‘Most of them were good, normal guys’
Rick Noonan, one of the principal organizers of the Canadian national hockey team players reunion in St. John’s this week, served as a Hockey Canada executive on national teams for many years, including general manager of the 1980 Lake Placid Olympic Games squad that placed sixth.
But before donning the shirt and tie, Noonan worked as an athletic trainer, winning a couple of Memorial Cups with Toronto St. Mike’s (1961) and the Toronto Marlboros (1964). He also worked as a trainer with the Toronto Maple Leafs during the 1963-64 season.
In 1970, he headed west to join the University of British Columbia’s athletic department, hooked up with Fr. David Bauer and eventually served as head trainer for Canada's national hockey team.
An interesting part of Noonan’s career came in 1972, when he was assigned by Hockey Canada to assist the Soviet Union squad for its first four games of the Summer Series in Canada (Montreal, Toronto, Winnipeg and Vancouver).
Noonan was the only Canadian to have regular access to the Soviet dressing room, and was on the Soviet bench during the first four games of the series.
“Most of them were good, normal guys,” he said of the players, suggesting the idea of a Russian hockey player during that time being robotic and lacking personality was a myth.
“Some were more serious than others. The guys who were politically tied to Russia were certainly the serious ones.
“But most were happy to get out of Russia to play in a tournament. A lot of them enjoyed their vodka. Things have certainly changed (in Russia) since then. Coke and toilet paper aren’t the big items they were in 1972.”
The latter is in reference to the Russian Summit Series players taking advantage of items which were commonplace in Canada, but were hard to come by in their home country almost half a century ago.
Noonan once related how the Soviet team gulped six dozen bottles of Coca Cola after a practice and that the Russian players regularly left their hotel rooms with not only the soap, shampoo and the like, but also with the toilet paper.
Noonan didn’t walk into the Soviet locker room a complete stranger, as many players recognized him from his work with Canadian national teams.
“Eyeball to eyeball, they knew me,” he said.
When the series shifted to Moscow for Games 5, 6, 7 and 8, Noonan remained home in Vancouver, back at work at UBC.
He watched each of the last four games on TV with Fr. David Bauer, coach of Canada’s national team.
When Paul Henderson scored the series-clinching goal for Canada with 34 seconds left on the clock in Game 8, Noonan and Bauer celebrated with UBC students.
They probably didn’t know who Noonan was, or what he had been doing the previous week.