For six days in September 1972, Paul Henderson was the best on the planet, and that should be enough for the Hall of Fame
“Henderson has scored for Canada.”
Apart from “He shoots, he scores,” legendary broadcaster Foster Hewitt never uttered more significant and impactful words into a microphone. About a goal that would live on forever, at least for a generation of hockey fans in this country who lived the moment.
But that goal, the winner scored by Paul Henderson with 34 seconds remaining in the historic 1972 Summit Series between Canada and the Soviet Union, is one with which every hockey fan is familiar, regardless of vintage. For many of us it remains a “Where were you?” moment. That’s just the way we Canadians are. Where were you when one of the most important goals in Canadian hockey history was scored?
It happened, of course, Sept. 28, 1972, in the eighth and final game of that remarkable series, the first time our best had played their best. And it was Henderson who capped a comeback in the series and the game, giving Canada a thrilling 6–5 victory. It was his third consecutive game-winning goal and his seventh score of the series.
There were other great performances that September—the play of Phil Esposito leaps to mind—but Henderson’s ability to seize the moment, to rise to the occasion and make big plays when they were needed most, was monumental. It is difficult to think of a series of any kind—never mind one of that magnitude, where the stakes were so ridiculously high—in which one player had as dramatic an impact.
Despite all of that, another Hockey Hall of Fame induction ceremony passed in mid-November, and once again Paul Henderson remained on the outside looking in. Henderson is not an Honoured Member of the Hall, but he should be.
The bigger body of Henderson’s hockey work was mid-range at best. Between the NHL and World Hockey Association, he played in 1,067 games, scoring 376 goals and totalling 760 points. Pretty decent numbers, but not good enough on their own to get him inducted. But add those three game-winning goals—heck, add just the one in game eight—and that should tip the scales. Induction consideration should be about more than just career numbers, it should be about great moments and lasting impact.
And who had a more profound influence on a series and ultimately history than Paul Henderson? When you think of iconic moments and performances, Henderson always comes to mind. Think great Canadian moments and goals and you think Henderson in 1972, Mario Lemieux from Wayne Gretzky in ’87, and Sidney Crosby’s golden goal in 2010.
Lemieux and Gretzky are already in the Hall, of course, and Crosby will no doubt get there. But Henderson deserves to be there, too. This isn’t a new argument or plea, but the push should keep happening. Henderson is the first to say he didn’t have a Hall of Fame career. But this isn’t a career debate. Indeed, you can argue that if not as a player, then Henderson is worthy of induction as a builder, because what transpired in that series changed the game forever and is one of the grandest moments in our hockey history.
Fittingly enough, the guy who made the call, “Henderson has scored for Canada,” is in the Hall as a builder himself. It’s time the inspiration for those words was in there beside him.
This story originally appeared in Sportsnet magazine. Subscribe here.