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Why Paul Henderson’s winner in 1972 is Canada’s most iconic sports moment

With 34 seconds remaining in the historic eight-game 1972 Summit Series between hockey superpowers Canada and the Soviet Union — the first time our best professional players faced off against their best so-called amateurs — Paul Henderson scored to put his team ahead for good.
paul henderson
Paul Henderson scores the go-ahead goal in the eighth game of the 1972 Summit Series.

"Henderson has scored for Canada…"

They are five words that Canadians of certain vintage will never forget.

And never should forget.

It’s arguably the greatest “I remember where I was” moment in our sporting history.

With 34 seconds remaining in the historic eight-game 1972 Summit Series between hockey superpowers Canada and the Soviet Union — the first time our best professional players faced off against their best so-called amateurs — Paul Henderson scored to put his team ahead for good.

This after trailing 5–3 at the second intermission and after falling behind 1-3-1 in the series, needing to win the final three games in Moscow

It is a moment and a series that has become a part of Canadiana because of its special oneness and the indelible place it has found in our history, the brilliance and staggering dramatics of the series in which it was scored.

Yes, it was a series about hockey supremacy, there is no doubt about that.

But it was more than just that.

It was team versus team, country versus country. It was a conflict of cultures and beliefs and systems.

Ask the players and to this day they will tell you this was more than just a hockey series.

“It was our society against theirs, and as far as we were concerned it was a damn war,” said Team Canada star Phil Esposito, arguably their best player in the series. “Don’t ever think otherwise about that series. It was war and it was hell. Man oh man, it was something else.”

It was a series that brought a country together as one. For 27 days in September of 1972, there were no longer French Canadians or English Canadians, Eastern Canadians or Western Canadians. There were just Canadians. And we all wanted desperately to win.

And what made it even more special was its unpredictability and the finish with just 34 seconds remaining that produced the 6–5 win.

Going into the series, many thought it would be an easy ride for Team Canada, especially after they took a two-goal lead early in the first game in Montreal. But after four games in Canada, the Soviets led 2-1-1 and would win game five in Moscow, leaving the Canadians with no margin for error.

But that’s when Henderson et al started their heroics. Henderson, a winger with the Toronto Maple Leafs, scored the game-winning goal in each of the final three games.

"I still get chills every time I see the clip of the goal (Henderson's goal)," said Ross Cowan, an Ottawa resident who was in Moscow for game eight of the Summit Series on The Sam Laprade Show on Sept. 28. 

Cowan was driving to his work at the time back in 1972 when he heard on the radio an announcement about tickets going on sale after all related parties signed an agreement. 

"I sprinted about five blocks to go get tickets," he said. "I reserved three tickets for two other buddies and they couldn't believe it."

With files from CityNews Ottawa.

Listen to the full interview with Ross Cowan below:

 

 

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