Book Review: Coming Down The Mountain

“It was ‘us’ versus the big ‘evil other.’ Our guys banded together, despite early setbacks, to win. ‘The goal’ was a never-to-be-forgotten moment of triumph that united a large and politically fractious country.”

– Brian Kennedy, Coming Down The Mountain

Brian Kennedy’s compilation of essays on the 1972 Summit Series demands that the reader reconsider his or her understanding of the epic events that transpired between Team Russia and Team Canada in the Fall of 1972.

Kennedy’s collection of 15 essays makes the reader ponder the real implications that the Summit Series had on Canada, the NHL, European hockey, and the way that the sport of hockey was viewed worldwide. It’s quite easy to view the Summit Series as a set of events that showed Team Canada’s resilience and its battle against the menacing forces of communism, but that simply wouldn’t be doing much, or any, justice to the impact that this international showdown had on hockey as a sport.

Coming Down the Mountain: Rethinking the 1972 Summit Series (at Amazon)

Redefining History

Oftentimes, when one can’t come to terms with more modern analyses of historical events, the use of a revisionist narrative is blamed for a differing view on history.

In the West, the Summit Series has traditionally been viewed in terms of good vs. evil; Democracy vs. Communism. Understandable and not untrue–indeed it was the height of the Cold War–but such a simplistic view belies the many cultural complexities of a Series that would so thoroughly alter the geopolitical landscape.

By winning three of four games in Moscow, Team Canada was able to beat the Soviet team in what was literally last-second fashion as Paul Henderson’s goal in the waning seconds of regulation time in Game Eight sealed the comeback for the Canadians in dramatic fashion. However, despite this last second victory, Canadian hockey underwent a tremendous re-evaluation period as a greater amount of respect was given to the “amateur” European game that gave Team Canada all that it could handle in the eight-game set.

Toughness Vs. Finesse

One of the recurring themes in Kennedy’s book is the difference of styles employed by Team Canada and Team Russia – and how such differences factored into the way that Canadian NHL teams, and American NHL teams, would be structured after the Summit Series.

No longer would the Soviet hockey player be marginalized as an “amateur” athlete inferior to his Canadian or North American counterpart. By giving Team Canada fits through its technical and disciplined play, the Soviets were able to highlight weaknesses in the Canadian game – one which couldn’t simply dominate the finesse of the Soviets through brute strength, physicality, and a variety of intimidation tactics.

Not only did the eight-game series test the will of both teams, it demonstrated that there was a new hockey power in the world. Instead of showing a complete dominance of their sport, Canada realized there was a lot to be learned from the European style of play.

Fitness routines, viability of European players, and technical strategies were some of the few things that were reconsidered by NHL teams even after Team Canada proved to be victorious – and several essays in Kennedy’s book speak to such a fact.

International & Domestic Implications

While Canadian and American hockey teams alike took notes from the Summit Series, there was also an immense impact on culture and unity in various parts of the world. In Quebec, the Summit Series elicited feelings of cultural pride and helped further the campaign the campaign of Quebec national identity through the sport of hockey.

In Sweden, newspapers, journalists, and reporters mocked and lambasted Team Canada for their tactics of intimidation, but that surely didn’t stop the migration of Swedish players to the NHL after the completion of the Summit Series. Similarly, the series also sparked Bruce Norris’ interest in setting up a hockey league in Britain – a country that might not have followed the Summit Series all too carefully, but one that had its fair share of hockey roots since the nineteenth century.

On the other hand, Soviet interest in Canadian players began to rise as Canadian superstars such as Phil and Tony Esposito, Ken Dryden, and Paul Henderson were recognized for their exploits in a demanding series. Much in the same light, players such as Valery Kharlamov and Vladislav Tretiak gained the respect of the Canadian audience because of their mastery of their respective positions.

Although the Summit Series touched off a great interest in the NHL on behalf of European hockey players, it also had a significant impact on things such as women’s hockey. While the women’s movement in sport was still some time away from kicking into action after the completion of the Summit Series, there was a lopsided effect on the gender-specific way that the sport was marketed. Even though the series helped grow the sport of hockey in an international manner, it didn’t do much to help expand the availability of hockey to women and girls as attention shifted mainly toward the improvement of the product that Canada fielded for its men.

Summarizing The Summit Series

In Coming Down The Mountain: Rethinking The 1972 Summit Series, Kennedy et al re-consider this epic series in multiple viewpoints, all of which however speak to the international impact on the sport of hockey and how the Summit Series essentially changed the way that the game of hockey was played, managed, and viewed.

From cultural pluralism to national identity to concepts of unity, Kennedy masterfully organizes his book into four easily digestible sections. By utilizing a wide array of narratives, Coming Down The Mountain succeeds chiefly by protesting the simplicity of the good vs. evil approach as well as the antiquated view of the Summit Series as little more than a reassertion of Canada’s dominance of the hockey world.