Remembering the roid rage from famous ’72 hockey series

By Doug Herod

Doug Herod

Doug Herod

Sporting events don’t come any more memorable for me than the 1972 hockey summit series between Canada and those Commies from the Soviet Union.

My brothers and I nearly punched holes in our living room ceiling when Paul Henderson scored the winning goal with 34 seconds to go in the final game.

So, good on the team members, Brock University, Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame and Hockey Canada for partnering on a legacy project to ensure future generations don’t forget the series and the surrounding political drama.

In keeping the flame alive, though, organizers may want to filter any future comments made by team assistant captain Phil Esposito.

Now, I don’t want to be too hard on Esposito.

He was, inarguably, the heart and soul of that team, almost willing Canada to victory with his relentless, nay, maniacal drive.

And there’s the St. Catharines connection, too. Esposito played the 1961-62 season for the city’s Junior A team. (Trivia note: It was the year the team started the transition from the Teepees to the Black Hawks. Esposito modelled the new sweater in a photo that ran in The Standard.)

Still, the man has a way of blurting things out with something less than intellectual vigour.

During a conference call this week to launch the Team Canada 72 Legacy Project, Esposito asserted the strength exhibited by the Soviets during the Summit Series was attributable to steroid use.

“I was told they did steroids in those days,” he said. “I was told by a very reliable source, someone who played.”

Call me a skeptic — you’re a skeptic! — but I’m hesitant to give Esposito’s unnamed source the same weight as the one used by Woodward and Bernstein when breaking the Watergate story earlier in 1972.

I mean, 42 years later and we’re finally hearing about this???

You may recall that Esposito, along with several other teammates, also believed their Moscow hotel rooms were being bugged by the Soviets during the series. Indeed, the story goes that Esposito and Wayne Cashman unscrewed a chandelier they thought harboured one of the listening devices.

Why they came to believe this is a bit of mystery. True, this was the Cold War era and the Soviets had a deserved reputation as control freaks, among other unsavoury qualities.

But what was to be gained from eavesdropping on hockey players?

There wasn’t a lot of strategy employed for those games in Moscow. It was get the puck out of the corners, feed the shooters, jam the net. And, oh yeah, play like your life depended on winning.

As for potential other, more worldly insights, I doubt Esposito, Cashman et al were sitting around their rooms pondering the likely foreign policy issues in the pending federal election that fall or debating the short-term consequences of the Leonid Brezhnev/Richard Nixon meeting in May of that year.

Perhaps, though, we shouldn’t dismiss Esposito’s charges out of hand.

A person engaged in prolonged use of steroids can spontaneously act in a very aggressive and hostile manner, a condition popularly known as roid rage.

Who can forget in Game 8 the extremely agitated player who angrily raised his stick and threatened to decapitate one of the referees?

Oh, right, that was Team Canada’s J.P. Parise.

OK, what about the guy who, without provocation, viciously and purposely slashed the ankle of a star player, breaking his ankle?

Oops. That was our man Bobby Clarke.

Wait a minute. Why am I casting aspersion on the good guys and giving the benefit of the doubt to those no-goodniks from the Soviet Union?

Of course, they were all on steroids, the dirty cheats!

You tell ’em, Phil.


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