To Russia with Love

To Russia with Love

From Chicken Soup for the Canadian Soul

To Russia with Love

Canadians are very proud of their country. I know I am. . . . One thing we have is the game of hockey. That’s ours. And I always try to remember that.

Wayne Gretzky

As Canadians entered the new millennium, many discussions pointed to the 1972 Canada–Russia series as being a defining moment in our recent history. For those who love the game of hockey and believe it to be a key component of our cultural identity, that historic series represents our nation’s finest hour. Over the past thirty years, there have been several reunions to celebrate the accomplishments of Team Canada ’72. On each of these occasions the team and everyone else involved have been reminded just how much that series means to all Canadians.

In December 1999, at the precise time when Canadians were reflecting on the highlights of the passing century, members of Team Canada received an invitation from their Russian counterparts to compete in a reunion series hosted by Team Russia. And they agreed!

Returning to Russia from the 1972 team would be Yvan Cournoyer, Brad Park, Marcel Dionne, Gilbert Perreault and my father, Frank Mahovlich. Joining this group were other Hall of Famers who played on later editions of Canada’s best, such as Bobby Hull, Guy Lafleur and Steve Shutt. The Canadian side was also instructed to bring three sons of players who could play for their team—and Team Russia would do the same.

Over the course of my life, I have frequently been asked what it is like to be the son of a well-known Canadian hockey player. Ordinarily, aside from having to answer just that question, I believe my life has differed little from the lives of my peers. However, the day I received the invitation to play for Team Canada in a Summit Series Reunion was a definite exception. Like Guy Lafleur’s son Martin and Gilbert Perreault’s son Marc, I was absolutely thrilled and jumped at the chance! From this wonderful experience I offer a couple of reflections from a time when I was keenly aware of my surroundings and enormously proud to be Canadian.

During the eight days we spent in Russia, we were scheduled to play four hockey games. But in addition to that, our Russian hosts made sure we had a full itinerary of functions that exposed us to a diverse sampling of Russian history and culture. Whether we were walking through the Pushkin Museum or one of Moscow’s cemeteries that honours their heroes, it was apparent how proud the Russians were to be sharing their history and their lives with us. Amazingly, they were doing so with a group of people who had once been their bitter rivals.

What made this all so relevant from the Canadian perspective is that two vastly different cultures were celebrating a friendship that was born from a game—Canada’s game. Although many of the players from both sides had lost more than a stride or two, in each of the four matches the crowd showed their appreciation for both teams with applause for every play. And while Russia in December is a cold place to be, the people were warm and generous. We all found ourselves grateful to be on the receiving end of such kindness.

The actual series became surprisingly competitive as it progressed. Game One in Elektrostal was an 11–6 blowout in our favour. This inspired the Russians to come out flying with a revised lineup for Game Two in a town called Voskresensk. At the end of the third period the score was tied 3–3. With the best players we could throw on the ice, Marcel Dionne and Guy Lafleur were all over the Russian goal. Then, in the dying seconds, the puck came to my dad. Every player on our bench was on his feet screaming, trying to will the puck into the net. The tension was unbearable. I must have jumped five feet in the air when Dad let go of a wrist shot and scored the winning goal!

We had quite the celebration that night; both sides relished the fact that it was a hard fought, close game.

For Game Three the two teams travelled overnight in a charming, old-fashioned train to St. Petersburg. At the conclusion of what we thought would remain a 3–3 tie, securing a series victory for Team Canada, one of the Russian veterans, Vladimir Petrov, skated to our bench. With a friendly smile he suggested, “Why don’t we have a shoot-out, but just for fun?” Put on the spot, yet happy to oblige the fans and our gracious hosts, our coaches Bobby Hull and Yvan Cournoyer complied with the request and selected our shooters. To the frenzied delight of the boisterous crowd, the home team scored twice to our nil. The cheering fans poured over the boards to hug and congratulate their team.

In the following day’s newspaper the sports page headline read, “Russia Beats Canada in Summit Series Rematch.” At breakfast, several jokes flew around about how our coaching staff was duped into letting the Russians back into the series. With a Game Four victory, Russia could conceivably declare the series a draw! While it was nice to witness the joy of the Russian people in St. Petersburg, losing the fourth and final game in Moscow was unthinkable.

That’s when I got to see what put these guys at the top of their profession so many years before. The get-down-to-business attitude of Team Canada heading into that final game was a real eye-opener. After spending what had been an emotional week in Russia with their old friends, the Canadians put all pleasantries aside. Neither age nor retirement had diminished the competitive fire of these men. Very little conversation went around the room, save for a few to-the-point words of encouragement.

Indeed, each and every player brought his A game to the rink. When the third-period buzzer sounded in Moscow’s historic Luzhniki Ice Palace, this time there was no need for a shoot-out. Team Canada had skated to a decisive 5–2 victory over Team Russia. Throughout the series I played on a line with the other two Canadian sons, Martin Lafleur and Marc Perreault. Never wanting to let the team down, our line contributed two of the five goals in the final game. We were all proud to earn our keep—and the other players let us know that we had. That was an amazing feeling! And although it’s not exactly Paul Henderson’s story, it was a bright day in Moscow that I’ll never forget!

Canada and hockey, we love them both—and we always will.

Ted Mahovlich
Toronto, Ontario

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