by Edith Cody-Rice
If you are of a certain vintage you will recall the intense excitement in 1972 when a professional Canadian hockey team faced off against the Russian Olympic medal winning amateur team in the ultimate hockey summit. The series involved 8 games, 4 in Canada and 4 in Russia. Russia had acquitted itself admirably, winning the Canadian portion of the series and the reputation of both hockey loving countries hung in the balance in the 8th game in Moscow on September 26. It was finally decided for Canada in the last 34 seconds of a tied game by a goal shot by Paul Henderson. The world erupted. This final match was watched on television by ninety percent of Canadians and had an TV audience of approximately 150 million Soviet Russians. It was not only a sports but a diplomatic triumph and the then twenty-eight year old Canadian diplomat, serving in Moscow, assigned to stick handle the relationships between the Canadian and Russian intermediaries (including KGB agents and Canadian senior sports executives like Alan Eagleson) has now written a book about the behind the scenes intrigues and events. This year marks the 50th anniversary of that auspicious moment. But how did this summit come about and why and what went on? That is a story of his book Ice War Diplomat and as he has said of his role, he also wanted to show average Canadians what diplomats do for a living and why they are important.
Gary J. Smith, now retired and living in Perth, recounts his experience managing relationships between the two teams, their executives (and for good measure, taking care of the thousands of Canadian fans who descended on Moscow). During the behind the scenes crises and threats to cancel the match over the choice of referees for the final crucial game, his boss, Ambassador Robert Ford, firmly instructed him to keep the hockey summit running smoothly. No pressure for a young relatively green consular officer!
Ron MacLean, host of Hockey Night in Canada said of Mr. Smith’s mission and this book: “In 1972 Canada’s birthright, our game hockey, was suddenly open to inspection. Gary J. Smith wasn’t asked to referee the now famous hockey series between the Soviet Union and Canada, he was asked to referee something greater. He was handed the Cold War. He was twenty-eight years old. With suspicion aroused on both sides, each whisper, every secret, kept feeding into the question, “What is hidden in their hearts?” Such a question bears discussion and publicity. One man had the necessary skill set. Finally, the incredible story of the glue in 72. The Ice War Diplomat.
Gary J. Smith will be appearing at Mill Street Books, 52 Mill Street in Almonte, on Saturday May 21 from 10 am to 1 pm.