50 years ago: Henderson scored!
by Andrew Podnieks|28 SEP 2022
It was 50 years ago today that Paul Henderson's goal with 34 seconds remaining gave Canada a most extraordinary win in the Summit Series.
photo: Frank Lennon
“Henderson made a wild stab for it and fell. Here’s another shot…right in front! They score!
Henderson has scored for Canada!” – Foster Hewitt

It is the most famous goal call in Canada’s long and rich hockey history, and it came from the game’s greatest voice exactly 50 years ago today, at the Luzhniki Sports Palace in Moscow.

The greatest hockey series ever played came down not just to the final game but to the final minute. Canada had rallied to win Games 6 and 7 to even the series at 3-1-3. Game 8, the finale, was a game soaked in pressure and tension from the moment the players came onto the ice, heightened by the presence of the two referees Canada had campaigned against until noon of game day to keep out off the ice. But in the end two Europeans called the game as the Soviets wanted, Josef Kompalla and Rudy Bata, and the result was a first-period fraught with controversy and tension.

Gary Bergman enlivened the player introductions by waving a “V” for victory to the crowd, but victory looked anything but assured for most of the 60 minutes. Indeed, Alexander Yakushev scored on a rebound early on to give the Soviets the 1-0 lead less than four minutes in, a goal that came with two Canadians in the penalty box.

All hell broke loose just a couple of minutes later when J-P Parise was called for another Canadian penalty. He went berserk, swinging his stick wildly at Kompalla and earning a game misconduct for the threatening gesture. The game was delayed several minutes as Phil Esposito and other Canadians crowded the referees looking for answers.

Despite this early series of penalties, Canada tied the game on its own power play, Esposito pouncing on a rebound in front of Tretiak. But Vladimir Lutchenko put the Soviets up on another power play later in the period when his point shot found its way past Ken Dryden through a maze of players.

The Soviets had an excellent chance to make it 3-1 when they had a two-on-one, but Yuri Blinov tried to make a difficult pass to Boris Mikhailov rather than shoot from a good position. As Hewitt pithily observed of the Soviet predilection to create the perfect goal, “sometimes you can pass too often.”

Canada seized the chance to tie the game on a great give-and-go between two New York Rangers teammates. Defenceman Brad Park carried the puck up ice and passed off to Jean Ratelle. Park, a rushing defenceman, continued in towards goal, got the puck back from Ratelle, who knew Park would keep going. The defenceman beat Tretiak with a nice shot under the blocker to tie the game, 2-2.

The Soviets pulled ahead again in the second period, though, thanks to a rare miscue from Paul Henderson. He lost the puck at his blue line, and Vladimir Shadrin took a quick shot after Alexander Yakushev’s initial shot ricocheted off the end netting, back over the head of a surprised Dryden, and into the slot.

Another Canadian defenceman, Bill White, tied the game for a third time when he redirected a nice pass from Rod Gilbert in close, but just a minute later Phil Esposito was outsmarted on a faceoff in his own end. Although the Canadian centre won the draw, Shadrin reached in behind and swept the puck to Yakushev, who was alone against Dryden when Park committed to going after the puck behind Esposito.

“Espo” atoned soon after, though, when Yuri Blinov had deked Dryden down and out. His shot into the open net was cleared away by Esposito before it crossed the line. Nonetheless, the Soviets took a two-goal lead late in the second period on another power play, and teams headed to their dressing rooms with 20 minutes left in the series and the Soviets with a commanding 5-3 lead.

Canadian heart came to the fore in that final period, thanks largely to the greatest period of hockey one player has ever played in a game of this magnitude. The 30-year-old Phil Esposito was at the very height of his powers at this moment, and he got a quick goal to get Canada right back in the game. Peter Mahovlich did the heavy lifting, outmuscling two Soviets in the corner to send a perfect pass to Espo in the slot. He had to catch the bouncing puck before smacking it home.

Midway through the period, Park hit Espo down the right wing with a pass reminiscent of the Park-Cournoyer combination in Game 2. Tretiak stopped the initial shot, but Esposito got to the rebound and centred the puck where Yvan Cournoyer banged it home to tie the game. 

All hell broke loose at this point. Alan Eagleson, sitting opposite the players’ bench by the penalty box, was incensed that the goal light didn’t come on after Cournoyer’s goal and began making a ruckus, thinking the Soviets were trying to not allow the tying goal. State police corralled him, and many players from the bench crossed the ice to help him. Among the most physical was Peter Mahovlich, who climbed into the seating area and threatened the guards. They finally let Eagleson go, and the players escorted him across the ice in a riveting piece of theatre reminiscent of a political event rather than a hockey game.

But the drama continued off ice. The score was 5-5 and the series was tied as well, but the Soviets were claiming victory in the event of a tie in Game 8 because they had scored 32 goals to Canada’s 30. Canada felt an even greater need to win the game now, to eradicate any doubt as to which team were superior.

Canada almost scored the go-ahead goal with less than four minutes to go when Park hit Gary Bergman with a great pass on a three-on-two rush, but Tretiak made the tough save. Then, with 1:48 left in the game, the final sequence played out. With a faceoff in Canada’s end, Sinden replaced the Clarke line with Esposito, Cournoyer, and Peter Mahovlich. Espo, in a rare move, huddled the players together to discuss strategy, and then won the draw.

As play continued, Henderson screamed at Mahovlich to come off, a rare order for any player to give a teammate. Nevertheless, Mahovloch came off, and, as soon as he got on the ice, Henderson tore down the left wing. Cournoyer missed him with a long pass, but Esposito got to the puck, flicked it in front, and Henderson, on the second whack, knocked the puck in for the victory.

“I found myself in front of the net,” Henderson described to a massive group of reporters after his heroics, “and Tretiak made one stop, but the puck came right back to me. There was some room under him, so I poked the puck through. When I saw it go in, I just went bonkers.”

Phil Esposito has a goal and two assists in the period, and it seemed he played most of the 20 minutes. There is no greater performance in a do-or-die game that can match his sheer will of force, his determination to win at any and all costs. Henderson scored the goal, but Esposito led the team to victory. 

What few today remember is that after the game the Canadians had to fly to Prague, Czechoslovakia, to play an all-star team in what was an historic return home for Stan Mikita, who had moved to Canada as a young boy in 1948 and made a name for himself as one of the NHL’s great stars. Now, nearly a quarter of a century later, he was coming home.

That Czech team consisted of some of the nation’s greatest players ever: goalie Jiri Holecek; defenders Oldrich Machac, Frantisek Pospisil, and Jiri Bubla; forwards Jaroslav Holik, Jiri Holik, Vaclav Nedomansky, Vladislav Martinec, Bohuslav Stastny, and Ivan Hlinka.

Team Canada’s players stayed up most of the night of September 28 and were groggy at best when they left their Moscow hotel at 6am on the 29th to catch their flight. The players’ wives flew back to Canada, and Sinden tried to find the healthiest players to dress for one more game. 

While Canada put up a good fight given the circumstances, the Czechs proved to be a world-class team that could hold its own against the NHL’s best, just as the Soviets had done. But, incredibly, in an exhausted display of that Canadian determination, Canada tied the game, 3-3, on a goal from defender Serge Savard with only four seconds left in the third period.

And then the team flew home, landing first in Montreal to a heroes’ welcome. Canada had won the Summit Series, yes, but democracy and the Western way of life had also won. And as Tretiak said for years after, the real winner was the game of hockey itself. Out of this series came the Canada Cup in 1976, a truly international tournament, best-on-best. And from there the NHL opened its doors to Europeans, first Borje Salming and Inge Hammarstrom, but soon after other Swedes and Finns and, eventually, players from behind the Iron Curtain. 

The starting point for the NHL today, for the IIHF today, was September 1972, a Series unlike any other before or since, a Series that can never be replicated, a Series that made hockey what it is today. Fifty years ago today.