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.

  • 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!!!

  • 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.

    • 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 😉

    • 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.

  • Lowetide

    Scott: Not a lot I disagree with there. The changes you mentioned had a lot to do (imo) with coaching. By the time the 1975 game was being played, Fred Shero had installed his “system” in Philadephia. This included much shorter shifts and exceptional resolve in terms of positioning.

    Another way of looking at it is to see just how many impact players retired right after the NHL and WHA merged. It’s a theme I’ve beaten to death, but Howe, Hull, Esposito, Ratelle and many others called it a day between 1979 summer and fall 1981.

    The speed demon kids took over, represented at the time by teams like the Oilers and Minnesota North Stars.

  • Lowetide

    I’ll be watching the Canada game today and keeping an eye on Lander.

    I’ve never seen many of the games mentioned however I have to agree with Scott regarding the 1996 World Cup. I remember the feeling come over me to this day that the hockey I was watching was at another level and definitely better then the NHL at the time. Richter had to go and spoil it all.

    • Lowetide

      Landeskog is out with an injury. Word is he’s out for today and likely the tournament.

      As for the poll, I can tell you Wanye was devastated at the results of the last one (he bet heavy on ho).

    • Lowetide

      I heard this maybe in the last year or so, can’t remember where. Jacques Plante (the legend) was so up in arms over what he felt was sending Tretiak to the wolves that he asked for a special session with the young Russian G.

      Plante passed along the tendencies for the Canadian shooters and other things the goalie might find useful. Some say that’s treason, but I think it’s a great story about that bond all goalies have (which makes them half-bubble-off-plumb). 🙂

  • Quicksilver ballet

    Have to think Stamkos was sending a message to Omark last night, That’s how you do a spinarama kid, while scoring a goal, not at center ice where it doesn’t matter what you do.

  • Lowetide

    ’75, ’72 were classics. Just as there were classics in ’67 and even earlier than that (I didn’t start watching hockey till ’67).

    Political climates were different. People were different. For many professional hockey was a source of income for doing something they loved but also had to supplement their income.

    Off-season/dry land training was unheard. Smoking was cool. Nobody heard of trans fats or anything like that.

    Add on that television was poor quality. Exposure to the masses was limited to a game every Saturday with no commercial time outs.

    Aaah. Those were the days. Hockey was maybe crappy but it was the best hockey available at the time.
    Then when Mark Messier was tearing down the ice for the Oiler’s – he was a tank, but probably average size by today’s standards.

    10 years from now today’s hockey will likely seem slow. Hard to imagine to it’s likely.

    Classic hockey happens at a day and time. When watching, you’re glued to the edge of your seat and everything else in the world is put on-hold for time being.

    That was the Canada Cup but probably moreso, the ’72 series.
    I’m glad I was old enough to have lived through and enjoyed it.

    • Quicksilver ballet

      No way man, Juha Widing would have mopped the floor with Kharlamov.

      If you’re looking for a moral victory you’ll have to select a decade prior to 1980’s, decades that don’t include a guy named Wayne Gretzky. No one can match the 15 yrs Wayne put together from 1980-1995. His Corsi numbers were out of this world.

  • Lowetide

    Gretzky’s Corsi’s were probably so good they would have called it “Gretzky” if he’d played during the era the stat became commonplace.

    Wonderful start to the game. 1-1, Couturier with a strong move down the wing for a goal and Roy looking good against a stout Swedish team.

  • ItsTheBGB

    At the risk of sounding like the cranky old man sitting on the porch and yelling at the passing teenagers to pull up their pants and put their hats on straight…

    I’m not quite sure what Kharlamov would have been like. Didn’t really see enough of him. The flashes that we saw – the eight-game series in 1972, the various exhibition series in the 1970s, and whatever World Championships and Olympics he had, suggest he could have been great.

    Maybe Fedorov/Bure/Datsyuk great.

    But maybe not, either. Maybe he would have been a guy with decent hands and great wheels. Like Russ Courtnall. Or Mike Gartner.

    We’ll never know.

    But Gretzky? Nah.

    Somebody tried to make Gretzky comparisons with Larionov and, to me anyway, he looked like a slightly-tougher, defensively-aware version of Craig Janney.

  • Lowetide

    Great first period imo. Canada didn’t carry the play, but they were very physical and are just a filthy team to play against in either zone.

    Plus the hockey Gods are onside, with Oiler pick Curtis Hamilton scoring a bizarro goal. Stu MacGregor, you magnificent bastard!

  • ItsTheBGB

    Interesting that Bure and Federov are bring brought up as a comparison to Kharlamov.

    Most Russian hockey observers believe Valeri was better than both of them as a skater and a scorer.

    The reason this point is a bit moot, is that even had Kharlamov played in the 80s, the Russians would never have let him come over and play here.

  • a lg dubl dubl

    I was on the Oilers web page readin bout omark gettin sent back( a good thing imo) when 1 of the bloggers wrote that the Oil traded 4 max laperiere, can anybody tell me if this is true or not and if so who did montreal get?

  • Lowetide

    I don’t think we can ever agree on this kind of thing. Having said that, Kharlamov was a force in 1972 during the Canada-Russia series and he was in fact playing against the best our country had to offer at that time.

    So comparisons are always difficult, but let’s not throw Kharlamov under the bus. He was an elite player during his career and had an impact on all games we had the opportunity to see him in (Series, Olys).

    I don’t know that anyone can argue that point.

  • Quicksilver ballet

    Well, yeah, russ99, but it’s still fun to speculate, isn’t it?

    If Kharlamov had lived, maybe he would have defected. The Stastnys did. So did Mogilny. And Nedved.

    It wasn’t impossible to get over here … but in the case of the former Soviet Union, it didn’t happen much (Mogilny was the only dude above who defected).

    Plus, like I say, we never really saw enough of Kharlamov to know how he would have stacked up. The best comparisons we can make with him are his compatriots – guys like Fedorov and Bure and Mogilny and Datsyuk.

    My guess? He wouldn’t have been as good as any of them (Bure’s still the best Russian ever, but, in case you haven’t figured it out by now, my opinions are somewhat dicey).

  • a lg dubl dubl

    Thanks LT i was hoping it might have been for fraser, but im no gm who can live with a mistake like fraser, and lapierre would have been a bigger 3/4th line center than fraser imo.

  • Bure the best ever, Scott?

    What about Sergei Makarov? Or the entire KLM line, for that matter? (Krutov’s play in the NHL aside, of course.)

    I’d also say that Fedorov was a better all-around player than Bure—although the latter was certainly more exciting.

    Was Bure even aware there was a defensive zone?

  • Lowetide

    Sean from Edmonchuck…
    Makharov’s claim to fame, in my mind, was inspiring the age limit change for the Calder trophy after he stole it from Modano (or Roenick) in 1990. Other than that, he was a solid, if unspectacular, NHLer…and he arrived in his prime (albeit the back 9 of it).

    And that’s all I have to go on with guys like Makhorov and Krutov and Larionov – how they played in the NHL. And as NHLers, they weren’t as dynamic or productive (Larionov’s Stanley Cup ring excepted) as guys like Bure or Fedorov or even Mogilny. They just weren’t.

  • Reggie

    I think when you start talking about a game in the 70’s vs 80’s vs 90’s, etc. there are so many variables that have changed the performance of the players.

    My favorite is to look at the old tube skate blades and compare them to the technology of today. The difference is huge.

    How would you ever expect athletes from 35 years ago who didn’t train year round or took care of their bodies like today’s athletes would be able to be faster than today.

    Put today’s hockey players on tube skates and you will see them slow down as well.

    I don’t know a better answer to compare one generation to the next, but dismissing it as inferior because it doesn’t look as fast is not really giving it the due it deserves.

    I was almost nine on that new year’s eve game and to this day the part that stuck in my mind was the incredible play of Tretiak. It was after this game he became a house hold name in north america.