50 years after the Summit Series, this former NL broadcaster says he is the youngest reporter in Moscow

Alex J. Walling was an announcer for over 50 years and the youngest reporter to cover the Canada-Russia Summit Series in 1972. (Alex J Walling/Twitter)

Though it’s been 50 years since Paul Henderson’s iconic series-winning goal helped Team Canada in the historic Summit Series in September 1972 lift Team Canada over the Soviet Union, Alex J. Walling – now 76 years old – remembers every detail of his time he spent covering the games in Russia.

Originally from Quebec City, Walling’s career in broadcasting spanned 50 years, including a nine-year stint in Corner Brook, NL, where he worked for the now-defunct Humber Valley Broadcasting Co. and Western Broadcasting.

“I’ve been around,” Walling said with a laugh, from his current home in Dartmouth, NS

In August 1972, Walling, then 25 years old, took a job in Halifax at CHNS-FM with a full-time sports talk show that ran on Sunday evenings.

Preparations for the highly anticipated Canadian hockey all-star team to face the mighty Soviets were already underway.

During Game 1, Walling was in Edmonton for a national softball tournament. The tournament came to an end when Canada and Russia faced each other in the hot and foggy Montreal Forum on September 2, a Saturday.

“I came back to Halifax the next day and on that Monday I tease my boss, ‘I want to go to the next game,'” Walling recalled.

“Wednesday, I think, around 11 a.m., he calls me to his office and says, ‘Okay, Walling, you’re going.'”

Game 2 was at Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto that night. Walling said he assumed he would take the next flight.

“He said, deadpan, ‘You’re not going tonight,'” Walling said.

Phil Esposito tries a shot against Russian Vladislav Tretiak. (Peter Bregg/The Canadian Press)

Game 3 was also just a few days later, in Winnipeg, and was a chance for Walling to make the journey to beat the Canadian Football League atop the Summit Series. But that still wasn’t the plan.

Game 4 in Vancouver? Also no.

“I said, ‘Lord Almighty, where the hell am I going?’ and [my boss said]”Pack your bags, boy, you’re going to Moscow.”

‘3,000 people tried to call back home’

Walling’s flight from Montreal raised the bar for what to expect in Russia: a once-in-a-lifetime career opportunity.

The late Jean Béliveau — a Montreal Canadiens legend who had just retired the year before — boarded the plane behind Walling and asked to sit next to him for a moment.

“We talked for a while and he was a great guy. Then he went elsewhere and was probably in 10 places. That was my start,” said Walling.

The landing in Russia was a scene in itself. A Canadian contingent of 3,000 fans made the trip and were herded into one hotel, Walling recalls.

The building was perfectly square, he said, and each wing looked exactly the same. But there was not much time for sightseeing and fraternization. Walling did buy a Russian hat as a souvenir, he said, something he still has.

Two rows of players shake hands on the ice.  The Canadians, closer to the camera, wear red jerseys with white trim, while the Soviets wear white jerseys with red trim.
The Soviet and Canadian teams shook hands after Game 3 in Winnipeg. (Courtesy of Hockey Hall of Fame)

“The training was at 10 o’clock, [I’d] then come back at noon… I would wait three or four hours to get a phone line to send all my stuff because there were only about five outside lines and 3,000 people were trying to call back home,” Walling said.

“I spent most of my time on the ice rink and in my hotel room.”

Games 5, 6 and 7 passed in a blur, Walling said, with few memories of each as he focused on the work ahead.

‘Here we go’

Game 8, however, was a different story.

“There was a small makeshift press box for Foster Hewitt and the media people. About 40 of us were crammed on the other side,” Walling said.

“Ken Dryden was right in front of us. Our faces were right on the glass.”

Canada trailed 5-3 in the deciding game of the series in the third period. A draw would mean Russia triumphed as more goals were scored in the series. Canada needed an outright victory.

A two-on-one broke out for Russia as they tried to take the game out of reach.

Walling recalls the smooth skating of Boris Mikhailov and Vladimir Petrov when the duo crashed into the Canadian zone, pulling Dryden out of his fold.

Canada celebrates after scoring in Moscow. (1972 Getty Images)

“One of them … shoots the puck and instead of going into the net, which was three-quarters open because of their sharp pass, the man shoots over the net,” he said.

“I said, ‘Oh my God, here we go.'”

The Canadian team held out. Goals from Phil Esposito of the Boston Bruins and Yvan Cournoyer of the Montreal Canadiens tied the score.

The shot that was heard all over the world

For many Canadian hockey fans, Foster Hewitt’s call for Henderson’s leading goal is one of the most iconic moments in hockey history.

Unfortunately, Walling didn’t see it despite being in the building. The view from the press box at the far end of the ice didn’t provide the best vantage point, he said.

“We Couldn’t Tell” [if the puck went in] because the Russians didn’t turn on the red light in the third period,” he said.

“All of a sudden I see Team Canada clearing the bank to start cheating on Henderson… I haven’t seen it, but I’ve heard it a thousand times since.”

Paul Henderson celebrates after giving Canada the lead in Game 8. (Hockey Hall of Fame)

At the time of Henderson’s now iconic goal, there were only 34 seconds left on the clock.

Walling, in what he calls one of the happiest moments of his life, left the press box with his tape recorder and still had time to get closer to the ice.

As time went on, Walling and fellow broadcaster Brian Williams found themselves in position — well ahead of the rest of the press gallery, which was trapped between the ice and the 17,000 fans trying to leave the arena.

“Williams knows Henderson because he’s from Toronto, and Williams had covered a few Leafs games. So Williams is yelling, ‘Henny, over here,'” Walling said. “We had him to ourselves for five or six minutes.”

Coming home, Walling recalls, was humbling for Canadians. The story in the series was that the Canadian team of NHL all-stars would beat the Russians 8-0. The series was different.

But as the years have passed, that moment in Game 8, and the series as a whole, cemented itself in history and stood the test of time for generations.

“The goal lived on almost from the day on [it was scored]and Henderson lived on,” Walling said.

“It was a groundbreaking series where it showed in a way that we were a great team, but so were the Russians.”

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