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Summit Series Celebrations – Matt Fisher Column « Douglas Fisher

Fisher

 

Alan Eagleson shunned in Summit Series celebrations
September 1, 2012
By Matthew Fisher, Post Media

Alan Eagleson says the 1972 Summit Series started out as a six-nation tournament but logistics scuttled the plan.

Other than Paul Henderson, who scored the momentous come-from-behind goal, and Phil Esposito, the inspirational captain of the first Team Canada, Alan Eagleson has probably been the Canadian most identified with the epochal hockey series that Canada’s pros played 40 years ago this September against Russia’s “amateurs.”

But Eagleson, who promoted the series, and whose reputation took a severe beating after he was convicted of fraud and embezzlement in 1998 in the U.S. and Canada relating to his activities as a player agent, head of the NHL Players’ Association and promoter of Canada Cup tournaments, will not be part of any festivities marking what many Canadians and Russians alike believe was the greatest series of hockey matches ever played.

The Russians, he said, had invited him to join them for their Summit Series celebrations but for family reasons he is unable to make the journey now, although he hopes to be there in November.

“The Russians treat me better than Canadians. What can I do except laugh about it,” Eagleson said in the second of two interviews conducted earlier this summer and this week.

That cold shoulder stems from the lingering anger felt by many of the players he once represented, whose pensions and disability insurance he skimmed. After his conviction and brief imprisonment, Eagleson was disbarred as a lawyer, removed from the Order of Canada and forced to resign from the Hockey Hall of Fame when 19 inducted players threatened to do the same if he was not removed.

Eagleson, who remains spry at 79 years of age and is still fond of using colourful language, said the Summit Series’ most significant achievement was that it brought Canada’s top players into international hockey for the first time.

“The biggest thing was after having watched our so-called amateur teams or reinstated pros and totally amateur teams losing year after year, here was the first step when our best played against their best,” he said, “although we did not finally get all the way there until Nagano [the 1998 Winter Olympics]. It took until then because although the IIHF had agreed that the NHL players could participate in Calgary [the 1988 Winter Olympics], the NHL would only release four borderline NHLers.”

Before the 1972 series began in Montreal, Eagleson, like most other Canadians, “thought we’d win all eight [games] by at least 5-1 because we had come close so many times with non-NHLers.” His worst moment came in the first game when the Russians came back to tie the score at the end of the first period and went ahead by two goals in the second period.

“We knew at 4-2 that these guys could play hockey and that [Vladislav] Tretiak could stop the puck,” he said.

The series not only represented a rude awakening for Canadian hockey, “It was an eye opener for the Soviets, too,” he continued. “It brought the Soviet players to a level of competence that they had never explored. I think what it did for Russian hockey was show them how good they could be.”

Eagleson and others were trying to organize a tournament for the fall of 1972 that would have involved six countries but getting all parties to agree was proving to be a nightmare. My father, Doug Fisher, a Hockey Canada board member who later became its president and chairman had had dealings with Russian hockey officials and “called me to say that there was a chance to get this done with them alone,” Eagleson said. “Here I was thinking six countries and Doug was only thinking Canada and Russia, which turned out to be a far better idea.”

It was my father, Eagleson added, who insisted that “the Eagle” go down to the dressing room between the second and third period of the last game in Moscow to explain to the players that the most senior Soviet hockey official — Alexander Gresko — had informed them that if the game was tied at the end of the third period the Russians intended to declare victory because they had a better goal differential.

“I had never been in a dressing room between periods before but I went down and told the players that these bastards were trying to screw us,” Eagleson said.

As for how he planned to remember the moment on September 28 when Henderson electrified Canada by slipping the puck past Tretiak, “I’ll be quietly making a champagne toast to our team,” Eagleson said.

@PostMedia


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