COLUMN: A September to remember

For my generation, hockey heaven was Paul Henderson scoring the winner in the dying seconds of the 1972 Summit Series.

COLUMN: A September to remember

For most young Canadian hockey fans the seminal moment in which they will remember where they were for the rest of their lives came on Feb. 28, 2010. I won’t forget that one either. I was fortunate to be in the building covering the game for Black Press when Sidney Crosby scored the golden goal against the United States. But for my generation it was Paul Henderson scoring the winner in the dying seconds of the 1972 Summit Series.

That summer all the talk leading up to the eight-game series was about how it was going to be a walk in the park for Canada. It was easy for a 16-year-old to buy into the hype. Every time the Olympics rolled around, Canadians were told Canada was at a distinct disadvantage because professionals weren’t allowed to participate. Those dastardly Soviets wouldn’t have a chance if Canada could ice the National Hockey League’s best players, we said to ourselves.

It was our version of the Cold War. If given a chance our pros would demolish their so-called amateurs.

Then Game 1 in Montreal rolled around. Two quick goals for Canada and the party was on. Or so we thought. Our puffed-out chests were promptly deflated as the much-fitter, and highly skilled (although we were loathe to admit it) Soviets took over and romped to a 7-3 victory.

The next day we went to our aunt’s place in Surrey for a family gathering. My father’s cousin declared the Soviets were going to win.

What? That’s anti-Canadian. How could he say that?

Well, Stan was far from being a traitor. He was worldly, though. As an RCMP officer posted to the Canadian embassy in Rome, he was one of the few Canadians who wasn’t so parochial as to believe the only hockey nation in the world was Canada.

Despite the Game 1 thrashing, I believed Canada would prevail, mostly because the word was superstar defenceman Bobby Orr would heal his wobbly knees in time to save the day. In my thinking, there was no way the Soviets would be able to handle Orr’s wizardry. So when Stan said, “I’ll bet you $5 the Soviets win” I took him up on it.

As the series marched across Canada –a 4-1 win for Canada in Toronto, a 4-4 tie in Winnipeg and a 5-3 Soviet triumph in Vancouver –the tension mounted and my angst grew.

As a teenager just starting Grade 12 making $1.25 an hour delivering prescriptions by bike for Royal Oak Drugs, I was worried about losing $5, to say nothing of my pride. My concerns multiplied during the fifth game in Moscow when Canada blew a 3-0 lead heading into the third period and lost 5-4.

But then Henderson scored the winning goals in both the sixth and seventh games.

The country was abuzz. With the series tied and one game left, Game 8 was must-see TV. One problem, it was to be played on a weekday morning during school hours. Being a goody-goody, I couldn’t bring myself to skip school. But I did violate school rules by taking a transistor radio with earphones to listen to the game during my classes.

By the time my third period rolled around, (Math 12), Canada was down 5-3. It was difficult dealing with algebraic equations as well as the possible catastrophic consequences to the country’s ego.

All of a sudden there was hope when Phil Esposito scored to make it 5-4. Math class couldn’t get over fast enough. The lunch bell mercifully rung.

God bless Mrs. Robinson, our band teacher, who had brought her big, wooden-cased Electrohome television from home. I made a mad dash from the second floor of the annex to the band room at the other end of the school grounds, cursing myself for not having the guts to skip English and Math. When I got there it was standing room only, and Yvon Cournoyer was about to make it 5-5.

Just as it appeared we’d have to settle for the disappointment of a tie, Henderson came out of the corner to bang the puck past Soviet goaltender Vladislav Tretiak.

Everyone leapt to their feet. Victory was ours. Barely. A month previous, our expectation was domination. That didn’t matter now. Our cheering was more beautiful to the ears than any music produced by the band.

A few weeks later we were out for dinner with Stan’s family. He opened his wallet and said, “I’ve never been more happy to pay someone $5.” I was never more happy to take it either.

The Summit Series has been rightfully dubbed A September to Remember.  Especially Sept. 28.

Grant Granger is a reporter with The Burnaby NewsLeader, a sister paper to The Leader.


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