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Walling: Memories of Game 8 of the Summit Series

Alex J. Walling
9/28/2012 4:18:19 PM
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Forty years ago on Sept. 28, one of Canada's greatest sports accomplishments took place - as Paul Henderson scored 'the goal' in Moscow to make hockey history.

I was there and it was quite a moment.

But let's backtrack.

I took in the Russian half of the series and for me, the experience was not what many people think.

Wine, great Russian vodka and Russian women were not in the cards.  Some 3,000 Canadian fans made the trip and many had a good time - day and night!  Some had too much of a good time and were sent home, namely the dummies who got bombed (the one who made a 'relief appearance' at Red Square and around Lenin's tomb).

As mentioned previously, I was sent to do radio reports for the stations I worked for in Halifax and as the radio arm of Canadian Press/Broadcast News - feeding voice clips which were sent to the whole country.

Player interviews, features, interviews with Canadian and Russian fans (I had an interpreter), profiles, you name it, I probably tried to do it.

Some of my favourite interviews include one with Foster Hewitt (who explained to me why he had such a hard time with the name Cournoyer while rattling of the Russian names with ease) and the many Russians in the arena, asking them who impressed them for Canada (The answer, overwhelmingly, was Phil Esposito).

I went to practices in the mornings and the games at night.

And the bulk of my time in the Soviet Union was spent waiting and waiting for a telephone line to the Western world.

No vodka for this kid.

I would arrive in my hotel room armed with my trusty tape recorder and a pair of alligator clips. I had the interviews lined up and before I put the clips on I would identify what was on tape - "Clip 1 - Esposito, Clip 2 - Dryden, Clip 3 - a Soviet executive." And so on.

The trouble was getting an outside line from the hotel.

Remember, there were some 3,000 Canadians trying to phone home - along with 40 media who were probably on the lines for a long time.

So I waited and waited for two or three hours at a time, each day.  That was my No. 1 activity in the 10 days in Moscow - wait after practice or wait after game. Aand on game days, wait after the skate and the game.

I'd get in my room as soon as the practice was over and wait all over again.  

And I couldn't go anywhere. I couldn't go to a bar or restaurant because I had to stay in the room.

Nice time in Russia, eh?

Seeing some of those 3,000 Canadians on the streets of Moscow was a treat. They were so identifiable - jeans and colour in their complexion.

I swear, 95 percent of the people in Moscow dressed in grey, black some other dull colour.

And the great Jean Beliveau was followed everywhere - by Canadians and Russians alike. He wore a great red blazer representing the Canadiens, but the most garishly garbed person I ever saw was the late Toronto columnist Dick Beddoes.

Would you believe he wore a light brown, polka dot suit and an ascot topped off by a derby hat?  I've never seen anything like it since.

As for Game 8, the intrigue started when I came for practice.

I met a young Brian Williams, who probably doesn't remember this. But he and I were going to the dressing room when we were stopped by a Russian guy dressed in military garb.

The guard stopped us and looked at the credentials. Williams had one pass that I didn't have. I don't know what it was – perhaps it was a special pass to those who actually covered NHL teams.

The guard motions Williams to pass, but blocked me out.

Williams then said, "Brian Williams, CHUM Sports and he's (looking at me) coming with me."

The guard who I am sure doesn't know a word of English, gives a deadpanned look.

He guard doesn't budge.

Williams tried again, but this time louder and more forceful.

"BRIAN WILLIAMS, CHUM SPORTS AND HE COMES WITH ME," he said.

It must have been charm of the intonation, but the guard stepped aside and I got through.

Now the dressing room interview I remembered the most from Game 8 was Tony Esposito, as I asked him how felt winning Game 7 and not starting the final game.

His answer was pretty honest as he said, "We won Game 7, but I did give up five goals."

The game took place and everyone knows about 'the goal.'  What they may not know is that I believe very few of the Canadian media present ever saw it as it happened. The Canadian fans did, but the media couldn't.

You see, there was no press box so we didn't have an elevated view of the ice.

The media were given great seats at ice level against the glass or in the second row and we had Ken Dryden in our sights for the first and third period. We saw the great plays by the Soviets, but not the ones 200 feet away from the Canadian zone.

Now Henderson didn't do a solo rush for the winner, as he was behind the Soviet net moments before he scored his historic goal.

So we had 11 bodies, (five players from each team and the Soviet goalie plus the officials in the way) in front and we couldn't see through them.

And when Henderson scored, the red light didn't go on! It was a point of contention as voiced by Alan Eagleson in his beef with the Soviets. In fact, the light did not go on at all in the third period.

So with bodies all over, an ice-level view from 200 feet away and no light going on, there was not much of cheer from Canadians down our end.

I've seen the goal over a thousand times I'm sure, but didn't see it the first time until I saw the plays of the year in 1972.

As soon as Henderson scored I made one of the best sport decisions of my life.  I looked around and saw a packed arena and thought to myself that I wanted to get behind the Canada net - right next to the Zamboni.

Thirty-four seconds left.  If I leave my seat, I could miss the tying goal should the Russians score.

I gambled, took my tape recorder and headed downstairs.  It took just a minute as there were no people around - they were watching the end of the game.

There was around five seconds left when I made it.

There was only one other reporter there, a young Brian Williams.

The game was over, CTV got a hold of Henderson, the players were celebrating and the TV guys kept the man of the hour for only 45 seconds or so.

Maybe microwave or satellite time was expensive, or maybe the video link from Moscow to Helsinki to London to Canada was causing problems (because there were glitches in that final game). Whatever the reason, Henderson's TV interview was short.

What happened next is indelibly inscribed in my mind.

Henderson finished his brief interview with the TV guys and headed towards the only two reporters there - Williams and me.

There were around 40 media people at the arena covering radio and newspapers, so where were they?

Well, with the huge crowd, the Canadian media were caught in the 17,000 leaving and  they couldn't go anywhere. Some jumped the ice and walked across, but were late to the party.

Williams's memories are more about the people of Russia.

"They were great, they were polite, they put up with the boorish behavior from Alan Eagleson and I even found the guards great," he said. "It was an incredible series.

"It was the first and it's hard to beat the first when it ends like it did. As far as I'm concerned, it spurred international hockey. This was before many things, before a Canadian won Indy, won The Masters or became an MVP in big time sports - this was a moment that has grown."

Williams added that it was one of the top moments of the last half century.

"We think of Vimy Ridge when we think of the first 50 years of the 1900s," he said. "But the last 50 – you'd be hard pressed to beat this series."

After that game, I tried to get comments from fans - especially the Soviets. But I couldn't find an interpreter and the guard wouldn't let me in the Russian dressing room.

So I went back to the hotel, waited for a land line to open and filed my final report. I didn't wait long, as most of the Canadians were partying and not using the lines anyway.

Forty years - I still remember it so well.

For TSN.ca, I'm Alex J. Walling.

Alex J. can be reached via email at:  ajw@eastlink.ca




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