Fisher: Habs vs. Red Army, New Year’s Eve ’75

Game ticket ($15!) courtesy Erle Schneidman,

Since it’s been brought up by visitors to Habs Inside/Out, I’ve retrieved a feature senior Gazette hockey writer Red Fisher wrote during the 2004-05 NHL lockout, one in a series of his top 10 moments during more than five decades on the NHL beat.

Red ranks the 1975 New Year’s Eve game at the Forum between the Canadiens and the Soviet Union’s Central Red Army No. 5 on that list. Here’s how Red viewed the game; his ranking of 1-10 appears at the bottom.

The Gazette

Almost 29 years after The Game, people are still calling it the greatest ever played. It had all of the ingredients: the Stanley Cup Canadiens playing at their best against the Central Red Army team with all of its great stars from the 1972 Summit Series. Who could ask for more, eh?

Question: does it even come close to that accolade? When the Canadiens outshoot the Soviets 38-13 in a 3-3 skirmish, holding them to four shots in the first period, three in the second and six in the third, they were as near-perfect as any team can be. Call it a highlight-reel game for the Canadiens, but when the most important position on any hockey team springs leaks, "greatest" is hardly the word for it.

It’s not that Ken Dryden wasn’t prepared for this exhibition. In the hours before it, he did all of the right things.

Friends and relatives had started to arrive for the much-anticipated 1975 New Year’s Eve game, so the Canadiens goaltender checked into a downtown hotel to avoid distractions. His head was clear and he was well-rested during the team warmup.

Early in the second period, he stopped doing all of the right things.

If he had played like the Dryden who had gone into the game with a remarkable 1.79 goals-against average in his first 31 games of the NHL season, he would not have been beat three times on 13 shots – two of the goals coming early and late from the Red Army’s three second-period shots. If he had been vintage Dryden, he would not have allowed the only goal of the third period, during which the Canadiens outshot the Soviets 16-6 in a mismatch that had them holding a 2-0 lead fewer than eight minutes into the game and a 3-1 lead midway through the second period.

The stunned Forum crowd knew it. Dryden knew it.

Much later, after a dejected Dryden had faced a blizzard of questions from a media horde, only he and a longtime newspaper friend were at his dressing-room stall.

"Happy New Year, Ken," he was told.

"Same to you," he said with a heavy sigh.

"You screwed up, pal," I said.

"I’m disappointed … very disappointed," Dryden said. "I don’t believe in luck … good or bad. You make your own. The team played so well. Everybody … but on the first goal (Boris Mikhailov) and on the third (Boris Aleksandrov), the puck hits the base of my hand, falls to the ice and then rolls over the line. I can remember so many times when the puck fell and just stayed there. That’s what was so disappointing.

"The last couple of days haven’t been easy, you know," he added. "So many things on our minds … but we played so well. I wish I could have done better."

Dryden, the player, never took defeat and/or criticism lightly, so for this Hall of Fame goaltender to say: "I wish I could have done better" is as far as he’s ever gone to admit he hadn’t brought his "A" game that night.

The Habs deserved infinitely better, because on this night they made the Soviet Superman Theory look like Swiss cheese. Holes everywhere.

What was it everybody was saying about the Brothers Kharlamov? They skate too fast for NHL opposition, right? Wrong. They were outskated from start to finish. And, oh yes: they control the puck in their zone. The fact is, the Soviets made errant passes all night. That couldn’t have been Alexsandr Gusev, Vladimir Lutchenko and Valeri Vasilyev piling error upon error.

Don’t take penalties, because the Soviet power play is deadly. Hmph! Three times they held man advantages, yet didn’t get a shot against the fierce-checking Canadiens.

They don’t miss scoring opportunities, scoring on their fifth, seventh and ninth shots, but a Dryden playing reasonably well would not have allowed more than one goal.

Soviet goaltending (see Vladislav Tretiak) is brilliant.

No argument.

If anything, that was an understatement on this holiday night. He was incredible, at times. The stops he made against Jacques Lemaire during the first and last minutes of the third period were astonishing.

How lopsided was this game? Steve Shutt and Yvon Lambert were the Canadiens’ goal-scorers before the game was eight minutes old, while the Soviets didn’t get their first shot until 9:46. Yvan Cournoyer lifted his colleagues into a 3-1 lead midway through the second. Still, coach Scott Bowman – who hated to lose or even tie – was grinning from earlobe to earlobe after it was over.

"How’s that for a team effort?" he asked. "This team was ready. This team worked. This team did everything it had to do. It’s true we should have won, and that’s a little disappointing. I’m proud of this team."

He had to be proud of kids like Doug Risebrough, Mario Tremblay, Lambert, Doug Jarvis and Bob Gainey. He had to be proud of the entire defence corps, Serge Savard in particular.

Bowman, of course, knew that better goaltending would have won. "Ken didn’t get much work. All right … he wasn’t great, but those things happen."

He also knew that anything less than Tretiak’s brilliance would have provided the Canadiens with at least a half-dozen goals. So did players such as Guy Lapointe.

"They told us how much better-conditioned the Soviets are," Lapointe said. "Maybe they are, but I played this game and didn’t feel tired for a minute. Most of the time we had to wait for them. We didn’t have to chase them. The score doesn’t say so, but everybody knows which was the much better team."

The Canadiens went into the game dedicated to applying pressure in the Red Army’s zone, and it returned early dividends on the Shutt and Lambert goals. The remarkable thing about the game plan, though, was its exquisite execution. The Soviets were allowed only one three-on-two break and one two-on-one situation during the entire game and scored each time with shots that should have been stopped.


Red Fisher’s Top 10 Moments, a personal ranking of games he has covered during more than five decades on the NHL beat for the Montreal Star and Gazette:

10. Referee Red Storey quits the NHL after a 1959 playoff game between the Canadiens and Blackhawks in which he had to deal with irate Chicago fans, followed by criticism from league president Clarence Campbell.

9. The Boston Bruins were on their way to victory over the Canadiens in Game 7 of the 1979 Stanley Cup semifinals when a late too-many-men-on-the-ice penalty winds up costing them the game, which Montreal wins on an overtime goal by Yvon Lambert.

8. Bruins boss Tom Johnson’s decision to bench goalie Gerry Cheevers in favour of Eddie Johnston for a 1971 playoff game against the Canadiens results in the mother of all meltdowns as Boston blows a 5-2 third-period lead.

7. Rookie goaltender Ken Dryden is a surprise playoff starter and leads the Canadiens to victory over Chicago in Game 7 of the 1971 Stanley Cup final.

6. Goaltender Patrick Roy leads the Canadiens on an incredible journey to their 24th Stanley Cup in 1993, including 10 overtime victories.

5. Despite being outshot 38-13, the Soviets, led by goalie Vladislav Tretiak, battle to a 3-3 tie at the Forum on New Year’s Eve 1975 in what some call the greatest game ever played.

4. On Nov. 1, 1959, after being hit in the face with a shot and suffering a savage cut, goalie Jacques Plante, hockey’s greatest innovator, returns to the ice wearing a mask for protection.

3. The 1961 playoff game between the Canadiens and Blackhawks in Chicago, which Red calls "the greatest game among the thousands I’ve seen." Goalies Jacques Plante and Glenn Hall were the stars as the Blackhawks won 2-1 in triple overtime.

2. The Richard Riot on St. Patrick’s Day 1955, when fans at the Forum responded to NHL president Clarence Campbell’s decision days earlier to suspend Maurice (Rocket) Richard for the final week of the season and the playoffs after a savage stick-swinging duel with Boston defenceman Hal Laycoe.

1. Paul Henderson scores the winning goal in the dying moments of Game 8 in the historic 1972 Summit Series between Team Canada and the U.S.S.R.


  1. Ed says:

    That was a great game, & our younger son was born sometime during the 2nd period. Of course, he is an avid Canadiens’ fan. It had to be.

  2. Thuymi Do says:

    I wish I was there at that time, only oldie games I’ve seen is the ’72 series wich I bought the whole DVD, un chef-d’oeuvre!

  3. HABZ 24 says:

    wow!! my dad gave me the exact same tix stubbs as those.i have them in a frame.mine are white seats $12.priceless game ever played they say.

  4. nigel-ski says:

    I was only four when that game was played, but it was just another awesome moment in a hockey history chock full of them. Happy new year everyone.

    Habs rule, Leafs drool…

  5. habsguy says:

    NLhabsfan…careful what you say…I have the same thoughts as you about Henderson and that dirty Lil PR Clark. I shared my thoughts here and was quickly slapped around by some of the regulars.. When the Habs played the soviets it went down as the greatest game ever, when Clarks Flyers played them, it was a travesty, it was the ugliest black eye in the history of hockey…

  6. NLhabsfan says:

    I HATE the leafs I hate what they stand for..I hate central Canada for taking control of the CBC (toronro cheering network) which show only laff games.The CBC bias which is becoming a joke in the league and the rest of the Canadian public.BUT if Tretiak who never played a NHL game.In My mind is Tit for tat if Tretiak is in so should Henderson. I believe what Henderson did in that series makes him great.Think about it….we would not have won that hockey war without his goals.His goals at the time united Canada like no other player alive and since.I know I lived it and experienced it.What Clarke did was wrong period.Think Clarke would get away with it now.Clarke came from a goon team that gooned it’s way to a Stanley Cup.I have always felt squeamish about what he did.OF course we justify it by saying that the Russians high sticked and kicked our players.Great when you are on the winning side:)

  7. DD says:

    Although I agree with you on your contention that Tretiak shouldn’t be in the Hall of Fame, I can’t agree with you about Henderson.

    If it wasn’t for the those goals, Henderson would be just another loser who nobody but leaf sycophants would remember. Now I know some of you out there are probably thinking that I’m just letting my hate of the leafs cloud my judgment, and I would have to plead guilty as charged, but I still believe this one blurb in his history is not enough to place him into the Hall. I think you have to look into his whole career and if you do, he doesn’t make the grade. Ask your self this, how many Cups did he win, how many all star teams did he make, was he ever considered a top scoring threat?

    I also think that his comments of late about Bobby Clarke has put a stain on any chance he might of making the cut. If he was so disgusted with Clarke’s play, he should of said something sooner, not 30 some years after the fact. Now before some of you start into me about the way Clarke played, I want to make it clear that as much as some of us may cringe thinking about the way he played, Clarke did play to win.

    If Clarke wasn’t doing the dirty work for Henderson in ’72, we wouldn’t even be talking about this.

  8. NLhabsfan says:

    Three comments (1)It was the greatest game I have ever seen…game was intense.I remember Pete Mahovlich apologizing on national TV and Howie Meeker telling him he had nothing to be ashamed of.We may have out shot them but Tretiak stood on his head.
    (2)Clarence Campbell was a dictator and was not good for hockey at any time he was there.
    (3)Why isn’t Paul Henderson in the Hall of Fame.It is a disgrace for the NHL that he is not.The three winning goals in the last games in USSR are historic.he should have been there long ago.Why is Tretiak there?

  9. paul b says:

    carb.will raise the banner (: (soon)

    HAPPY NEW YEAR TO EVERYONE,we are all blessed to have such a good team and mananagement to cheer for ,really enjoyed hockey back then ,It was was like being at war and we beat them .I received the DVD of HOCKEY,(a people’s history) for christmas has 10 episodes,very intersting………

  10. Hammer says:

    Memories, they are so clear after so long!! What I remember of this game was the sheer speed of the players, the dominance of the Habs in all facets of the game ( except goaltending),and as alluded to , a couple of soft goals from #29. Tretiak was brilliant just as in 72, without him this game, like many others would have been a blow out.

  11. Ian G Cobb says:

    That,s what the players say now, wow look at my paycheck now!!

  12. downeast hab says:

    Man!! Look at the price of the admittance ticket. What a change.

  13. Ian G Cobb says:

    Happy New Year, Everyone! Question? The JR. game, what time and what station please, semi finals today, am i right. Who knows, thanks, IAN

  14. TradeRyder says:

    Happy New Year Habs & Habs fans!

    All the best in 2008 to you and yours. Just like the Habs – if you want it, decided to make it happen, and give it your all!

    Too late to trade Ryder now….shoulda listened!

  15. habsguy says:

    WOW…I don’t think anyone could make the soviets look slow. My wife was so mad at me that night !!!!!..LOL

  16. RetroMikey says:

    What a team! What a beginning of a dynasty! But wait! I see Guy Lapointe wearing the No. 5 jersey for the Habs! Oops! Habs’ management made a boo boo! They should have honored him with Geoffrion’s family that night when they retired the No. 5 jersey! Also. Mr. Ironman Doug Jarvis should be honored in the future as well by the Habs’ brass.

    “We will win the Cup only with Carey Price in the nets”

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