Game eight. A game that almost didn’t happen because both sides couldn’t agree on which two referees would suit up. The Russians, of course, lobbied for both Josef Kompalla and Franz Baader, the two West Germans who heavily sucked up to the Russians, probably in search of future Olympic and World Championship gigs in which Russia held a weighty voice. Canada’s choices were a Swede, Uve Dahlberg, with their second being Czech Rudy Batja.
Thus, in the 11th hour it was decided that Kompalla and Dahlberg would handle the duties, until Dahlberg allegedly fell ill with food-poisoning. So then it became Kompalla and Batja.
However which way you slice it, the officiating situation was a mess.
And so it began, with Ken Dryden in nets after Tony Esposito had performed well two nights prior in Canada’s 4-3 win. It was a game of wonderful and breathtaking hockey, with weirdness thrown in, including J.P. Parise blowing a fuse when he was assessed an interference call in which Kompalla waved it off and then Batja called it anyway. Parise complained, was given a ten-minute misconduct, and in a fit of rage skated to Kompalla with his stick raised, as if to chop the poor bugger’s head off. Needless to say, Parise took an early shower.
Both teams, in glorious fashion, went back and forth, with players coming close as the goalies held their ground time and time again. Phil Esposito roamed about and made the Soviets nervous. Alexander Yakushev continued to give Dryden fits, and the first period ended at two apiece, which seemed rightly so. Every inch had been fought for. JP Parise watched from the sidelines in his street clothes.
In the second, Russia took the lead, Bill White tied it, but then Russia scored two and it was 5-3 when 40 minutes had expired. Could Canada actually come back in the third period and win this? It didn’t look good. It was a two-goal Soviet lead, and a two-referee Soviet advantage. I can’t remember if I had any booze around or not, but surely I needed it.
But just two and a half minutes into the final frame, Esposito whacked one home, and at 12:56, Yvan Cournoyer tied it. A country jumping for joy, until we noticed a commotion from the penalty box area and wondered if we should be happy or not.
It turned out that the goal judge decided not to put the red light on when Cournoyer scored, prompting Alan Eagleson to freak out and be restrained by soldiers who began to lead him away, maybe to a train bound for Siberia. But Pete Mahovlich came to the rescue, others followed, and the Eagle was taken to the safety of the free world, otherwise known as the Canadian bench. But not before he got in a couple of one-finger salutes to the despicable goal judge.
Back and forth players went and the clock clicked down, which was fine with the Soviets. They had decided that they would claim victory in case of a tie, considering they had scored one more in total goals during the eight games. This couldn’t happen. We could not witness a smug, smiling and celebratory Soviet contingent, not after clawing back over a period of several games, and then having them claim victory on a technicality. A tie would be like kissing Leonid Brezhnev’s wife, or Leonid Brezhnev.
And then it happened, and maybe I should let good old Foster Hewitt take you home.
“Cournoyer has it on that wing. Here’s a shot. Henderson makes a wild stab for it and fell. Here’s another shot, right in front. THEY SCORE! HENDERSON HAS SCORED FOR CANADA!”
Yes he did, with 34 seconds remaining. And a nation rejoiced.