Thursday, September 25, 2014

Maple Leafs Training Camps of Yesteryear

Training camp methods have certainly changed over the years, I did some digging and found some good descriptions of Toronto Maple Leafs training camps from years gone by.

The Leafs have encountered wintery conditions in the Parry Sound district. On Sunday some of them attempted to motor to that town, but had to turn back after reaching the Muskoka district because of the snow drifts on the highways. Most of the players took their golf sticks to the camp, but reports from there tonight are that unless mild weather comes soon, the outlook for golf is poor indeed.
Come to Parry Sound for camp, bring your golf sticks, enjoy the snow drifts! 

"Yesterday was the last rehearsal for fancy-skating. Sonja Henie has her partner."
This read the not posted in the Leafs hotel lobby by Maple Leafs coach Dick Irvin after a lacklustre practice by his men.
Apparently this "burned up" his 15 Maple Leafs, 16 Syracuse Stars and the six amateurs invited to camp. The Canadian Press described, "in two bruising practice games at nearby Galt Arena the hockeyists bounced each other around with no quarter asked or given. Many a battle threatened in the fast going as tempers flared after stiff body-checks.
Forget fancy stats of nowadays, the Leafs were fancy skating over 70 years ago, much to the displeasure of coach Irvin. "Sonja Henie has her partner." I love it.

The Stanley Cup Champion Toronto Maple Leafs had better not be too many pounds over their respective playing weights when they arrive at their Peterborough training camp Sept 7.
The Leafs general manager will allow his charges seven pounds grace. But they must be able to do a minimum of 20 push-ups, 20 sit-ups and 30 knee-bends.
Imlach gave the order yesterday and also announced that Leafs will play a 15-game pre-season exhibition series across Canada and in the Western United States. The tour would take place from Sept 14 through Oct 4 stretching all the way from Kitchener, Hull, Victoria, Vancouver, San Francisco, Portland, Chilliwack, Edmonton and Calgary.
I assume Phil Kessel can do 20 push-ups, I hope. A 15 game, cross-continent pre-season tour, I wonder if the NHLPA would go for that these days.

The two-hour practice  was barely over and the veteran players of the Toronto Maple Leaf were back in the dressing room doing 10 km sprints on stationary bikes. The rookies were relaxing, drinking juice. "Come on, let's show these goddamn kids," screamed mustachioed defenceman Brad Maxwell.
Head coach Dan Maloney was in his in his office, sizing up the 1985/86 Leafs for a sparse audience of only four reporters-only one from Toronto. At that precise moment, a dozen kilometres southwest at Exhibition Stadium, the Kansas City Royals were practising and there more local reporters on the field than players.
Imagine, only four reporters at a Leaf camp. Kind of makes today's expert intermission analysis of a split-squad game a bit of an over-kill. 

Monday, September 22, 2014

A Maple Leafs Fan and a Realist

Here we go again. 

Another year, another training camp, another season filled with hope for my Toronto Maple Leafs. It's been the same way every year for the last 50 seasons just about. The hope that this will be the season in which the Leafs finally climb the summit once again. Each and every season for the past 46 years, they have failed. As a realist I ask myself, is this season really going to be any different from the past? I doubt it.

I've been a die-hard Leafs fan since my childhood in the late 1970's and early '80's. I've seen a LOT of hope and potential come and go. From the potential arriving in the form of draft picks like Gary Nylund and Dan Hodgson, to the acquisition of my favourite Stastny brother, Marian. The drafting of Wendel Clark first overall brought excitement, as did the trade for Doug Gilmour six years later. The 1990's brought repeated deep playoff runs aided by electrifying goaltending from the likes of Felix Potvin and Curtis Joseph and yet still no payoff in the form of the ultimate goal. The last ten years has been pretty much a write-off. So where does that leave us Leaf fans as a new season approaches?

The current edition of the Maple Leafs sports a fair bit of hope and potential by way of Gardiner, Rielly, Kadri and some day maybe Nylander. There is excitement provided by Kessel and vanRiemsdyk, and Bernier and to some extent Reimer can at times be electrifying in net. This is where the realist in me has to step forward however.

Do the Leafs really have enough offense to compete with the big boys in the East and the even bigger boys in the West? Their defence core is adequate if not stellar, but their erratic play keeps them well below the level of Boston or New York. The goaltending has the potential (there's that word again) to be the strength of this team, but is it comparable to that of Boston, New York or even Montreal? Even the most optimistic Leaf fan would have to say no.

So, realistically the only real chance the Leafs have to even make it to a Stanley Cup Final would be a series of fortunate events in their favour and their star players all getting hot at the right time, the way Montreal did last season before their luck turned. Is that enough to keep a fan going for another year? Apparently so. 

Why do I and many others follow each and every game with such passion when deep down we have to know the reality of our chances? I wish I knew the answer, but for me it comes down to the tought that if the Leafs ever did indeed climb that mountain after almost 50 years (so far) will be that much sweeter having hung on through the whole ride. I know it's not likely, but I damn well am not packing it all in now. One of these years the have to get it right, don't they?

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Pat Quinn & Ed Johnston, A Coach Fight for the Ages

Legendary coach Pat Quinn had a tough time transitioning from his career as an active player to that of a coach. This is evidenced by the fact that a mere few days into his career as head coach of the American Hockey League's Maine Mariners he engaged in an on-ice brawl with an opposing coach. His opponent, coach of the New Brunswick Hawks and fellow ex-NHLer Ed Johnston.

In 1978, Quinn was 35 years old and just over one year removed from his last season playing with the Atlanta Flames. Ed Johnston, just shy of his 43rd birthday, had played 16 games the previous year in net for St.Louis and Chicago. The mid-October match between Maine and New Brunswick unfolded as follows;

Oct 18, 78 AP
An AHL game between the New Brunswick Hawks and the Maine Mariners was delayed for more than an hour after both teams became involved in a brawl that eventually involved both coaches. The fight began when Rocky Saganiuk of the Hawks got into a scuffle near his team's bench with John Paddock of the Mariners. As the linesmen moved in to break it up, Saganiuk appeared to gain the upper hand, bringing a Maine player off his bench to join the fray.
Within seconds both benches, with the exception of Mariners' Coach Pat Quinn and Hawks' Coach Ed Johnston, were emptied as the players swarmed to the melee. Several minutes later Quinn and Johnston appeared at centre ice, grabbed each other, and started throwing punches, eventually wrestling on the ice.
By the time order was restored, Jim Cunningham, Glen Cochrane and Quinn of Maine had been banished for the night along with Alain Belanger, Saganiuk and Jonston of the Hawks.

Quinn would be fined $500 and suspended for the next meeting of the two teams in Portland. New Brunswick coach Eddie Johnston was fined $200, but wasn't suspended.

All I can think about is the image of the polyester suited, dress-shoe clad Pat Quinn rolling around on the ice wrestling with a slightly older, slightly smaller ex-goaltender. Amazing. Quinn would only be with Maine for 47 games in 78/79 before he and Philadelphia Flyers coach Bob McCammon switched positions. After a 27-13-7 record in the AHL, Quinn guided the Flyers to an 18-8-4 mark to close out the year. McCammon would lead the Mariners to a 18-9-6 finish and 8-2 in the playoffs capturing the Calder Cup championship.

Ed Johnston would also be coaching in the NHL by the following year with the Chicago Black Hawks. He and Quinn would face each other behind the bench for years to come as coaches of the Penguins and Flyers respectively. They never would tangle at centre-ice again.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Maple Leaf Cup of Coffee; Bill Burega

Bashin' Bill on the Toronto Maple Leafs blue line in the 1950's. The first thought is this is a reference to Bill Barilko the great young defender who perished in a plane crash in 1951. However, there was another Bashin' Bill...Burega, who had but a mere cup of coffee with the big club in 1955. Over these, his only four NHL games Bill Burega collected his only point, an assist and four minutes in penalties.

"Booger", another of Burega's nicknames was by all rights a poor-man's Barilko. Five years younger than Barilko, Burega was cut from the same cloth as a legitimate hard-checking defenceman, ending up in near the top of the penalty minute parade in every league he played. He was an inch taller and slightly heavier than Barilko but lacked the offensive talents of Barilko who scored at least  five goals in each full NHL season he played. While Barilko was scoring the winning goal for the 1951 Stanley Cup, 19 year-old Burega was helping his junior Winnipeg Monarchs make the Memorial Cup Finals only to lose to Barrie.

Burega turned pro in 1952/53, playing for the Glace Bay Miners in the Maritime Major League before joining the Maple Leafs organization in September 1953. He would bounce between Ottawa and Quebec of the QHL, Pittsburgh Hornets of the AHL and Winnipeg Warriors of the WHL. It was the fall of 1955 when he was really noticed by the Leaf brass, putting him on the radar for promotion to the big club. 

Canadian Press - Sept.16, 1955
Bill Burega continued as No.1 man on the Leaf thump parade.The first day in camp Burega collided with Bob Baun. Burega was cut for four stitches and Baun eight. The rugged Pittsburgh Hornet, making his second bid as a permanent Leaf, handed out at least five crushing body-checks causing smiles to the faces of general manager Hap Day and coach King Clancy.

Again, a month later his aggressive play was noted in the press.

Quebec Chronicle - Oct. 15, 1955
In an exhibition game played in Winnipeg, featuring the New York Rangers versus the Winnipeg Warriors, Bill Burega, blueline operator for the Warriors caused the New Yorkers considerable consternation with his bulling tactics on the Warrior blueline, especially opposing defencemen Jack Evans and Lou Fontinato. This caused Ranger coach Phil Watson to comment, "That Burega ain't wild, he's crazy!" Bashin' Bill will be the object of a lot of comments before the season is very old. 

In the new year of 1956  Burega was called up as an injury replacement on the Maple Leafs blue line. The boxscore of his only NHL point is below, a helper on Earl Balfour's goal with three minutes left in a 6-5 loss to the New York Rangers on January 14, 1956.

He was returned to Winnipeg for the remainder of the campaign and helped them to the Western League Championship, his third in three seasons (Quebec Aces 53/54, Pittsburgh Hornets 54/55 also). Burega played one last AHL season with Buffalo in 1956/57 (below) before playing his last six years in the Western League, finishing his pro career with Vancouver in 64/65. Burega continued at the Senior level mainly with the Kingston Aces of the OHA before hanging up the blades for good in 1970.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Norm Ullman's First Professional Goal

Here's a gem I found on ebay this week. It's a puck that was said to used by Hall of Famer Norm Ullman to notch his first ever professional hockey goal in 1953. The link to it can be found here. The listing says the puck comes from Ullman's personal collection and has carved onto it "N.Ullman First Pro Goal" as well as "Dec. 29th, 1953" with the "3" backwards. 

The puck apparently comes with a certificate of authenticity. I managed to find the boxscore of this game and low and behold, there's Ullman with his goal. He was called up on an emergency basis from the junior Edmonton Oil Kings in the midst of a 56 goal, 101 point season. His goal was assisted by team leading scorer Enio Sclisizzi and Don Poile. This was Ullman's only pro game of 1953/54 before returning for a full campaign the next. He would collect 59 points in 60 games in 54/55 before finally graduating to the NHL and the parent Detroit Red Wings. 

A pretty cool piece of hockey history.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Glenn Hall, Playmaker

I was watching a bit of the NHL Network's Pioneers series a few days ago. It was a half hour bio/interview with Mr. Goalie, Glenn Hall. Near the end of it, I saw this...

It was shown without any description or reference to it, simply a highlight of Hall's career. I just had know what the heck was going on in this clip. From what I could derive, the game took place on February 16, 1969 when Minnesota visited St. Louis and the Blues won 6-0.
At the start, Hall is seen bolting from the net on what can only be assumed is a delayed-penalty on Minnesota.
As the Blues defender (Barclay Plager) clears the zone, Minnesota's Bill Goldsworthy stabs at it and pokes it directly into Hall's path.
Hall takes the opportunity, and skates with the puck for a bit. Knowing he'd be penalized for handling the puck past the centre line, he dishes the puck to teammate Terry Crisp.
#12 Terry Crisp turns the North Star defender inside out (it may be #10 Ray Cullen on a backcheck).
He then beats North Star goaltender Garry Bauman with a fairly long shot. 
Crisp then celebrates with Red Berenson.

To top it all off, this goal was a shorthanded marker. The boxscore shows the goal as follows;

STL : Crisp 5 (Hall, Plager Ba) (SH) 9:38 

An extremely rare first assist for a goaltender. Hall recorded only three assists with St. Louis and only 10 over his entire career, but at least one of them was a real beauty.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

John Brophy, A Mean Son-of-a-Gun

John Brophy was head coach of the Toronto Maple Leafs for two and a half seasons in the late 1980's. He had been a hard-playing defenceman in the old Eastern Hockey league from 1955 through 1973. Playing in cities from Baltimore and Charlotte to New Haven, Long Island and Philadelphia he collected 3699 PIM's in 1064 games. Brophy began a role as playing coach in 1968 while with the Long Island Ducks. 

He was suspended and fined over his career many times for transgressions including; "attempts to assault referee", "physically abusing referee", "deliberately shooting puck at referee", "jabbed stick at fan after fan bit him", "pushing linesman during fight", "pushing referee to the ice", "throwing stick at referee", "throwing object at referee". Needless to say, he had anger issues. 

When he finally got his chance at an NHL coaching job, his attitude did not change. He guided the Leafs to a 70 point season in 86/87 and upset St. Louis in the first round of the playoffs before losing in seven to Detroit. The following year he coached one of the worst teams to ever qualify for the NHL playoffs when his Leafs 52 points beat out Minnesota by one point in the Norris Division. He would be replaced by George Armstrong 33 games into the next season with a record of 11-20-2.

I stumbled upon this gem of a description of one of Brophy's Maple Leaf practices from 1986. It's written by the Canadian Press and published November 26, 1986 before a big game in Detroit against the hated Red Wings. 

Head coach John Brophy laid the lumber on his players yesterday to emphasize that he expects them to play a tough, physical brand of hockey against the Red Wings in Detroit tonight. The last time the teams played, Nov. 15, fights and brawls led to four player ejections and 290 penalty minutes.

"I hope we play physically; we certainly intend to," Brophy said following a practice session during which he played defence, chopping and hacking to demonstrate the kind of aggressive hockey he expects from his players. "I don't see any other way we can win in there. They've been waiting for this one."
Standing in the slot during practice, Brophy's stick came up and probed the gut of Chris Kotsopoulos. Then the point of his stick blade found the back of Jerome Dupont's knee. Brophy hammered the shaft of his stick down on the shoulder of Val James, then swept the skates out from under him twice.

"You either win in here (the slot), or you lose your job," Brophy announced to his defencemen." "Obviously, you have to be discreet about it, but you have to stay between the net and the puck. You don't run around slashing and poking people, but you do things off the shot."

Just imagine a coach in today's game hacking and slashing his millionaire players during practice. Incidentally, Toronto beat Detroit that night by a score of 3-1. There were five fights and three game misconducts in the game.
Brophy in his playing days with Philadelphia Ramblers

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