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Book chronicles intrepid Burlington Hockey reporter’s adventures in the Soviet Bloc

Denis Gibbons' ability to speak Slavic languages opened doors

Everything was running smoothly during the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, when Denis Gibbons turned on his TV to see part of the centre of the Ukrainian capital, Kiev, burning down.

Protestors, upset with the way Russian-backed President Viktor Yanukovych was running the country, had decided to give him a hot foot on the way out of town.

Yanukovych was ousted, but it didn’t take long for Russian President Vladimir Putin to react and snatch back the Crimean Peninsula, which Soviet dictator Nikita Krushchev had given to the Ukrainian republic in 1954.

The author, who is former editor of The Burlington Post, was less than 300 miles from Crimea at the time. Eight years later in 2022, Russia launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine.  Since that time thousands of lives have been lost on both sides in the war.

If he’d been any closer to the action, he might not be here to tell about it.

Luckily, Gibbons was 500 miles away in Moscow when the nuclear plant explosion took place in Chernobyl, Ukraine, in April of 1986.

Medical experts said anybody within a 500-mile radius of the explosion might ultimately suffer serious effects of radiation.

Gibbons had just finished covering the World Hockey Championship in the Soviet capital when he got a call from Lawrence Martin, then Moscow correspondent for The Globe and Mail, informing him of the catastrophe.

The details of these horrific events and others are included in Gibbons’ book Hockey My Door to Europe

Gibbons at the NBC broadcast position in Sochi, Russia in 2014.

Huge news stories seem to follow the 79-year-old veteran of international hockey travels wherever he goes in Europe.

While in Moscow in November of 1989 he noticed a copy of The Daily Telegraph with huge black headlines ‘The Iron Curtain is swept aside: East Germany throws open all its borders.

The Berlin Wall had fallen.

Although on its last legs, the Communist government still was in power in Moscow and, fearful of creating a panic in the populace, authorities limited coverage of both events to about three inches in the newspapers, three days after the fact.

Gibbons found himself in a personal crisis earlier in 1983 when he was detained by the Czechoslovak Secret Police (STB) under suspicion of taking photos of a Soviet military base.

Accompanying the Burlington Cougars midget hockey club, which was playing in a tournament in the town of Sumperk, just south of the Czechoslovak-Polish border, he was under house arrest for three days until his name was cleared.

Burlington Cougars bantams jump for joy after winning a tournament in the Soviet Union in 1982.

Gibbons studied Russian, German and Japanese in night school at McMaster University. He also has taken private lessons in Czech and Spanish.

Working for the ABC, CBS and NBC television networks as chief researcher-ice hockey at 7 Winter Olympics, he used the Russian language skills he acquired to dig up nuggets that enhanced the broadcasts of distinguished announcers Mike Emrick, John Davidson, Al Michaels, Ken Dryden, Eddie Olczyk and Gary Thorne.

Burlington author Denis Gibbons with Don Cherry during the 2014 Olympic

The book sells for $20 and the author will deliver anywhere in the immediate Burlington-Hamilton area. You can reach Denis Gibbons at 905-632-6101 or by e-mail at           dgibbons@cogeco.ca

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