“The Greatest Game: The Montreal Canadiens, the Red Army and the Night That Saved Hockey” by Todd Denault
Ice hockey, history, Canadiens, Soviet Union
October 26, 2010
5 of 5 stars (outstanding)
On December 31, 1975, an international hockey game took place between the Montreal Canadiens and the Soviet Red Army team. These two teams were considered to be among the best in their respective leagues and continents and the game was highly anticipated by hockey fans all over the world. Not only because of the quality of the teams, but because of many other factors. The Cold War was in full force. The entire nation of Canada was nervous because the Soviet Union was now considered either equal to or superior in Canada’s national game. The style of play in the National Hockey League was becoming more physical and violent thanks to the Philadelphia Flyers and their two consecutive Stanley Cup titles. This last point was of great concern to many who believed the game was getting too violent, with less emphasis on skill and more on fighting.
All of these aspects and more are the setting for this terrific book by Todd Denault. Not only does Denault write about the game itself, almost shift for shift, but the game’s chapters are preceded by well-researched and well-written chapters about the history of hockey in the Soviet Union up to that game as well as how the Canadiens built their team that would play in the game and the general state of the sport in the 1970’s.
Like many other books that are written about a specific game or series, this one has a lot of information that is not directly related to the main topic. However, instead of these chapters being merely filler, these passages have a connection to the historic game on New Year’s Eve 1975 as this information gives the reader the feeling of why this game took on such importance. For example, there is a good section about Bobby Clarke, the star center of the Flyers teams that became known as the “Broad Street Bullies” and won the Stanley Cup in 1974 and 1975 as much by intimidation and violence as well as skill. Those who felt hockey was becoming too violent anticipated this game as being a showcase to prove that this type of play is not needed to produce good hockey.
The best written sections of the book, however, are those about the Soviet teams, including the Red Army team. By the time this game took place, goalie Vladislav Tretiak and forward Valeri Kharlamov were well-known in Canada and the United States as well as Russia and Denault treats them in the book as the stars that they were. The reader learns much information about them and their teams as well. The book also recalls how they were well-received by the citizens of Canada. Tretiak was so good in the game (no spoilers on the result if you do not know) that he received a standing ovation from the Montreal fans. I was watching that game as a 14 year old fan in Minnesota and I too was applauding his performance by standing in front of the television set.
This book is an excellent read for any hockey fan, but especially those who want to learn more about the two best teams in their respective continents in the 1970s. The reader won’t feel the “us vs. them” mentality while reading this as if seems the Cold War was temporarily suspended for three hours. “The Greatest Game” lives up the game itself and is a worthy book on the game and the sport of hockey at that time.
Pace of the book:
It wasn’t a fast read as I carefully read the chapters on the history of Russian hockey and some of the earlier games by this team as I was not familiar with that history and wanted to learn more.
Do I recommend?
Hockey fans, especially fans of the sport in the 1970’s, will love this book as it covers so many important players, teams and the history of international hockey played by Canadian and Russian teams during that time frame.
Book Format Read: