Hockey, fly fishing and international relations

Paul Smith
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I just finished watching the gold medal hockey game. Way to go Team Canada.
Winning for Sidney Crosby and company was no pushover in Sochi. The competition in hockey was top shelf. Canada had to stay disciplined and play hard to win several one-goal games.

Boy oh boy, were those boys from Finland ever tough to score on. Canada was forced to a shoot-out showdown with them in the qualifying round. The Finland team eliminated the Russians in a close game and went on to pulverize Team USA to take home a bronze medal.

The Canadians played an amazing game against the lads from south of our border. I think it was the fastest and most exciting game of hockey ever. Well, maybe.

The 1975 New Year’s Eve game between Red Army and the Montreal Canadiens is a hockey game burned in my brain. Many say it was the club matchup never to be matched.

Red Army was at the time the elite club team of the Soviet Union, dominating their league. Red Army was stacked to the hilt. In those days this Moscow club siphoned off the best talent from Voskresensk to Vladivostok and dominated Soviet national hockey.

In addition to captain Boris Mikhailov’s famous line with Vladimir Petrov and Valeri Kharlamov (remember those guys?) the perennial Soviet League champions borrowed sniper Alexander Maltsev and defensive stalwart Valeri Vasiliev from Dynamo Moscow for the 1975 Superseries.

Veteran stars like Vladimir Lutchenko and Gennadi Tsygankov rounded out the defence in front of, you guessed it, the almost unbeatable Vladislav Tretiak. What a hockey team.

As much as the Red Army lineup impresses me to this day, I am a dyed in the red-and-blue wool Montreal Canadiens fan. Attending my first NHL game at 10 years old in Maple Leaf Gardens, I focused more on scoreboard updates from a Habs versus Bruins game than paying attention to the live matchup of Leafs against Red Wings. And Gordie Howe was on the ice. I should have had better sense, but I was just an infatuated kid.

As you can well imagine, I was glued to the TV for the big 1975 New Years Eve matchup. But I wasn’t the only Montreal fan. They come in all shapes and sizes, all walks of life, and unexpected places.

This past summer I went salmon fishing in Russia. Naturally, I socialized and had a few drinks with Russians.

I suppose I should have known anyway, but I discovered first hand that Russians love their hockey and their hockey heros.

Well versed

What surprised me most was how much they knew about Canadian hockey players. Although I know the names of the more famous Russian players, now more than ever since they play in the NHL alongside Finns, Swedes, Americans, Canadians, etc, but these Russian fans knew details about even the old time greats like  Jean Béliveau, Bobby Hull and so on. These guys really knew all about the game on an international level.

One of the helicopter pilots, along with one of the guides, were hardcore Montreal Canadiens fans. We got along great, despite broken English, and my rudimentary Russian.

I think sports — both the very athletic Olympic sort, as well as recreational stuff like fly fishing — bring people together, and break down ethnic and political barricades. It was wonderful to see American and Russian fans, waving flags side by side at the Bolshoy Ice Dome.

Think back, not so long ago, of the Cold War, Cuban Missile Crisis, and the very real threat of all out nuclear war.

Some more negative folks thought it was inevitable. I like to think that pursuits like hockey, fly fishing, biathlon and bob-sledding had something to do with putting an end to such war mongering nonsense.

When folks get together to fish, compete in sports, or just watch competitions, religious or political differences and silly ideologies evaporate. Think of how many email address exchanges occurred in Sochi. Each time I travel, my address book mushrooms.

We are all just people of the planet living a day at a time and making the best of it.

My Russian fishing buddies are no different than me, maybe a little less happy about Olympic hockey right now, but hey, I’m pretty certain their turn on the podium will come again. And they did win the most medals overall at their homeland-hosted Olympics of 2014.

Congratulations to Russia and Russians for hosting a spectacular world class event.

My older Russian buddies cheered for Red Army on Dec 31, 1975 — even Montreal fans. Some were too young to remember, but even the young guys knew of the matchup to end all matchups, the Habs versus Red Army. They recall names of the great Montreal Canadiens players from the dynasty days.

I suppose our side was just as stacked as the Russians, given the monopoly held by the Habs over up-and-coming Quebec talent.

Suited up for the showdown were the likes of Guy Lafleur in his breakout season, the offensive elite; Frank Mahovlich, Yvon Cournoyer, Steve Shutt and Jacques Lemaire. Bob Gainey and Doug Jarvis were rock solid defensive forwards, and the “Big Three” of Serge Savard, Guy Lapointe, and Larry Robinson manned the blueline. And none other than Mr. Ken Dryden stood between the pipes. This was one serious hockey team.

My Russian friends remembered the game just as clearly as I did. Montreal took a two-to-zip lead in the first period with goals by Shutt and Yvon Lambert. Tretiak wasn’t without a heel. But Red Army got on the board early in the second period when Mikhailov blasted one past Dryden, who also had an Achilles weak spot in his armour.

My all-time favourite player, Yvon Cournoyer, put the Habs ahead by two about midgame on a power play. That man could fly on skates — nicknamed roadrunner for very good reason. But the Russians persevered. Although being outshot 38–13 overall, they managed to tie the game — and then hit the crossbar very late in the game. What a hockey showdown.

I was rotted at the time. No wonder Tretiak is a hero in Moscow.

Reflecting back, I’m sort of happy it was a tie. And my Russian fishing buddies, to this very day, know they were darn super lucky to have won that tie with the Montreal Canadiens.

On a tangent?

Some of you are thinking that Paul is way off topic. He’s an outdoor writer, not a hockey man.

I consider hockey at its very core an outdoor sport. I spent a lot more time playing on the pond then I did in stadiums. What’s more outdoorsy than a wonderful afterschool game of shinny on the local pond?

We need more of that. Kids are spending too much time indoors and depending on adults to organize activities for them.

I talked to my Russian buddies about that too. They have the same problem: hard to get kids away from TVs and computer games.

I haven’t spent much time on skates in quite a while. I’m going out this week and buying a new pair.

I have a granddaughter that just started skating last week, and a grandson born just a couple of days ago.

I’m going skating and playing hockey with both of them. We will play on ponds, rinks, whatever. You never know … Rory, my granddaughter, might play in the 2030 Olympics. If I’m still on two legs, even one, I’ll be in the stands.

I hope they are as lucky as the Canadian women were in Sochi. Luck and goalposts aside, they did keep pushing and stole the gold from the U.S. ladies in a burst of late game offence.

Olympics or no, we will have a ball on the ice. Might even double up for a bit of ice trouting.


 Paul Smith, a native of Spaniard’s Bay,

fishes and wanders the outdoors at every

opportunity. He can be contacted


or follow him on twitter at @flyfishtherock

Organizations: Montreal Canadiens, Red Army, NHL Soviet League Red Wings Big Three

Geographic location: Finland, Canada, Montreal Soviet Union Moscow Russia Voskresensk Vladivostok Maple Leaf Gardens Sochi Quebec U.S.

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