Why Henderson’s 1972 winner is Canada’s most iconic sports moment

We asked Canadians what sports they watched most growing up.

Henderson has scored for Canada…

They are five words that Canadians of certain vintage will never forget.

And never should forget.

Henderson has scored for Canada…

It’s arguably the greatest “I remember where I was” moment in our sporting history.

With 34 seconds remaining in the historic eight-game 1972 Summit Series between hockey superpowers Canada and the Soviet Union — the first time our best professional players faced off against their best so-called amateurs — Paul Henderson scored to put his team ahead for good.

This after trailing 5–3 at the second intermission and after falling behind 1-3-1 in the series, needing to win the final three games in Moscow.

It is a moment and a series that has become a part of Canadiana because of its special oneness and the indelible place it has found in our history, the brilliance and staggering dramatics of the series in which it was scored.

This post is part of The Canada Project, a representative survey of Canadians from across the country.

Yes, it was a series about hockey supremacy, there is no doubt about that.

But it was more than just that.

It was team versus team, country versus country. It was a conflict of cultures and beliefs and systems.

Ask the players and to this day they will tell you this was more than just a hockey series.

“It was our society against theirs, and as far as we were concerned it was a damn war,” said Team Canada star Phil Esposito, arguably their best player in the series. “Don’t ever think otherwise about that series. It was war and it was hell. Man oh man, it was something else.”

It was a series that brought a country together as one. For 27 days in September of 1972, there were no longer French Canadians or English Canadians, Eastern Canadians or Western Canadians. There were just Canadians. And we all wanted desperately to win.

And what made it even more special was its unpredictability and the finish with just 34 seconds remaining that produced the 6–5 win.

Henderson has scored for Canada…

Going into the series, many thought it would be an easy ride for Team Canada, especially after they took a two-goal lead early in the first game in Montreal. But after four games in Canada, the Soviets led 2-1-1 and would win game five in Moscow, leaving the Canadians with no margin for error.

But that’s when Henderson et al started their heroics. Henderson, a winger with the Toronto Maple Leafs, scored the game-winning goal in each of the final three games.

With the dramatic victory, Canada was able to declare itself No. 1 in hockey, but it turned out to be a significant series for the development of hockey, two powerhouse nations learning from each other. The game would never be the same.

“The series dramatically changed the whole world of hockey,” said centre Peter Mahovlich.

“The series became a part of our national heritage,” said Team Canada coach Harry Sinden. “There’s no doubt about the measure of posterity it gained. We were a unique team, the first one ever put together for a series of that kind. It’s like I told the players: Winning the Stanley Cup is very special, but a lot of people have their names on the Stanley Cup. We’re the only ones who have won an eight-game series with the Soviets.”

At time, it was believed that two-thirds of Canada’s population was either watching on television or listening on radio.

On the day of Henderson’s historic goal, schools and businesses ground to a halt.

The series was the greatest sporting event of a generation. Arguably the greatest ever in our country.

True, there have been other great moments in Canadian sports history, but few have survived the passing of time like the Henderson goal.

That hockey series, ending with Henderson has scored for Canada, touched so many lives – the players’ and the country’s.

Want to know Canada’s pick for most iconic sports moment? Tune in to Breakfast Television on CityTV at 7:00 a.m. EST on Canada Day.