How the NHL and the USSR played for world peace. Games that went far beyond hockey nasshliski

37 years ago, a unique and grandiose event of unprecedented proportions took place in Quebec, which went down in hockey history under the name Rendezvous-87. The USSR national team came to Canada to play with the top stars of the NHL. What’s wrong with this, you might ask, because at that time the Soviet-Canadian confrontation had long lost its touch of novelty and had already become a classic, and our teams were regularly touring North America?

It’s not even about the games themselves, but rather the scope of the event, which went far beyond the realm of hockey.

Marcel Aubut, then president of the Quebec Nordiques, was able to realize a very bold idea: transform the standard and, in fact, insignificant NHL All-Star Game into a celebration of sport, art, entertainment and entrepreneurship that will be remembered even decades later.

Marcel Aubus

Photo: Abelimages/Getty Images

“It was completely daring and a little crazy. But I said, let’s do it. What I like most is that in every All-Star Game I attended after that they told me: “Marcel, we hope that one day there will be another Rendezvous.” This idea does not die and will never die. Even young people know about this event,” Aubut recalled in 2012.

To begin with, Aubut had to coordinate the event with the rest of the NHL clubs, but surprisingly this did not become a problem. Only two or three clubs objected, according to NHL director John Ziegler, “for personal reasons, because they believed that the NHL, in principle, should not play any games against the USSR.”

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The Soviet side also gave its consent at the highest level, and Aubut by that time had managed to enlist the support of Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney (he was appointed president of the festival) and head the organization of the Rendezvous, leaving aside the then head of the Syndicate of NHL Players, Alan Eagleson.

“We decided to do something so big that it would attract everyone’s attention. Not just hockey games, but much more. Eagleson believed Rendezvous would fail. He’s my friend and I offered him a deal. He said: “I will buy all the rights from him: the tickets, everything. This way you can be sure that you will definitely receive your money.” I don’t remember the exact amount, but I found the money, I paid him and he gave us the hosting rights. From that moment on he had no say in the organization of the event. A month before the Rendezvous, when they realized that this would be the event of the century, everyone wanted tickets, but we didn’t have any left. He was very angry. If today you ask him what business he regrets most in his life, he will tell you what this is,” Aubut recalled.

Rendezvous-87 Program

Photo: newspaper clipping

Eagleson will try to stop Rendezvous more than once. Either he will threaten a boycott by the players if Aubut does not allocate more tickets for family and friends of hockey players, or he will begin to be outraged by the cost of hotels or by a program that is too rich for players who are not directly related to the hockey. The president of Quebec resisted all attacks and made concessions, but in the end he achieved the main thing: the event went ahead just as he had planned, with style and amplitude, and caused an unprecedented stir. It took two years and $8.5 million to organize, but Rendezvous paid off and raised $11 million in revenue.

Mulroney’s involvement also proved useful when problems arose with the Soviet delegation’s flight to Canada. He was denied boarding in London, where he had to make a stopover on a Canadian flight, as he had arrived on a military plane. “Fortunately, Mulroney helped me organize everything. They came back on an Aeroflot plane and Air Canada sent two new planes and they all arrived on time,” Aubut recalled.

The event was a parade of splendor and luxury: for a week, Quebec became the center of the sporting and cultural world. The matches were just one part of a magnificent spectacle that attracted politicians, athletes, artists, businessmen and other celebrities from around the world. For example, NBA star Wilt Chamberlain, world soccer legend Pelé and Anatoly Tarasov came to Quebec from Vancouver, where he worked at the time. Vladislav Tretyak was also part of our delegation; As part of the Rendezvous, in addition to the main matches, veteran matches from the legendary 1972 Super Series were also held.

Famous designers such as Pierre Cardin and Jean-Paul Gaultier held fashion shows, and Chrysler CEO Lee Iacocca was a speaker at a business dinner attended by top corporate executives. Specially invited chefs from the USSR, Canada and the United States offered an exquisite dinner for 1,500 people, where, according to press reports, 2,400 bottles of wine and 150 bottles of champagne were drunk. Guests enjoyed caviar, pheasants, smoked trout, beaver consommé, apple sorbet, bison fillet, scallops and other delicacies; This pleasure cost $350 per person and the dinner was accompanied by performances by acrobats, mimes and other artists.

Vladislav Tretyak at the gala dinner

Photo: newspaper clipping

Soviet chefs at a gala dinner.

Photo: newspaper clipping

One night, a parade rolled through the streets with orchestras and floats representing the cities of every NHL club except Toronto (Maple Leafs owner Harold Ballard declined to participate at the last minute due to his dislike for Russians. But maybe he just regretted $ 15 thousand for the creation of the platform). The parade was televised in both Canada and the United States.

meeting parade

Photo: newspaper clipping

The Hockey Hall of Fame Museum provided approximately 4,000 of its exhibits to Quebec, an exhibit that was extremely popular with the public. Like Soviet artists, the rock group “Autograph” first performed at a gala concert at the Hockey Coliseum, where it was summoned twice for an encore, and then, following its success, gave another concert at Montreal.

The ballet group of the Bolshoi Theater and the Academic Song and Dance Ensemble of the Soviet Army named after AV Alexandrov performed, giving sold-out individual concerts and performing the anthem of the USSR before the first match of the Rendezvous. Their performances were met with complete delight: the public and journalists admired the most complex dances and the incredible voices of the artists.

Performance of Soviet artists.

Photo: newspaper clipping

Oh yes, there were still matches! The attention paid to the Soviet team in Canada was, as always, colossal. Local journalists harassed our delegation with requests for interviews and, while Viktor Tikhonov strictly refused all, they contented themselves with learning about the life of hockey players at the Château Bonne Entente hotel (where our players were described as “lovely and tidy that they do not dirty their rooms and be kind to the hotel staff”) or notes about a small accident in which he had a limousine with Tretyak.

The first training session of the USSR national team was attended by several thousand people: journalists, experts and simply hockey fans. More than 500 journalists from all over the world came to cover the event: from Canada, the USSR, the United States, even Belgium, Austria, Japan, France, Great Britain and other countries far from hockey.

NHL players were paid $1,000 per game plus travel expenses, the USSR national team was paid $40,000 per game and was also reimbursed. About $500,000 more of the profits were sent to the NHL players’ pension fund.

Rendezvous-87 match between the USSR and NHL national teams

Photo: BRUCE BENNET/GETTY IMAGES

The games were played at the highest level (Gretzky would later say that it was the fastest game he participated in), the NHL team won the first game (4-3). The NHL team became noticeably more cheerful (before the start of the Rendezvous, everyone feared misfortune against the Soviet team that had played), to such an extent that Ziegler, on the eve of the second game, was seen in one of the Quebec teams. squatting browns wearing a hat with earflaps.

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Tikhonov organized a long meeting for his team to analyze the game for three and a half hours, and in the second match the USSR team took revenge 5:3. At the same time, young Valery Kamensky’s star rose in Canada, scoring a double. The following year, Quebec selected him in the NHL draft, and at the Rendezvous he was recognized as the most valuable player of the USSR national team and was given a stereo recorder. NHL team MVP Gretzky received a bigger prize: a car. “Maybe they decided it would be easier for him to take the recorder to Russia?” Gretzky joked.

After the second game, Gretzky exchanged jerseys with Vyacheslav Fetisov and then went to the USSR team bench and warmly hugged Tikhonov. They decided not to determine the winner of the Rendezvous: unification, peace and friendship ran like a red thread throughout the festival and, in fact, became its motto.

During the meeting, video messages from the heads of state Andrei Gromyko and Ronald Reagan were shown, calling for world peace. Aubut himself spoke about it: “I didn’t do this for money. He wanted Rendezvous to contribute to the peaceful coexistence of the world’s largest nations. “I wanted to bring people together, bring in great artists and entrepreneurs, but most importantly, do something that helps hockey.”

And Pelé: “I love hockey very much, because this sport is close to football. The principle of the game is the same. “I came to Rendezvous because sport is the only way to unite people.”

And Ziegler: “We work for peace, there is no need to choose winners and losers.”

And Tikhonov: “It wasn’t us or the NHL that won. Hockey won. “Both games were a celebration, two of the best games you’ll ever see.”

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