September 28, 1972 – Moscow, Soviet Union
Game eight of the Summit Series was maybe the most important hockey game ever played. It was the climax of the greatest series ever played, Canada versus the Soviet Union. It was a series that pitted the professionals of Canada against the “amateurs” of the Soviet Union. It matched Canadian-style hockey with Soviet-style. Most important, it was a battle between lifestyles, values and two vastly different political systems.
The series was supposed to produce a landslide victory for Canada, but after a dominant 7-3 win for the Soviets in game one, the teams settled in to produce eight extraordinary games that changed the hockey world forever.
Canada fought back to win game two in Toronto by a 4-1 count, and the teams played to a 4-4 tie two nights later in Winnipeg. The final game on Canadian soil, in Vancouver, ended in embarrassment for Canada. Not only did the team lose, 5-3, the players were booed throughout the game by fans who expected a victory.
After a long trip to Europe and two exhibition games in Sweden, Canada resumed the series in Moscow at the Luzhniki Arena, promptly losing game five, 5-4. After the series, Phil Esposito said the team simply knew after this game that Canada would not lose again. He was right, but just barely.
Paul Henderson scored the game-winning goal in game six, a 3-2 win, and in game seven he did it again in the third period, splitting the defence and beating Tretiak with a shot while falling to give Canada a critical 4-3 win. That set the stage for game eight on September 28, 1972.
Alexander Yakushev opened the scoring on the power play at 3:34, but Esposito replied for Canada with the extra man just three minutes later. The teams exchanged goals later in the period to produce a 2-2 tie after 20 minutes.
If Canada were to win this game, and the series, it would have to mount a miraculous comeback after the second period in which the Soviets outscored their opponents, 3-1. But with the team trailing 5-3 heading into the final period of the historic series, Canadian players still knew they could win.
Esposito, playing like a man possessed, scored early to make it 5-4, and then at 12:56, Yvan Cournoyer tied the game for Canada. Major controversy erupted, however, when the goal light didn’t go on, and the Canadians believed that somehow a conspiracy was playing out. After discussions with referees Rudolf Bata and Josef Kompalla, however, the goal was put on the scoreboard. Game tied, 5-5.
The Soviets regained their composure, and Canada could not muster that final goal for victory. Soviet officials declared during the late moments of the third period that if the game and series ended in a tie, the Soviets would be declared winners because they had scored more goals (32 to 30), a common method for breaking ties in the standings in international hockey.
Meanwhile, behind the Canadian bench, coach Harry Sinden was contemplating whether to pull goalie Ken Dryden for the extra attacker to break the 5-5 game. In the end, he decided not to. With less than a minute to play, Paul Henderson was sitting on the players’ bench when he shouted to Pete Mahovlich to come off the ice. He did, and Henderson skated out to join the action. He teamed with Esposito and Cournoyer deep in the Soviet end to create a turnover, and Esposito swiped wildly at the puck. It went to the front of the net where Henderson was stationed. Henderson took one shot which Tretiak saved, and the rebound came right back to him. He smacked it in on the second chance, and raised his arms in victory. Cournoyer hugged him, and the rest of the team poured off the bench to join in.
Foster Hewitt’s famous call of “Henderson has scored for Canada!” was the simplest summary of the greatest Canadian goal ever scored. It came at 19:26 of the final period of play in the Summit Series. It gave Canada a win that came to define climactic success. Never again was hockey so important. Never again would a series have such far-reaching implications. Never again would such a hero emerge from a hockey series.
As part of the IIHF's 100th anniversary celebrations, www.IIHF.com is featuring the 100 top international hockey stories from the past century (1908-2008). Starting now and continuing through the 2008 IIHF World Championships in Canada, we will bring you approximately three stories a week counting down from Number 100 to Number 11.
The Final Top 10 Countdown will be one of the highlights of the IIHF's Centennial Gala Evening in Quebec City on May 17, the day prior to the Gold Medal Game of the 2008 World Championship.
These are the criteria for inclusion on this list: First, the story has to have had a considerable influence on international hockey. Second, it has to have had either a major immediate impact or a long-lasting significance on the game. Third, although it doesn't necessarily have to be about top players, the story does have to pertain to the highest level of play, notably Olympics, World Championships, and the like. The story can be about a single moment — a goal, a great save, a referee's call — or about an historic event of longer duration — a game, series, tournament, or rule change.
Click here for the 100 Top Stories