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Facing Adversity

By Ontario Minor Hockey Association, 08/26/16, 9:30AM EDT


What lessons can minor hockey players learn from Team Canada 1972?

There are many phases to a hockey season and every team will go through adversity at one point during the year. This is no different for any level of hockey you play, at any age. It’s about working together and sticking as a group to power through any difficulties or changes that may arise throughout the year. There are many clichés that can be applied and spoken in the locker room but putting meaning behind the words gives them an even bigger impact.

Perhaps one of the greatest teams ever assembled in the history of hockey, the 1972 Team Canada roster certainly learned a number of lessons on the way to their victory in the Summit Series. While they ended up winning, the players will be the first to tell you that it did not come easy. What they did, however, was take these adverse situations and learn from them, applying them to rest of the games moving forward.

While these instances are unique as they relate to the Summit Series, they can still be used as tools for the upcoming minor hockey season.

Fans boo Team Canada off the ice after Game 4 loss in Vancouver and Phil Esposito makes a heartfelt speech to the nation.

“The players, they didn’t listen to Phil’s speech because they were all in the room. Nobody knew what was going on outside. Personally, it’s tough to take but when we play a game like that, the crowd, they are allowed to boo us and they are doing it in the NHL.” – Serge Savard

“We were hugely disappointing. The Vancouver crowd was doing what the rest of Canadians were doing in front of their TV sets. This was a big, big disappointment. This was going to be a party and it didn’t turn out to be a party.” – Ken Dryden

Lesson: Block out the negative outside noise. Don’t get frustrated too easily. Understand going into the year that there will be ups and downs. Stay level headed and don’t get too consumed by the lows or too confident riding the highs. The only people who can control what happens on the ice are you and your teammates.

Team Canada only dresses five defencemen in a Game 1 loss.

“I remember hearing Brad Park talking about this. His defence partner was Gary Bergman and one of things that Brad mentioned was how going into that game, we dressed only five defencemen and that turned out to be a problem. As Brad said, he and Gary were sitting beside each other in the dressing room after the first period, they had played the last shift of the period, they had both came in and they were both kind of huffing and puffing. One was saying to the other ‘how are you feeling?’ and the other one saying ‘we’re in trouble’.” – Ken Dryden

Lesson: Never get ahead of yourself. Being confident is fine and believing in yourself is a healthy attitude to have. However, you can never win the game before you actually play it. Don’t underestimate your opponent or take any shortcuts because you think you are the favourite in the matchup.

The Canadians entered Game 6 down 1-3-1 in the series and had to win the next three games to win the series.

“The mindset was ‘let’s win the next one.’ We knew that we dropped the fifth one, we should’ve won the fifth one, it’s not like we got beat 7-1. We knew we had a very good chance of winning Game 6. Let’s win Game 6 and we’ll take care of the others after and we won Game 6.” – Serge Savard

Lesson: Take each game one at a time. Never give up even when it looks like the odds are stacked against you. There will be both winning and losing streaks throughout the year and sometimes the puck won’t bounce your way but keep pushing forward. It took Team Canada until the last possible game (and until the last few minutes) of the series to clinch victory.

Paul Henderson scored the game-winning goals in the final three games of the series but how did the team arrive to that point?

“That’s the most important goal in the history of hockey. We won this thing as a team. If the (Yvan) Cournoyer goal doesn’t happen, you don’t talk about Paul Henderson like we do today. If Pete Mahovlich doesn’t score that goal in Toronto, maybe we’re not here talking about the same thing. This was really a team effort.” – Serge Savard

Lesson: You win as a team and you lose as a team. No one player is bigger than the other and a total team effort is needed to succeed. Everyone remembers Sidney Crosby’s ‘Golden Goal’ at the 2010 Olympics but can you name the player who passed him the puck? Imagine each teammate as a piece of a finished puzzle and how weird it would look with one missing.

Team Canada used Ken Dryden and Tony Esposito in net for four games each. Each goalie won two games.

“We were confident with either of them. We were confident in winning. Even when we were down two goals, we were confident.” – Serge Savard

“After Game 5, in the practice the next day, (head coach) Harry Sinden brought Tony and I together and said ‘in these next three games, Ken, you’re playing Game 6, Tony, you’re playing Game 7 and Ken, you’re playing Game 8.’ So we knew the pattern.” – Ken Dryden

Lesson: Always have faith in your teammates. Everybody on the team plays a different role and are equally as important as the next player on the bench. On the other side, if a player makes a mistake, be there to support them and bounce back together.

The NHL had consisted of mostly Canadian players during this time and they were considered to be the best in the world.

“There was certainly overconfidence but I think we took them seriously to the extent that we knew.” – Ken Dryden

“Us going to the training camp in 1972 here in Toronto, everybody was telling us ‘you guys won’t lose a game’ so after hearing that for a month, everybody believed that. Even the coach, Harry Sinden, told everybody ‘everybody will play at least one game’ so that it’s all confidence. That’s how confident we were.” – Serge Savard

Lesson: Past games do not matter. Savard and Dryden had played against various Russian national teams growing up to mixed results. Players are always emerging and improving and teams constantly change. Each game is different and don’t let the results of last year’s games against the same opponent bring you down.

This September, eight members of Canada's fabled hockey team will tour the four Canadian cities that hosted the Series in 1972 and share, first-hand, their memories - stories from the dressing room and away from the rink; untold stories of how personal rivalries were resolved and how a team was forged in the crucible of competition - stories that will make you laugh and bring tears to your eyes. Check for more information.

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