Canadian Paul Henderson looks back on Summit Series Game 8 goal 50 years later
Paul Henderson scored one of the biggest goals in hockey history 50 years ago on Wednesday, helping Canada beat the Soviet Union in Game 8 to win the 1972 Summit Series.
With a win, two losses and a tie at home to open the Cold War showdown, the Canadians then fell in Game 5 in Moscow with three games remaining.
Needing a trio of wins to secure hockey bragging rights against a tried and determined opponent that Canada’s NHL stars had severely underestimated, Henderson scored the game-clinching goal in Games 6 and 7. before scoring the series-clinching goal in dramatic fashion with 34 seconds left in the final.
The 79-year-old spoke to The Canadian Press ahead of the anniversary. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Q: As you look back 50 years after the goal, what stands out from this moment?
A: « I remember saying to my wife after losing the first game there, ‘If we don’t win the last three, we’ll be known as the biggest losers in Canadian hockey history.’ Now we are probably the team of the century. Canadians, we’re not good at celebrating most of the time, so it’s very satisfying.
Q: What do you remember from the images, sounds, smells before match 8?
A: “My wife said she had never seen me so intense. I guess I wasn’t very friendly, but I was so focused. Take me down and we have to win this game. What’s interesting is how it affected me at the time. After scoring we went back to the bench and (head coach) Harry Sinden – I was only out on the ice for 10 seconds – said to Ron Ellis, Bobby Clarke and me: ‘OK, you finish the match. » I said, ‘Harry, I’m done.’ I would be petrified to play the last 34 seconds. I was done mentally. I couldn’t play. It probably took me at least 25 minutes to get my skates off. We had a few beers and it was just, « Oh my God, we did it. »
Q: You’ve told the goal thousands of times, but what details stood out to you?
A: “Our line was on the ice and we came out with about 90 seconds left. Harry Sinden sent Phil Esposito, Yvan Cournoyer and Peter Mahovlich. And then Sinden came up to us and he said, ‘If there’s time left, you go.’ It surprised me. Then we had another line of Hall of Famers. The Russians told us that if the match ended in a tie, they would claim victory because they had scored one goal more than us in the series. I just stood up and thought, ‘I have to go on the ice.’ I started yelling at Peter. Frank Mahovlich was sitting next to me (going), ‘What are you doing?’ I ignored him and kept screaming. Fortunately, (Peter Mahovlich) is out. I’ve never done this before and I’ve never done it again. I’m not sure any player has ever done that.
Q: What made you stand up and scream to get on the ice?
A: « Maybe because I scored the winning goal in the previous two games. But can you imagine the risk I took? Imagine I jump over the boards and the Russians fall and score and we lose the series. I’ll talk to a reporter in Siberia today. I can not explain it.
Q: Canada was celebrating at the final buzzer. How was it for the team?
A: « Total relief. We weren’t jumping around or going crazy or spilling champagne. We were just sitting there watching each other from the other side of the locker room. Everyone had just finished. We were exhausted.
Q: What do you take away from this group of NHL stars?
A: “We became a team in the end. I really felt sorry for some of the Hall of Famers. They just couldn’t find the right combinations. We knew (another Maple Leafs forward) Ron Ellis and I were going to play together. It was just, ‘Who would be our center?’ Bobby Clarke played a lot like (Toronto teammate) Norm Ullman. We were very conscientious defensively. We thought we might be able to make it the stop line. That’s exactly what happened because Ronnie was skating against (Russian star Valeri) Kharlamov most of the time. Then I got a little lucky with my speed. I scored seven goals. Without Bobby Clarke, I would never have had the series that I had.
Q: What was the feeling before the show?
A: “The Russians kept winning at the Olympics. NHL players couldn’t play it. It kind of irritated us – « OK, come play the big boys. » We knew they were good. But I thought, we have 12 Hall of Famers. I thought that if our goalkeepers had a bad game and their goalkeepers had a really good game, they could equalize or even win one. But they certainly won’t come close to winning this series. We had no weaknesses anywhere. Unfortunately, we totally underestimated their physical abilities. We just underestimated them. We have all done it. Then we went there, they won their first game and you know what? They thought they couldn’t lose…then they underestimated our will to win.
Q: What do you remember from the scenes at home?
A: “The whole country watched — coast to coast, every person was Canada. I got a letter from a guy after the show ended that said, ‘Paul, I was a Brit living in Nova Scotia. When you scored that goal, I became Canadian. »
Q: Did you feel like you were living a moment in history?
A: “We were playing hockey. I knew it was a big goal, but the damn thing didn’t go away. People come up to me, no matter where I am, ‘You should be in the Hall of Fame.’ I tell everyone, ‘The worst thing they can do is put me in the Hall of Fame.’ If you put me in there, no one will be ticked off and then they’ll completely forget about me.
Q: How has your life changed?
A: “It was ridiculous. I go to an ice rink about three days after I get home. We turn on the red light and the guy in the next car sees me, jumps up and says, “I need your autograph. We have both lanes set back and other drivers are honking. The guy yells, ‘Shut up, it’s Paul Henderson.’ Then the guy behind gets out of his car wanting an autograph. It was absurd. »
Q: Does it surprise you that we are still talking about the goal half a century later?
A: “No one on the team would have believed that 50 years later we would still be celebrating. We had no idea it would have the magnitude it had.