Saturday, September 24, 2022

'I felt Canadian for the first time': The Newfoundlander is one of the few who traveled to Russia for the 1972 Summit Series. CBC Sports

It was the road trip of a lifetime.

Five decades ago, nearly three thousand Canadians traveled where few Westerners had ever ventured before: Russia. They boarded planes hoping to see their love for the country and their passion for hockey and sporting history.

Jim Herder was 26 when he traveled from Newfoundland to Moscow for the final four games of the 1972 Summit Series. He was in the crowd at the Luzhniki Palace of Sports when Paul Henderson scored one of the most important goals in hockey history.

50 years later, he sat down with CBC Sports senior reporter Jamie Strashin to describe his journey.

Jamie Strashin: We’re here to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the ’72 series. Does this sound like 50 years ago to you?

Jim Heder: No. I’ve seen milestones come and go and always wondered if I’d be here 50, but now that it’s here, I’m really enjoying all the memories and the interest.

JS: How did you first know it was even possible to travel to Russia?

JH: My friends heard about it from me two weeks ago and they were in the first group of 2,000 to go with Air Canada. When I heard about additional Aeroflot flights and another thousand seats, I told my wife—we had a one-year-old in the house—this was the chance of a lifetime to see Russia. And so I went.

Herder’s ticket from Game 8 of the September 28, 1972 Summit Series is enclosed in a stub glass. (Submitted by Jim Heder)

JS: Describe the journey from St. John’s to Moscow?

JH: We flew to Montreal before, and I think there was a regular Aeroflot flight that went [from] From Montreal to Paris to Moscow. We had a long stay in Paris. When I got on the plane with everyone, I was a stranger – but I met people I still keep in touch with today.

JS: Russia was a very mysterious, unknown place in 1972. What do you remember about getting there? Were you scared at all?

JH: I think if I were on my own, I would worry, but really [I] Wasn’t concerned about my personal safety because of the number of people going. I had no idea what was going on in the background and diplomatically between the two countries, and it’s interesting to read [about] now.

JS: What were your initial impressions?

JH: You must have put us on the moon when we landed in Moscow. The weather was cold and it was midnight and we were all tired. They met us with what I call customs on steroids. Their army is not something you can mess with. Each of us had our bags gone. We waited there for two hours until everyone was cleared. It was so unnecessary but it was sending a message, I think, in retrospect. Then driving into Moscow, on buses, there are just acres of apartment buildings, all dark and all the same.

JS: Where did you stay?

JH: All the hotels in downtown were taken over by Air Canada passengers and they had to scramble to find a place for us. We stayed at Moscow University and we were put in university-like rooms [dorms]And I had a roommate.

JS: Did you feel like you were being watched all the time?

JH: I remember the day before I went to the first game, we went for a walk around the university and a young man came up to me and said ‘I speak English’ and ‘Welcome to Russia,’ and so on. ‘Would you like to see the observation deck?’ That’s great, we thought, so a group of us went with them and off we went. I think it was eight storeys, and the elevator opened up and there were two military people. There was a heated discussion, and I said we didn’t want to get you into trouble, so we got out of the building. To this day, I regret not telling him why don’t you come with us somewhere for lunch or beer and let’s talk more.

JS: Let’s move on to hockey. Tell me what do you remember about Game 5, your first game in Russia?

JH: We were taken to the arena. When the bus reached the gate, we were beaming with joy and everyone was shouting ‘Go to Canada, go. Go to Canada, go.’ we saw [of the bus] And the Russian soldiers standing shoulder to shoulder stood on one side and on the other side of the road.

It was a half mile or so to the rink, and then once we got into the arena and went to our seats, all the seats were sitting on benches—numbers on their backs. At the end of each line was another military man. It was awesome. Please note that seat number 40 was the end of the row. When the owner of seat number 40 came, a soldier would be sitting on his seat. So we signaled, ‘Come in, come in’, and then we just pushed and since there was no individual seat, [the Russian military person] Fell off the end at some point.

JS: What was the atmosphere like in the arena?

JH: We were definitely cheering for Canada and I remember one of the guys — he was about 6 rows down from where I was sitting — starting to play the trumpet, and that was the ’70s. That’s what you did [The Russian] The army men were going into the crowd to try to seize that trumpet. And so, being Canadian, we just handed it over every time it felt like it was in danger. It started a bond as we started to realize that it was us against them. Every time we cheered, they whistled, and every time one of our players hit a Russian player, they whistled.

look | Summit series hero Henderson famously recalls the win:

Canadian hockey legend Paul Henderson reflects on Summit Series victory

“If I’m out in public, even after 50 years, people come up to me and they want to tell me where they were and what they were doing,” said Paul Henderson, who attended the 1972 summit. Won the series. the Soviet Union. “It’s not over yet.”

JS: I’m sure the Canadian players heard you, but was there any sort of connection with the players that told you they knew you were there?

JH: I guess there’s no doubt about it. When [Canadian hockey official] Alan Eagleson was the frog across the ice, I mean, we were ready to go to war. There were so many messages that we had to be careful, but we bonded like each other.

JS: Describe your feeling as a Canadian at the time.

JH: You know, by my teens, I was a Newfoundlander [first], I am still And it was really the first time I felt Canadian.

JH: Did you realize the gravity of the moment you were witnessing?

JH: I didn’t think about it in that sense. I remember we were in deep trouble on the ice. Too much trouble I bet my mother – she said there was no way Canada would win this series – I thought it was a dollar or something insignificant that Canada would win. After we won, I sent him a postcard and I wrote, ‘You owe me.’ I still have them.

JS: What do you remember about Game 8 and Henderson’s goal?

Jha: We were down 5-3 at the end of the second period. We were sitting there, utterly defeated, thinking, ‘What can we do?’ And then someone [maybe] A couple of lines 10 or 20 behind me started chanting ‘win the next goal’ at the top of their lungs. It was chaos, and the people who were near the glass were hammering it because people were coming back [for the third period],

the rest is history. About 30 years later I asked Phil Esposito if he heard us and he said ‘You’re right, we did.’

JS: It must have been quite the trip home?

Jha: One thing I remember clearly is that it was raining when I got off the plane. When I got off the plane and went down the ladder to the tarmac, as you used to do in those days, I kissed my hand and I touched the ground and I said to myself, ‘Never again.’ And what I meant was that I would never go back to Russia under any circumstances. And I didn’t.

JS: How many people are you still in touch with from travel?

JH: I’m in contact weekly with a close friend in New Brunswick. Unfortunately the people I went with from St. John are no longer with us, and another friend is sick, so it’s about half a dozen.

This interview has been condensed for length and clarity.

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