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Paul Henderson, number 18, holds his Team Canada jersey on July 12, 1972. (John Maiola/The Globe and Mail)
Paul Henderson, number 18, holds his Team Canada jersey on July 12, 1972. (John Maiola/The Globe and Mail)

Roy MacGregor

Concussed Henderson had to plead to play in '72 Summit Series Add to ...

It’s been quite a fall for Paul Henderson.

On Sept. 28 the country celebrated the 40th anniversary of The Goal of the Century that he scored in Moscow to win Game 8 and the 1972 Summit Series.

On Nov. 10, he and Eleanor – they began dating in little Lucknow, Ont., when he was 17, she 16 – celebrated their 50th anniversary. As he likes to say, “When young love turns to old love, it is the best love.”

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And just this past week he was officially named to the International Ice Hockey Federation’s Hockey Hall of Fame.

There has been so much talk of that famous goal – “Here’s a shot …Henderson makes a wild stab for it and falls … here’s another shot, right in front, they score … Henderson has scored for Canada!” – that it has given the scorer much pause for reflection.

If what we know today had been known back then, he says, he would never have scored.

Nor, for that matter, would he have scored the do-or-die winning goals in Games 6 and 7 to keep Canada’s chances alive if they hoped to win that now iconic hockey series. Take those three goals away and you can take Paul Henderson out of the IIHF Hockey Hall of Fame.

“I wouldn’t have been let play,” he says on a cool morning in Louisville, Ky., where he has come to visit a daughter and her family and give a motivational talk to a convention of RV dealers.

“They wouldn’t have let me go back on the ice.”

In Game 5 of the series, the first to be played in Moscow, Henderson had scored to put Team Canada up 3-0. Shortly after, he tripped and went so hard into the boards he had to be helped off the ice. Dr. Jim Murray told him he’d suffered a concussion and that would be it for him. He was out of the game.

Today, strict protocol would mean no arguing. But this was 1972. Henderson was adamant he be allowed to go back out on the ice. Coach Harry Sinden came in to confer with the doctor and Henderson pleaded his case: “Harry, don’t do this to me!”

Sinden wasn’t sure, but he figured if Henderson was going to be so insistent, “I’m not going to stop you.”

Out Henderson went, scored the goal to put Canada up 4-1 – a lead they could not hold, unfortunately, as the Soviets came back to win 5-4. Henderson played the next three games, however, and history was made.

Henderson accepts it would be different today and now counts himself among the legions who are concerned about head injuries, however received, in the game. “It’s not hypocritical to think differently about a serious issue in retrospect,” is how he puts it. He counts himself lucky that none of the concussions he suffered in hockey – and remember, he was among the first to wear a helmet – appears to have had any lingering effects.

That month of glory changed Paul Henderson’s life. Today he devotes his time to The Leadership Group, serving as mentor to other men attempting to find a spiritual life. His positive, upbeat message is all the more impressive when one realizes that Henderson has been battling cancer – chronic lymphocytic leukemia – since 2009. Ever optimistic, he is already making plans to attend the IIHF induction ceremony that will take place in Stockholm during the 2013 world hockey championship.

Wherever Henderson goes – even on Sunday, as he switched planes in Cleveland – people come up to him and want to talk about The Goal. And after they get that moment out of the way, he laughs, “Nine out of 10 of them want to talk about the Hall of Fame.”

He doesn’t mean the IIHF Hall, but the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto, the one that already holds Richard, Béliveau, Orr, Hull, Howe, Gretzky and assorted other gods of the national game.

In fact, Paul Henderson will be in this Hall of Fame Tuesday, as he gives a talk to members of an automobile manufacturer. He figures he has spoken “more than 100 times” at the Hall. But he’s never been asked to stay.

Many Canadians find this outrageous, but he doesn’t. He knows there have been petitions and a “put-paul-in-the-hall” Facebook campaign, but he himself will never say a word about whether he should be in.

He knows there are lesser lights than him in the Hall, but will not say anything because he is acutely aware that there are a great many brighter lights than him there, as well.

If he is kept out solely because his career is known for a single goal more than anything else, then supporters argue that the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown has inducted Bill Mazeroski, who with one swing of the bat in the fall of 1960 gave the Pittsburgh Pirates the World Series.

Mazeroski could never get enough votes to make it in the many years he was on the ballot. He failed to make it the first year the veterans’ committee considered him, finally reaching the Hall in 2001.

One series-winning swing of the bat that became The Greatest Home Run Ever.

Three game-winning goals, including the series winner they called The Goal of the Century, in the greatest hockey series ever played.

Not to mix sports metaphors, but sounds like a slam dunk.

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