The Greatest Goal – 50th Anniversary

Math was never my favorite subject at school.  I barely scraped by with a passing grade and to this day I am still very intimidated by anything that is more complex than adding or subtracting numbers.  However, when it came to hockey stats in the early 70’s, it was like I had an eidetic memory.  I could rattle off the jersey numbers of every player in the NHL (National Hockey League) and I knew the stats of every single player on my favorite team.   

I was in Grade Nine, growing up in the small logging community of Sooke, British Columbia.  My two best friends and I were avid hockey fans and femme fatales, all in the throes of the feminist revolution.  While the other girls at school fretted over their hair and makeup, we took a shop class and played on an all-girls floor-hockey team at our high school.  Our favorite NHL team was the Montreal Canadiens and my idol was the up and coming superstar, Guy Lafleur.  I took great interest in every game and I followed his career with a statistician’s preciseness.  I was abysmally disappointed when my idol was not selected to play on a team that saw NHL stars pitted against a selection of Russian players in a friendly eight game exhibition that would be called the Canada – USSR Summit Series.

The series was played at a time when Cold War tensions were running high.  I wasn’t interested in the overall politics of the games, but I knew our nation’s prowess in hockey and so I was convinced that our guys would dominate the series knowing that hockey was, after all, Canada’s game!  When Russia beat Canada soundly 7 – 3 in the first game in Montreal, my friends and I were as much in shock as the rest of the country.  We talked of little else during the next few weeks.  School work assigned was mostly forgotten or at least put on hold.  The only math homework I did was trying to comprehend the bewildering stats of our national team: 1 win, 1 tie and two losses on Canadian ice. It just didn’t add up!

When the fifth game shifted to Moscow, my friends and I were riding the roller coaster of nationalistic furor.  No longer were the games just about playing hockey, it was about securing our dominance of the game and declaring our national pride!  We sported the Team Canada colours by purchasing too-large jerseys for our tiny girlish frames.  Canadian flags were put up in our bedroom windows…but there was just one thing we hadn’t calculated…the time difference. 

While we had been able to watch the first four games on television because those games had been played in Canadian cities, the final four games were in Moscow so those games would be telecast early in the mornings in our time zone, the exact same time as we were supposed to be in Mr. Ruxton’s math class!

A black and white T.V. was set up in the school library for students with spares so they could watch the fifth game.  We could hear their cheering while we were in agony trying to concentrate on integers and fractions.  When an audible groan rose up from down the hall we learned that Russia had won 5-4.  I all but blamed Mr. Ruxton for the loss.

My friends and I had a sleepover so we could watch the Sunday morning game six.  Team Canada was up against the formidable stickhandling of Yakushev and Kharlamov as well as the brilliant goaltending of Vladislav Tretiak once again.  We breathed a collective sigh of relief, when Team Canada won the hard-fought game 3-2.  Later, my friends and I huddled together to figure out how we could see the last two games at school the following week.  We hit on the idea to bring our transistor radios and using headphones we could listen to the play-by-play during math class.  (This was long before iPods or iPhones and students were never allowed to be “plugged in” during class.)  We knew we would be taking a huge risk if we were caught, but it was a chance worth taking!

I hid my transistor radio under my jean jacket and camouflaged the earbuds under my long hair. Game seven had already started when I put my head down and tried to look as studious as possible while at the same time concentrating on the game that was statically broadcast on the radio.  With the score tied 3-3 close to the end of the third period, my friends and I exchanged forlorn glances.  I felt like crying.  Then with less than three minutes to play, Paul Henderson deked out the Russian defenseman, Tsygankov and scored on Tretiak!  My two friends and I reacted instantaneously and sprang from our seats screeching, “Yahooooo!” in unison.  It was like a nuclear bomb had exploded in the class.

Mr. Ruxton jumped from his desk and glared menacingly at me, “What is the meaning of this outburst?”

 Without hesitation I said, “I just LOVE math!!”  

He shook his head while the rest of the class giggled “busted!” and then he motioned for us to show him our radios.  We sheepishly obliged and then he asked, “What was the final score?”  He had been on to us from the very beginning!

On Thursday, September 28th, 1972 in an unprecedented move, Mr. Ruxton dismissed our math class early so we could join the rest of the school in watching the eighth and final game of the Summit Series on T.V.  My statistician brain was adding up the facts.  Heading into that final game each team had three wins and three losses and one tie but the Soviets were ahead in goal differential by two goals.  It didn’t take a math genius to figure out that Team Canada had to win this crucial, last game in order to win the series.  With the Soviet team ahead 5-3 at the end of the second period, I remember looking over at Mr. Ruxton who looked as subdued and depressed as I did.  Surely even going back to math class was better than watching Canada go down to defeat. Then Phil Esposito scored midway through the third period to put the Canadians within one goal.  When Yvan Cournoyer scored soon after to tie the game, everyone around me went wild!  All our eyes were fixed on the time clock maddeningly counting down to the last minute of play.  In those last few seconds I held my breath.  No one moved, no one blinked. 

It all looked like it happened in slow motion.  With only 34 seconds left to play, Esposito shot the puck at Tretiak only to have Paul Henderson pick up the rebound.  Tretiak went down, Henderson lifted the puck and then Foster Hewitt yelled, “They score!  Henderson scored for Canada!” 

I remember the cheering around me was deafening as I grabbed my two best friends and we twirled in a circle, holding each other in a frenzied display of unabashed joy.  We were crying, we were laughing, teachers and students alike.  Mr. Ruxton, looked over at me and winked.  I hated math but I loved Mr. Ruxton at that moment!  While the players shook hands there in Moscow, we all burst into the spontaneous singing of “O’Canada”, and I knew that I had just witnessed a moment in history that would never again be repeated. 

(Used by permission. My story, “The Greatest Goal” was originally published in the Chicken Soup for the Soul book: The Spirit of Canada – June 6, 2017.)

Paul Henderson scores the winning goal – Canada-Russia 1972 Summit Series
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In Teaching Mode

I’ve been writing lesson plans the last several weeks. I honestly thought that I had officially retired from teaching in 2016, but God had different plans for me I guess. On Friday, I will once again step in front of a class full of Junior-Senior High students to teach a Creative Writing course. It will be a far different experience for me as well as my students because it is supposed to be a fully elective course for students, most of whom have been homeschooled since kindergarten. There is no homework for the students, and no marking or grading for me. It’s teaching creative writing to kids who want to be there, not forced to be there, and it is just for “fun”!

My daughter, who is a lead teacher for the online and hybrid programs at the private Christian School we both taught at years before, asked if I would teach a Creative Writing course for what they call F@B (FAB) Fridays. It’s an opportunity for the students to meet in person for socialization as well as have some in-class instruction.

It’s a six week course, and I’m already discovering the challenges of trying to put together tons of material and condensing it to just the basics. Let’s face it, writing is an acquisition of knowledge, taking courses, reading, skill development, and so much more. For me, it has taken a lifetime to learn my craft and I’m still learning! I learn by doing, creating by trial and error sometimes, breaking some rules in writing, and meticulously following others. It’s pondering the daunting challenge of a blank page, and then like a painter on a blank canvas, I begin to colour the manuscript with words. It’s painting (writing) myself into a corner, and trying to figure a way out. It’s showing, not telling, and hours and hours of editing, and in some cases deleting and starting over. Writing can be an all-consuming investment in time, energy and personal resources. It is also an opportunity to minister, to spark imagination, elicit deep emotion, and bring great joy to the reader as well as the writer.

How do I convey that passion to my class in six weeks?

So, I’ve made the bold decision to just let them write. I will supply the writing prompts, let them play a variety of writing games and applaud the effort rather than the content alone. I want to put the “creative” back in writing. We won’t be as overly concerned about the conventions of writing, although I will feel a failure if they can’t use there, their or they’re correctly.

Well, maybe I will include one lesson on editing …

I will let you know how it goes.

There is something delicious about writing the first words of a story. You never quite know where they’ll take you.”
― Beatrix Potter

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I Owe it to Terry

I finished today what I started on Sunday, walking twenty-two laps around our recreation centre’s gym track (5 km approx.) completing my Terry Fox Run for 2022. Last year I walked twenty-one laps in a little over an hour and had energy to spare. This year was different.

Last year, I was going to the gym fairly regularly and I was feeling healthy and good. A bout with Covid in January of this year, knocked me down and I haven’t yet fully recovered. My doctor is sending me for a battery of tests to try to figure out why I am experiencing overwhelming fatigue and some other nagging issues especially after any kind of exercise or physical activity. He’s trying to rule out the “biggies” as he says, so I had a cardiac stress test two weeks ago to see if I have cardiac problems. That, thankfully, was not the issue. On October 3rd, I go for a full body CT scan to rule out the other “biggie” – cancer.

I can’t even let myself think about a third diagnosis, so I would covet your prayers that the CT scan comes back clear.

Still, something is definitely awry with me and the doctor said once the “biggies” are ruled out that it could be “long Covid”. Not much is known about long Covid, but I am showing most of the symptoms that people diagnosed with it have experienced. Numerous studies are now being conducted after the global pandemic, but there is still so much that remains a mystery about the long term effects of contracting Covid. “One study revealed significant impairment of exercise ability for over 24 months after recovery from a SARS (Covid) infection. Another study found that 40% of people infected with SARS developed chronic fatigue symptoms lasting three years post-diagnosis”. Unfortunately, there is not a definitive cure, just treatments to cope with the long lasting symptoms.

So here we are.

I was determined to participate in the Terry Fox Run this year knowing it would be a challenge for me physically. His words, “I’m not a quitter” was my motivation. I hadn’t been to the gym in months, so setting a goal of walking twenty-two laps was probably unrealistic, but I felt I owed it to Terry to try. I headed to the gym Sunday afternoon after church. Donning my newest Terry’s Team t-shirt, I was alone on the track. I was already feeling fatigued, but set off at my own pace and after four laps I was ready to stop. Thinking about Terry running an average of 42 km. a day, for 143 days with his skip-hop style because of his leg prosthetic, I re-focused and forced my legs to move around the track eight more laps – a total of twelve laps. I had pushed my limits, and I felt pathetic.

Yesterday I crashed. Just moving around the house was an effort. It is a symptom of long Covid to “crash” after exertion. It is so frustrating to want to move and not being able to. There is a mental weariness that comes with the physical fatigue. It takes a lot for me to power through. Again, Terry’s words “I’m not a quitter” came to mind. This morning, I prayed for an infusion of energy so I could finish my run.

It took two days, but I did it.

Tomorrow I may “crash” again, but I’m not a quitter. I owe it to Terry, to people who support and encourage me, and to myself to keep running the race put before me everyday.

Scripture encourages me as I face this latest health challenge: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:1-2 ESV)

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