On September 28th, 1972 I was in grade eight, at St. Leonard’s elementary school in Manotick, Ontario. Manotick was a small village nestled on the Rideau River about fifteen miles south of Ottawa. It’s grown considerably since then. St. Leonard’s was an elementary school that went up to grade eight at that time so I was starting my last year of grade school as we called it. As I recall it was a beautiful early fall day. In those days we actually had four seasons unlike the melting pot of weather we experience circa 2012.
It was a Thursday afternoon, game eight was scheduled to start around noon our time, (EST ) and one of the students in our class, Billy O’Brien, had asked his father to drop off a TV for our class to watch the game. Two days earlier for game seven the senior grades which included our class were allowed to watch in the gym and we saw Canada win on the most amazing winning goal maybe ever scored in the sport of hockey from an aesthetic point of view with a mere 2:06 to go in the game! Paul Henderson had continued his hot hand and recorded his fourth goal in the three games played in Russia, this one coming as he went around or deked out the entire Russian team before falling and roofing the shot over the Soviet goalie, Vladislav Tretiak. He was on fire. The gym was filled with pure elation as Canada hung on and now game eight meant something. We all said as we left the gym we’d never see a more dramatic goal scored, ever again.
Thanks to Billy O’Brien’s father we were able to watch game eight in our class as opposed to the gym. Our teacher Mr. Pat Jennings had specific instructions. If you wanted to watch the game the TV would be set up at the back of the class room. If you chose to go outside for lunch or for recess that was your decision you would then have to do school work. Those watching the game in its entirety were exempt from any school studies.
Tied 2-2 after one and trailing 5-3 after two, left a lot of us dejected. The refereeing was so one-sided, it seemed an impossible hole but all of us played hockey and we all knew a quick goal in the third would or could turn things around. Phil Esposito’s goal was great but Yvan Cournoyer’s to tie it was just incredible. He was my favourite all time player, still is so I was beside myself when he scored, even though it seemed as if it might not count as no goal light went on-which created the wildest scene you’ll ever witness in the history of hockey with Alan Eagleson having to be rescued from the Soviet military who had guns by Canadian hockey players who had hockey sticks. Through the broken, black and white satellite transmission we all were transfixed by what was happening thousands of miles away.
As I think back now, when Henderson scored, it’s just impossible to describe the feeling. The very first thing I saw, next to jumping in the arms of my buddies was my teachers; Mr. Pat Jennings, Mr. Lyle Bergeron, our principal, Mr. Bob Slack, in the hall way jumping in each other’s arms. I can picture this so clearly. I was 13 years old, it was 1972 and you had total respect for your teachers to the point where they were almost God like. I remember for a brief moment feeling a little scared at the unbridled enthusiasm they were showing. I remember that so well then it was back to the set for 34 more seconds which seemed like 34 years. I just could not believe we won, absolutely could not believe it and could not believe Paul scored again. It was then and remains to this day the most incredible moment I’ve ever seen in sports.
Paul Henderson became an immediate hero of mine during that series. All the players did but with his goal scoring exploits especially in Russia I just knew one day I’d have to meet him. I finally got that opportunity on Monday night, December 4th, 1995. I was a guest on a national CBC show, the Pamela Wallin show with Paul, noted journalist Roy Macgregor and the late Carl Brewer. I came on the show half way through, just past the bottom of the hour so it was 9:30pm EST. As I came on the set I finally had a chance to shake his hand and thank him for what he did for our country at that time 23 years previous. I remember looking at the clock the exact time I shook his hand, 9:31pm. I note this because it’s the exact time my father passed away, 9:31pm, Monday night, December 4th, 1995. He had been battling terminal cancer and I was not even going to go down to do the show but my mother insisted. I only found out the next day from my brothers what time Dad had died and ever since then it’s my belief that Paul and I are linked spiritually. He was and still is an inspiration for me especially now as he fights this dreaded disease, leukemia. My father was my hero, he will forever remain my true hero but on September 28, 1972 at 2:30pm EST, the 19:26 mark of the third period in game eight of the greatest most unbelievable series ever played in the history of sport-Paul Henderson also became a hero not only to me but to 10 million plus Canadians. He is a national treasure, an icon and more importantly a gentleman in the truest sense of the word.
Post script: I have run a national campaign to hopefully see him with both the Order of Canada and inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame.