September 09, 2012

A Soviet View of 1972

The following article was written by Vladimir Jurzinov and was published in Sovjetskij Sport in 1972. Jurzinov (b.1941) is a two time World Champions with the Soviets. He later went on to coach in Finland where he was named the top coach for three straight seasons (1993-95). He developed players like Saku Koivu and Jere Lehtinen. He also coached the Russian team in Nagano to a silver.

Vladimir Jurzinov
Article: After the first few games our newspapers wrote that the Canadian players weren't as good as we thought they would be. They also wrote that Canada's strength had been exaggerated and that the players would only shine on the cover of newspapers. Well, I have to say that these comments are totally misleading and wrong.

If we leave the myths and legends about the Canadian players behind us it has to be said that they made a strong impression. They improved with each game. I think that when all the emotions will be put aside and we are going to analyze the series that we're going to talk a lot more about Canada's strengths rather than their weaknesses.

But let's start with their weaknesses. After the loss in the first Moscow game it seemed like Canada had lost the faith in beating the Soviets with fair and square play. Instead they started with intimidation and dirty play. I don't want to say that this was planned in any way, but the fact is that Canada played a lot dirtier than they had in the first few games. In some games they went after the best Soviets, i.e. Kharlamov and Maltsev. This has to be condemned.

When it came to plays with emphasis on power and strength within the rules, the Canadians showed us their splendid abilities. The Soviet players has a lot to learn from the Canadian pros when it comes to the physical aspect of the game. This was no news to us of course, but I never realized that the difference was so blatant. On the other hand the Canadians lacked a bit of condition which slowed down their quickness.

The Soviets used each other in a better way - hockey has always been a team sport with us, where the stars have played for the team and not the other way around. Our ability to make fast combination plays and quickly change attack patterns on the fly clearly caught the professionals off guard. They gave the Soviets too much room out there. In Moscow the Canadians corrected that flaw and their defense went on to be a lot more steady. This in turn meant that the goalies Dryden and Esposito automatically improved.

The best Canadian defensemen in my opinion was Gary Bergman and Bill White. They were both players with good hockey sense, they were always well positioned and played with great calm and authority. Like all the pros they were virtuosos with their sticks and often broke up dangerous attacks by simply locking up the stick of the opponent or by just giving it a light tap.

The Soviet defense was worse than the Canadian and played uneven at times. Mistakes by defensemen, Gennadi Tsygankov in particular did cost the team several yielded goals.

Phil Esposito, Paul Henderson, Frank Mahovlich, Yvan Cournoyer and Bobby Clarke were the Canadian forwards who made the biggest impression up front. I can list more players because the pros forwards were of high class. Phil Esposito in particular should be mentioned. He was the go-to-guy in every game and played very well despite the heavy focus on him from media and fans.

We took him to our hearts so it was especially disappointing in the second Moscow game when he played brutally and out of control. Phil Esposito as a thug was a role that didn't suit him.

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