March 6, 1955 is a day in Canadian history that most of us never heard of. In the heart of the cold war, the mighty Soviet Union aimed at world domination in all things, including sports. They invented “amateur” status for hockey players who were paid as military personnel, often as senior officers.
These players were trained, fed and groomed in every way to own amateur hockey, thus proving that the Communist system was superior in all things. The system was not fair, but it was clear the Russians owned the world championship.
Canada had a simple system, whoever won the Allan Cup national championship, got a trip to Europe for the worlds in Krefeld Germany. Penticton beat Sudbury in a seven game series, one of the best ever, and so a bunch of mill hands from nowhere, the Penticton Vs, crossed the ocean in 1955.
In Europe, the Vs were undefeated up to the final game with the Russians, and of course no-one could touch the Russians. At game time both teams were 7-0 in the tournament. No doubt the Russians were expertly coached through the whole process.
Canada had a low-budget approach to coaching; when the team was free they played exhibition games against any comers, and they played 16 games in 19 days. In the process the Europeans who watched them came to despise these low-budget barbarians, and began cheering for the Russians.
On game night 10,000 people crowded into a 7,000 seat stadium, to watch the Russians take out the garbage. And here I would like to say the match, when it happened, was close. We all know life is not a fairytale, and in reality the predicted massacre happened. Really it did, a 5 to 0 shutout. When you have finished cringing, there is a lesson for us in this, and I want to make that point.
But I’m playing with you, it was five for us, and permanent humiliation for them. Imagine a beautifully executed play of Euroballet-hockey heading for the Canadian net, and “Bam” a mill hand from Penticton takes a Russian out at the knees, steals the puck, and scores in the other direction. They did that all night. One Canadian player explained how the Russian were large muscular men balanced on tiny blades. They tipped easily.
Metaphorically, the Vs left a smoking crater in front of the Russian net, and they made the world experts obsolete; who wants a losing coach? And they won a nifty trophy. Check out the picture of a sad Russian army Major surrendering one of his nation’s treasures, to a bunch of our grandpas, all grinning like monkeys.
In 1955, the Penticton Vs demonstrated the awesome power of “bring your game.” They made the mighty Russians adapt to them, and dinosaurs can’t adapt.
We all know the story of David and Goliath; big man, small boy, surprise ending. But read the story again, the end is no surprise.
Goliath was a “my place, my time, my music, my dance” killer. His enemies had to stand in just the right way, so he could be an expert in a limited range of skills, and kill them his way. David changed the rules from armoured combat to killing bears and lions, something he knew well. Then he brought his game, which was God and five stones.
In this way David rendered Goliath an antique road show, a hanger for expensive armour, and a dead man. Note, as a true dinosaur, Goliath did not take off his armour and pick up stones, to counter David. Also note, the victory happened when David changed his thinking. Flinging the stone and finishing Goliath later was a formality that convinced the sceptics.
So how is this working for you? The Bible has been telling Christians to bring their own game for thousands of years.
“And be not conformed to this world: but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God” (Romans 12:2).
I am convinced that defeat comes from us, when we get in our own way. I have lived enough to have many war stories about success and failure, and they all fit this pattern. For now I will just say “Go Penticton, you guys taught us all something.”
And God has a better way.