We got to go to the gymnasium to watch the final game of the Canada-Soviet hockey summit, but even though I got out of grade 5 for a few hours and Canada won, I was still gutted that personal hero and goaltending guide, Tony Esposito, didn’t get to play.
Forty years ago Friday, Canada beat the Soviets in Moscow in the final and deciding game of the 1972 Summit Series. It could have gone either way, as the sportscasters say: a last-minute goal by Paul Henderson was the difference.
But as reported in the New York Times, in the flurry of this month’s 40th anniversary commemorations, was the fiercest of fuels in Team Canada’s Moscow fire forgotten? Perhaps it is time to acknowledge that the greatest of Canadian hockey triumphs boils down to this: they never should have messed with our chow.
In 1972, the Canadians contingent brought their own steaks and lots of beer. But the Soviets pilfered it all.
It’s a tale of woe that has long been woven into the legend of that momentous September, a whodunit that has been revived in several new books this fall, including memoirs by Paul Henderson and Brad Park.
Team Canada was brimming with groceries when it arrived in Moscow on Sept. 20 all those years ago. Henderson said they were packing 300 pounds. Coach Harry Sinden’s ’72 memoir, “Hockey Showdown,” said it was 300 steaks. In his 2003 autobiography, “Thunder and Lightning,” Phil Esposito said Team Canada arrived in Moscow with 350 cases of beer, 350 cases of milk, 350 cases of soda.
That means they had 8,400 beers for nine days in Moscow, for a contingent of, say, 50 guys, players, staff and officials. That is an allowance of 168 bottles for every man, or about 18.6 for each of the nine days they were in Moscow.
That’s how Canadians roll.
Piecing together accounts from Henderson, Park and Rod Gilbert over the years, about 100 cases of beer disappeared after the fifth game.
As for the steaks, Mahovlich was on to the hotel’s chefs. “They cut them in half, so we only had half a steak,” he recalled, most recently in this fall’s “Team Canada 1972: The Official 40th Anniversary Celebration of the Summit Series.” “So we complained. Before the third game, they cut the thickness in half. We complained again. It wasn’t until the last game that we finally got a whole steak.”
“The Russian cooks sold the steaks to others in search of a decent meal, many of whom turned out to be our zany Canadian fans,” Henderson wrote. “For about ten dollars U.S. you could get just about anything you wanted, including those precious steaks. The only two Russian dishes that were acceptable to me were borscht and chicken Kiev. The rest was just terrible.”
For all their suffering, the players’ lot was better than what their wives had to endure.
According to Park, this was where the Soviets really screwed up: by angering the wives with disrespect and disgusting food.