Perhaps you watched it live on television or listened to the game on the radio in 1972… If you were too young to see it live, you have most likely seen the video. Regardless of when you became a hockey fan, when you hear Foster Hewitt’s famous call, “Henderson has scored for Canada” you know exactly which goal we are talking about – the goal heard around the world – Paul Henderson’s goal with 34 seconds remaining in Game 8 of the historic 1972 Summit Series.
It is a goal and a moment that stands the test of time. It is a series that stands the test of time – Team Canada versus the seldom-seen Team USSR. A battle of the two hockey super-powers and for many at the time that had lived through the Cold War and events like the Cuban Missile Crisis, a battle between democracy and communism. It was more than a hockey series; it was two different world-views battling each other, a drama being played out by young men from each nation on an ice surface with sticks and a puck.
As we approach the 40th anniversary of Paul Henderson’s goal on September 28th, Liam Maguire, the world-renowned hockey historian and president of Liam Maguire’s Ultimate Hockey, is trying to right a wrong by nominating Paul for one of Canada’s greatest honours, being named to the Order of Canada. This year’s nomination is Liam’s second attempt at seeing one of Canada’s hockey heroes honoured, not only for his goal in ‘72, but for all that he has done for Canada during and after his hockey career.
“Any Canadian can nominate a fellow Canadian,” Liam said of nominating Paul for the honour. “I went to their website, printed off the forms and sent them out on June 20, 2011, to the Governor General’s office. I filled out all the forms, had them signed, sealed, notarized and witnessed and wrote my little piece. I was of the opinion that it would be a slam-dunk. Of course, when they made their announcement in November for the first wave of people to be invested with one of the three Orders, Paul didn’t make the cut.”
“Based on the information I received, I have put together another nomination for Paul that will include where I was told there were shortcomings the first time around, which is ridiculous quite frankly, but the facts are the facts and so I am nominating him again.”
Unfortunately, Paul’s health battles have brought on a new sense of urgency to Liam’s mission to see this great Canadian invested as a member of the Order of Canada.
“Paul was diagnosed over two years ago with a very rare strain of Leukemia and he has been battling that,” he explained. “There is no known cure, but people can live with Leukemia for a long period of time. He had been fighting it successfully until about 4 or 5 months ago, but word got to me that the cancer had in fact spread and it is not going well. With the Order of Canada, they will not invest anyone posthumously, so if the person has passed away then it’s too late.”
“If you ask anyone that lived through that time what that team did, what that series did, what Paul did, it could never be matched,” Liam continued with passion in his voice. “You could take Crosby’s goal in 2010, Lemieux’s goal in ‘87 and Sittler’s goal in ‘76, take all of them and add them all up and they don’t equal Henderson’s goal in Game 8 of ‘72! You have to understand what was going on in the world at that time – the magnitude of that goal, the impact of that goal on the sport of hockey. It would be one thing if that series was just over, totally forgotten and no one was talking about it, but there has been a television mini-series, movies and DVDs, the story lives on and for Paul not to be recognized is wrong.”
Liam has been running a campaign to see Paul inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame and there is an ongoing debate about whether or not he will be selected one day. However, when it comes to the Order of Canada, how can a great Canadian that provided one of the greatest moments in the country’s history continue to be overlooked? Lost in the shadow of the game-winning goal in Game 8 is the fact that Paul also scored the game-winning goals in Game 6 and 7 as well, and he was tied with Phil Esposito and Alexander Yakushev as the top-scorer in the eight-game Series with seven goals.
“Paul had a solid pro career,” Liam recalled. “He played 20 years professionally, played in over 1,000 games and scored over 700 points. He led the OHL in goal scoring, won a Memorial Cup, played in Stanley Cup Finals and All-Star games. He made Team Canada in 1972 because he was a great player – they didn’t just pick a bunch of guys! It is just ridiculous to me, but I guess that’s why sometimes people stand up and fight for what they think is right and I think this is right; he needs someone to do it, and that is why I am doing it.”
Forty years later, the memories of Paul’s series-clinching goal lives on. It is similar in many ways to an event like Neil Armstrong’s first step onto the surface of the moon – it is one of those moments ingrained in our culture and our national identity as a hockey country. For Canadians and hockey fans around the world that watched it as it happened, they know exactly where they were when the red light was lit for the final time in ‘72.
“I travel across the country from coast to coast all the time and I always ask people that were alive at that time where they were and without having to think about it, they all know,” Liam said. “It was a seminal Canadian moment, but it is beyond that. I have heard people say ‘well, it only mattered to Canadians’ but it is so ignorant to say that, to dismiss what was going on in Russia and in the world at that time. I have talked with people in Russia, in Sweden, Finland and the Czech Republic that were alive at that time and they knew what was going on in that series, they were watching that series and following it.”
“It had a huge impact on the hockey world too! That’s why Borje Salming and Inge Hammarstrom came to play in Toronto; it was because of that series. The Leafs scouts saw them play before the four games that were played in Russia and that’s why they came over and that is what opened the door for others.”
At times, we are reluctant to wrap ourselves in our Canadian flag, reluctant to pat ourselves on the back for our own accomplishments and a job well done, but Paul Henderson has been an ambassador for the game and for Canada for over forty years. It is time for this country and Canadians to say, “Thanks Paul on a job well done!”
You can follow Liam on Twitter (@Liams_Hockey) and if you would like to help spread the word on his effort to see Paul Henderson named to the Order of Canada, send a letter to the editor of your local newspaper, send along an email to your local MP, or just tell your friends. As Liam said at the end of our interview, “every little bit helps.”
Andrew Rodger is the resident writer for the NHL Alumni Association and his goal is to shine the spotlight on Hockey’s Greatest Family and help bridge the gap between hockey fans and their hockey heroes. You can find him on Twitter as @ARodgerTVOS.