Sept. 28 will mark the 40th anniversary of Canadian hockey’s iconic goal. When Paul Henderson scored in the last minute of the final game of the 1972 Canada-U.S.S.R. Summit Series, it electrified a nation that had been on an emotional roller coaster since the Soviet Union’s stunning Game One victory on Sept. 2. Henderson, a good but not great NHLer, had already risen magnificently to the occasion, and had scored the winning goals in the sixth and seventh games. In his memoir, The Goal of My Life, Henderson describes Game Eight’s indelible moment.
Time ticked down. There was less than a minute to play at Luzhniki Arena in Moscow and the fans, including the 3,000 Canadians present, were on the edge of their seats. Phil Esposito, Yvan Cournoyer, and Peter Mahovlich were on the ice in that final minute as I watched from the bench. I then did something I had never done before, and would never do again in my hockey career.
“Pete! Pete!” I hollered at him. Don’t ask me how or why, but I felt if I could get out there one more time I could score a goal. I just felt it. For the first time in my life I was screaming at a player to get off the ice so I could get on, just one more time. You just didn’t do that—I had never heard another player do it in my 18-year hockey career—but I did.
“Pete! Pete!” I hollered for a second time and then a third. Finally, Mahovlich skated over to the bench, allowing me to hop over the boards and join the play.
As I got onto the ice, the puck went to Cournoyer on the far boards. I charged to the net and yelled for a pass, but when it came I had to reach forward for it and their defenceman tripped me, my momentum making me fall and slide into the boards behind the Russian goal.
I remember thinking that I still had time to get the puck back again and score. The Russians tried to clear the zone, but Esposito was able to whack the puck toward Soviet goaltender Vladislav Tretiak, who made the save. I was on my feet again and alone at the side of the goal, and when Tretiak couldn’t control the rebound off Esposito’s shot, I tried sliding a shot along the ice, but he blocked it.
The puck came right back to me. With Tretiak now down, I had some room, and I put the puck in the back of the net, with 34 seconds left on the clock. And then . . . well, perhaps the best way to describe the whole few moments was the way Foster Hewitt did to millions of Canadians watching at home on television.
“Here’s a shot! Henderson made a wild stab at it and fell. Here’s another shot, right in front. They score! Henderson has scored for Canada!”
I have been asked a million times what went through my mind when that puck slid into the goal. I have answered it a million times, but I will tell you one more time now what I even said to myself out loud when that puck went in the net.
“Dad would have loved that one,” I said. I even had a sense of melancholy for a nanosecond that he wasn’t there to share the moment with me, as he had died in 1968. He was the most influential person in my life when it came to hockey, and at the greatest moment of my hockey life, I wanted to share it with him. After all those years, I guess I was still trying to please my father.
That moment of sadness lasted just a second, though, and was replaced by absolute jubilation! I jumped into Cournoyer’s arms, the guys came pouring off the bench, and the celebration was on. My goodness, what a moment in time that was; I still get tingles thinking about it 40 years later.