I’ve been up at the unplugged cottage, sanding and painting, so was not in front of my laptop Sept. 28 to do the 40th annual salute to St. Paul. A few catch up musings:
Henderson’s goal was, without a doubt, the most electrifying thing I ever saw on TV. It is hard to put in context how galvanized Canadawas by that ’72 summit series, but we were, coast to coast. As a 15-year-old high school student, it seemed like the Olympics and the Stanley Cup all rolled into one, times eleven.
Just the whole exotic, behind-the-iron-curtain part of it ramped things up. Those last four games in Moscowwere seen in Canadain the afternoon. Johnny Esaw (or Seesaw, as some called him), our Olympic guy before Brian Williams, added an international TV edge. That last Canadian game in Vancouver, so disappointing, found Esaw on the other end of one of the most real and riveting Canadian TV moments up to that point, Phil Esposito’s raw rant at us sucky fans. That was the turning point, the Rocky moment, the wake up call for everybody to find some balls and get behind this team.
There hadn’t been many TV moments like that in Canadabefore. I remember Judy LaMarsh being caught on camera at the 1968 Liberal leadership convention telling a gaggle of fellow candidates, “Let’s get this bastard”—meaning Trudeau. That was a moment.
Other than that, most of those live, candid TV moments had been American. The ‘60s brought so many—Johnson’s dramatic decision not to run in ’68, the Democratic National Convention in Chicago that same year, the assassination, war and race riot reports, and of course, the moon landing.
In Canada, up to that point, the big TV hot button had been the flag debate. Canadawas all Hinterland Who’s Who. Gordon Sinclair asking Elaine Tanner on Front Page Challenge if her period got in the way of her Olympic swims was the biggest WTF moment.
The ’72 series gripped the nation because it was hockey, because it was our best vs. their best, because it was a Cold War sub story, East vs. West, their training and system vs. our drinking and taking the summer off system.
The shock to Canada’s pride after that first game was withering. I’d never seen my dad look so ill. Here was our chance to show those upstart Ruskie’s who the hockey boss is and we got our jock straps handed to us.
For many Canadians, colour TV was still fairly new. To see live broadcasts from the Soviet Union added to the mystique.
And then there was Henderson. The straight arrow Toronto Maple Leaf. The helmet wearer. The unlikeliest of heroes.
His three straight game winning goals in Moscowis all he needs to get into the Hockey Hall of Fame. Wake up, HofF dummies.
If you were a high school student, the Moscowgames shoved everything else aside. Kids hid tiny transistor radios up their arms with headphones in their ears and passed along scores and penalties row by row. Teachers who caught them would demand they turn their damn radios up.
By the eighth and final game, my high school was one of many which basically gave up. They did the unprecedented–gave us a day off to watch a hockey game. And who could blame them? All of Canadacame to a dead stop (even if no one in most of the rest of the world gave a crap.)
There were six or seven of us at my parent’s house on Dundas Street. The Clairtone was new and we were all glued to the game. When Canadawas behind 5-3 heading into the third and final period (there would be no overtime), we all felt sick.
It was like being in a tiny life boat in the middle of the churning ocean. The grand old man of hockey, Foster Hewitt, had come back to make this last call and he stretched those Russian names the same way he re-invented Corn-why-eh, but that didn’t matter. Him calling the games also made it epic.
With those seconds ticking down, we were all standing, leading, praying. “Henderson makes a wild stab for it and fell.” You could see those guys were on the ropes with Canadastorming back to tie the score. When Hewitt said, “Hendersonscores for Canada!” that house on Dundas shook. We all leapt for the ceiling. We ran outside and screamed. It didn’t seem real.
A blurry slide from Sept. 28, 1972 shows there were six of us celebrating in
the backyard of my parent’s home the day Paul Henderson saved Canada.
L-r: Brian Scofield, me, Dan Currie, Pat Bullock, Mike Forcier, Glen Rippon

A few years ago when the Canadian men’s team won the Olympic gold medal CTV put out a release stating that was the most-watched TV moment ever in Canada. This is horseshit. There is no comparison. First of all the new ratings system introduced just prior to the Vancouver Games was still counting goldfish in the next room. Second, there were fewer entertainment distractions in 1972. There was no HBO or TSN or even CNN, just what you could pull in between channels two and 13 on the dial. City-TV was days old and you still needed a coat hanger and some tin foil to pull in their iffy UHF signal. There was no XBox or even a Betamax VHS machine attached to your parent’s French Provincial set.

The reality is there was no way to estimate how many Canadians tuned in in ’72. There were no overnights as ratings results came in weeks later. Up until the ‘90s, Global was still taking their Ontarioestimate and doubling it to get the national score.
The number, basically, was everybody. You weren’t going to miss this, and you would never forget it. Paul Henderson was our Neil Armstrong, and we were all over the moon.

1 Comment

  1. But… lots of Torontions turned out in the early 90s to Rogers Centre to watch the Cheers finale. And THAT was a U.S. sitcom!
    Besides: Why not accept what we’ve been told repeatedly: we are just not deserving nor good enough; Russia, and all Others are always better. [Bobby Clarke’s hit was unfair cheating].
    Go ahead and pick out a favourite KHL team here. That’s real pro hockey in 2012-13.

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