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Henderson has scored for Canada!
September 28, 2012 10:17 AM   Subscribe

"All of their lives they had been taught and told--hypnotized, really--that no one played better hockey than Canadians. And in a span of the first few weeks, when they lost two games and tied another on Canadian soil, they had to confront the fact that this was just plain wrong. And then they had to immediately adapt and overcome and figure out a way to win anyway."
Andrew Cohen of The Atlantic makes the case that 40 years ago today, the final game of the "Summit Series", between Canada and the Soviet Union, was the greatest day in Canadian history.

If you weren't there, Norm Macdonald sums up what the day was like in Canada: "Game 8. There will be no school in Canada today. A history class? Ridiculous. History instead. But there is school, I'm told in the morning. You can watch at home or at school. School with the older kids from grades 5, 6, and 7. The gymnasium is packed. Blue mats are everywhere. The teachers are like children today."
posted by dry white toast (53 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite

 
Yes, and how did we "adapt and overcome"? By slashing the star Russian player and fracturing his ankle. What a great day to be Canadian! Don Cherry and his ilk must be very proud. We sure showed those European wimps how to play hockey.
posted by Dasein at 10:27 AM on September 28, 2012 [11 favorites]


The highlight real of Game 8

An oral history of the series

I expect, unless you know hockey and are Canadian, it will be hard to explain and understand the significance of the series and the events that occurred within it.
posted by never used baby shoes at 10:27 AM on September 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


I don't know. I mean, it was a big deal and that game was symbolic of a lot more than just hockey, but I still think it's pretty massive hyperbole to claim that it was the single most important day in Canadian history.
posted by asnider at 10:27 AM on September 28, 2012


Jian Gomeshi interviewed Paul Henderson yesterday on CBC's Q. Link to the podcast here.
posted by looli at 10:28 AM on September 28, 2012


Hyperbole on the Internet?

Why I never.
posted by notyou at 10:33 AM on September 28, 2012


HENDERSON!!!!!!!!
posted by lattiboy at 10:34 AM on September 28, 2012 [4 favorites]


asnider, I think Cohen is aware of the danger of hyperbole, which is why he chose the word "greatest" as opposed to "most important". There are lots of candidates for that title, but rhetorically, saying "greatest" allows him to focus on the fact that it was a day without a downside (eg no war dead).
posted by dry white toast at 10:35 AM on September 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


(Anyhow. August 24, 1814 was the actual Greatest Day in Canada's History.)
posted by notyou at 10:35 AM on September 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


Good times but if this is your greatest day in Canadian history you were probably toking up in the woods behind your secondary school during history class.

Personally, I consider our greatest day as the day when we were traded by the French to the British for Guadeloupe and a few late draft picks as a bigger day.

Of course that day also created the Habs.
posted by srboisvert at 10:38 AM on September 28, 2012 [3 favorites]


Canada really isn't a great-day-in-history kind of country. It's a country that achieves a modicum of success by stringing together a century of pleasant, respectable days, and calling it life.
posted by bicyclefish at 10:39 AM on September 28, 2012 [20 favorites]


There is an argument to be made that September 28, 1972 was the greatest day in Canadian history.

There is such an argument, but it equates "hockey" with "history" in a way that is imbecilic.
posted by oulipian at 10:40 AM on September 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


Getting back on track.

NHL.com did a nice series of sports-newsy articles on this to mark the anniversary.

Complete video of these games must be available somewhere (this is the Internet, after all). Any ideas?
posted by notyou at 10:43 AM on September 28, 2012


When was Tommy Douglas born? Because that guy is responsible for the amazing universal healthcare that Canada enjoys and I am so, so grateful to him.
posted by kate blank at 10:44 AM on September 28, 2012 [3 favorites]


I was seven, and in third grade. We were told on the day before the game that there would be no classes scheduled during the game and instead there would be an assembly in the gym to watch it on the school's TV. We were also told that anyone who stayed home that day wouldn't be marked absent and no questions would be asked. My friends and I took that latter option.
I definitely remember the game, and the celebration afterward, but some of those memories are blurred with another celebration that same autumn, when my hometown Hamilton Tiger-Cats won the Canadian Football League's Grey Cup (with a field goal on the last play of the game, taking the game 13-10). I'm pretty sure both of those victories were marked by riding my bike through the neighbourhood, with hockey cards clacking away in the spokes of course, shouting and blowing feeble cardboard party trumpets amid the horn-honking traffic and pretty much everyone rushing out of their homes to celebrate in the streets.
I've never seen anything like it since. Greatest day in Canadian history? I can't think of another.
posted by rocket88 at 10:45 AM on September 28, 2012 [5 favorites]


The irony is that my other anniversary FPP option was the 25th anniversary of the debut of Star Trek: The Next Generation, and I'm a way bigger trekkie then a hockey fan. I guess national identity won out.
posted by dry white toast at 10:53 AM on September 28, 2012


I've always felt very ambivalent about all the hoopla about 1972.

I get it. It was a big game. In the middle of the cold war. And we won. We showed those Russians who was boss.

But it was one tournament. It didn't really coronate us as the everlasting kings of hockey, the same way that the Carolina Hurricanes aren't revered after their 2006 cup win. In the long run, did it really mean anything?

In the late 20th century game of things-western-countries-did-to-each-other-to-prove-we-were-better-instead-of-blowing-up-each-other-with-nuclear-weapons, it's not like we put a man on the moon or anything.
posted by cacofonie at 10:54 AM on September 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


Yeah, what Dasein said. We barely avoided being humiliated - in part by intentionally injuring an opponent - at a sporting event we hubristically expected to dominate. CAN-A-DA! CAN-A-DA!
posted by The Card Cheat at 10:57 AM on September 28, 2012


In the late 20th century game of things-western-countries-did-to-each-other-to-prove-we-were-better-instead-of-blowing-up-each-other-with-nuclear-weapons, it's not like we put a man on the moon or anything.

It's sort of funny for me because that series was the moment when Russians became humans. Kids playing street hockey started shouting out their names during the "I'm Guy Lafleur" stage of pre-game declarations. What kid with foam strapped to their legs, a goalie stick and a baseball glove didn't dream of being Tretiak?
posted by srboisvert at 11:04 AM on September 28, 2012 [3 favorites]


Steve Paikin had an excellent panel on this last night, talking about the series for the full hour.

That goal was one of those where-were-you-when moments. I wasn't around, myself. I was but a gleam in my father's eye, as he stood with some random stranger transfixed in the television department of Sears at the Centre Mall. Mother Renault missed it, walking home from town having to buy a stamp.
posted by Capt. Renault at 11:06 AM on September 28, 2012


asnider, I think Cohen is aware of the danger of hyperbole, which is why he chose the word "greatest" as opposed to "most important". There are lots of candidates for that title, but rhetorically, saying "greatest" allows him to focus on the fact that it was a day without a downside (eg no war dead).

Fair point, I suppose. I still disagree with the premise of the article, but fair point. I bow to Cohen's rhetorical flourishes.
posted by asnider at 11:07 AM on September 28, 2012


...the moment when Russians became humans.

True. It was also the moment when my uncle created his Russian hockey komedy routine. "Pissoff passes to Fuckoff, Fuckoff to Kissoff, back to Blowoff, now Fuckoff again..."

He kept that up for twenty years, at least.
posted by Capt. Renault at 11:09 AM on September 28, 2012 [5 favorites]


And in an alternate reality somewhere, Moscow nuked Ottawa in retaliation.
posted by blue_beetle at 11:16 AM on September 28, 2012


...the moment when Russians became humans.

IIRC Will Ferguson argues in Why I Hate Canadians (which I don't have in front of me) that very thing - and that moreover we started thinking, well maybe if they're this good at hockey, there might be something to dialectical materialism too, and that in Russia they were thinking well maybe there might be something to capitalism.
posted by joannemerriam at 11:23 AM on September 28, 2012


As someone who was right there sitting on one of those blue mats in the school gym, I can attest that sure, we won the series (and yes that day was about as euphoric as he's reporting), but the Russians won the music. It's their glorious anthem that recalls the day's emotions -- awesome before anyone would have said "awesome."
posted by tangerine at 11:31 AM on September 28, 2012


As someone who has only been Canadian for a decade, the houpla over this mystifies me. Canada, don't you have better things to do with your time?
posted by scruss at 11:38 AM on September 28, 2012


As someone who has only been Canadian for a decade, the houpla over this mystifies me. Canada, don't you have better things to do with your time?

Only seven years here but I've been watching and reading (well, scanning) all the media coverage with a fair amount of bewilderment myself. I've been wondering if real people care as much as the columnists who've had assignments to write about this on their desk for the last year, but have been kind of scared to ask any native born Canadians lest I offend them massively. I suppose the comments above are a yes.
posted by jamesonandwater at 11:46 AM on September 28, 2012


Canada's greatest day...post by drywhite toast
Eponysterical
posted by BozoBurgerBonanza at 11:50 AM on September 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


I still disagree with the premise of the article

I mostly do too. I thought the framing of the article would be a good jumping off point for discussion.
posted by dry white toast at 11:52 AM on September 28, 2012


In the long run, did it really mean anything?

In terms of the game, yes it did. It didn't enthrone Canadians as the absolute, never to be toppled pinnacle of the game - in fact, it showed that the Canadian style of hockey was exploitable and beatable, and that there was no assurance any more that the best Canadians could beat anyone in the world.

The style of the game in North America began to change after that series - more emphasis on off-season conditioning, training camps, etc. Playmaking became different - drop passes, something the Russians used frequently, were virtually unknown in the Canadian game at that point, which favoured a more direct, bull rush of an approach at the net with a heavy emphasis on physical play. The Russians played a more fluid style. Look at hockey today, and you'll see a game that is more of a mix of these styles than the heavy predominance of one or the other.

It did change a lot about the game of hockey, internationally and domestically.
posted by never used baby shoes at 11:59 AM on September 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


As someone who has only been Canadian for a decade, the houpla over this mystifies me. Canada, don't you have better things to do with your time?

Only seven years here but I've been watching and reading (well, scanning) all the media coverage with a fair amount of bewilderment myself.


Do either of you remember any big Canadian moments in the last 10 years? Me either.
posted by srboisvert at 12:00 PM on September 28, 2012


It could be a combo of the momentousness of the occasion, jamesonandwater*, and the dearth of NHL-related hockey news due to the lockout.

All those hockey sportswriters and columnists with nothing to write about.

Supply side hoopla.


-------------------
*Good idea! At happy hour this evening, mine'll be Red Breast, neat.
posted by notyou at 12:03 PM on September 28, 2012


I've been wondering if real people care as much as the columnists who've had assignments to write about this on their desk for the last year, but have been kind of scared to ask any native born Canadians lest I offend them massively. I suppose the comments above are a yes.

Probably not the one to ask since I don't care in the slightest about hockey, at least not beyond getting loaded in the streets when $TEAM wins the big game. The burning of the Whitehouse doesn't mean shit to me either, I'm far prouder of legislation that established the welfare state in Canada. I'm biased though, that's whats kept me alive all these years!
posted by Lorin at 12:04 PM on September 28, 2012


The series was before my time, but my high-school had a mural of the winning goal painted on the wall of the cafeteria. And when you enter the town, there's a sign that says Welcome to Flin Flon, Home of Bobby Clarke.

I think there is a pretty short list of things that Canada is the best at, so they're gonna damn well make sure hockey stays on there.
posted by RobotHero at 12:06 PM on September 28, 2012


I was in Toronto for the 2002 win over the US, on US soil, and I tell you what... those Canadians certainly seemed to think that was a pretty fuckin' good day.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 12:06 PM on September 28, 2012


Yeah, that is definitely the last hockey event that sticks out in my mind. I've got nothing against it, decades of social reform doesn't exactly make for snappy blog posts.
posted by Lorin at 12:08 PM on September 28, 2012


All of their lives they had been taught and told--hypnotized, really--that no one played better hockey than Canadians.

For a long time that was very, very true. In the 1928 Winter Olympics, there were three pools of teams competing, plus Canada. Canada was so dominant at the time that they were simply given a bye to the medal round to make the rest of the competition more equitable.
posted by mhoye at 12:19 PM on September 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


I remember noticing the 2010 Gold Medal game on a TV at a highway rest centre in Louisiana. I mentioned something about it to the tourism people there, but they were unimpressed.

I was much more interested in streaming the CTV curling coverage though, as mentioned here.

This fetishization of 1972 seems completely off to me. Let's not forget the real reason Canada won: "better" coaches:
Years later, John Ferguson, Sr., an assistant coach with Team Canada, was quoted as saying "I called Clarke over to the bench, looked over at Kharlamov and said, 'I think he needs a tap on the ankle.' I didn't think twice about it. It was Us versus Them. And Kharlamov was killing us. I mean, somebody had to do it."
posted by Chuckles at 12:23 PM on September 28, 2012


Greatest day in Canadian history? I can't think of another.

July 1, 1867.

The Last Spike.

Vimy Ridge.

The Statute of Westminster.

Liberating Holland.

Admitting Newfoundland into Confederation.

Adopting the Maple Leaf.

Passing the Bill of Rights.

Creating Medicare.

Patriating the Constitution; adopting the Charter.

Defeating the separatists (twice).

The failure of Meech Lake (depending on your point of view).

The 1995 federal budget (if you think that boring, unpleasant things that set the country's house in order are sort of great).

Legalizing same-sex marriage.

A hockey game? No.
posted by Dasein at 12:28 PM on September 28, 2012 [7 favorites]


In the 1928 Winter Olympics, there were three pools of teams competing, plus Canada.

Ya.. The one time Canada didn't win the gold through 1952 was '36:
while only one player on the team was born in Canada, nine of the thirteen players on the roster grew up in Canada, and eleven had played previously in Canada.[1]
posted by Chuckles at 12:30 PM on September 28, 2012


The crux of it is this:
More people watched television that afternoon than ever before in the history of Canadian television.
This, more than anything else, explains the hoopla for most Boomer nostalgia: Elvis' hips, the Beatles on Sullivan, the Kennedy assassination and moon landing, and - our special Canadian snowflake - Henderson's winning goal in the Summit series. These events weren't bigger or better or intrinsically more significant than events before or since; they were simply the first to be shared collectively live on television. They were the spectacular opening acts of mass culture.

This is why these stories all follow the same basic narrative arc, a solipsistic one centred on how the news reached the narrator, even though the narrator was utterly irrelevant to the event. They are stories about watching television, about how everyone was watching television, nothing more. In the digital age, when everything from Mitt Romney's latest gaffe to the Mars landing to 9/11 to the Olympic opening ceremonies is a shared real-time live experience on a collective scale and a level of connection unimaginable from the gym mats of some 1970s Canadian elementary school, we don't invest the mere live televisual witnessing of an event with the same transcendent mystique.

The Boomers: They watched TV first. It blew their minds. Film at 11.
posted by gompa at 12:31 PM on September 28, 2012 [8 favorites]


I don't know if it was Canada's Greatest Day Ever, but it was the high-water mark of sixties-and-seventies Canadian optimism and patriotism.

The sixties brought forward new social programs, official bilingualism, the fresh air of the Quiet Revolution, the Centennial year, Expo '67, new immigration patterns, new flag, Trudeaumania, etc., all of which showed a confidence and boldness which was redefining the country as a modern, worldly place.

The early seventies continued that trend, but it began to slow down a bit. The October Crisis exposed underlying issues which hadn't yet been addressed. The Montreal Olympics weren't the smash-hit-success that Expo was. And with the election of the PQ in '76, this great period in Canadian patriotism came to an end.

In that broader context, the '72 series was the best identifiable one moment in that period. Canada stood by itself, united, and won. It was the apex of that heady time.

So yeah. Greatest day ever? Maybe. It's up there. It has a lot to recommend it.
posted by Capt. Renault at 12:40 PM on September 28, 2012 [8 favorites]


Yes, yes, it's just a game. But go ahead and ask any country in the world that has won a World Cup what their country's "greatest day" was and I can guarantee you that a very large majority will also mention the day they won something that's "just a game".

Sports make for a nice, simple, (relatively) safe and (also relatively) friendly way to bring a large group of people together. Yes it's meaningless against things like the introduction of socialized medicine, for example, but it's really hard to get near universal joy out of something like that. And I think it's particularly hard for Americans to understand this feeling since there's really no completely positive (i.e., "no war dead" as someone put it up-thread), country-wide event that would bring in the entire population the way hockey does in Canada or soccer/football does in the rest of the world. They had the moon landing of course, which they kindly shared with everyone on Earth, but that's out of reach for 99% of the world's countries so sport's the thing.

Winning those games makes for a great feeling, and I know that for the rest of my life if I ever run into a Canadian anywhere in the world I can bring up something like the 2002 or 2010 gold medal games and odds are good that we'll both have clear memories of where we were that day to talk about over a beer. I'd rather Canada keeps it's socialized medicine than have won any of them, but since we've got both I'm going to keep remembering rushing out of Vancouver's GM Place with thousands of others into the streets singing O Canada in 2002.

On preview: also what Capt. Renault just said.
posted by mzanatta at 12:51 PM on September 28, 2012 [3 favorites]


I will be grateful when the boomer wankfest that is the regular celebration of the Henderson goal ends.
posted by docgonzo at 1:22 PM on September 28, 2012


It didn't really coronate us as the everlasting kings of hockey

You should ask a non-Canadian about that one, eh. Canada is not the Carolina Hurricanes of international hockey; you are the Yankees.

Also, putting Orr, Clarke, et al together is a great idea on paper, but doesn't add up to the cohesiveness and communication of a team that has played together for years.
posted by Mister_A at 1:50 PM on September 28, 2012


Put another way: The 10th best NHL team would probably whip either of the NHL All-Star teams in a fair game.
posted by Mister_A at 1:51 PM on September 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


Ok, I'll try to take a stab at why this is so important for some (not all) Canadians; I expect its importance will fade in the years to come as the country continues to diversify, and it fades from the collective memory.

Let's take it as a given that hockey is an important (not the only) part of Canadian identity. In 1972, my sense is that it is, perhaps, a larger part of our identity than it is today. The unchallenged assumption of the time is that the best Canadian players would beat - and beat easily - the best players of any other nation on earth. This assumption has not been put to the test for many years - NHL players are forbidden from being part of the Olympics or international tournaments because they are professional players. The teams we do send are the guys who aren't good enough for the pros, so the fact they get beat in international play is no threat, no proof that we aren't the best in the world.

The Summit Series comes along, specifically arranged to prove the point - that when Canada puts its best on the ice, no one can stop them, no one can even skate with them.

Except that isn't true anymore - the Soviet team can not only skate with them, they can beat them. They can make them look graceless, rough, foolish. They play a completely different style of hockey from us, and it is successful. (I remember an interview with one of the players expressing his disbelief at their style - they would come to the attacking zone with the puck, and if they didn't like how the defense looked or something else, they would circle back and try the attack again - in the NHL at the time, you just dumped the puck into the corner and chased it). So not only were they beating the Canadians at their game, they were demonstrating a different way to play - a way that might be superior.

This is a big threat to part of the Canadian identity. And I think it explains the hostility and outright nastiness both the fans and the players exhibited. A core assumption of what Canada was, of what these players were, was suddenly under the microscope and might just be wrong. It was under threat (where none had been expected) and that created high emotional stakes.

And thanks to the ubiquity of television, more people than ever before can be part of watching this unfold, part of the group involved in this. I think gompa's point is fair, above, but I also think it's important to note that this ability of mass group involvement is still new, still highly impactful, and occurring in a world where there are few other distractions.

Sports can create a sense of belonging, of being part of something larger than the self. Now we have Team Canada - no more Leafs or Habs or Bruins or Rangers, they are on our team - and they can all watch, all cheer or boo, all be part of the same thing. This is a powerful emotion, and part of the reason why sports fans are fans - the group elation in your team winning is strong stuff.

So a large group pulls together under a perceived threat to its identity, and the series culminates in a thrilling, last moment victory. The explosion of emotion is huge, and I understand why those who experienced it all those years ago still want to revisit it.

I was too young at the time to know what was going on. My fascination with the series rests in how it changed hockey. Hockey Canada had some soul-searching to do, and there was a new found respect for the European style of game, which added finesse to a game that had for many years relied a lot on brute force and intimidation. The hockey I have grown up with and loved wouldn't be there if it wasn't for this series. (If you truly want to delve deeper into this, I would recommend reading this book)

Now when Canada approaches international tournaments, it is with a different understanding - that we can field our best and expect challenging opposition from Russia, Sweden, Finland, the US, the Czechs, and other teams. And that this challenge is not a bad thing - that it makes the game we love better, that our identity is not threatened by a loss to these teams, but rather an opportunity to learn and improve and get stronger.

Anyways, I hope that helps. I should actually go and do some work now, rather than wax philosophical about hockey.
posted by never used baby shoes at 2:28 PM on September 28, 2012 [6 favorites]


But go ahead and ask any country in the world that has won a World Cup what their country's "greatest day" was and I can guarantee you that a very large majority will also mention the day they won something that's "just a game".

For a modern-day perspective on this, take a look at this video. That's a Brazilian driving around one of the busiest cities in the world during the 2010 world cup final, and it's a ghost town.
posted by mhoye at 4:37 PM on September 28, 2012


Canada and hockey are a strange brew. When they're being true to themselves, what Canadians really want to do is curl. Curling! But no, they keep feeling a need to impress the neighborhood bully.

"Gordie Howe was once quoted as saying 'Hockey is a man's game.'" Canadians: you're better than that.
posted by Twang at 5:57 PM on September 28, 2012


I expect, unless you know hockey and are Canadian, it will be hard to explain and understand the significance of the series and the events that occurred within it.

I'm Canadian, thirteen years old when this all went down, a serious hockey player at the time (into my 4th year of rep), hugely involved in following every moment of the series, skipped school to make sure I could watch the final in an uninterrupted situation ...

But in retrospect, I'd be a prouder Canadian if something like this was the greatest moment in my nation's history -- the kind of situation where everybody wins, unless they hate perfect music, in which case, f*** em anyway.

Because seriously, I'm very much on the verge of having had it with hockey, the whole bloated, over hyped, over analyzed, over argued, over blown, over expensive, over rated spectacle. Indeed, it strikes me as all too fitting that the NHL is locked out on this anniversary, as if even the game itself knows things have gone way too far.
posted by philip-random at 6:41 PM on September 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


If there's a goal that everyone remembers, it was back in ol' '72. We all squeezed the stick and we all pulled the trigger, but all I remember was sitting beside you. You said you didn't give a fuck about hockey, and I never saw someone say that before. You held my hand, and we walked home the long way; you were loosening my grip on Bobby Orr.
-G. Downie
posted by Homeboy Trouble at 7:11 PM on September 28, 2012 [3 favorites]


"Gordie Howe was once quoted as saying 'Hockey is a man's game.'" Canadians: you're better than that.

To be fair, he said it in 1969, if not earlier. I'm pretty sure we have gotten better since then. I'm pretty sure you could find an athlete in any sport or of any country saying that kind of stupid benighted shit over 40 years ago. You probably could find one today.
posted by Homeboy Trouble at 7:23 PM on September 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


NHL players are forbidden from being part of the Olympics or international tournaments because they are professional players. The teams we do send are the guys who aren't good enough for the pros, so the fact they get beat in international play is no threat, no proof that we aren't the best in the world.

Actually, NHL players have been at the Olympics since 1998.
posted by alex_reno at 10:36 AM on September 30, 2012


Oops, I see you're describing the situation at the time. Never mind!
posted by alex_reno at 10:37 AM on September 30, 2012


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