Canadian Sports Legends: Where Are They Now? .... Paul Henderson

Legends Sep 16, 2020

Paul Garnet Henderson was born on January 28th, 1943 in Kincardine, Ontario. Paul’s mother went in to labour during a snowstorm and as she was being rushed to hospital, she gave birth while crossing Lake Huron in a horse-drawn sleigh … what an awesome start to this Canadian Legend's story!

Growing up as one of five children, Paul found hockey at a young age.  Henderson attracted the attention of NHL scouts early- at the age of 15 he scored 18 goals and 2 assists in a single play-off victory.   However, Henderson’s NHL ambitions almost got derailed when he and his wife Eleanor decided to get married at the age of 19.  Paul felt the responsibilities of married life and almost chose to give up hockey in favour of a teaching career, but his Father convinced him to give it a two-year shot before packing in his skates.  Canada is thankful that Paul followed that advice!!

The 5’10” left winger was offered try-outs with the junior teams of both Detroit and Boston – he decided to sign with the Red Wings.  After a stint with the Red Wings' AHL affiliate in Pittsburgh, Henderson secured a spot on the team’s NHL roster in January 1964.  During his first season, the Red Wings reached the Stanley Cup final, but lost in game 7 to the Toronto Maple Leafs (side note to our younger readers … yes, the Leafs used to win Stanley Cups!).  On March 3rd, 1968, the Red Wings completed a block bluster trade (by the standards of the day)  -  Henderson was sent to Toronto as part of a six-player deal along with Norm Ullman and Floyd Smith in return for Frank Mahovlich, Garry Unger and Pete Stemkowski.

Henderson spent the next four seasons with the Leafs but became disheartened with the leadership of Leafs owner Harold Ballard (not the first and not the last Leaf player to feel that way).  In 1973 he signed a five-year deal with the Toronto Toro’s of the fledgling WHA.  As the WHA struggled, the Toro’s moved to Birmingham Alabama and Henderson spent several years playing in the Southern U.S. for both Birmingham and the NHL’s Atlanta Flames.  Henderson retired from professional hockey in 1981 after a 20 year career, scoring 376 goals and 384 assists in 1,067 games.

It was however while wearing the Red & White of Team Canada that Henderson solidified his status as a Canadian Hockey Legend.  The 1972 Summit Series between Canada and the USSR went beyond sport … it was the closest two teams could get to war in order to secure Global Hockey Supremacy!   It had been a long awaited showdown -  the Soviets had won a series of Olympic hockey Gold Medals by icing a team of professional stars versus a field of amateurs as required by Olympic rules.  Canadians desperately wanted their best to face off against the Soviets and so the Summit Series was born.  On September 2nd, 1972, the puck dropped at Montreal’s Forum to kick off the eight game series – four games in Canada and four in the USSR.  The team with the most points would win.  After taking a 2:0 lead in game one, things started to look bleak for the Canadians – they lost 7:3.  After the fourth game in Vancouver, Canada was on the ropes – the Soviets had won two games, tied one and outscored the Canadians 20-12 … all on Canadian soil!

The series shifted to Moscow  - but morale took a further hit after a 5:4 defeat in game five.  The series was now 3-1-1 and Canada would have to win the final three games to pull off a victory.  Canadian fans were nervous, they desperately needed a hero to step up … enter Paul Henderson:

  • Game Six:  At 6:36 of the second period, Henderson intercepted a Soviet pass and powered a slapshot past Soviet goalie Tretiak. It was the final goal of the game: Canada 3, USSR 2.
  • Game Seven:  With three minutes remaining the score was tied 3:3 – the Soviets just needed to preserve the tie in order to win the series.  At the 17:54 mark Henderson worked his way through two Soviet defenders and lifted the puck high into the net … Canada wins 4:3 to force a crucial (and nerve wracking) Game 8 showdown.
  • Game Eight: At this point the series was beyond ugly – emotions were high and there was a heated debate to just agree on a fair refereeing duo before the puck even dropped.  The teams went to battle with peaked emotions on full display.  By the end of the second period Canada was down 5:3.   Esposito scored at 2:27 and Cournoyer at 12:56 to even the score with just over seven minutes to play.  The Soviets would win the series if the score remained tied. At 19:26, with 34 seconds remaining in the game, Esposito shot the puck at Tretiak.  Henderson was parked in front of the crease and took repeated whacks at the loose puck … after several attempts the puck found its way to the back of the net … the red light went on …. Final score: Canada 6, USSR 5.  It was the most emotionally draining sports experience Canada had or has ever endured as Team Canada accomplished the seemingly impossible … winning the final three games on Soviet home ice.  Canadian Hockey Supremacy was established and Paul Henderson’s Legend status was born!
A bit longer than my usual clips - but if you want to feel the intensity of Game 8 ... you must watch this! 

Henderson’s career highlights and achievements include:

  • Henderson’s winning goal in Game Eight of the Summit Series was voted “sports moment of the century” by The Canadian Press. That alone makes Henderson a Canadian Legend – but there’s more …
  • Inducted into the Canadian Sports Hall of Fame twice, as an individual as well as with the players of the Summit Series.
  • Inducted into the International Ice Hockey Federation Hall of Fame.
  • Member of the Order of Canada (2012) and Member of the Order of Ontario (2014).

What’s Paul doing now?

A born-again Christian, Henderson became a minister, motivational speaker and author following his playing career. He has co-written three books about hockey and his life.  Canada is waiting for the Hockey Hall of Fame to get it right … Paul Henderson will hopefully get his deserved induction and Canadians will be able to relive one of our greatest hockey moments and celebrate a true Canadian Hockey Legend!