A couple of weeks ago, at our weekly hockey conclave, Pete Conacher mentioned that he’d recently had lunch with Dick Duff. He told us Duff was still steamed about a game he played with St. Mike’s almost sixty years ago. It was a Junior A playoff game against the St. Catharines TeePees. This tidbit particularly interested me because I had written about this game for The Canadian Book of Lists back in 1978.
I had two lists in the book: One was The Five Best Hockey Games Involving Canadians, and the other was The Ten Most Common Personal Financial Planning Mistakes.
Being curious about how many changes I would make to the lists today, thirty-five years after compiling the originals, I checked them out. I’ll deal with the financial planning mistakes in a future column, but this week let’s revisit The Five Best Hockey Games Involving Canadians. Here was my original list.
No surprise with number 1; it was the September 28, 1972 game between Team Canada and Russia at the Lenin Central Stadium in Moscow. Most everyone knows that Paul Henderson scored with just 34 seconds left in the game to give Canada a 6-5 victory in the game and a 4-3 victory in the series (one game was tied). This being the first time Canadian NHL players played against Russia’s best, there was unparalleled interest in this deciding game with millions watching on world-wide TV. I watched it on TV with a few hundred other people who were attending a conference at the Chateau Laurier Hotel in Ottawa. The tension and excitement in the room exceeded anything I’ve since experienced surrounding any sporting event, let alone a hockey game.
Number 2 on my list was another international tilt, this one on December 31, 1975 at the Montreal Forum. The Montreal Canadiens and the Russian Red Army team played to a 3-3 tie. I said at the time that, from an artistic standpoint, this was an almost perfect hockey game, and I still feel that way. It comprised a full sixty minutes of clean, fast-skating, pin-point passing, and hard-shooting hockey, with Russian goalie Vladislav Tretiak putting on a clinic. The reason I say “almost” perfect is that Ken Dryden was weak in the Canadiens’ net. This one I watched at home on TV.
At number 3 I had the September 10, 1976 game between Team Canada and Czechoslovakia, which had also been played at the Montreal Forum. This game, one of the first Canada Cup series of games, is easily the best game I ever attended. The Czechs beat Canada 1-0 in an absolute spine-tingler. Canada outshot the Czechs 29-23, but Czech goalie, Vladamir Dzurilla, was unbeatable. Rogie Vachon was almost as good for Team Canada but gave up a goal to Milan Novy at 15:41 of the third period. It’s worth noting that Canada went on to eliminate Czechoslovakia and win the tournament.
The game I placed number 4 on the 1978 list was the one that Dick Duff is still hot about because he still feels St. Mike`s should have won. The Junior A playoff game between the St. Catharines Tee Pees and Toronto St, Mike's was played at the Garden City Arena in St. Catharines on March 23, 1954. The 4,134 fans who showed up for the game that Thursday night were no doubt expecting that it would be a good one because there were a dozen or more future NHLers playing in it. But what they got was one of the most exciting hockey games ever played. Just consider the finish. With 20 seconds left in the game, his team behind 5-4, and a face-off deep in his own end, Tee Pee coach, Rudy Pilous, pulled his goalie. The Tee Pees surged up the ice and tied the game on a goal by Hugh Barlow with 12 seconds left. During the 10-minute-non-sudden-death overtime period Barlow scored again to put the Tee Pees up 6-5. Then with a minute to go, St. Mikes coach, Charlie Cerre, pulled his goalie. Jim Logan scored for St. Mikes with 42 seconds left to tie the game at 6-6, which is how it ended. For the record, the Tee Pees eventually eliminated St. Mikes and went on to beat the Edmonton Oil Kings for the Memorial Cup. I listened to this game on the radio, with the inimitable Rex Stimers doing the play-by-play on St. Catharines station CKTB.
The number 5 game on my 1978 list was one that I also heard on the radio. It was played on April 21, 1951 at Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto, a game in which the Leafs beat the Canadiens to win the Stanley Cup four games to one. With only 32 seconds left in the game, Montreal leading 2-1, and the Leafs having pulled their goalie, Tod Sloan scored on Gerry MacNeil to send the game into overtime. It was Sloan’s second goal of the night and which made it the fifth consecutive game between these two teams that would be decided in overtime. But that wasn’t the only drama this night. The incomparable Rocket Richard had scored one of the Canadiens’ goals with the other being scored by Paul Meger, whose career was soon to be cut short when a skate pierced his brain. At 2:53 of the first overtime period, Leaf defenceman Bill Barilko scored the cup-winning goal. Barilko would never play another game; he died in a plane crash shortly thereafter. His goal was also important from another standpoint; many old timers said it was the first overtime, cup-winning goal ever scored on a slapshot.
Would I change the list today? Yes, I would. I would add the Olympic Gold Medal game between Canada and the USA played in Vancouver on February 28, 2010; another game that I watched on TV. You’ll all recall that it was an unbelievably exciting game with a Hollywood-script finish. Canada was leading 2-1 when Zach Parise tied it with 35 seconds to go. Then after seven minutes and forty seconds of heart-stopping end-to-end overtime, Sidney Crosby scored to win it for Canada.
Which game on my 1978 list would I drop? None. I’d simply change the list to the Six Best Hockey Games Involving Canadians.