Sunday, September 8, 2013


             Forty-one years ago, on September 8th, 1972, in Vancouver, BC, Team Canada lost the second of four Summit Series games played in Canada against Team USSR. Canada felt that they had never had the opportunity, until this series, to really play our best against their best as professional North American hockey players had not been allowed to compete in the Ice Hockey World Championships or the Olympic Games. The USSR team had dominated those two championships for years.

The two world ice-hockey powerhouses were to meet in an eight game series from September 2nd to September 28th, with the first four games being played in Canada and the last four games in Moscow. In the previous three contests, in Montreal, Toronto and Winnipeg respectively, Team Canada had lost the first game, won the second and tied the third. In Vancouver, before a frustrated Canadian fan base, who were expecting Team Canada’s pros to handily beat the Russians, Team Canada lost the game 5-3 to the boos of the home crowd.

Amazingly, Team Canada won three out of the four games in Moscow to win the series 4 wins-3 losses-1 tie. Paul Henderson became a national treasure and hero with his game winning goals in the final three games, the last of which came with just 34 seconds left in game eight.

            But I’ve gotten ahead of myself. Let us flashback to the end of game four in Vancouver to another hero for the Canadian squad…Phil Esposito. Esposito led Team Canada with seven goals and thirteen points in the series and he was their emotional leader.

Following the fourth game loss to the boos of the crowd Esposito was interviewed by CTV’s Johnny Esaw and Esposito let fly with a rant for the ages. Esaw, a savvy sportscaster, knew he had a classic right from the start. Standing on the ice near the end boards while going on live television, with sweat pouring off of his face, having near-by fans throwing things and shouting obscenities in his direction and trying not to swear himself, an emotionally charged and clearly frustrated Esposito had this to say: These are his exact words-

 “For the people across Canada, we tried. We gave it our best. For the people who booed us, jeez, all of us guys are really disheartened and we're disillusioned and we're disappointed in some of the people. We cannot believe the bad press we've got, the booing we've gotten in our own buildings. If the Russian fans boo their players like some of the Canadian fans - I'm not saying all of them - some of them booed us, then I'll come back and apologize to each and every Canadian. But I don't think they will. I'm really, really, I'm really disappointed. I am completely disappointed. I cannot believe it. Some of our guys are really really down in the dumps. We know - we're trying. What the hell, we're doing the best we can. They've got a good team and let's face facts. But it doesn't mean that we're not giving it our 150 per cent because we certainly are...”

“Everyone one of us guys, thirty-five guys who came out to play for Team Canada,” Esposito continued, “we did it because we love our country and not for any other reason. They can throw the money for the, (NHL Player’s Association), pension fund out the window, they can throw anything out the window – we came because we love Canada. And even though we play in the United States and we earn money in the United States, Canada is still our home and that’s the only reason we come. And I don’t think it’s fair that we should be booed.”

That speech was as important to the success of Team Canada ’72 as Henderson’s last goal. It solidified a struggling team, it established Phil Esposito as its true leader and it propelled them to an improbable victory.

Through the wonder of modern technology one can watch that speech in its entirety on YouTube. And I did. And it gave me goosebumps and a lump in my throat all over again. Esposito’s heartfelt words are in stark contrast to the “canned” responses of today’s athletes who are controlled by Public Relations Directors and Sports Management Conglomerates and seem to only elicit clichés instead of thought provoked statements.

In today’s “sports-speak” Phil Esposito, “Put the team on his back” and Team Canada who “had their backs against the wall”, “took it one game at a time” while they “came to play” and “played within themselves” thus “taking it to the next level” and “overcame adversity” as they “left it all on the ice” and prevailed when “no one else gave them a chance.” Thank you, Phil, for your commitment to team and country and for using just one cliché in your entire rant.

“I would rather read a poorly structured story that has fresh ideas than a tightly structured one with clichés.”-Douglas Wood.

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