‘Whitey’ takes mystery of Summit Series puck with him to the grave
Former Blackhawks star grabbed souvenir after Henderson scored the winner in 1972
Paul Henderson scored the most famous goal in Canadian hockey history, and in the crazy celebration that ensued, never thought once about picking up the puck.
There was too much hugging and jumping and screaming and hysteria to do that in the wherewere-you in-’72? moment.
Instead, Pat (Whitey) Stapleton bent over — it’s on camera, so there’s proof — and grabbed the puck. From there, the mystery surrounding the game-winning puck on the goal of all Canadian goals will now go with Stapleton to his grave.
Stapleton, who played for the Chicago Blackhawks, played and coached the Chicago Cougars of the WHA, and starred for Team Canada ’72, died at the age of 79 the other night. And with his final words, he was probably telling another version of what he did with the puck — and where it is now.
He told many. Almost every time he was asked about the puck — and over the years that was many times — he would switch the details just a little and always with a laugh of some kind. It became his calling card. He found it funny and loved playing the mystery game.
“Every time I asked him where it was, you got a little different version of the story,” said Ron Ellis, the Toronto Maple Leafs winger who played such a significant role in the famous Canada-ussr series that changed hockey forever.
“That was Patty. He would tell you something, then he’d have a laugh, then he’d tell you something else.
“It’s always been a mystery of some kind. I would ask Patty, ‘Where’s the puck?’ He was living on a farm at the time. He’d answer something like, ‘It’s in the barn somewhere.’ Then he’d have a good laugh.”
Henderson never asked for the puck personally, but he did want it to be displayed in the Canadian Sports Hall of Fame, which inducted Team Canada ’72 as a group years ago. Henderson figured, the team is in, why shouldn’t the puck be there with them.
“It’s not like there was anything fancy to it. There were no markings or anything to make it special,” said Henderson. “I probably asked him 100 times to give it to the Hall of Fame and he didn’t want to give it up. Maybe we’ll get it now. You know, looking back, I never thought once about picking it up. That was the last thing on my mind. And I guess in a way, it was Patty’s notoriety of sorts.”
Stapleton is the latest from Team Canada ’72 to pass away. Gone from that group includes Stapleton’s partner from both the Blackhawks and Team Canada, Bill White.
“They were a terrific pair in the NHL, and played great for us in the series,” said Henderson. “They were a rock back there. One of the things I always did in hockey was look back to see who was playing behind you on defence. I always felt good when they were there behind us.”
Also gone from that team: Stan Mikita, Gary Bergman, J.P. Parise, Bill Goldsworthy, Rick Martin.
“Too many,” said Ellis. “Too many.”
Stapleton is gone now, months before his 80th birthday, two years before the planned 50th anniversary of the famed Canada-ussr Summit Series.
“We figure this is probably the last time we would ever do this. You can’t do much after 50, can you?
“And Patty was heading up our committee that was planning everything. He was doing a great job with this. Hopefully, somebody will pick up where he left off.”
Ask anybody who played with or against Stapleton and they will talk about his skating, his offensive prowess at a time when defencemen not named Bobby Orr weren’t known to be offensive, his lack of size, his sense of humour.
In Moscow in ’72, Team Canada didn’t exactly plan well for the food it was packing for the trip. After two games in the Soviet Union, they were basically out of North American food. After a practice, Stapleton proudly announced to the team that he had found a Chinese food restaurant and everyone was to meet in the lobby at 6 p.m. to head out for dinner.
Needless to say, the players and their wives couldn’t have been more excited. They didn’t want Russian food. The whole team met in the lobby on time.
“It was so desperate, I would have paid $100 for a cheeseburger,” said Henderson. “That’s how hungry we were for our kind of food.”
Hiding behind the pillars in the lobby were Stapleton and Bill White.
“Laughing like crazy,” said Henderson. “There was no Chinese food restaurant.”
Hockey humour, the kind that survives 48 years later.
“He just wanted to bring some laughs to a situation that needed it,” said Ellis. “I had total respect for him as a person and a player.”
Except for maybe that puck thing.
“When Scotty Morrison was chairman of the board of the Hockey Hall of Fame, he would ask me every so often, ‘Why don’t you give Pat a call and see where the puck is?’ And I’d call and I’d get a story and a laugh.”
Always a story and a laugh with Pat Stapleton, who made the Canadian Sports Hall of Fame. The puck is still waiting for its place on the wall.