Opinion: Henderson’s goal 40 years later thrills 1st timer

Watching Game 8 of the 1972 Summit Series as though it were just last night

As a proud Canadian and a hockey fan my entire life there’s been one moment that has been talked about endlessly; the 1972 Summit Series.

However, as a 25-year-old, I never had the opportunity to watch what is arguably the greatest game in Canadian history.

Certainly I’ve seen some unbelievable moments:

Sidney Crosby’s golden goal at the 2010 Olympics, Jonathon Toews’ three shootout goals during the 2007 IIHF World Junior Hockey Championship and Anson Carter’s tournament-winning wraparound goal in overtime at the 2003 World Championships.

There were Jordan Eberle’s clutch goals in the 2009 and 2010 WJCH, the 2002 gold medal in Salt Lake City, and the Gretzky-less shootout loss to the Czech Republic in Nagano.

But nothing that compared to the 1972 summit series. Or so I’ve been told.

On Wednesday night, TSN re-broadcast game 8 of the ’72 Summit Series and finally I had the opportunity to watch one of the defining moments in Canadian sports history a mere two days shy of the 40th anniversary of the game itself.

The broadcast was basically entirely in its original form with its grainy picture, Russian typography, and frustrating signal problems.

And from the outset, 40 years later, you can still tell how emotionally charged the game was.

Phil Esposito was arguing with the officials before the first faceoff, J.P. Parise almost took referee Josef Kompalla’s head off with a swing of his stick, and the numerous early penalty calls and complaints from the Canadian squad still resonate today on how passionate the team was during this game.

And all of this was when the game was just four minutes old.

Although the game calmed down considerably after that it was easy to become immersed in the action on the ice and the passion of the Canadian team.

Phil Esposito was unbelievable, and when he made that incredible stop on Yury Blinov, who had just deked out Ken Dryden and had a seemingly open net to score in the final minutes of the second period with the USSR up 4-3, I was out of my seat.

It was a simple play, but a goal there certainly would have sealed the Soviet victory.

Then in the third, Esposito was again amazing and the calls of the then-retired Foster Hewitt were mesmerizing, with brilliant and memorable lines such as “one of the best hockey games he played if he plays until he’s 100,” about Esposito.

Then with 1:48 to play, over a full minute before Henderson made history, Hewitt hollered that game 8 was “one of the best games I think I’ve ever seen.”

Hewitt was right on the money as the whole game was simply scintillating.

Despite knowing the outcome, watching the whole Canadian bench pour onto the ice to celebrate Henderson’s iconic goal it was easy to get wrapped up in the moment. 

Then, to watch the team celebrate their victory at the end of the game was simply infectious and I couldn’t hold back my smile from what I had witnessed.

It’s amazing to think back what it would have been like to see it all unfold 40 years earlier, with the social, and political attachments that surrounded a single hockey series.

But the best part of it all was talking to my father, Brian Peaslee, after the game to reminisce.

For my father however, it was the second time he was a spectator to Henderson’s brilliance, as he, like many others, watched the game live in his school’s library.

On a black and white TV that was propped up on a six-foot stand, as a wide-eyed grade 6 student at Brooke-Alvinston Public School in Alvinston, Ont.

Watching the game again for him brought back all the memories from the first time. 

Sitting in the library, class on hold temporarily, the teacher’s caring as much, if not more than the students, and then celebrating and “high-fiving afterwards as if we’d done something.

“It was such a big deal for Canada at the time,” my dad recalled on the phone.

“We didn’t know much about them (USSR). And Canada was supposed to be the best at hockey in the world.”

The Summit Series has become such an important event in Canadian lore and to have finally seen it all unfold for the first time was incredible.

But to be able to talk to my father, put myself in his shoes, with the intensity of the game and the result meaning so much to so many because of what lay on the line; hockey, political, and social supremacy; was something special.