Rockin’ New Years Eve

This is Valeri Kharlamov. He had a major impact on every Canadian hockey fan 38 years ago. Game 1, Canada-Russia. My father and I agreed that Frank Mahovlich would be the best player against the Soviets because of his size and skill (he wasn’t; that honor went to Phil Esposito). September 2, 1972.

Canada had a 2-0 lead by the 6:32 mark of the first period. They would be outscored 7-1 over the final 54 minutes. A few years later, the Russians would play Montreal at the Forum on New Year’s eve. It’s a classic, the game will be on television at least once today in Canada (has been for many years). There’s another game this New Year’s eve that you might want to watch. It could be a classic too.

The Russians tied up G1 after 20 minutes and the second period was the key one in that contest. Kharlamov scored twice–both times with an assist from linemate Alexander Maltsev–and I can remember watching Kharlamov with wonder sitting next to my Dad. It was like the moon landing or the October crisis: you couldn’t turn away even if you tried.

On August 27, 1981, Valeri Kharlamov died in a car accident (his wife was driving, and they left two children behind). The last time I checked he was the all-time leader in Olympic points for the powerhouse Russians and remains a mystery and a legend for men of my age (read: old guys).

Valeri Kharlamov would have been a very rich man if he’d been born 20 years later, but he remains a fascination because of his sublime work on that night 38 year ago (September 1972).

The 1975 game will be on sometime today. It’s ranked as the greatest game of all-time by some, but in reality it shows a dominant Habs team that is flawed only by Ken Dryden’s thinking too much in goal. As God is my witness the big-brained Dryden outsmarted himself every time he played the USSR; the Bruins might have won in 1971 with a Russian on the team.

The Russian team in 1975 had a deadly counterpunch in that their forwards were all slick stickhandlers and passers. The game’s flow has enormous amounts of time where Montreal owns the puck and pressures Tretiak followed by brief moments of complete brilliance by the Russian squad (which resulted in three goals). If you like passes, you’ll love the 1975 game.

This afternoon’s WJ game is one I’ve been looking forward to for a long time. We have an idea about Team Canada now: plenty of skill, lots of workers, a strong and intelligent defense and solid goaltending. The key so far for Canada has been a tremendous powerplay led by their two best players (Schenn and Ellis).

Canada has scored 23 goals (Sweden: 15) and 7 of those came with the man advantage. Sweden is a strong even strength team (EV goals by team: Canada-15; Sweden-12) and don’t allow many goals (Sweden has given up 4 goals in three games; Canada has allowed 6).

Sweden’s big stars are goalie Robin Lehner (1gp, he stopped 30 shots without allowing a goal); Anton Lander (money in the faceoff circle and enjoying a strong WJ’s: 3gp, 1-3-4 +5) and a strong defense of their own (led by Adam Larsson and Tim Erixon). Their goals may come from Jesper Fasth, Patrik Cehlin and Calle Jarnkrok (along with Lander who has scored the prettiest goal of the competition so far).

The winner of today’s game gets a bye to the semifinals, and the loser must play what will be a tough quarterfinal (possibly facing the Americans or the Finns). Here’s today’s schedule:

  • Canada versus Sweden 1:30 Edmonton time (tsn broadcast)
  • USA versus Switzerland 6:00 Edmonton time (tsn broadcast)

Also today (but not televised in Canada–if it is, let me know) Finland will play the Slovaks (the Finns are having a strong WJ’s and are a contender to make the final four) and the Russians play the Czechs (both have had miserable tournaments and this is a must win for each club).

The relegation round awaits some powerful hockey nations today. This should be a splendid set of games at the World Juniors.

Happy New Year, please be safe.

  • kdunbar

    Having watched several re-runs of the Dec. 31, 1975 game (I think CBC replayed it at least three times during the lockout year in 2004-05), my assessment of the game differs somewhat than Lowetide’s.

    I don’t want to come across as a snot-nosed 20-something who turns up his nose at any hockey from the pre-Crosby era (I’m actually a Gen-Xer who grew up in the 1980s), but here it goes anyway…

    – Hockey-watchers of a certain vintage are fond of labelling the New Year’s Eve 1975 game a “classic,” but in what way, exactly, was it classical? From what I’ve watched in re-runs, it was quite one-sided – the shots on goal were 38-13 and Montreal held a territorial advantage through much of the game. Lowetide’s assessment of Dryden is probably too charitable – the fact is, Ken handled the puck ham-handedly and was the perfect opposite to the fellow at the other end.

    So, I would submit to you that the game was only a classic because it shouldn’t have been. The 1975 game was somewhat of an oddball occurrence – an exhibition contest played on an unusual occasion (New Year’s Eve) that ended up being unexpectedly entertaining. There were six other exhibition games played over those two weeks and the only other one that was memorable was the infamous “They’re going home!” game between Red Army and Philly.

    – Plus, the 1975 series was obviously played in the shadow of the 1972 series, which was made a “classic” only because of its political implications.

    I watched all eight games of the 1972 Series on DVD and I can tell you that the hockey itself was surprisingly mediocre. In fact, it was almost primitive – bordering on primordial. There just didn’t seem to be the creativity or stick skills back then – or, to be more specific, there certainly didn’t seem to be as much as we’ve been told about. N

    ot saying it wasn’t entertaining but players were smaller, slower and less skilled back then. Paul Henderson’s series-winner was obviously a big moment, but it was a pure garbage goal (fittingly set up by the NHL’s all-time garbage-goal man, Phil Esposito).

    – I’m going to get howls of protest on this one, but players who were considered speedsters – Kharlamov, Cournoyer, Lafleur, etc. – would probably have been considered middle-of-the-road on the speedometer by the mid-1980s. In the 2000s, they’d be accused of having average foot speed.

    That’s a harsh and probably unfair assessment, but if you watch how fast the supposed quicker dudes went from blueline-to-blueline in 1975, you’ll notice a big drop-off – and it ain’t just because they’re not as strong or big as players nowadays. They just weren’t as technically proficient in carrying a puck at full flight as they were even 10 years later.

    – By 1975, the WHA had watered things down to the point where club teams from the Soviet Union could come in and give NHL teams a run for their money (only Philly and Buffalo managed to post wins against the touring Red Army and Soviet Wings, respectively, in the same season).

    Yes, yes. I know. Central Red Army sent 95 per cent of its players to the Soviet national team – but in 1983, the touring Soviet National team was beaten by both Alberta teams.

    Dec. 31, 1975 was a remarkable game, but I would submit to you that it was only remarkable because it was so unusual. That’s not a bad thing, but I’m not prepared to call it a classic.

    Note to the snot-nosed 20-somethings: if you want to see a classic, watch all three games of Canada Cup 1987 or even the Canada/US final of the 1996 World Cup. Now those were classics.

    • book¡e

      I disagree in the sense that everything has to be observed in context. The game has developed a lot since then, but if you think that the excitement/fear/anticipation of what the fans or players felt was any less than it is today you are incorrect. The unexpected play of the Russians (in 72 and 75) was a huge factor in the development of the game that we see today. When the Soviets started playing against the rest of the world, they brought new ways of playing and coaching that changed the game forever (as did the ensuing changes made by Canada to try to counter the Russians). Just as the music stars of yesterday are the root of contemporary music, the hockey of the past is the root of contemporary hockey.

      So, if your sole measure of something being a classic is how someone with no sense of history would view it, then I am afraid there are few areas of life where you will find ‘classics’ in any time greater than the last 20 years. You would wander through the Uffizi or the Louvre thinking “wow, half of the students in my Art 100 class could do better work than this” for a lot of the paintings.

      BTW, both teams in that 1987 Canada Cup would get killed by any NHL team of today.

    • Quicksilver ballet

      I’d trade that experience of seeing those games, i’d give anything to be a snotnoser and re-live the last 30 yrs……oh, to be 19 again 😉

  • Skidplate

    Happy New Year to you as well Lowtide and to all the writers and readers!!!

    Should be a tough game today against Sweden. Their goalie will need to be crowded and we will need to get plenty of shots.

    Fantastic start to New Years Eve!!!