During the month of September in 1972 the global hockey community was rocked like the recipient of a Scott Stevens body check thanks to the Summit Series; how it started, how it played out and especially how it ended. There has never been a series like it in sports and it’s highly unlikely there ever will be again. The World Hockey Association staged a similar series in terms of the set-up, a group of Canadian players against the Soviet
national team in 1974 and the Canadian and Russian junior teams also duplicated the four games in Canada, four in Russia in 2007 as part of a commemoration of the 35th anniversary of the famous ’72 series but neither came close to producing the drama and the controversy of the original because you can’t reproduce original masterpieces. The WHA’s eight games coming two years after the epic ’72 series featured three ties, one Canadian win and four Soviet wins. The junior series in 2007 may be regarded as one of the biggest embarrassments for Russian hockey as they managed one tie with their seven losses to Canada in that particular exhibition. The point though is this; both of those series, the very successful World Juniors that is a staple part of our holiday viewing here in Canada, numerous other international competitions, the Canada Cups, the successor now known as the World Cup, our pro’s playing in the Olympics and all levels of international competition for women in fact all players with a passport of origin from overseas owe everything in terms of them playing and participating in North America pro leagues or schools to the Summit Series. It started with the grandfather of them all primarily because it was the first series but also how it played out.
It was such a great unknown in 1972. I think this may be the most salient point that is largely misunderstood only by a minority fortunately but those that don’t appreciate the incredible effort by these men who were not only trying to make a statement on the ice but off it as well. It’s such as easy statement to make yet one that can be hard to digest. Modern historians can read about the Cuban missile crisis and understand a black and white issue. You can devour volumes on the global world conflicts known as WW1 or WW2 and fully grasp the issues and why the Allies fought but it’s my belief that the absolute unknown commodity that was Soviet hockey, Soviet lifestyle, their way of life that we knew absolutely nothing about other than they (their players) represented or so we thought a lifestyle that was inherently different from ours ergo it had to be bad, terrible and in fact potentially threatening. I feel this is one major point that is not given enough credence when the generations that came after try and understand why someone like me puts so much emphasis on the Summit Series, the Canadian comeback and subsequently endorsing Paul Henderson for the Hall of Fame due to his play in this Seminole event. To us it was a very black and white issue; it was not just a series of hockey games. This series and the Henderson goal to win it unified Canada to the degree that had not been seen since VE Day on May 8, 1945.
These were not just ‘exhibition’ games. When a Canadian journalist wrote in the Hockey News a few years ago that ‘the Summit Series was just a bunch of fat men trying to get in shape playing a meaningless exhibition,’ I could nott believe it. Fortunately the people with those thoughts are in the minority. In a number of polls conducted across Canada during the week leading up to the 40th anniversary celebrations time and again the numbers were at 70% +, as high as 80% in some instances in support of either the series as the defining moment in Canadian sports, the top moment in the sport of hockey and Paul Henderson should be in the Hall of Fame. I find that very encouraging as many of the voters on line or via email these days are too young to remember it or were not born when the series took place. So you people get it and I’m thankful for that because the impact of Paul’s goal and Canada’s comeback are still being felt in our Country and in the hockey community to this day.
In 1999 I began a campaign to get Paul Henderson inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame. I had heard about an attempt made by radio talk show host named Roy Green who several years earlier in a fax campaign had garnered enough attention that Mr. Henderson ended up on the ballot for the Hall in 1997. It was duly noted publically courtesy of a column in the London Free Press written by noted sports writer Jim Kernahan, that Mr. Henderson missed his induction by two votes. He accumulated twelve of the necessary fourteen from the eighteen-member selection committee. Time is of the essence to see that wrong corrected in 2013.
If you are a supporter of Mr. Henderson for the Hall or perhaps the Order of Canada, think of the optics this could have produced in this the 40th anniversary year of the series and his heroics. I nominated him for the OOC on June 20, 2011. He was not chosen. It was deemed by the Council that sits and select upwards of 150 Canadians from all walks of life annually that he just didn’t measure up as a worthwhile recipient. With some inside information as to why, inexplicably as it may seem, I have redoubled my efforts and nominated Mr. Henderson yet again for the OOC. Perhaps he’ll be fortunate enough this time, perhaps not. Time will tell.
Regarding the HHOF, nominations are to be in place as of April 1st. I am going to encourage anyone reading this to follow me here on twitter or on Facebook where I will print the names of the selection committee, many of them giants in the sport of hockey and where possible addresses or emails where perhaps you may be inclined to send a note of support for Mr. Henderson who God willing, for his family’s sake and his close friends may still be with us to enjoy a tremendous 2013 with these honours that he so richly deserves.
This was a series that produced a result in game one as stunning as the Miracle on Ice contest in 1980. This was a series that saw a Canadian hockey superstar from Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario rally a country and a team of men unlike ever before in the history of sport. This was a series that saw 3000+ Canadians travel to Russia in 1972; never before or since have so many Canadians travelled abroad for a two week stretch to support their hockey team. This was a series that produced three straight Canadian wins against an opponent that never before or since has lost three straight on home ice. This was a series that saw the same player score the winning goal in the final three games including with just 2:06 to play in game seven and .34 seconds to play in game eight, the final game. This was a series that saw the winning team, Canada, have to deal with the most adverse of conditions off the ice including defections from their roster that could have crippled moral or seen the squad limp to the finish line especially after losing the first game in Moscow. This is a series that produced some of the most incredible footage you will ever witness in any sporting event; a coach nearly involved physically with off-ice officials, threatening to pull his team due to a double cross with the referee assignments; deliberate slashes that fractured bones, kicking that was so hard and volatile it sliced through hard padding; a manager literally rescued by his team off the ice from military personal who were carrying guns! This was a series that forty years later both the President of the Soviet Union and the Prime Minister of Canada attended functions to commemorate not only their countries participation but the opposition as well. Is there any other series or game in any sport that will see a celebration the likes of which took place in Russia and most recently in Canada? My goodness can the small minded myopic few who don’t give this series it’s due as the most intense ever in the history of the sport and arguably in the history of any sport not just step back and realize how incredible this was to witness as a fan let alone be in the middle of as a player and then through it all you get the series winner with thirty-four seconds to play? Are you kidding me? Just incredible, it always will be the most incredible performance, the most incredible and improbably comeback and the most intense hockey ever played. A very happy 40th anniversary to the players on both sides, all officials and especially the fans who witnessed and remember the Summit Series of 1972.
“Henderson has scored for Canada. Henderson right in front of the net and the fans in the crowd are going wild. “