TORONTO, ONTARIO, - He won the Memorial Cup and Stanley Cup — two of hockey's most coveted trophies — but neither qualifies as the crowning achievement of Ron Ellis's career.
Ellis helped the Toronto Marlies capture the '64 Memorial Cup and three years later was a member of the Toronto Maple Leafs' squad the won the franchise's last Stanley Cup. But both pale in comparison to being a part of Canada's epic victory over Russia in the 1972 Summit Series.
"It is the highlight of my career," Ellis said. "The Stanley Cup is very special but I was a young guy on a veteran club and just followed the lead of those veterans and we had a wonderful experience together.
"Winning a Cup with the Leafs was special for Leaf fans across our country but when we won the Summit Series we, did it for all Canadians.''
September marks the 40th anniversary of the Summit Series and Ellis along with several other players from the Canadian team will participate in events to mark the milestone in Canada and in Russia.
Ellis, 67, and former teammates Bill White, 73, and Marcel Dionne, 61, took part in a news conference Wednesday outlining details of the anniversary celebrations. On Monday, they will be among 14 former Canadian team players who will return to Russia.
Expectations in '72 were high that the star-studded Canadian team would easily dispatch the Russians. And it looked like Canada would indeed romp when it surged to an early 2-0 lead in the opening game in Montreal before Russia regrouped to take a shocking 7-3 victory.
Canada won the second game in Toronto 4-1 before the two sides skated to a 4-4 tie in Winnipeg. Russia took the fourth and final contest on Canadian soil 5-3 in Vancouver, prompting the 15,570 fans to boo Canada's team off the ice.
That led to Phil Esposito's infamous emotional outburst on national television.
"To the people across Canada, we tried. We gave it our best," Esposito said at the time. "To the people who booed us, geez, all of us guys are really disheartened. We're disillusioned and disappointed. We cannot believe the bad press we've got, the booing we've got in our own building.
"I'm completely disappointed. I cannot believe it. Every one of us guys — 35 guys — we came out because we love our country. Not for any other reason. We came because we love Canada."
The Canadians dropped the first game in Russia 5-4 before rallying to cement the series with three straight victories, capped by Paul Henderson's iconic goal in the eighth and final contest.
"It was not about hockey,'' said Dionne, who was on Canada's roster but didn't play. "It was about our life, our style of living being better than the communist country and we didn't realize that until we got there.''
The players will arrive in Moscow on Monday and spend six days in Russia, the highlight of their visit being an alumni game Wednesday against members of the '72 Russian squad.
On Sept. 22, Team Canada '72 will be inducted into Canada's Walk of Fame. Players and team officials will gather for a gala dinner in Toronto on Sept. 28, the date 40 years earlier that Henderson scored with 34 seconds remaining to earn the Canadians a dramatic 6-5 series-clinching victory.
Ellis had a front-row seat for Henderson's historic goal on the Canadian team's bench. Although he didn't figure in the official scoring, Ellis revealed Tuesday he had a big role in the play.
"I have this vision of Yvon Cournoyer passing the puck across because Paul Henderson had just got on the ice because Peter Mahovlich had just come off," Ellis said. "When this was happening I was right beside Paul on the bench and I stepped back because as he went over the boards I didn't want him to trip.
"Imagine if he caught a skate in my sweater?''
Henderson wasn't in attendance Tuesday. The former Leafs star is battling cancer, having been diagnosed with chronic lymphocytic leukemia in 2010.
Henderson's goal remains one of the biggest and most famous in Canadian hockey history and prompted many suggestions that Henderson deserves to be in the Hockey Hall of Fame. Not surprising, Ellis, White and Dionne were all in support.
"I certainly believe Paul Henderson should be in the Hall of Fame," said Ellis, a Hall of Fame employee. "The Hockey Hall of Fame is there to commemorate greatness in the game and special events in the game and I'm hoping the selection committee will re-address all of that in the very near future.''
Added White: "I always thought Paul was a national hero and should be in the Hall of Fame. He scored enough goals during his career . . . but just for scoring that one goal I think he should be in.''
Dionne was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1992 after registering 731 career goals over 18 NHL seasons with Detroit, Los Angeles and the New York Rangers. The only accomplishment missing from Dionne's stellar hockey resume is a Stanley Cup championship.
And while Dionne didn't see any action in the Summit Series, it has served as a defining moment for the native of Drummondville, Que., on and off the ice.
"I took my girlfriend Carol (now wife) to Russia and I asked her mother for permission, which in those years was taboo," Dionne said. "Her mother said why and I said, 'I think she's going to experience something that she will never forget,' and she said yes.
"Well, we're still married, we're still together and that's my Stanley Cup.''