Underwhelming Praise From Firsov About the 1975-76 Habs

They were one of the greatest Habs teams ever, in one of the greatest games ever. But the Soviets still thought the Habs left a little bit to be desired.

I found an article recently while going through some of my old newspapers, and this particular one comes from the Montreal Gazette just after the classic 1975 Montreal-Red Army game held on New Year’s Eve at the Forum. A game, as we all know, that was one of the greatest. 

Montreal dominated but ended up in a 3-3 tie with the legendary Soviet club, and the Habs were absolutely fantastic. It was only Tretiak in goal who kept it from being about 7-3 for Montreal.

This was what Anatoli Firsov, once Russia’s best forward and one who was left off the 1972 Summit Series Soviet team, either for being a little long in the tooth, or for a political matter involving legendary coach Anatoli Tarasov who was also left off the team, had to say about it. 

Firsov spoke to Gazette columnist Doug Gilbert after the New Year’s Eve tilt. 

“First, let me say I didn’t expect Montreal to play so strongly, even though we are well aware this is one of the best teams. They were moving very fast at all times and they were very sound on both offence and defence.

“In many ways, Montreal’s style is close to the European style of play and I am sure this team woiuld be a very formidable opponent at the world championship tournament.

“But the officiating would be different. You just can’t do some of the things they were doing all night. You can’t get your stick up and take people into the boards. You can’t check the forwards that closely when they haven’t got the puck. If the officials prevent you from doing those things, we are talking about a different kind of game.

“In the long run, for international hockey, our coaching techniques have been proven correct.”

21 thoughts on “Underwhelming Praise From Firsov About the 1975-76 Habs”

  1. Maybe you (and many others) are placing too much emphasis on this ONE game back in ’75. Maybe the Russians had an off game that night — and still ended up with a tie.

  2. Hey Dennis, Firsovall, I always thought that the hooking and holding in the Nhl was seriously updated when the europeans begin playing here back in the late 80’s.There was always some of it taking place but it became very enhanced with the euros style of play.I just think that this guy was trying to make some brownie points with the Russian goverment.

  3. If the Soviets had an off night, what does that say about every other NHL team? Did they all have off nights throughout the 70s. The more likely explanation is that the Red-Army played the game of their lives against the most dominating team on the planet.
    I’m going to assume that Firsov meant that he knew Montreal had left something back, after all to the Canadiens it was basically a meaningless exhibition game. He was probably hoping for refereeing similar to that in the ’72 series. Even the IIHF as acknowledged now that the best referees are in the NHL.

  4. i disagree that it was one of the greatest games ever. if i remember correctly the habs out shot them around 2 to 1. that in itself is lopsided. it very well may have been one of the greatest goaltending displays as performed by the enemy goalie, that coupled with a less than stellar game by dryden made for an extremely exciting game from a habs fan perspective. but it was way too one sided to be considered a “great” game………. dryden was usually pretty shitty against the soviets.

  5. does anyone know the shots on goal in that game? it may very well have been way more of a difference.

  6. Hobo, I guess that was it is. One of the greatest displays by the Habs and Tretiak, but not a great game if you’re a Russian fan maybe. But it was sure thrilling from start to finish. We saw the beginning if the Habs late 70’s dynasty that night. I also remember how frustrating the tie was, and somehow I knew the Soviets wouldn’t give Montreal much praise. But it was a beauty game and we’ve seen few like it before and after.

  7. Chris, leave it to the Russians to put a spin on it and make it sound like they were still the world power in hockey. I would have liked to have seen that Habs club play the 8-game Summit Series in ’72. That would have been unreal.

  8. Derry, good point. The Russians were masters at subtle illegal plays. They also would kick from time to time. I just hope Firsov realized that the NHL had real refereeing, not over there.

  9. The Soviets would never have stood a chance against the power-house Canadiens accustomed to playing together at mid-season fitness levels.

  10. Hobo, I’ve been thinking about what you said about it not being one of the greatest games and I find myself disagreeing. That game was full speed ahead, with tremendous chances and a Russian goalie standing on his head. I don’t think their was a person watching who wasn’t thrilled and enthralled by what was taking place that night. There was no boredom, none of the usual blandness. it was simply was a wide-open display by both teams. And those 13 shots by the Soviets doesn’t really tell the whole story. They continued to regroup and circle and made the most of the few chances they got on Dryden. Montreal was amazing and I’ll bet NHL’ers on other teams were going “oh oh” after seeing the Canadiens with their A game. This game stands out on its own, a true classic. At least for me.

  11. Hey Dennis, Had is the word for sure,the reffing I’m refering to.The nhl had the best refs at one time,they are not anymore for sure.I couldn’t believe the start of the final game,the phantom calls that were made were just terrible,and then let everything go after that.This goes to show just who controls the game eh,and the outcome of course.

  12. And Derry, maybe a big phone call from Toronto from a boss or two telling these guys to cool it because it was a big night. Their calls early in the game were atrocious.

  13. Derry, I think NHL refs are still the best by a long shot. But because there’s a two-man system, I think there’s quite a few who don’t quite cut it. But they’ll always be better than Euro refs.

  14. it sure was thrilling and very emotional. i remember seeing it again a few years ago when there was no emotion involved and that’s when my opinion of the game’s greatness changed. from an entertainment package giving the feelings at the time it sure stands out and perhaps that’s the way it should be looked at………….. think about what a best of 7 series between those two teams would have been like.

  15. One interesting aspect to the Russian attack at the time was that they sought quality shot chances and therefore their, at times, low shot totals were misleading. They were coached to look for one good chance as opposed to just firing willy-nilly and coming up with four wild ones.

  16. It’s true, Homme. It’s what they did. Quality over quantity. But I believe quantity is best. We’ve seen time and time again that if you shoot the puck, sometimes very stoppable pucks go in.

  17. Hobo, buy the “Canadiens Memorable Games” DVD box set. There’s a nice clean quality New Year’s Eve game in it.

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