I thought with the release of the motion picture “Miracle”, this would be the ideal time to introduce begin a discussion that creeps into HTR from time to time. What was more important to hockey, “The Summit Series” or the “Miracle on Ice”?
The Soviets’ dominance in hockey had humbled everyone, including the mighty Canadians, who didn’t compete internationally in the 1970’s because they viewed the Russians as professionals. Soviets players were Darth Vader on skates.
In 1980 The United States defeated the USSR in the semifinal and Finland in the final to win the Olympic gold medal. The “Miracle on Ice” would be enshrined as one of the greatest moments in American sports history. What the U.S. hockey team did to the Soviets on the ice at Lake Placid in 1980 hardly compares to what they did to the hearts and minds of American people. The Americans trailed in six of their seven Olympic wins, including the gold medal game, which they won 4-2 over Finland No other Olympic performance has touched America the way that hockey team did. It was just a game, true, but it resounded with social significance.
The ’72 Summit Series lives in relative anonymity compared the Miracle on Ice eight years later. Some might say it’s because the United States beat the mighty Soviets with college kids, while the ’72 Summit Series featured the NHL’s best players. But others would answer that the big difference was this: The United States pulled out its miracle with no expectations. Had they lost, nobody would have been the worse for it. But the Canadians in ’72? Their national pride was on the line. As big as the 1980 U.S. Olympic triumph was in the U.S. and it was a defining moment in sports history the 1972 win was even bigger in Canada.
All of Canada stopped that day to watch Game 8 of the Summit Series, which stood tied 3-3-1 only after the Canadians beat the Russians in Games 6 and 7. What started out as a friendly exhibition series turned into a microcosm of the Cold War, a battle of good vs. evil in the minds of many. For the first time, Canada was sending its NHL stars to play against the mighty Soviets, who had been dominating amateur teams for years. This was almost as much about war as it was about the sport.
The Soviets took a 5-3 lead into the third period, but the Canadians got goals to tie it. And in the frantic final minute, Henderson gathered a loose puck in front of the net and shoved it past the legendary Tretiak for the series-winner. It brought Canadians together probably better than any other thing did, maybe even war.
It brought them together, but it also moved them — and the game of hockey — forward. Russian influence on the NHL began with that series. The NHL players saw the Russians superior conditioning, saw the emphasis on skill over brute strength and saw the discipline and dedication of men who were truly playing as if their lives depended on it. All of that would become incorporated into the NHL over time, and several years later the influx of Russian and European players would forever alter the face of the NHL.
Both “The Summit Series” and the “Miracle on Ice” are incredible feats that will never be forgotten, however my question to you on HTR is which one is more important to institution of hockey, 24 years later and which do you think is the greater of the two in sports history? There are a few of you I would like to hear from in particular.