What we can learn about teaching hockey from the 1972 “Summit Series”

What we can learn about teaching hockey from the 1972 “Summit Series”

I’m a hockey fanatic, so imagine my delight at getting an opportunity to meet Pat Stapleton, who played for Canada against the Soviet Union in the historic 1972 “Summit Series”.

That eight-game series, four played in Canada and four in Moscow, is commonly thought to be the tournament that sparked our fascination with international hockey.

I don’t often have a chance to chat hockey with someone with as much experience and wisdom as Pat. He played 15 seasons in the NHL and was a six-time all-star in both the NHL and WHA. His knowledge of hockey is extensive.

Pat is also a hockey fanatic. It didn’t take long before we were discussing the state of the game.

A few minutes into the discussion, Pat said, “Today’s players don’t have the chance to learn to be creative.”

I’ve heard this from many experts before. I asked Pat to elaborate, and he explained that there were three things that helped Canada beat the Soviets in 1972:

  1. Creativity
  2. Simplicity
  3. Curiosity

I wondered if kids today could benefit from those same elements. Pat thinks they can.


Pat explained that one of the key elements of the ’72 series is that the Soviets played a regimented game. They stuck to a system in which they repeated the same patterns.

The Canadians, on the other hand, played a more instinctive, intuitive, anticipative, and creative game. That helped lead to their success.

When I asked Pat how a player could develop creativity, he answered without hesitation. “Imagination. You have to be able to create and visualize the game in your mind and be able to imagine different options and scenarios on and off the ice.”

Pat laughed and added that it was probably easier for veterans like him, because as children they listened to hockey on the radio. They had no choice but to use their imagination.

Being able to visualize the game, creating many scenarios, and imagining different options, is a great skill.


“One trait that the great players from ’72 shared was curiosity,” Pat added. This is not a trait that is usually associated with hockey players, but for Pat, the Canadian squad’s innate curiosity, combined with the inability of the Soviets to adapt and change their game, is another reason why Canada won the series.

“Players that I played with in ’72 were true students of the game. They were curious to figure out how to beat the Soviets,” Pat said.

“The Soviets overwhelmed us with their speed, conditioning, and fundamental passing, but we were curious to understand what they did. And that’s how we figured out their system. We adapted and changed our game, but they didn’t”.

Curiosity is a key to raising kids who love to learn. As a parent or coach, think for a second how you could help children develop curiosity. How can that perspective help them improve their skills and help them enjoy the game even more?


Pat also talked about how diagraming plays after plays for kids makes hockey too complicated, and how it makes kids think about the chalkboard, when they could be responding to what’s happening on the ice.

“Hockey is a simple game. It’s got to be fun,” he said. And kids need to develop “the instincts, intuitions, the anticipation, creativity, and curiosity to figure out the competition.”

“To my knowledge, the game was designed to be a transitional game. They have to be able to transition the puck from offense to defense or defense to offense in a split second.”

Creativity, curiosity, and simplicity. Fresh and inspiring words of wisdom from a legend of the game.

Pat and other members of Canada’s “team of the century” are keeping the spirit of the ’72 series alive with the ’72 Summit Tour (update: the tour took place in 2016).

The group, which includes legends and Hall of Famers like Ken Dryden and Serge Savard, is making stops in Montreal, Toronto, Winnipeg, and Vancouver this September, to share stories about their experiences in 1972.

“Canada was so generous to us after the series,” said Pat. “We want to give back to the country. We want to inspire young Canadian boys and girls to enjoy the game.

“We need more children to play the game of hockey and to learn from understanding the dual nature of team play. Physical talents and interpersonal skills can be learned and perfected together. Success in any team activity involves mastering both.”

2 responses to “What we can learn about teaching hockey from the 1972 “Summit Series”

  1. I saw the Zoomer show with the summit series anniversary and they talked about a tour. I was hoping to purchase tickets for a show on the tour. Where would I find them?

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