Try as they may, Canadian teams were rarely a match for the powerful Soviets from the early 1960’s onward. Every World Championship, every Olympics, we’d listen on radio or watch on television as our Canadian boys, fine amateurs indeed, just couldn’t handle Russia’s best.
Father David Bauer’s players weren’t NHLers, we told ourselves, and it was far from fair when only the very best from throughout the massive Soviet Union were taking on our fine but overmatched National squad. If only our pros could play those Russians, we said time and again. It’d be a different story then.
The seeds were sown over many losing years, and the time had come to right the hockey ship. This wouldn’t be Father Bauer’s amateurs playing in 1972. It was going to be NHL superstars, the best of the best, and a great lesson was going to be taught to those upstarts behind the Iron Curtain.
Before the 1972 Summit Series finally took fruition, the so-called “Father of Russian Hockey,” Anatoli Tarasov, had had a falling out with Russian hockey brass, and thus was put on the sidelines only to observe. But more than any other man in the Russia, it was Tarasov who should be given credit for his country’s rise to the top in relatively short time (from the mid 1940’s). He worked his players during all four seasons, on ice, soccer fields, and gyms. He had his players do strange and varied drills, practicing balance and dexterity and quickness, and if Phil Esposito had ever been introduced to this type of thing, he would’ve high-tailed it back to the Soo and hid in a basement.
Tarasov wasn’t the only one to fall by the wayside before the Summit Series. Forward Anatoli Firsov, considered by many as the greatest Russian player of the era, was also left off the team because………he supported Tarasov.
The Father of Russian Hockey and Canada’s terrific Father David Bauer were both inducted in to the Hockey Hall of Fame as builders – Tarasov in 1974, and Bauer, posthumously in 1989 after passing away a year earlier. It’s a shame Father Bauer wasn’t able to enjoy his moment. He certainly deserved it.
In 1957 the Soviets played exhibition games in Canada, were guests of Maple Leaf Gardens for a Leafs-Hawks contest, and made it known that one of their priorities was to see the great Rocket Richard in action. (I don’t know if this happened or not).
They played to capacity crowds, said the big difference between NHL and Russian hockey was “the unnecessary roughness in the NHL”, and a Canadian teenager, seeing the foreigners in a hotel lobby exclaimed, “They’re humans, just like we are!”