Henderson's Team Canada "Hangover"
Coming off of the great emotion of the 1972 Summit Series was not an easy task for several of Canada's top stars. The rigors of training camp and early season NHL hockey could never measure up to what they had just gone through. Phil Esposito, Tony Esposito and Bobby Clarke were noticeably struggling upon their return to life in the National Hockey League, but not nearly as much as Paul Henderson.
Henderson of course was the hero - scoring 3 consecutive game winning goals, including the dramatic series winning goal with just seconds remain which would forever immortalize him in hockey lore.
Henderson however struggled upon his return. Prior to the tournament he was known simply as a good two-way hockey player - he patrolled his wing with diligence and little fanfare. Suddenly he was a hero of a superstar's stature. It wasn't easy for him to live up to the new expectations and the demands for his time and attention..
In the previous season Henderson had emerged as a legitimate scoring threat. Thirty-eight times he beat NHL goaltenders, and coming off of his incredible performance overseas you certainly couldn't blame Leaf fans for expecting Henderson to take his game to a new level at the NHL level..
However Henderson would struggle through one of his worst seasons in hockey.
Henderson ended up playing in only 40 games in that 1972-73 season, scoring 18 goals and 34 points. His numbers could have been fairly solid had he played the whole season, but he would have had to close in on the 50 goal plateau to satisfy the lofty expectations that were placed upon him.
Henderson struggled through injuries - a pulled leg muscle and a chipped bone in his leg - and when he did play he often had to play without his regular centerman in Norm Ullman, who also struggled with injuries. The Leafs struggled immensely as well. The Leafs fans, tired of a less-than-ordinary team in the years following the 1967 Stanley Cup championships, booed the Leafs. The loudest of the boos went to Henderson.
"Wearing a helmet in games, I seldom was recognized until after the Russian series. Suddenly, I was singled out wherever I went. My life became very hectic. I struggled, started to straighten out, then got sidelined, came back and had to start all over again."
"I've been at my highest and at my lowest this season. It's been like a roller coaster ride. I'll never forget the Russian series, but I wish now it could be put aside until my career is over. I can't top it. I can't even come close. I can only do my best and hope to help my team become one of the best again."
"Life is a lot more fun with a winner than a with a loser," he observed.