Cold War On Ice: Summit Series 72
I always knew Paul Henderson was considered hockey royalty in Canada but until recently I couldn’t understand why. I found the answer while watching “Cold War on Ice”, a documentary about the 1972 Summit Series between Canada and the Soviet Union shown on the NBC Sports Network (formerly Versus).
I didn’t remember Henderson as one of the best players of his NHL era but I knew he scored the series winning goal and while I understood what it meant for Canada not to lose to the Soviets, I still couldn’t figure out why he was held in such high esteem for 1 goal.
But as I learned in the special, the journeyman NHL player didn’t just score what some call the “goal heard round the world”; he also netted the game winner in the previous 2 contests. The Soviets had a 3-1-1 lead in the 8 game series but Canada rallied to win the final 3 games and avoid national scorn. Henderson had the game winner in all 3.
There were numerous interviews with players from both teams and it was fascinating to hear the many recollections. The series winning goal came in the last minute of game 8 with the teams tied at 5. Henderson, who was on the bench, talked about screaming at a teammate to come off for a line change or else he wouldn’t have been on the ice to play the role of hero one more time.
One of the more infamous moments of the series involved Bobby Clarke, soon to be leader of the Broad Street Bullies, viciously slashing and breaking the ankle of Valeri Kharlamov, the Soviets best player, in game 6. If it happened today we would be screaming for a long suspension but back then it was considered just part of the game. Reflecting on that turning point, Clarke said it was an awful thing to do but (he said with a smile) “it sure felt good.” Asked if Team Canada regretted that incident, Hall of Famer Phil Esposito said the only regret he had is that Clarke didn’t do it in the first game.
But the comment that stuck with me the most was one from legendary Canadiens net minder Ken Dryden. Canada went into the series a heavy favorite and anticipated a rout in every game. There were many pre series predictions from those in the hockey world of an 8 game sweep. A 2-0 lead for Canada just a few minutes into game 1 at the Montreal Forum seemed to back up those predictions. But the Soviets rallied for the 7-3 win. Sitting in the Team Canada locker room during the 2nd intermission with his team trailing, Dryden thought to himself that in 20 minutes he was going to be the most hated man in Canada.
The NHL was better off with the scare than a cakewalk because it opened many eyes to the idea that there were other systems or ways to succeed in the game and those countries outside of North America can produce great hockey players.