50 Years Ago in Hockey: Russian Comeback Downs OHA Stars

The Russian national hockey team, showing off its superior conditioning, came back from a 3-1 deficit to defeat the Ontario Hockey Association Junior A All-Stars 4-3 last night at Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto. A capacity crowd of 14,886 gave both teams a lengthy standing ovation at the final bell in appreciation of a fine display of hockey skill.

Most observers felt that the Russians, better conditioned with vastly more experience, would win the game handily, by at least four or five goals. The Juniors, however, put on a show of their own and had they not wilted under the constant Russian pressure, they might have stolen this one.

Orr Best for Juniors

Bobby Orr in the unfamiliar garb of the Toronto Marlboros.
Bobby Orr in the unfamiliar garb of the Toronto Marlboros.

The Russians broke out in front at 1:44 of the first on a goal by Boris Mayorov. Mayorov beat Marlies goalie Joey Bamford, an import from the Lakehead Senior League, with a nifty backhander. The assembled throng let forth an audible groan, as if to say “Here, we go, this is going to get ugly.”

The Juniors were likely the only folks in the place who didn’t believe all was lost at that early juncture. Bobby Orr, loaned from the Oshawa Generals, beautifully set up Niagara Falls’ Ted Snell less than two minutes later to knot the score at 1-1.

Orr, the 17-year-old prodigy who is property of the Boston Bruins, was by far the Juniors’ best player, effective in his own end and constantly dangerous on the rush.

Just before the seven minute mark of the opening frame, the Juniors took the lead with Danny Grant banging home a rebound of a soft Andre Lacroix shot that Russian goalie Viktor Konovalenko failed to cover.

Lacroix scored one of his own about 10 minutes later from close in to leave the OHA club leading 3-1 after 20 minutes.

Soviets Dominate Middle Frame

Anatoli Firsov
Anatoli Firsov

The Russians came back with a vengeance in the middle frame, pouring 19 shots at a beleaguered Bamford. They only managed one goal during the period, and that was due mainly to Bamford’s heroics. But that one goal was a beauty, the type of scoring play for which the Russians have become famous. A finely choreographed four-way pattern passing play ended with an uncovered Anatoli Firsov making no mistake to pull the visitors to within one with two minutes to play.

The Russians tied it up quickly in the final period, connecting at the four-minute mark. Bamford had once again made a fine save on a Russian drive, but he lost sight of the rebound. Unfortunately for the OHA goalie, Vyacheslav Starshinov saw it all the way and whipped it into the net before the Canadian netminder could react.

The winner for the Russians came one second before the eight-minute mark. Konovalenko had just made two fine stops on backhanders by the Marlies’ Jim Keon and Lacroix when  Konstantin Loktev converted passes by Alexandrov and Almetov . The Soviets then went into a very effective defensive shell which the Juniors were unsuccessful in cracking.

Canadian Hockey Men Not Impressed

Overall, the Canadian juniors acquitted themselves very well against the bigger, more experienced Soviets. A number of prominent hockey people in attendance felt that the near-upset exposed some of the flaws in the Russian hockey machine.

Rudy Pilous unimpressed by Russians.
Rudy Pilous unimpressed by Russians.

Rudy Pilous the boisterous coach of the OHA Junior A Hamilton Red Wings, was impressed by the Russian passing, but little else.

“It was pretty, but who wants to look at pretty all season, unless her name is Brigitte Bardot?”

Getting serious, Pilous praised the Russian passing, their constant motion and their ability to play the puck with their feet. But he added a caveat:

“But if they played our rules, they’d get knocked down in the attacking zone. One good bodycheck would break up all that pretty passing. If we played their rules with a team of NHL all-stars, I can see guys like Henri Richard running up the score into adding machine figures.”

Detroit Red Wings coach and general manager Sid Abel wasn’t particularly impressed, but he figures he would need to see more from the Reds.

“The Russians move the puck around but there is a lot of wasted motion. Playing our way, they wouldn’t be able to look around and pick their spots.

“I’d want to see a little more of them, to see how much guts they have.”

Gordie Howe was impressed with the way the Juniors took the play to the Russians in the first period, forcing a number of errors not usually seen by the visitors.

That proves it – they make mistakes just like we do.

Frank Mahovlich was licking his chops at the prospect of playing international rules. The Big M feels that skilled forwards like himself would have a field day gliding in to the attacking zone unencumbered.

“Boy, how good a guy could look, skating in with his head down, making all those moves without being hit.”

Mahovlich doesn’t think the Russians have improved to the point of being able to compete with top professional teams. Big Frank saw the Russians lose at the hands of the Whitby Dunlops  and he says they are doing the same things now that they did then, and not any better.

Perhaps the irascible Harold Ballard summed up the overall Canadian attitude towards the Soviets best when he said:

The Russians are like a toy poodle yapping at a big St. Bernard.

(The above with thanks to Al Nickleson and Dick Beddoes of the Globe and Mail)



Larry Hillman back with Leafs from Rochester.
Larry Hillman back with Leafs from Rochester.
  • Toronto has called up defensemen Larry Hillman and Darryl Sly from Rochester of the American Hockey League.
  • Red Wings’ mentor Sid Abel has complained to the NHL that the huge “Seasons Greetings” sign inscribed between the blue lines on the ice surface at Maple Leaf Gardens is in contravention of league rules. NHL president Clarence Campbell says there is nothing in the rule book to prevent it.
  • Hershey Bears defeated Vancouver Canucks 6-3 last night at Vancouver in a AHL-WHL interlocking game. Jeannot Gilbert had two goals for Hershey.
  • Quebec Aces bombed the Providence Reds 11-4 in Quebec City. Keke Mortson, Ed Hoekstra and Gord Labossiere had two goals each for Quebec.