Friday, August 14, 2015

DAY ONE FOR TEAM CANADA 1972

Today, marks the 43rd anniversary of the first workout for Team Canada 1972. The collection of Canada's hockey elite gathered on a summer day at Maple Leaf Gardens to prepare for their eight-game series against Russia.

Last month, former NHL defenceman, Bill White, was the special guest of Mike Wilson (The Ultimate Leafs Fan) for his 'Inside the Room' series of hockey talks.


A member of Team Canada 1972, White discussed his participation in what many consider to be the greatest hockey series ever played.

However, before getting into his Team Canada experience, White provided a brief history of his journey up hockey's ladder.

"I was brought up in the Toronto Maple Leafs chain," White began. "I started my career with Shopsy's and worked my way through the minor system with the Marlboros. I played Junior "A" with them."

After his time in junior came to a close, White remained in the Leafs organization.

"Then, it came time to turn pro with Punch Imlach at the Leafs training camp in Peterborough," White told the gathering. "The Leafs were well stocked with defensemen and I was assigned to Rochester in the American Hockey League."

White noted that he, "spent two seasons in Rochester before being traded to Springfield in a 5-for-1 trade for Kent Douglas."

In Springfield, White played for the legendary Eddie Shore. A standout defenceman with the Boston Bruins (1926-27 to 1939-40), Shore captured the Hart Memorial Trophy (League MVP) three-times.

When he ran the AHL franchise in Springfield, Shore ruled with an iron-fist. His coaching and management methods were considered to be extreme and antiquated.

"Eddie was getting a little out of hand and suspending players and going crazy," White recalled. "Dale Rolfe, Dave Amadio and I went on strike. We told Eddie we're not playing at this time.

Both sides dug in their heels and wouldn't budge.

"He tried to get some players in to play in our places," White said of Shore's initial response. "We got Brian Kilrea (involved) and there was a young lawyer at that time by the name of Alan Eagleson in Toronto. He came down with one of his partners, Bob Watson, and we gave Eddie an ultimatum - you either lighten up or you lose your franchise."

Sticking to their guns, White and his teammates prevailed.

"Eddie reluctantly gave in," White noted of the final outcome. "A lot of us feel that was the start of the players' association."

When expansion occurred in 1967, Jack Kent Cooke was awarded an NHL team in Los Angeles and the Springfield club served as his main farm team.

The new landscape allowed Bill White and many of his colleagues to make the leap into the National Hockey League. Following two seasons in the big-show, White established himself as a solid NHL defenceman.

In year three with Los Angeles, White and the Kings began to have their differences. White told a story about how Cooke misinterpreted a comment he made.

"One time, I was in the whirlpool looking after a knee injury. A reporter asked me how I liked LA. I said it was beautiful and there was a lot to see. But being from back east, I still liked the four seasons. I found the hot weather and playing hockey very strange. They didn't seem to go together. So, Mr. Cooke took from that that I didn't like LA."

Contract squabbles eventually led to White's departure from sunny California. He was dealt to the Chicago Blackhawks on February 20, 1970.

"When I played against the the Hawks when I was with LA, I loved the Chicago Stadium and the crowd. I liked the size of the rink. In my estimation it was perfectly built for a defenceman."

Teamed with Pat Stapleton on Chicago's blueline, the pairing soon found their groove. Asked by former Toronto Sun reporter, John Iaboni, as to why the combination worked so well, White replied, "I don't know why, we never practiced anything, it just worked out."

By the time the selection process began for Team Canada 1972, White and Stapleton were at the top of their game and earned invitations.

"I was at the cottage and I was asked if I'd like to be part of it," White remembered about the telephone call he received. "To this day, I thought I was going down to the Gardens for a tryout."

This brings us to day one for Team Canada 1972 on August 14, 1972.

"The first fellow I met in the parking lot on Wood Street was Frank Mahovlich," White recalled of his arrival on day one. "We walked into the dressing room and here's all these players we just finished playing against. There were four or five guys from each (NHL) team. A lot of us weren't the best of friends. It was a whole different feeling in that dressing room. It took time before you could see things blending together."

As the start of the Summit Series approached, the Russian's remained to be a mystery.

"We knew they won the Olympics and World Championships," White said of Russia's track record. "In the scouting reports they mostly talked about Tretiak (Russia's goalie). They said he couldn't stop a balloon. As it turned out, he was pretty good."

Harry Sinden's line-up sheet for game one in Montreal didn't include Bill White and Pat Stapleton. Did this omission surprise White? "No, because we were told we were only going to play in one game and maybe that wasn't our game. I was disappointed by the final score."

Canadian fans hoping for a knock-out punch in game one, were floored when Russia toppled Team Canada by a score of 7-3.

On the sidelines for game one, White and Stapleton hooked-up with their teammates during the first intermission.

"We watched in the crowd and the team started out well. After the first period we went into the dressing room and you could see the guys were starting to fade because of the lack of conditioning."

I asked White about the mood in the room following the crushing defeat.

"It was quiet and there was a real sense we could be losing our national pride. Especially, when we thought it was our game. There was a little panic involved."

The lopsided victory for the visitors in the opener, resulted in adjustments being made by Canada.

"After that, Harry Sinden and John Ferguson made changes and we (White & Stapleton) played the next seven games."

Game two at Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto ended with Team Canada pulling even with their opponent in the win column.

"The second game was very important. That had to be won," White stressed. "From there, we went to Winnipeg and tied and lost the last game (on Canadian soil) in Vancouver."

Canada's inability to explode out of the gate on their home turf and establish consistency in their game allowed Russia to gain the upper hand. The stakes were high and other factors began to creep into the storyline.

"The series was formed to improve the relationship between the two countries," White noted of its original intention. "Then, the roof fell in. A lot of pride was at stake now and it didn't turn into a friendly situation. It became a very political war against two systems. It really wan't pretty."

Bill White still remembers the aftermath following game four.

"We left Vancouver on a bad note as we were booed off the ice. Phil Esposito made his famous speech after the game. That is when Phil actually became our captain. Although there was no captain, that's when he became our leader."

Prior to landing in Russia for the last-leg of the competition, Team Canada touched down in Sweden to face their national team. The stopover did a world of good for the Canadian squad.

"When we went to Sweden that's when the team really came together," White stated. "The guys started to know each other."

More importantly, their physical conditioning was improving. After going through an off-season, it took time for them to get their game legs and hands in gear.

"The Russian's would take one month off. They were ready and prepared. We went into Russia and we were ready."

With a renewed sense of urgency and energy, Team Canada was determined to turn their fortunes around in Russia.

It came down to game eight for all the marbles. After Paul Henderson connected for the go-ahead goal late in the third period of the final encounter, Harry Sinden went with Bill White and Pat Stapleton to defend the lead.

"We looked over at the bench and no one was really getting up," White said with a chuckle.

Russia's lack of a counter-attack for the equalizer baffled White.

"I was really surprised. I had the puck just inside my blueline and I lobbed it out and their defenceman picked it up before the icing call."

Finally, I asked White to name the Russian player he was most impressed with. He immediately identified Alexander Maltsev.

"He was a very elusive player. He never said much, but always seemed to be in the right place at the right time."

The right place and time for Team Canada 1972 was 43-year-ago today, when they stepped onto the ice at Maple Leaf Gardens and began their historic adventure.






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