Jan-11-1976: Cold War Gets Hot on the Ice in Philly
In late 1975, two of the Soviet Union best hockey teams – HC CSKA Moscow (the “Red Army Club”) and Krylya Sovetov Moscow (the “Soviet Wings”) – toured North America for 8 games over two weeks known as the Super Series. The culmination of the series was the final game on January 11, 1976, when the reigning Soviet Champion Red Army Club played the two-time defending champion Philadelphia Flyers – with the famous “Broad Street Bullies” winning in a physical and controversial match in which the Soviets left the ice in protest. It was their only loss during their series.
Background: Soviet Teams
Beginning in 1948, two years after the club was founded and up through 1975, the Red Army:
- won 19 Soviet League championships
- was runner-up on eight other occasions; and
- had skated to nine USSR Cups and six European Cups.
The only Soviet player on Sports Illustrated’s all-time great hockey team in 2000 was the Red Army Club’s goalie Vladislav Tretiak. Tretiak’s amazing goaltender performance would prove the difference in some of the games as he averaged 42 saves, while the Soviet offense only accounted for 18.5 shots per game.
Soviet Wings was founded in 1947 by the Krylya Sovetov sports society that represented Soviet aircraft industry. During the Soviet-era Krylya were among the strongest teams. In 1974 they won the Soviet League championship, the USSR Cup and the European Cup. They were runners-up in the Soviet League for 1973 and 1975.
The Super Series: Initial Red Army Games
December 28, 1975
Red Army 7, New York Rangers 3
The Rangers were 15-17-4 and would not even make the playoffs at the end of the season, but they drew the first blood against the Red Army Club when Hall-of-Famer Tony Esposito scored 8 seconds into the game. From then on the game resembled the boxing match between Ivan Drago and Apollo Creed in Rocky IV as the Soviets scored the next 7 goals en route to a 7-3 win.
Soviet goalie Tretiak recorded 41 saves to the Rangers 29.
December 31, 1975:
Montreal Canadiens 3, Red Army 3
The Canadiens were 25-5-6 and en route to the team’s 18th Stanley Cup championship and would repeat as champion the next 3 years (a feat no other franchise had achieved at that time). The team included future Hall-of-Famers Yvan Cournoyer, Ken Dryden, Guy Lapointe, Guy Lafluer, Jacques Lemaire, Larry Robinson, Serge Sevard, and Steve Shutt.
The match-up between two legendary teams at their peak has been called the Greatest Game Ever Played. In the battle between two legendary goaltenders, the Soviet Tretiak saved 38 shots to Ken Dryden’s 13.
January 8, 1976:
Red Army 5, Boston Bruins 2
The Bruins were 21-9-9 and featured future Hall-of-Famers John Bucyk, Gerry Cheevers, Phil Esposito and Bobby Orr. While the Bruins scored first, Soviet star Valeri Kharlamov scored back-to-back goals to put the Soviets ahead as they won 5-2. Once again Tretiak saved 40 shots to the Bruin’s 19.
The Super Series: Soviet Wings Series
December 29, 1975
Soviet Wings 7, Pittsburgh Penguins 4
The slumping Penguins were 14-17-4 and would win only one of their next eight games before rallying to make the playoffs. The headline read “Penguins learn too late to avert 7-4 defeat”, as the Wings jumped to a 5-0 first-period lead for the easy win.
January 4, 1976
Buffalo Sabres 12, Soviet Wings 6
The Sabres were 21-11-5 in only their sixth NHL season. The team featured future Hall-of-Famer Gilbert Perreault who was third in the NHL in points that season. The Sabres routed the Soviet Wings 12-6.
At the time, the loss was the worst ever suffered by Soviet team in international competition. Following the game, the Soviet coach was so humiliated by the loss that he placed his team in seclusion. The result was so impressive that before the Sabres’ next game they received a standing ovation from the fans… in Montreal.
“I had never been so fired up for a game” said Martin. “I had played in a lot of big games. But that truly was the game I’ll never forget.” Punch Imlach called the game the highlight of 1975-76 campaign and the highlight of his career. In Budd Bailey’s “The History of the Buffalo Sabres,” Imlach also said that the game “was the all-time high point for the Sabres.”
The Sabres 12-6 route of the Soviet Wings is considered one of the greatest victories in franchise history.
January 7, 1976
Soviet Wings 4, Chicago Black Hawks 2
The Chicago Blackhawks were 16-10-13 with Hall of Famers Center Stan Mikita and Goalie Tony Esposito. Controversial calls by Soviet referees allowed the Wings to take a 3-1 advantage thanks to power-play goals.
January 10, 1976
Soviet Wings 2, New York Islanders 1
Three nights later the Wings faced the New York Islanders (21-12-7) in their fourth season. The Islanders had a young nucleus of future Hall-of-Famers Bryan Trottier (C), Denis Potvin (D), Clark Gillies (LW) and Brian Smith (C) that would lead them to four consecutive Stanley Cup titles from 1980-1983. The Wings won 2-1.
January 11, 1976
Philadelphia Flyers 4, Red Army 1
The series finale was between the Red Army and the Philadelphia Flyers. The Flyers were the two-time defending champions and were 28-6-8 when they faced they faced the Red Army.
The defining moment in the game came early in the first period when Ed Van Impe delivered a hard hit on the Red Army’s top player, Valeri Kharlamov, knocking Kharlamov prone on the ice for a minute, and the Soviet coach pulled his team from the ice for 16 minutes in protest of the officials’ ruling that the hit was a legal play. The Soviet coach protested, “We have never played (against) such animal hockey”, but National Hockey League president Clarence Campbell, NHL Players’ Association executive director Alan Eagleson and finally Vlacheslav Koloskov, head of the Russian delegation, calmed the emotional coach and convinced him to return.
The Flyers had taken 12 shots at Russian goaltender Vladislav Tretiak when the Red Army left the ice at 11:21 but hadn’t been able to beat him. Within 30 seconds of resumption of play, Reg Leach deflected in a shot from the blueline with the Russians short a man for a delay of the game penalty.
That game was notable as the Flyers’ completely dominated the game, even without having Hall of Fame goalie Bernie Parent available for the game. The gritty Flyers who were led by 3-time league MVP winner Bobby Clarke, great play by several Flyers including Rick MacLeish, Wayne Stevenson in goal, and even a shorthanded goal by light scoring defenseman Joe Watson.
. . .. Praise of the Flyers play came from all areas of North America, even from the Montreal Gazette sports writer Tim Burke “The Flyers salvage Canada’s pride in her nation sport with a near perfect hockey masterpiece… It came as a glorious finale to Super Series ’76…It was one of the most remarkable displays of preparedness, discipline and unflappability in the annals of sport and it elevated Flyers’ Coach Fred Shero’s systematic approach to the game beyond question. Super quiet Flyers Coach Fred Shero was quoted after the game: “Yes we are world champions. If they had won, they would have been world champions. We beat the hell out of a machine”.
At the end of the tour, the Red Army’s final tally was 2-1-1 and the Soviet Wings finished 3-1. Red Fisher had this comment in the Montreal Star following the close of the series:
They were grand and talented visitors, but the Soviets do not represent a hockey season in this area – and should not. The Soviets won the series 5-2-1, but all of the dialogue in the wake of Philadelphia’s awesome wipeout of the Red Army team focused on the Soviets’ failure to beat the National Hockey League’s best 3 teams. Their best was unable to beat our best, which makes the over-all results considerably less than important.