PLAYING IT BACK, like a train wreck in slow motion, Ed Van Impe can vividly remember the hit that made the Soviets fold like a tent.
The date: 35 years ago today, at the Spectrum, with the two-time defending Stanley Cup champion Flyers facing the Red Army team in the final game of the 1976 exhibition Super Series.
Van Impe darted from the penalty box, about midway through the first period, and watched the Soviets' breakout develop as he got a glimpse of his favorite kind of pass.
"It was a sucker pass,'' Van Impe, 70, said yesterday from his home in Vancouver. "I could see the play developing. The winger made a sucker pass and [Valeri] Kharlamov had to turn his head to get it. I remember watching it, almost in slow motion. And the same time the puck connected with Kharlamov, I connected with him and flattened him.
"I just wanted to welcome him to Philadelphia.''
Red Army coach Konstantin Loktev wasn't feeling welcome.
"We have never played [against] such animal hockey,'' he is quoted as saying after the game, a 4-1 Flyers romp.
Van Impe knocked Kharlamov out cold and the Soviets, who had smoked the Rangers and Bruins but tied that season's Stanley Cup winner, Montreal, in the inaugural series between the Soviet Union's top team and the NHL circuit, famously left the ice for 17 minutes in a protest.
"I had never seen anything like it before,'' Flyers chairman Ed Snider said. "I went downstairs [to ice level] and wanted to know exactly what was going on. [NHL president] Clarence Campbell was down there and so was Alan Eagleson and they were going back and forth with interpreters.''
Meanwhile, down the hallway, the Flyers were undoubtedly having a good time at the expense of the Soviets' unexpected exit.
"We were feeling really good about ourselves,'' Van Impe, the Flyers' second captain, recalled with a laugh. "We were really dominating. I was absolutely shocked when they left the ice. I had never seen anything like that ever happen before at any level, anywhere, where a team quits because things weren't going their way. But I knew they had to return, the game was being televised across Europe.''
Snider knew the only way to bruise the Soviets more was to hit their wallet equally hard. Since it was the final contest of the four-game set, the Soviets were supposed to receive a fat check from Eagleson for $200,000, $50,000 per game.
"I told them that they wouldn't get paid for the game,'' Snider said. "And Clarence looked at me and said, 'Hell, we were supposed to settle up for the whole series after this game.' I said, 'Tell them they're not getting their money.' They were supposed to get $50,000 for each game, so a total of $200,000 was on the line, plus we paid for all of their expenses and whatnot. That was a lot of money at the time, especially in Russia. So they huddled together and went back and forth and finally said very clearly, 'We will play,' and back onto the ice they went.''
The game was scoreless at that point, but not for long. Seventeen seconds after the game resumed, Reggie Leach scored. Five minutes later, Rick MacLeish made it 2-0. The rout was on. The Flyers dominated play throughout, outshooting the Red Army, 49-13.
The beating on the ice - broadcast across the United States and Canada, where hockey purists who hated the Flyers were suddenly cheering for them - continued as viciously as the jeers that rained down from the Spectrum crowd.
Red Army goaltender Vladislav Tretiak, one of the only players in the Hockey Hall of Fame to never play in the NHL, could not be reached for this story.
In 1976, at the height of the Cold War, and a full Olympiad before the "Miracle on Ice'' at Lake Placid in 1980, much more than NHL pride was at stake for the Flyers. Tensions were high between the United States and the Soviet Union. The ticket stub that day - which was priced at $7.50 for a lower-level seat - read "May We Live in Peace,'' with flags of the two empires crossed.
"There were a lot of political implications to the game,'' Van Impe said. "It was an overwhelming feeling. We had to maintain the image of the NHL, the Broad Street Bullies and the city of Philadelphia. More importantly, we wanted to defend our soil.''
"The thing I remember most was that it was the first time the whole NHL really rooted for us,'' Snider said. "Before that, we were the most hated team in hockey. Campbell and all of the other executives that didn't like us before were all hoping we would crush them.''
It was the Red Army's first defeat on North American soil. The Soviets went on to lose only two of the 16 Super Series played between 1976 and 1991.
Even though the Broad Street Bullies' legacy was solidified with back-to-back Stanley Cups, their triumph over the highly skilled and well-conditioned Red Army proved the franchise's worth as a hockey entity.
"I think that game cemented the fact that we were not just a rough hockey team full of a bunch of goons,'' Snider said. "We were a pretty good team.''
Said Van Impe: "We had some great players. Some finesse players, some of the best in the league. We had the luxury of being very aggressive and scoring, not at will, but pretty close to it.''
Van Impe was traded to Pittsburgh not long after the hit and lasted only one more season in the NHL. Now, 35 years later, he is still reminded of it every time he returns to Philly.
"I've had a lot bigger, harder hits in my career, especially in the playoffs,'' Van Impe said. "But that was definitely portrayed as one of the biggest in my career. And I'm OK with that.''
For more news and analysis, read Frank Seravalli's blog, Frequent Flyers, at
frequentflyers. Follow him
on Twitter at