Canada, it seems, will never completely lose its grip on Rudolf Bata.
Here "Rudy" is again this week, heading up the Czech Republic delegation at the FIFA Under-20 World Cup. It is a tournament that has captured the imagination of this country like no soccer event before it.
But Bata, a jovial 80-year-old from Prague, knows full well which game will always tug at heartstrings here more than any other. He saw it first-hand 35 years ago, playing a not so bit part in what still remains one of the great moments in Canadian sports history.
Bata was one of two officials on the ice in Moscow on that September day in 1972, when Paul Henderson's goal allowed Canada to triumph in the final game of the famed 1972 Summit Series against the Soviet Union.
Every time Bata makes his way back to Canada, he can't help thinking about "the biggest series" he's ever seen.
"The Canadians put NHL players on a national team for the first time," said Bata, who worked three of the four series games in Moscow. "They both put wonderful teams together.
"It was such a big series, something special."
While the Henderson goal remains the defining moment of the final game for Canadians, Bata remembers a more tense time earlier in the contest.
Tensions threatened to boil over after Canada's Jean-Paul Parise was handed a controversial 10-minute misconduct. Bata, the Canadians' choice to be one of the game's officials over the infamous German Josef Kompalla -- the Soviets' preferred pick -- was called upon to calm the waters.
"It was difficult for me, really difficult," said Bata, whose conversation with the head of the Soviet hockey federation helped restore order. "Imagine 15,000 people in Russia, the two teams and then the penalty.
"The sad thing was ... the Canadians got their concentration back after that, but the Russians lost (theirs)."
Canadian team officials thought so highly of Bata, they wanted him on the ice for a post-series exhibition game in Prague against the Czechs.
Bata retired from hockey officiating in 1977, and expected to continue working in an automotive factory. But the then-Czech sports minister invited him to work with the country's soccer federation, and he became its general secretary for 18 years.
Though he's retired from that position now, Bata still enjoys being around soccer. That's why he's back in Canada this week.
AFFAIR OF HEART
"It's a nice sport. But hockey is here," Bata said, his hand over his heart.
The 1972 reminders keep popping up in the strangest of places. Bata recalls being in Tallinn, Estonia, with an amateur team for a UEFA competition a couple of years back.
At one point, when the team was gathered together, Bata glanced at a television and couldn't believe what he saw.
"The last game, the Henderson game!," he said. "They were showing it in Estonia.
"I said to the guys, 'Hey look, that's me.' "
Did the youngsters grasp the meaning of it all?
"The young guys? No. It was 1972," Bata said with a hearty laugh.
"Maybe their grandfathers knew about it."