What was Canada’s biggest goal? It depends on which generation you ask. We asked writers that grew up in each of the eras in which our biggest goals were scored to make the case why the one that happened when they were young was the greatest goal in our hockey history
From here, from this point in my life, I can’t tell you with any honesty I know where I was when Paul Henderson scored. Might have been in a classroom at Norwood Park School on Hamilton Mountain because there’s definitely a memory of a TV being wheeled in to Mrs. Howard’s Grade 7 class and a game, not sure which game, being beamed in from Moscow.
Then again, I might have been in the park near my house, throwing a ball, because there’s also a memory of not being in school, being let out early because Team Canada was playing, and what 11-year-old was going to go inside to watch a grainy hockey image in his living room when it was September and sunny and we weren’t in school?
So did I see it? Do I remember it?
Mine wasn’t a hockey family. I wasn’t playing hockey yet, and none of my siblings were. My parents were English immigrants, and there certainly wasn’t a gathering at the dining room table at 488 Upper James where Mum and Dad explained why this mattered so much. When it came to the Soviets and their intentions, I remember much more clearly Dad telling me in 1979 when the U.S.S.R. rolled into Afghanistan that they’d never, ever leave.
Most other stuff he got right.
And I can’t say I ever remember any of my three brothers or two sisters EVER talking about Henderson’s goal. Maybe they did. But this notion that every Canadian family lived and died with every moment, every shot and every goal, of that ’72 Summit Series is, I think, somewhat exaggerated with time.
But I remember something. I remember a time, and a sense of something happening, and a sense for the first time that sports were connected to something beyond the games. The Munich Olympic massacre had just happened three weeks earlier, which made no sense at all to this dopey kid but was obviously very bad.
Later that fall Ian Sunter kicked the Grey Cup-winning field goal down at Ivor Wynne, and that mattered a lot because Dave Spisak’s dad took me to the odd game and his lucky family lived a few houses away from Dave Fleming, the Tiger-Cat scatback. That gave me a connection to an important event in sport.
The next year, Secretariat would rule the horse-racing world and for some reason I watched every race, probably more races than I’ve watched since. It seemed important, and piled on top of Munich and Sunter and, of course, Bobby Orr’s Stanley Cup winner that I’m pretty sure I watched next door at the Reilly’s, together this was a bundle of significant sporting events that seemed to tell me sports had an importance, that they didn’t matter necessarily but really mattered to many.
Otherwise, I only knew what Bob Hanley opined on in the Hamilton Spectator and that everyone wanted to be Dave Keon in road hockey and that Bill Spunska was a Scrub on Skates and that I loved hockey cards without the slightest suggestion they were valuable.
More people, it seems to me, had seen the series opener in Montreal, and been shocked by an ugly result. There was no Bobby Hull or Orr, and Frank Mahovlich was a huge name but it was his brother, Pete, who scored the memorable solo goal in Game 2 at Maple Leaf Gardens.
Ken Dryden and Tony Esposito, so dominant in the NHL, suddenly seemed very vulnerable when the Soviets were shooting. That was weird, made no sense.
So I watched much of the competition, for sure. For most of the series it seemed we would lose because those Soviets always seemed to have the puck. People with opinions that mattered seemed to think this would be a terrible thing, and the good versus evil element is always easily sold, particularly when you’re the good.
So then the goal happened and saved the day for Canada, for an 11-year-old’s burgeoning sense of Canada. My dad and his dad had gone to Expo 67 and we sang “O Canada” and “God Save the Queen” every day in school. So while I didn’t think of Canada as a young nation still finding itself, a nation that would surely feel the imprint of an event like Henderson’s goal, that’s what Canada was and I was part of it, really without actually knowing it.
So did I actually see the Henderson goal when it happened? Or have I just seen it so many times since that it reinforces a memory that wasn’t really there in the first place?
I’m just not sure. Maybe, maybe not.
But I didn’t have to see it. I have lived it. Then, and ever since.
That goal, whether I saw it or not, is part of me. And always will be.