An iconic period in time where the world held their breath, not when the air hung stale over the threat of an inter- continental nuclear war was possible but comparably so during the 1972 Canada vs. Russia summit series. Ideally this should have not caused as much as a stir as it did, the threat of an all out nuclear war as over and a detente had been called. With two hockey loving countries buying for the title things did get especially heated both on the ice and in the hearts of players and spectators.
The assumption was that Canada would thump the Russians with the unofficial national sport, but as the series began to get underway the first few games did not look promising as Socialism had the lead. At what point in the 1972 Series did the politics begin? Was the series more about international politics or the great sport of hockey? The styles of play reflected the countries’ political agenda to a point; Canada’s aggression and Russia’s regimented style, altogether certainly not consuming the series with its influence entirely.
Hockey in the ’72 series was hyped up with the use of media and the western spectators seeing the game as an outlet to beat down socialism. International politics stemmed from the game leaving more positive legacies and thus a constructive hockey series that was not held up with the realms of idealism and more for the love of the game. At center ice the exchange of pins began the Summit Series on diplomatic legs, or shall it be said blades, players are shown to have a cordial relationship as the series begins.
As the first minutes of the period begin Canada does not start hitting against the boards until the team feels the pinch of the points rising against them. Russia much less physical (as mentioned by Paul Henderson) and later, Russian player Vladimir Jurzinov recounts his team was better conditioned then the Canadian team. After the team Canada coaches realised that they were almost beat at their own game the strategy changed, “We’ve go to go back to fundamentals. ” Harry Sinden. Comparatively Russia played actively and in alignment with their training.
The hockey team itself was made up with soldiers from the Red Army and admittedly this brought more cold war to the ice than ever. Russia with the carefully planned out strategy using angles and trajectory were meticulous where as the Canadian team played with a more physical approach using strength and force “hockey has always been a team sport with us, where the stars have played for the team and not the other way around. ” It would seem as if the West and the East kept their stereotypes in regards to the Russian socialism and working as a unit vs. Western idealist heroes.
Russia stocking the national hockey team with army recruits did strengthen memories of the cold war but never less the hockey game was itself not made out to be an engagement of competing ideologies and rather just a great game of hockey with two very skilled teams. The media’s portrayal of the 8 matches only intensified the tension felt by the fans and if it the implied intensions were not blatantly apparent to the general populous before, it definitely began to become so. The media and announcers gave a point by point description of the atmosphere as “Tense(…)the tension is building, it’s very warm in the arena(…)and the tension is high! The national diplomacy and reaction toward the cold war agenda was turned into play-by-play descriptions by the hockey announcers as the players skated around the ice. The match was set in the after math of the cold war, but the air was warming as good-will had come into play. Recounting the event Russian player, Pavel Bure remembers the series being tense but the game ranked higher importance than the implications and the possible politics of the match itself. This assures that some of the players weren’t fooled by the media hype.
Unfortunately others not so guarded, the fans of hockey and an entire country became consumed by the match politics. Schools closed, work stopped, time stood still especially with the last match. Admitting that other such games have been of equal hype like the 2010 Canada vs. USA game, notably the entire country was on the edge of their seats in the OT period. This reaction was due to good old fashioned anticipation rather than political media hype on a sensitive subject as Canada and the USA had not just come out of a cold war or an attempt to make Canada the 51st state.
The propaganda presented by the media and announcers was what made the month of September so tense, not the post cold war competition of ideologies. Positivity due to the intense competition during the 1972 Summit Series spawned some international relationships and strengthened others. The respect and admiration for the Russians from citizens and players alike erupted as they had proved themselves worthy to the “hockey people”.
The end result in relation to hockey came to be that the Canadians became much less confident at their “Canadian born hockey power” and saw the closing skill gap between them and other European countries and later a neighbour to the south USA. International relations improved most notably is the Anti-Balistic-Missile Treaty that began to ease tensions between countries. This obvious improvement came in the spring before the Summit Series and later eased the stress between countries at its original signing in Moscow.
This incredible international achievement followed the Non-Proliferation Treaty, which in its signing helped the security council of the UN keep better track of the nuclear weapons and therefore much less stress over a nuclear war. If these treaties hadn’t been signed when they had been it is possible that the Summit Series would not have happened. The 1972 Summit series did have the Cold War on the score board above, but the game was not seen entirely that way by the players or the spectators on either side.
Of course the recent Cold War was a contributing factor of tensions but it was not a game of Socialism against Capitalism, instead, two countries with ideas and geography on opposite ends of the spectrum sharing the love of hockey. The Summit Series brought together Canada and playing the Russians improved our all star players, who learned from the Russian technique. A dogma of playing styles led to a assumption that the teams were playing for their ideals, and the media had its part in the inflation but the end result was a feeling of a cooler atmosphere all around as this cold war had become a thing of the past.