September 4, 2012
Summit Series was 'war' on iceRussia's 'conditioning was unbelievable'
By RANDY SPORTAK, QMI Agency
MOSCOW - Ron Ellis remembers the conversation on the bench like it was yesterday.
It was the moment he and the rest of Team Canada started to realize just how good a team they were facing during the 1972 Summit Series.
"We were up 2-0 in Game 1 and at about the five-minute mark, we came off the ice -- Bobby Clarke, Paul (Henderson) and I -- and we were huffing and puffing and we said, 'Whoa. This is going to be a long, tough series.'
"We knew it right then."
Going into the series, pretty much everybody from Canada, save for coach Harry Sinden, who had faced the Soviet Union while playing at the world championship as an amateur, believed it would be a whitewash. Brad Park said it didn't take long to realize that was far from the truth.
"We came off the ice after the first period and (Gary Bergman) said to me, 'What do you think?'" Park recalled. "I said, 'We're in trouble.' I knew it right then. They were coming at us in waves and with relentless pressure and we didn't have the stamina at that time to keep it together.
"Their conditioning was unbelievable."
What was expected to be a glorified all-star game soon became nasty.
"It was the closest I will get to war," Ron Ellis said. "I didn't have the honour of representing Canada in armed conflict, and this was the closest I got. It was something else.
"We really started to feel the pressure that were representing our way of life and the way we lived, our democracy. It became much, much more than just a few hockey games, for sure."
Bad blood was spilled.
Canadians accused the Russians of nefarious acts, such as kicking and spearing. But the Canadians gave as good as they got. Think Bobby Clarke's slash on Valery Kharlamov.
"Certainly the emotions and the intensity was at a height I never experienced before. Even a Stanley Cup playoff game didn't match what we felt in that series," Ellis said. "I think all of us found ourselves doing things we wouldn't do in our career here in the NHL. It was intense, hard to describe how we felt, but at the time, they were the enemy.
"Even though it was pretty obvious they were very skilled players, but at that time, our goal was to win."
With the passage of time, though, friendships have been made between former enemies and respect has hit a new high.
"Different times," Bill White said. "They were a Communist country and it boiled down to two systems against each other. They didn't like us and we didn't like them."
Added Ellis: "The majority of that team, if they were able to come to North America, could have played in the NHL, no problem at all. Some of them would have been stars."