Remembering the significant 1972 Canadian hockey victory
By Brandon Yip, Senior Columnist
When famed hockey broadcaster, Foster Hewitt, uttered those famous words, “Henderson has scored for Canada!” it brought together an entire country. Hewitt’s words are still resonating with Canadian hockey fans almost five decades later.
The Summit Series between Canada and the Soviet Union was a hockey series for the ages. The NHL’s best players from Canada were matched against the best players from the Soviet Union. It was a battle for hockey supremacy that combined politics during the era of the Cold War—capitalism versus communism. Eight games would be played, with the first four played in Canada. The remaining games would be played in the Soviet Union.
It was a battle for hockey supremacy that combined politics during the era of the Cold War—capitalism versus communism.
At the start of the series, Canada appeared overconfident and had taken the Soviets lightly. The Soviets shocked the Canadians winning the opening game 7-3 at the Forum in Montreal. The Canadians then rebounded and won game two by a score of 4-1 at Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto. Two nights later in Winnipeg, game three ended in a 4-4 tie.
Notably, in game four, Canada was embarrassed 5-3 by the Soviets at the Pacific Coliseum in Vancouver. The game was also memorable for Phil Esposito’s famous rant after the game, as he responded to the fans booing the Canadian team throughout. “To the people across Canada, we tried,” Esposito said. “We gave it our best. To the people who booed us, geez, all of us guys are really disheartened. We’re disillusioned and disappointed. We cannot believe the bad press we’ve got, the booing we’ve got in our own building.”
Team Canada had to regroup as they flew to the Soviet Union for the remaining four games. They were now in enemy territory. Game five went go to the Soviets, who won by a score of 5-4. Canada won game six by a score of 3-2. In game seven, it was another close game as Canada won by a score of 4-3. That set the stage for game eight, which was played on September 28, 1972.
In the final game, the Soviets built a 5-3 lead going into the third period. Canada scored twice to tie the game at 5. With the score still tied late in the third period, Canada had possession in the Soviet zone. Paul Henderson put the puck towards the goal line but the Soviet goaltender, Vladislav Tretiak, made the save. Fortunately, Tretiak left a rebound and Henderson got another chance—this time flipping the puck over the fallen goalie. The goal sealed a 6-5 victory for Canada at 19:26 of the third period—with Canada winning the Summit Series. A very tired Esposito received a well-earned assist on the winning goal.
There were other memorable moments during the series. During the final four games in Russia, the intensity and nastiness increased. There were scrums, fights, and some very dirty stick work. Infamously, in game six, Canadian forward Bobby Clarke broke the ankle of Russian star forward Valeri Kharlamov with a vicious slash. Kharlamov missed the next game; he returned in game eight but was ineffective. Clarke, in the 2012 documentary, Cold War on Ice: Summit Series ’72, admitted breaking Kharlamov’s ankle was dirty: “As I’ve often said, it was an awful thing to do. But it sure felt good.”
Significantly, the victory by Canada over the Soviets united the entire country. Canada reigned supreme as the top hockey nation. Although, Canada was victorious over the Soviets, the 1972 Summit Series revealed that the Soviet Union and other nations were also getting better at hockey—proving they could also compete and win at the highest level. Since 1972, Canada’s victory over the Soviets has been celebrated and praised by many journalists and media outlets. In 2000, the Canadian Press voted Henderson’s series-winning goal as the “sports moment of the century.”
Henderson, scorer of arguably the most famous goal in Canadian hockey history, reflected on his big moment when he spoke to the media in September 2012—the 40th anniversary of that historic victory: “I think that one of the reasons we did win is we never gave up hope […] And [Anatoly] Tarasov [Russian hockey coach] said, ‘We can compete with the Canadians in terms of skill and speed and strength. But we can’t match their heart.’ I think that’s what won it for us, [our heart]. I really do.”