Eight games, two teams, one series.
The Summit Series was a proving point for Canadian hockey and a defining event for the Canadian identity. It was to define who had the best national hockey team, the Canadians or the Russians, in 8 games. 4 games in Canada, then off to the last 4 in Russia. Canadians were looking for excitement during the Cold War, pre-Summit Series, as well the Canadians playing in the NHL and professionally were not allowed to play internationally.
Canada was in between the U.S.A.
and the Soviet Union during the Cold War. Canadians needed something to distract them from the war that was happening above them. The Summit Series did just that. Canada as a country was more focused on the series than the war. The Canadian and Soviet teams were evenly matched.
The series started off with a loss by Canada 7-3 in Canada. The next 3 games in Canada went 4-1 win, 4-4 tie, and 5-3 Russia. Canada was losing the series 2-1. They kept Canadians on their toes the whole time in Russia.
They started off in Russia with a loss to Russia. The next two games went 3-2 Canada and 4-3 Canada. The series was tied up at 3 games won for each team. “The last game, on September 28, was watched intently by the largest Canadian TV audience on record.” (The Canadian Encyclopaedia) The final game started with a quick 2 goals for the Soviets and the ejection of a Canadian player. By the third period, Canada was losing 5-3.
Phil Esposito and Yvan Cournoyer each scored a goal to tie up the game. It was getting into the final minute and the score still tied at 5-5. The whole of Canada was on their feet as the series could be decided with 1 more goal. Paul Henderson scores a goal with 34 seconds left on the clock. Canada erupts with cheers. The game ends with a final score of 6-5 Canada.
Before this series, Canadian National Hockey League players were not allowed at any international level. This includes the World Championships or the Olympics. But the Russians who were “playing full time for the state” (Globe and Mail) were. Canadians had had enough of that.
Pierre Trudeau, Prime Minister of Canada in 1968–1979(Reg Whitaker), decided that in 1971 that he would confront the issue to the Soviet premier, Alexei Kosygin. Soon after Russia was ready to test the NHL. 4 games in each country to see who was the best of the best.