The Manitoban (University of Manitoba)
WINNIPEG (CUP) — With 34 seconds left in the eighth and final game of the Summit Series, the game tied at five and the series tied at 3-3-1, Toronto Maple Leafs forward Paul Henderson shot the puck past Soviet goalie Vladislav Tretiak to win the series for Team Canada.
Sept. 28 marked the 40-year anniversary of the famous goal.
The goal ended one of the greatest exhibitions of hockey ever witnessed, sparked nationwide celebrations in Canada and turned hockey players into national heroes.
At the time, the Soviets dominated international hockey competition. The 1972 World Championships held earlier in the year were the first time in 10 years the Soviets did not win gold in the competition.
Meanwhile, Canada had withdrawn from international competition, frustrated with the International Ice Hockey Federation for refusing to let professionals play.
Professionals finally got their chance to compete in September of 1972 when the NHL Players Association president Alan Eagleson and the Canadian embassy in Moscow created the eight-game Summit Series.
The first game of the series was held in Montreal and the Canadian fans expected their country to mount decisive victories in all eight games. Despite an early 2-0 Canadian lead in game one, the Soviets stormed back, overwhelming and stunning the Canadians with a 7-3 Soviet victory. For Canadian fans, it was a national crisis and a shock to the system.
The Canadians rebounded with a 4-1 game two win in Toronto but gave up a two-goal lead to tie the Soviets 4-4 in Winnipeg. In game four, the Soviets dominated with a 5-3 win in Vancouver.
After game four, Canada’s top scorer Phil Esposito went on the defensive in front of a national television audience to respond to disillusioned fans booing the Canadians.
“All of us guys [Team Canada] are disheartened and disappointed in some of the people, we cannot believe the bad press and booing we have received in our own buildings,” Esposito said.
The next four games were held in Moscow. Canada lost 5-4 in game five despite being up three goals in the third period. With their backs against the wall, Canada dug in and won 3-2 in game six and 4-3 in game seven.
Henderson, who suffered a concussion in game five, scored all three game-winning goals for Canada in games six, seven and eight.
In game eight, the teams alternated goals until the Soviets scored two to lead 5-3 after two periods. But Canada scored twice in the third to tie the game before Henderson’s game- and series-winner. Team Canada returned home with a hero’s welcome.
The Summit Series remains important in many ways. It was the first time Canadian NHL players united to become a national team. “Team Canada” was coined during the series. Canadian hockey fans were united too, as they were not restricted by their various NHL team loyalties.
It didn’t matter whether they were fans of the Leafs, Canadiens or Canucks — everyone supported Team Canada. The national team was a unifying force, not only against the West’s most feared enemy at the time but also for their love of the game.
In the Summit Series 40 years ago, Canadians felt both national fear and unification. In the end, though, they were rewarded with a successful come-from-behind series victory thanks to Paul Henderson’s last-minute-goal and earned the right to call themselves the best hockey nation in the world.
Photo: Biblio Archives-Library Archives/Flickr