Books and DVDs revive forgotten hockey history
Thursday, 16 August 2007
Originally published on IHWC.NET in 2007
By Lucas Aykroyd
If you’re a Swedish hockey fan, you surely remember where you were when Nicklas Lidstrom scored the Olympic-winning goal versus Finland last year. If you’re a Slovak hockey fan, you must recall what you were doing when Peter Bondra’s late goal lifted Slovakia over Russia in the 2002 IIHF World Championship final.
But insight on certain noteworthy events in international hockey history has been as hard to find as a puck at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean–probably because our natural tendency is to focus on winners and overlook what didn’t end with a championship trophy or parade.
In 2006, three excellent new releases illuminated some of these lesser-known events from 1972, 1974, and 1987.
Striking Silver: The Untold Story of America’s Forgotten Hockey Team by Tom and Jerry Caraccioli is a 234-page investigation of the USA’s 1972 Olympic team, which shockingly captured second place in Sapporo. The authors were inspired by the example of Pete Sears, their junior hockey coach, who served as a backup goalie on that team.
The book captures the flavour of the era, describing how players like Dick McGlynn and Tim Sheehy faced the prospect of being drafted to fight in the Vietnam War. “It always stood out in my mind that [Head Coach] Murray [Williamson] knew there were about five of us in the Army…and he told us—either you make the team or you go to Saigon.” There are also descriptions of the camaraderie that emerged between the American and Russian teams, despite Cold War tensions, over vodka and caviar. From the USA’s unusually rigorous pre-Olympic conditioning routine to the performance of 16-year-old defenseman and future US Hockey Hall of Famer Mark Howe, this is a superb retrospective on the first Olympic hockey tournament ever held in Japan.
Team Canada 1974: The Lost Series offers 14 hours and 20 minutes of DVD footage from the eight-game 1974 series between the World Hockey Association and the Soviet national team, which saw the USSR triumph with four wins, three ties, and one loss. Although the first of the four games played in Moscow is omitted due to poor video quality, the remaining seven provide top-notch hockey entertainment. Bobby Hull and Gordie Howe are both superb to watch despite being slightly past their prime, and seeing Valeri Kharlamov and Alexander Yakushev handle the puck is a true pleasure.
In case you’re strapped for time, the package includes an old documentary on the series from the Hockey Hall of Fame and Hockey Canada that captures all the highlights, including some almost amusingly technical analyses of the Soviet passing style.
When the Lights Went Out: How One Brawl Ended Hockey’s Cold War and Changed the Game by Gare Joyce was published to coincide with the 20th anniversary of the infamous “Piestany Punchup” at the 1987 IIHF World Junior Championship in Czechoslovakia. The bench-clearing brawl between Canada and the Soviet Union led to the disqualification of both teams and the awarding of the gold medal to a country that ranked a distant sixth among world hockey powers in those days: Finland. Clearly, it was a scenario where players, coaches, and officials all could have handled themselves better, and it’s hard to imagine how an author could spin 346 pages out of this one ugly incident.
But Joyce, who currently writes for ESPN The Magazine, offers incredible depth and insight into his subjects, even tracking down the unfortunate referee who oversaw the game, Norway’s Hans Ronning. He goes beyond the tale of the tape to document Canada’s improvement in team discipline at future World Junior tournaments, the difficulty of getting to grips with how the ’87 Russians feel today about Piestany, and the impact this one game had on individual lives for decades to come, among other topics. “Twenty years after Piestany,” Joyce writes, “[Brendan Shanahan] was showing the good that comes from everyone–players and management–working together with…respect.”