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Crosby rates Henderson's Summit Series winner above his Golden Goal

Penguins center awed to hear from Canada's 1972 hero against Soviets

by Mike Zeisberger @Zeisberger / NHL.com Staff Writer

BUFFALO -- Sidney Crosby was in awe.

The Pittsburgh Penguins center was listening to a recorded message that Canada hockey icon Paul Henderson had sent via NHL.com about the 10th anniversary of Crosby's gold-medal winning goal in the 2010 Vancouver Olympics.

Crosby said there had been plenty of similar extensions of congratulations recently but this one was different.

This one was from one of his heroes. One of Canada's heroes from the historic 1972 Summit Series. 

"This is amazing," an emotional Crosby said after the Penguins' 4-2 victory against the Buffalo Sabres at KeyBank Center on March 5. "This is Paul Henderson. This is so special.

"He's scored the biggest goal ever in hockey."

Bigger than his own goal?

"Easily," he said.

A bold statement from Crosby, to say the least.

Feb. 28 was the 10-year anniversary of Crosby's overtime goal that gave Canada a 3-2 victory against the United States for the gold medal. Known in Canada as the Golden Goal, it came at 7:40 of overtime and stands as one of the most iconic in Canada hockey history.

A decade later the debate still rages in Canada as to which is the greatest goal in hockey history, with Crosby's and Henderson's always in the conversation.

In Crosby's mind, it was scored by Henderson in Moscow's Luzhniki Ice Palace on Sept. 28, 1972 -- about 15 years before Pittsburgh's No. 87 was born on Aug. 7, 1987.

It came with 34 seconds left in the eighth and final game of the historic Summit Series between Canada and the Soviet Union, and lifted Canada to a 6-5 series-clinching victory.

Canada, made up of NHL stars, had gone 1-3-1 against players from the Soviet Union who were not near the pushovers North American pundits had expected them to be in the first five games, but Henderson scored the game-winning goals in Games 6 and 7, and then the series-winner in Game 8.

"What he did, at a time where no one really knew much about the Soviets, it was so monumental," Crosby said. "It was so historical."

So, too, was Crosby's goal, according to Henderson. And he let the Penguins captain know it during the two-minute message.

"Sid, this is Paul Henderson, my friend," Henderson said. "Like every Canadian we are so proud of you, the way you've conducted yourself and the way you've played the game of hockey …"

Henderson went on to recount how he led an entire room of people in a rendition of "Oh Canada" when Crosby scored against the United States. Crosby's eyes widened listening to Henderson explain the details.

Henderson finished with the following sign-off: "You're a great Canadian and a wonderful hockey player. Love ya much. Take care. God bless."

For Crosby, it was an endorsement of the highest honor.

"I mean, Paul Henderson sang the anthem when I scored," he said in disbelief. "I had no idea.

"How cool is that?"

***

The Fairmont Empress is one of Canada's oldest and grandest hotels. Opened on Jan. 20, 1908, it faces the harbor in downtown Victoria on Vancouver Island in British Colombia.

On the morning of the gold-medal game between Canada and the United States, Paul Henderson and his wife, Eleanor, were addressing about 300 couples at a marriage conference at the hotel.

Henderson had become a motivational speaker after retiring from an NHL career in which he had 477 points (236 goals, 241 assists) in 707 games from 1962-80 with the Detroit Red Wings, Toronto Maple Leafs and Atlanta Flames.

After the first of two daily sessions at the conference, Paul and Eleanor went for lunch at one of the hotel bars. There they could watch on TV the third period of the game in Vancouver.

The timing was perfect. Or so they thought.

"We were ready to celebrate Canada's victory," Henderson said in a recent phone interview. "We were winning 2-1 and the clock was running down. Then Zach Parise scored for the Americans (with 24.4 seconds remaining) to tie things up and send it to overtime."

That wasn't good news for the Hendersons, who had an afternoon speaking session scheduled. When the session started, Paul came up with a contingency plan.

"I said to those in the room: 'If anyone's got a radio, if Canada scores, just shout out. If the U.S. scores don't say a word.' I ended up having to apologize later -- there were 12 American couples in there.

"Ten minutes later a woman jumped up and screamed: 'Crosby scores, we win, we win!'"

Henderson couldn't help himself upon hearing the news.

"I'd never done this before -- and my wife says I better not do it again -- but I just immediately busted out into 'Oh Canada' and led most of the room in singing it," he said. "It was such a special moment for Canada.

"Later on we were in our hotel room and there were cars outside honking their horns.

"It was a special day capped off by a special player. That's one of the thing about Crosby -- like all the greats, he seems to come through in the big moments."

Paul Henderson knows all about coming through in big moments.

***

As a boy growing up in Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia, Crosby was consumed with hockey. When he wasn't playing it, he was watching it, reading about it and learning about its history. In Canada, that means being educated on the Summit Series.

"I lost count of how many times I saw his goal as a kid," Crosby said. "I'd watch it over and over again. I mean, in Canada, if you love the sport, you just knew who he was and what he'd done."

In 2002 Crosby elected to play one season for the prep team of Shattuck-St. Mary's, a boarding school in Faribault, Minnesota. In 57 games, he had 72 goals and 162 points, leading the team to a U18 AAA national championship.

The director of hockey at Shattuck-St. Mary's at the time was J.P. Parise, former NHLer and father of Zach Parise. J.P. would often invite Crosby to stay at his home, where wife Donna would cook for him and where he had a chance to see Zach's collection of hockey medals firsthand. Zach, the same player who would set the stage for Crosby's Golden Goal, was three years older than Crosby and was attending the University of North Dakota.

Crosby said he was fascinated by J.P. Parise, who was Henderson's teammate with Canada at the 1972 Summit Series. Parise died in 2015 at age 73.

"He would tell me all kinds of stories about what the series was like and what they went through," Crosby said.

It gave Crosby perspective on the impact that Henderson's goal and the entire series had on both the entire country of Canada and on the game itself.

"It's hard to describe how great the feeling is to represent your country in any tournament," he said. "But you're playing a lot of guys you play against in the NHL. It wasn't like that for Henderson or those guys in 1972. They didn't know their opponents. They didn't know much about the Soviet Union, period.

"Politically and socially it was so different. That's why I feel his goal was more impactful than mine. Much more."

Henderson said he is flattered by Crosby's compliment regarding his achievement in 1972.

"Well I think that speaks more of who Sidney Crosby is as a person," Henderson said. "He's a very humble guy and handles himself very well. Of course, from my perspective I think that's an exaggeration on his part because if you hear me singing "Oh Canada" I think it sends a message to everyone in the room of how significant an accomplishment he himself achieved."

Henderson, unlike Crosby, refuses to pick the sport's all-time top goal.

"That's very subjective," he said. "Any time you score a big goal for your country like Sid did, like Mike Eruzione did (against the Soviet Union) for the U.S. at the 1980 Olympics, those are impactful. Ron Ellis and I were in Hamilton when Mario Lemieux scored the winning goal for Canada against the Soviets in the 1987 Canada Cup. We were jumping up and down, hugging each other … it was crazy.

"Whatever the case, it's just amazing how people never forget. Just the other week, I was at the airport getting ready to catch a flight to Ottawa when a guy came up to me and said: 'Paul, you're one of my heroes. I just bought you breakfast.' Stuff like that still happens all the time.

"Whether it's my goal or Sid's goal or one of the other big ones, there's just something about big moments in hockey that brings Canadians together. It's in our DNA. At those moments we're not easterners or westerners or Maritimers. We're Canadians and we're proud."

Video: Henderson reflects on Crosby's 'Golden Goal'

Coincidentally, one of Henderson's biggest revelations came during those same 2010 Olympics.

Ten days before Crosby scored his Golden Goal, Henderson announced on national television that he had leukemia, which had been diagnosed three months earlier. In 2012 he entered a clinical cancer trial in Bethesda, Maryland, that he said saved his life.

Henderson, 77, said the cancer returned again last spring.

"We expected it to but we're treating it up here," he said. "I don't have to go to the U.S. any more to get treatment. I've just had the fifth of six infusions in Hamilton and overall I'm doing well.

"I'm working out like crazy to keep my body strong. I work out six days a week. With cancer, you want to be as strong as you can to fight it off if it comes back. I'm exactly the same weight as when I scored in 1972. Can you believe that?"

Having recently returned from a golf trip in Florida, Henderson said there is one priority that is high on his bucket list.

"I'd like to meet Sid," he said. "We've just never run into each other."

Crosby eagerly welcomes that day.

"Meeting Paul Henderson?" he said. "Now that would be awesome."

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