August 29, 2002
TORONTO (CP) - Anybody old enough to have watched the drama of
hockey's 1972 Summit Series unfold as it happened has never forgotten
In highlight packages, a younger generation has seen snippets of the
historic Canada-Soviet showdown on ice, but play-by-play thrills of
the eight games have never been available for viewing. Until now. The
story of why this happened, why it took so long, and how independent
producer Rob MacAskill got it all back is remarkable.
The end product is a four-disc DVD set that reaches stores Sept. 17
at $49.99. For the first time, hockey fans can watch all the games in
their entirety. There is 19 hours of games, and much more.
As well, significant portions of the play-by-play, augmented with
player interviews, are available beginning Monday to those with
digital cable or satellite TV access. Games will be shown by ESPN
Classic Canada on the exact dates the live action occurred 30 years
ago, starting Monday.
But fans who want the whole experience of the Summit Series will have
to see the DVD.
MacAskill, 45, first became involved in this challenging undertaking
in 1991 while working for the CBC on a two-hour special to air the
following year to mark the 20th anniversary of the Series.
"I was absolutely shocked and virtually in disbelief that the game
tapes did not exist," MacAskill recalls of his search of corporation
facilities. "I had highlight footage to work with but there were no
When originally recorded in 1972, the tape format that was the
standard of the time - two-inch quad tape that weighed 30 to 40
pounds a reel.
And, unfortunately, the reels were recycled.
Watching surviving highlight films, MacAskill noticed a cameraman in
the background in the arenas.
"I discovered there was a filmmaker who attended the entire series,"
He tracked down Al Stewart of Toronto and arranged to obtain
Stewart's 16-millimetre work.
"There was not a lot of game action," MacAskill recalls. "It was
mostly off-ice stuff, fans, practice footage, scenic material around
Moscow and in Canadian cities.
"It was precious stuff."
The new package was used in a 25th anniversary program.
That wasn't the end of it for MacAskill. He kept searching.
"I had the word out that I was looking for whatever material we could
find on '72," he says. "I had gone to Moscow in 1992 to look for
material and found nothing.
"I was able through a network of professionals in Canada to obtain
bits and pieces here and there, but never enough to have complete
Then came a phone call from a person who asked to remain anonymous.
"The person indicated they knew where a set of two-inch quad tapes
were," said MacAskill. "Unknown to anybody, there was a second set of
"They were at a place of business and totally forgotten about. Lo and
behold, about 16 tapes existed."
That was October 1998. MacAskill continues to respect the anonymity
By this time, Canadian Hockey was moving to ensure the players who
participated in the Series were given the rights to play-by-play
MacAskill was unsure what would happen next.
"The defining moment was getting the tapes," he said. "I knew if the
material could be recovered from the two-inch video tapes we could
reassemble all the games.
"What I had to do then was find a machine that would play them back.
There were very few that were operational. I was aware of two and I
chose the higher quality of the two.
"The first mission was to play them back and switch them to a digital
recording medium. That was very difficult because the tape was not in
great shape. It took a long time to transfer the tapes. One of my
favourite souvenirs is a piece of two-inch tape that shredded during
TV production was not nearly as advanced in 1972 as today. The Game 1
Montreal tape is silent during a five-minute stretch of action
because commentator Foster Hewitt's feed was interrupted. In
maintaining the reality of the moment, the DVD set retains the
silence. During some of the games in Moscow, Hewitt talks over a
blank screen after transmission problems cut the video feed.
Modern digital technology enabled MacAskill to make the Series better
to watch and listen to than it was in 1972. For instance, he was able
to light up the dim Luzhniki arena in Moscow.
"We've relit that building," said MacAskill. "The quality of the
footage is amazing.
"It's 1972 production values and 2002 quality."
The end product is the source of much personal satisfaction for
MacAskill for many reasons.
"For so many of us, that Series was such a prominent moment," he
said. "It was right up there with the first time a man set foot on
the moon, and the assassinations of the Kennedys and of Martin Luther
Not to have the games "was a loss of a national treasure, I thought."
"An awful lot of people have worked to restore this phenomenal
treasure. Now the legacy of this series will live on for younger
generations. Now my kids and young men and women who never had the
opportunity to experience this first hand are going to be able to do
The Canadian squad was named Team of the Century by The Canadian
Press and Broadcast News.
The DVD set, which includes an eight-page booklet, and the ESPN
Classic Canada replays will give the players, many of them now in
their 60s, new notoriety. It also will see them reap financial
rewards, however modest, for the first time.
The 35 men named to Canada's roster were not compensated at the time.
Any revenues directed towards them were to go into a pension fund.
Eventually, it took a lawsuit to get that done, and the total didn't
amount to much.
Now, as rights-holders to the material, some of the net profits will
go their way.
It was a bizarre Series.
Canada needed to win Game 8 on Sept. 28, 1972, to win the Series, and
the Russians led 5-3 at the second intermission. Phil Esposito made
it 5-4, and 5-5 with seven minutes remaining. The red light didn't go
on. Pete Mahovlich led a player charge into the stands to rescue team
official Alan Eagleson, who was being dragged towards an exit for
protesting slow recognition of the goal. The players led Eagleson
across the ice to Canada's bench.
Wrote Frank Orr, the Hockey Hall of Fame hockey scribe: "At mid-ice,
Eagleson, having tucked in his shirt and pushed his hair out of his
eyes, gave the Russian crowd his famous and universally understood
"Things don't happen in the game like that anymore," said
MacAskill. "It was indicative of the time and of the passion in that
Then came the last-minute goal by Paul Henderson.
"Henderson has scored for Canada," Hewitt shouted, sending sports
fans from coast to coast leaping from their seats.
We all know who won now. But a whole generation of hockey fans has
never seen it play out in full.
"It's going to be truly exciting," says Phil Piazza, director of ESPN
Classic Canada, who will show the outlet's version of each game over
and over again for 24 hours on the 30th anniversary it was played.
Three million Canadian homes have capacity to receive digital
signals. ESPN Classic Canada has 400,000 subscribers.
ESPN Classic Canada's 1972 Summit Series broadcast schedule, airing
continuously midnight to midnight each day:
Game 1: Montreal, Monday, Sept. 2
Game 2: Toronto, Wednesday, Sept. 4
Game 3: Winnipeg, Friday, Sept. 6
Game 4: Vancouver, Sunday, Sept. 8
Game 5: Moscow, Sunday, Sept. 22
Game 6: Moscow, Tuesday, Sept. 24
Game 7: Moscow, Thursday, Sept. 26
Game 8: Moscow, Saturday, Sept. 28