Off the Bench – 5 Questions for 1972 Summit Series hero Paul Henderson

Off the Bench – 5 Questions for 1972 Summit Series hero Paul Henderson


There are three goals that define Canada’s glory in international hockey. Each generation has their own memory of a hero, whose shot lit the red light and sent the country into unbridled elation. Before Sidney Crosby’s “Golden Goal” – Vancouver 2010, and Mario Lemieux’s late wrist shot – 1987 Canada Cup, there was Paul Henderson’s winner against the Soviet Union to capture the 1972 Summit Series.

The political undercurrent of the series ran deep, it was about much more than hockey, it was the Iron Curtain against the free world. The Cold War played out on ice, with skates, sticks and a puck. Down 1-3-1 in the eight game “exhibition”, Canada needed to win three-straight in Russia to take the series. As history shows, they did, in the most dramatic fashion…

Bridgit had the opportunity to speak with Henderson, 76, about the historic events that occurred nearly 50 years ago and the lessons on leadership and teamwork that were learned along the way. Here is what the veteran of 1,067 games as pro (707 NHL, 360 WHA) had to say:

Bridgit: Team Canada was loaded with talent in 1972, when the situation deteriorated to the point that you had a 1-2-1 record after Game 4 of the series and would have to travel to Russia for the final four games, who emerged as the leader to help pull the group forward?

Paul Henderson: I think it was more Phil Esposito than anybody else, we had four co-captains, but Phil, on and off the ice, nobody gave him the role, he just took it. I think he was a best player and he spoke to the team.

The best part was when we got to Russia, we had two dressing rooms, half the guys were in one room and half the guys were in the other room. That made it really difficult. To me you need somebody that is authentic, and you know they are being transparent, then guys will listen. As soon as you pretend, and talk about something you can’t do yourself, then you lose credibility.

The great leaders to me are the guys that do it on the ice, and when the going gets tough, they have the mentally of, “We are going to do this!” You need someone to lead the charge and Esposito did an incredible job of that.

Photo courtesy of Ficel Marketing Corp.



Bridgit: What did you learn about character when facing adversity midway through the Summit Series when Team Canada was up against the ropes?

PH: Everyone is different, I am a very positive person. I don’t look at things negatively. I remember distinctly Harry Sinden saying after we lost the first game in Russia (Game 5). “Don’t think about the next 3 games, all we gotta’ do is win Game 6. Just think about what we have to do in Game 6. We win Game 6 and we will think about Game 7.”

I sat there and thought, now that is great advice, you have the next game, think about that, you win that sucker, then you go from there. I really believed that I could score, I never ever thought that these guys are gonna’ beat us. I told my wife, “We’re gonna’ win the last three games!”

Bridgit: How did that entire experience change you as a person? Did people expect more of you when you came back from that tournament?

PH: I know I did. People did too, all the time, and I could feel it. The disaster of that was that I tried to do too much. There is an echelon of (star) hockey players, and I was not in that class. I mean I was good, and dependable but I tried to score goals, if we needed a goal, I would try to get the puck and score the (big) goal. It’s a team game, I was never a guy to do that, so of course it didn’t work.

When you try to do too much, it goes from not good, to really bad. People got down on me and I got really down on myself. It was a big learning curve for me and I learned so much in that time about what NOT to do.

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Bridgit: In a business sense, what comes to mind as a good example of leadership?

PH: When you take advantage of someone, you don’t feel good about it, it’s just something in your gut. Unfortunately, there are people that operate that way who run businesses. I know a lot of people that run a business and most of them very authentic, they treat their people well and pay their people well. At the same time, the employee is accountable. If you are paying someone, you better get your money’s worth.

A good leader will always be looking out for his people, I have a friend who runs a business and he promises people when he hires them, if they succeed and do well, he will promote them, if you don’t do well, you may be let go, but he promises they will be better at their job when they leave than when they started. To me that’s leadership, the guy is authentic, when he says something, he means it.

For me, in my stage of life, being truthful, being honest, good character and being authentic. Those are the types of people I want to be around.

Photo courtesy of Ficel Marketing Corp.



Bridgit: Has scoring the Summit Series winner over the Soviet Union afforded you a lifestyle that you might not have had otherwise?

PH: For sure! (Alan) Eagleson told me on the way home from Russia, “That goal will probably be worth $1 million.” I laughed at the time, but it has obviously been worth a lot more than that to me.

Lauren Lake

Lauren Lake is the COO and co-founder at Bridgit. She holds a degree in Civil Structural Engineering and is well-versed in construction workforce management and resource planning processes. Lauren has been named to the Forbes Manufacturing & Industry 30 Under 30 and Best Of Canada Forbes Under 30 Innovators lists. Lauren has presented at industry events and conferences, including BuiltWorlds, Canadian Construction Association, Procore Groundbreak, and more.

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