Forty years ago, the hockey world fundamentally was changed by the start of an eight-game series between national teams from Canada, loaded with NHL players in their prime, and the Soviet Union -- considered the two best hockey-playing nations in the world at the time -- that played out across the month of September. The series was a must-follow for hockey fans across the globe and after its dramatic conclusion --- a 4-3-1 series win for the Canadians -- there was no question that the NHL never would be the same again. This month, NHL.com looks at the historic Summit Series with a month-long collection of content.
Picture the excitement that preceded the gold-medal game at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver. Now double or triple it. That was the kind of excitement that gripped Canada on Sept. 28, 1972, as Canada and the Soviet Union skated onto the ice for the eighth and final game of the Summit Series.
While the 15,000 spectators at the Luzhniki Ice Palace in Moscow buzzed in anticipation of the final showdown that evening, parents back in Canada, where game time was in the afternoon, kept kids home to watch -- and many principals allowed TVs in the classroom so those who went to school wouldn't miss the action. Bars and restaurants were packed, and appliance and department stores mounted racks of TVs in the windows.
Momentum was clearly on Canada's side after back-to-back wins in Game 6 and 7, but it still had to win Game 8 to claim victory.
GAME 8: CANADA 6, SOVIET UNION 5
Paul Henderson's goal for the ages in Game 8 capped a stunning Canadian comeback over the Soviets to win the 1972 Summit Series. First Period: 1, Soviet Union, Yakushev 6 (Liapkin, Maltsev), 3:34 (pp). 2, Canada, P. Esposito 6 (Park), 6:45 (pp). 3, USSR, Lutchenko 1 (Kharlamov), 13:10 (pp). 4, Canada, Park 1 (Ratelle, Hull), 16:59.
After a controversy over the referees nearly resulted in cancellation of the game, the teams skated onto the ice side-by-side for the final set of pregame ceremonies. Canada's concerns about the officiating were well-founded when Bill White and Pete Mahovlich received questionable penalties in the first 3:01, leading to a 5-on-3 power-play goal by Alexander Yakushev, who had emerged as a star in the series and backhanded a rebound into the net.
J.P. Parise received another questionable call a few seconds later, then received a misconduct from West German referee Josef Kompalla after slamming his stick into splinters. As the Canadians protested, Parise came out of the box and aggressively skated up to Kompalla before backing away, earning a game misconduct.
The incident fired up Canada, which tied the score when Phil Esposito fired Brad Park's rebound behind Vladislav Tretiak. Vladimir Lutchenko beat Ken Dryden for another power-play goal at 13:10, but Park took a pass from New York Rangers teammate Jean Ratelle and went top shelf on Tretiak at 16:59 to even the game after the first 20 minutes.
Canada had survived the penalty-filled first period, but got an unlucky break early in the second. Yakushev's shot missed the net and hit the mesh atop the boards behind the net -- the Soviets did not use Plexiglass as NHL rinks did -- and rocketed back into the slot where Vladimir Shadrin fired it past a surprised Dryden.
White tapped in Rod Gilbert's brilliant pass midway through the period to make it 3-3, but the second half of the period belonged to the Soviets. Yakushev broke the tie at 11:43, beating Dryden inside the left post after a faceoff win, and Vladimir Vasiliev made it 5-3 at 16:44 with the Soviets' third power-play goal of the game.
Despite the two-goal deficit, there was no feeling of panic among the Canadians.
"I don't think there was anything other than a desperate desire to throw everything we had at them," Bob Clarke told NHL.com. "There was no guarantee we were going to win, but we knew that whatever we had, we were going to put it on the ice."
The Soviets came out in the third period looking for the knockout punch; instead, Esposito got Canada back in the game when he fanned on a shot but swatted the loose puck through Tretiak's five-hole at 2:27.
With the lead down to one goal, the Soviets made the same mistake Canada had made in Game 5 -- sitting back and trying to protect their lead. Canada opened up its offense after the mid-period change of goals that was the rule in international hockey.
Esposito, playing like a man possessed, got off a 15-foot wrister from the slot that Tretiak stopped with his chest. Esposito swatted the rebound wide, but outfought three defenders and tried to center the puck. His first try was blocked by Tretiak, but the second bid wound up on the stick of Yvan Cournoyer, whose first shot was blocked. With both Canadians and several defenders scrambling, Cournoyer flicked a backhander that floated end-over-end into the net at 12:56, tying the game at 5-5.
But there was a controversy when the red light didn't go on.
"We thought they were going to disallow the goal," Gilbert told NHL.com. "We were at center ice for the faceoff and they said 'No goal' and that's when all hell broke out. [Alan] Eagleson [the head of the NHLPA and one of the organizers of the series] went down there and they were going to take him away. It was like a war -- we had hockey sticks and they had machine guns. We got Eagleson and brought him back to the bench. You can't write a script like that."
With the Soviets prepared to claim that they would win a tied series on the basis of having scored one more goal, they continued to sit back as the time melted away. There was less than a minute remaining when Cournoyer intercepted a clearing attempt and tried to feed a streaking Paul Henderson, who had called off Mahovlich, the line's regular left wing, to get one last shift.
The pass missed Henderson, who was tripped and sent crashing into the boards. But Esposito followed the play and poked the puck at Tretiak. Henderson, forgotten along the end boards, picked up the rebound and shoveled it at Tretiak, who made another save but again couldn't control the puck. Still unchecked by any Soviet defender, Henderson came across the crease and flipped his own rebound through a small opening between Tretiak's sprawled body -- and this time, with 34 seconds remaining, he found the net.
"We were able to dig down and do something that they weren't able to beat." -- Paul Henderson on Canada's legendary comeback against the Soviets in 1972
"Our line came off the ice and Espo's line went out -- he was playing with Peter Mahovlich and Yvan Cournoyer," Henderson told NHL.com. "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. 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."
As Foster Hewitt made one of the most famous calls in broadcast history, "Henderson has scored for Canada," Henderson turned and leaped into Cournoyer's arms as Tretiak lay dejected in his crease. Canada's bench emptied to mob Henderson -- even Dryden raced down the ice in to join the celebration.
The stunned Soviets managed only one weak shot on Dryden before the final siren sounded to end the 6-5 victory, triggering an impromptu rendition of "O Canada" from the 3,000 or so Canadian fans in the stands while the players embraced on the ice.
The series was a watershed moment for hockey. The Soviets' speed and skill announced to the world that they didn't have to take a back seat to the NHL or anyone else. But the Canadians taught the stoic Soviets a few lessons as well -- about heart, desire and the role of emotion.
"[Legendary Soviet coach Anatoli] Tarasov said, 'We can skate with the Canadians. Our skill level is there. We can shoot as well as they do,'" Henderson said. " 'The one advantage they have is their spirit.' I believe that's what the separation was. We were able to dig down and do something that they weren't able to beat."