When Canada and the Soviet Union met in the 1972 Summit Series, there was much more at stake than just hockey. The political implications of the Cold War-era series heightened the intensity of the match-up.
In one of the most famous moments in hockey history, Canadian Paul Henderson scored with less than a minute remaining in the eighth game, prompting a nationwide celebration in Canada that, even 40 years later, continues to this day.
Henderson, who spent the majority of his NHL career playing for the Red Wings and the Toronto Maple Leafs, was hot for more than just that single moment when the Soviets and the Canadians met, scoring the game-winning goal in the last three games of the series.
In fact, the “goal heard around the world” came just days after Henderson scored what he thought might be the most important goal in his career.
“The funny part about it is that I scored the winning goal in the seventh game, the second to last game, with about 2 ½-minutes left,” Henderson said. “And after the game I said to my wife, ‘I’ll probably never score a bigger goal in my life.’ ”
And two days later: “Here's a shot. Henderson makes a wild stab for it and falls. Here's another shot. Right in front. They score! Henderson scores for Canada!”
That clip from Foster Hewitt’s famous broadcast has followed Henderson around for over four decades.
“There’s no question, that goal defines who I am and it has for 40 years,” he said. “It was voted the sports moment of the century in Canada and I’ve been celebrating the thing for 40 years. It’s probably as big now as it ever has been.”
When the two countries met two years later at the 1974 Summit Series, the intensity didn’t match the previous meeting’s, even though the Soviet roster featured many of the same players and the Canadian roster featured greats likes Gordie Howe.
“Billy Harris, our coach, decided it was just a series of games,” Henderson said of the second Summit. “And we did well in the first two games, but we go into Winnipeg, he takes eight guys and said, ‘Well, everybody’s going to play.’ So we took eight guys out of the lineup, we put eight new guys in the lineup, and it took the steam out of us.”
If anything, the number of stars on the Canadian roster only served to prevent the players from cohesively bonding as a team. And with no historical moments like the ones that had made the 1972 series so remarkable, the Soviets won the second series against Canada, 4-1-3.
“It was a recipe for disaster,” Henderson said. “You’ve got 35 of the best hockey players in your country and you can only get 18 guys on the ice. So you’ve got 17 guys steaming mad every game.”
Henderson’s performance in the Summit Series has understandably overshadowed the rest of his career, but his time in the NHL was by no means lackluster. Making his NHL debut during the 1962-63 season on a Wings’ team packed with talent, he quickly learned how to play with the best, including Howe, Terry Sawchuk, Marcel Pronovost, Bill Gadsby, Alex Delvecchio and Norm Ullman.
“They were obviously classy guys, there’s no question about it,” Henderson said. “You get seven hall of famers all on one team, I’m not sure there’s ever been seven hall of famers on another team, maybe Montreal. It was a good experience for a young guy.”
During his first full season with the team, Henderson experienced one of the most iconic moments in the Detroit-Toronto rivalry when the two teams faced off in the 1964 Stanley Cup finals. In a moment comparable to Henderson’s summit goal, the Leafs’ Bob Baun played through a broken ankle to score the winning-goal in overtime of Game 6.
“We should’ve won, honest to God, we should’ve won,” Henderson said. “Bobby Baun scored in overtime. We should’ve won it in Detroit. We were ahead in that game, and then (Billy) Harris tied it up and then Baun went off Bill Gadsby’s stick in the bloody net, probably the worst shot in the league. It’s history now.”
Baun’s goal forced Game 7 in Toronto, which the Leafs won to secure the Stanley Cup.
“We go ahead 3-2 and the sixth game is in Detroit and I felt that we outplayed them in that series,” Henderson said. “I felt we outplayed them that game, too. But then we went back to Toronto and lost 4-0. I can remember that like yesterday and I haven’t got over it yet.”
Despite the outcome, the Wings were a strong team, as evinced by postseason runs, including two appearances in the finals, in Henderson’s first three seasons with the club. Despite their strengths and the number of hall of famers on the team, the Wings were never able to secure a Stanley Cup while Henderson played for the squad. Trades and an on-ice incident that left a teammate blind in one eye prevented the team from ever capitalizing on their skill.
|Paul Henderson (with helmet) and Bobby Clarke celebrate Henderson's series-winning goal in Game 8 of the 1972 Summit Series between Canada and the Soviet Union at the Luzhniki Ice Palace in Moscow on Sept. 28, 1972. (Photo by Denis Brodeur/NHLI via Getty Images) |
“We really did have a good hockey team but just couldn’t get it over the finish line,” Henderson said. “Ullman never won a Stanley Cup, neither did Gadsby. And then after that next year, then they traded Marcel Pronovost to Toronto and Gads retired and Doug Barkley lost his eye. That was the downfall of Detroit, when Doug Barkley lost his eye, because they were pushing him for the Norris Trophy that year and he was just coming into his own, and Detroit never recovered after that. Which led to me being traded down the road.”
In March 1968, having played just over five seasons with the Wings, Henderson found out in an unceremonious phone call from a teammate’s wife that he had been traded to Toronto.
“Bruce MacGregor’s wife phoned me in the morning,” Henderson said. “And she said, ‘I just heard on the radio that you and Normie and (Floyd Smith) have been traded to Toronto.’ And that’s how I found out about it. And that hurt incredibly.”
In his first game against his former teammates, Henderson and Ullman helped Toronto to a win and secured some recognition in the process.
“I would’ve done anything for Detroit,” Henderson said. “And then I couldn’t wait to play against them in Toronto. The next game in Toronto we had to play Detroit and we beat them 5-3. Normie was first star and I was second star.”
Along with MacGregor, Henderson and Ullman helped form an impressive two-way line known as the “HUM” line while playing in Detroit. When Henderson and Ullman arrived in Toronto, Ron Ellis replacement for MacGregor on the right wing, and the line continued to be successful.
“We became the HUE line,” Henderson said. “I thought Ronnie, Normie and I were as good a line as there was in the league. We could play with anybody at both ends of the rink. All three of us were very responsible defensively; all three of us took pride in our defensive game and obviously we could score goals too.”
After the ’74 Summit Series, Henderson spent five seasons in the WHA before returning to the Atlanta Flames for one final NHL season in 1979-80. Throughout his career, he scored 236 goals and 241 assists in 707 games.