People & Culture

Excerpt from The Greatest Comeback: How Team Canada fought back, took the Summit Series, and reinvented hockey

Through fresh reporting and new perspectives, best-selling author John U. Bacon captures some of the best moments in Canadian sports history 

  • Sep 02, 2022
  • 708 words
  • 3 minutes
After being called for a dubious interference penalty by Josef Kompalla—Canada's third penalty in the first 4:10 of Game Eight—J.P. Parisé hit his stick against the ice, prompting Kompalla to give him a 10-minute misconduct. Parisé went berserk, threatening to bring his stick down on Kompalla's head. After 15 minutes of mayhem, Parisé was ejected, and Pete Mahovlich took his place. (Photo: Frank Lennon/Library and Archives Canada, E010933347)
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The second the players walked into the lobby of the Intourist Hotel, designated solely for foreigners, they were welcomed with warm hugs and kisses from their wives, which they had expected. But they also received booming cheers from some 3,000 raucous Canadian tourists, which they definitely had not expected.

The Canadians, Sports Illustrated reported, came “supplied with beer, Scotch, mineral water, steak, Coca-Cola, towels, soap, toilet paper, miniature maple leaf buttons, regulation Canadian flags, enough gum to dam the Moskva River, and enough clothes to outfit the Soviet Army for the next 10 years.”

The Canadian travel agents had gotten the fans into the hotel the day before the players arrived, and they seemed to have spent the entire 24 hours getting a head start on the hotel’s ample sup- plies of world-class vodka. It was immediately clear that the hearty souls who made the rigorous and expensive trip were hard-core fans. There were no lightweights in that lobby.

Before meeting up at the Toronto airport for their flight, the wives knew only the women whose husbands played for the same team. The spouses effectively lived in the same silos the NHL had built for their husbands. But unlike their husbands, these women didn’t hesitate to get to know each other, so by the time they landed in Moscow they had already made lifelong friends. They’d also made a few friends among the fans, who had starting their ascent well before the plane’s.

With two minutes left in Game Seven, Paul Henderson kept repeating to himself, "We need a goal, we need a goal." He went around two defencemen, then popped the puck over Tretiak's shoulder as he was tripped. When Henderson returned to their hotel room, "I told Eleanor, 'I will never score a bigger goal in my life! I can die a happy man now.'" He was only half right. (Photo: Frank Lennon/Library and Archives Canada, E010933339)
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“We were put on the plane with 200 drunk Canadians who already had their bottles,” recalls Joy Berenson, who had to leave her four children, between two and 10 years old, with her mother. Despite the disappointing start to the series, “None of the fans gave us any hard questions, and everyone was very kind to us, very respectful. No one asked us what had happened in the Canadian games.”

When the players heard 3,000 fans give them a raucous reception, after they had been hounded by the fans and media in Canada and Sweden, it got to them.

“Over the years, I guarantee you I’ve talked to at least a thousand of them who went over there,” Henderson says. “About 10 years after the series, Eleanor and I were in Windsor [Ontario] when two women came up to us to say they found out that they could go to Russia for 500 bucks, ‘And we had the time of our life, just on a whim. The time of our life!’

“Our little village of Lucknow, with less than a thousand people, had folks going. Our next-door neighbours came over to Russia. You look around that lobby at a few thousand Canadians you didn’t expect to see and you think, ‘Holy crap, these guys must’ve spent a lot of money over here!’ Other people who passed up their chance to go tell us, ‘Dammit all! We missed the chance of a lifetime!’ And they did!”

Bob Clarke says of Paul Henderson, "I'm sorry, but you do not score three goals to win three straight games by luck. In that series, Paul was simply that good of a player." Phil Esposito recalls "looking over at Paul. he looked so worn out, like he'd played 20 games in a row and couldn't play another. He'd used it all up." (Photo: Frank Lennon/Library and Archives Canada, E010933346)
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When Sharon Seiling ran up to her husband to give him a hug and a kiss, he recalls, “It gave you a sense of home.”

Most of the players hadn’t been home since August 13, more than a month earlier, and they wouldn’t be back until the end of September.

“We were used to long road trips,” Seiling adds. “That’s not out of the ordinary. But these were not ordinary conditions.”

Sharon told him, with a mischievous grin, “Just wait till you see our room!”

“Well, tell me about it,” Rod said. “No no—just wait till you see it.”

“So we go up to our room,” Seiling says, “and it’s just one of the worst rooms I’d ever seen. We had two beds basically made out of plywood, and what they called a mattress was an inch thick. I just looked at Sharon and said, ‘Just one more thing.’

“‘It’s like a Third World country!’ she replied. “‘But it is what it is, so let’s make the best of it.’ It wasn’t like someone else got a better room.”

Listen to John U. Bacon, author of The Greatest Comeback, discuss the Summit Series and his novel with David McGuffin on episode 47 of the Explore Podcast. 

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