In Vancouver they were practically booed off the ice and deservedly so. Then Phil Esposito took over. He told Canada, “Hey, we were caught with our pants down. And we’re in half shape but we’re going to get in top shape. And, believe me, we’re going to win this cotton-pickin’ thing.” And they did. As far as I’m concerned Esposito turned in the greatest effort by an individual in any sport. Without Espo we don’t win that series. He was absolutely the best performer I’ve ever seen in any series.
We had a lot of guys play the best hockey they ever played in that series. The little red-headed guy from Chicago–Pat Stapleton–that little son-of-a-gun played super hockey. As did Serge Savard, the big Canadiens’ star. He was the key man back on defense, coming back from a leg injury he suffered in Vancouver. A lot of people don’t know he had to play hurt in the games in Moscow.
What hurt the Russians badly was losing their best player, Kharlamov. It was a very tough, mean, good player for Team Canada, Bobby Clarke, who took out Kharlomov with a chop to the ankle. Kharlamov was their best goal scorer, their best player to go wide around a not-too-mobile Canadian defense and that was a big blow to the Russians. It’s funny, you don’t see Clarke’s check on Kharlamov in replays of the game. I think the people who edited the plays said, “Lookit boys, let’s burn that one.”
The goaltending was comme ci, comme ca. Dryden was good at times, and then not so good. But I’ll say this. The key was Canada being down two goals with a period to play in game eight. And Dryden came up with three great saves after Canada got within one goal. He doesn’t make those stops and we don’t win the series.
The impact of the series on hockey? Nothing at all. We didn’t learn anything from it. We still haven’t learned anything from it. If you want offense you go to Europe. If you want defense, with tough guys, hard working guys, you go to Canada. So I guess there was one impact. The NHL owners figured, if we’re going to expand, we have to go to Europe to find some talent.
You’ve got to give Team Canada full marks for what they achieved. Everybody in the world counted them out except themselves. They showed people it’s our game and we play it better than anybody else. But gee, the ability to be able to say that grows less and less until we start teaching our kids the skills of the game. Until we start teaching skills we’re going to be in big trouble in international hockey.”