By Jim G. Scott
Thanks to our Digital Age, the original 1972 Canada-Russia Summit Series can be replayed in its entirety on various Youtube installments. However, only those of a particular vintage can recall the national angst, the shock of the opening 7-3 defeat in the hallowed Montreal Forum, and how a tense nation of 22 million ground to a halt to watch Paul Henderson’s heroic comeback goal that allowed Canada’s NHL players to claim victory in the eight-game series.
Fast forward 45 years, skip the NHL participation, and you have a commemorative showdown at Ottawa’s Jim Durrell Arena on a warm Friday afternoon in September. Okay the skill level may not have been equivalent, but the training methods of the 2017 Canadian team (a summer of beer and beach) matches that of the 1970’s pros. Clearly, the Russians have continued their tradition of combining skill and fitness to prepare for Canadian match-ups but unfortunately for them, the outcome was the same.
It was certainly not for any lack of fan support. The Esprit de Corps Commandos, augmented by welcome additions of Canadian Forces officers that otherwise offer competition in charity hockey games, often felt like the foreign contingent. (How did we get assigned the “Visitor’s” bench?). The stands were filled with over 500 Russian-flag waving partisans that cheered every Russian move. Russian Ambassador Alexander Darchiev opened the game with an inspirational speech and few Commandos doubted they were in for a hard battle. Commando coach and GM Scott Taylor earlier offered his own words of support in the dressing room: “We’re doomed”, (or at least the equivalent of ‘doomed’ that begins with ‘f’).
The Russian squad, -Red Machine- normally comprised only of Ottawa embassy staff, was also ‘augmented’…by an entire team of Toronto based, Division ‘A’ superstars called the Kremlins. At least former NHL Ottawa Senator Alexei Yashin wasn’t on the ice, as he had been in the original 2013 Commando/Red Machine match-up. (Canada lost that game 5:4). This time, Washington Capitals superstar Alexander Ovechkin sent along a video greeting, but thankfully was unavailable to actually play alongside his compatriots.
The Russian team quickly put on a display of pin-point passing and excellent puck control but the opening goal went to RCAF MGen. Al Meinzinger. With Commando net-minder Chris Corrossi flashing a hot glove and tracking the Russian attacks, that goal stood up through the first period.
Inevitably, the Red Machine's skills were going to count and the friendly crowd was rewarded with two Russian markers in the second period. The first goal was from Evgeniy Potrenko - The Red Machine's player of the game, and the second came from Igor Polansky. An extended intermission allowed both sides to regroup for the final frame and it turned out to be monumental.
Despite missing defensive stand-out Adam Peace and carrying several 50-somethings and even a 60-something on their roster, the Commandos valiantly fought back. The third period saw a swing in the board battles that led to a few offensive opportunities. Russian penalties served to stall their momentum and finally, Commando centre Thad Zeglen tied the game to quiet the crowd. Playing from the back-end, Esprit de Corps' own Ryan Lediett was finally able to cash in on a near breakaway that split the defenders and beat the goalie to make it 3-2.
Far from discouraging the Red Machine, the Commando lead kicked them into a higher gear. Wave after wave of Russian attackers crossed the Commando blue-line only to be thwarted by Corrossi and overworked defencemen Rob Olszak, Darren Kudrinko, and Ted Macias. With less than 5 seconds left on the clock, MGen Meinzinger picked up a loose puck near centre ice and lined up a shot at the empty Russian net. Final score 4-2. Maybe not a “miracle on ice” but it was an outcome that surprised pretty much everybody in the building.
Of course, this was a ‘friendly’ game and afterward all fans and players mixed in the arena auditorium for cold beverages and food. A shell-shocked Commando coach Taylor humbly accepted the trophy for the win from Ambassador Darchiev. It may be a short reign as “champions” but just like in 1972, Canada won the day.
For more photos go to: http://www.richardlawrencephotography.ca/clients/edec/summit2017/index.html