Canadian hockey legend Paul Henderson may have retired from professional hockey almost 40 years ago, but he’s still a huge fan of the game.
In a wide-ranging interview from his Mississauga home, Henderson weighed in on the current coaching controversies in the NHL, which range from racist commentary to physically and mentally abusing players.
He told CTV News Toronto he experienced it as a player.
“Things that were said when I was playing hockey, guys would be in jail.”
While he knows that era is over, and that the game is better off for it, he says players in his generation were used to being berated by coaches.
“This is kindergarten compared to what it was when we played. But there were individual coaches that weren’t like that. There were some volatile ones. But we live in a different culture today. I mean it really, really is. And I think it needs to change.”
What hasn’t changed for Henderson is how much he cares for people. In 1975 he turned to religion and became a Christian. He still runs a ministry for men. He and his wife, Eleanor, are also involved in a lot of charities.
On Dec. 12, Henderson will be at the opening of the 43rd Smilezone at Alexandra Marine and General Hospital in Goderich, the town where he and his wife owned their first home.
According to the foundation’s website, Smilezone’s mission is “to make tough days a little brighter for kids receiving treatment in hospitals and health care facilities.” The charity transforms and creates safe spaces where kids can be themselves and relax.
In 2004, Henderson became the first ambassador of the foundation and is passionate about how it’s helping families of children who have to spend time in hospital.
“They go into hospitals and they build beautiful rooms for people, sick kids with cancer... and it’s a beautiful, beautiful room with games and everything, and they’re painted... and it’s a safe place.”
As a grandfather and a great-grandfather, Henderson says one of his greatest joys is hearing their laughter. And that’s what the Smile Zones bring.
“When these kids go into these rooms and they just look around and get so excited about it, and what it does is, they forget what’s going on in their lives.”
Henderson was diagnosed with chronic lymphocytic leukaemia in November 2009. He knew he didn’t want to undergo chemotherapy and subsequently joined a clinical study at the National Institute of Health in Bethesda, Maryland. He lasted seven years, longer than anyone else in the study. But the cancer has returned.
He’s now being treated at the Juravinski Cancer Centre in Hamilton and is taking prescription Ventoclax and Rituxan.
Despite the side effect of being more tired, Henderson says he is doing well “overall.”
“You know, you’ve got a choice; you either do this, or you die. So I’m having a pretty good life now.”
His hope is to, “stay alive ‘til they finally find the silver bullet and we get a cure.”
In the meantime, he still exercises each day, alternating his work outs. He said he weighs 184 pounds, the same he weighed in his playing days. He cites his positive outlook and his strong faith as the reason why he lives without fear of dying.
“Even today, I can’t think of anybody in the world more fortunate than I am. And I wouldn’t change places with anybody in the world. I don’t want to be a day older, I don’t want be a day less. I firmly believe that I won’t live a day longer or a day shorter than God wants me to.”
But it’s clear he wants to keep enjoying the life he has, and the family he’s so proud of.
“I take one day at a time. I’m going to live it the best way I can. And if tomorrow shows up we’ll take a shot at tomorrow too.”
Henderson took his fair share of shots on the ice, including a goal that led to a 1972 Summit Series win for Team Canada.
Now this Canadian icon will keep taking his shots, but he will take them day-by-day.