Sunday, January 11, 1976... in the height of the Cold War, and the midst of the battle for the supremacy of the Hockey World, the Soviet Army Team visited the Philadelphia Spectrum to take on the reigning Stanley Cup Champion Flyers in the final game of what was billed as 'Super Series 76'... They were undefeated, and their co-touring lesser talented team were only defeated the SC runners up Sabres one week earlier.
I've just completed watching it in it's entirety on Disc Four of the 'Flyers Ten Greatest Games' box set... Some many things jumped up at me as I turned it on; the size of the players, the goalies being so much smaller w/o the huge equipment, the lack of advertising on the ice and the dashers, the lack of jerseys in the stands, the Schaffer Beer sponsorship on the scoreboard, the old style jerseys and cloth they were made of, all the organ music instead of recorded music, Sign Man, moose, rabbit and Big Bird stuffed animal dolls in the stands... and many more cosmetic and visual things.
More important than that, the difference in the game being played on the ice was staggering... I lived through that period and saw the game live on American national TV, I was a die hard fan even then... so I was well aware of NHL hockey of that day and particularly the Flyers. You know how your mind always exaggerates things as you remember back on them? Well, in this case, I remembered the product in a more toned down memory. The game back then was even more greater than I remember as being.
True, this was the two best hockey teams in the World, at that time, but even that fact cannot take away certain observations I made today. The game was played at a much more active pace -- the intensity I can somewhat attribute to the fact that the game was a huge game that was being considered as not only for the championship of the World, but also for the supremacy of Democracy over Communism -- But this game was an unending display of perpetual motion... It was much like the early editions of the four on four, five minute OTs; constant action.
The lesser talented players were far superior to those of today. Dave 'the Hammer' Schultz played a real fine offensive and defensive game throughout... Don 'Big Bird' Saleski was a major force... Joe Watson scored a huge short handed goal and could have had a hat trick if not for the brilliant play of Soviet Red Army goal Tretiak... Orest 'Grouch' Kindrachuck was just wonderful as he did his puck retention tricks in the corners... Larry 'Izzy' Goodenough had a great goal... Bob 'Hound' Kelly played his usual energy game... Ross 'Roscoe Rabbit' Lonsberry displayed his normal solid game, although he was not as obvious as he usually was... Mel Bridgeman was in his rookie year and did not look out of place in such a big game, although he did play limited minutes... Terry Crisp played less than he usually did, but did well when on the ice...
The better players were even much better than I remember them being... Dorney was a monster force with his hard nose play... Bill 'Arnie' Barber was displaying a meaner edge than I remembered... Rick 'Hawk' MacLiesh was at time s the best player on the ice... Reggie 'the Rifle' Leach showed how well he could play D as well as O... Ed Van Imp was the textbook shut down D-man... Jimmy Watson was, as always rock solid... Tom Bladon reminded me why I enjoyed his play so much... Moose Dupont was his usual self, and it was his initial hit the started in motion the 'incident' -- more on that later --... Wayne Stephenson was great when he had to be, but his D in front made his day easier than it could have been... Bobby Clarke was all over the ice and was the force he always was -- at one point as he stood there with blood streaming down his face and all over his white home jersey, he was pushing away the trainer, who was trying to help, because he want to stay on the ice... and at that time the game was already decided -- he was his HHOF self.
The Flyers took away the Russian game from the start with their hard forechecking game... They could not do their circling skating game, as they set up for a rush... The Flyers showed that they were the better team from the start; later, when the Soviets got a better footing, the Flyers still shut them down more often than not.
The 'incident' that I was referring to was of course when the Red Army players were pulled off the ice by their head coach... I remembered it as being brought on by Eddie Van Imp's hard check to a Soviet player who was not aware he was coming, when in fact that was just the middle piece of the puzzle... Early in the game the Flyers were playing their usual rough brand of hockey but nothing major being dished out... suddenly 'Moose' Dupont laid a monster hit, decking out a Russian player, Billy Barber then laid two hard hits in the corner, the second was followed by a mean spirited, high up push to the boards... When Van Imp made his legal check the Russian just laid there. The Soviet team wanted a penalty and protested so much that they were slapped with a 'Delay of the Game', as rightfully they should have since they halted the game with their complaining... They insult of a penalty added to the injury of not getting the PP they wanted was the final straw, and they left the ice -- the one camera waving by a young lady as they left is a 'classic' shot I will never forget... They came back claiming that they would play but not having a "boxing match" on the ice... They Flyers told them that they would not be intimidated to change their game. I've hear Ed Snider claim that they returned when he told them that they would not be paid for any of the other games in the exhibition series if they did not finish the game; that changed their minds.
The Flyers proved in this game that they were not merely a goon it up team, that they had talent and could play with the best of the hockey teams in the World, even without the injured Bernie Parent. They were a talented team and I think I would like to have any of those players, in their prime, playing for today's edition... The Hockey of 1976 was by far a better product that the 'New' NHL of today... and the Flyers of that time were one of the best assembled collection of players ever to be iced in the NHL, and hockey in general.