The 1972 Canada-USSR Summit Series was supposed to be a cakewalk. Canadian players were universally regarded as the best in the world. Not only was the Soviet Union not supposed to give Canada much of a challenge, they weren’t even expected to win a single game.
So when the Soviet national team managed to win the first game 7-3, the Canadian team, made up of the very best of the best of Canadian NHL players, not to mention the entire rest of the hockey world, were flabbergasted. The carnage didn’t stop there, either. While Canada managed to win game two and tie game three, the Soviet squad so thoroughly outskated, outpassed and outplayed the Canadians that Team Canada was actually booed while warming up for game four in Vancouver – a game they went on to lose 5-3.
When the Soviets won game five in Moscow as well, what was supposed to have been an eight-game friendly series had turned, because of the tie game, into a best-of-seven nightmare that Canada was now on the brink of losing, being down 3-1.
In game six, the Canadians pulled out a 3-2 win. More importantly, however, was Canadian Bobby Clarke’s slash of Russia’s Valeri Kharlamov, breaking his ankle and knocking Russia’s best player out of the series. To this day, there is debate as to how dirty a play it was, but what isn’t debated is the turning fortunes it bestowed upon the Canadians with the Russian superstar gone.
The Canadians pulled out another close, 4-3 victory in game seven to even the series. Of note was Canadian Paul Henderson’s game-winning goal toward the end of the third period – a harbinger of what was to come in the final game.
Game eight was so highly anticipated that schools and workplaces across Canada took half the day off in order to watch the game. With the score tied 5-5, and with only 34 seconds left in the game, Paul Henderson, for the second game in a row, put the puck in the net, scoring arguably the most famous goal in hockey history. Canada was victorious and the players received a heroes’ welcome when they returned home. But the veneer of Canadian invincibility on the ice had been shattered, and while still considered to produce the best players on the planet, Canada would never again take an international contest for granted.