This hockey-related commentary was intended for last week, but as with almost all other news and opinion, it would be preempted by a different hockey-related event that swept the nation.
A week can be an eternity for the news cycle and most often editorial commentary has an even shorter shelf life. So I might have ordinarily set aside this opinion piece and moved on, yet I won’t.
Here’s why. Last Monday, six new names and careers were honoured by the Hockey Hall of Fame. I have no quarrel with any of the choices.
My question is directed toward a series of HHOF selectors who determine inductees and who, for decades, have chosen to ignore a player whose singular and historic contribution to the game of hockey — not to mention the psyche of this nation — may as well appear as the definition of “fame” in any Canadian dictionary.
That player is Paul Henderson.
The scene where Henderson earned entry to the Hockey Hall of Fame was the Luzhniki Palace of Sports in Moscow. It all happened in September 1972, as Canada was set to face off against the USSR in the all-deciding final games of the Summit Series on ice.
WATCH BELOW: The 1972 Summit Series is lost on a new generation of hockey fans (Sept. 9, 2016)
The series would determine global hockey supremacy.
It had been long in coming. The Soviets had rung up a series of Olympic hockey Gold Medals by icing a team of professional stars, masquerading as amateurs by playing mostly for the Central Red Army team in Moscow. They weren’t paid to play hockey, the Soviets argued, insisting about two dozen guys whose military weaponry consisted of sticks instead of Kalashnikovs were soldiers.
Canadians complained incessantly. We were sending pure amateurs to rigged tournaments. We wanted our best to play the Soviets best, but they were too chicken to play us.
Eventually, though, Canada’s best vs. the USSR was arranged, and on Sept. 2, 1972, at the Montreal Forum, the puck dropped. Thirty seconds later, the scoreboard read Canada 1, USSR 0.
Phil Esposito had beaten Vladislav Tretiak and clearly Canada’s scouting report of inferior Soviet goaltending was correct. Canadians was grinning from coast to coast to coast. Six minutes later, the national grin widened — Canada 2, USSR 0.
Canada’s goal scorer? Henderson.
WATCH BELOW: Ottawa to push Hockey Hall of Fame to induct Paul Henderson (Jan. 28, 2019)
The nation had grumpily accepted that the greatest goal scorer in the game (on our side) Bobby Hull would not be eligible for Team Canada. Hull had just signed with the upstart World Hockey Association and only NHL players were deemed eligible to play for Canada. Hey, we missed Bobby, but we’d be OK, eh?
But things didn’t go so well after those initial six minutes. The Soviets would win game one by a 7-3 margin, and when the final buzzer sounded in Vancouver following the fourth and final series game to be played in Canada, Team USSR led with two victories to one for Team Canada. A fourth game was tied and Canada’s stars had been outscored 20-12. You might remember Esposito’s interview.
Then it was off to Moscow, and Canada was teetering on the razor’s edge of nervous collapse. Morale took a further nose-dive following Game Five of the series at the Luzhniki Palace: USSR 5, Canada 4. The series was 3-1-1 and Canada would have to win the final three games to restore calm in the true north.
Unlikely bordering on impossible was the verdict by most.
Where was Canada’s superhero who would lift the team onto his shoulders and send the giddy Soviets into the gloom we had reserved for them?
Game Six. At 6:36 of the second period, Henderson intercepted a Soviet pass and slammed a slapshot past now acknowledged Soviet superstar goalie Tretiak. It was the final goal of the game: Canada 3, USSR 2.
Game Seven. The teams were tied 3-3 entering the final three minutes, so the Soviets needed only to hang onto the tie and the Summit Series — along with global bragging rights — would be theirs. At the 17:54 mark though the red light behind Tretiak lit up after Paul Henderson, facing two Soviet defenders alone, forced them out of position, slipped the puck through one Soviet’s legs and lifted a shot high into the meshing of the net.
The series was, almost unbelievably, tied.
Game Eight might never have taken place. The Soviets insisted the refereeing duo of Josef Kompalla and Franz Baader, despised by Team Canada, would be on the ice. No, said then-Team Canada czar Alan Eagleson, we’ll leave rather than play with those two as games officials.
A detente was reached: Canada would choose one referee and the Soviets the other. Predictably the USSR’s choice was Kampalla, whose horrid officiating — just as predictably — had Canada two players down within three minutes of the opening face-off. The Soviets scored. Almost immediately, Kompalla called another penalty against Team Canada’s J.P. Parise, which resulted in the infamous raging stick-swinging incident. More to come.
As the first period came to an end, Soviets Yakushev and Lutchenko, answered by Esposito and Brad Park for Canada, had the game tied 2-2.
Second period. The Soviets took the lead as Shadrin scored on Ken Dryden at 0:21. Canada groaned; it would get worse. At period’s end, the Soviets were leading 5-3 with 20 minutes to go. Some in Canada had stopped breathing.
Third period. This wasn’t about just hockey anymore. National pride hung in the balance and Team Canada, supported by 3,000 Canadians who’d made the trip to Moscow and whose bellowing chants could be heard from Goose Bay to Victoria, went to work.
Esposito scored at 2:27. Yvan Cournoyer followed at 12:56. Game tied.
Now it was the Soviet police and Team Canada who engaged each other. The goal judge failed to turn on the red light following Cournoyer’s score, causing Eagleson to charge off in pursuit of justice and in the process elbow his way past police who began to pull Eagleson off the ice.
Peter Mahovlich, his stick and a crew of Canadian players rushed to the rescue, as a scrum broke out. The players rescued Eagleson.
Now back to hockey and back to Henderson.
At 19:26, with 34 seconds remaining in the game after Esposito had kept the puck in the vicinity of the Soviet net, also shooting and being stopped by Tretiak, Henderson was by now standing in front of the goalie and took repeated whacks at the puck, lifting the last one over the prone Tretiak.
Final score: Canada 6, USSR 5. Team Canada accomplished the seemingly impossible by winning the final three games in what was arguably the most emotionally draining experience in this country’s sports history.
Given his scoring heroics during the Summit Series, how is it Henderson has not been voted into the Hockey Hall of Fame? Does the scorer of the winning goals in the final three games of this precedent-setting and historic hockey event really not deserve HHOF inclusion?
It is not the Hockey Hall of Lifetime Achievement. It is the Hockey Hall of Fame.
Others have taken note. Henderson’s winning goal in Game Eight was voted “sports moment of the century” by The Canadian Press. Henderson has been inducted into the Canadian Sports Hall of Fame twice, as an individual as well as with the players of the Summit Series.
In 2013, Henderson was inducted into the International Ice Hockey Federation Hall of Fame.
Henderson was made a Member of the Order of Canada in 2012 and two years later a Member of the Order of Ontario. Yet somehow he is not deemed worthy of inclusion into the Hockey Hall of Fame.
I have spoken to Paul Henderson many times about this situation and invariably he is polite and deflecting.
A final note. On Oct. 3, 1989, Vladislav Tretiak was inducted into the HHOF. Make sense?
Roy Green is the host of the Roy Green Show on the Global News Radio network.