Henderson's goal not Hall of Fame worthy

AL STRACHAN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:07 AM ET

Early November.

You can count on the same things every year: short days, Remembrance Day, driving rainstorms, the Hall of Fame induction.

And the Paul Henderson debate.

The last two, it seems, go hand in hand.

Henderson's supporters -- and they are legion -- suggest because he scored the famous goal that defeated the Soviet Union in the legendary 1972 Summit Series, he should be enshrined in the Hall.

Granted, that was a great moment for Canada. And it cannot be denied that Henderson came through at a moment when the country badly needed it.

Furthermore, Henderson is a fine role model, the kind of man who deserves to be in a Hall of Fame of some sort, even if it's not hockey's.

So any suggestion that he should not be inducted into hockey's Hall should not be interpreted as either a criticism of the man or the greatness of his singular achievement.

But the operative word there is "singular."

It is a Hall of Fame. It is not a Hall of Pretty Good with One Great Week.

Henderson's National Hockey League career spanned 13 seasons. In 707 games, he had 236 goals and 241 assists.

Seasons were shorter then, but in today's 82-game schedule, that would work out to 55 points a year.

That's nowhere close to Hall of Fame calibre, especially considering Henderson played mostly in the seventies when the World Hockey Association had diluted the talent pool and the general level of play was abominable.

So there's no way Henderson gets in on his NHL numbers, an evaluation that even most of his backers accept.

They insist, however, that as far as contributions to Canadian hockey are concerned, the goal against the Soviets was unparalleled. It was, they say, the greatest goal in Canadian hockey history.

In some ways, it was. To anyone too young to remember the moment, it's almost impossible to describe the factors that were in play. It wasn't just a hockey series, it was a clash of cultures, a battle of ideologies.

For lack of a better term, it was a Holy War on ice.

When Henderson's goal gave Canada a 4-3-1 series victory, the nation was in raptures. Our hockey heritage, which had appeared to be in tatters, had been salvaged.

But in retrospect, that goal did the nation's hockey program more harm than good. It was a great moment for national pride. It was a great moment for our hockey heritage. But it retarded our hockey development by 10 years.

Because Henderson scored that goal, Canadians were able to comfort each other with the assurances that we were the world's top hockey nation. The victory represented the Canadian way. When the chips were down, we would always be able to play well enough to win.

But throughout the '70s, while the Soviets were developing hockey skills, Canada was developing a game that was based mostly on brute force, bullying and intimidation.

The nation was so smug after Henderson's goal that those who spoke out against the type of players we were developing were told to look at the Soviet series.

When we needed to do so, it was preached, we would play hockey.

In the 1976 Canada Cup, the Soviets were upset by an impassioned, dedicated bunch of Czechoslovaks who were trying to get back at the occupiers of their country.

In the 1979 Challenge Cup, the Soviets embarrassed Team NHL. In the 1981 Canada Cup, the embarrassment was even worse -- an 8-1 shellacking of Team Canada in the Montreal Forum. The Soviet club teams that toured North America won two-thirds of their games.

It wasn't until the 1984 Canada Cup that Canada finally overcame the effects of the 1972 triumph.

In many ways, that Henderson goal was indeed the greatest goal in Canadian hockey.

But it some ways, it was the worst.

It certainly doesn't justify his inclusion in the Hall of Fame.


Videos

Photos