Sports Simulation Board Games

Community Spotlight: 1972 USSR-Canada Hockey Series

It's always great to hear from PLAAY Gamers about their tabletop sports experiences, but it's especially cool when it involves a card set created by another gamer. Bruce McFarlane, Stony Plain, AB recently sent us details about a cool "what-if" hockey project, using Rick Lawes' fantastic 1972 Summit Series cards for HOCKEY BLAST. Here's a recap, in Bruce's own words...

For me, one of the big attractions of PLAAY Games is the opportunity to re-play historical match ups: Richard vs Howe; Ruth vs Koufax; Unitas vs Namath. So it was with great excitement that I embarked on re-playing the great Soviet-Canada hockey series, of 1972, using the players cards and line-ups, provided by Rick Lawes, on the PLAAY "Free Stuff" page. But I added a twist! The series was billed as the best Soviets verses the best Canadians—no amateur/professional distinction—but WAS it really the best? Consider: Bobby Orr had to sit the series out, due to injury, and Bobby Hull was prevented from playing because he had just signed on with the upstart World Hockey Association. What if the two Bobbys had been included in the Team Canada line-up? Would they have significantly altered the texture and tenure of the series?

I decided to find out.

I replaced Stapleton with Orr, in the Team Canada line-up, and ousted J.P. Parise, inserting Hull. Here's how the series played out...

Game ONE: Both Orr and Hull sat the first game out. To account for Canadian hubris (and total lack of fitness, after a long, lazy summer) I determined that in the last two periods any LULL would result in the Russians gaining momentum. It didn't help ! An early Cournoyer goal, followed by a Henderson hat-trick, put Canada far ahead by the second intermission. Final: Canada 4, USSR 2.

Game TWO: With Orr and Hull inserted in the line-up, the Canadians looked forward to a more dominating performance. However, the Russians played a spirited game and were leading 5-4 late in the third. Only Ellis's goal with 1:30 left salvaged a tie. Final: Canada 5, USSR 5.

Game THREE: Canadians were worried If the Soviets could come up with a win, in Winnipeg, the series would be tied with only one game left to play, in Canada. The Canadian players must have felt the gravity of the situation. They came out flying and posted a 9-1 lead, by the end of the second period. Hull scored twice, as did Orr. Esposito (quiet in the first two games) posted FOUR goals. Final: Canada 9; USSR 3.

Game FOUR: A scoreless game was broken wide open with three Canadian goals, within three minutes, midway through the second period. The Canadian power play of Cournoyer-Esposito-Hull, with Orr on the point, was relentless. Final: Canada 5, USSR 2.

Game FIVE: Having asserted their hockey-dominance, the team and the country relaxed. Only one win, in Russia, would seal the series. Television viewership decreased, as Canadians went about their business, content to watch the games' highlights on the evening sports-shows. (In real life, Canadians skipped work and school to watch the early afternoon games. The country came to a standstill. Even Parliament recessed during game-time!) On the ice, Canada again took an early lead, scoring three unanswered goals by the midway mark of the second period. Final: Canada 5, USSR 2.

Game SIX: Again Canada got off to an early lead. But, in this game, the Soviets answered every Canadian goal with one of their own. When it looked like the game was destined to end in deadlock, Yakushev potted a winning goal, with less than two minutes remaining. The first Soviet victory in the series. Final: USSR 4, Canada 3.

Game SEVEN: Don't upset the Canadians and don't take penalties. Those were the lessons of Game 7. The Soviets took 20 minutes in penalties and the Canadians scored. Orr and Hull each tallied and Esposito and Cournoyer each had two goals. Final: Canada 7, USSR 1.

Game EIGHT: With the series decided, Team Canada players just wanted to return home to their respective NHL camps. The embarrassed Soviet players still sought some sort of redemption, however. The game played as many had before, with the Canadians taking a dominating early game lead. It was 4-1, midway through the second, when Henderson took a game misconduct for sucker-punching Tsygankov. Then Gilbert got 5 minutes, for fighting. The Soviets scored five goals in six minutes to take the lead, in the third period. Not quite a blow-out, but a measure of redemption, nonetheless. Final: USSR 9, Canada 6.

The Moscow papers seemed to suggest that the last game proved that Soviet hockey was on a competitive level with the NHL, but the fact remained that the Russians were only able to win two games and no games in Canada. Further, until Game 8, Canada was out-scoring the Soviets by a margin of almost two-to-one.

So, what impact did Orr and Hull have on the series? As it turned out, quite a lot. They combined for 11 goals, in eight games. Orr especially seemed to control the puck. On ZOOM or ICE BLAST results, it always seemed to be Orr that tipped the balance and gave Team Canada the momentum, the puck or both. Interestingly, Esposito acted like Esposito, leading all scorers with 10 goals, but Henderson (hero of the real-life '72 series) scored three goals in the first game and then never hit the score sheet again.

And so the series became memorable only because it was the first meeting between great hockey countries. There would be no Canadian soul-searching, no great revolution in hockey tactics or year-round training. That would have to wait until the 1976 touring Red Army team embarrassed the NHL by winning seven of the eight exhibitions and achieving a tie with the Stanley Cup champion Flyers.

Goal Scoring, CANADA: Esposito, 10; Orr, Cournoyer 6; Hull, 5; Ellis, 4; Henderson, Bergman, 3; Clarke, White, Lapointe, 2; Park, Goldsworthy, 1.

Goal Scoring, USSR: Yakushev, Kharlamov, 5; Shadrin, 4; Liapkin, Tsygankov, Lutchenko, Gusev, 2; Simon, Mikhailov, Anisin, Vikulov, Bodunov, Petrov, Vasiliev, 1.