Of Summits and Supers: Why the 2007 Super Series is Important When a Russian submarine planted the country’s

flag on the seabed of the North Pole earlier this year, it marked the latest and most public in a series of political gestures aimed at showing the international community that Russia is one of the big boys once again. Their recent missile tests, their threats to increase military presence in and around Europe, and their open contempt for the policies of other G8 nations has been accompanied by a surge in nationalistic extremism, creating a volatile atmosphere where the most inflamatory of rhetoric flourishes; an unsettling and potentially dangerous diplomatic cocktail with far-reaching influence and consequences. Granted, this is a far cry from 1972, in the middle of the Cold War, when bombers constantly patrolled international airspace, ready to strike in a moment’s notice with enough firepower to annihilate the world. In those days, Russia was the biggest threat to western democratic stability. These days, democratic authorities in Europe and North America are mainly concerned with Islamic extremists, and any worry of nuclear attack is in the form of a terrorist with a briefcase, not a superpower with an ICBM. Still, the mood of the current Russian grandstanding evokes comparisons to Cold War times, a fact that Russia is more than willing to admit. So, when Russian Ice Hockey Federation head Vladislav Tretiak suggested Canada and Russia rekindle their hockey rivalry with a tribute to the Summit Series that took place 35 years earlier, it raised more than a few eyebrows. The Summit Series was as much about politics as it was about hockey. Both Canada and Russia claimed they had the best hockey players in the world. The Canadians based this claim on the fact that Canadian players dominated the NHL, the top professional hockey league in the world. The Russians said they were the best because they dominated the Olympics, where only amateurs could compete, which excluded the best in Canadian hockey, but allowed all of the top Russian players to play because they were technically considered amateurs under IOC rules. The Summit Series pitted the best hockey players from each country against each other, regardless of pro or amateur status, for the first time in history, in order to decide who was truly number one. Yet the series was more than Canada vs. Russia. With the constant tension between Soviets and Americans, the world’s two superpowers locked in a global game of espionage and influence, and Canada’s deep alliance to the USA, the Summit Series came to represent a clash of civilizations. It was capitalism vs. communism; two ideals battling it out through an 8-game sporting event. The Canadians underestimated the Russians. They fell behind early in the series and were pushed to the brink of failure before recovering and winning the final three games, a comeback capped by Paul Henderson’s iconic goal in the final minute of Game 8. That goal became a staple of Canadian identity, and the series became an instant classic. Canada had won. Democracy had won. The Soviets had proven they were no joke

when it came to hockey, but the loss was still a huge blow to Soviet pride; a wound that never quite healed, all the way to the collapse of the Berlin wall some seventeen years later. Fast forward to 2007: when Tretiak floated the idea of another Summit Series in January, he was met with considerable skepticism. Professional hockey players were now competing in numerous international competitions, including the Olympics, the World Cup of Hockey, and the IIHF World Championship. Another Summit Series seemed unnecessary. Meanwhile, Russia’s abrasive posturing and maneuvering had extended into the world of hockey, where they continually refused to sign a transfer agreement with the NHL, making it more difficult for Russian players to leave their Russian teams and join the league if drafted. Russia’s reasoning for this was that they were tired of their best young players leaving the country en masse to play in North America. Why should the NHL reap the benefits of their development programs? Layered inside this conflict between the NHL and Russia was the Russian sentiment that they were producing the best hockey talent in the world, and should be treated accordingly. A very brash assumption, yet not without merit: Russia’s junior team had made the finals of the IIHF World Juniors in 8 of the past 10 years, more than any other nation, including Canada, the team they faced in 5 of the last 6 of those finals. So it was decided that Russia and Canada would put together under-20 teams for a new Summit Series. The format of the new series, dubbed the Super Series, mimicked that of the Summit Series: 4 consecutive games in each nation for a total of 8 games, and no overtime or shootouts. On paper, the two series’ shared much, but the results were very different. Canada easily cruised to a 7-0-1 record, embarrassing the Russians with numerous blowout victories and dominating them physically, despite their lack of preparation when compared to the Russian team, which had been practicing for a month and even played exhibition games against Russian Super League teams. Canada’s success was total, from their skill and presence on the ice to their work behind the bench, led by head coach Brent Sutter, whose coaching record with Canada’s junior now stands at an unprecedented 19-0-1. The Russians were beside themselves. After all that had been said, it was thought that this series would be a dogfight down to the final game, as in `72. In suggesting that Canada and Russia play another Summit Series, the Russians had hoped to once again shock Canada and send a message to the world. In the end, it was they who received the shock, and the message was sent to them, loud and clear: you are no longer the Soviet Union. It was definitely not a memorable series, and it will never hold a candle to the Summit Series of 1972 in any way, but the Super Series was still an important series. Just

as the Summit Series provided an arena for a clash of conflicting ideals and dominant hockey nations who were very evenly matched, the Super Series showed the world that Russia’s current boasts of renewed power and pride, on and off the ice, are really just a lot of hot air.