Europeans Really Won The 1972 Canada-Soviet Series

In the traditional month of September, the NHL revived World Cup will be played this year, the same month when the tournament that started it all, Canada-USSR was played 44 years ago in 1972. That tournament, won narrowly by Canada 4-3-1 revolutionized world and NHL hockey. Canada actually won it without its two best players at the time, Bobby Orr and Bobby Hull. Orr was rehabilitating from one his numerous famous knee operations that would ultimately end his career, and Hull had become a pariah to the NHL because he was the first big name to sign a WHA contract.

But the thrilling series is considered the ultimate in Canadian hockey though the 1976 Canada Cup won by Canada with Bobby Orr giving virtually his last great swan song by being named the tournament most valuable player, and the 1987 Canada victory in which Mario Lemieux got a chance to play regularly on the same line as Wayne Gretzky, with Lemieux scoring the winning goal against the USSR in the Final at the last minute in Hamilton (still shamefully excluded from having a team in the NHL), comes close.

But nothing will probably top the “Series Of The Century” in Canadian minds. School children were let out early to watch Game 8 from Moscow. There has been a commemorative postage stamp issued, books, and trinkets created. The two greatest Canadian players from the team most responsible for victory, Paul Henderson and Phil Esposito are now immortalized in Canada forever.

As noted above, the series revolutionized hockey. One of the things that made a lasting impression on Canadian fans was the great physical shape of the Soviet players. It was argued that one of the main reasons that the Soviet players were able to compete as “equals” to the famous NHL players was that they were in good condition physically and the Canadian players were not. From that time on under fitness guru Lloyd Percival’s guidance, woe to the NHL player who let himself get out of shape during the NHL off season. Now if he let himself drink beer and get fat, his very NHL career would be on the line. Better conditioning and fitness for every would-be NHL player was a permanent legacy from 1972.

The other lasting revolutionary change was the difference in attitude of most Canadians to European hockey. Before the 1972 series, most Canadians knew nothing about international hockey except the tiny few that played it and followed it. Canada used to win international hockey tournaments easily with amateur teams. The Trail Smoke Eaters were the last amateur team to win a World Championship in 1961.

But after 1961, the USSR and other European teams like Czechoslovakia and Sweden began to dominate international play and talk began to increase that Canada now needed to send its best players. But most Canadians including the majority of NHL players dismissed such an idea with contempt and laughter. They believed that they were so far ahead of everybody else that any competition would be a mismatched joke. No Europeans competed in the NHL and the majority of Canadians were content to remain ignorant about European hockey.

But as the defeats piled up and Canada no longer dominated international hockey, public pressure finally created the Canada-USSR series in 1972. So ignorant was Canada about the Soviets that there was even speculation in the Canadian media that a team of NHL “goons” would be sufficient to produce an 8 game sweep.

But a 7-3 humiliating thrashing in the first game in Montreal wiped out the ignorant Canadian attitude forever. Except for the game in Toronto, for the remaining games in Canada, the Soviets served up a course of humble pie. When the last of the Canadian section of games finished in Vancouver, Canada was being jeered and booed by their own fans, prompting Phil Esposito’s famous outburst that ultimately pulled Team Canada together.

Of course Canada went on to win the series on foreign ice in Moscow narrowly saving Canadian pride forever. But the closeness of the competition and the high standard of play changed Canada’s attitude to European hockey forever. Gone was contempt; respect took its place. Now every Canadian fan wanted to see frequent rematches, again and again. Soviet players particularly defeated goaltender Vladislav Tretiak became popular Canadian heroes. Canadians were faced with a choice and they gave an almost unanimous answer: They wanted to see the best hockey players no matter where they came from.

So within two years, the first European players Borje Salming and Inge Hammarstrom from Sweden crossed the Atlantic to join the Toronto Maple Leafs and the European penetration of the NHL began. Initially the invasion was from non-Iron Curtain countries. The first European who made a significant contribution to a Stanley Cup victory was probably Stefan Persson of the New York Islanders.

More frequent European competition against the NHL occurred. In 1976, the first Canada Cup was played. Russian club teams like Central Red Army made NHL tours. And still North Americans wanted to see more top European players. When the Quebec Nordiques joined the NHL after the WHA folded in 1980, one of their first moves to turn themselves into instant competitors was to arrange the escape of the first significant Czechoslovakian players to make an impact in the NHL, the Stastny brothers. And when the Iron Curtain ended in 1989, Russian players were finally free to make their fortunes in the NHL.

Today nobody blinks if an NHL team has a significant number of European and American players. And each NHL team is expected to have a large European scouting staff. At the junior level in the CHL, Europeans come to play and be developed. And when the World Cup is played this year, the players from the various countries will not be playing against strangers but against teammates and friends. Now the World Cup is simply a reshuffling of the NHL deck.

But there is still more integration to come. Europeans still have not really penetrated the NHL coaching, management, and executive levels yet though they do play significant roles in the NHL European scouting system. And will there one day be a European Conference of the NHL that competes for the Stanley Cup with Canadians and Americans now living and playing in Europe just like the Europeans do in North America?

It all dates back to the 1972 Canada-USSR series. The USSR may have lost that series, but in the long run, the Russians and the other Europeans were the big winners.

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NHL Revival Of the World Cup Is An Admission Of Failure

After a dozen years in the wilderness, the NHL is bringing back the World/Canada Cup last played in 2004 with the hope it will now be played on a regular basis, once every four years. It should be an event to celebrate for every hockey fan in the world who wants to see international hockey develop. But without detracting from its revival, the format announced betrays the failure of international hockey since the famous Canada-USSR series of 1972.

For a start there will only be 8 teams, Canada, USA, Russia, Czech Republic, Sweden, and Finland – and two put-together teams, Europe, which is supposed to made up of players from all other European countries, and North America which is being made up of Canadian and American players under the age of 23. It is the creation of these last two teams that shows the betrayal and failure of international hockey.

Immediately after the amazing series of 1972, there was recognition in Canada and the United States that European hockey players, particularly Russian ones were just as good as their North American counterparts and there was an immense demand to see more international competition between them and the best of the NHL. There quickly evolved the big 6 of hockey powers; Canada, USA, Russia, Sweden, Finland, and Czechoslovakia, which eventually split into the Czech Republic and Slovakia.

There were also frequent boasts that hockey would soon become the number 2 sport in the world behind only soccer. Hockey fans could dream of a truly world hockey tournament like soccer’s World Cup which currently starts with 32 teams.

But for all their talk about the promise of the future, hockey failed to expand and develop beyond the original 7 countries. In the 44 years since 1972, only in Switzerland and lately Denmark can it be said that the quality of hockey has significantly improved. When international hockey tournaments were held whether at the junior or professional level that had 12 or more teams, the big 7 would wipe out the other participants easily in the round robin first round. Most of these games against the lesser opposition would be boring routs in which the established hockey power might even reach double digits in scoring. Hence NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman’s attempt to avoid these embarrassments by creating Team Europe and Team North America.

But despite Bettman’s best attempts to make the revived World Cup more competitive, it does not disguise the overall failure of international hockey to develop and expand from the root seven countries. Slovakia is not even being allowed to ice a team, and Switzerland, the best of rest is not here either. These are dismal results for the past four decades.

Even more horrific is the state of international women’s hockey where only Canada and the United States ice competitive teams and there have been threats to expel it from the Olympics because of the lack of competitiveness.

It may surprise most knowledgeable hockey fans that hockey may well be the number 2 sport in the world. The loser of the A tournament gets demoted to the B level and the champion of the B level gets promoted up to next year’s A group. At the junior level there are at least 50 countries ranked so there are C, D, E, F, etc. tournaments too that are held each year. So there is no shortage of hockey players or hockey playing countries around the world.

The problem is that the quality of hockey drops off sharply after the big 7. As noted above, only in Switzerland and recently Denmark has there been any noticeable improvement. That is not much to show after 40 years. The “big 7″ countries simply have not done enough or cannot be bothered to spread and develop the game of hockey around the world to make it truly the world’s number 2 sport.

Even more embarrassing for hockey is the development of international curling during this time. It is now possible for even non-traditional curling countries like Korea and Japan in both men’s and women’s international competition to ice competitive teams that have a real chance to win the world championship and the Olympics. It may be an unfair comparison but curling has succeeded where hockey has failed.

If the big 7 countries would take the trouble to properly develop several of the countries stuck at the B level – Switzerland, Denmark, Austria, Germany, Norway, Latvia, Kazakhstan, Italy, France, Belarus, Slovenia, and Poland – never mind the rest, it would be possible to have a World Cup of 12 or even 16 teams, where each team has a real chance for victory and there would be a danger that one of the “big 7″ might get demoted. But for 40 years they have done virtually nothing and as result there is now Team Europe and Team North America.

It is often said that when the NHL expands, the product gets “watered down”. There would be no problem of that happening if the big 7 developed even a fraction of the B level countries to a competitive level. There would be enough quality hockey players to not only stock Las Vegas and Quebec but the next 8 NHL expansion teams up to 40. There is no problem with the number of potential hockey players or hockey playing countries. The problem is that there is no leadership from above that wants to develop them.

Let’s Chat With Zachary Yuen!

As China gets ready to host the 2022 Winter Olympics, a focus is being put on their national hockey team to improve from their current men’s ice hockey ranking of 37. One of the ways they have begun that process is by partnering up with the Czech Ice Hockey Federation to improve the level of coaching that is available in China. However, another important step to improving the national team is to develop interest in the sport, and the KHL has step up to the plate. Earlier this year, the KHL announced the expansion into China with the introduction of HC Kunlun Red Star. One of Kunlun’s first signings was a defenseman from Vancouver named Zachary Yuen. This 6’0, 196lb defenseman also happens to be the first ever Chinese-Canadian defenseman ever selected in the NHL Draft, going in the 4th Round to the Winnipeg Jets in 2011. We’re lucky enough to have him here today to have a little chat about HC Kunlun Red Star, China, and what he wants from a care package.

Without further to do, here is our interview with Zachary Yuen!

As per usual, we are in bold.

Thanks for taking time to do this interview! I appreciate it!
My pleasure.

Why did you decide to join the KHL’s Beijing Kunlun Red Star?
I joined the Redstars because it is a great opportunity. Not only for my hockey career as I further my development as a player, but most importantly for the development of Chinese hockey. Hockey in China is really starting to grow, and I would love to be a part of it and hopefully contribute in any way that I can.

How do you find the facilities in Beijing so far?
The team has yet to go to Beijing. We started training camp in Finland for 2-3 weeks, now we are in Moscow, heading to Astana, Kazakhstan for a preseason tournament. We won’t be in Beijing until the end of August.

So what has your whole experience at Beijing Kunlun Red Star been like so far?
It’s been a very cool, yet extremely unique experience so far. This might be the only professional sports team in the world that speaks 6 different languages in the locker room. English, Russian, Finnish, Slovak, Chinese, and French.

How did you end up being the de facto spokesman for the team, doing things such as revealing the team logo and team jerseys?
Haha I just try to share all of the team news with all of the fans out there as soon as I hear about it because I know a lot of people are interested in the new team. Just trying to get the fans the latest scoop.

For players who are considering a contract offer from the Kunlun Red Stars, what’s your pitch like?
This is a very big deal in the world of hockey, in China and globally. This is opening a door to many opportunities for the sport of hockey. If you want to be a part of something historic, then this would be the place to play.

You’re going to get a care package from Canada during the season. What do you want in it?
My mom’s homemade meals!

Final question: Who should we interview next?
Depends what you’re looking for. Too diverse of a group haha.

Thanks for your time.

Make sure to follow Zachary on Twitter. You can also follow me on Twitter and Facebook.

 

Peladeau: From The Unreal World Of North American Professional Sports

Most fanatical sports fans naively accept the unreal world of big time professional sports where players, owners, officials, media, and management dwell apart from everyone else. One where there is no 9 to 5 job just to survive. One where million dollar contracts get turned down because it is not enough. One where even the smallest trinket cost far more than it should because it has a sports logo printed on it. One where wealthy men who have more than enough money get expensive facilities built for them at public expense. One where a city like St. Louis which supported its football team gets stripped of its NFL franchise simply because it is not as wealthy or populous as Los Angeles.

Occasionally there are events and people that make even the most naive fanatical fan step back and scratch their heads in disbelief. And for me at least, so far this year in professional hockey, that person is would-be Montreal Canadiens-Quebec Nordiques owner, potential bigoted Quebec politician Pierre Karl Peladeau, majority owner of the failed Quebecor bid that tried to revive the dormant Quebec Nordiques. When one thinks about what happened too closely like I did, one is simply dumbfounded.

In light of what happened one has to wonder whether Peladeau was ever really sincere about owning the Canadiens or reviving the Nordiques. And if I were the most bigoted separatist, Quebecois, he would not get my vote on the grounds of sheer waste and stupidity.

Peladeau, at the time the CEO of media giant Quebecor, wanted to give the company a stronger presence in the Province of Quebec and going into professional hockey seemed to him to be a good way of getting publicity and attention. First he tried to buy the Montreal Canadiens and when that failed, turned his attention to the dormant Quebec Nordiques and their arena problem.

When he tried to buy the Canadiens, he found himself competing against Molson Breweries, a company long associated with NHL, who had previously successfully owned the Canadiens for a significant part of their history and who had a family member, Senator Hartland Molson, enshrined in the Hockey Hall Of Fame. Peladeau would already be a suspect investor to a significant number of the NHL Board of Governors because he was a known supporter of the separatist Parti Quebecois but he virtually doomed any chance he had of joining that body by publicly denouncing Geoff Molson as unsuitable to own the Montreal Canadiens because he was an anglophone Quebecer after Molson Breweries became the new owner of the Canadiens.

Nevertheless without publicly apologizing to Molson or trying to reconcile with him, Peladeau submitted a bid to be the owner of a Quebec City expansion franchise. Thus you have the unreal, totally illogical situation of a man denouncing another man on racial grounds while at the same time trying to become his business partner on a Board of Governors. Fat chance of that happening. Commissioner Gary Bettman was bound to support Geoff Molson and it was an easy decision to reject Peladeau who was odious to not only Molson but probably to the other six Canadian franchise owners and the majority of the English speaking American ones. The NHL wants nothing to do with an investor who makes public, insensitive racial remarks, who may end up feuding with many of the other governors, and create a bad image for the league, no matter how much money he has to spend. The situation called for tact and healing and by his public condemnation of Molson, Peladeau showed that he could not be bothered to have any of those qualities. So rejecting him and his money was an easy decision for the NHL.

One of the clauses of the NHL’s expansion terms was a $10 million “consideration fee” of which $8 million was refundable if the bid was turned down. So unless Peladeau was totally naive and inexperienced about these matters, thinking that money would always do the talking and that he could say anything about anybody and get away with it no matter what the potential consequences might be (which I doubt), he gave away $2 million in assets for what he knew would be nothing.

Now I am not a poor man but I sure do not have a spare $2 million lying around that I can just give away like Peladeau did. And do you know where a nice chunk of that $2 million will go? You guessed it, right into the pocket of the unsuitable Geoff Molson. I’m sure he’ll be prepared to suffer more diatribes from Peladeau in return for similar compensation.

Well separatist, Quebecois voters, is this the man you want to be your representative in the Quebec Legislature? Someone who cuts his own throat and dooms his own cause before a single shovel is dug to build the new Quebec City Videotron? Someone who betrayed the hopes of every Quebec Nordiques fan? Someone who might give away $2 million or more of your hard earned tax dollars for nothing? Someone who makes unnecessary powerful enemies like Molson and maybe every other governor on the NHL Board? Someone who will sure attract American and English Canadian tourism and investment to your province like a smelly skunk?

Most Quebecois separatists claim that they are hard working, neglected people who want to get out of Canada, people who always get the short end of the stick from “English Canadians”. Well one of your number just gave away $2 million for what he knew would probably amount to nothing, including a portion of it into the pocket of someone he may regard as his archenemy. Unless there is some brilliant strategy in all this that has yet to show itself, that I am unaware of, it sure is a funny way of demonstrating one’s competence before voters.

Meanwhile the NHL is publicly pretending that they turned down Quebecor’s bid because of the low Canadian dollar and the small Quebec City market. Nothing could be further from the truth. They are rejecting $500 million because Peladeau is an unsuitable owner.

Make no mistake Gary Bettman and every NHL governor wants that expansion money. They want Quebec City back in the NHL. Bettman is not going to make a tour in 2010 of the three cities that lost their teams in the 1990s, Quebec, Winnipeg, and Hartford, and offer them terms for readmission and then reject one of them when it complies with him. He is not going to hobnob with the Quebec City mayor and the Quebec Provincial Premier, tell them to spend nearly $400 million tax dollars on an arena, and then make a fool of them by turning them down. His own reputation and that of the NHL is on the line.

Right now behind the scenes he is trying to find a suitable owner for a Quebec City team. I am betting on Mario Lemieux or someone similar to be that man. I think that once Bettman realized that Peladeau was unsuitable, he went to Lemieux and asked him to sell his shares in the Pittsburgh Penguins and then front a bid to be the new Nordiques owner. Time will tell if I am right.

Meanwhile I just shake my head in disbelief when I think of how Peladeau can give away $2 million for nothing and not blink an eye. Hey Pierre, you can call me a chimpanzee or worse so long as I get the same amount of money you gave to your archenemy Geoff Molson. You really do belong in the world of North American professional sports where such unreal things happen all the time.

Will The Oilers Be As Good As Their New Arena?

A milestone will occur in Edmonton when the new NHL season starts and the Oilers say goodbye to Northlands Coliseum, built during their WHA days and the home of the Gretzky glory era, and move into the new Rogers Place, hopefully to start a successful McDavid period.

There is no problem with the new arena. With 2,000 more seats than its predecessor and state-of-the=art technology, the Oilers future in Edmonton is secure for a long time. In my lifetime, Northlands Coliseum has gone from Canada’s newest, most modern NHL arena when the Oilers joined the league in 1980, to its oldest home rink. Along with the soon hopefully-to-be-restored Quebec Nordiques, Edmonton will enjoy the most modern sports facility in Canada. This leaves Calgary’s Saddledome, itself not that old, as Canada’s oldest NHL arena.

But will the team match its new facility? Along with Tampa Bay and Montreal, Edmonton made the most significant off season moves trading star forward Taylor Hall to New Jersey in return for defenseman Adam Larsson. They have also signed free agent forward Milan Lucic from the Los Angeles Kings.

With all its bottom finishes and high draft choices, Edmonton should have been in the playoffs, if not a Stanley Cup contender long ago. But even with the limited service of the injured McDavid, said to be Sidney Crosby’s successor on Canada’s Golden Hockey Chain, the Oilers still finished near the bottom last year. For the past half decade and more, this has been the NHL’s worst team for underachievement.

It is true that the Oilers’ worst problem is defensive help, and hopefully Larsson will be enough to finally make the team a contender, but the price was steep. Taylor Hall was by far the best of the high underachieving draft picks and along with McDavid, might have been the nucleus of a 1-2 punch the way the champion Penguins were built around Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. It might have been better if General Manager Peter Chiarelli had packaged together a bunch of the worst underachievers, Nugent-Hopkins, Yakupov, and Eberle instead. But the Devils were shrewd enough to ask for Hall as the price and Chiarelli complied.

So what is the final verdict to be? In my opinion, unless McDavid stays healthy for a full season, the Oilers are actually worse than before. I don’t think Larsson by himself is enough to turn the Oilers around defensively. The Oilers needed defensive players, not a defensive player. The Oilers had better hope that the star underachievers rediscover who they once were supposed to be and that somewhere on the rest of the team, some unexpected sleepers show the talent and determination to turn this team finally around.

As for the acquisition of Lucic, ex-Boston Bruin General Manager Chiarelli retrieving an old employee… Well the Los Angeles Kings signed Lucic to return them to the Stanley Cup Final and instead they were eliminated in the first round by the San Jose Sharks. So they are not shedding tears that Lucic is gone.

So my final prediction is that if I am in Edmonton, I’ll go to an NHL game to admire the new arena, for apart from McDavid (if he is fortunate to stay healthy for once) there will be little else to enjoy during the NHL season again.