Forty years ago today, former Red Wing Paul Henderson scored the most famous goal in hockey history when he slipped the puck past Vladislav Tretiak as Team Canada defeated Russia to win the legendary “Summit Series”.
For Canada, the birthplace of ice hockey, national pride was at stake because Russia had dominated international competition for years. The eight-game series was significant because it was the first time the Soviet national team competed against a Canadian team represented by professional players from the National Hockey League.
The Russians had shocked the hockey world with a 2-1-1 lead over Team Canada when the series moved to the Soviet Union. After the Soviets won Game Five the series seemed over.
But then a hockey legend was born.
Toronto Maple Leaf left winger Paul Henderson scored game winning goals in games six and seven as Canada tied the series.
In the final contest, after trailing by two goals after two periods of play, the Canadians stormed back to tie the game.
Then with 34 seconds left, legendary hockey broadcaster Foster Hewitt described what has been called “The Goal Heard Around the World.”
“Here’s a shot. Henderson makes a wild stab for it and falls. Here’s another shot right in front. They score! Henderson has scored for Canada!”
Ten years ago, on the 30th anniversary of THE GOAL, I interviewed Henderson over the phone for a Detroit Free Press article. Then this past summer I had the good fortune to meet him in the small Ontario town of Goderich where he was signing autographs at a charity event with Ted Lindsay, Marcel Dionne, Johnny Bower, Bobby Baun, and several other former players.
When I went to shake his hand, Henderson instead made a fist, and I then tapped his fist with mine. With a smile he said, “Sorry, but I have to watch out for germs.”
Sadly, I learned that Henderson is fighting for his life as he now has cancer that has spread to his abdomen, chest, lymph nodes, and into his blood.
You wouldn’t know it when you meet him, because he has an indomitable spirit that was evident by the brave smile on his face as he met a long line of adoring Canadians while signing autographs. Henderson is at peace with his terminal illness thanks largely to his faith.
Upon completing his professional hockey career in 1981, Henderson tried the business sector and then attended seminary. Since 1984 he has been involved in “full-time Christian work” while also giving motivational talks to corporations and actively participating in charity work. Last week Henderson’s memoir, The Goal of My Life (Fenn/M&S) was released.
If there was ever a case to be made for inducting someone into a sports hall of fame for a reason other than having a distinguished playing career, it is Henderson.
Over 19 professional seasons during which he played over 1,000 games in the NHL and WHA, he scored 376 goals and compiled 760 points between the two. Hockey experts agree that Henderson did not have a Hall of Fame worthy career, but there is now a debate over whether an exception should be made based upon his heroics in the famous 1972 Summit Series.
Personally I believe Henderson should be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame because of what he did in 1972. It certainly would be nice if it happened before the man passes away.
At the very least, if you’re a hockey fan, tip your glass to Paul Henderson tonight. (and maybe even say a prayer.)