At the height of men | The Journal of Montreal

At the end of the series of the century, when the opponents shook hands, I buzzed in the face of Vladislav Tretiak. It was the first time I had seen a Soviet smile.

I was 16 and with my friends I was a problem: I loved them, the Soviets in their humility, their modesty. Canada’s players, stars already paid like kings, dressed like princes and adored like hockey emperors, looked down on the Soviets. It was rude, insolent even.

Before the first game on September 2, we did not know a single CCCP. In their old soft leather skates, old-fashioned sticks and even more worn gloves, the Soviets were pitiful, and, yes, it smelled of impending humiliation.

Flamboyant Canada, it was thought, would crush the sad communists in the Montreal Forum. I was there. Even the warm up (warm-up period) was runny. The Canadians were smiling, a little swaggering, winking to the left, patting the buttocks to the right and hands in their long Brylcreem hair.

The “Russians” all had a helmet and a military face. You would have sworn they were unhappy to find themselves in such a lion’s den.


Thirty seconds of play in the first period and the big Phil Esposito scores. Six minutes later, Paul Henderson adds one. This is where what I consider to be the biggest dial in the history of hockey sounded. As if those emotionless faces, those iron-hard men, those soldiers had drawn their weapons. Suddenly, at the end of the first frame, there was a tremendous demonstration of a passing game the likes of which had hardly ever been seen in North America. North-south, east-west relays, incessant permutations, total complicity and the speed of execution which continued to increase. It looked like the Soviets were 10 on the ice. They scored, they literally took control of the game in less than 20 minutes, and on this Saturday, September 2, on Atwater Street in Montreal, we had just learned that there were other ways to play hockey. That evening, everyone left the legendary building with a lesson that, 50 years later, still holds true.


Yes, Canada won this series, but by a very thin line, and the big winner is above all hockey, a magnificent team sport. Already humiliated and imprisoned in the communist system, the players of the USSR showed the rest of the world that they were there even if they were never seen, confined in an inhumane regime. And Canadians can count themselves lucky. They came home with a narrow victory, but really with a series of lessons. Of hockey, but also of humility, of respect towards their public which they believed gained in advance.

In the other seven matches, there were great moments, but there were also baseness, wild blows, degradation.

At the end of the very last game, in my class at Polyvalente Édouard-Montpetit, I was a little sad for Tretiak and his co-prisoners, but at least they were smiling.

And after seeing, in the 6th game, Bobby Clarke land a real blow of an ax deliberately breaking the ankle of Valeri Kharlamov, the best player in the USSR, I never had any respect for this primitive from Saskatchewan.

Even today, when I see a good series of passes, I often think of the end of the first period of the first game on September 2, 1972. I was there with my uncle Paul-Yvon. What a Saturday night!

From the enclave

  • For two years, battling her tongue cancer, Guy Lapointe, 74, started skating again on a pond near his home. Serious as a pope while having a good dinner at the Cage de Vaudreuil, Guy said to me: “Do you know what I would like? Play a game hockey. Chills down my spine.
  • Dennis Shapovalov is Canadian because he grew up in Ontario, but the big left-hander was born in Tel Aviv, Israel. Her father, Viktor is Russian and her mother, Tessa is Ukrainian. What do we talk about at dinner?
  • Birthday of an old boyfriend, Friday. Mario Tremblay turned 66 and this is a record year for blueberry picking in Lac-Saint-Jean.
  • Fishermen and fond of yellow perch. Those of the Central tavern (La Prairie) are worth the trip.
  • There are 160 agents representing NHL players.
  • Happy birthday to Sergio Momesso (57 years old) and Chantal Machabee. Father Emile Bouchard would be 103 today.
  • William Blanchard, 25, pro at the Le Portage golf club, is indeed Carlo’s son. The apple fell again near the apple tree. William is a longer hitter than his father ever was. 300 yards at will.
  • It’s a beautiful hockey history book that closed on August 25 with the death in Cornwall by Orval Tessier, 89 years old. He was named Instructor of the Year in 1983 while coaching the Chicago Blackhawks. Orval notably directed Guy Carbonneau and Gilbert Delorme in Chicoutimi.
  • Congratulations to Mathieu Boudreau, Maxime Ferland, Anthony Lapointe and Vincent Gingras who are promoted to referees in the QMJHL for the next season.


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