Calm before third-period storm for Canada in Summit Series Game 8

Team Canada 1972 Summit Series legend Paul Henderson. (LYLE ASPINALL/QMI Agency file photo)

Team Canada 1972 Summit Series legend Paul Henderson. (LYLE ASPINALL/QMI Agency file photo)

RANDY SPORTAK, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:19 PM ET

So much was on the line during the 1972 Summit Series.

It was a battle for hockey supremacy -- Canada's NHL professionals versus the Soviet Union's "amateurs" who dominated the Olympics and world championships.

It was a clash of political ideology -- democracy versus communism.

But that wasn't the motivating factor for Team Canada as the series headed for its Game 8 climax.

It was simply about winning.

"I told my wife if we didn't win we would be known as losers for the rest of our lives," goal-scoring hero Paul Henderson said, recalling the monumental event 40 years later.

Team Canada came through with a remarkable comeback. After winning only one of the first five games, the Canadians needed a victory in each of the final three clashes in Moscow.

After winning Games 6 and 7, they faced a 5-3 disadvantage entering the third period of Game 8. Can you imagine what it was like in the intermission before the third period?

There was so much pressure to win.

There was so much on the line.

There was so much tension.

Or was there?

"It's one of the fondest memories I have," winger Ron Ellis said of waiting for the third period to begin. "You could talk to the other guys -- and they may remember it differently -- but I remember a room of quiet confidence.

"You would have thought possibly after winning Game 6 and Game 7 -- fighting back to tie the series and giving ourselves a chance -- and being down 5-3, there would have been some frustration or some anger but there was none of that.

"It was quiet. It was confident. No one had to say anything. We all knew what we had to do and the position we were in.

"Guys were looking around at each other and you could see what they were feeling. They were looking at each other in the eyes and maybe giving a nod to say, 'I'm not going to let you down and I know you're not going to let me down so let's get the job done.'

"I never felt that ever again and never had before. It was just a magic moment."

Different players do remember the intermission differently. But, to a man, they'll say there were no speeches from coach Harry Sinden or assistant John Ferguson along the lines of "We have to win for little Johnny in Moose Jaw, Montreal or Moncton." But some things were said.

"Fergie came in and got a little excited, mentioning things that had to be done, but it was fine," Bill White said. "We were in the room, regrouped and went out and played."

Added Phil Esposito: "I think there was a lot said like, 'We are not going to lose this game.' I know I said it.

"We said to make sure to play our game and do whatever it takes to win."

Esposito got the ball rolling by scoring a couple of minutes into the final period. Yvan Cournoyer tied it by pouncing on a rebound midway through the period and then Henderson's famous goal with 34 seconds remaining capped the comeback in the thrilling 6-5 victory.

"I often wondered -- I've never really got a chance to ask -- what (the Soviets') focus was going into the third period," Pat Stapleton said. "I've often thought their focus was 'God, we've only got 20 minutes and we're rid of these guys.' "

Ultimately, the Canadians were far from losers, and have been celebrating for 40 years.

"When it's the highlight of your career, it doesn't get old," said Ellis, who was part of the Toronto Maple Leafs Stanley Cup winning team of 1967.

"We knew winning that series was important, the first time our pros went against the big bad bear. But none of us thought it would last this long, that it would still be important to Canadians."

They never expected to be named team of the century or anything along those lines, Ellis said.

White said the importance of the event sunk in after they were repeatedly told it "brought the country together" and was a "defining moment for Canada."

"We knew we were in a big hockey series and everything like that, but we didn't know the effect it had on the Canadian people," White said.

"When you hear that from people, it's outstanding."

randy.sportak@sunmedia.ca

On Twitter: @SUNRandySportak


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