Members of the Team Canada squad that defeated the Soviet Union in the 1972 Summit Series have partnered with the Niagara Catholic school board in a curriculum initiative designed to use the eight-game hockey showdown as a teaching tool.
“From our standpoint there are a lot of lessons that we learned as Canadians and we want to give back,” said Team Canada defenceman Pat Stapleton. “(The ’72 Summit Series) had such an impact on the whole country. There isn’t a day that goes by that somebody on that team isn’t talking about it because they were asked questions about it.”
The unique partnership with the school board developed out of a 2014 conversation with John Crocco, Niagara Catholic’s director of education, following a speaking engagement by some members of Team Canada ’72. The players had talked about overcoming adversity, the political climate of the time and the lessons they learned from the experience.
“(He) was impressed,” said Stapleton. “Out of it came this agreement for us to provide the content of what happened … and they would provide the lesson. They have the expertise to do that, we’re just guys who competed on a team.”
Six teachers from the board worked with a group of players to develop material to be integrated into the social studies and Canadian history curriculum. It will be taught from Grades 4 to 6 across the Niagara Catholic board.
The idea is to foster leadership skills and a historical understanding of the Cold War context of what it meant to be a Canadian when the series was played. The players share their experience of competing behind the Iron Curtain.
“When we arrived in training camp we were Pete Mahovlich from the Montreal Canadiens, or Mickey Redmond of the Detroit Red Wings, or Ron Ellis from the Toronto Maple Leafs,” Stapleton said. “When we got to Russia we were Pete Mahovlich of Team Canada, Mickey Redmond of Team Canada, Ron Ellis of Team Canada. We became Team Canada.”
In addition to helping with the curriculum, team members will visit the school board to speak to about 350 student leaders.
“By student leaders we mean captains of teams and clubs … as well as all of our student council leaders,” said Crocco.
“We are going to bring them together in the fall with the various players from the team. We are hoping to get it done prior to November.”
In addition to the assembly for the student leaders, two meetings will be organized for the players to discuss team building with school administrators, said Crocco.
“Think about when a coach brings a team together or when captains bring their team together. Well, flip that now to principals bringing their staff together.”
The key to successful team building in schools requires creative innovation, adaptability and resilience — characteristics demonstrated by Team Canada during the Summit Series, Crocco said.
Being role models for educators is something Stapleton said the former hockey players take seriously.
“We’ve got a time limit on ourselves,” Stapleton said. “That’s why it is important to give back, so that Canadians understand what we experienced and understand what it is to be Canadian.”