It’s been 40 years since the puck dropped in that final game of the 1972 Summit Series at Moscow’s Luzhniki Ice Palace, but David Cadogan remembers it well.
As one of 3,000 Canadians who ventured to the Russian capital to witness Team Canada play its last four games of the series, the then-owner of the Woodstock Bugle, a community newspaper in New Brunswick, still describes that night as the most exciting experience of his life.
While most Canadians have seen countless replays of Paul Henderson’s game-winning goal, Cadogan saw it in person, partially anyway.
“We were at the far end of the ice from the Russian net so we didn’t actually see it,” he said over the phone from his home in Miramichi, N.B. “We just saw a lot of traffic down there and then the light came on and the Canadian players went nuts.”
Though he couldn’t see the puck entering the net, Cadogan did see the crowd’s reaction up close.
“I remember looking at Mark [another Canadian who had made the trip], and there was this look of ecstasy and disbelief on his face that mirrored mine,” he said. “That’s what it was like for all of us – a combination of ‘this cannot possibly be’ and, at the same time, the absolute exaltation that in fact, it was.”
With only 34 seconds remaining on the clock after Henderson’s goal, Cadogan and his friends, understanding that the game was not yet over, delayed their celebrations.
“None of us breathed,” he said of those final moments. “Heavens, in 34 seconds the Russians could score two goals … they dropped the puck and we held our breaths, and when the buzzer went off, we just couldn’t believe it – we had won.”
Being able to share that feeling with so many other Canadians was an experience of its own.
For Cadogan, seeing his fellow countrymen fill up a quarter of the seats at the arena and hearing them cheer loudly for Team Canada during those four games in Moscow was a moving scene.
“My wife and I both promised each other that when they played O Canada in the rink, we were going to stand up and sing,” he said.
“We didn’t talk about that with anybody else, so it was very emotional when they started to play the anthem and every Canadian got up and started singing.”
And after that final game, the collective excitement of the Canadian fans literally ran through the Moscow streets.
“We were so pumped,” Cadogan said. “We got out of the rink as fast as we could and got to our buses, which had to be a quarter to a half mile away.
“We ran all the way, leaping in the air like gazelles.”
A heavy smoker then, Cadogan still isn’t sure how he managed that jumping sprint.
“To this day, looking back on it, there’s no way I could run like that, but we were all running like that,” he said with a chuckle.
For the now 70-year-old, the festivity which followed Game 8 was unlike anything he’d experienced before.
Vodka, as accessible as water, flowed frivolously at the hotel party he had arranged beforehand.
The Coca-Cola that went with it, nearly impossible to come by in communist Russia, was provided by a U.S. marine, stationed at the American embassy, who Cadogan had befriended during the trip.
As the Maritimer describes it, it wasn’t just a party for Canadians.
“People started turning up from all over the world,” Cadogan said of his celebratory soiree. “There were Czechs, who were soviet satellites at the time so they were pretty cautious about what they would say, but they’d come over and tell us they had been cheering for us.
“That was one heck of a party.”
Although celebrating the result of a hockey series, for Cadogan, there was more to it than that.
Growing up in a time much different from today’s, the journalist saw meaning in Canada’s victory that might be overlooked by younger generations.
“We certainly felt a strong endorsement of our [political] system,” he said. “The Russians were so tremendously disciplined, never out of position, they were so regimented … there was strong evidence of a system that was very different from ours.
“When the Canadians won, it was a tremendous relief to know that our system of individuality and freedom really was defensible.”
Though he’s seen many meaningful moments in Canadian hockey since – the 1987 Canada Cup, Sidney Crosby’s golden goal at the Vancouver 2010 Olympics – nothing quite measures up to the 1972 Summit Series in Cadogan’s mind.
“I was definitely more of a hockey fan then than I am now because of what happened [in Moscow],” he said. “I got so excited that I nearly exploded, and after that, everything else seemed pretty tame in comparison.
“There was absolutely no doubt that for most of us, that was the most exciting thing that ever happened to us in our lives.
“You feel like a jerk saying that because that means it meant more than the birth of your children, more than your wedding day, but for heart-pumping, explosive, I-think-I’m-going-to-burst excitement, there was nothing better.”