Paul Henderson's goal brought Canada together
Of all the great Canadian hockey moments broadcasted live, Paul Henderson's goal in the '72 Summit Series takes the cake. (MARK O'NEILL/QMI Agency file photo)
The feds can spend millions promoting multiculturalism and bilingualism.
The nerdiest of TV techies will keep working 24/7 on broadcasts to leap into our living rooms.
We might seclude the brightest coaching minds in one room for months, clone Sidney Crosby and win a slew of Olympic gold.
But short of winning another world war, it's unlikely Canada can ever duplicate the vibe of 40 years ago this month. A country forgot its size and differences, stopped mid-day in front of flickering screens and crackling radios to cheer in one voice the greatest moment in our national sport.
"Henderson ... has scored for Canada!" chirped Foster Hewitt.
"When you ask Canadians of a certain age to gauge themselves against Americans, that goal will always come up," said John Shannon, Sportsnet commentator and former Hockey Night In Canada executive. "Americans know where they were when John F. Kennedy was shot. Canadians can tell you what they were doing the moment Henderson scored against the Russians.
"I think that goal is still the measuring stick for a hockey broadcast. You can compare Mario Lemieux's (Canada Cup) goal in 1987 to Sidney's in the Vancouver Olympics, but everything comes back to Henderson. Our business hasn't really changed, but the ability to tell a story through pictures, words and emotions was conveyed better in that game than anything today. Foster probably couldn't get a job if he were around now, but the simplicity of that call will always be remembered."
Henderson just didn't beat the Russians with his Game 8 goal, one of three consecutive winners he potted in Moscow, it was seen as victory for a way of life.
"You have to think of the time and place," said NHL scout John Ferguson Jr., whose father was Canada's assistant coach. "You had the culture clash, the politics, the unknown Iron Curtain and a drama that played out over 27 days, not a seven-game series. It went from the surprise and shock of us losing the first game (40 years ago today in Montreal), to the big comeback and the winning goal. I still get the chills thinking about it.
"And it was all on TV, so it's going to have longevity. In the U.S., they talk about the 1980 Miracle On Ice, where 1960 (when the U.S. beat the Soviets and Czechs for the gold) that was a bigger accomplishment. But 1960 wasn¹t on TV."
Think of those images from '72. A sweaty Phil Esposito after the loss in Vancouver, blasting the fans for booing their own country. Remember the red sunburst Canadian sweaters, the crude CCCP, Tretiak's mask, how slick the Russians moved the puck and those strange fishnets behind the cages at Luzhniki Ice Palace. Just before Henderson scored in Game 8 came the wild J.P. Parise ejection and near diplomatic disaster when Team Canada cleared its bench to rescue boss Alan Eagleson from a crowd of Russian cops.
"What I remember were our 3,000 fans, jammed in that one corner," said defenceman Bill White. "That chant of 'da, da, Ca-na-da, nyet, nyet Soviet'. The Russian fans would whistle, but we'd just cheer louder. One guy had brought one of those plastic horns and kept blowing it in a security guard's ear until they took him away. I hope he's made it home by now.
"It was so different over there. Soldiers walking around us with machine guns. The Russians stole our beer, our food and you couldn't get a Coke anywhere.
"The beds in our hotel were laid out head-to-head, not side by side, and the bathrooms had strange towels and funny looking bars of soap. I ordered scrambled eggs that looked like soup and they eventually had to import milk for us from Norway."
A few phantom midnight phone calls disturbed the players' sleep and they became paranoid that the KGB had bugged their rooms. One player took apart a suspicious looking device under the rug -- and then heard the crash of the chandelier he'd just unscrewed hit the floor below.
The Russians didn't appreciate the rough brand of Canadian hockey, which likely made them harder on the visitors. The Canadians were already livid about the incompetence of international officials and the mind games the Soviets played. Before Henderson scored and a 3-3-2 series tie was possible, the hosts announced they would win based on more goals.
But as poorly as the players were treated, their wives had it much rougher for food and accommodation, which only made the Canadians angrier.
A much warmer reception awaits White and 15 other Team Canada vets this week when they re-trace the famous sites from the historic series, part of 40th anniversary celebrations on both sides of the world. For all the grief they endured in Moscow, they're just glad Henderson was there, though he'll miss the overseas reunion because of cancer treatments.
"I didn't handle the attention of the goal very well at the time," Henderson told the Toronto Sun in an earlier chat, noting that playing for the Maple Leafs at the time increased the pressure.
After Moscow, he developed an ulcer and departed the Leafs for the World Hockey Association, but eventually found peace as a born-again Christian and a career in motivational speaking. Since learning of his illness, he has raised much money for cancer research through his '72 connection.
"I use the fame in the most positive way possible," he said. "The goal gave me a chance to be a half-decent role model. I've had kids who weren't even born when I scored ask me for autographs for their dads. It's just amazing after all this time. It has been a nice ride."
One that Canada might never experience again.