December 28, 1976
Hartford Connecticut ... Tom Hine, Hartford Courant
Harry Neale sipped a little tradition out of one of the Soviet Union’s favorite past times Monday night, and the New England Whalers stole the thunder out of the Russian’s playbook after
an unbelievable, surprisingly convincing, 5-2 exhibition win at the Civic Center.
“I may have some vodka tonight, without any mixer,” Neale quipped outside the jubilant Whalers locker room after a win of such magnitude most of the sellout crowd will never know.
This was the strongest Soviet Union hockey team ever put on ice and one which has a score to settle after last year’s Canada Cup defeat let alone that national pride it hopes to regain in
the next World championship.
It was a bitter blow for the Russians to watch a bunch of Whalers,hanging by a toenail in fourth place in the east division standings, beat them convincingly.
“It was a great emotional effort that will probably cost us two points tomorrow night, but it was worth it tonight,” said Neale who boards a plane this morning for the Whalers game in
St. Paul this evening.
“I don’t expect that we could play with that emotional intensity every night. But our players, I think, were as upset as I was, after last Monday’s game with the Czechs.”
“I wouldn’t classify it as our usual effort, but this wasn’t a usual opponent. Maybe that brings out the best in us. We didn’t even talk about this game until today, but when you can beat a team like that, you’ve got to be pleased. It was something we can look back at and refer to in other games that are big ones. When we broke down (Cap) Raeder made the saves.”
The Whalers hustling penalty killer Garry Swain was selected Most Valuable Player, for the winners, an honor he and many others deserved.
Some in the crowd felt Raeder deserved it. ‘I wouldn’t want to be the selector,” said Neale. “Picking one wouldn’t be fair to the other 18 guys who didn’t get it.”
That was the kind of effort the Whalers got and needed for nothing short of one of their most historical wins, not just in their first five years in the WHA, but in the next five or ten as well.
When Swain deflected in Doug Roberts’ bid for the Whalers first goal of night and a 1-0 lead in the fifth minute of play, the Civic Center exploded, but it’s safe to say most thought the Whalers edge would never last.
The Whalers’lead did last, and their ranks were given a big boost when Swain, Tom Earl, Ron Busniuk and Gordie Roberts killed ever so convincingly the Soviets first power play chance of the night. The Big Red Machine never got a chance to put it’s well-tuned precision attack in motion.
Less than a minute later with seven still to play in the first period, the Whalers started to make believers of a house full of doubters when Alan Hangsleben left a perfect drop pass for Earl who bear the legendary Vladislav Tretiak almost too easily to believe.
Alexsandr Malstev’s deflection off Raeder on a Soviet power play exactly three minutes later made things closer but only 53 seconds, the Whalers got their two-goal lead back when Gary Macgregor connected with a difficult, high-tipped deflection in the slot.
So awesome was the Whalers dominance in the first period they held a 19-8 edge in shots on goal. That changed drastically in a scoreless second period when the Soviets rang up a 13-3 bulge but came away frustratedly empty handed thanks to the work of the New England penalty killers.
The Whalers at one point stymied the Soviet power play for 80 seconds with only three skaters of their own on the ice. The Whalers killed another two-minute power play at the end of
the second period and still one more early in the third before the Russians beat Raeder for the second time and last time on Aleksandr Yakushev’s connection off Vladimir Shadrin’s rebound.
That 3-2 score appeared very much in danger of turning the momentum with 15 minutes still to play, but the Whalers didn’t let it happen and their fans wouldn’t let them. Jim Troy called up from Providence Monday like Earl was, hit George Lyle from the right boards for a doorstep connection with 13 minutes to play and after Raeders heroics, Lyle got his second of the night on a classic fake past Tretiak.
The Whalers may have been riding high all night at a feverous emotional pitch that undoubtedly leave them dragging this morning.
But the surprising thing Monday night, excluding the final score, was that the Soviets, not the Whalers, were the tired ones when it was all over.