Monday 24 Oct 2016

The Game
Sjef Frenken

It was Saturday, about noon. Jack had bought himself a souvlaki at Kojax, while I'd picked up a Greek Salad -- for the fibre. I sat down with my back to the New York Fries stand: I didn't want to succumb to temptation inasmuch as fries were out of bounds on doctor's orders. For the time being, I hoped.

"Have you been watching any of the Olympics?" asked Jack.

I said I caught the last few minutes of the game between the woman's teams of Sweden and the US, while I was waiting for the weather channel to give me the local forecast. That was kind of exciting. I hadn't watched anything else.

"So you haven't seen the promos for the upcoming film about the 1972 Canada-Russia hockey series," said Jack.

I said I hadn't.

Jack said "It still makes me mad to see how we've turned that whole thing around."

I said "We won that series didn't we? What's to get mad about?"

Jack said: "You want me to spell it out for you?"

I said: "Jack, will it do me any good to say no? Go ahead, get it off your chest. I can take it. Give Rick Mercer a run for his money!"

Jack said "When you come right down to it, we really lost that series. I remember sitting with a bunch of friends up at someone's cottage for that first game played in Montreal. Nobody there would take a bet on the Russians winning. No way in hell were those Ruskies going to beat us at our own game. I was laughed at for even suggesting that they had a chance of winning. No way! We'd show them a thing or two. Well, you know what happened."

I said "I presume that's a rhetorical question."

"Damn right it is," said Jack with almost religious fervour. "We lost that game 7 to 3, a bigger spread than in any of the next seven games. The Russians outscored us, they outplayed us, they out skated us. And on our own ice! The best we could do on Russian ice was a one-goal spread for each of the four games over there."

Jack took time out for a bite and a breath, and still chewing, he continued. I moved my plate back a little out of the line of fire.

"By the time the Russians had played across Canada, they'd scored 17 goals to our 14. The best player on the ice was that Russian, Kharlamov. So how did we finally turn the tide when our boys went over to Russia? By sending Bobby Clarke in to whack Kharlamov across the ankle, effectively eliminating him as a serious contender. Very sporting."

I agreed that that was an all-time low point in international hockey sportsmanship.

"And then to top it all off," continued Jack, "that paragon of Canadian sportsmanship and ethical probity, Alan Eagleson, gives his Moscow hosts, including the Soviet Premier, can you imagine, the middle-finger salute. It was embarrassing."

I didn't know what to say. Besides, Jack wasn't waiting for me to say anything.

"Technically speaking," continued Jack, "we won the series: four wins, three losses and one tie. But in fact, considering that we were going to mop the ice with those Ruskies, it was a drubbing. We won by the skin of our teeth, not by the huge margin everyone expected. And remember, the Russians, overall, scored more goals than we did -- 32 to 31."

I said "I guess you're trying to tell me that the Russians won a moral victory."

"Exactly," said Jack. "And you know what really pisses me off?"

I said "Tell me, Jack, what really pisses you off?"

"It's that they have now adopted our style of playing, instead of we adopting theirs."

"How do you mean?" I asked.

Jack said: "If you saw that first game, you'd have seen those Russians play real hockey -- great skating, fast, pinpoint passing, beautifully executed set plays. And how do those Russians play now? Just like our teams, big guys slamming each other into the boards with all the finesse of a bulldozer. They all want to get into the NHL and earn the big bucks. That may be Don Cherry's kind of hockey, but it's bargain basement hockey compared to the beautiful style of those Rooskies in 1972. The kind of hockey they played, incidentally, was based on a book written by a Canadian that nobody here even bothered to read. But that style doesn't have the fisticuffs, I know. And I guess it doesn't sell as many tickets."

Jack had run out of steam.

I said "Jack, why don't we go down to the Bell arena down the road, and watch some of the youngsters play."

"Great idea," said Jack. "Peewee and Bantam: Hockey, just for the love of it."

Sjef Frenken is a renaissance man: thinker, writer, translator and composer of much music. A main interest, he has many, is setting to music the poetry, written for children, during the Victorian and Edwardian eras. Nimble of mind, Sjef is a youthful retiree and a great-grandfather. Mostly he's a content man, which facilitates his relentless multi-media creativity.

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