Onetime Seattle Totems winger Dave Westner can vividly recall details from 45 years ago when this city’s very own “Miracle on Ice’’ occurred.
That’s when the minor-professional Totems routed arguably the world’s best hockey team, the Soviet Union’s Central Red Army squad, by an 8-4 score at what’s now KeyArena. Westner and linemates Don Westbrooke and Dave Wisener single-handedly destroyed the Soviets and Hall of Fame netminder Vladislav Tretiak that January 1974 night with five goals and nine combined points.
“Some of the older people look at you weird when you tell them that we beat them,’’ said Westner, 67, now semiretired from managing an ice rink in Saginaw, Michigan. “The folks that know the Russian team are like ‘You didn’t beat that team.’
“And you’re almost sheepish in saying ‘Yeah, we did beat that team,’ because a lot of people have a hard time believing that.’’
Arguably one of the biggest triumphs in Seattle sports history — given the global implications and obvious mismatch — is now largely forgotten. But that only adds to the mystique of how the Totems, who didn’t make that year’s playoffs and would compile just 850 journeyman career NHL games between every man on their roster, somehow toppled the core of a USSR national squad that could match the world’s finest.
As a Soviet club team, the Red Army won all but two European Cup titles from 1969 to 1990. They won 32 Soviet titles in 46 seasons.
The Totems, a year prior, had become the first North American team to face them, losing 9-4 at the Seattle Center Coliseum on Christmas Day 1972.
Entering that first meeting, the Red Army featured most of the Soviet national team that had stunned the hockey universe months prior by nearly beating Team Canada in the 1972 Summit Series. Canada’s pros amounted to an NHL all-star team and needed a goal by Paul Henderson with 34 seconds to play in the eighth and deciding game in Moscow to take the series 4-3-1.
It forever changed how the Soviets were viewed as a hockey power.
So, no one blinked when Red Army stars Alexandr Yakushev, Valeri Kharlamov and company completed their initial Seattle victory without even using netminder Tretiak. Then, similar to the overconfidence that doomed the Soviets against Team USA at the 1980 “Miracle on Ice” Winter Olympics, the Red Army didn’t bother dressing their big Yakushev-Alexandr Maltsev-Vladimir Shadrin line for the Totems rematch January 5, 1974.
Westner served notice things might go differently this time, scoring on the fabled Tretiak — who did play, unlike the prior meeting — to give Seattle a 1-0 lead just 1:34 in. The capacity crowd of 12,710 went wild, and the Totems started believing they could stick with their intimidating opponents.
“Our line was kind of hot that night, which was really, really neat,’’ Westner said. “We had a fabulous night.’’
The Soviets still outshot the Totems 18-11 in the opening period. Then, when Soviet national-team captain Boris Mikhailov tied it early in the second and Summit Series star Kharlamov potted a power play marker for a 2-1 Red Army lead, things suddenly were going as everyone expected.
But just 31 seconds after the second Red Army goal, Gennady Tsigankov took a penalty and Totems winger Gene Sobchuk scored on the power play to tie it 2-2.
In the ultimate turning point, Westbrooke scored his first of three on the night barely a minute later. Westner scored 19 seconds after the ensuing faceoff to put Seattle ahead 4-2.
“It was just one of those magical nights, if you will,’’ Westner said. “Our guys played very well. And before we knew it, we were scoring some goals and we’d built up a lead.’’
The Soviets never overcame those three goals 97 seconds apart. The Totems, embodying North American hockey’s style of the day, hacked, slashed and speared at will to contain their superior-skilled opponents.
“We broke a lot of sticks over them,’’ said former winger Larry Gould, now 67 and living in Port Huron, Michigan. “They were excellent. They so much outclassed us that we kind of figured that was the only chance we might have of slowing them down.’’
With under a minute to go in the period, Westbrooke scored a huge goal to put the Totems up 5-2. That’s when the Red Army players in the stands were hastily summoned to their dressing room.
“Because they were getting beat, they brought them in for the third period,’’ said former Totems goalie Dan Brady, who’d replaced Bruce Bullock in the net midway through the game as prearranged. “But obviously, it didn’t make a difference.’’
Gould scored 4:23 into the third, then Danny Gloor made it 7-2 by the midway point. And though Yakushev and Alexander Bodunov later narrowed the gap, Westbrooke completed his hat trick — the only North American to record one off Tretiak — with a minute to play.
The Totems were outshot 49-31, with a standout Brady and Bullock allowing just two goals apiece. It was one of the more humiliating defeats Tretiak and the Red Army ever suffered.
Brady, now 69 and living in Sammamish, had been the team’s player representative. He said the Totems almost didn’t play, having threatened the prior week to boycott an exhibition they eventually won 6-4 over a powerhouse Dukla Jihlava team from Czechoslovakia unless they got paid.
“We weren’t asking for a lot of money, but we knew the arena was going to be full,’’ Brady said. “Anyway, we negotiated, and I think we got $100 a man.’’
They carried their winning momentum into the Red Army rematch, earning another $100 apiece. And a memory no one can take away.
It was the last true highlight for the Totems, who played another season before folding. The Red Army on New Year’s Eve 1975 played a fledgling Montreal Canadiens dynasty to a 3-3 tie in what many still proclaim was the greatest hockey game ever.
Westner said his friend and former roommate Westbrooke, who died in February 2016 at age 74 in Arizona, counted his hat trick on Tretiak among his biggest hockey moments. Years later, Westbrooke waited in line at a Tretiak autograph session and had him sign the game sheet.
Tretiak supposedly looked up and said, in English: “You, I remember.”
Westner still keeps a souvenir puck to commemorate his own two goals and said the victory is something he’ll never forget.
“It was an exciting experience with the building full,’’ he said. “And playing against what was effectively the Russian national team and beating them, that was beyond anybody’s expectations.’’