Injury should have kept Paul Henderson out of final Summit Series games

Team Canada 1972 Summit Series legend Paul Henderson speaks to the media during Canada's Walk of...

Team Canada 1972 Summit Series legend Paul Henderson speaks to the media during Canada's Walk of Fame induction ceremony in Toronto, Ont., Sept. 22, 2012. (MIKE CASSESE/Reuters)

RANDY SPORTAK, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 6:57 PM ET

Paul Henderson shouldn't have been cleared medically to play the final three games of the 1972 Summit Series.

Imagine that, the player who scored the game-winner in all three, including the "where-were-you?" goal with 34 seconds remaining in the finale 40 years ago Friday, ought to have sat out because of a possible head injury.

In Game 5, Henderson was tripped while on a breakaway and slid on his back -- and the back of his head -- into the end boards and was knocked out cold.

"There's no way with today's knowledge I could have played," said Henderson, who was a rarity in the NHL in those days because he wore a helmet.

"My head was pounding. I didn't have a clue where I was. They put four or five ammonia packs beneath my nose and my legs were like rubber.

"The doctor said I couldn't play and I said to Harry (Sinden, the Canadian team's coach), 'Don't do this to me. I'll take of myself, but I am playing.'

"Harry said he wouldn't stop me but told me I shouldn't. I said, 'I know I shouldn't, but I'm playing.' "

The rest is history.

In Game 6, Henderson's second-period goal stood up in a 3-2 win over the Soviets.

His Game 7 winner with just over two minutes remaining is one for the ages -- somehow managing to escape while surrounded by four players and then roofing a shot while falling.

And who hasn't seen his goal in Game 8, as big of a legend as any other in the game?

"It was phenomenal for somebody to do that, not only three goals in three games but three game winners," his long-time teammate and close friend Ron Ellis said. "That alone is enough, in my mind, for Paul to be in the (Hockey) Hall of Fame.

"In Paul's NHL career, when he'd get hot, he could go on a run. For two weeks, he could get as hot as a firecracker. Thank goodness he got hot at the right time."

Somewhat forgotten is the fact Henderson scored seven times during the series. The last one, which clinched the 6-5 victory in the final game and meant Canada won the series, came with a just a hint of sadness. The first thought, after his immediate celebration, was of his father.

"It surprised me," Henderson said. "I actually said out loud, 'Dad would have loved this one.' I wasn't thinking about my dad before, I was far closer to my mother and my dad died in 1968 when he was young, 49, but there's something about that father-son bond, and I had that nano-second of melancholy.

"And then I jumped into (Yvan) Cournoyer's arms."

Even 40 years later, and despite talking about the goal probably 300 days of each year, Henderson loves to relive those final moments.

After finishing a shift, he and linemates Bobby Clarke and Ellis were told they'd go on if Phil Esposito's line didn't finish the game.

"All of a sudden, I looked up and there was a minute left in the game and was thinking I've got to get on the ice," Henderson said, sensing he had one last bit of magic.

"It was not premeditated but I found myself standing up and yelling at Peter Mahovlich -- which is something I'd never done before and never did after, the coach calls people off the ice. Thank goodness Peter thought it was Harry Sinden telling him to come off the ice."

With the clock ticking down, Henderson raced from the bench to the net and called Cournoyer for the cross-ice pass, which he failed to connect on and was tripped and again crashed into the boards.

"I was hoping just to one-time it, being a right-handed shot, but it was too far in front of me and a defenceman put his stick between my legs," Henderson said.

"Even when I was falling into the boards, I knew I still had time and knew I could score, because the game before I'd gone through the whole team and could do it again.

"Before I knew it, Phil whacked the puck at (Vladislav) Tretiak, he should have covered it, but he kicked out a rebound that came right to me. I shot it the first time and he got his pad on it, but I had a foot to put it in on the rebound and have been celebrating for 40 years."

It took a few years, though, to come to terms with the fame of scoring that goal. Now, the grace he shows everybody who wants to talk to him about it is the same class with which he's battling chronic lymphocytic leukemia.

"You know you're in the spotlight and I've tried to be a good role model for a lot of reasons," Henderson said. "After I became a Christian (in 1975), I understood life's not just all about you. After I started to understand the spiritual dimension of life, I understood the responsibilities you have as a husband, a father, a friend and a hockey player."

His bout with cancer prevented Henderson from joining his old teammates during the celebrations in Russia earlier this month -- he had a rash all over his body from the drug treatment he has been taking -- but he has been having the time of his life during the events this week marking the anniversary.

About the only black cloud is the debate whether he should be in the Hockey Hall of Fame.

Henderson, who said probably 80% of the people he meets say he should be in the Hall, has decided to let that sort itself out.

"I've got no problem not being in there. I think there are some retired players more deserving to be in there than I do," he said. "People say, 'Well they should change the name. They call it the Hall of Fame and there's nobody more famous in Canada than you are.' If I ever get in, it'll be because of the fans.

"I know who I am. If I got it, that would be terrific, but it's not going to change my life one iota. I'm 69 now and can't think of anybody who has a better life.

"I've got the greatest wife in the world, seven grandchildren. I'm missing nothing."

randy.sportak@sunmedia.ca

On Twitter: @SUNRandySportak


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