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Summit Series defined Henderson's career

Saturday, 09.29.2012 / 9:00 AM / Summit Series 40th Anniversary

By John Kreiser - NHL.com Columnist

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Summit Series defined Henderson's career
Coming into the series as an afterthought on a roster that read like a who's who of Hall of Fame members, the then 29-year-old enjoyed the defining moment of his career and became a Canadian hero.

Forty years after scoring one of the most famous goals in hockey history, Paul Henderson scoffs at the idea he didn't belong on Team Canada.

There had never been a collection of talent like the one put together to face the Soviet Union in what is now known as the Summit Series. It was a who's who of Hall of Fame members: Ken Dryden and Tony Esposito in goal; Brad Park, Serge Savard and Guy Lapointe leading the defense; Phil Esposito, Yvan Cournoyer, Jean Ratelle, Rod Gilbert and Bob Clarke among the forwards.

Then there was Henderson, a 29-year-old forward with the Toronto Maple Leafs who had scored 38 goals in 1971-72 but was seen by many as an afterthought among the stars who came to training camp.

ANNIVERSARY OF 1972 SUMMIT SERIES


Forty years have passed since Canada and the Soviet Union met in a landmark eight-game series that changed hockey forever, and the effects are still evident in the sport all these years later. NHL.com turns back the clock to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the epic 1972 Summit Series:

September 2: Game 1 recap
September 4:
Game 2 recap
September 6:
Game 3 recap
September 8:
Game 4 recap
September 17: Impact of Sweden
September 22:
Game 5 recap
September 24:
Game 6 recap
September 26:
Game 7 recap
September 28:
Game 8 recap

September 29: Lasting legacy

If Henderson was a long shot to make the team, someone forgot to give him the message.

"I was an ideal candidate," he told NHL.com. "I had scored [38] goals the year before. I was fast. I was also a good defensive player. I was not going to be a liability in our end of the ice. I really felt I had earned an invitation, even before it came out.

"I guess they thought I could play."

Coach Harry Sinden paired Henderson and Toronto teammate Ron Ellis with Clarke, a rambunctious but talented 23-year-old center who was coming off the best of his three NHL seasons, a 35-goal, 81-point effort with a Philadelphia Flyers team that missed the playoffs. The trio clicked right away.

"It helped that Ronnie Ellis and I had played together for years," Henderson said. "Bob Clarke was a younger, little bit more aggressive player than Norm Ullman [his regular center in Toronto]. Normie and Bobby were playmakers and tenacious forecheckers. I had very few adjustments to make."

But with the best of the NHL on hand, a berth on the ultimate All-Star team was no sure thing.

"We were underdogs to make the team," Henderson said. "There were seven lines, and if you look at it, we were probably the fourth line at best, probably more like the fifth or sixth line on paper. But we proved ourselves at practice -- we played a Red-White game, against each other; our side won 5-3 and I got two goals and Clarkie got a goal, and we didn't have any scored against us. It was obvious that we were as good a line as anybody else in camp -- maybe the best."

Also, on a team loaded with offensive talent who weren't used to playing a lot in their own zone, Henderson and his linemates helped themselves because they were more than willing to come back and play defense.

"We were all good defensive players," he said. "We were as much concerned about keeping the other team from scoring as we were with scoring ourselves. You take care of your own end and then, with my speed, I'm going to hurt you."

Clarke said the three found chemistry very quickly.

"When we were put together as a line, it was the big guys in the League that were going to play the most and we were going to play a little," he told NHL.com. "But the three of us, for whatever reason, just hit it off. The first time we were together as a threesome, we were very good. We worked exceptionally hard because we had to if we were going to play. The more we practiced and played together, the better we got."

Henderson scored 6:02 into Game 1, giving Canada an early 2-0 lead in what turned out to be a 7-3 loss. He also scored the fourth goal in Game 3 at Winnipeg, giving Canada a 4-2 lead in a game that wound up as a 4-4 tie. But he saved his best work for the second half of the series -- the four games in Moscow.

"He's absolutely an incredible man. Anybody else could have scored that goal … but it couldn't have happened to a better guy."
-- Marcel Dionne on fellow Canada teammate Paul Henderson

He set up a goal by Clarke in the second period of Game 5, then scored two of his own to give Canada a 4-1 lead in the third period -- only to see the Soviets rally with four unanswered goals for a 5-4 win. His steal and unassisted goal turned out to be the winner in Canada's 3-2 victory in Game 6, and he broke a 3-3 tie late in Game 7 when he took a pass from Serge Savard and came in 1-on-2 against the Soviet defense. He slipped the puck between the defenders and sped around Evgeny Tsygankov before regaining the puck with no one between him and goaltender Vladislav Tretiak. The other defender, Vladimir Vasiliev, tried to tackle Henderson, who floated a high shot as he felt himself going to the ice. The puck went between Tretiak's elbow and the crossbar with 2:06 left, giving Canada a 4-3 win.

"My assets were my speed and my shot," Henderson said. "With my speed, I could hurt them. You give me the puck and I can go. I scored a couple of breakaway goals -- I just beat the defenseman on the outside, and I was able to score."

Six goals in seven games was a lot for a guy who wasn't expected to see much ice time. But it was just a warm-up for Game 8.

After Canada had battled back from a 5-3 deficit with two third-period goals, Henderson's persistence in the final minute made him one of the greatest heroes in Canadian sports history.

"Our line came off the ice and [Phil Esposito's] line went out -- he was playing with Peter Mahovlich and Yvan Cournoyer. I didn't figure we'd get another shift. But Harry Sinden came down and said, 'If there's any time left, you guys are going back out.' We knew we'd be going back out," Henderson said.

"But I started yelling at Peter Mahovlich -- never did it before, never did it after. It was totally unpremeditated. I just felt like I had to get on the ice. Thank God, Peter thought it was a coach yelling at him. He came off and I jumped on, and 10 seconds later, it was in the net."

With time winding down, Cournoyer intercepted a clearing attempt and tried to feed a streaking Henderson -- but the pass misfired and Henderson went crashing into the boards after being tripped. But Esposito followed the play and poked the puck at Tretiak.

Henderson, who had been forgotten by the defense after hitting the boards, popped up, grabbed the rebound and shoveled it at Tretiak, who made another save but again couldn't control the puck. With the Soviet defense in complete disarray, Henderson came across the crease and flipped his own rebound through a small opening between Tretiak's sprawled body. This time, with 34 seconds remaining, he found the net -- and his place in history.

"Certainly the most memorable [game], that's for sure -- especially with how it ended," he said. "It was so bizarre."

Ironically, Henderson said, the players didn't have much of a chance to enjoy their victory. They played an exhibition game in Czechoslovakia then headed home for training camp and the start of another NHL season.

Coming into the series as an afterthought, the then 29-year-old Henderson enjoyed the defining moment of his career and became a Canadian hero. (Photo: Melchior DiGiacomo/Getty Images)

"We never really got a chance to celebrate," he said. "We came back, and bang -- we were back in training camp. That was the only downside -- we were never really able to celebrate it in any shape or form.

"But we've been celebrating it for the last 40 years. It's been good."

Henderson played two more seasons with the Leafs, signed with the WHA's Toronto Toros, moved with the team when it became the Birmingham Bulls and had once last fling with the NHL when he played 30 games with the Atlanta Flames in 1979-80. But like an actor defined by a single role during his career, Henderson has always been known for scoring the goal that won the Summit Series -- in 2010, his game-worn jersey from the series sold at auction for $1 million.

Henderson, now 69, is battling chronic lymphocytic leukemia -- and the disease, diagnosed in 2009, unfortunately kept him from joining 14 teammates who traveled to Russia earlier this month to mark the 40th anniversary of the series. But it's expected he'll be at the gala dinner in Toronto on Sept. 28, the 40th anniversary of his series-winning goal.

"He's absolutely an incredible man," Canada teammate Marcel Dionne said earlier this month. "Anybody else could have scored that goal … but it couldn't have happened to a better guy."

Henderson has downplayed calls for him to be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame, saying his career didn't merit the honor. Ellis, the director of public affairs for the Hall and one of Henderson's closest friends, disagrees.

"I certainly believe that Paul Henderson should be in the Hockey Hall of Fame," he said prior to the trip to Russia. "The Hockey Hall of Fame is there to commemorate greatness in the game, special events in the game. And I’m hoping that the selection committee will readdress all that in the very near future."

Quote of the Day

I didn't even know how to celebrate. I threw my hands up, they gave me a hug, so I guess that's all I needed.

— Sabres forward Tim Schaller on scoring his first NHL goal Sunday against the Bruins