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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  1. denny Registered User

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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.

    [​IMG]

    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.
     
    Last edited by moderator Theokritos: Jan 24, 2021
  2. Theokritos Global Moderator

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    Great to have you!

    You were in Moscow with Fred Shero in 1974. That right there is a historic event you were personally involved in. But how did you get from following international hockey in the 1960s to going to Moscow in 1974? Were you already working as a sport journalist or did you study at Loyola College yourself? (I've read that most of the Canadian group that went over were from there.)
     
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  3. denny Registered User

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    Yes, I was in Moscow with Fred Shero in the spring of 1974 on a sports study tour organized by Loyola University of Montreal. There were about 100 people in the group, including coaches, physical education teachers, journalists etc. The organizer was Dr. Ed Enos, who once played football for the B. C. Lions and Montreal Alouettes. I simply signed up for the tour for the ridiculously low sum of $875. which included round trip air fare to Moscow, 3 weeks accommodation, 3 meals a day, free tickets to the ballet, the Moscow Circus, a Premier Division soccer match at Luzhniki, an international rowing competition and one full university credit. At that time my regular job was sports editor of the Georgetown Independent, a weekly newspaper in Georgetown, Ontario, Canada. And there were several Americans in the group too. I recall Bob Crocker, who was hockey coach at the University of Pennsylvania.
     
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  4. Theokritos Global Moderator

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    What was your opinion on international hockey as you followed it in the 1960s? Do you remember any particular tournaments or tours that stood out to you in any way before the Summit Series?
     
  5. denny Registered User

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    I always loved watching Olympic hockey in the 1960s, especially when the Soviets played the Czechoslovaks. As a matter of fact, I think both countries may have iced their best national teams ever during that decade. Russia finally won a gold medal in Korea, but with no NHL players playing and the Czech Republic teams, at both the senior and junior level recently have been sub-par. I remember the first time the Soviets sent a team to tour Canada in 1957. Their game against the Whitby Dunlops at Maple Leaf Gardens was televised in black and white and Whitby won by a score of 7-2. I am told their jerseys were dark blue and white, not red like they are today
     
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  6. Theokritos Global Moderator

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    Today, almost 65 years later, the broadcast is available on YouTube:



    The Soviets and the Czechoslovaks certainly had great teams, especially in the second half of the 1960s.

    As an avid follower of international hockey, how surprised were you by the Summit Series being so close? I know that Father Bauer who obviously knew Soviet hockey better than most in Canada still expected "total domination" by Team Canada.
     
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  7. goliver845 Registered User

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    Denis, can you talk at all about how the freelance market has dried up for international stories? You were in The Hockey News all the time once upon a time with the international flavour, being one of the experts on this side of the pond. The internet came along, leveled the playing field, and people can find whatever news they want on their own -- even being able to watch KHL games if that floats your boat.

    Did you foresee this at all?
     
  8. denny Registered User

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    With today's technology, it was bound to happened. I started out sending notes to Canadian national team coach Dave King in the early 1980s from information I translated from Russian newspapers I used to buy in a store in Toronto. When the internet became big, I no longer had to drive to Toronto, but all this information suddenly was available to everybody online. So you are right. It is much harder to sell stories on world hockey in Canada and the U.S. now. Nevertheless, I still consider myself one of the foremost authorities on Soviet hockey in North America.
     
  9. denny Registered User

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    Regarding the question about whether or not I was surprised that the Summit Series was so close. I definitely was not surprised. The main reason is that I considered Father Bauer's national team from the 1960s to be much better than our newspapers gave them credit for. And if they were losing to the Soviets year after year, I knew Team Canada 1972 would be in for a surprise. I had never heard that Father Bauer predicted total domination by Team Canada in 1972, but if he in fact did, that's inexcusable. There's nobody in Canada that should have known the strength of the Soviets better than him. The next big question is what would have happened if, for example, the teams had played another eight games immediately. Howie Meeker, who also should have known better, predicted because the Team Canada players were finally in proper physical condition after eight games, they would have won 8 games to 0. I disagree. I believe the result would have been just as close, maybe even 4-3-1 in favor of the Soviets
     
  10. Theokritos Global Moderator

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    I looked it up and it was actually "total victory" he predicted in an article for the Toronto Sun. See here: 1972 Summit Series: Father David Bauer

    Seems like he thought the individual quality of the players would make that much of a difference compared to the national team from the 1960s.

    Another question: You were in Moscow in 1974. What did you see and experience there?
     
  11. denny Registered User

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    In Moscow in 1974 there were only four indoor ice arenas for a population of 8 million people - Luzhniki, CSKA, Sokolniki and a very small one called Kristal, which was located next to Luzhniki. It had no seats. We were housed in a dormitory called Hotel Neptune, which was a training site for national team swimmers and took courses at the Central Institute for Sports and Physical Culture. National team players like Aleksandrov, Vikulov and Ragulin directed on-ice practice demonstrations at Sokolniki. Members of the Soviet national junior team also showed us drills. One of them was Valery Bragin, now head coach of Russia's national team. There's a whole chapter about this in my book 'Hockey My Door to Europe'
     
  12. Theokritos Global Moderator

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    Looking forward to read it.

    As a long-term observer of the Soviet national team, what are the most interesting changes and developments between the late 1960s and the 1980s in the way the Soviets played? Did you observe any impact that 1) the encounter with the Canadian professionals in the 1970s had, and 2) that the switch to Viktor Tikhonov had?
     
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  13. denny Registered User

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    I think they adopted a more individualistic approach to the game after the 1972 series, probably to their detriment. I think their total team game of the 1960s was much more effective. Keep the puck moving quickly from stick to stick. Dave King told me once he didn't consider Viktor Tikhonov a very good coach because he did not match lines the way they do in the NHL. In Game 3 of the 1987 Canada Cup, the Soviets used 4 lines, all with equal ice time, and tried to grind Canada down on conditioning, but of course Canada eventually won 6-5. But in spite of all the criticism of Tikhonov made by guys like Fetisov and Larionov, there were some players who considered him very good. Defenceman Alexei Gusavov and his wife Sandra, for example, told me in an interview once that they did not particularly like being apart all the time with the players staying at a base, but Sandra said, "Nobody can deny that it worked."
     
  14. Theokritos Global Moderator

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    And Makarov once famously said that Tikhonov was a "bad guy but good coach" (as opposed to Terry Crisp who he thought was the opposite: a good guy but badc oach).

    We've focused on the Soviets so far – quite understandably, considering their role in international hockey. But what are some other European teams and players in international hockey that have impressed you over the years? In particular from the 1960s to 1980s.
     
  15. denny Registered User

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    One of my all-time favorite players was Peter Stastny, who played for Czechoslovakia. I have interviewed him more than once about the time he and brother Anton escaped to the West. He had lots of skills, but at the same time was very hard-nosed and a good checker. The Stastny family was very close-knit. Just before the 1994 Olympics in Norway, Anton punched a referee in a tournament in France and was suspended from the Slovak team, for at least part if not the whole Olympics. It was the correct decision by the IIHF, but Stastny blamed the Slovak Ice Hockey Federation for not standing up for its players! I also liked Matti Hagman of Finland, one of the first Finns to play in the NHL. I was once asked which country in Europe produced the best players. My answer was this - Sweden had the best skaters, Czechoslovakia had the best skills and Finland produced the toughest players. But the Soviet Union was second best in all 3 of those categories. So, like the Summer Olympics, if you award 5 points for first, 3 for second and one for third, the Soviets come out with the all-round best player, on the basis of 15 points. Do you agree?
     
  16. Theokritos Global Moderator

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    Skills is a broad term. I'm not sure I would put the Czechoslovaks above the late 70s/80s Soviets when it comes to (e.g.) stickhandling.
     
  17. denny Registered User

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    You might be right there. Kharlamov and Vikulov were particularly brilliant. And so was Makarov.
     

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