STOCKHOLM – The man who won the Summit Series for Canada has just arrived, and on Sunday afternoon Paul Henderson will take his place among the greatest international hockey players of all time during the IIHF Hall of Fame induction ceremonies.
“Great memories here,” said a jet-lagged Henderson, sitting on the Team Canada bench during practice this afternoon at the Globe Arena as players skated over and said hello. “This is where we became a team. We weren’t much of a team in Canada, but this is where we got our act together, got to practice on the bigger ice. It was a great experience.”
Indeed, it was in Stockholm that Team Canada took refuge in September 1972 between the four games in Canada (where it won only once) and four games in Moscow (where it won the last three, all courtesy of game-winning goals by Henderson).
Canada played two exhibition games against an all-star team of Swedish players, games that were ferocious, but perhaps a necessary process for a group of NHLers used to hitting each other, not defending each other.
“We were surprised by the skill level of their team and the physical conditioning,” Henderson said, recalling the finer moments of the games. “That was the thing that surprised us about the Europeans. They were in such great shape and could skate at a high tempo.”
What is remarkable about Henderson is that even now, nearly 41 years later, he talks about the Series and his goal with the same vivacious enthusiasm as he did the day after he scored. But, he points out, there’s a simple reason for that.
“The thing is,” he explained, “I don’t have to talk that much about it. When Canadians come up to me, they don’t ask me questions, they want to tell me where they were, what they were doing, who they were with, and how they felt. And everybody has a story, so I just sit there and listen. There were several million people in Canada watching Game 8, and I must have heard a million of their stories!”
Jet-lagged or not, the time came to put these words to the test, and Henderson passed with flying colours, providing a story related to him by a fan just a few days ago.
“A gal told me her story. She was in grade 12 at the time, and there was this guy who was after her all the time. It drove her crazy because she couldn’t stand the guy. Anyway, their class watched the game on TV, and when I scored, they went nuts. She got so excited, she threw her arms around this guy and gave him a kiss. She said, ‘Paul, there was nothing in the world except you scoring that goal that would have made me kiss this guy.’”
Henderson rues the fact that he couldn’t have represented his country more often but envies the NHLers of today who can play at the Olympics, World Championships and even the U20, which didn’t exist during his NHL days.
“Everybody wants to represent his country,” he enthused. “For me, 1972 was the icing on the cake in an 18-year career. There’s just something special about putting that maple leaf sweater on. But there’s lots of competition now. I’d hate to pick a winner in this tournament. There’s tremendous parity.”
Looking back over the years, Henderson has been honoured and feted in many ways, but several stick out. “The 40th anniversary was special,” he began, in reference to last year’s festivities in Toronto. “The Walk of Fame inducted us. We’re the only team inducted into Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame. We were voted Team of the Century. As some of us start to get a little older, we appreciate these honours a little more.”
While celebrations often included charity games, Henderson bowed out a decade ago, no regrets. “I made a promise to my wife that when I turned 60, that’ll be the end of my playing days. I’m not going to play anymore. And I kept that promise. I’m 70 now and maybe go out with my grandkids a little, but that’s it.”
Number 19 happily puts the IIHF Hall of Fame induction high on his list of career achievements. “I was totally surprised when Rene [Fasel, IIHF president] called. I was highly honoured, especially given the class I’m going in with. I’ve had a pretty good year. I got the Order of Hockey in Canada; I got the Order of Canada, the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, and now this. That’s pretty good!”
And without missing a beat, he praised the other inductees with the grace one would only expect from a man of his integrity and class. “It’s a fabulous group. Mats played in Toronto for all those years, so I followed his career closely, and Forsberg is probably as good a hockey player as ever played in the league. Goyette is incredible. She was around for a lot of years and was one of those women who helped set the standard. I don’t know Teppo quite as well, but he played a lot of years in the NHL, of course.”
Sunday afternoon, the man who inspired Foster Hewitt to scream across a nation, “Henderson has scored for Canada!” will take his place among the greats, a deserved honour for an heroic 28 days in September 1972, no question about it.
Paul Henderson behind the ice of the Hovet rink where he once played before the Summit Series games in Moscow. Photo: Paul Henderson dropped by Canada's practise this afternoon with his grandson, Brenden. Photo: Andre Ringuette / HHOF-IIHF Images