BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — In what his Candian countrymen regard as the “sports moment of the century,” Paul Henderson preceded the “Miracle on Ice” with his winning goal against the Soviet Union at the Summit Series more than 50 years ago.
Henderson will celebrate his 80th birthday on Saturday night at Harborcenter, dropping the puck before his grandson’s Canisius College team hosts rival Niagara University.
Alton McDermott, a forward who was the Golden Griffins’ rookie of the year last season, has four goals and four assists in 20 games in his sophomore season, along with a famous grandfather as his “biggest fan.”
Canisius (7-12-3) opens its two-game Battle of the Bridge series with Niagara (12-10-2) on Friday night. Both weekend games start at 7 p.m. Niagara is tied for fifth in the Atlantic Hockey Association at 6-8-2, while Canisius is eighth at 5-6-3.
Western New York’s Division I college hockey rivals have split the past 10 games, and the Golden Griffins lead the all-time series 30-29-6. This season, the Purple Eagles have gone 8-5-1 in road games. Niagara goaltender Chad Veltri and forward Ryan Cox have been nominated for the Hobey Baker Award.
Henderson played 13 NHL seasons, and five in the WHA, compiling 760 points in 1,070 games across both leagues. But he is most remembered for the Summit Series tally called the “biggest goal ever in hockey” by Sidney Crosby, the Canadian winner of five gold medals in international competition and three Stanley Cup championships.
Henderson long ago accepted the trappings of celebrity that come with his place in history. An entire nation was caught in the grips of paralysis watching a collection of some of Canada’s best players fall behind 3-1-1 to an upstart, play-making Soviet Union team, before winning the final three games — all decided by one goal.
Henderson is now content playing the role of a doting grandfather and celebrating personal milestones with his family, which makes Saturday’s puck drop more meaningful. It is not lost on Henderson and his family that he might not have been around to cherish turning 80 if not for his successful battle against cancer.
Diagnosed with chronic lymphocytic leukemia in 2009, Henderson was given some five years to live before he took part in a clinical trial of a new drug introduced in the U.S. in 2012 that’s credited with saving his life.
“I was just talking to my doctor this morning and my bloodwork last week was as good as I’ve had since before I got cancer,” said Henderson. He split his first 12 NHL seasons between Toronto and Detroit, played another five seasons in the World Hockey Association before closing his career with the NHL’s Atlanta Flames in 1979-80.
For the 21-year-old McDermott, Henderson will always be affectionately known as “grampy.”
Though growing up aware his grandfather played professional hockey, McDermott didn’t realize the magnitude of fame until he was 9 years old, when entering his homeroom class on the first day of transferring to a new school and saw a picture of Henderson hanging prominently on the wall.
“What he actually did kind of blows me away,” McDermott said.
Jonah Bronstein joined the News 4 roster in 2022 as a digital sports reporter. Read more of his work here.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.