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Prince George couple saw historic Canada-Russia series live in Moscow

Bad food, bugged hotel rooms create vivid memories of hockey trip to Moscow 50 years ago
Johanna and Dave Jenkins Summit Series 1972
Johanna and Dave Jenkins of Prince George show their souvenirs from the Canada Russia Summit Series they attended in Moscow in September 1972.

This story first appeared in the Citizen on Sept. 29, 2017. It is being reposted on our website to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Canada-Russia Summit Series.

As witnesses to the Canada-Russia Summit Series, arguably the greatest sporting spectacle in Canadian history, Dave and Johanna Jenkins of Prince George have total recall of their trip to Moscow.

They were among 3,000 Canadians who sat in end-zone seats at Luzhniki Ice Palace in the last week of September 1972 to watch Team Canada's miraculous comeback in the eight-game series.

Along with memories of lousy food, abysmal hotel accommodations, cold-shoulder treatment from their hosts and the lingering presence of Russian soldiers and police is that moment frozen in time when Paul Henderson scored the series-winning goal with just 34 seconds left in Game 8, sending Canadians into a frenzy.

The Jenkins joined a caravan of 20 planeloads of Canadians who traveled to Moscow to see the final four games of a series. Playing the Russians on their turf against improbable odds in a hostile environment, Team Canada won the final three games, all by one-goal margins, with Henderson the hero firing all three game-winning goals.

Reliving that week in Russia which kept Canadians glued to their television sets requires no effort for the Jenkins. The series has been well-documented in books and DVD sets and on its 50th anniversary it remains relevant for triggering an outpouring of national pride like no other Canadian sporting event ever did or likely ever will.

It happened during the Cold War era just 10 years after the Cuban missile crisis and politics were intrinsically linked. It was our capitalistic system and the NHL's best professionals facing off against the so-called “amateurs” of the Communist Soviet regime at the height of its buildup as a world superpower - our best against their best in hockey for the first time.

“They (Team Canada) played with so much passion in Russia, it was unbelievable, it was like every shift for a Canadian player was the last shift he would ever take - the weight of the entire country was upon them,” said Dave Jenkins. “I had immense pride for our country and our players after we won that last game. What a proud feeling. A country of 22 million beating a country of 131 million, it was awesome.”

Sponsored by a Canadian whiskey company, the overseas flight left from Montreal on Sept. 19 and all of the passengers were handed a bottle as they boarded and many of those were consumed before the plane landed. Dave Jenkins managed to get a seat in the first-class lounge in the upper deck of the Boeing 747 and sat with Montreal Canadiens great Maurice "Rocket" Richard, Buffalo Sabres head coach George "Punch" Imlach and Ken McKenzie, then the editor of The Hockey News.

“Three hundred people were on that jumbo and every person was given a 26'er of Seagram's," said Johanna Jenkins. "When the plane landed in Copenhagen all the empty bottles rolled under chairs, down aisles, you could hear the all the clinky-clink. Oh, that was a scene.”

After a brief stop in Denmark, the Jenkins arrived in Moscow on Sept. 20, two days before Game 5, and checked into the Hotel Bucharest, finding their fourth-floor room was within sight of Red Square and the Kremlin. But that was about the only perk it offered. As they would soon learn, the hotel had for all of its guests just five shared showers, all found in the basement, with curmudgeonly attendants strictly controlling towel distribution.

"We were the last group in from Canada and we were assigned the worst hotel - it was dive of the first order," said Dave.

The tour, arranged by Hockey Canada, originally included 17 people from Prince George but only three of them - the Jenkins and Tom O'Reilly - got to see the four games in Moscow. With 3,000 Canadians there to watch, Hockey Canada was unable to get enough tickets in the 15,000-seat arena to accommodate then all. Hundreds of them, fed up with being lodged in atrociously rundown hotel rooms and barely palatable food, accepted the offer for a free one-week stay in Copenhagen with the entire cost of their airfare refunded.

“I said to Jo ‘don't worry, we'll get in one way or another, we're not going home, we're here for hockey and we'll get tickets,'” said Dave. "They weren’t denying Rocket Richard, Punch Imlach and Ken McKenzie entry and (McKenzie) got us tickets.”

Their glimpse behind the Iron Curtain took the Jenkins past the country's heavily-guarded borders into the heart of Russia, where they jumped onto busses for daily tours which took them to mostly bland state-sponsored propaganda stops, where they saw such awe-inspiring sights as the world's first tractor.

For Canadian TV audiences who tuned in to the live broadcasts coming via satellite to see the games and hear Foster Hewitt's play-by-play descriptions, it was a rare opportunity to see Russians behind the veil, doing something other than watching a military parade.

Canada had been heavily-favoured to win the series handily but the Russians were in better shape and had been playing together for months. Team Canada started with 35 players picked from a 17-day camp and they were not prepared for the faster-skating Russians. Canada lost the first game in Montreal 7-3, rebounded with a 4-1 win two days later in Toronto, and tied 3-3 in Winnipeg to head to Vancouver for Game 4 trailing in the series.

After the Vancouver fans booed them while on the way to a 5-3 loss to the Russians, captain Phil Esposito made his impassioned speech on the ice after the game, letting everybody know how much it hurt the players to feel their own fans were turning on them.

In Russia, the banner-holding, flag-waving Canadians made up for that gut-wrenching slight in a big way with their voices from the stands, clanging cowbells and blowing trumpets they would have to hide suddenly to avoid having them confiscated by the soldiers standing guard. Starting with their singing voices in the national anthems, their chants of "Da da Canada, nyet, nyet Soviet" drowned out the crowd of 12,000 Russians in the building. That rabid support was not lost on the Canadian players, who used it as the rallying cry for their comeback.

Before they left Moscow, Dave and Jo loaded up their suitcases with souvenirs of all things Russian - a fur hat, a balalaika (stringed instrument), a kosovorotka (traditional long-sleeved shirt) and a troika doll (a set of wooden dolls of decreasing size so they fit inside of each other). The one memento of their trip they both wish they still had - Team Canada winger Bill Goldsworthy's hockey stick - was left behind in Moscow.

The story of that stick began in August 1971 in New Westminster when Dave and Jo attended the Minto Cup junior A lacrosse national championship, where they ran into John Steeves, a lawyer friend of Dave's from Prince George. Steeves was president of the B.C. Major Junior Lacrosse League and he introduced the Jenkins to Georgy Maslov, president of the state-sponsored Russian national shipping company, Sovinflot.

"He spoke impeccable English, he was a Harvard lawyer, and he was over to see Steeves because a year or two earlier a Russian freighter had collided with a B.C. ferry and there was heavy-duty litigation over who was responsible," said Dave, a longtime local lawyer and founding partner of Heather Sadler Jenkins.

"So we went back to Steeves' house, drank the vodka right out of the freezer with the hot pepper in the bottom and had a great time with Georgy and talked lacrosse."

That winter, they saw The Hockey News ad for the Summit Series hockey tour and paid the $900 for each of them to go to Russia. Once he knew they were going, Dave got in touch with Steeves and asked him to write to Maslov, who gave his contact information and told them he had clearance from the Russian government to meet with them in Moscow. He told then to call him once they arrived, which they did.

On their second day in Russia, the morning before Canada lost Game 5 5-4 to fall behind in the series with three losses, a tie, and only one win, Dave and Johanna went to watch the Canadian team practice. While sitting in the stands near the players' bench, Goldsworthy found out Johann was from Canada and struck up a conversation, eventually giving her one of his sticks, which he autographed. The Jenkins took it back to their hotel room and a few days later met up Maslov, who sent two players from the Central Red Army hockey team, a driver and an interpreter to pick them up in a black limousine decked out in Russian flags. That resulted in a few raised eyebrows from their Canadian travel companions who saw them get in the car to bring them to Maslov's office, wondering if this friendly Jenkins couple from Prince George was somehow involved in espionage.

"He was very disappointed he couldn't invite us to his home but the conditions of detente at the time didn't permit it and he gave Jo this nice little troika doll," said Dave. "So just before we went he told us he had a 12-year-old son and he said, ‘you wouldn’t happen to have a Canadian player's hockey stick would you?’

“The only way he would have ever known that was if our room was bugged, and we knew it was bugged. I didn't want things to get worse for us in Moscow and we appreciated his generosity, and she blames me to this day for giving away her hockey stick.”

Esposito was convinced the player rooms were bugged as well. He found a lump under the carpet and ripped it up to reveal a box, which he thought contained the listening device. He and Wayne Cashman loosened the bolts and heard a crash. It turned out the bolts were the only things holding a chandelier hanging in the room below.

The night before Game 6, Dave and Johanna accepted an offer from friends Duff and Chris McDermid to go drinking and dancing in the ballroom of the Intourist Hotel. It turned to be the best night of their stay in Moscow. For the first time on their trip, the locals let down their guard. The frosty receptions and rude treatment that tainted the Jenkins' encounters with mistrusting Muscovites the previous week faded with the clinking of glasses as the locals' sense of curiosity took over.

That night, they set aside their politics and nationalistic feelings and wanted to learn more about the Canadians sitting next to them. They dragged Dave and Johanna off the dance floor and invited them to sit at their table to share a drink. A soldier came over and toasted them holding one of the Maple Leaf centrepieces from the adjacent tables and they emptied bottles of cognac, vodka and "champansky" while making their first Russian friendships.

"That was so special, having that contact with some very nice people and you know there's a human side to them," said Johanna. "They were out having a party enjoying themselves and found themselves in the company of this huge tour of Canadians and that was so awesome."

The Jenkins slept until noon the next day, ate in their hotel restaurant and were served raw chicken, then went to the rink for Game 6 to watch Canada skate to a 3-2 win.

"We weren’t eating well but we were drinking well because the champagne was excellent and cheap (two rubles for a bottle), and we had it for breakfast lunch and dinner," said Dave. "The water wasn’t safe to drink and the coffee your spoon would stand up in."

They loved the Moscow Circus and the caviar served with cream and blackberries during the intermission at the opera Rigeletto at the Bolshoi Theatre was to die for. For obvious reasons, Russia in 1972 was not a favoured tourist destination and the natives were not used to seeing a foreign invasion arriving by the busload. Kids flocked to them, asking for chewing gum, but cab drivers saw their red and white flags and kept driving rather than pick them up.

"When 3,000 Canadians invade a city of eight million they regard you with some disdain and when you come to beat their hockey team that's even worse," said Johanna.

As she wrote in her trip diary: “Russia has nothing beautiful or happy about it. It is an efficient country running according to schedule but with no feeling, at least not for any visitors. Russia is definitely a cold country.

“They always use one door even if there are eight doors. Every part of our departure had police standing guard. They have very strict observance as they are afraid people will get out of the country.”

Canada took Game 7 by a score of 4-3 and in Game 8 the visitors were trailing 5-3 heading into the second intermission. But Esposito scored early in the third period and Yvan Cournoyer tied it 5-5 with seven minutes left, setting up Henderson's dramatic game winner in the final minute. Had Henderson not scored, the Russians would have won the series based on having a better goal differential.

“Henderson's goal was at the far end from us, and we were delirious after Canada won,” said Dave. "That was our team.

“We came out of the arena having won the series and there were literally dozens of big transport vehicles with mounted horsemen in the back ready to be let out in case of a riot.”

Two days later, when the plane's wheels finally left the runway in Moscow after 10 days in the Russian capital, the crowd of Canadians on board let the pilot know they appreciated what he had just done for them.

“It was an immense relief to be out of Moscow, the cheer was louder when the plane was in the air than it was for Henderson's final goal, and it was spontaneous,” laughed Dave. “We landed in Copenhagen and ate rare roast beef, scallop potatoes, shrimp cocktail and chocolate mousse at the hotel. It was like a dream.

“That trip made us appreciate the country we live in and the amenities we have so much I never once again thought I wanted to go to a place like Russia, but I'm glad I did.”