old during the famous eight-game series between Canada and the Soviet Union, was like many youngsters his age. He was happily watching every game on a black and white television.

"It was outstanding. It was a fun series. Every game was exciting," Larionov recalled. "It was fun to watch and see two great teams playing against each other."

It also was an introduction to the NHL and Canada.

"We didn't know what to expect," said Larionov, one of the greatest hockey players with roots in the Soviet Union/Russia.

"We didn't know about the (Canadian) team. We didn't have much information about the NHL."

Canadians take pride in having won the series between the hockey powers, thus ensuring supremacy in "our game." But it was also a victory for the other side.

"It showed the Russian team was at that level," said Larionov, who is now a player agent. "The Soviet team was winning the world championships and the Olympics but never had a chance to play against players that good before.

"It was an eye-opener for everybody. It was a different level of hockey for everybody."

Canada had four wins and a tie to take the series but needed to win the final three, and in spectacular fashion, with Paul Henderson scoring the series-winning tally with 34 seconds remaining in the final game.

When it ended, the series was about relief for Canadians, having vanquished the Russian bear.

To Larionov, it was a celebration, both of the game and of his country's ability to play it.

There wasn't anything beyond that.

"For the young minds like myself, there wasn't so much analysis like that -- we had only one newspaper and one TV station," said Larionov, whose hockey resume includes two Olympic gold medals and four world championship titles, on top of an excellent NHL career featuring three Stanley Cups. "It was nice to see such good hockey and a great series decided by the last game.

"I was watching Yvan Cournoyer, Phil Esposito, Wayne Cashman. The next series, in 1974 (between the Soviet Union players and the World Hockey Association all-stars), I was more mature and liked Bobby Hull.

"In 1972, I was always cheering for the Russian team, so guys like (Alexander) Yakushev, (Valeri) Kharlamov, (Vladimir) Petrov, (Alexander) Maltsev and (Vladislav) Tretiak. All those guys."

But, as much as the 1972 series was a lesson for Canadian hockey regarding conditioning, puck-possession, passing and speed, it also offered a pointer for the Soviet Union's skaters: They had to play until the final buzzer.

"Resilience -- no matter what happens it's a 60-minute game," Larionov said. "That's why the series was so close. In the last three games, the Canadians found a way to score the winning goal.

"They played hard every game and every shift."

Although Larionov was among the first wave of players from the former Soviet Union to make a name for himself in the NHL, that series didn't foster dreams of playing Canada.

"Nobody travelled anywhere out of the country," he said. "It was the Cold War and at that time you weren't thinking of playing in Canada. You would go to school and play hockey."

randy.sportak@sunmedia.ca

On Twitter: @SUNRandySportak


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