House of Commons passes motion encouraging hall to induct hockey hero from Lucknow
“If there’s a goal that everyone remembers, it was back on old 72, we all squeezed the stick and we all pulled the trigger, and all I remember is sitting beside you”
The unforgettable goal, further memorialized in the opening lines of the Tragically Hip’s 1998 song “Fireworks,” is, of course, Paul Henderson’s Summit Series-winning goal.
The Hip’s frontman Gord Downie might have his tongue in his cheek as he sings about remembering only the love he found during the series, because he still describes the goal in vivid detail — its national significance, the hint of the hockey series being analogous to war, and worse, Canada nearly defeated at the game that for so long has been part of its chosen identity.
Now, more than 46 years removed from what’s been called the goal of the century, there is a renewed push to get Henderson, the man that held the stick and pulled the trigger, in the Hockey Hall of Fame, an honour that has thus far evaded the Lucknow native.
On Jan. 28, Henderson’s 76th birthday, the House of Commons passed a motion to encourage the Hockey Hall of Fame to induct the veteran of over 700 National Hockey League games. Members of the Liberal government, the NDP and Conservatives all spoke in favour of the motion, including Huron-Bruce MP Ben Lobb.
For Lobb, pushing to get Henderson affirmed among hockey’s best is, in part, a constituency issue.
“As the member of parliament for Huron-Bruce, he is one of our local heroes, one of our local sons and it’s my job to advocate for him,” Lobb said. “And I believe that he should be in the hall of fame as a hockey fan.”
Henderson scored seven goals in the series, tying him for the lead on the Canadian team with hall-of-famer Phil Esposito. Henderson scored game-winning goals in the final three matches of the showdown between teams from Canada and Soviet Union. Canada won the series four games to three with one match ending in a draw.
While the importance of his Summit Series performance is largely recognized, Henderson’s professional career, and whether his nearly 20 seasons in the National Hockey League (NHL) and upstart World Hockey Association (WHA) warrants a call to the hall is more controversial.
For Owen Sound-based hockey historian Eric Zweig, Henderson’s combined NHL and WHA totals, 376 goals and over 1000 games, don’t add up to a hall of fame career. And because hall of fame inclusion is often based on professional careers, Zweig said he thinks Henderson probably won’t get the nod again when 2019 class is announced in June.
“Henderson had a pretty long career and was a pretty good player, but he’s not a hall-of-famer if not for that series,” Zweig said.
Henderson became eligible to join the hall in 1984, and has long been the subject of a campaign to get the former Toronto Maple Leaf and Summit Series hero inducted. This year, public relations firms Spark Advocacy and Summa Strategies have launched a website, Paulinthehall.ca, to collect supporters for a hall of fame bid. Liam Maguire, a hockey historian and writer is prepping a submission on behalf of Henderson ahead of the March 15 deadline for consideration.
With eligible players like Daniel Alfredsson (1,157 points, 1,246 games), Stanley Cup winners like Theo Fluery, Alexander Mogilny, Vincent Lecavalier and others waiting, 2019 could be another disappointing year for Henderson and his supporters.
But with the previous inductions of Aleksander Yakushev and Vladislav Tretiak, both from the Summit Series Soviet team and who didn’t play in the NHL or WHA, there is an emerging precedent for hall of fame inclusion based on international play. Whether this will benefit Henderson, or four-time Olympic gold medal winner Hayley Wickenheiser, remains to be seen.
Lobb, who said the goals Henderson scored in the Summit Series are the most important in the history of hockey, hopes that the nod from parliament will allow Henderson to cross the finish line.
“It would just seem to me to be a the most perfect cap of his career and legacy in hockey and he would be in the hall of fame forever and always,” Lobb said.
The 2019 inductees will be announced in June.