Hockey: My Door to Europe (by Denis Gibbons)

Presented in association with the Society for International Hockey Research (SIHR). The purpose of the book was to reveal how international hockey...
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    Hockey My Door to Europe By DENIS GIBBONS

    The purpose of the book was to reveal how international hockey changed my life in the sense of opening my door, not only to Europe but also to the rest of the world.

    In my teens I was interested in the game, only with respect to superstars, statistics, Stanley Cup championships etc. Sixty years later I look back on hockey as the vehicle that drove me to learn foreign languages, appreciate the customs of other nationalities and expand my knowledge of global geography. I now speak, write and read French and Russian and have also studied Czech, German, Japanese and Spanish part-time.

    As an altar boy at St. Joseph’s Parish in Acton, Ontario, Canada, I followed Father David Bauer’s St. Michael’s Majors junior club religiously, pardon the pun!

    After he coached St. Michael’s junior club to the Memorial Cup championship in 1960-61 Father Bauer, a Basilian priest, founded the Canadian national team. That’s when my interest in international hockey really began.

    Eventually, I became chief researcher-ice hockey for the ABC, CBS and NBC sports television networks at seven Winter Olympics between 1988 and 2014. I was one of 14 authors of the 1,000-page-long encyclopedia Kings of the Ice: A History of World Hockey and was chief writer for the official hockey program sold at arenas during the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver.

    I was in Russia at the time of three major events in world history – the nuclear disaster in Chernobyl in 1986, the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the uprising in Ukraine in 2014 that led to Russia’s annexation of the Crimean Peninsula. My book includes a chapter these experiences.

    In the summer of 1974, I had the opportunity to study the Soviet approach to hockey at the Central Institute for Sport and Physical Culture in Moscow with a group that included Philadelphia Flyers coach Fred Shero. It was just two weeks after Shero had won his first Stanley, yet instead of rushing out to the golf course he was anxious to improve his coaching techniques.

    The attitude of hockey superiority in North America was so dominant that Al Arbour of the New York Islanders was the only one of the NHL’s 15 other coaches who even bothered to call to enquire about the study tour.

    All of this also is in the book.

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    The following is an excerpt from Chapter 4, which is entitled, ‘Summit Series opens floodgates from Europe.’

    “More Canadians viewed the 1972 Canada-Soviet Summit Series on TV than the news program that showed Neil Armstrong of the United States becoming the first man to walk on the moon in 1969.
    Alex Khayutin, then a resident of Leningrad but now living in Canada, remembers that in 1972 a lot of people who went to work in the Soviet Union lived in dormitories. He watched most of the games in one of them, where a co-worker from the Nevsky Plant kitchen lived.
    Khayutin recalled only about one-third of Muscovites had a black and white TV set in those days, but they were state-of-the-art, compared to the model in the dormitory.
    “The screen was about 12 centimetres square and we had to put a large magnifying glass in front of it so that we could see what was happening,” he said.
    Each of the more than 25 fans crammed into the small room was holding either a beer or a glass of vodka.
    Khayutin said Soviet fans were disappointed that their team lost Game 8, but the mood in the workplace the next day was not even close to as sombre as the time Czechoslovakia defeated the USSR twice at the 1969 World Championship in Stockholm.
    Canada won the Summit Series by the skin of its teeth, but an even more positive result of the event was that it demonstrated top level European players were as good as those in the NHL and it, for all intents and purposes, marked the beginning of the transfer of quality talent destined to make it a stronger league.
    At first, the Communist governments in Moscow and Prague were not ready to release star players, developed under their tutelage.
    Czechoslovak star Vaclav Nedomansky took matters into his own hands by defecting to play for the Toronto Toros of the WHA in 1974. Nedomansky had been absolutely dominant in Europe, scoring 163 goals in only 220 matches with the national team.”

    My book can be ordered by contacting Denis Gibbons in Burlington, Ontario, Canada by phone at 905-632-6101 or by e-mail at [email protected] The price is $20.

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