Paul Henderson (CAN)

Born: Kincardine, Ontario, Canada, January 28, 1943

For 28 days in September 1972, Paul Henderson was the finest hockey player in the world, the hero of a series that changed hockey forever. He scored three game-winning goals at the end of the Canada-Soviet Union Summit Series, the last two the greatest goals in the history of the game.

Henderson embodied a bit of both nations’ remarkably different styles of play. He was a combination of tough Canadian with unlimited heart and a Soviet skater with puck-handling skills. In 1972, he used this combination to produce a performance the hockey world has never seen before or since.

His series-clinching goal with 34 seconds remaining of game eight remains the most celebrated moment in Canada’s sports history, a defining and unifying moment in Canadian culture. No other player’s achievements in international hockey history have had such an impact on one nation as Henderson’s.

As well, he was one of only three ’72 Summit players to appear in the 1974 Summit Series featuring WHA players, and in a 19-year pro career in the NHL and WHA he played almost 1,100 games, going to the Stanley Cup finals with Detroit in 1964 and 1966. In junior, Henderson won the Memorial Cup in 1962 and led all scorers in the OHA the next season.

In a Summit Series that got tougher and more important with each passing day, Henderson proved resilient and determined in a way even he might never have expected of himself before the Summit Series began. His courage in coming back from a concussion in game five to become the hero in the final three games cannot be over-stated, and each winning goal came using a different skill – big slap shot, incredible stick-handling, timely positioning (and even a little divine inspiration thrown in for good measure).

The Summit Series was supposed to be a cakewalk for Canada, but a crushing 7-3 loss to the Soviet Union in game one resulted in turmoil across the nation. By the time the series shifted to Moscow, Canada was in a fight for its life. After a loss in game five, Canada trailed the eight-game Series 1-1-3. In that game Henderson crashed heavily into the end boards, lost consciousness, and suffered a concussion. Luckily, he was wearing a helmet, and both he and team doctors acknowledged the injury might have been fatal without the headgear.

Henderson returned to action and he scored Canada’s third goal midway through the second period of a narrow 3-2 result.

Game seven was a fight to the end. With time winding down and the score tied 3-3, it looked like the Soviets would hang on and claim the series. But with two minutes remaining, Henderson got the puck at centre ice. Alone, with two Soviets behind him and two in front, no one could have seen what was to come.

Henderson accelerated, chipped the puck through the two defencemen, skated around the outside in a blaze of speed. As he got to the puck, falling, he chipped it over a stunned Vladislav Tretiak, giving Canada a 4-3 win. A more spectacular goal in hockey you will never see.

In game eight, a similar script played out. This time the score was 5-5, and the game was in the final minute. Again the Soviet team was mere moments from winning the Summit Series. But Henderson screamed for Peter Mahovlich to get off the ice – something a hockey player never does. Mahovlich complied, though, and Henderson tore to Tretiak’s goal while Phil Esposito stole the puck and swatted it in front. One shot, save. Second shot – goal! “Henderson has scored for Canada!” shouted play-by-play legend Foster Hewitt. Canada had produced a heroic comeback – and Henderson has been a hero in Canada from that day to this – and forevermore.

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