The picture was transmitted via satellite from a poorly lit arena in Moscow into the living rooms, classrooms and barrooms of Canada. But in an instant on Sept. 28, 1972, distant figures wearing stylized maple leaves presented Canadians with one of the most vivid images of the country’s history. With only 34 seconds remaining in Game 8 of the first CanadaRussia hockey summit, Canadian left-winger Paul Henderson pounced on a loose puck just outside the Soviet crease and fired a low shot past sprawling Soviet goaltender Vladislav Tretiak. The goal gave Canada a 6-5 victory in the decisive game of the series and ignited a spontaneous nationwide celebration. “I don’t think I’ve ever felt so intensely proud to be Canadian,” says Henderson.
In 1972, Canadians suffered from the same identity crisis that they do now, but at least they knew where they stood in hockey: at the top. Hockey was their game. By tuning in to Foster Hewitt on radio, and later to TV broadcasts, fans thousands of miles apart shared a common experience. Generations of kids in backyard rinks imitated Newsy Lalonde or Guy Lafleur, Cyclone Taylor or Bobby Orr. Only in Canada could the suspension of a hockey player spark a riot, as was the case in Montreal when Clarence Campbell banished the “Rocket,” Maurice Richard, near the end of the 1955 season for striking a linesman, sending a surly mob on a window-smashing rampage.
Against that backdrop, a nation known for its reticence met the Soviets with confidence that
bordered on cockiness. After repeated humiliations at the Olympics and world championships, Canada was finally deploying its best—its professionals—to trounce the Communists. But it was Team Canada that was humbled in Game 1 on a hot Sept. 2 in Montreal. Contrary to scouting reports, the Soviets couId, shoot and could handle the rough going, and triumphed 7-3. In four games in Canada, the Soviets won twice and tied once, and when they took Game 5, the first of four games in Moscow, Canada’s self-appointed reign as hockey’s king seemed to be over. “I don’t think there was one of us who thought we were going to win,” says Hugh Graham, 47, of St. Andrews, N.B., one of 3,000 Canadian fans who travelled to Moscow for the last four games. “We had to win three straight games, and they were a machine.”
But something changed after Game 5. The Soviets fell prey to their own overconfidence— “swimming in glory,” Tretiak called it. The Canadians, meanwhile, became a team, winning 3-2 in Game 6 and 4-3 in Game 7 before Henderson’s goal capped the heroic comeback. Right-winger Yvan Coumoyer says that the victory changed the players. “It was not planned, but on the airplane as we left Russia everybody got up and sang 0 Canada,” says Coumoyer, now a Montreal restaurateur. “It was like we suddenly realized how lucky we were to live here.” For one shining moment, all Canadians shared the feeling.
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