Game 4, Vancouver, Sept. 8, 1972

After the debacle in Montreal, no doubt many Canadian hockey fans consoled themselves by thinking, “Well, at least it can’t get any worse than that.”

It could. And did.

The Vancouver game, the fourth in seven nights for the still beer-bellied, out-of-synched Canadians, would prove to be the low point of the Canadian leg of the series. While the game itself is best forgotten from a Canadian point of view, it would provide one of the indelible moments in Canadian sports history, but only post-game.

Nothing about this game was good for Canada. It began poorly and went downhill.

Bill Goldsworthy took a penalty at 1:24 of the first period, on perhaps his first shift of the series. The Russians scored right away, with Boris Mikhailhov deftly deflecting a shot past Ken Dryden, back in net for the first time since Game 1. Incredibly, Goldsworthy took another penalty at 5:58 for trying to remove a Soviet player’s head from his body, using his elbow as the scalpel. And again with Goldsworthy in the box, the Russians scored another redirection goal, and Canada was down by two not even halfway through the period. And for the first time, loud booing was heard. Whether the booing was over the penalty call, or Canada’s performance, is hard to tell. Later, however, there would be no doubt as to the reason for the fans’ displeasure.

In the second period, speedy Gilbert Perrault scored a lucky goal, a deflection off a Soviet stick, and the wilting Canadians were back in the game.  But not for long — Yuri Blinov converted a two-on-one at 6:34, and the mood shifted from hopeful to ugly. The Vancouver fans, cementing their reputation as the worst in Canada, jeered Dryden when he made routine saves. When Canada got chances, like Yvan Cournoyer going in alone on a feed from Esposito, Tretiak was there. Indeed, Tretiak was outstanding when called upon, including a stunning steal in the third.

Nothing went right for Canada. Rod Gilbert had a goal nullified for kicking it into the net, while the replay showed Gilbert may have redirected it, but not kicked it. (There was no video review back in the day.) Before the period was done, so was Canada. The Russians went ahead 4-1at 13:52, and ripple of applause was heard when the Russian goal was announced. Moments later, Frank Mahovlich collided with Tretiak, and proceeded to use him as a La-Z-By for about 10 seconds, making no effort to let Tretiak back on his feet. It was a painfully obvious foul, but Mahovlich was not penalized. The fans were not impressed, and boos rained down upon the team. Mahovlich would later say he was shocked by the crowd’s reaction.

Trailing by three going into the final period, there was no reason for optimism. Bill Goldsworthy, of all people, got credit for a goal at 6:54, but that whispy flicker of hope was snuffed out at 11:05 when the Russians regained their three-goal advantage.

Late in the game, the booing intensified; Goldsworthy was so upset by it, he would later say he was ashamed to be a Canadian. When Shadrin scored at 11:05 to make it 5-2, the outcome was a certainty. Denis Hull, brother of the missing Bobby (who had the temerity of join the WHA’s Winnipeg Jets, resulting in his exclusion from the series and a national outcry at the American masters of our game), scored a goal at 19:38 that made the game sound slightly more respectable.

The only memorable moment for Canada came post-game, courtesy Phil Esposito, who had emerged as the unquestioned leader of the Canadian squad. Bathed in sweat, Esposito told Canada how shocked and disgusted he was by the booing. The Canadians, he said, were playing only because they loved Canada, and to have that love spurned by angry fans baffled and angered Esposito.Watch it here:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bFKvB3Wnzgk

Esposito practically willed Canada to victory in the series, but his greatest achievement might have been that inspiring post-game speech. I know I was cheering him on.

With that, the Canadian leg was over. Team Canada limped out of the great white north, heads hung low, baffled by what had transpired, ears still ringing with the jeers of the Vancouver fans. Now, it was on to Moscow on Sept. 22nd, and nobody wanted a break from the series more than me. The series was so all consuming, so intense, it was basically all you could think about on game days, and in between for that matter. Nobody knew that the events in Moscow of Sept. 22-28 would make the Canadian games of Sept. 2-8 seem as intense as pre-season hockey.

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