Fifty years ago, former Detroit Red Wings forward Paul Henderson scored arguably the most memorable goal in Canadian hockey history and capped one of the greatest comebacks in professional sports.
On Sept. 28, 1972, Henderson’s goal for Team Canada with 34 seconds left in the eighth and deciding game clinched the Summit Series against the Soviet Union despite trailing 3-1-1 in the series and down 5-3 after two periods in the final game.
Teammates Red Berenson and Phil Esposito say that historic goal, voted the Canadian sports moment of the century by the Canadian Press in 2000, should put Henderson into the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto.
“I would vote for Paul, absolutely,” said Berenson, the former University of Michigan hockey coach who also played five years for the Red Wings from 1970-1975.
“Here we are talking about a series 50 years later. How many other series, whether it’s the Stanley Cup final or a Memorial Cup final, are even remembered 10 or 20 years later, except for the few players who are still around that played in them.
“There were 22 million people in Canada at that time and 16 million watched that last game. I can’t tell you he (Henderson) was our best player in that game but it was magical the way the puck was going in on (goaltender Vladislav) Tretiak.”
As for Esposito, who led the Summit Series in scoring with 13 points and assisted on the game-winning goal in Game 8, he was annoyed when asked about Henderson’s hall candidacy on “Octopulse,” The Detroit News/Detroit Red Wings podcast.
“Don’t get me started,” Esposito said. “He’s a Hall of Famer in my mind. End of story.”
Scott Morrison, the author of “1972: The Series That Changed Hockey Forever,” agrees with Berenson and Esposito but doesn’t think Henderson will make the Hall with only 236 goals and 477 points in 707 career NHL games.
Henderson added 140 goals and 283 points in 360 games in the World Hockey Association.
“They’ll say he didn’t score 500 goals or have 1,000 points, but wait a minute,” Morrison said. “We put people in and justifiably so by measuring them with different standards. We’ve put Soviets in like Tretiak, who gave up the goal, and put in (Alexander) Yakushev, who was great in that series.
“He (Henderson) scored the game-winning goal in Games 6, 7, and 8 and he would’ve had the game-winning goal in Game 5 if they hadn’t blown the lead. He clearly came through in the clutch in the greatest series under the most incredible pressure.
“Look at the politics of the day. It was us versus them, our system versus their system. We should use a different measurement when you succeed internationally. And it’s not like he didn’t have a good career before and after the series.”
Henderson, now 79 and preparing for next week’s Team Canada reunion in Ottawa on Wednesday to mark 50 years since his goal helped unite the country for a generation of Canadians, says he’s OK not being in the hall.
“I have no problem not being in there at all,” Henderson said. “They have a selection committee and there are a lot of other guys who are more deserving than I am. I’ve got every other award in Canada. I’ve got the Order of Canada (established by the late Queen Elizabeth II for outstanding achievement, dedication to the community, and service to the nation), the Order of Ontario and things I’ve done since hockey.
“People come up to me all the time and say it’s a joke I’m not in the Hall of Fame because I’m more famous than most of the guys in there. The truth is, if they ever put me in, nobody would be upset anymore and they’ll forget about me. The way I look at, I’m better off on the outside.”
A Memorial Cup champion with the Red Wings’ junior affiliate team in Hamilton in 1962 and a two-time NHL All-Star in 1972 and 1973, Henderson’s Hall of Fame chances might’ve improved if the Red Wings had held on and won two Stanley Cups when he was a young winger on the star-studded team.
In the 1964 final against the two-time defending champion Toronto Maple Leafs, Henderson scored the opening goal in Game 6, and Detroit, leading the series 3-2, was less than three minutes away from winning the cup at Olympia Stadium.
Gordie Howe had just scored the go-ahead goal late in the third period for a 3-2 lead but Bobby Baun returned to the ice after suffering a broken ankle, setting up the tying goal and scoring the winner in overtime. The Leafs won 4-0 in Game 7.
In 1966, Henderson scored the game-winning goal in Game 1 of the final against the Montreal Canadiens but the Red Wings failed to protect a 2-0 series lead, losing four games to two.
“When I think back, that loss in Game 6 irks me to this day,” Henderson said. “We were leading three games to two and we could’ve won the cup that night. I mean, Bobby Baun had the worst shot in the whole league but it went in off Bill Gadsby’s stick (and past goaltender Terry Sawchuk).
“Would that have enhanced my Hall of Fame chances? Honestly, I’ve never given that one iota of thought but it’s a good question. I don’t have an answer for that.”
Henderson wound up with 385 career goals in 1,082 games in the NHL (Detroit, Toronto Maple Leafs, Atlanta Flames), in the WHA (Toronto Toros, Birmingham Bulls) and in international hockey, including seven goals in eight games in 1972.
But it was that one goal in September of 1972, immortalized by Hall of Fame announcer Foster Hewitt (“Henderson has scored for Canada”), which ranks right up there in Canadian hockey lore along with Sidney Crosby’s overtime goal against the U.S. in the 2010 Olympic final in Vancouver and Mario Lemieux’s winning goal against the Russians in the 1987 Canada Cup in Hamilton.
“I’m looking forward to getting together with the guys,” Henderson said. “Fifty years is an incredible accomplishment. We’re getting long in the tooth and we’ve lost 10 guys off that team, 10 guys have died.
“But every time we look at those games, there’s just that camaraderie, when you see those smiles. We went to war and we came from behind in one of the greatest comebacks in the history of sports. That’s something to celebrate.”
How seven Red Wings fared in Summit Series
Gary Bergman (11 years in Detroit, played all eight games against Soviet Union, three assists)
“It was a breakout series for Bergie,” Red Berenson said. “He could skate, handle the puck, jump into the rush. He played hard, he played physical, and embraced the series as much as anybody. It might’ve been the best hockey he ever played in his career.”
“In Game 8, Bergman could’ve been Paul Henderson,” author Scott Morrison said. “With about three minutes to go, Bergman joined a 3-on-2 rush with Brad Park and he ended up with a real good shot on goal. The Soviets were sitting back and Canada had nothing to lose.”
Red Berenson (five years in Detroit, played in Game 1 and 6 in Summit Series, one assist)
Paul Henderson (five years in Detroit, scored seven goals in eight games, including the game-winning goals in Games 6, 7, 8)
Mickey Redmond (6 years in Detroit, played one game in opener on line with Peter Mahovlich and Red Berenson)
Marcel Dionne (4 years in Detroit, only played in exhibition games in Sweden and Prague)
Pete Mahovlich (6 years in Detroit, scored short-handed goal in Game 2 in Toronto, two points in seven games)Frank Mahovlich (4 years in Detroit, two points in six games against Soviet Union)