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Hi my name is Dean Smith and in this podcast I want to talk about how a strange, and I mean really strange, word of knowledge helped win arguably one of the most important hockey games in Canada’s history.
I used to pray for my favourite sport’s teams to win their games. I remember several year’s back my dad and I were watching our favourite CFL football team, the Saskatchewan Roughriders, taking on the Calgary Stampeders in a Western playoff game.
I prayed specifically that my team would win. And as quickly as I prayed, the Holy Spirit asked me a question: Did I want the Roughriders to win or did I want God to receive the glory?
Grudgingly I answered God. At that moment, I had a pretty good idea what team was going to win and sure enough the dreaded Calgary Stampeders came out the winners.
At that time, they used to honour the top three players of the game and interview them on national TV in front of millions of people.
I watched the first two players interviewed and neither said anything about God. And finally, the last guy came up, the team’s kicker. This is not the type of position that typically receives these kind of honours, but he had an outstanding game including the final game winning kick under intense pressure.
And during the interview, he quietly gave credit to Jesus and God for his success. I had become a Christian a couple years earlier and my parents had some concerns, and now this football player was not only testifying of Jesus to millions of people, but my dad as well.
So God is not only setting up these type of testimonies, but I also believe God gave a word of knowledge to a player allowing him to score the winning goal in a hockey game described as Canada’s game of the century.
Apparently, God watches hockey.
So first, what is the gift of knowledge?
The gift or word of knowledge, as it is sometimes called, is one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit mentioned in 1 Corinthians 12:8, where the Holy Spirit provides revelation on a situation or person that you wouldn’t otherwise know. The gift certainly has a prophetic edge to it, and sometimes it is difficult to know what gift is actually in play.
I remember shortly after my wife and I got married, I was watching an NHL hockey game in our small, 600 square foot (ca. 56 m²), flat-roofed home, when I suddenly received a revelation that a defence man who had just passed the puck would score on his own net. A few minutes later that is exactly what happened. He literally misfired the puck scoring on his own goalie. I believe, the Holy Spirit was simply introducing this gift to me.
We also see several instances of the gift of knowledge on display in the Bible. The prophet Elisha received a word of knowledge in 2 Kings 5 that his assistant Gehazi had secretly scammed a Syrian general out of two talents of silver and four sets of clothing, and in Acts 5, the Apostle Peter received a word of knowledge that Ananias and his wife Sapphira were lying.
Now, hockey is easily Canada’s most popular sport and is watched by millions of Canadians each year.
Back in the early 1970s, the world was in the heart of the Cold War, as the Soviet Union was trying to dominate the world with its Communistic and atheistic philosophy.
During this period, the Soviet Union was making great gains in hockey winning several world and Olympic championships and then used these victories as a platform extolling the superiority of communism over capitalism.
Despite its hockey heritage, Canada was not winning these international events, because its best professional NHL players were not allowed to participate.
So in 1972, it was proposed that the Soviet’s best players would face off against the best that Canada had to offer that would include its NHL players. It would involve an eight game series with the first four games played in Canada and last four in the Soviet Union.
It quickly turned from a sport’s event into a political one.
Everyone in Canada expected a rout with Team Canada easily winning all eight games, but little did we know at the time, that Canada would need God’s help to win the series, as Canada sorely underestimated the Soviet team. And when the two teams left Canada, Team Canada was down two to one with one game tied.
But in the first three games in the Soviet Union, Canada clawed its way back in the series and by the eighth and final game, the teams were tied with three wins each and one tie.
But with Russia having a two goal advantage, Canada had to win the final game to come out the winner, a tie or loss would leave the Soviets on top.
It’s estimated that two thirds of Canadians watched or listened to this final game on TV or radio. Businesses closed their doors. Universities cancelled classes and TVs were set up in school gymnasiums so students could watch. The nation literally grounded to a halt to watch this final game.
Paul Henderson was playing on the team’s third or weakest line. But despite this, he had scored the winning goal in two of Team Canada’s previous victories.
Paul Henderson, now 77, is a born again believer and after playing 19 years of professional hockey, he went to seminary and ended up working for the Christian organization called Campus Crusade where he started a ministry called LeaderImpact and travelled across Canada sharing his faith. While in their 70s, Paul and Eleanor, his wife Eleanor of 55 years, were still holding Christian marriage seminars.
Paul also became a popular, motivational speaker because of what happened in the final seconds of that last game. And because of that, he became a Canadian icon and legend, and this opened countless doors for him to share his faith in Christ.
So what happened in that final game played in Moscow’s Luzhniki arena?
After falling behind early, by the third period Canada had tied the score 5 – 5. But a tie wasn’t good enough, Team Canada needed to win this game to win the series.
In the final few minutes, Team Canada had its best players on the ice, and as a third line player, Paul was sitting on the bench. As the game wound down, it looked like it would end in a tie and Canada would lose.
With only about a minute left to play, Paul Henderson received a strong impression if he could get on the ice, he would score the winning goal so he asked the coach if he could go out, but was basically told to sit down.
But Henderson couldn’t shake this feeling. With seconds left, Henderson saw Peter Mahovolich skating by and Henderson yelled at him to come off the ice.
In his book, The Goals of my Life, Henderson described what happened next:
“Pete! Pete!” I hollered at him. Don’t ask me how or why, but I felt if I could get out there one more time I could score a goal. I just felt it. For the first time in my life I was screaming at a player to get off the ice so I could get on, just one more time. You just didn’t do that—I had never heard another player do it in my 18-year hockey career—but I did.”
In fact, Henderson had to yell a couple of times before Peter heard him and came to the bench.
In an interview with Brian McFarlane for his book entitled Team Canada 1972: Where are they now, Henderson described what he felt as his skates touched the ice:
“I jumped on the ice and rushed straight for the net. I had this strange feeling I could score the winning goal.”
With just 34 seconds left on the clock, Foster Hewitt provides the play-by-play:
“Here’s a shot! Henderson made a wild stab at it and fell. Here’s another shot, right in front. They score! Henderson has scored for Canada!” — Foster Hewitt
In 2000, the Canadian Press called Henderson’s goal the “Sports moment of the century” and to back that up, in 2010 the jersey Henderson wore during that game was sold at auction for just under $1.3 million.
So did Henderson receive a word of knowledge that he needed to get on the ice? I believe he did.
But remember how I called it a strange word of knowlege, and even Henderson referred to it as a “strange feeling.”
So what was so strange about it?
Well that game took place in September 1972 and Henderson wouldn’t become a Christian until three years later in 1975.
Despite all his fame, Henderson still felt a discontentment his his life, causing him to turn to Jesus.
Which leads me to the next obvious question, could Paul Henderson receive a word of knowledge before he became a Christian?
I believe the answer is yes!
In Joel chapter 2, when he was speaking of the last days the prophet said:
And afterward, I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
your old men will dream dreams,
your young men will see visions. (Joel 2:30 NIV)
But notice how it says God says he would pour out His Spirit on all flesh, that includes everyone, believers and non-believers. This is why we are hearing of thousands of Muslims receiving visions and dreams of Jesus leading them to become Christians.
In Ezra 1, the Bible says the Lord stirred the spirit of King Cyrus, an unbelieving King, so he would allow the Jews to return to the Promised Land.
So could God give Paul Henderson a word of knowledge before he became a believer? Absolutely, and I believe the Holy Spirit did and after Paul became a Christian that goal opened thousands of doors for the Gospel.
So let me finish with this. If I’m right and God is giving visions, dreams, words of knowledge to non believers, then I know He is doing the same for Christians during these days. We need to starting listening to that still small voice and start acting on those thoughts, feelings and impressions that God is giving you. You have no idea where they will take you.
- Paul Henderson knew he’d score the winning goal: Macleans
- Paul Henderson: The Christian Athlete my story
- Why Henderson’s 1972 winner is Canada’s most iconic sports moment: Sports Net