The Day Our [Uri]Nation Stood Still

By HOWARD BERGER

TORONTO (Sep. 28) – I remember it oh-so well: walking through the corridor at Dufferin Heights Junior-High School in North York – 13½ years of age – and returning from the most untimely bathroom visit of my life.

Why on earth did I leave Michael Pepa’s Grade 8 music class, even for a nano-second? It’s a torturous question that I’ve pondered for 40 years. In that school-room, on a portable black-and-white TV – its tenuous image governed by “rabbit-ears” (a mobile, two-pronged antenna) – Paul Henderson scored the most famous goal in the annals of hockey.

And I was peeing.

Thankfully, though of little consolation at the time, the audio feed of Game 8 in the 1972 Canada-Russia series was piped through the school’s public-address system… Bob Cole describing the action on CBC Radio. I was therefore able to “zip up” in record time and scramble back to see the slow-mo version of Henderson tucking a rebound under Vladislav Tretiak.

My classmates were far-too delirious to notice that Mother Nature had purloined the moment. Today, I confess. 

No matter where you were on Thursday, Sep. 28, 1972 at approximately 2:20 p.m. Eastern time – watching TV at home; at school; in your office, or staring at a damned urinal – the location is seared in memory. If you hadn’t yet come into this world, chances are equal that you’ve read (or been told) about the most enduring moment in Canadian sports history.

Eleven months earlier, on Nov. 1, 1971, the Toronto Sun had printed its first issue. The morning after Paul Henderson scored his series-winning goal – likely on the way to junior-high school – I purchased a 10-cent copy of the newspaper and scotch-taped the corresponding stories and photos into a Canada/Russia scrapbook that I’ve kept through the years.

A photo of the front-page banner (below) shows how the word “Toronto” was cleverly and appropriately substituted for the occasion:    

Given the essence of that inaugural clash between Canadian-born NHLers and the best players from the Soviet Union – and its enduring impact on the game in this country – an entire wing at the Hockey Hall of Fame should be allotted to Paul Henderson. Under no circumstance should he have been denied election as an honored member through the years.

The Hall boasts of being a shrine that commemorates distinction at all levels of the sport when, in fact, it long-ago reduced itself to acclaiming statistical achievement in the NHL. As such, the 477 points Henderson accumulated in 707 games with Detroit, Toronto and Atlanta between 1962 and 1980 (he played in the World Hockey Association from 1974-79) is deemed unworthy of induction. As the legitimate outcry on behalf of Henderson accrues, so does obstinacy within the Hall of Fame Selection Committee.

Amendment to the induction criteria is long and blatantly overdue.

On the 40th anniversary of his decisive goal – famously netted with 34 seconds remaining in the series finale at Moscow – Henderson is battling an incurable form of Leukemia. For several months now, he has submitted to an experimental drug treatment in Bethesda, Maryland. Though medicinal side-effects are often grave, Henderson appears robust; his faith-enhanced outlook prevailing over despair. He is a true Canadian hero.

Surviving members of Team Canada 1972 – players Gary Bergman; Bill Goldsworthy and assistant coach John Ferguson have passed away – will gather for a commemorative dinner tonight at the Royal York Hotel here in Toronto, hours after the 40th anniversary of Henderson’s goal.   

FROM MY SCRAPBOOK (ABOVE): THE LEGENDARY PHOTO TAKEN BY FRANK LENNON OF THE TORONTO STAR FROM THE PENALTY BOX AT LUZHNIKI SPORTS PALACE IN MOSCOW, AS PAUL HENDERSON LEAPS INTO THE ARMS OF YVAN COURNOYER AFTER SCORING THE DECISIVE GOAL, WITH VLADISLAV TRETIAK SPRAWLED IN THE CREASE. LENNON DIED IN AUGUST 2006.

PRE-SERIES SCRIMMAGE AT TRAINING CAMP IN MAPLE LEAF GARDENS.

    

TORONTO SUN… THE DAY AFTER (ABOVE AND BELOW).

    

GAME 8 SUMMARY (ABOVE) AND SERIES NUMBERS (BELOW).

TELEVISION SEQUENCE OF HENDERSON GOAL

AFTER FALLING BEHIND THE NET, HENDERSON REGAINS HIS FEET AND MOVES IN FRONT OF TRETIAK AS PHIL ESPOSITO FEEDS HIM THE PUCK…

HENDERSON’S FIRST SHOT IS STOPPED BY TRETIAK BUT HE POUNCES ON THE REBOUND WHILE DEFENSEMAN YURI LIAPKIN (25) TRIES TO CHECK HIM…

PUCK IS VISIBLE IN THE NET (ABOVE-LEFT) AS HENDERSON’S SECOND SHOT SLIDES UNDER TRETIAK AND THE TEAM CANADA FORWARD RAISES ARMS IN CELEBRATION…

TRETIAK IS SPRAWLED HELPLESSLY IN HIS GOAL-CREASE WHILE HENDERSON FAMOUSLY JUMPS INTO THE ARMS OF LINE-MATE YVAN COURNOYER…

CANADIAN PLAYERS MOB HENDERSON TO THE LEFT OF TRETIAK WITH 34 SECONDS REMAINING IN THE SERIES; RUSSIAN TV THEN FLASHES UP-DATED SCORE…

HENDERSON SHAKES HANDS WITH SOVIET PLAYERS LIAPKIN (ABOVE-LEFT); ALEXANDER MALTSEV (10) AND ALEXANDER GUSEV (2) AFTER THE FINAL BUZZER.

In the autumn of 1972, Paul Henderson was a 29-year-old left-winger with the Toronto Maple Leafs, coming off his most productive National Hockey League season (38 goals while skating on a line with Norm Ullman and Ron Ellis in 1971-72). A follow-up bio in the Leafs media guide offered abundant praise for his defining effort in the eight-game Canada-Russia series:

    

40th ANNIVERSARY SOUVENIRS

    

AND TODAY…

PAUL HENDERSON, 69, AND COURAGEOUSLY FIGHTING CANCER, ACKNOWLEDGES CROWD AT TORONTO CITY HALL LAST WEEK WHILE STANDING IN FRONT OF 1972 SUMMIT SERIES TEAMMATES (LEFT-TO-RIGHT) FRANK MAHOVLICH, BRAD PARK AND DON AWREY.

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