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When the Winnipeg Jets became the first team to defeat the Soviet National Team

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I’ll admit it. I’m not particularly a big fan of “The Miracle On Ice.” I realize for the US, the idea of an amateur team defeating the mighty Russian Bear at the Olympics is a big deal. I get that. What always bugged me about it was they were not the first team to defeat the Russians.

The WHA and NHL held several exhibition games against Russian club or Soviet National teams since the mid 70’s. In fact, on January 4/1976, the Buffalo Sabres defeated the club team, the Soviet Wings, 12-6.

And then on January11/1976, the Philadelphia Flyers had a 4-1 win over the Moscow Central Red Army.

Oh, and there was that “Summit Series” thing that happened years before, so I digress.

Where I am going with this is one piece of Winnipeg Jets history that has been practically forgotten.

When they had their series against the Soviet National Team. Now this was the Russian all star team. If there were video games back then, this team would have been ranked close to 100. And back in the 1970’s, this was a huge freakin’ deal!

This is an event I would like to see True North do some kind of recognition for as it has faded into hockey history.

And a series that was partially played in Tokyo, Japan? Really? Yep, really.

So what of the series itself? Here’s the rundown:

Jets vs. Soviet National Team

In December, 1977 and January, 1978, the Jets played the national team of the Soviet Union, one of the best teams ever assembled. The Jets played the Soviet team four times, three games were played in Tokyo, Japan, (which seems unheard of today), the other game was played in Winnipeg. None of the games counted in the WHA standings for the Jets, but many people look back on these games as one of the high water marks of Jets history. Following is a look at this series.

Game 1 – Tokyo, 29 December 1977: Jets 5, Soviet Union 7
Game 2 – Tokyo, 30 December 1977: Jets 2, Soviet Union 4
Game 3 – Tokyo, 1 January 1978: Jets 1, Soviet Union 5
Game 4 – Winnipeg, 5 January 1978: Jets 5, Soviet Union 3

The first three games of the series took place at the Yoyogi Arena in Tokyo, Japan, on December 29, 30 and January 1. The Jets lost each of these games by scores of 5-7, 2-4 and 1-5, respectively. The first two games of the series were competitive, but the Jets were beaten much more soundly in the third and final game of the Tokyo series. As Joe Daley put it after the third game, “I don’t think we’ll ever beat these guys, not with just a club team anyway.” The Jets’ goaltenders were the best players they had throughout the Tokyo series. Markus Mattsson played the first game, and Joe Daley was scheduled to play the third until he was hit on the left foot just below the ankle by Bobby Hull in the pre-game warmup, and had to be replaced by the second game’s starter, Gary Bromley.

Bromley was particularly good in this game, as the score could have been much worse had it not been for his strong play. Dave Kryskow was surprisingly named the Jets best player in the third game, though Bromley received the honor in the second game, the only one that he was scheduled to start. In the second game, the Jets first goal came off the stick of Lynn Powis, his first goal since joining the Jets, as he beat Sergey Babaryko at the 2:53 mark of the second period with Lyle Moffat’s stick. As is the case in many international competitions, the officiating was the source of some controversy. WHA referee Bill Friday worked the first game, and though Jets coach Larry Hillman wasn’t thrilled with his work, the Soviet referee, Victor Dombrowski, who worked the second game, played a significant role in the Jets defeat in Hillman’s opinion. Dombrowksi called seven minor penalties against the Jets and only two against the Soviets.

The two power play goals that the Soviets scored in that game was the decisive margin of victory, and both Hillman and WHA representatives particularly lamented the “missed” calls against the Soviets.

Though the second game was the most competitive of the three, Hillman was not impressed by the effort of some of his players, and benched Powis, Willy Lindstrom, Larry Hillman and Ken Baird, though Baird had been battling a flu bug. The line of Dan Labraaten, Peter Sullivan and Lindstrom was not effective, despite the fact that the larger ice surface should have helped all three players.

In the third game, though the Jets took an early 1-0 lead on a Dave Kryskow goal and had opportunities to pad their lead, they repeatedly gave the puck away in their own zone and left Bromley hung out to dry. After the third game, Soviet Union nationals coach Victor Tikhonov said that the third game was the best of the three.

The first two games were not especially well attended by the Japanese, as crowds were only around 7,000. Some speculated that the reason for the poor attendance was due to the first two games being played in the afternoon. The third and final game drew close to 10,000.Then Jets president, Jack McKeag, did not make the trip on account of his daughter getting married.

Many Jets players brought their wives, who’s plane fare was paid for by the club and/or the WHA.

Those that didn’t bring their wives received $1,000. Inside the arena, there was no glass on the boards, and only netting in each end for the protection of the spectators. The Jets had to wait an extra day before returning to Winnipeg, as there were no flights out on January 2.

Jets 5, Soviet Union 7

First Period
1, USSR, A. Golikov (Fetisov, Maltsev), 4:14; 2, USSR, Mikhailov (Petrov, Kharlamov), 8:31. 3, Winnipeg, Hedberg (U. Nilsson, Long), 13:45. 4, Winnipeg, K. Nilsson (Lindstrom, Suillivan), 16:09.
Second Period
5, Winnipeg, Dunn (Moffat), 3:31. 6, USSR, V. Golikov (Maltsev), 6:40. 7, USSR, Petrov (Lutchenko), 7:51. 8, Winnipeg, Hull, 9:58. 9, USSR, Kharlamov (Petrov, Mikhailov), 11:37. 10, USSR, Tsygankov (Petrov), 14:26. 11, Winnipeg, Guindon (Lesuk, Dunn), 14:55.
Third Period
12, USSR, Anisin (Balderis), 13:28.
Goaltenders: USSR, Tretiak; Winnipeg, Mattsson.

Jets 2, Soviet Union 4

First Period
1, USSR, Pervukhin (Maltsev), 12:40.
Second Period
2, Winnipeg, Powis, 2:53. 3, USSR, Lovanov (Alexandrov), 3:19. 4, USSR, Lovanov (Alexandrov), 8:08.
Third Period
5, USSR, Tsygankov (Makarov), 9:12. 6, Winnipeg, Kryskow (U. Nilsson), 13:30.
Goaltenders: USSR, Sidelnikov; Winnipeg, Bromley.

Back in Winnipeg on the evening of January 5, 1978, a packed Winnipeg Arena saw the Jets take on the same Soviet team that had beaten them three straight games half way around the world. Bobby Hull scored three times, while Ulf Nilsson had two goals and two assists as the “Hot Line” redeemed themselves from their self-described sub-par play in the Tokyo series. “After Japan, it was embarrassing for us”, said Anders Hedberg. The smaller ice surface, personal pride, and having the home fans behind them was the difference in the Jets victory over the powerful Soviet team.

Hull scored his first two goals in the first period, then Nilsson scored his two goals in the second period, and the Jets were off to a 4-0 by the 6:57 mark. At this point, coach Tikhinov replaced goaltender Aleksandr Sidelnikov with Vladislav Tretiak. The Soviets then rallied with two goals in the second and one early in the third. Boris Aleksandrov scored the Soviets’ second period goals, the second of which saw him deke his way past Barry Long and around goaltender Joe Daley. The Soviets pressed hard for the tying goal, but despite a third period power play, were unable to get the fourth goal that would tie the game. Long would come up big during the attempted Soviet rally, as he made a save, getting behind Daley, who was down and out on the play. Hull finished his hat trick in the game’s final minute, as he directed a Dave Dunn pass past Tretiak, the only goal the Jets scored on the legendary netminder in this game.

Jets 5, Soviet Union 3

First Period
1, Winnipeg, Hull (K. Nilsson, Sjoberg), 2:49. 2, Winnipeg, Hull (Powis, U. Nilsson), 9:52. Penalties: Babinov, USSR, 1:47; Aleksandrov, USSR, 2:38; Tsygankov, USSR, Powis, Winnipeg, 7:10; Fetisov, USSR, 8:15; Kryskow, Winnipeg, 14:52.
Second Period
3, Winnipeg, U. Nilsson (Hedberg, Sjoberg), 5:46. 4, Winnipeg, U. Nilsson (Hull, Hedberg), 6:57. 5, USSR, Aleksandrov (Lobadov, Fjodorov), 10:59. 6, USSR, Aleksandrov (Vikulov, Fjodorov), 15:40. Penalties: V. Golikov, USSR (major), Long, Winnipeg, 4:11; Powis, Winnipeg, 9:58.
Third Period
7, USSR, Pervuhkin (Kapustin, Anjsin), 2:43. 8, Winnipeg, Hull (Dunn, U. Nilsson), 19:52. Penalties: Hull, Winnipeg, 1:04; Fyodotov, USSR, 3:25; Baird, Winnipeg, 14:17.
Shots on goal:
USSR 8 6 10 — 24
Winnipeg 11 11 9 — 31
Goaltenders: USSR, Sidelnikov, Tretiak; Winnipeg, Daley.
Attendance: 10,315.

The series of WHA/NHL teams playing Russian/Soviet clubs would continue into the 1990’s. Eventually, Russian born players would start to defect into the NHL as the cold war would come to a close and this chapter of hockey history would come to an end. But, it should not be forgotten the Winnipeg Jets were among the first teams to defeat one of the best hockey teams ever assembled.

As time has passed, it just became another footnote in Jets history. But it really was an important part of Winnipeg history nearly forgotten. In my humble opinion, the first “Miracle On Ice” didn’t happen in Lake Placid in 1980, but on Maroons Road in Winnipeg in 1978.

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