Comedy, Grit and Creative Hockey Style of Team Canada 72
Pat Stapleton talks with Brian McFarlane
I don’t have any bad memories of Team Canada in 72. There were a lot of things that you could go over and decide that they were learning curves, but I could honestly say there was not a bad memory. I mean it was certainly a learning experience for all of us.
They say I was one of the guys who pulled off a lot of gags in Moscow. Well, that’s always important to a team, keeping things light. There was enough stress and enough pressure being placed on us by outside sources. I wouldn’t say from inside, but certainly from outside. The expectations were so high and having a little fun breaks the tension. Actually, now that I think back on it, I have to blame Bill White for those gags I mentioned. I had very little to do with them. And somebody has to take the blame. The deal I think that was funniest, was when everybody got on the bus that was booked to go to the Chinese restaurant. Bill White and I were standing around and somebody said, “Where have you guys been?” We said. “Oh, we just got back from a great Chinese restaurant. I think we even had a name for it–the Pe King if I remember right. There was a game the next day and then after that everybody wanted to go for Chinese food because everybody was fed up with the food that they were getting. They thought that a nice Chinese dinner would be great. So they all agreed to go and Bill and I helped out by ordering a bus. Everybody showed up and got on the bus. But Bill and I didn’t show.
As for the players involved, I think that from the Canadian side I was certainly impressed with every one selected. Their determination to come back and win, against all the odds, was a tremendous feat. It could only have happened on a team with grit and guts like that one.
We went into a situation where we were led to believe that our players were superior because of our presence and stature in the National Hockey League. We were told we were top caliber–the best. But we soon realized that on the playing field you should never under estimate your opponent and never believe your press clippings. In that first game in Montreal, it was like we were thrust into the seventh game of the Stanley Cup Finals. And we weren’t ready for that kind of pace.
What impressed me though was the rallying ability of all the Team Canada guys. You could go down the list and every guy contributed all the skills he could muster and great spirit and attitude to develop a team concept. Even in the darkest days, after leaving Canada upset and frustrated, each individual played a part in staving off defeat. Certainly there were important moments, like Phil’s speech in Vancouver which I didn’t get to see until later, a defining moment and a rallying point for the Canadian fans. But in the privacy of our dressing room, everybody felt good about themselves, we wouldn’t allow ourselves to get down, and we could still go ahead and play with confidence. The timing just wasn’t there at first. It was just a matter of being off by half a bubble. The fierce competitive nature of the guys would come through in the end. The creativity of the guys would likewise come through. I think a major factor in our success was the Russians inability to vary from their strategy. They had a set offensive and defensive strategy and it never altered very much. They weren’t individually creative. Once you learned what they were gonna do and how they were gonna do it, you could defend against it. I really enjoyed competing against them because it brought out the best in me, whether I was challenged by Yakushev or Petrov or Kharlamov. Bring ’em on.
Their defensive guys were very good. They were great athletes to compete against. It was a fun time. There’s not much need to say any more than that.
I think the impact of that series is still with us, still felt today. No matter where I go, people don’t talk to me about what’s happening in the NHL. They talk to me about what happened in that series in ’72. Now as we all grow older, there are fewer and fewer people who remember it or were part of it, but I know the impact is there. There isn’t a school year goes by that I don’t get calls to help with a project some young student is working on with a Team Canada theme. It’s part of their research on Canadian History. They call and they talk about it. And not just kids. Just today I got a call from a guy who is 70 years old and still doing something on it. So that’s the impact. They all ask if I still have the puck that Henderson scored with, and that subject has created quite a little stir. If there’s one specific thing they remember me for, I guess that’s it. Everybody talks about that puck. I haven’t decided yet how to give an answer. I mean its just a puck. What’s a puck? It’s three inches in diameter and one inch thick and it’s black and it’s rubber. And that puck is somewhere. Why all the fuss over a rubber puck? And that’s my answer.
Thinking back, 30 years have skipped by pretty quick, haven’t they? I don’t know why but they seem to have flown by. When I retired from hockey after 15 years in the NHL and the WHA we came back home. I farmed up until a few years ago, then Jackie and I retired from the farm. Then we moved into Strathroy and we rented a home there. I have been assisting my son Tom who has been in Sweden for the last 15 years. He brought over some heavy wash equipment for washing road trucks and we have established an R&D station in Sarnia that works on that equipment. Also the system helps purify the dirty wash water and brings it back almost to its original state. That’s kind of leading edge stuff. Scandanavia is certainly ahead of Canada in that respect and that’s been an interesting project over the last decade.
I also support our local junior B team here, both Jackie and I have been involved in that. We have supported them from the stand point of raising the funds for young kids to play, and I’ve been involved in the coaching and the managing or the scouting—whatever it takes to make it happen. That is my bond with the game and we still have a son Mike who plays the game professionally. In the pro game today it doesn’t seem like you stay in one place very long. I believe hockey is more competitive now because you’ve got more countries and more young people, men and women, wanting to play at the highest level.
I was part owner of a pro team once—the Chicago Cougars in the WHA. When the owners there decided that they were not going to continue, Ralph Backstrom, Dave Dryden, myself and a couple of others, pitched in and kept the club going for the rest of the year. It was a great experience. I certainly enjoyed it, but then I haven’t done anything in my life that I haven’t enjoyed. I was drinking tea out of my Peter Puck mug this morning and thinking it’s important to tell people the fascinating history of our game. Peter was good at that, ahead of his time and he should be part of the game again. He could tell stories about Team Canada.
I see talented kids everyday that I encourage to reach for the top. Many have the ability and if they are willing to put in the time and the hard work that brings success, they can do it.
For more stories on Team Canada 72, look for Brian’s book