A hockey scribe recently asked Bobby Orr if Team Canada hero Paul Henderson deserved to be in the Hockey Hall of Fame.
Orr thought to himself, “Why is this writer asking me this? Paul is already in the Hall of Fame. Isn’t he?”
When Orr discovered that the man who scored The Goal had not, in fact, been given hockey’s ultimate individual honour, the game’s greatest defenceman was incredulous.
“Yes, Paul Henderson should be in the Hockey Hall of Fame,” Orr told Sportsnet. “I played against him. Pretty good hockey player.” Number 4 then smiled wryly, understatement figure-eighting all over his expression.
Albeit late, momentum is building for the 69-year-old Henderson, legendary for his series-winning goal in the 1972 Summit Series with just 34 seconds left in Game 8, to enter the Hall.
If the Kincardine, Ont., native — who will turn a rice, round 70 in January — is snubbed yet again by the 18-member Hockey Hall of Fame committee in 2013, it will be the equivalent of a crowd-pleasing, critical favourite failing to earn an Oscar nomination after winning an armload of Golden Globes and Critics’ Choice awards.
Perhaps it has something to do with all the ’72 series’ 40th anniversary and all of that shaky-television-feed Cold War nostalgia that comes with it, or maybe Henderson’s class and humility during his very public battle with leukemia has played a part. Whatever the reason, the man who scored 477 points in 707 NHL games is getting his due now, as the shadows fall on 2012.
Already this winter, Henderson has been announced as both a 2013 inductee of the IIHF Hall of Fame and a recipient of the Order of Hockey in Canada. Those honours were preceded this year by his 1972 team being inducted into Canada’s Walk of Fame and him being awarded the Queen’s Jubilee medal.
Henderson will join Mark Messier and Dave King in being honoured with the Order of Hockey, whose first class included Wayne Gretzky and Gordie Howe in 2012. It’s a tiny group, certainly rarer than the Hockey Hall of Fame.
“Anytime I’m mentioned with any one of those names, I’m pretty excited about that,” Henderson said a couple weeks ago, when he appeared on Prime Time Sports. “It’s been a pretty good year so far. I got the Queen’s Jubilee, the International Hockey Hall of Fame and this one. I tell my wife, ‘I gotta stay alive. Things are pretty good.’ ”
Things got even better before the year struck midnight.
On Sunday, Governor General David Johnston announced that Henderson will be appointed to the Order of Canada for “his engagement in support of a range of social and charitable causes” as well as his hockey achievements. (Goaltender Ken Dryden, himself a Hockey Hall of Famer since 1983, will join Henderson.)
The rank “recognizes a lifetime of outstanding achievement and merit of the highest degree, especially in service to Canada or to humanity at large.”
Henderson has said time and again that he doesn’t measure satisfaction or success by individual hardware; he told Sportsnet 590 The Fan he’s “blown away” by the accolades that have befallen him this year.
What remains unspoken is the honour that eludes him. With all of the other medals straining Henderson’s neck muscles, it’s becoming a joke that he’s still not in the Hockey Hall of Fame — which, as is frequently pointed out, houses the greatest characters in the narrative of the game, not just NHLers with gaudy stats.
Sure, a Henderson inclusion means another worthy contributor to the game might have to wait. The 2013 ballot will include plenty of worthy candidates: Scott Niedermayer (three Cups, two Olympic golds), Chris Chelios (three Cups, three Norris trophies) and Jeremy Roenick (1,216 points) lead the newly eligible; Brendan Shanahan was barely excluded this year; coach Pat Burns is a perennial contender; and Eric Lindros remains arguably the best talent not in the Hall.
But let ’em wait.
Take a hint already, Hockey Hall of Fame. Jump aboard the Henderson bandwagon. What are you waiting for, a knighting?
“I’m glad they did it now before I kick the bucket,” Henderson, ever gracious and charming, told Sportsnet 590 The Fan this month.
He was talking about being honoured with the Order of Hockey in Canada but he should be saying the same thing about the HHOF.
For the sake of dignity and respect, let’s hope Hockey Hall of Fame voters give their heads a shake, wipe the crust out of the eyes and induct Henderson on the next ballot.
As the ultimate clutch scorer himself knows better than anyone: Better late than not at all.
Given the strength of 2013′s Hockey Hall of Fame candidates, should Paul “Order of Canada” Henderson be inducted in 2013?