Friday, March 27, 2015

Maple Leafs and The Ice Capades


Mabel giving skating tips to Steve Kraftcheck, Bob Baun, Carl Brewer and unidentified player
Here's some terrific photos of the Toronto Maple Leafs having a visit from the Ice Capades ladies (insert Leaf joke here) in likely the late 1950's. These beauties are from the Toronto City Archives and I've managed to identify pretty much everybody (even the ladies) except the guy on the right of the first image.

I'm fairly certain the player on the left of the first photo is Steve Kraftcheck who only played 8 games for Toronto in 1958/59. This is the same year that Olmstead (below) joined the team, he played with the Leafs through 1961/62. The stranger on the right could be a minor leaguer if these were taken during training camp.
Frances surrounded by Tim Horton, Carl Brewer and Bert Olmstead
Billy Harris teachin Mildred how to face-off
Billy Harris and Dick Duff giving pointers to Mildred and Betsy
Duff helping Betsy with her form





Monday, March 23, 2015

Johnny Bower, 1954/55 Vancouver Canucks Photo


Here's a fantastic photo from the Vancouver Public Library archives. The only information attached to it is Canucks vs. Saskatoon and a date of 1960. No players were identified in the image, but most hockey fans, especially ones of the Toronto Maple Leafs should easily identify the goaltender as the one and only Johnny Bower.

Bower played for the Vancouver Canucks of the Western Hockey League during the 1954/55 season, his 10th professional campaign. The previous season he had played every minute of all 70 games for the New York Rangers in the NHL before losing his job to Gump Worsley. In the six team NHL era, there were simply not enough top-end positions for all the talent available. Bower had already been named MVP three years in a row with Cleveland Barons of the AHL. It would be three more years until Bower was back in the big leagues for good when Punch Imlach acquired him to play for his Maple Leafs in 1958.

This season pictured with Vancouver was like most others for Bower, a terrific one. He would lead the WHL with 7 shutouts and a 2.71 GAA and be named 2nd Team All-Star behind only Edmonton Flyer, Glenn Hall. The Saskatoon Quaker player pictured is defence man Howie Milford who played 9 seasons with the Quakers before retiring in 1959.


Sunday, March 22, 2015

Mike Zanier; Cup Winner, Olympian & Swedish Broadcaster

A few months ago I crossed paths with former Edmonton Oiler goalie Mike Zanier on social media. He agreed to answer a few questions I had about his career, and after some email exchanges I found he had quite an interesting past as well as present. 

Perhaps Zanier's biggest claim to fame is the fact that he was pressed into back-up duty for the Edmonton Oilers while they were en route to their first Stanley Cup championship. It all began in game three of the 1984 final when Grant Fuhr injured his shoulder. Oiler Pat Hughes checked Pat Lafontaine and carried him into Fuhr against the boards. Andy Moog took over and started the final two games as the Oilers won their first Cup. With Fuhr incapacitated, the 21-year old Mike Zanier dressed as backup. 

Zanier had just completed his first professional season in the American Hockey League. In 31 games with the Moncton Alpines he posted a solid 3.30 GAA. Zanier would not get into any game action but he told me he "did got caught up on the unforgettable ride". I asked if it was nerve-wracking to be put in that spot as a rookie yet to play an NHL game. Zanier says, "I had been called up during the season as well as the whole playoffs so I knew the guys and we were like family.....incredible experience." 

Zanier returned the following year to the Oilers AHL squad, now called the Nova Scotia Oilers and had another fine season. His 1984/85 AHL campaign produced a 3.45 GAA over 44 games as well as another memorable emergency stint with the big club. Grant Fuhr was injured once again in a 9-4 victory over Toronto on Feb. 19, 1985. He hurt his left shoulder while stretching for a wide shot late in the first period, the initial prognosis was he had a partially separated shoulder and would be out of action at least two weeks. Andy Moog was a more than capable replacement until he was also injured, hurting his knee on March 1. The Oilers started emergency call-up from the junior Kamloops Oilers, Darryl Reaugh on March 3. He lost 6-3 to Winnipeg, stopping 30 of 35 shots (one empty net goal) before being sent back to junior. This is where Mike Zanier comes in.
"I was called up the day before (March 4), got stuck in Toronto in a snowstorm before getting to Edmonton at 1 or 2 AM only to get on another flight to Calgary to play." Zanier says adding, "I did not have time to get nervous." He had to be slightly anxious though on March 5, when teammate Glen Anderson took a penalty a mere 14 seconds into his first NHL game. After all, the Flames were the second highest scoring team in the NHL (after Edmonton) and their power play clicked along at a 25% success rate. "I actually made a few key saves early before the boys started to roll," Zanier shares, and roll they did after that. Edmonton erupted for a 4 goals against Rejean Lemelin before the game was 14 minutes old. Zanier allowed a goal to Paul Reinhart a few minutes later and although down 4-1, Calgary ended up outshooting the Oilers 13-12 after one period. With the score 5-3 by the end of two, Zanier had to really earn his first win in the third period. Calgary outshot Edmonton 15-3, failing to score a goal as Zanier held on for the win. "Always great to get a win in your first start as well as being chosen first star," he shared proudly.

Zanier went on to tie the New York Rangers 3-3 at home on March 9 then lost 6-3 in Vancouver the following night. He'd be returned to Nova Scotia as Fuhr and Moog returned to health. His final numbers that year (.880 Save Pct and a 3.89 GAA ) would be nearly identical to those of Fuhr by season's end. This would be the final time Zanier played in the NHL, but it was far from the end of the highlights of his playing career. 
Mike with the 1984 Stanley Cup
Born in Trail B.C. in 1962, Zanier's father, Reno was a goaltender as well. Mike would follow in his father's footsteps quite literally, playing for the senior league Trail Smoke Eaters fifteen years after his father had. In addition, Mike tended goal for the junior New Westminster Bruins 20 years after his dad played with the Western Hockey League professional version of them. I asked him if he crossed paths growing up with fellow Trail, BC (and fellow Canadian-Italians) Steve Tambellini and Ray Ferraro. "Steve is a couple of years older (and his first-cousin) and Ray is a couple younger and I played with and against these guys growing up then on into pro," Zanier recalled,"It was funny but I did follow my Dad's footsteps not by design, it just worked out that way." As for the legacy of the 1961 World Champion Trail Smoke Eaters team, "We all grew up with the 61's, being related to them or just good family friends. Remember, Trail had only 10,000 people back then and all the Italians knew each other." As for being of Italian heritage, ("full Italian, with dual passport," he tells me) that leads to another highlight of Mike Zanier's hockey career. 
with Milano of the Italian League
After the following two seasons spent in the International Hockey League with Indianapolis, Zanier decided to take his talents to Europe. He began the 1987/88 season with Bolzano HC of the Italian League and by 1989 he was representing Italy in the World Championships. Zanier played on the Italian national team along with ex-Leafs Bob Manno and Frank Nigro  as well as ex-Sabres Gates Orlando and Jim Corsi. The nation won advancement to the A Pool just in time for the 1992 Albertville Winter Olympics. Understandably, the Italians had a tough go of it but it doesn't mean Zanier still wasn't disappointed by the outcome.

"The Olympics were a disappointment for us as we had a real good National team," Zanier says."In exhibition leading up to the Olympic Games we played the Finns three times and went 1-1-1 and the Russians twice losing two close games by a goal." These slightly raised hopes were dashed before the games even began as Mike explains, "Our top guy got injured and we were in disagreement with the Italian Federation on how many Canadian/Italians would be going and it hurt the atmosphere around the club." 

The Italians would go 1-4 in the round-robin beating only Poland by a score of 7-1. Zanier played the second game of the tournament against Sweden and the fifth game against Finland. "The only game we were dominated was by the Swedes," he relays. Sweden ended up outshooting Italy by 45 to 13 and winning 7-3. The game against Finland was a much closer 5-3 loss with Italy actually outshooting them 38-29. I pointed out to him that even though he lost both games he had the "honour" of being scored on by Hall of Famers Borje Salming at the end of his career and Teemu Selanne at the start of his, to which he replied, "I was just trying to help Börje go out with a bang and Teemu to start his career on the right foot."

In all, Zanier spent ten full seasons in Italy skating with teammates of ex-NHLers such as Mark Napier, Mark Pavelich, Cliff Ronning and Jari Kurri. He met his Swedish wife while skiing in Whistler, BC in 1992 and moved to Sweden after he wrapped up his playing career playing a season with Olofstoms IK in the Swedish 3rd Div. After coaching for a bit in the junior and senior level he began working as a colour commentator on Swedish radio for Vaxjo Lakers in 2010. "As far as I know, I'm the only one," he answered when I asked if he was the only Anglophone working on Swedish broadcasts. He, of course is fluent in the language now.

Zanier is currently watching and analyzing the Lakers as they battle Orebro in the opening round of the Swedish Elitserien playoffs. As for his future he says, "I have two young teenagers and feel best as a father right now and will definitely get back into hockey (coaching) when the time and place are right." Interestingly, leading scorer for Vaxjo in the playoffs is Canadian import Jeff Tambellini, son of Mike's cousin Steve. Small world. 



Monday, March 16, 2015

Maple Leafs; It's Just Getting Silly Now


Ok, this is getting ridiculous. The Toronto Maple Leafs downward spiral of 2015 has gone from embarrassing and laughable to bordering on the downright abhorrent. Before playing in Edmonton tonight, the Leafs have a record of  8-28-3 since beating Anaheim on December 16, 2015.
In 39 games played (almost half of a season) they have collected 19 points. A percentage of 0.244.

Toronto is currently in the midst of one of the worst stretches in franchise history. Here's a look at other 39 game segments as bad as the current one, and yes most are from the 1980's:

1957/58 Final 39 Games
10-25-4 .308 Pct
109 Goals For
145 Goals Against

1981/82 Final 39 Games
8-26-5 .269 Pct
122 Goals For
192 Goals Against

1984/85 First 39 Games
6-28-5 .218 Pct
115 Goals For
181 Goals Against

1987/88 Final 39 Games
7-28-4 .231 Pct
119 Goals For
177 Goals Against

2014/15 Since Dec 16
8-28-3 .244 Pct
78 Goals For
135 Goals Against

That is a lot of bad hockey. Truth be told, the remaining dozen games don't hold much hope for an improvement this year. Other than games against Edmonton, Buffalo and Columbus (all on the road) the Leafs really could make this stretch far worse than it already is.





Monday, March 9, 2015

Remebering the Time Rick Vaive Overslept

"I went out with an old friend (John Anderson of the Nordiques), we had a bull session and I just never got out of bed. They (management) did what they had to do."

In light of current Leaf Nazem Kadri being a healthy scratch as punishment for being 20 minutes late for a team meeting, recall the time Leaf captian Rick Vaive did the exact same thing and suffered a far worse punishment.

The date was February 21, 1986 as the Maple Leafs waited to play the Minnesota North Stars on the 23rd. The Nordiques were visiting Minneota that night and lost 5-2 to the Stars, afterwards Vaive hooked up with his ex-linemate Anderson for a "bull session" that caused the over-sleeping. Coach Dan Maloney had called an important 7:15am Saturday practice at the Met Center in Bloomington.

Leafs owner Ballard characteristically chimed in with his normal lack of diplomacy,
"He was not acting as a captain should. You can't loll in bed in the morning. The captain should be the first there...He'll be a lot better player than he was without the captaincy. He just wasn't the right temperment for a captain. In a nutshell, he wasn't a leader. I don't think he was good material for a captain, and I selected him myself four years ago."

Leafs General Manager, Gerry McNamara also fined Vaive $500 for his tardiness. Vaive added, "Sure, guys have slept in and missed practice before, but when you are captain of a team, you can't do it. It was a stupid mistake, that's all."

Borje Salming and Brad Maxwell were named as alternate captains in Vaive's place. Incidentally, Toronto would lose the Sunday game 4-3 to Minnesota. Vaive notched 33 goals in 61 games during this 85/86 season and followed that with 32 the next year. He would finally be traded to Chicago prior to the 87/88 season along with Steve Thomas and Bob McGill for Al Secord and Eddie Olczyk.




Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Art Ross Trophy Snail Race


The current NHL scoring race is in truth more of a casual walk in the park than an actual race. Teammates Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom are tied for first with 67 points through 65 games. That pace would result in 85 points leading the NHL in scoring. There are 7 guys within 3 points of the lead. However, only one back of the two Capitals is Sidney Crosby who has 64 in 58 games. If he plays the remaining 20 games and continues at that pace he'll end up with 86 points. Anyway you cut it, the Art Ross winner may have the fewest points in a full season in perhaps 50 years.

In 1967/68 and 1964/65 Stan Mikita was the leader with 87 points, in 1962/63 Gordie Howe led with 86 points. To look even further at the relative lack of point accumulating this year, let's look at the top five point scorers from this year compared to other seasons.

The combination of  Ovechkin, Backstrom, Tavares, Voracek and Patrick Kane (who's technically ahead of Crosby and Malkin for fifth place) have scored at a 1.025 point per game rate. The following are the lowest point per game numbers of  the top five NHL scorers over the years:

Season
GP/Pts  Pts per GP

2014/15
320/328  1.025
2003/04
403/434   1.08
1967/68
367/ 408  1.11
1966/67
343/377   1.10       
1955/56
350/374   1.07
1954/55
341/350   1.026
1953/54
334/316   0.95
1952/53
345/350   1.02
1951/52
350/338   0.97
1950/51
334/336   1.01
1949/50
348/339   0.97
1948/49
287/291   1.01
1947/48
300/288   0.96
1941/42
239/264   1.10
1939/40
235/218   0.93
1938/39
226/215   0.95
1937/38
238/225   0.95
1936/37
234/218   0.93
We're talking historically low totals to lead the league in scoring this season. As it stands now the last time the top five scorers scored at this low a rate was 61 years ago. In 1953/54 the leaders were Gordie Howe (81), Maurice Richard (67), Ted Lindsay (62), Bernie Geoffrion (54) and Bert Olmstead (52). Their total of 316 points in 334 games works out to 0.95 points per game.

Unless someone gets on a hot streak over the last twenty or so games, this season's leaders will be as low as they've been in most of our lifetimes.


Sunday, March 1, 2015

Mystery Hockey Photo, Providence at Vancouver


I recently tweeted a great photo (above) of the old Western Hockey League Vancouver Canucks playing at the brand new PNE Coliseum. The photo is from the Vancouver Archives and is dated simply 1968-70. Low and behold, I received a reply from the twitter account @VanArchives asking if I knew the exact season for their records. Well, of course this is the kind of challenge I relish. Let's see if we can nail down when the pic was taken.

Firstly, it's easy to see that the visiting team was the Providence Reds of the American Hockey League, the two leagues played an inter-locking schedule in the late 1960's. Luckily, in the Vancouver Archives along with this photo are a few more taken at this same game. Using the photo database at www.sihrhockey.org , jersey numbers, as well as whether or not a player shoots right or left-handed, we can definitely name a few of the players and narrow down the time frame.

The Reds centre who is shown bursting out of the face off is easily identified as #8 John Sleaver (below) who played for Providence from 1966/67 through 68/69. This automatically eliminates the photo being from 1970. The Red on the far side with a #4 visible on his sleeve certainly looks like left-shooting Tony Goegan (below) who was a Red for five seasons, so he doesn't aid in narrowing it down any further.

John Sleaver, Reds 1966-1969

Tony Goegan, Reds 1965-1970

Checking out another photo from this game, it's easy to facially identify two Canucks. #2 and #12 are Larry McNabb and Billy McNeill respectively as seen in the headshots below. While McNeill was a Canuck from 1964 to 1969, we hit the jackpot with McNabb. He was a Canuck for ONLY the 1967/68 campaign.



Larry McNabb, Canucks 67/68
Billy McNeill, Cancuks 1964-69
We can further strengthen the case for the 67/68 season by looking at one other photo from this game. Vancouver #5 is definitely Larry Mavety (below) who also played with the Canucks for only this season. As well, look who's the goaltender for the Canucks, none other than RIGHT-hand catching, future Hall-of Famer, Tony Esposito. His only year with the Canucks?ou guessed it, 1967/68. 

Larry Mavety 67/68
Now to identify the rest of the players in the original photo. #10 for Vancouver could be either Mike Laughton or Ron Boehm. Both wore the number that year, and both shoot left-handed. There is one great difference between them however. Laughton stood 6'2" and Boehm 5'8". Comparing to the 5'8" Tony Goegan beside him, it's easy to say this #10 is Ron Boehm. The Providence player in the foreground (#15) would have to be right-shooting John Rodger who played 56 games for the Reds that year. As stated earlier John Sleaver is the #8 Red in the middle. The Canucks #9 would have to be Bruce Carmichael who played 71 games for them in 67/68, scoring 31 goals. The #5 Canuck on the blueline is the aforementioned Larry Mavety who lead the team with 148 PIM's that season.

One other note, now that the photo is identified as from the 1967/68 season it's amazingly easy to pin-point the exact date. Using www.hockeydb.com we see that Providence visited Vancouver only one time that season. The game took place January 16, 1968 and the visiting Reds won by a score of 4-2.
As a bonus, below is a photo from my personal collection of Victoria Maple Leafs memorabilia; a signed photo of John Sleaver.

Finally, the original photo with the proper caption:
Jan. 16, 1968 Providence Reds 4 at Vancouver Canucks 2
Players L to R
Tony Goegan, Ron Boehm, John Rodger, John Sleaver, Bruce Carmichael, Larry Mavety




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