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Climbing to the summit
Date: Sunday, August 07, 2005
Source: By Douglas Fisher, Toronto Sun


The 1972 Canada-Russia hockey summit still stirs passions. Patrick Kryczka, for example, has been working to have his late father Joe made a member of the Hockey Hall of Fame, for his role in making the hockey summit happen.

In a recent news story, Kryczka said he wanted people to know that “it wasn’t just Alan Eagleson. There was a team, and Charlie Hay and Joe Kryczka were the lead negotiators.”

Another recent news story had Eagleson remarking that mentions of his role in the series have being disappearing, undoubtedly because of the shadow cast by his court convictions two decades later and the recall of his Order of Canada.

The events of ’72 interest me because I represented the Trudeau government on the board of Hockey Canada and the elder Kryczka was then president of the Canadian Amateur Hockey Association (CAHA), and Canada’s representative to the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF).

In 1969, Hockey Canada had been created by the feds to supplement the CAHA in international hockey — to ice the best Canadian players (i.e., NHLers) and challenge the Soviet team, perennial champions in the IIHF’s annual world championship.

The IIHF prohibited professionals from playing on national teams. Canada’s national teams kept losing their best players to the NHL, and therefore repeatedly lost world championships while Russians won them, to the festering chagrin of Canadian fans. The Russians had great pride in their teams and wanted to play the professionals, but not if this cost them Olympic entry.

The NHL owners and managers — with the exception of Stafford Smythe, then co-owner with Harold Ballard of the Toronto Maple Leafs — had little enthusiasm for playing the Russians. Nor was the CAHA enthusiastic to represent such a plan at the IIHF. The NHL bigwigs figured any NHL team could wallop the Russians, as did lots of their players.

Trudeau had no particular interest in hockey but he had assured his sport minister, John Munro, of financial and diplomatic backing. As the government’s man on Hockey Canada’s board, I was involved in connecting and following the bargainers in this negotiation, working closely with a superb federal official, Lou Lefaive. We brokered the efforts and put out the fires of competing contempts and jealousies among the disparate cast in this populist play-the-Russians scenario.

The most useful, and also the most difficult, character was Alan Eagleson, leader of his own creation, the NHL Players Association (NHLPA). It was clear to me and Munro that Eagleson was the best bet for access to the best players, particularly in convincing the American owners of NHL teams not to blackball the effort. Eagleson had his own “union” reasons for a new track of play between national teams but as I came to know him, his motive was mostly sheer nationalism; he was outraged the USSR should be known as hockey’s champion.

Charlie Hay, a retired petroleum CEO, was Hockey Canada’s chairman. He concentrated on the NHL owners. The CAHA was represented at the Hockey Canada table by Joe Kryczka and secretary Gordon Juckes. The latter was shrewd and fair-minded whereas Kryczka was flamboyant, effusive, often belligerent. These were also traits of Eagleson, a fellow lawyer. It was noisy, often riotous when the two were at the same table.

Although Eagleson had done his own, indeterminate soundings with the Russians, Hay chose Kryczka and Juckes as his negotiating cohorts. Kryczka got along well with the Russians because he could speak their language.

After almost two years of preliminaries involving scores of hockey officials, in April 1972, the Hay-Kryczka-Juckes trio got an agreement with the Russians for a September series of eight games — four in Canada, four in the USSR. Once the agreement was signed, any public focus shifted from getting the series (which was Kryczka’s part in the event) and turned to the series itself.

Where would the games be played; how should tickets be sold; what referees would be used; who would manage, coach, and select the team, etc.? This is when Eagleson shot to the fore, fast becoming the leader and public face for all plans.

It’s forgotten that he bought the TV rights for $750,000, plus a big share of any profits beyond that — when it was far from certain there would be any profit. Post-victory, we had more than broken even. It was clear the games had roused Canadians as never before.

Eagleson came with a lot of harsh talk and hyperbole, but by and large he delivered. It beats me why the Hockey Hall of Fame has not chosen the late Joe Kryczka as a “builder,” but whatever Eagleson’s subsequent transgressions, any fair dramatization of the ’72 series is fictional if he isn’t the most pivotal character in a large and bristly cast.

The Toronto Sun
Copyright © 2004, SunMedia Corp.