The rush of a Canada-Russia showdown

ROB LONGLEY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:49 PM ET

BUFFALO -- Before he leaves his hotel room late Wednesday afternoon, Canadian defenceman Erik Gudbranson will go through one final act of preparation.

One more time on his laptop he'll call up the video that stopped a nation almost four decades ago. One more time he will watch and listen to "Henderson has scored for Canada" -- the hockey sound track for generations before him.

"That really defined Canadian hockey players, it showed that we don't give up," Gudbranson said of Paul Henderson's goal to decide the 1972 Summit Series, an event that may have changed the game forever in our country. "Every time we step out on the ice, we want to be like that team. That was a heritage hockey moment for Canadian hockey players."

The Canada-Russia rivalry may have lost some of it's vigour and vitriol during the ebb and flow of the 20 or so years Gudbranson and his teammates have been on the planet.

Like anything pre- and post-Cold War, nothing is really the same. Russian Alex Ovechkin is a superstar in the NHL and embraced by the current generation of players regardless of their passport. Canadians, as well as Russians and Americans, marvel at his moves, both in person and on video games. More NHL teams have Russian players on their roster than don't.

But whenever the two nations collide in a meaningful international game, it's impossible to diminish the meaning. Think of the semifinal game at the Vancouver Olympics, the most important meeting yet between Ovechkin and Canada's Sidney Crosby. And think ahead to Wednesday night in Buffalo where the nation's teens will battle yet again for the world junior crown.

"It has been going on for years," Canadian forward Marcus Foligno said. "There's nothing better than the 1972 series. Fans always love it (the rivalry), but I am sure the players enjoy it more."

You can't be a hockey player in this country and not know what Canada-Russia means. It doesn't matter if other nations have muscled their way into the rivalry -- the U.S. one year, perhaps Sweden the next -- 1972 will never be forgotten.

Whether the legend has been passed down from grandparents or parents, through grainy footage or through fancy boxed CD sets, the message, like the memories, live on.

"My grandpa taught me in hockey schools and stuff," Canadian defenceman Tyson Barrie said. "For one of our classes, we watched the full Russia Summit series so I know what it's all about.

"Obviously it's still alive. As Canadians we all know what it means."

Predictably, the Russians have a somewhat different view of the Summit, as junior coach Valeri Bragin said through a translator following his team's practice on Tuesday. The moment, after all, is part of Russian lore, too, as the eight-game series thrust the then communist culture and threatened the long-held and mostly undisputed notion that Canada was the lone world power in hockey.

"Of course, I watched the 1972 series," Bragin said. "It was very big, an interesting series at the time. It was good for the development of hockey. The Canadians took a lot from Soviet hockey because of it."

Canadian coach Dave Cameron was reluctant to engage in his own personal recollections of hockey's most significant historical rivalry under the understandable premise that to do so might destroy some of his team's focus for the latest gold medal summit.

"If you want to talk about history, come over (after the final)," Cameron said when pressed to share what Canada-Russia means to him. "A lot of these guys, you can't go back five or more years so I'm not going to give them a history lesson now."

That's just Cameron being Cameron, however, because it turns out that history lesson has been ongoing. In the Canadian dressing room there is a motivational quote posted from a former Russian player referring to the seminal Henderson goal.

"It was a huge goal and always will be," Canadian defenceman Jared Cowan said. "There's no way we will forget it. Nor should we."


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