Sunday, September 27, 2009

This Day in Canadian History

September 17, 1974 - Puck drops for Summit Series II

When Canada defeated the Soviet Union in the 1972 Summit Series, some notable Canadian players were missing from the lineup.

Team Canada 1972 was iced without Gordie Howe and Bobby Hull. Both were playing in the fledgling World Hockey Association. WHA players had been refused the opportunity to participate in the series.

Following the success of the '72 Series, WHA founder "Wild" Bill Hunter went to work on organizing a WHA version of the series. According to his autobiography, the '72 Series was originally his idea, but he was unable to organize the event until 1974.

In the meantime Alan Eagleson took the idea -- stole it, by Hunter's account -- and organized the '72 Series. Hunter would view Eagleson's refusal -- to the extent of denying Bobby Hull the opportunity to participate despite having been named to the team by Harry Sinden -- as a slap in the face not only to himself, but to his league.

By 1974, '72 series veterans Frank Mahovolich, Paul Henderson, and Pat Stapleton had also joined WHA teams -- Henderson and Mahovolich played with the Toronto Toros, and Stapleton represented Chicago Cougars.

The '72 edition of Team Canada was also the only version to unite Gordie Howe with his sons, Marty and Mark.

The series began inauspiciously for Canada, as they split their home games with the Soviets. They won a single game, lost one, and tied two.

The Soviets had proven to be less gracious guests than they were in 1972, as they raised a litany of complaints about their treatment at the hands of the Canadians -- including insisting their bus had "square wheels".

Upon returning to the Soviet Union the Soviets further ratcheted the psychological tactics against their Canadian opponents. Late-night phone calls were answered only to hear the sound of silence on the other end.

A game in Moscow nearly led to an international incident, as Bobby Hull signed autographs for Russian children. When a Soviet guard struck one of the children with the stock of his rifle, Hull lifted the guard off the ground by the neck. Only the soothing of Bill Hunter was able to stop Hull from harming the guard.

The Canadians also fell victim to extremely partisan officiating by the Soviet officials, as the Soviet Union won three of the games in Russia, winning the series decisively 4-1-3.

As far as a propaganda tool went, the Russians must have been disappointed with their win over a team scraped together from a few NHL stars, a group of seasoned WHA pros, and a collection of players who otherwise would be plying their trade in minor leagues.

In 1972, the Soviets had lost to a team that was not even Canada's best. In 1974, they defeated a team that was even further short of Canada's best.

The series, however, had greater implications than merely its potential to be used as propaganda. After their defeat at the hands of the Soviet Union, the WHA decided to embrace the European brand of hockey.

European players who would play in the WHA included Peter Stastny, Anders Hedberg and Ulf Nilsson. A European-styled player by the name of Wayne Gretzky would suit up for the Indianapolis Pacers and Edmonton Oilers of the WHA.

When the Oilers, Winnipeg Jets, and Quebec Nordiques of the WHA were absorbed into the NHL they revolutionized the stubborn, linear NHL style of play.

In the pages of hockey history, the 1974 Series may not stand as the touchstone the '72 triumph has become, but it was certainly more influential over the development of Canada's game, even if it would be fortunate play second fiddle in the hearts of Canadians.


  1. Interesting. Did the outcome of the '74 series contribute to the death of WHA?

  2. Well, I think we can safely say that, despite the presence of the two best players in all of
    hockey (Gordie Howe and Bobby Hull), the Summit Series defeat sent the message that the WHA was an inferior hockey product.

    To be entirely truthful, it really was.


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