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FILE - In this Friday, Oct. 27, 1995 file picture, a large Canadian flag is passed through a crowd in as thousands streamed into Montreal from all over Canada to join Quebecers rallying for national unity three days before a referendum that could propel Quebec toward secession. In Canada FILE - In this Friday, Oct. 27, 1995 file picture, a large Canadian flag is passed through a crowd in as thousands streamed into Montreal from all over Canada to join Quebecers rallying for national unity three days before a referendum that could propel Quebec toward secession. In Canada's May 2, 2011 federal election, voters dealt Quebec's separatists their worst humiliation in modern memory and set off a debate about whether the mostly French-speaking province even needs a separatist movement in this globalized age. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Ryan Remiorz)  

’72 Summit Series was Canada’s most important battle in the Cold War

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Eric McErlain
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      Eric McErlain

      Eric McErlain blogs at Off Wing Opinion, a Forbes “Best of the Web” winner. In 2006 he wrote a "bloggers bill of rights" to help integrate bloggers into the Washington Capitals' press box. Eric has also written for Deadspin, NBC Sports and the Sporting News, and covers sports television for The TV News.

Before Mike Eruzione, there was Paul Henderson.

If you don’t recognize the second name, you’re not alone. While most American sports fans have at least a passing familiarity with “The Miracle on Ice,” few are aware that the extension of the Cold War to international ice hockey began in earnest eight years earlier when a team from the Soviet Union and an all-star squad of Canadian NHL players faced off in the 1972 Summit Series.

The eight-game series featured some of the most compelling — and violent — ice hockey ever played, as the entire Canadian nation suddenly found itself on the front lines of the global propaganda battle against Communism.

To date, most accounts of the series have come from Canadian or Russian sources, but that changed yesterday with the debut of “Cold War on Ice: Summit Series ’72,” on the NBC Sports Network.

The documentary is the brainchild of Ross Greenburg, the television producer best known for his long association with HBO Sports, where he produced programs like “Sports of the 20th Century,” “Real Sports” and “Hard Knocks.” No longer with the pay cable giant, Greenburg is now producing programming in conjunction with the NHL, and this 90-minute film is the first project out of the box for the new venture.

To borrow a term from another sport, the result is an absolute home run. Mixing vintage footage with contemporary interviews with many of the players who did battle with one another, “Cold War on Ice” successfully evokes a time when every sports battle with the Russians was a proxy for the showdown between East and West. It is not to be missed.

The program will re-air on the NBC Sports Network on January 8 at 10:30 p.m., Janaury 9 at 7:00 p.m. and January 12 at 9:30 p.m.

Eric McErlain blogs at Off Wing Opinion, a Forbes “Best of the Web” winner. In 2006 he wrote a “bloggers bill of rights” to help  integrate bloggers into the Washington Capitals’ press box. Eric has also written for Deadspin, NBC Sports and the Sporting News, and covers sports television for The TV News. Follow Eric on Twitter.