Comparing Vancouver 2010 and the 1972 Summit Series

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Comparing Vancouver 2010 and the 1972 Summit Series
Alex Livesey/Getty Images

He's on the ice with Iginla,
Crosby SCORES! Sidney Crosby the golden goal,
And Canada once-in-a-lifetime Olympic gold

It's a call Canadian hockey fans will soon not forget, as Chris Cuthbert delivered the line of the 21st century when Sidney Crosby sent the country into euphoria with his overtime winner in last Sunday's epic gold medal game.

The golden boy scored a golden goal and in the process of beating Ryan Miller etched his name in Canadian sports lore forever—if Crosby wasn't already enough of a national hero. It was just one of those instant classics, an unforgettable moment that's been few and far between in the realm of Canadian sports history.

Indeed, there have only been a handful of sentimental sporting events that Canadians can look back on fondly, including the 3-2 overtime thriller against the USA in 2010.

The country's first Olympic gold in 50 years during the 2002 Winter Games in Salt Lake, beating the U.S. on its home soil in the final, undoubtedly fits into the conversation among the greatest moments. Then, of course, there's arguably the most famous of them all: Canada's hockey win over the Soviet Union in the 1972 Summit Series nearly 40 years ago.

The question is, how does Canada's gold at the Vancouver 2010 Games stack up against the 1972 Summit Series?

A whole generation—largely comprised of people under 30, especially university students in their 20s—remains somewhat naive about the impact of Paul Henderson's historic game-winning goal, which propelled Canada to its 1972 Summit Series victory over the rival Soviet Union.

After falling behind, the Canadians had to win three in a row—similar to the 2010 Olympic team that was forced to win four straight to capture gold.

In the eighth and deciding game, Henderson, who scored all three game winners, put a rebound past Vladislav Tretiak with 34 seconds left to help the Canadians triumph 6-5 in Game Eight, overcoming the major deficit to win the series 4-3-1.

Based on goal differential, a tie in the final game would have given the Soviet Union the victory, but Henderson's goal for the ages saved the day for the hockey-crazed nation.

The legendary broadcaster Foster Hewitt called it "the goal heard 'round the world," at least across Canada.

Here's a shot, Henderson makes a wild stab for it and falls,
Here's another shot. Right in front. They SCORE!
Henderson has scored for Canada

Many who are old enough to live through the Summit Series would argue that Canada winning the gold on home ice will never compare to the events of September 1972, given the ongoing political tensions with the Communist bloc during the Cold War.

It is largely why the famed Miracle on Ice in 1980 was so incredibly significant, coupled with the fact a group of college hockey players persevered and beat some of the best professional hockey players in the world. More importantly, however, it became a moment in history that transcended sports into the political world.

While the Summit Series win takes the prize in the political realm of sport, there are certainly similarities between the two historic sporting events, mainly the anticipation in both instances of Canada maintaining its position as the world's hockey power.

In 2010, with the lead-up to the most-anticipated Olympic hockey tournament, there was ever-growing pressure on the Canadian program to deliver the gold on home ice. The disastrous events of 2006, when the country was shut out in three games and ousted in the quarterfinals, only heightened the nationwide crunch.

Much like it was after the failure in Nagano 1998, Canadian hockey was heavily criticized and placed under intense scrutiny for not producing the results following the seventh-place finish in Torino four years ago, and there was a lot to prove for Canada as the once-untouchable hockey nation. 

Despite the recent failures on the international stage—only one Olympic gold medal in over 50 years—Canada was the favorite entering the tournament and faced enormous expectations to win it all and held the weight of an entire nation.

Moreover, 1972 was also an important year in the hockey arena for Canada, at the height of the Cold War—when sports served as a political arena for global superiority. The country was still seen internationally as the undisputed hockey kings, and the eight-game series was an opportunity to reinforce the country's hockey supremacy.

Littered with the greatest NHL stars such as Phil Esposito, Yvan Cournoyer, and Ken Dryden, Canada was supposed to roll over their Soviet opposition.

But the Soviet Union, who had won third straight Olympic gold medals entering the series, seriously challenged the Canadians and pushed them to the brink of defeat, at one time leading 3-1-1 through the first five games.

With a trio of game-winning goals by Henderson, including in the all-important eighth game, Canada eventually prevailed and sent the nation into a similar euphoric state.

Not only did the country win at its own game despite the incredible push from the Soviet Union, but the series victory represented a huge political victory for the Western world. The hated Soviets were defeated, and that's all that really mattered.

In Vancouver, Canada took down another rival in the United States, but it doesn't quite live up to the significance of the 1972 Summit Series.

Even for the people who experienced their inaugural "Paul Henderson moment of a lifetime" last Sunday, with Crosby providing the theatrics, it should only be considered one of the greatest moments in Canadian sports—not the greatest, which belongs to Henderson's goal on September 28, 1972.

The Canadian passion and nationalism ignited by the entire Vancouver 2010 Games arguably triumphs 1972, but that's a debate for another day.

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