Esposito, Clarke, Tretiak Among Those Interviewed for Cold War on Ice

NEW YORK – December 28, 2011 – Cold War on Ice: Summit Series ’72 presented by Lexus, a 90-minute documentary with limited commercial interruption, will be a featured component in the launch of the NBC Sports Network as it debuts at 4:30 p.m. ET on Monday, Jan. 2, 2012, the same day the channel is re-branded from VERSUS.

Click here for a promo of Cold War on Ice: Summit Series ’72

http://nbcsports.msnbc.com/id/22825103/vp/45804134#45804134

Cold War on Ice, produced by 51-time Emmy Award-winner Ross Greenburg, chronicles the historic 27-day Summit Series in September of 1972 between a team of NHL All-Stars from Canada and the Soviet National Team during the height of the Cold War.

“It is an honor to present this unique story as the first original program on the new NBC Sports Network,” said Greenburg. “This historic confrontation between the Canadian National Team and the Soviet Union was a battle of two cultures both on and off the ice. This was a defining moment in hockey and NHL history. It is exciting to give this story the platform it deserves.”

Team Canada was composed of the National Hockey League’s greatest stars, expected to easily defeat the Soviet team. In fact, on the eve of the ‘good will’ eight-game series, the Montreal Gazette published predictions from people inside the hockey world. The great majority of those polled shared the opinion of all-star goalie Jacques Plante and New York Times Hockey writer Gerald Eskenazi, who both claimed that the NHL squad “will slaughter them in 8 straight.”

The event left its stamp on the national psyche of Canada and the entire National Hockey League. Hockey is not a sport in Canada; it is a matter of national pride, and what started as a friendly exhibition series turned into a microcosm of the Cold War. It was a dramatic confrontation that jumped the Iron Curtain to pit the east against the west, communism against capitalism, and good vs. evil.

Phil Esposito of the Boston Bruins scored past Soviet goaltender Vladislav Tretiak just 30 seconds into Game 1 (at the Montreal Forum). Team Canada went up 2-0 five minutes later. Team Canada’s predicted rout was on as the entire nation watched.

The country’s mood would quickly change as the Soviet’s went on to completely dominate the rest of the game. They mesmerized the NHL squad with their precision playmaking, effortless skating, and intricate offensive attack, and stunned Team Canada by charging back to win Game 1, 7-3.

The Soviets were disciplined and relentless and their three third-period goals signified their superior conditioning. The NHL squad was rested, coming off a summer off-season, and they were completely outworked and dominated by the Soviets, who competed at the highest level, all year round. The pre-series predictions were thrown out the window and the war was on.

Team Canada bounced back to take Game 2 of the series, 4-1 (Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto), and led Game 3 (Winnipeg Arena) by two goals late in the third period, until the Soviets scored two late goals to end Game 3 in a 4-4 tie.

Team Canada played poorly in Game 4 in Vancouver, losing 5-3.

The crowd of 16,000 booed Team Canada off the ice in Vancouver. Feelings of frustration had turned to anger as the Canadian faithful felt that the poor play of Team Canada was both embarrassing and shameful. In response to the overwhelming negative public and media reaction, Phil Esposito called out the fans for their conduct.

“We are absolutely giving it our all and we are really disappointed in you (fans),” said Esposito, the captain of Team Canada after Game 4. “We cannot believe…were trying like hell. Canada is our home and it is just not fair. It is totally ridiculous that we are being booed.”

The series shifted to the Soviet Union for the remaining four games of the series as Team Canada contemplated the end to its perceived dominance in the sport they so dearly love, but not before a two-week European hiatus in which Team Canada played two exhibition games against the Swedish national team in Stockholm.

The second game against Sweden featured many fights. Team Canada was criticized by the Swedes for their ‘goonish’ style of play, but these two games along with Esposito’s impassioned speech, helped galvanize the NHL team. The Canadian squad was made up of players from different NHL teams, many of who hated each other, but now were coming together because of a common enemy, the Soviets.

While the final four games of the Summit Series were hosted by the Soviets, more than 3,000 Canadian fans accompanied the NHL squad. Team Canada got out to a 4-1 lead in Game 5, but the Soviets scored four unanswered goals to win that game, 5-4, and take a 3-1-1 lead in the series.

Team Canada would now have to win all three remaining games to win the series. Despite the backbreaking loss, and the apparent stranglehold they had on their game, all 3,000 fans sang “Oh Canada” as Team Canada left the ice after Game 5.

Prior to Game 6, the Canadian team became upset over a shipment of beer they believed that the Soviets had deliberately “lost” at the airport. They took any additional incentives they could get and Team Canada held on for a 3-2 win. Unheralded Paul Henderson scored what turned out to be the game-winner late in the second period. This game also featured the most controversial play of the series. Philadelphia Flyers Bobby Clarke was instructed by Team Canada’s bench to stop the high-flying Soviet star and captain, Valeri Kharlamov. During his next shift Clarke deliberately slashed Kharlomov and broke his ankle.

“He was killing us and somebody had to do it. This is war. It is us versus them and the guy was killing us.” said Clarke after the game.

Team Canada would capture Game 7, 4-3, with Paul Henderson once again scoring the game-winning tally late in the 3rd period. The game also featured a controversial rebuttal by the Soviets, as Boris Mikhailov used his skate as a weapon and kicked Team Canada’s Gary Bergman twice during an on-ice altercation.

GAME 8, WITH SERIES TIED 3-3-1

Team Canada was down by two goals heading into the third period of the decisive Game 8, and the Soviets were on the verge of laying claim to Canada’s national sport.

Team Canada however came out roaring in the third period and tied the score at 5-5 with the series tied 3-3-1.

In the final minute of play Esposito got off a good shot and Henderson, the journeyman turned hero, who later said he knew he was going to score, put the rebound past Tretiak in perhaps the single most-famous moment in Canadian sports history. The “Goal Heard Round the World” became one the countries most endearing images, one that is as fresh and vivid to the entire nation 40 years after that late September day in 1972.

In the end, the Summit Series proved that the gap between the best Canadian NHL players and the top players in Europe was much narrower than most observers on both sides realized. The success of the series led to the Super Series, where Soviet clubs played NHL clubs on numerous occasions throughout the 1970’s and eventually the immersion of many Soviet players to the National Hockey League in the 1980’s.

INTERVIEWS FOR “COLD WAR ON ICE”

Subjects include – Team Canada Coach Harry Sinden; Players Phil Esposito, Tony Esposito, Rod Gilbert, Bobby Clarke, Paul Henderson, Peter Mahovlich, JP Parise; Soviet players Boris Mikhailov, Vladislov Tretiak, Alexander Yakushev.

ON PLAYING FOR TEAM CANADA:

Clarke: “It was certainly an honor to wear the Canadian jersey, but it was also supposed to be a vacation almost. It was supposed to be a cakewalk for Canada”

Phil Esposito: “I really thought it was going to be an all star game. We were going to have some laughs and some fun.”

Henderson: “It was going to be a wonderful experience to be able to play with the Espositos, Cournoyer, Savard, Lapointe, and get to enjoy their ability and be on the same ice with them. The other side of the coin is, anyone who kept you from winning the Stanley Cup you didn’t like them, and you had to bump heads with them.”

Tony Esposito: “They were your rivals and a few of the guys you really didn’t like. We weren’t a team; we were just a bunch of guys thrown together. So when we went over there (to Russia for games four through eight), that’s when we really gelled.”

ON THE RUSSIANS STEALING THE CANADIAN’S BEER:

Phil Esposito: “They stole our beer. We had to drink vodka. Homemade vodka. You ever taste homemade vodka? Go into your garage and get turpentine and drink it. Holy cripe it is bad.”

ON BOBBY CLARKE SLASHING RUSSIAN VALERI KHARLAMOV IN GAME 6, BREAKING HIS ANKLE:

Clarke: “I don’t know what I was thinking at all. Obviously I wasn’t. I chased him down the ice and wacked him.”

Henderson: “That’s the way Clarkie played the game. Probably on that team he was the only guy that would go out there and do something like that. But he would’ve done that for the Philadelphia Flyers. That’s who he was. He wasn’t out of character. He was so competitive that he would push his grandmother down a flight of stairs to win a hockey game.”

Phil Esposito: “The only thing I regret about that is he didn’t do it in the first game. Are you kidding me? Are you KIDDING me? That’s part of the game and I have no problem with it. None, you understand? This is war.”

Clarke: “As I said often, it was an awful thing to do. It sure felt good.”

ON PLAYING RUSSIA DURING THE COLD WAR:

Henderson: “They were challenging us as a people, and certainly as a hockey empire.”

Mahovlich: “The Cold War. The us-against-them attitude was certainly what this turned out to be.”

Phil Esposito: “I would’ve killed those son of a bitches to win. It scares me every time I think about it.”

ON HENDERSON SCORING THE GAME-WINNING GOAL IN GAME 8 GIVING TEAM CANADA THE SERIES WIN:

Parise: “We went nuts.”

Clarke: “Ecstatic, but there was also a real…whew…relief.”

Phil Esposito: “It’s the closest I’ve ever come to kissing a man. Really kissing him. I loved that man that moment. I did.”

CREDITS:

Producers: Ross Greenburg, George Roy, Steve Stern

Director and Editor: George Roy

Writer: Steve Stern

Narrator: Peter Coyote

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The 2011 People of the Year in Hockey Broadcasting

One of the reasons Puck the Media was created was so there’d be at least one sports media blog that isn’t ESPN-centric. That’s what all the newspaper media writers tend to be: non-stop coverage of the Worldwide Leader. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, it’s wildly entertaining, in fact. But hockey isn’t on ESPN, so there’s no real reason for diehard hockey fans to discuss it, unless they’re pissing them off via omission. So you won’t likely see many hockey people on the round-ups for biggest sports media stories of 2011. Here’s where I come in. This is a list of people whom, in my humble opinion at least, made waves in the hockey broadcasting world this year. Hope you enjoy it.

John Collins, NHL Chief Operating Officer

After having seen John Collins speak twice and met him once, it is hard not to come away impressed. The man gives off a vibe that is part-Don Draper, part-Mike Babcock. You can easily see why his work with the NFL and now the NHL have won him the favor of many across his industry. This year, he’s continuing the task of – as he puts it – “turning the NHL from a licensing company to a media company”. Instead of allowing other companies to produce content with their blessing, making the content themselves. Things like increased news coverage on NHL.com (one of the truly under-appreciated things is how that site has grown), the continued expansion of the Winter Classic and other advancements in the NHL’s multimedia presence have his fingerprints all over it. The league was always a little bit ahead of the others in terms of an online footprint, but Collins has brought the league into the future.

Ross Greenburg

One example of the NHL turning into a media company is the creation of Ross Greenburg’s new NHL Original Productions, which sounds like a hockey fans wet dream if there ever was such a thing. The goal of the project is to develop documentaries – long-form and short-form – about the grand history of the sport and connecting it to players today. Two examples are the programs Greenburg is launching with the new NHL 36 series, which focuses on a day-in-a-half in the life of a current player, and Summit Series ’72: Cold War on Ice, the first ever American production to take us inside the 1972 battle between the Soviets and Team Canada. Combine that with late last year’s premiere of 24/7, which he spearheaded, and his work has really redefined what hockey can look like – away from live game coverage – on television. 

Mike Emrick, lead play-by-play, NBC

It might seem odd to single out Doc in any year, because his work has been consistently great since long before I was born. 2011, however, has been a banner year for him in terms of awards, though if you ask him he’d never say it matters. He was, however, honored with his first-ever national Sports Emmy, defeating some of the biggest names in broadcasting, all of whom (Joe Buck, Jim Nantz, Al Michaels) call sports with much higher market shares than the one Emrick calls. The accolades continued with induction into the United States Hockey Hall of Fame recently, and he signed a new deal as the lead play-by-play man for NBC and it’s cable sibling that broke the hearts of Devil fans everywhere. I’d bet that on nights the Devils aren’t playing, though, they’ll still tune in to hear that familiar voice and all the familiar catchphrases, just like the rest of us.

Sam Flood, Executive Producer, NBC Sports and NBC Sports Network

Kind of odd to think that the NHL has now been with it’s current broadcast television partner in NBC longer than they have been with any before. One of the reasons why is Flood’s broadcasts on NBC, and now VERSUS, which will become NBC Sports Network on Monday. They’re often divisive to some diehard hockey fans, but they’re clearly effective. VERSUS has drawn higher ratings for games in November and December than they ever have before. Inside the Glass remains one of the best inventions ever for hockey on television, and the Winter Classic always looks great. However, the one thing Flood deserves real credit for in 2011 is Hockey Day in America, a nine-hour marathon day of hockey that will be repeated in 2012, which – with coverage of youth hockey, pond hockey, inner-city hockey – felt like something that regular season hockey often isn’t, a real spectacle.

Kevin Weekes, analyst, NHL Network/CBC

Kevin Weekes has an important role in the televised hockey world, but you’d never notice it from the analysis he delivers. Weekes has slowly become more and more prominent as an analyst since he retired, making him the first person of color to do so in the sport to my knowledge. There’s a certain amount of pressure, one would argue, in doing that. Weekes, however, is so cool and calm and fun on-air, that it doesn’t matter (and never should), he’s just that guy with the big smile, having fun talking about the sport he devoted his life to on television, just like everyone else. That’s something even more important. You’d never know he was breaking barriers and showing millions of viewers on Hockey Night in Canada and On the Fly (and occasionally Overtime) every week that truly, hockey is for everyone, as long as you’re enjoying yourself.

Jack Edwards, play-by-play, NESN

With Emrick and Dave Strader gone to the land of the exclusively national, is Jack Edwards hockey’s most talked about voice to be constricted to local television? Here’s the dirty little secret about Edwards, who’s been calling Bruins games at least part-time since 2005: he’s not really a homer. Oh sure, you’ll get his occasionally silly soliloquies about why Montreal deserves to lose or laughing about the crowds in Philly, but he’s not what you traditionally define as a homer. His goal call for the opposing team is always equal to those for the Bruins. From my perspective, I’d rather have the clearly, insanely passionate Edwards over the announcers who sound like someone killed a brood of puppies when the opposing team scores. Edwards not only makes headlines for his passion, but keeps Bruins fans entertained year-round. After all, it’s supposed to be fun, and what’s more fun than telling a guy you think is dogging it to “GET UP!”?

Bob McKenzie, insider, TSN

Recently, TSN sent out a press release proclaiming Bob McKenzie as the most-followed media personality in Canada on Twitter, with over a quarter of a million followers. That may be true, but it struck me as odd that they did, because it seemed so un-like the man’s persona on television. He comes off as every bit the consummate Canadian on TSN’s panel (and in his occasional appearances on VERSUS). He’s very polite, funny, never condescending and gets the job done. He continued to “out-scoop” the competition in the past 12 months, and remains the reason why TSN is North America’s pre-eminent hockey network of record. Whether it’s coaching changes, trades, suspensions or merely the waiver wire, no one is more plugged in.