Prime Minister Stephen Harper delivered the following remarks at the 40th anniversary of the 1972 Summit Series:
“Greetings, to begin with, to my friend and colleague as well, Bal Gosal, Minister of State for Sport, all my colleagues from the Parliament of Canada, other levels of government, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen.
“Welcome to one and all.
“Let me begin by congratulating all of the organizers. I know Ronnie Ellis, Dennis Hull were involved, recognizing the generous support as well of George Georgopoulos and Vito Frijia.
“Thank you to everyone who had a hand in arranging this amazing event.
“Friends, we’re here for old times’ sake, to honour some great people, our Team Canada ’72 and Canada’s friends from the former Soviet national team.
“And I know there’s a lot of them here tonight.
“I want to say first of all that I am really honoured to be here.
“It would be an understatement to tell you how honoured I really am to be here.
“As many of you are aware, I have enjoyed, and had my life enriched, by a life-long passion for hockey, as a fan and historian, not as a player.
“I’m one of the worst players ever in the history of the game.
“But it’s been wonderful part of my life, and, like most Canadians, my love of the game started when I was young.
“And I remember the day very well, forty years ago, watching Game Eight on television in the gym at John G. Althouse Middle School in Etobicoke.
“The teachers had long given up any pretence of holding classes.
“I think my father was watching this at work, my mother had stopped vacuuming for a day and was watching the game at home, and we were packed to the rafters.
“You know, the fire marshalls probably should have been called in, but the truth was they were too busy down at the fire hall watching the game, they weren’t answering phones.
“The tension, as you all remember – those of us who are old to remember, the tension for three long hours was unbelievable, until those very final moments when Foster Hewitt and René Lecavalier described in words we can all recite like it was yesterday: ‘Henderson has scored for Canada!’
“I think pretty much any Canadian alive in 1972 remembers where they were at that very moment.
“And now, four decades later, to be among our heroes, what a very real privilege for every one of us.
“I’ll be asking for autographs later, I’m not kidding you, I will be.
“Sadly, some members of Team Canada ’72, as was noted, are no longer with us.
“Gary Bergman, Bill Goldsworthy, John Ferguson and Rick Martin.
“Gone, ladies and gentlemen, but certainly not forgotten.
“And, on behalf of all Canadians I should like to salute as well the memory of the former Soviet players who have also passed away.
“They, too, are in our thoughts tonight, and their legend also lives on.
“Now there are three things I want to reflect on briefly.
“First thing is what the Summit Series did for our relations.
“Now, of course, thanks to men and women of goodwill in Canada, in the wider West and in the former East Bloc, it is very hard to explain to young people today the Cold War context in which all of this series occurred.
“A whole generation, more than a generation, has grown up not knowing the governments of Eastern Europe as enemies.
“And that, my friends, is a good thing, it is a very good thing.
“But the truth is that, during the Summit Series, more was going on than what was happening on the ice.
“Canadians saw it all increasingly as more than just hockey games being contested, but also conceptions of society, systems of government and it brought an intensity of emotion.
“I remember it as almost like a wartime atmosphere - that is kind of unlike anything I think Canadians have experienced ever since.
“But, nevertheless, the personal and societal contacts the series allowed, especially all those thousands of Canadians who went to Moscow, really began the breaking down of the cultural and political barriers that continued through the hockey diplomacy of the 1970s and 1980s that helped get us to the better place we are today in the world.
“We are very thankful for that.
“The second thing I want to observe is what the series did for national pride here in Canada.
“As September of 1972 wore on , the enormity of the threat to our rather complacent notion of hockey supremacy of course was becoming more apparent, and it challenged our team and our country to raise our game.
“And in that regard, I know I should not single people out, but I do want to direct a particular appreciation to Phil Esposito.
“Every situation like that needs a leader, and Phil, you became that leader.
“We all remember that inspirational moment at the end of Game Four, when things weren’t looking very good, when people were very unhappy, very anger, in despair almost, then Phill got up there and reminded everyone: ‘We came out here because we love Canada.’
“What a greatm statement.
“Phil, you didn’t just rally a team at that moment when we needed it.
“You rallied the whole country.
“I don’t think Canadians in my lifetime have ever stood as united and as proud as they did after that, when Team ’72 was in Moscow and was fighting that desperate battle for the honour of this country and its great national game.
“The third thing I want to note is the debt of gratitude that hockey owes to the Russians as a consequence of the 1972 encounter.
“And I think, friends, I think we have to say this as Canadians, I think this is often the most overlooked part of it all.
“You know, once the dust settled, I think many Canadians grudgingly accepted that we were fortunate to win that series.
“Our ultimately prevailed through sheer determination, sheer emotion and individual talent.
“But it was apparent that the Soviets had shown the game could be played in a whole new way.
“The creativity, the patterned offence, the criss-crossing, the focus on the transition game.
“I talked about our complacent notion of hockey supremacy, back then.
“There were a few, you know, there were a few.
“One was hockey legend Cyclone Taylor.
“Some of you probably read about him, he came back from the Soviet Union in the 1950s warning us that the new Soviet hockey program was moving the game forward even beyond ours.
“But he, like others at the time, were ignored, sometimes ridiculed, even vilified.
“But after watching the Soviet players, all of us started to see new possibilities for the game, a better game that I think we have today.
“So it was, friends, a transformational moment, and to our hockey friends who are here from Russia tonight, I can say with gratitude, cпасибо, merci, thank you.
“Ladies and gentlemen, in conclusion, we are all here tonight to acknowledge and to honour all of these men, great Canadians, great hockey players, Phil and Paul Henderson and Yvon Cournoyer and all the members of both teams.
“You may have been heroes 40 years ago, but now, you are also legends.
“And every boy or girl, English or French Canadian, Russian, or anywhere else in the world who laces up a pair of skates and picks up a stick honours your contribution to the sport and to the story you wrote for all of us in 1972.
“Congratulations, thank you very much.
“God bless Canada, God bless all of you.”