by Darren Clarke, April 19, 2020
(In this sports starved, social distancing, world, the Left Field Lark provides you with a look back at sporting events from the past sharing the perspectives of some of my favourite friends and neighbours)
“The truth is not simply what you think it is; it is also the circumstances in which it is said, and to whom, why, and how it is said.”
Vaclav Havel, Czech-Playwright and former President of Czechloslovakia
September 15, 1976, Montreal, Quebec, Canada. The Canada Cup Final. Canada facing Czechoslovakia in Game Two of the Best-of-Three Series. Canada trying to follow up their 6-0 win in game one of the series to close things out. The matchup billed, then and now, as Canada the hockey giant, a team filled to the brim with future Hall of Famers, versus the unknown, Cinderella, Czechoslovakian team representing a country with roughly half the population of Canada, a team with a husky, refrigerator repair man, in net.
But was it that?
Things rarely are what we thought they were, particularly things from over forty years ago. For instance, my defining memory of the game as a child was of Darryl Sittler’s overtime goal to win the game. My defining memory from watching the game now may be of Bobby Clarke in the end of game festivities, stripped down to his vintage shoulder pads and under shirt, posing with a big toothless grin in a fur hat he’d just won. Why he won the fur hat I have no idea. I’d like to think that the people who cobbled together the post game prizes of panelled station wagons, eskimo carvings and oil paintings thought whimsically, “And somehow we have to end with Bobby Clarke in a fur hat.”
But before we fully immerse ourselves in the game and our various experiences watching the game let’s dip into the world of 1976 as it leaned into September of that year.
The construction of the CN Tower in Toronto had just been completed that summer. Apple Computer Company was formed by Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak on April 1, 1976. Men’s fashion offered up beige corduroy suits and polyester, well, everything. “You Should be Dancing,” by the Bee Gees was the number one song in Canada while such classic albums as The Ramones self-titled debut, Stevie Wonder’s Songs in the Key of Life and Rush’s 2112 had all been released earlier that year. A Star is Born starring Barbara Streisand and Kris Kristofferson was the number one grossing movie in the United States (the movie remade in 2018 starring Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper) followed by All the President’s Men, starring Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman. All the President’s Men of course being the true story of the reporters who broke the Watergate scandal wherein a President was yet to realize the ability to avoid consequences for criminal actions by simply continuing to deny them via limp catchphrases and having a fully compromised television network at his disposal to spread misinformation.
Canadian Television meanwhile was continuing to provide us with Mr. Dressup and his ensemble of Casey, Finnegan, a Tickle Trunk and the finest in toilet roll art. The likes of King of Kensington, The Bobby Vinton Show, The Tommy Hunter Show, The Beachcombers and Definition, featured prominently on Canadian prime time TV for all our Al Waxman, polka, country music, Beachcombing and small-cash-giveaway-gameshow, needs.
Also resonating in Canada in September 1976 was the fear created by a potential epidemic in the wake of St Catharines, Ontario, native Olga Kamckey returning from a European holiday on August 2nd and falling critically ill before being diagnosed with Lassa Fever. As Sheila Gormley wrote in September 1976, ” An unprecedented health protection move resulted in the first closing of an Ontario hospital, Etobicoke General, and a fiveday round-the-clock search for about 400 fellow British Airways passengers who might have been infected.” Thankfully Kamckey recovered and the fear of an epidemic was never realized.
Politically, Pierre Trudeau was Prime Minister of Canada, Gerald Ford, President of the United States (his presidential race with Democrat Jimmy Carter crescendoing to a November 2nd vote), Leonid Brezhnev was head of the Soviet Union and Gustav Husak, an extension of Soviet influence in the area, had been the leader of Czechoslovakia since the political and social upheaval of the Prague Spring in 1968-69, overseeing what was known as the, “Normalization,” period in the country.
Different times and not so different times colouring the backdrop for our foray into the signature international hockey event of the year 1976. The very first instalment of the Canada Cup was conceived of as a follow up to the infamous 1972 Summit Series between Canada and Russia that had ended dramatically with broadcasting legend Foster Hewitt warbling out the climax, “HENDERSON HAS SCORED FOR CANADA!”
This newly minted Canada Cup opened the field beyond Canada and Russia to include Sweden, Finland, a pre-Miracle on Ice, United States team and Czechoslovakia. While the pool of teams had grown the anticipated possibilities for the final two teams had not with a Canada-Russia final being the odds on favourite. Russia though, for whatever Russian reasons, left some of their best players at home. Regardless of the half hearted Russian engagement we were about to learn that there were more than just two countries in the world that could play our game at its’ highest level one of whom was Czechoslovakia.
When it comes to underestimating the Czechs a larger lesson for the world took place in Yugoslavia that summer where the the 32-team Euro Cup of soccer came down to a Germany-Czechoslovakia final. The final dramatically played out into sudden death overtime, then penalty kicks, wherein Czechoslovakia was victorious via a cheeky goal from Antonin Panenka who brazenly elected to gingerly chip a shot into the center of the net recently vacated by the guessing, diving, keeper.
Whereas Czechoslovakia entered the Canada Cup on a warm ebb of sporting zeitgeist Canada had just finished managing to close out (August 1st) the Summer Olympics in Montreal as the first host nation to not find a gold medal (for the record Czechoslovakia won two golds in Montreal). Again though, we can get into the experience then versus now because I don’t think of the 1976 Montreal Olympics as a disappointment. Instead, age eight at the time, I was more enthralled with Greg Joy’s epic silver medal in the high jump, his bounding approach and effortless hoisting of life and limb, arcing his lithe form a hair over the bar, his white-tube-socks-over-tea-kettle landing in the giant cushion, his immediate leap back up with raw joy, arms raised to the Olympic Stadium crowd in celebration. It was pure, it was beautiful, it was captivating and it was captured forever, never failing to move me, at the dramatic swell portion the Oh Canada video that played for decades at the end of a days programming on the CBC.
What defined the Montreal Olympics of course was the diminutive Romanian gymnast Nadia Comeneci, her three gold medals, her perfect scores, her intense grace, the bounty of power she harnessed with ease, the guileless smile that she finished each event with. Nadia Comeneci transcended the prevalent partisan nature of the Olympics and tapped into the more rarified, noble, aspects of the Olympic ideal as we revelled less in what a country was doing and more in what one very amazing young human being was doing.
Partisanship though was the theme for the Canada Cup and given the years’ events it seems reasonable then to assume that Canada was feeling a little inadequate entering the Canada Cup while Czechoslovakia was feeling a bit loose. How my friends and I entered that game varies. Let’s meet them in the context apparently most preferred (as we all learned on our last trip to a Buffalo Bisons game) by borders guards in Fort Erie, “No, I asked- how did you come to know each other!”–
The Watch Party
Chef Jesse Seguin I met while working at a call centre where we both had a similar weakness for tossing headsets after particularly exasperating calls. Jesse is the youngest of the group, an optimistic, glass-half-full-glass-actually-fully-full Toronto Maple Leafs supporter, a big fan of Van “the Man” Morrison and a master of Fantasy sports of all varieties. When it comes to where he was at the original time of this game, as Jesse puts it, “Not applicable. I wasn’t even a thought in 1976.”
“Coach,” Stu Christie ran a hockey team I played on when I was in my twenties and has since that time specialized in sage advice, a weakness for making poorly conceived passes up the middle of the ice from behind his net and has long sported the most consistently strong moustache this side of Tom Selleck. At game time in 1976 Stu was, “Probably at home with my Dad watching. I was 15 thinking about grade nine and starting high school. My dream was to be an electrician one day.” (Stu never became an electrician, he did however attend a lot of Aerosmith concerts on his way to having a very successful career in another field and raising a wonderful family)
Mal Hamilton Romanin and I grew up playing baseball/stickball and hockey together in the mostly Italian town of Thorold. Mal is my favourite former Jays PR guy, a great second baseman and huge Judas Priest and Lyle Lovett fan (begging the question- Why did Priest and Lovett never get together and make an album?). Mal is also bound to the tragic choice of deciding as a young boy to be a devoted fan of all professional sports teams playing out of Buffalo, New York. As of September 1976 Mal was in his own words, “Almost 9 years old. I wanted to be an umpire or big-league manager, even more than a player and dreamed of making the unthinkable sum of a $100,000 salary one day.”
Chris “Borto” Bortolotto I believe I met through Stu over drinks one night long ago where I’m sure we bonded over our affinity for smoking cigarettes, drinking Guinness and talking crap deep into the night. Borto is a real, genuine, rocket scientist, and the man who inspired my unknown, unheard, classic song, “Red Bull Borto” (“Listen up sporto it’s Red Bull Borto.”) which tells the tale of the carnage left in wake of a Red Bull fueled Borto managing to get to the ice hockey rink a minute before game time, hastily put on his equipment and even more hastily put his testosterone to work out on the ice.
As Borto is not one for things like following a template of questions, I will, in place of passing along where he was in 1976, share one of his stream of consciousness notes on the game broadcast-
“Okay this reminds me of my high school track coach. That’s how I started liking the Dave Clark Five. Mr. Jesse. Crazy fuck used to bomb down the 401 with a station wagon full of high school kids. On the shoulder, because the normal-people lanes were traffic-jammed. Driving between the left lane and the concrete barriers to get us to York University on time for a track meet. We did this often. Hangin’ moons out the back window while Mr. Jesse blared Dave Clark Five, Nashville Teens, the Knickerbockers…
The quality of this broadcast reminds me of hanging moons out the back of Mr. Jesse’s station wagon, doing 120+ on the left shoulder of the 401, blaring 60’s rock. With my buds.”
The game broadcast opens with a montage of paintings accompanied by a brassy, high school band marching band meets Mike Post in a polyester alley, instrumental. The illustrations have a classic seventies innocence to them, a sweetness in their vivid pastel renderings that reminds me of the artwork and colouring that lay throughout your favourite Grade Five geography book. Mal waxes nostalgic about the opening, “I miss those intros. All sports generally had an intro done by orchestra. Monday Night Football, Wide World of Sports, NFL Films, etc. Such a scene setter.” Jesse on the other hand, without the ability to be nostalgic for a game pre-his-lifetime, had a more measured take, “The opening montage seemed like the beginning of a movie, without the credits letting us know whose starring. This montage interrupted the opening face-off, a little disappointed about that – I always like seeing the first face off.”
The game is called by Bernie Pascal and Ken Dryden.
“Bernie Pascal. Not even sure I remembered the name, but I sure remembered the voice. Such a Canadian hockey voice. Just the right amount of whine to it.”– Mal
For those curious, the French broadcast of the game is lead by Gump Worsley and Jacques Plante. I think this fact caught my attention for no reason beyond the fact there isn’t anybody I would more naturally doubt being fluent in french than a guy named Gump.
The game begins, the Forum springs to life and immediately Mal notices the ice and the boards, “Pristine white ice. Nothing on it but the logo at centre. Sparse ads on the boards, but I feel like that was the max they would allow…and nothing behind the nets for ads.”
The rink itself is a wonder to modern eyes, defined by an almost clean white void of ice and boards (the Forum also had a unique baby blue trim running along the bottom of the boards) against which the two blue lines and red center line appear more prominent, more elegant, compared to today’s convulsion of mass advertising.
How different was it than today? Well, the 1976 game had a handful of modest advertisements for Planters Peanuts, Carlsberg beer, McDonalds, OH Henry chocolate bars and Coke (I also spotted a red duMaurier cigarette sign glowing up in an upper balcony). That was it. Forty years later, tuning into the United States vs Canada game in the World Cup of Hockey circa 2016, the boards throughout the rink, on seemingly every square inch, were engineered to rotate through advertisements for a vast array of sponsors including- Molson Canadian, Samsung, Rogers, Bridgestone, Tim Hortons, Pizza Pizza, Esso, Auto Trader, Pepsi, Visa, Sportchek. The ice itself was a cacophony of tournament promotion and more ads- Scotiabank, Sonnet, Air Canada. Behind the Montreal Forum benches in 1976 were glassless, metal barriers, painted entirety in Hab-red, bereft of any logo. The walls behind the benches in 2016 World Cup were fully paved in more advertising.
And those vastly different sensibilities translated to the crowd.
In 2016 the crowd in Toronto was an almost uniform sea of hockey jerseys and baseball hats. 1976 in Montreal was wildly different. We could start in the cramped penalty box with the heavyset PA announcer sporting a comb over, checkered sports coat, and a tie adorned with tiny, lavender, diamond shapes. But don’t get me wrong about the Montreal PA announcer he was pure legend with his nasally vibrato lovingly parsing out each game happening to echo into the confines of the Montreal Forum via his somewhere-in-the-middle-of-Two Solitudes, solid French and gorgeously imperfect, English. Mal noted during the game, “How about the PA announcer sitting in the penalty box. First penalty and he’s literally elbow-to-elbow with the Czech player. Oh that wonderful voice. So classically Habs. “La troisième étoile…Da Tird star.” Great memories.”
The crowd though.
In place of the 2016 crowd’s affinity for Nike Team Canada jerseys and baseball hats the Montreal rink in 1976 provided a cavalcade of suits and ties, sweaters and overcoats, dress shirts with long, flared out, often drooping, collars. Further for our consideration- oversized, overly thick, glasses, bulky gold watches on hairy wrists and more perms than you could find at a Gabe Kapler impersonator’s convention. At one point in the game the camera panned to a defining Montrealer seated a few rows up from the goal judge in the form of a handsome frenchmen with long black hair and a full beard. A kind of French Fashion Jesus sporting a beige turtleneck beneath a caramel coloured leather jacket cooly drinking in the game.
For the home viewer there was a particular characteristic to watching a game on TV during that era that Mal picked up on later in the game, “Forgot how the fans could block the view of TV cameras in the Forum when they stood up. That’s a memory that will always remind me of Montreal.”
The game has started though so let’s catch up beginning with one of the things those of us watching the game agreed upon unanimously, summed up succinctly in a comment from Stu, “Leach, Barber, Clarke, are bastards!”
Borto’s game notes- “Three Flyers around one Czech in the corner, after the whistle, chirping him. Surprised? Clarke, Leach and Barber. Remind me to never visit Philadelphia.”
Mal- “The Flyer line still pisses me off…bullies. They obviously were there to intimidate, even with their skill.”
Jesse- “Huge knee by the Canada’s Bill Barber, no call – dirty Flyers.”
In that spirit Reggie Leach managed an early, offsetting, penalty, for a crosscheck to the head of a Czech player queueing the theme of the Flyer line playing typical Broadstreet Bully hockey. The Philadelphia Flyers’ run of two Stanley Cups had come to an end in the Spring of 1976 via a sweep at the hands of the Montreal Canadiens but their provocative style was still very much in vogue. The blending of violence and sublime skill in aesthetically loathsome hockey players was never more perfectly, more cartoonishly, encapsulated than in the form of one Bill Barber.
Bill Barber, sporting sunken, black, circles, seemingly charcoaled in makeup, around his dark eyes, appeared a moveable feast of spearing, slashing and elbowing, as casting centrals version of a hockey goon bearing a more than slight resemblance to Slapshot’s (a movie released in February of 1977) legendary Tim McCracken. Barber never met a scrum he wasn’t king of with his muck-mouthed, cactus patch on skates, repertoire of expletives, threats and seemingly recently sharpened stick.
And it serves as a stark contrast to the generally affable Czechoslovakian team. Where Canada, particularly when the Flyer line were roaming the ice, were all piss and vinegar the Czech team seemed mostly detached, often bemused by, the testosterone fuelled gamesmanship. Make no mistake, the Czechs were willing physical competitors in this game however they seemed disinterested in the extracurriculars a significant segment of the Canadian team seemed to revel in. To that point Vladimir Dzurilla in his games against Canada seemed more likely to amicably tap Canadian players on the shin pads after a whistle (and quite often seems to be searching for a friendly chat) than consider any kind of competitive angst.
The marked difference in sensibilities combined with the Czech’s endearingly uniform Jofa helmets and more refined style of play found both Mal and I noting that we found ourselves rooting for the team in a game we know they were going to lose. For those of us raised to think of Canada as the good guys rewatching the game certainly challenges that. It should be mentioned that the Canadian conceit of inherent moral superiority should have already been in doubt given the 1972 Summit Series was in part defined by Bobby Clarke purposely breaking the ankle of the most dangerous Russian forward in the series (a fact historically relayed with a strange mixture of embarrassment and pride).
This second game of the Canada-Czechoslovakia final has a clear demarcation line dividing the game into two parts- Pre-Dzurilla and Post-Dzurilla. After shutting out Canada in the round-robin game Dzurilla was lit up in Game One (a game dominated by Canada regardless of his play) of the finals allowing four goals in the first period and being removed from the game. The Game One defeat lead Czechoslovakian coach Jan Starsi to elect to start Game Two with Jiri Holecek between the pipes.
He didn’t last long.
Back to the contrast in teams which seemed most obviously captured in the choice in helmets or lack thereof. Against the Czechoslovakian teams’ absolute allegiance to Jofa helmets Canada largely went without protective gear above the shoulders. Hair flowed freely as the players wheeled about the ice punctuated by an affinity for accompanying 70s sideburn action. And none pulled it off better than Gilbert Perreault who scored the games’ first goal and managed to be the game’s best and most captivating player in the minds of most of our group and clearly the Montreal Forum crowd who came to life every time he corralled the puck at his blueline and turned up ice with a rink long rush in mind.
Which brings us to the first Canadian goal a minute and change into the first period. Perreault, as finely tailored a hockey specimen as 1976 could produce, age 26, in his prime, standing out with his beatific skating, taking a pass from his partner in maximum hair flow and sideburn crime, Guy Lafleur, streaking down the clean, white, boards, getting a step on Czech defenceman Jiri Bubla, cutting to the slot and, with Holecek over committing to moving with him, gently sliding the puck along the ice against the grain for goal number one.
“Well I’m biased but man Perreault looked like the best player in the world at that time. He was playing a different game than everyone else. He was dangerous every time he stepped on the ice in the first three periods. Even when he was checked with one minute left, leading to a Czech breakaway. Man he was something to behold, and this was with and against the best.” Mal
In the wake of the first goal Dryden mused about the potential impact of the early goal given Holecek, “…had problems in the exhibition game against Team Canada and also had other problems against North American teams… he had a rough night against Team USA… and in talking to the Czech coaches they feel he had lost confidence against North American teams…”
Mere minutes later, as if to verify Dryden’s concerns, Phil Esposito ambled in from the blue line with all the grace of the A&W Root Beer Bear and snapped a shot from above the circles, low stick side (like your Atom coach taught you) that Holecek, known as “Kouzelnik,” The Magician, in Czechoslovakia, but finding no magic this night, couldn’t get a flailing pad on, falling backwards, ending up sprawled on his back looking up at the Forum rafters as the Montreal crowd erupted. This would be Holecek’s final act of the game.
2-0 and Dzurilla enters the game. Mal notes, “Pascal mentions casually that Dzurilla was a 34-year old refrigerator repairman.” And we’ll get to the mythology of Dzurilla momentarily but first we have to deal Espo who caused quite the commotion in my friends commentary. In my game notes I noted Esposito’s skating as being akin to a refrigerator cavorting about on a new born baby deer’s legs. The other notes range from succinct commentary to epic dissertations. Let’s start with succinct-
“Esposito was a terrible skater.” Mal
And the epic (slightly edited down from the essay version)-
“… And increasingly obvious – Phil Esposito can’t skate. Mostly glides. Makes lame pretend attempts at stick-checking in his own zone. Can’t stick handle. He stick handles like some kid in house league squirt who is in his 2nd year playing hockey. Previous season, the kid was ankle skating. Phil Esposito needs downhill ski boots to keep from ankle-skating. It’s pretty hard to be agile on your skates when your skates are fucking downhill ski boots.” Borto
“Phil Esposito can’t shoot. As mentioned, he shovels the puck. I don’t know how he scores. He can’t aim a pass. But in Phil Esposito shovel hockey, that doesn’t matter. It’s like when you were a grade school kid, and on the walk home from school, you and your buds would see a chunk of ice. A big chunk. Maybe 5-10 pounds. If you were lucky, you’d be close to home, go grab your road hockey stick, then go back and shovel the chunk of ice around. If farther from home, you’d just break a branch off a nearby bush or tree, and use that to shovel the chunk of ice around. That’s how Phil Esposito handles the puck.” Borto
“Phil Esposito is not just the worst player on the ice, he might be the worst player ever in the NHL.” Borto
“Decades of playing and watching hockey, and I don’t get it. And God only knows some of his stats are probably up there on the all-time leader board. I know, I know, I’m not allowing for the scrappier aspects of the game. And trust me, I’m from the Hammer – the east end (that’s East End to you out-of-towners), I understand how scrappy hockey can generate goals and wins. And scrappy hockey is fun. I’m not talking scrappy as in scraps. I’m talking about the entire game outside of fighting that is a bit chaotic, a grind, not pretty to watch, but is fun and fun to watch. I knew a guy in house league – Rob Harpur (and his little brother played too) – Rob was like a knock-off of Phil Esposito. Except he glided more smoothly. He didn’t look like he was about to fall over when gliding. Phil Esposito looks like he’s going to fall over when he’s stick-handling, and even when’s he’s gliding without the puck. Rob Harpur scored lots of goals in house league. I played against him and with him, as will happen with the method of drafting in house leagues. Rob Harpur got lots of assists. At the age of 15, Rob Harpur’s skating had not improved past where his and mine both were at age 7 or so. And when I was 7, I had rented skates from the local Ma & Pa hardware store- So & so’s Rent-all. The skates had a metal cap or something in the toe, which was bent over and dug into my toes, making them bleed. Every fucking time. But those were the skates I was stuck with for the season. Because of this, I went from straight-ankle skating to ankles bent in, to ease the cutting and pain and bleeding. I grew into hand-me-down Taks the next season and never looked back. Rob Harpur’s skating never really improved much. His little brother was still ankle-skating in midget, and he scored goals too. They were like the Esposito brothers, but neither was a goalie. They both played out, like Phil Esposito. When I played against them and one of them scored on my shift, I had the same reaction that I always got watching Phil Esposito score. I was a fucking Bruins fan, and I still couldn’t cheer when Phil Esposito scored. Just like in this Canada Cup game. I say change the scoreboard back to 1-0.” Borto
And while no man is an island, Stu tried, “My favourite player to watch in the game? Phil Esposito (he was my favourite at that time!).”
It bears reiterating at this point the quality of team and individual play compared to today’s game is clearly lower. Jesse observed, “Me being in my 30’s, seeing the equipment (or lack of equipment), the abilities (or lack of abilities) of the players, and the overall look around the arena jumps out at me immediately. I know my history of the game, but seeing it and comparing it to today it’s amazing how much the speed and skill of the players, the quality of goaltending, has evolved.”
Yeah, it’s pretty much elevated pond hockey by today’s standards. We forget though how hard hockey is and how much room there was to evolve in such basic aspects of the game as skating and the skates themselves. This is the era of leather boot tube skates that were about as supportive as a pair of high-top Chuck Taylor All-Stars with a blade strapped to the bottom. The sticks were trees with as much flex to them as your average coffee table. For the goalies it was a time when we played road hockey with baseball gloves to catch with, a mitten for a blocker, winter jackets for a chest protector, whatever sponge we could find as pads and no mask (ah the feeling of being hit in the face with a cold, wet, tennis ball, in mid-January). The elite professional hockey goaltenders of the day weren’t that much more better equipped.
Back to the game.
Dzurilla replaced Holecek, the new goaltender appearing a huskier version of a 70s goalie stereotype- big, contoured, leather, pads, an ad hoc goalie mask seemingly fashioned into a web via hardened toffee strands, his curly black hair rummaging out and over the mask straps. In Jim Coleman’s 1987 book Hockey is Our Game he references Dzurilla, “… had come out of a four-year retirement to play for his national team in 1976. In the round-robin portion of the tournament, the Czechks pulled off a real stunner when they defeated Canada, 1-0, in Montreal Forum. Fat, old, Dzurilla completely frustrated our high-scoring forwards.”
So, in summation- Dzurilla was portrayed as a fat, old, refrigerator repairman just days removed from playing shuffleboard in some International goalie retirement home (maybe the idea was he retired to focus all his energies on repairing Czechoslovakian fridges). Except introducing Dzurilla in that way is like introducing John Lennon to someone unfamiliar with the Beatles as, “A guy with a big nose who liked to sail and bake bread.” No doubt it’s true but there’s probably a few things you would want to mention before that.
In Dzurilla’s case the information relayed to us wasn’t even fully true as in he didn’t retire from hockey for four years. He’d been playing Czechoslovakian league the whole time and as recently as the spring on 1976 was part of the Czechoslovakian team that won the gold medal at the World Championships. And instead of introducing him as a refrigerator repair man Pascal might have mentioned the fact he began playing in the Czech league at age 17, he might have mentioned his three Olympic medals, he might have dropped a reference to Dzurilla’s legendary accomplishments in the World Championships where he was named the Best Goaltender in 1965, made the tournament All-Star Team in 1965 and 1969 and all totalled, in seven World Championship appearances, two gold medals, four silver and one bronze. That’s a resume. And it should be pointed out that I could toss together an equally impressive resume for Holecek who, despite his challenges this night, is considered one of the great International goalies of his time. Perhaps though the strongest possible testimony to the greatness of the two goalies would be the manifestation of their legacy in 1998, in Nagano. It would be in the 1998 Nagano Olympics where Czechoslovakia would get its’ most prominent revenge on Canada lead by a goaltender influenced by both Dzurilla and Holecek (someone Holecek actually mentored), arguably the greatest ice hockey goaltender of all-time, Dominik Hasek. Hasek stoned Team Canada in the semi-finals as his Czech Republic team took Canada to the shootout prevailing 2-1 on the way to a Gold Medal.
In fairness to hockey commentators at the time though, Czechoslovakia in the pre-internet, Cold War world of 1976, was a mystery. Borto alluded to this dynamic during the end of game ceremonies, “Commentary I guess was a product of its times. Like some of the stuff going on was exotic and strange to the commentators. But it was. This was 1976. Czechoslovakia was invaded by the Soviets in 1968. Not too many years earlier. They had CSSR on their sweaters. Teams coming from anywhere overseas, especially the bloc, were a big deal. A brief look behind the curtain at something mysterious.”
And while our ignorance of Czech history in general and their hockey players accomplishments in particular is understandable to a degree it’s a bit of a shame because we missed out on some really compelling information. For instance, on his way to making the 1969 World Championship All-Star Team Vladimir Dzurilla’s goaltending indirectly lead to significant political unrest and change in his country.
We forget that when the Warsaw Pact countries, lead by Russia, rolled their tanks into Prague in 1968 to quell the mass protests and liberal reforms taking place as part of the Prague Spring Czechoslovakian leadership, though reduced in power, remained largely in place. The 1969 results of the World Hockey Championships meetings between Russia and Czechloslovakia changed that. With 70,000 Soviet troops still in Czechloslovakia the Czechs, with Dzurilla in net, shutout Russia 2-0 in their first meeting sending hundreds of thousands of emboldened Czecholoslavakians into their occupied streets to celebrate often nose-to-nose with their Soviet occupiers. This celebration, and the interactions with occupying forces, increased in intensity and came to be known as the Czechoslovak Hockey Riots after they became the first team to ever defeat Russia twice in the World Championships with Dzurilla leading the team to a narrow 4-3 win in the second game. John Soares provides a breakdown of the impact of the victories and how they lead to the installation of more rigidly pro-Russian backed leadership in Czechoslovakia-
“Throughout the country, Czechoslovaks took to the streets, celebrating the victory—and often taunting the Soviet occupiers, venting their resentment in a massive, nationwide spontaneous display of nationalistic and anti-Soviet feeling that would not be replicated until the “Velvet Revolution” in November 1989. The clear evidence that the holdovers from the Prague Spring were neither willing nor able to impose the proper attitudes of comradely friendship and deference toward the Soviet overlords not only appalled Kremlin leaders but prompted them to move briskly to finish the job they had started in August.”
Back in 1976, back in the first period of Game Two of the Canada Cup final, with Dzurilla now in net and making a couple fantastic saves right away, the rest of the Czech team began to come to life lead by more Stastny’s than you could shake a Titan hockey stick at, in particular, Peter Stastny, who appeared to always be on the ice and always be dangerous. Stastny was Jesse’s player of the game, “I’ll give this one to Peter Stastny. From the start of the game, he just stood out to me as a highly skilled player and was all over the ice. The fact he was the youngest player in the series also made it more impressive, considering the Hall of Famers on the other side.”
At the other end of the rink, in lieu of Ken Dryden being injured and relegated to colour commentary, diminutive Rogie Vachon was continuing his stellar play from throughout the tournament despite the amount of twine that seemed readily accessible behind him-
“When Vachon would crouch down there was literally room in all four areas. You could see net over his head.” Mal
Borto meanwhile continued his theme of being unimpressed, “Rogie Vachon in net for Canada? He’s playing alright but – why? Sometimes I wonder if the Team Canada brass just liked him because he’s named after a mass-produced baked good.”
Despite the uptick in Czech play the first period ends with Canada still leading 2-0. Aside from a few individual endeavours the first period was choppy. How choppy? Mal commented, “How about the number of offsides? Canada acted like they didn’t know there was a blue line in the first period.” Other awkward differences from today’s game jumped out at you- two-line passes getting called, “freezing the puck,” along the boards was a thing and often it only required one player by himself to pin the puck up against the boards to get a whistle. The shifts seemed endless with players staying out for close to two minute shifts, power plays seemed to lack any kind of strategy beyond, as Mal put it, ““Hey we have an extra guy!” Get it to the point and have D-man shoot.” And then there’s the matter of Bobby Orr.
“Bobby Orr!!! I wasn’t sure if he’d blown his knee out by this point. So glad he’s playing… even early in the game, to me he stands out as being a level above everyone else on the ice. Watching him rush the puck, even just casually carrying it up ice – he never looks rushed, so it’s hard to call it rushing the puck. He just stands out.” Borto
“I will say, I was excited to watch Bobby Orr, but came away a little disappointed with his game.” Jesse
“… and if you get a chance to watch Bobby Orr, even not at his best, you can see magic that was once there that others didn’t have.” Mal
Bobby Orr would play 20 more games in the NHL after this tournament. What was left of Orr in 1976 was the last stirrings of magic, the effortless cool and calm, the higher sense of the game but Jesse ain’t fully wrong. It’s Bobby Orr in lower case, injuries having robbed his body of the ability to fulfill the otherworldly imaginings that had for a too brief, too beautiful, time, manifested in play like no defenceman before him. The crowd still sensed his possibilities though. And in this regard there is no better barometer of ability than a Montreal crowd.
There would be three players that captivated the Montreal Forum crowd as soon as they touched the puck this night- Orr, Perreault and their favourite son- Guy Lafleur. The Flower couldn’t find his A-game this night, Orr was no long physically capable of his A-game (though what he did have left was still remarkable) with Perreault being the lone exception. He was a thrill.
The weather changed for period two and the surging Czechs finally solved Rogie Vachon with Bill Barber in the box and Milan Novy, left unattended to in the slot, literally whacking home a goal.
The rest of the second period was more uneven play punctuated by solid goaltending from Vachon and Dzurilla who made up for what they lacked in advanced technique with exotic, ad hoc, athleticism. Bernie Pascal urgently conveyed icing totals for the game giving multiple updates while Dryden dryly (Jesse referenced him as, “dull”), kept telling it like it is, Mal observing, “Dryden was so level-headed and fair. Just watched the game and commented. No agenda.”
Elsewhere in the second period, Denis Potvin, the NHL’s Norris Trophy winner in 1975-76, crashed the Czech net, bumping Dzurilla, knocking the net off the off its’ pegs (not an easy feat in the pre-magnetized pegs days). Potvin who was hyper-agressive all game nonetheless gesticulated an excuse to Dzuilla who amicably whacked Potvin in the back of the pants with his goal stick. Potvin was likely the best defenceman on the ice this night but it is hard to take him seriously in that helmet. Potvin’s helmet, much like Lanny MacDonald’s, appeared to have been designed by someone whose aerodynamic ideal was the button mushroom.
The Third Period
At the end of regulation Dryden will capture the first sixty minutes concisely, “Incredible… from a very carefully played hockey game to absolute chaos at the end where it seemed like the last goal was going to win.”
The game and with it the crowd really came to life in the 3rd period. And while much can be made of the differences between the game experience then and now- good and bad, one thing Mal, Jesse and I noted was the more organic crowd noise and often times nuanced reactions to game play. In place of scoreboard directions to cheer, unpaved by obnoxious pop/rock songs between whistles, what we were left with was the true power of 15,000 people trespassed only on the odd occasion by some whimsical flourishes of organ. So in the first two periods when little was happening the hush struck you as profound. Then, for instance, when Lafleur took hold of the puck the sudden clamouring swell of excitement was infectious, something pure, something transcendent, something almost non-partisan, akin to the pure excitement created moments before Nadia Comeneci began one of her gymnastic routines just a month before this. That thrilling feeling of, “Maybe something awesome will happen right now!”
The third is so exciting Borto elects to forgo relaying any of his thoughts on the action to us, “From this point forward I just watched instead of constantly stopping to make notes or multi-task on other things. Too much to enjoy.”
In the third the two teams gave the fans and Borto wild dramatic swings, disappointment, nervousness, joy, with the crowd passionately running the gamut of emotions. In just the second minute of the third some sloppy work by Potvin in his own zone lead to the massive Ivan Hlinka (whose pants appeared to be being held up by a blue skate lace tied round his waist) finding himself alone in front of a startled Rogie Vachon. Hlinka feinted left, Vachon bit, Hlinka then pulled the puck to his right and with an open net awaiting, lost the handle on the puck. Dryden, as even the most individualistic goalies are prone to, suggested part of the problem on the play was Hlinka’s, “very radically hooked stick.”
Moments later the Czech’s scored after one of the many Stastny’s on the ice, Marion in this case, made a blue line to blue line pass to Jaroslav Pouzar who took a few strides before unleashing a slap shot short side on Rogie Vachon-
“Vachon suspect on second goal, quite a ways out but – great shot!” Stu
The crowd was now clearly unsettled while the game cameras once again focused behind the Czechoslovakian bench on the stylish figure of, “Dr. Jan Starsi,” the Czech coach in a tan suit, chocolate brown dress shirt and a tie that seemed to capture a vertically cascading beige and brown ice storm (I can imagine Starsi and French Fashion Jesus having a drink later discussing the meaning of life while lounging in Corninthian leather chairs). It’s worthy of note that the CTV cameras appeared to have a confused crush on Starsi, a former Czech league and International star, with the cameras being prone to cutting away from game action to show him and his sweeping black hair and sideburns, every bit the cooly stoic general behind the bench. Behind the Canadian bench Scotty Bowman meanwhile (who’d recently cobbled together the awkward line of Larry Robinson and Guy Lafleur on the wings with Phil Esposito at center) didn’t get nearly the love from the cameras despite sporting a pretty nifty baby blue Team Canada blazer and carrying himself with the pomp and circumstance one generally attributes to Napoleon prior to coming up with the bad idea of invading Russia without proper footwear.
The game pace picked up despite the players continuing to show a complete disregard for going offside. Moments after a Stastny and Stastny rush Gilbert Perreault picked off a centering pass and turned up ice. The crowd responded immediately as Perreault picked up speed and attempted to blow around Pouzar. Perreault never got a full step on Pouzar however and ended up being chopped down as he curled toward the net, upended by contact with Pouzar, leading to Perrault hurtling along the ice with the puck into Dzurilla who’d fallen to his knees. Bobby Hull swooped in in the wake of the crash and flipped home the puck sitting invitingly before an open net. The red goal light flashed on and the crowd tentatively erupted. The goal was waved off by the referees however.
The disallowed goal was a sign of things to come.
Minutes later Vachon made an excellent skate save on a shot from Novy pulling a compliment from Borto who’d apparently elevated his regard for Vachon to the high level of esteem he normally reserves solely for Jos. Louis cakes and Billot Logs, “Rogie! Kick save! Watching 70’s goalies never gets old.”
The physical play escalated with bodies flailing and falling around the net, before Milan Kajkl took a penalty for decking Stu’s least favourite player in the game, Peter Mahovolich, behind the Czech net. The camera immediately cut to check in on Dr. Starsi’s reaction behind the bench where he responded by calmly running his fingers through his bounty of hair.
Late in an otherwise uneventful power play Bowman sent out a line of Clarke-Hull-Perreault and Clarke, with just his second shot of the Canada Cup, poked a rebound through the pads of the upright Dzurilla to take the lead back for Canada.
3-2 Canada with lots of game left.
Bernie Pascal announces something remarkable to the modern ear at this point, “One-minute and twenty-five seconds remaining in the first ten minutes of the third period.”
With the PA announcer telling the crowd about the final minute of play in the first half of the third period the Czech’s had a great chance on a pass that sifted through Team Canada players to find Jiri Holik (Bobby Holik’s uncle) alone cutting in on Vachon. Holik pulled the puck back to deke around the sliding Vachon only to find the puck knocked off his stick by a nifty pokecheck from the desperate goalie. Pascal noted, “Czechloslokia missing a glorious opportunity there to tie it up.”
Shortly into the last ten minutes of the game Orr sent a long pass to a streaking Leach who had tons of space crossing the blue line. Dzurilla was acres out of his net to stop the subsequent Leach slapshot a play worthy of note given how this game will end. Immediately though the Hlinka, Holik, Vladimir Martinec line asserted itself. Martinec known as, “The Fox,” in Czechoslovakia was outstanding this game on the attack and the backcheck as the Czechs continued to press for an equalizer.
With six-minutes remaining in the game Pascal made his signature call on a night of three Stastnys, “Stastny, going in with Peter Stastny…” (if you weren’t Peter Stastny in this game you were simply a Stastny)
With five-minutes remaining Dzurilla made a huge save on a hot shot from Phil Esposito in the slot keeping it a one-goal game, crucial given, moments after this Denis Potvin will eviscerate Czech forward Frantisek Cernik along the center ice boards for a valid penalty in my opinion but not so much in Jesse’s, “Potvin destroys Cernik – I didn’t see an elbow though.”
In any event Dryden relays the facts, void of taking any sides, “Potvin hits Cernik very hard and is called for elbowing.”
Czechloslovakia doesn’t look a gift horse in the elbow as they set up in the Team Canada zone, Martinec passing back to Oldrich Machac who Dryden advises later, “… is their best shooter.” With Vachon well out of the net Machac let go a blast that caromed off Vachon onto the waiting stick of Josef Augusta alone at the side of the vacated net and where, in Dryden’s estimation, “… he had so much time he appeared to be very nervous, he appeared to be almost afraid he was going to miss that empty net.” But he didn’t miss and the game was tied up with Augusta left standing in the wake of scoring sporting the kind of glorious smile only someone who knows they have been recently favoured by the Gods can manage. Future Vancouver Canuck Ivan Hlinka immediately embraced the beaming Augusta delivering a kiss to his cheek in lieu of the good fortune.
3-3 with less than five-minutes to play and the abundance of Stastny’s dominating play.
Less than a minute after the Power Play goal, with the Czech’s swarming a Serge Savard turnover in the Canadian end, the puck found Peter Stastny in the high slot where he let go a wicked slapshot. The shot, while blocked by Bobby Orr, bounded directly to Marion Stastny who immediately snapped the puck, low glove side and in, past Vachon. Marion Stastny followed up the goal with a few celebratory leaps before falling to his knees into a swarm of jubilant Czech players.
4-3 Czechoslovakia with four minutes left.
Off the ensuing faceoff the Czech’s rushed in and a solid stop by Vachon on a Novy shot was followed by Cernik whiffing on a cross crease pass that could have potentially put the game away.
Down under three-minutes remaining and the Flyer line comes on the ice. Clarke dumps the puck into the right of Dzurilla behind the net, Leach rumbles to the puck and without looking back, blindly tosses the puck out to the slot where Barber, abandoned by the Czech’s overpursuit of the puck, black eyes focused on attacking the net, finds the Leach pass and immediately shoots the puck past Dzurilla.
Mal sarcastically notes Dryden’s commentary after the goal, “The Czech’s once again demonstrating they have problems defending behind the net and in front of the net…”
The PA announcer puts some extra oomph into his goal announcement, “La but de Equipe Canada, nombre dix-sept, BILL BARRR-BER!”
Nonetheless as the camera finds him on the bench (for some reason sporting a small, flesh-coloured, bandage on his nose) Barber, unwilling to break character, looks pissed off.
4-4 with just over two-minutes left in regulation.
Off the ensuing faceoff Larry Robinson fed Steve Shutt blue line to blue line and the streaking Shutt ripped a shot that hit Dzurilla in the chest causing the Czech goalie to flail back like he’d been shot but nonetheless, as Dryden pointed out, “Still have the presence of mind to clear his own rebound,” away from Guy Lafleur who was inches away from depositing the rebound in the back of the net. The crowd at this point was on their feet blocking the camera. Dzurilla stopped a point shot from Shutt on the same shift and the Czechs appear to be on their heels as they ice it with 1:41 remaining.
Perreault missed a golden opportunity with time winding down as a pass artfully shovelled to him by Esposito (the positive employment of shovelling by Espo leaving Borto still unwilling to type any kind of recognition of the event) finds Perreault’s skate instead of his stick and Perreault is unable to take advantage of the open side of the net behind Dzurilla. Corralling the puck in the corner Perreault curled back up the boards towards the blue line and made a mistake in cutting to the slot where he was poke checked leading immediately to a breakaway for Novy who hesitated just enough on his way in on Vachon to allow Guy Lapointe to lift his stick from behind and prevent him from getting a scoring opportunity.
The play is a mess from that point on to the end of the period. The game is tied at the end of sixty-minutes leading us to Sudden Death overtime.
Sudden Death Overtime
Overtime will once again be a 20-minute period where the teams change ends at the ten minute mark. Bowman starts the Flyer line and the wanton display of disregard for being offside continues leading Jesse to note, “Offside for Canada to start sudden death – not surprised.” The early offside by Leach though leads to another unique part of this game- the faceoff is held at the 3rd, central, face off dot, outside the Czech zone.
The Flyer line though produced Canada’s first opportunity in overtime when Leach circled the net and threw a pass out front to the incoming Barber whose wild swing at the puck just missed. Shorty after Esposito, acting like he just read Borto’s review of his play, scrummed it up with Frantisek Popisil in the corner, much to the obvious amusement of Popisil who, faced with a threatening Espo, leaned back and chuckled the episode away.
The Czechoslovakian attitude towards Canadian attempts at intimidation is something worth pausing to consider again at this point. I don’t even pretend to fully understand it- The reaction doesn’t fit within conventional modern narratives. The Czechs reaction wasn’t condescending, it’s wasn’t remotely fearful, it was completely undaunted and well, more worldly. Perhaps it was some underlying Bohemian disregard for convention, love of poetry and flat out cool. Perhaps it was representative of the low-key political dissidence that gained traction in Czechoslovakia in the 70s and would manifest in the Velvet Revolution of 1989- a decisive break from from Russian political domination culminating in the democratic election of Vaclav Havel, a playwright whose work criticized communist party oppression during the 60s and 70s via absurdist, humorous, renderings of social interaction. Perhaps it was just that many of the players on the Czech team in 1976 had also played against the Soviets in the World Championships in 1969, had played (and won) pivotal games against not just a formidable hockey team but a team that represented the country whose army had rolled tanks into their streets, killed 82 of their fellow countrymen and continued to occupy, oppress and imprison their friends and family. We think of 1972 as a seminal moment in Canadian history not just in terms of hockey but in terms of our culture. But as an opponent, Russia, in even our most vivid Cold War imaginings was purely an abstract threat that really never laid a finger on us. Imagine how much more profound then those World Championship games against Russia in 1969 were for the Czechs. For the people of the country they represented, given Russia was a real, ongoing, present, realized, threat to their basic freedoms. So maybe, it’s just that these guys had played in bigger games than the ones versus Canada in the Canada Cup. Perhaps it was just that they had faced way worse than Bill Barber, perhaps it was because they had faced realities that Barber, Esposito, Orr, myself, couldn’t and can’t conceive of.
Halfway through the first half of overtime (Dear 1976 Hockey- Why do you make me start sentences like this?) the Czechs got their first big opportunity with Martinec taking a pass from Hlinka at the blue line and being coy about his intentions until he’d backed Serge Savard to the the top of the faceoff circle. Martinec then elected to attempt to shoot through Savards legs only to have Savard fall to his knees in front of him. The puck leaked through Savard and lay just behind his crouched figure as Vachon rushed from his net to clear it. Martinec got to the puck first though and, rushed to release it by the incoming Vachon, delivered the puck just wide of the goal.
The Czechs were outshooting Canada 7-1 at this point in Overtime and a dominant shift by the Stastny line was punctuated by Marion Stastny ripping a shot off the goalpost behind Vachon.
Soon after, Daryl Sittler, almost a non-etity this entire game, took a shot wide and low after a drop pass from the nifty Marcel Dionne.
The Flyer line, obviously the Scotty Bowman favourite for this game, created another scoring chance with just over three minutes remaining in the first portion of overtime. Leach once again creating the chance, diving to swipe the puck out in front to Barber who connected on the backhand, the puck squirting through Dzurilla and about to continue into the net before Dzurilla reached back to desperately grab the puck and toss it away from the goalmouth. Pascal exclaimed, “Big save by Dzurilla!”
The Czechs changed lines and Martinec-Hlinka-Holik were back on and immediately dangerous with Martinec causing a sloppy turnover by Potivin in the Team Canada end, Hlinka tapping the puck into the slot for Holik who quickly released a slapshot aimed for the top corner of the net. Pascal called the end result, “… and OHHHH VACHHHHON!!!! Takes that out of the air!!!” Two Czech forwards immediately skated over to tap Vachon on the back to congratulate him on the save.
The character at the center of the next scoring opportunity you could tell simply by the crowd reaction- Guy Lafleur receiving the puck in a scoring area dialed the crowd up from 0 to 100 in less than a blink of an eye. The play, though simple in formation, was complex enough in the end result that it required Phil Esposito, chest to chest with the bell bottomed referee, to take off one of his bulky hockey gloves so the official could appreciate the weight of his argument accompanied by punctuating, naked, fingers.
Denis Potvin rushed over the center of the blue line and drawing the two Czech defencemen slid a pass to his right through a defenceman’s skates, to the pressing Guy Lafleur who released a shot right away. The shot again was stopped only in part by Dzurilla with the puck squirting out to his left this time, right into the path of Lafleur who found the puck and a whole whack of twine to bury it in. The problem was Ivan Hlinka.
Hlinka backchecking on a net bound Bobby Hull found himself spun towards the crossbar at precisely the same moment Lafleur found the puck lying to the left of Dzurilla and flipped it, goal bound, toward the gaping twine. Hlinka, at the end of an epicly long shift and concerned only with backchecking, leapt up on top of the crossbar and took it from its’ mooring just as Lafleur’s shot was heading across the line. The goal light flashed, the crowd reacted, the net sat dislodged at a 90-degree angle, the referee signalled no goal.
As Espo regaled the referee with pointed arguments and firm gesticulation some in the crowd chose to express their displeasure via littering the ice with their game programs.
The disputed goal knocked Borto out of his peaceful, non-commenting, bliss, to side with Espo, “So…. how many overtime goals does Canada have to score to end this game?”
Finally the referees decided to give Czechloslovakia a bench penalty (served by Jaroslav Pouzar). As the ice was cleared of debris Potvin in his button mushroom helmet sat in an open bench door cradling his wooden Sherwood stick, while the Flyer line, put out to start the power play gameplanned near the front of the Czech net with Dzurilla ambling over to the three as if hoping to take advantage of an opportunity for a friendly chat.
The Flyers’ plan appeared to manifest in opportunity right away with Dzurilla forced to make a stop on Clarke who, planted in front of the crease, backhanded a pass from Leach through his legs into Dzurilla. Bodies were flying everywhere at this point, Barbers’ in particular and after a stoppage in play Dryden announced, “Bobby Clarke has been injured. He’s been taken to the dressing room limping severely.”
As the seconds ticked down on the first ten minutes of the overtime Mal’s note, “How important were goal judges? You forget that.” came into play when Guy Lapointe’s wrister from the blue line weaved through traffic and found the back of the net at seemingly the same time as the siren going off. The crowd erupted and the Canadian players celebrated with Pascal meanwhile providing the TV audience with some caution , “No goal! The light did not go on! The light did not go on!”
Dryden further explained, “The principle behind it is the two lights- the red light, that signifies a goal and the green light, that signifies the end of the period, are such that the two of them cannot go on at the same time. The puck went into the net and the goal judge tried to flip the red light on… and I’m sure he tried to flip the switch but it could not go on as the green light was already on.” Dryden went onto to further suggest that the fraction of a second required for the goal judge to react to the goal may have been the difference in the goal being disallowed.
Still 4-4. Onto the second half of sudden death overtime.
Canada wasn’t able to convert on the remainder of their power play and Bowman followed up by finding three of his least used forwards since the third, Sittler-Dionne-MacDonald, and tossing them out on the ice for a shift.
After some sloppy mid-ice play from both teams Dionne took a short pass from MacDonald ahead of his own blue line and fed the puck across the ice to a streaking Sittler. The Czech defenceman immediately moved up to try and steal the puck from Sittler only to not get enough of the puck and have Sittler neatly push the puck forward to himself for a break down the left side of the offensive zone. Dzurilla as he had on Leach and Mahovolich on similar type plays in the third came way out of the net to cut down the angle. Sittler reared back for a slapshot, Dzurilla froze, committing to a shot that didn’t happen as Sittler instead nudged the puck forward leaving Dzurilla to desperately flop down to try and protect the exposed net. Dzurilla’s desperation though would be to no avail as Sittler calmly slid the puck home. The Forum crowd exploded.
In the wake of the goal Sittler glided along the boards, around the back of the net before finally coming to a stop up against the glass near the far corner where he was immediately jumped by his Leaf teammate Lanny MacDonald, then Marcel Dionne, then Denis Potvin, then the remainder of the Team Canada squad.
Canada wins the Canada Cup, 5-4.
The Post Game
The rest of the broadcast is pure 1976 less-than-half-planned, ramshackle, glory. The players from both teams, interspersed by Team Canada officials, cameramen and photographers, amassed at center ice as the players rummaged about shaking hands. Meanwhile, the PA announcer regaled the crowd with, “Le but de equipe Canada, numero vent-sept DARYL SITTLER!”
“Rogie chants from the crowd… The national anthem plays. It was different – how many times have they changed O Canada?” Jesse
The national anthem ended to joyous applause and tournament organizer Alan Eagleson appeared in tinted glasses and a Team Canada blazer to nab Darry Sittler’s hockey stick for safekeeping.
The Montreal crowd erupted moments later as the dashing Richard brothers- Rocket and Henri were introduced as presenters of the Carling O’Keefe Awards for players of the game. The Rocket is soon to be seen in Grecian Formula (hair dye) commercials and cut a game figure walking the red carpet making it easy to appreciate how someone might want to say, “Hey Richard, two-minutes for looking so good!”
Sittler is named player of the game for Canada, Duzrilla for Czechoslovakia, both receiving carvings from, “The Canadian Eskimos on Baffin Island in the Canadian Arctic.” Unfamiliar with the Canadian tendency in the 70s to bestow Eskimo Carvings upon visitors at important functions, Jesse is flummoxed at the award, “WTF are they getting as gifts??? Eskimo hand carvings is the answer… hmmm…” Dzurilla receives his carving first and gets an affectionate rub to the back of the neck from the Rocket. The Montreal crowd gave Dzurilla some much deserved applause and Henri Richard provided Dzurilla with the friendly chat the Czech goalie seemed to be seeking all game. Sittler received his award next from the Rocket, the PA announcer mentioning, “This man equalled one of the Rocket’s records and broke one last year,” (in reference to Sittler’s ten-point game the year previous) and Sittler accepted his award gracefully, shook hands with the Richard’s and Dzurilla before turning back to Dzurilla and saying pointedly, “Good game… good game.”
Next, a representative of the Canadian Motor Industries, was called out to present a brand new, Toyata Celica, to the top player of the series from each team. Milan Novy won for Czechoslovakia, and the PA announcer took particular delight in announcing the Team Canada selection, “From Team Canada… I think you know who it is… ROGA-TIEN VACHON!!!!” Vachon winning the latest in wood panelled stationwagon technology and the broadcast (at least what is available on Youtube) neared completion.
At this point players began to trade jerseys beginning with Peter Mahovolich and a Czech player and above the chaotic milling about the PA announcer attempted to maintain order, “AND NOW! Some further awards gentlemen…”
The camera shifted back to center ice where a middle aged man, the President of the Fur Fashion Council of Canada, Bernard Freeman, stood alone on the red carpet holding a fur hat. But the mayhem of the shirt exchange had the players entirely lost in terms of following the cermony leaving Freeman to tentatively walk off the carpet seeking a recipient for the fur hat in his hands.
The camera then panned to Team Canada’s Captain Bobby Clarke, who had recently removed his Team Canada jersey to give to an opponent, and we watch as he is guided through the crowd of players towards the President of the Fur Fashion Council of Canada.
Freeman finally presented Clarke with his hat (Clarke needing a moment to figure out the front vs the back of the hat) who gamely put it on and posed his toothless grin for a picture shaking hands with Freeman.
And it was beautiful. (Turns out by the way the whole team received a fur hat, Clarke being the Captain was the one chosen to receive it in the ceremony)
Jesse meanwhile continued to be amazed by the awards, “Fur hats, oil paintings – what kind of awards are these?”
The final moment of the Youtube version of the broadcast ends with the entire Czech team, now wearing Team Canada jerseys, raising their sticks in the air to the crowd who, being Montreal, knew how to reciprocate affection better than most anyplace in Canada.
This game wasn’t what I thought it was. It was better. It was beautiful. And to continue with Havel’s opening thought on the truth- the more you get, the more perspectives you consider, the more beautiful things are.
In the end it was two entirely different nations facing off against each other with unique styles of play and expression yet a very similar determination. People born in a similar time but a very different context bound by similar needs and desires. And while the language of their qualifications and appearance might have been wildly different, their desire to compete, their desire to play, their joy, sprung from a place they could both easily relate to.
Nowhere was this better displayed than in the jersey exchange between the two teams.
While the exchange could potentially be viewed as trite on the surface it had more profound implications- complete strangers, from different sides of the Cold War, choosing to embrace their differences, however exotic and recognize their vast and fundamental similarities as human beings. Nowhere is the symbolism summed up more perfectly in the jersey exchange between the two goalies Vachon and Dzurilla. Two men with entirely different physiques and styles and to Canadian eyes at the time, one goalie whose accomplishments were known and highly regarded and the other whose greatness was a complete mystery.
Yet there they were having finished an epic duel in a fantastic game decided by the smallest of margins, Vachon the tiny future Hall of Famer and the taller, heavyset Dzurilla, the future International Ice Hockey Hall of Famer, passing each other a very different sized jersey with an end result that surprised Pascal, “And you know, the sweaters FIT!!!!”