Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Team Canada Number 1, 2 and 3

I was going to wait until tomorrow's announcement, but I may as well jump on the prediction bandwagon. My thought is that there is such depth in this country that Canada would probably be able to enter two or even three teams that could contend for a medal.

Firstly, my Team Canada.
Pretty straightforward, the only real question marks are Mike Green as the seventh defenseman and Toews as the 13th forward.

My team Canada number two includes quite a few that could very well be first teamers and in my opinion would be a very solid contender for a medal. The first two lines would be the best line on most Olympic squads save for Russia and Sweden. This defense core would have to be considered the second best defensive septet in the Olympics. Turco, Price and Mason are as fine a trio of goalies as most other countries could produce.

My Team Canada Two.

And now Team Canada Three.

A scattering of ex-Olympains on this squad and a fourth line of James Neal, Travis Zajac and Ryan Clowe would definitely cause some trouble. The defense drops off somewhat precipitously and the three goaltenders have a few questions, but there is no reason this squad couldn't beat some of the world's best squads.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Russia's Worst Ever Team

With the recent selection of the 2010 Olympic hockey team for Russia, I was looking back at Russian rosters of the past. Of course, the Russians have generally sent stacked teams to the Olympics, but their early 1990 teams would have to be considered their weakest. In my estimation the 1994 Olympic Games in Lillehammer, Norway was the site of the worst ever Russian hockey entry.

1994 was the first time Russia would finish out of the medals in fourth place. They were coming off a gold medal finish in 1992 at Albertville playing under the banner of the Unified Team. 1992 was by no stretch their best entry, in fact it was perhaps one of their weakest as well but it was infinitely superior to the '94 Russian squad.

Team Unified in 1992 featured future NHL stars Alexei Kovalev, Alexei Zhamnov, Darius Kasparaitis and Sergei Zubov. The also sported Canda Cup veterans Vyacheslav Bykov and Andrei Khomutov. In addition to this they had serviceable future NHLers Igor Kravchuk, Vladamir Malakhov, Dmitri Mironov, Nikolai Borchevsky, Dmitri Yushkevich and Alexei Zhitnik. In the net was Andrei Trefilov and Mikhail Shtalenkov who would play 54 and 190 NHL games respectively. Overall, hardly a stellar hockey team but enough to beat Canada 3-1 in the gold medal match. Canada was a relatively weak squad with really only an 18 year old Eric Lindros, Sean Burke, Joe Juneau, Dave Hannan and Dave Tippett as their "stars".

On to 1994 and the memorable Forsberg shootout winner for Sweden over Canada in the gold medal game. Russia that year made the 1992 Unified Team look like the Red Army. Their only recognizable future NHLers were Sergei Berezin, Andrei Nikolishin and if we really stretch it, Valeri Karpov who would play 76 rather uneventful games for Anaheim in the mid '90s and Pavel Torgayev, he of 55 career NHL games mainly with Calgary. One other future NHLer would be Alexei Kudashov on whom the Maple Leafs wasted a fifth round pick in 1991. Kudashov ended up playing 25 games for the Buds in 93/94 notching a single goal. He somewhat surprisingly is still playing in the KHL with Balashikha MVD HC...whatever that is.

During this era, (post Vladislav Tretiak) the Russians often had some rather non-descript goaltenders. Even in the best-on-best Canada Cup they would parade out the likes of Vladamir Myshkin and Evgeni Belosheikin. The presence of the aforementioned Trefilov and Shtalenkov as the main goalies during the 1991 Canada Cup, somewhat explains their putrid fifth place finish in that tourney. With pretty much the same team the Russians (Unified Team) would win the '92 Olympic gold further illustrating the lack of top notch calibre in the Olympic field in those days.

The 1994 Russian team however would die to have the names of Trefilov or Myshkin. The duties were shared by the dynamic duo of Andrey Zuyev and Valery Ivannikov. Perhaps with slightly better goaltending in '94, and more production from the likes of Oleg Shargorodsky, Aleksandr Vinogradov, Vyacheslav Bezukladnikov and Georgy Yevtyukhin the Russians would have finished higher than fouth. That brings to mind an old SCTV skit called "Hey Georgy" featuring John Candy....but I digress.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Hockey Behind the Iron Curtain

This weekend I picked up 1965 Hockey Illustrated Winter Annual magazine. As you can imagine, it is chock full of great articles but one I found very interesting and fits my Olympic only theme. In an article title “Hockey Intrigue Behind the Iron Curtain” the story is told of both Russia’s and Czechoslovakia’s rise to hockey powers.

Russia had just taken the 1964 Olympic Gold medal in Innsbruck, Austria winning their second Olympic hockey gold. Canada finished with a 5 and 2 record and in a three-way tie for second with the Czechs and Sweden. In a controversial decision, the Canadians were placed in fourth due to a lesser goals differential.

The Czechs had entered a team since 1920 and had won an Olympic silver in 1948. The Russians were still devoted to the ice game of bandy at this time. At these ’48 Games in St.Moritz, Switzerland the Russians sent observers with cameras to record the hockey action.

As told by former Czech hockey great, Josef Malecek in the article, “Later that same year the LTC team of Prague went to Moscow for some exhibition games. The Czech team went there with the best equipment purchased from the CCM company of Toronto. When they arrived in Moscow they watched the Russian team practice and laughed because that club wore almost all soccer equipment.” According to Malecek, the Czechs left their gloves, pads, protectors and sticks in a locker room overnight. “The next day, the Russians showed up on the ice with the same type of equipment the Czechs had. They had taken it from the locker room and had similar equipment made up in less than 24 hours. The films and this equipment…that’s the way Canadian hockey began in Russia.”

Of course by 1954, Russia competed in it’s first World Championship and won Gold. In 1956 in Cortina d’Ampezzo, Italy they captured their first Olympic gold.

Josef Malecek continues with a few more tales from behind the Iron curtain (Russia had occupied Czechoslovakia in 1948). He describes what can happen to an athlete who stands up to the communist party line in an incident involving Czech National team goalie, Boza Modry. “Modry was the best goalie in Europe, the Czechs had just won the World title and this was excellent propaganda for the communists. Modry did not want to be part of this. He told them he was retiring from the game. They insisted that he continue, but he refused. A little while later, he was arrested by the secret police and sent to a uranium mine.”

Malecek continues, “Another time, nine players from the national team were in a restaurant and they talked against the Communists. They were overheard by a member of the secret police and arrested. They each spent about six years in prison. This was the nucleus of the national team, so for four years after that Czechoslovakia did not send a team to any international tournaments.” Upon looking up the records, it is true that the Czechs did not participate in either the 1950 or 1951 World Championships.

Joseh Malecek is considered hockey’s first 1000 goal scorer, as illustrated by Patrick Houda in the 2006 Society for International Hockey Research journal. According to Houda, Malecek tallied 1,151 goals in 531 chronicled games, including 151 career hat-tricks. Nowadays we may forget the harsh beginnings of these two hockey superpowers under the control of Communism. One thing for certain the rest of the hockey world no longer laughs at the Russians.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Canada's Hockey Boycott

Canada, home of hockey, did not send a hockey squad to either the 1972 or 1976 Winter Games. As well they boycotted the World Championships up until 1977.
Canada was awarded host country honours for the 1970 World Champioships for the first time ever. The tournament would be held in Montreal and Winnipeg and the newly formed Hockey Canada felt it was the opportunity to address the issue of amatuerism with the IIHF. Canada wanted the Championships and Olympics open to all players, professional or not.

The IIHF agreed to allow nine non-NHL professionals to compete for each team. The first test of this was the Isvestia tournament in Moscow in December 1969. Although Canada used only five minor league pros, they still managed a close second place finish. This prompted the IIHF to hold an emergency meeting immediately after the tourney, and president Avery Brundage went back on the original terms and announced that any professional players at any level not be eligible to compete at the Olympics. This of course did not please Hockey Canada.

The contention was that for all intents and purposes, players of the Soviet Union were professionals. They were amateurs in name only in the eyes of Canadian hockey officials. One day after the IIHF's backtracking, Canada decided to withdraw from international competion and would decline hosting the 1970 Worlds. In reality, Canada's pure amateurs were in fact still very good players, but by the early 70's they clearly were not the best amateurs if the Soviets were included in the mix. Of course when the best-on-best was played for the first time in 1972, Canada just barely beat the Soviets (albeit without Orr and Hull).

Canada would continue the boycott through the 1972 and 1976 Olympics. In '76 however, they were joined in protest by Sweden, Norway and East Germany. In response, the IIHF announced that beginning with the 1977 World Championships, professionals would be allowed. Canada immediately agreed to compete the following year. Still the International Olympic Comittee held their ground and only allowed "amateurs" to compete.

The IIHF may have relented on the amateur rules but they did not make it easy on Canada as the World Championships were held at the end of April when the NHL (and it's predominance of Canadians) were still in the playoffs. This meant of course that many of the best players were still involved with their pro teams. On top of this, the IIHF refused to allow players to play without helmets which proved to be another disadvantage for Canada.

The first re-entry into world competetion for Canada was a fine team of NHL'ers including Phil and Tony Esposito, Pierre Larouche, Wilf Paiement, Jean Pronovost and Summit Series veterans Ron Ellis and Rod Gilbert. However, there was nobody on the team that finished higher than 12th in NHL scoring in 1976/77 and Ron Ellis had was just coming off his second season of retirement. This squad would go 6-3-1 overall and finish fourth behind the Czechs, Sweden and Russia. Canada actually ended up playing gold medalist Czechoslovakia to a 3-3 tie and beat them 8-2 and also went 1-1 against Sweden, however they were lit up by the Soviets 8-1 and 11-1 knocking them out of the top three.

It is interesting to wonder if in fact Canada would have won more medals in the Worlds or Olympics if the ridiculous amateur status rules were abolished far earlier. Perhaps we wouldn't have had to wait until 2002 for a return to the gold medal podium in hockey.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Full Olympic Mode

For most, the holiday season is in full swing and I am no exception. This year however there is an extra excitement in the air for me. There is sure to be no post Christmas let down in my house as January will mark mere weeks from the start of the Vancouver Winter Olympics. Living a 10 minute ferry ride across the Burrard Inlet in North Vancouver, I am planning to be as involved as possible in the Games.
Yesterday I picked up my ticket package from the local Purolator Courier office, an ordeal that included over a thirty minute wait in line. With the tickets being so valuable, Vanoc stipulated that a signiture was required upon receipt. Like most others, I was at work when the courier initially attempted delivery. This resulted in a 20 to 30 person lineup at the courier office, all day long Saturday. Oh well, I simply chalked this up to my first of many long line-ups during the Games.
Anyway, with tickets in hand (a generic one is pictured above, they're quite nice looking), and my extra bedroom booked by out of town friends and relatives, everything is ready for the fun to begin.
It turns out I may also have a chance to volunteer at the Molson Hockey House in downtown Vancouver. Last month I let my feelings be known about the exhorbitant $500 price for a daily pass, but that didn't stop me from putting my email in for possible volunteering.
I received an email from them this past Friday, and filled out the subsequent form...we'll see what happens. I'd never pay that kind of money to get into the place, but I'd definitely help out if it means rubbing shoulders with some of hockey's elite.
Hence, with all this Olympic excitement, I am going to attempt to write only about Olympic related matters (whether current or historical) up until the end of the Games. This should be no problem at all, and I'll probably start with a look at Canada's withdrawl from international competetion in 1970 due to a dispute with the IIHF. Or maybe I'll take a look at Team Canada 1988 the first and last home team for Canada. Or I could do another preview of team selections for 2010.....stay tuned.

Monday, December 7, 2009

1906 Hockey Photo

This is one of the latest additions to my hockey den. It's a vintage photograph of a turn-of-the-century hockey team. The sign in the photo reads "Victorias Town Champions, 1906" and on the border matting is the name Shomakers, Petrolia Ontario.
It's fairly safe to say this is a team from Victoria, BC or simply a team from somewhere else in the country named "Victorias" as was the custom in honour of the lengthy reign of Queen Victoria.

I have checked online for hockey history of both Victoria and Petrolia (incidentally, home of the NHL playing Hunter brothers) and find no records of hockey leagues in 1906. This may be one of the rare times where I'm stumped as to an origin of an item or story. Maybe I'll contact the BC Sports Hall of Fame....

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Summit Series 1954?

I recently picked up a copy of the 1986 biography of Francis “King” Clancy by author Anne Logan. It’s chock full of great anecdotes about one of the all-time greats. One of these stories stood out as a new oneto me. Apparently, the Toronto Maple Leafs just about went to Moscow after the 1953/54 season to play the Soviets. This of course would have pre-dated the famous Summit Series by almost twenty years, alas it never did come to pass.
The Leafs would finish third that year in King Clancy’s first season as coach with a 32-24-14 record, ten points behind eventual Cup champs Detroit. It appears that in early March of 1954 there was a cable sent by the Chairman of the Board of the Gardens to the Soviet ambassador in Ottawa;
“The Toronto Maple Leaf Hockey Club is prepared to play Russian hockey teams in Moscow, early in May. Particularly Moscow Dynamos who have recently won the world championship….part of a European tour to promote international goodwill and would give U.S.S.R. an opportunity to see Canadian hockey at it’s best.”

The impetus of this “challenge” is thought to be a game that took place a few days prior in the world hockey championships. The Senior B club, East York Lyndhursts were trounced by the Soviets in the final game by a 7-2 score. This was the Soviets first time entering the World Tournament having begun focus on ice hockey only in 1946. A group of prominent sports-minded Torontonians formed a committee to raise money to send a professional squad to Russia. Mayor Allan Lamport stated, “A tour by the Leafs could clear up a lot of false impressions about Canadian hockey.” The Leaf players themselves were willing to go along, but the majority were concerned that they would not be paid and receive only expenses. This was the age when most players held down summer jobs to supplement their hockey income and a month unpaid in Russia would cut into their yearly earnings.

Leading scorer Tod Sloan said that he “would never go to Russia alone, but would be happy to have a chance to see the Soviet as a member of a hockey team.”
Right-wing, Eric Nesterenko of Ukrainian background was the most enthused by the proposed trip, “I have a pretty good idea of things behind the Iron Curtain from talking to people who came out of there. But I would like to see it for myself so I can tell people in Canada from personal experience.”
Alas, within a few days, the series was called off. The Toronto Telegram headline of March 9, 1954 proclaimed: “NO ICE, NO DICE, RUSS GAME IS OFF.” In 1954 there was no artificial ice in Moscow, and by the time the Leafs would get there in early May any outdoor ice rinks would have melted away.

It is interesting to wonder what in fact would have happened if the proposed series actually had come to pass. The Leafs of 1953/54 were the best defensive squad in the NHL, led by Vezina Trophy winner Harry Lumley. He had played all but one game that season, posting a 1.86 average and 13 shutouts. Leading scorer Tod Sloan with his 43 points finished 13th in league scoring while goal leader Sid Smith and his 22 goals were 7th overall. Other stars on that year’s squad were Ted Kennedy, George Armstrong and a 24 year old Tim Horton.
The world champion Soviets were led by Vsevolod Bobrov who was one of the all-time Russian greats and would later coach them in the ’72 Summit Series. Bobrov was voted top forward of the 1954 tourney scoring 8 goals and would score an amazing 94 goals in 59 career international games. On top of that, he notched 254 career goals in 130 Russian Elite league games.
Centre, Viktor Shuvalov tallied two goals against Canada and seven overall in the ’54 Worlds. He also scored 40 goals in 51 career international matches. Alexey Guryshev was another top player and would score 379 goals in 300 Russian League games including five in the ’54 championships.

The Russians were certainly a fine team, but a lot of these great numbers were put up against weaker European competition. The Leafs in the Spring of 1954 were certainly one of the top teams in the world and were infinitely superior to the East York Lyndhursts. We’ll never know if in fact if the Leafs would have gained revenge for Canada or if the Russians would have taken another step forward to world hockey dominance, but it is interesting to speculate.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Goals since All-Star Break

I have heard alot of talk this week about how Steve Stamkos is on such a torrid pace since the end of last season. I decided to look at the goal leaders simce last season's all-star break, approximately three quarters of a season of games.
These stats are as of Nov 25.
Stamkos does actually rate quite high with 32 goals in his last 55 games behind the usual suspects, Ovechkin, Kovalchuk and Heatley and tied with Jarome Iginla, another proven scorer. In fact, of the 18 names on the list, 10 are 25 years of age or younger and all but one are 30 or under. Only the somewhat surprising Jason Arnott is older than 35.
The one number that really jumps out is Marian Gaborik's games played in the time in question. He has fired his 28 goals since the break in a mere 32 games for a Goals/Game rate of 0.875 better even than Ovechkin's 0.804 and Kovalchuk's 0.800. A Goals/GP rate of 0.800 translates to a 65 goal pace for an entire season. There have been three 65 goal scorers in one season twice before; 1988/89 (Yzerman, Nicholls, Lemieux) and 1992/93 (Selanne, Mogilny, Lemieux).
I'm not saying it's going to happen again this season, but it would appear that the NHL is in another new era of the sniper and Stamkos is definitely part of the movement.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Meeting The Pocket Rocket

This past weekend, I had a nice surprise at the grocery store. On Saturday morning I popped into my local Sav-On Foods to pick up some capocoli and provolone and low and behold, there sitting at a table at the end of the dairy aisle was Hockey Hall of Famer Henri Richard. He and fellow ex-Montreal Canadien Yvon Lambert were in town for that evenings' Vancouver Giants game and were signing free autographs in the store.

Now, I am far from a Habs fan, but I can appreciate and respect the presence of fifteen Stanley Cup rings in front of me. (not actually all the rings were there, but Lambert did have two of his four rings on his fingers). Henri Richard, the man who has won the most Cups as a player in history was not wearing any of his eleven rings. Both gentleman were cordial as I tried some of my grade 12 French. I told Henri it was a pleasure to meet a winner of "onze Coupe de Stanley".

I was somewhat surprised when I checked Yvon Lambert's stats later and saw he had back-to-back seasons of 32 goals. He was a valuable member of four straight Cup winners and was a team mate of Richard's in his first two seasons. In the consecutive 32 goal years (74/75 & 75/76) he also tallied 35 assists each season as well as playing in 80 games in each. His plus/minus rating did drop from 26 to 10 and his penalty minutes from 74 to 28. I'd like to say these are the two most similar consecutive seasons for any player in history, but confirming that one may take a while.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Corey Schwab and Winless Seasons

My last post dealt with the greatest backup goalies of all-time. In looking at the stats, I found out that the one and only Corey Schwab posted the lowest single season goals against average by a goalie playing in a minimum of ten games since the 1920’s. In 2002/03 he had a 1.47 GAA in 11 games. I found another even more obscure stat about Schwab.
It seems he had the greatest WINLESS season in NHL history. Schwab produced the best season ever among goalies that did not collect a win while playing at least ten games. In 1995/96 he had a 2.18 average over 10 official games with a 0-3-0 record. He did however play only 331 total minutes over those 10 appearances so honourable mention for best winless season ever goes to Jamie Storr. In 2003/04 with Carolina, Storr went 0-8-2 with a 2.91 GAA while playing 660 minutes. It’s quite difficult keep a respectable average when you lose pretty much every game.

Case in point would be Michel Belhumeur of the expansion Washington Capitals in 74/75. He produced an atrocious 0-24-3 record along with the expected 5.36 GAA. He was bested (worst-ed?) in the average category by Winnipeg’s Lindsay Middlebrook in 1980/81 who in his winless season of 0-9-3 slapped together a tidy 5.97 average.

The winless goalie discussion would not be complete without looking at Kevin Weekes. Over his first two seasons in 97/97 and 98/99 with Florida and Vancouver he played eleven games each year without recording a win. He went 0-5-1 and 0-8-1 while having an average under 4.00 each year. He would turn the corner in 99/00 with 16-27-8 record with a 3.23 average. Hey, you gotta start somewhere.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Best of the Backup Goalies

Last week, on the way to hockey, my pal Geoff (he did the great painting above of Bunny Larocque years ago in art school) and I were discussing great backup goalies of all time. I figured I’d try to dig up some numbers on some of the all-time best second string goalies. I determined a back-up as a goalie playing less than 30 games behind a legitimate number one goalie that played the remainder of the time. In other words, if a team has an even split between two or even three goalies, none of them are considered a backup.

1950’s and 60’s
The practice of periodically giving the starting goaltender a rest didn’t really come into fashion until the middle 1960’s. There were instances in which a team would simply split the games between two goalie’s only because neither was quite ready or talented enough for the solo role. The 5th place Boston Bruins of 1959/60 would be an example of this with Harry Lumley playing 42 games to Don Simmons’ 28. As well that year, the last place Rangers used Gump Worsley in 39 games, Marcel Paille in 17, Al Rollins in 10 and two others in 5 more simply because nobody could quite get the job done. In ‘58/59 the Maple Leafs basically rotated a young (for him) Johnny Bower and Ed Chadwick in 39 and 31 games respectively.
If anyone from this era could be considered the first real backup goalie, perhaps it was Hank Bassen who would yo-yo between the minors and the NHL for a decade and a half, mainly with the Red Wings. He was the backup to Al Rollins on Chicago in the mid-50’s , Terry Sawchuk in the 60’s and finally to Les Binkley for the expansion Pittsburgh Penguins on 67/68.
Roger Crozier would backup Sawchuk in 63/64 as one of the other first true second stringers, before taking over as lone starter the following season. Ten years later, he would have one of the greatest seasons ever for a backup going 17-2-1 for the Sabres in helping them to the Stanley Cup Finals. Perhaps we can even consider Jacques Plante as one of the first backups as he played 17 games behind Gerry McNeil for the 53/54 Habs. He would record five shutouts in those 17 games and sport a dazzling 1.59 average, proving he was ready to take the ball by himself.

The first name we came up with in discussing backups was Michel “Bunny” Larocque who had a great run in the 70’s behind Ken Dryden. Larocque had five consecutive seasons from 1973/73 to 77/78 in which he played between 22 and 30 games. Over those last three years his record was 16-1-3, 19-2-4 and 22-3-4 for a truely remarkable total of 47-6-11. This .820 winning percentage was often padded against the weaker teams in the league and by the fact that he had one of the greatest teams in history in front of him.
Another terrific second-stringer of that era was Philadelphia’s Wayne Stephenson who also filled in admirably in 1975/76, playing 66 games when Bernie Parent was felled by a back injury in training camp. As a backup, (and a starter that one year) Stephenson’s GAA never rose above 2.75.
The Bruins of the mid-70’s may have had the best and truest second-string goalie in NHL history. Ross Brooks was signed as a free-agent by Boston in 1971 after more than a decade of toiling in the Eastern and American hockey leagues. In truth he had a below .500 record throughout his minor league career with a goals against of over 4.00. This of course all changed playing behind one of the highest scoring teams of all-time. Starting in 1972/73 at the age of 35, Brooks posted consecutive years of 11-1-3, 16-3-0 and 10-3-3 with GAA’s between 2.36 and 2.98. He, like Larocque was often used against the weaker teams in the circuit.
In fact, Ross Brooks has a career winning percentage of .800, the highest career percentage in NHL history among goalies with more than fifty games played. He is well ahead of Ken Dryden’s .758 (of course done over 397 games), Martin Prusek (!?) at .702 in 57 games and Gerry Cheevers at .658 as the only four ‘tenders over .650 for their careers. Martin Brodeur has only a .632 percentage in 9th place, Bill Durnan .626 in 12th, Andy Moog .622 in 16th and Patrick Roy .618 in 19th position. Did you know that Vesa Toskala and George Hainsworth have the same career winning percentage of .609? Neither did I…But I digress. Back to the back-ups.
Ernie Wakely, Gerry Desjardins, Gary Edwards, Michel Plasse and Chico Resch all performed admirably as backups in the 70’s, but none as consistent or brilliant over a three year period as Ross Brooks or Michel Larocque.

Some of the great backups of the 80’s were Bob Froese, Rick St.Croix, Doug Keans, Doug Soetart, Richard Sevigny, Steve Baker and Steve Weeks. One backup of the 1980’s however managed to lead the entire league in Save Percentage for a season. Chicago’s Warren Skorodenski posted a .903 pct in 84/85 besting the likes of Pelle Lindbergh, Andy Moog, Mike Liut and his team’s number one goalie Murray Bannerman. Of course he played only 27 games, but that was enough to officially qualify for the title and earn yourself an O-Pee-Chee Leaders card the following season.
He would play in only 8 other games in his whole NHL career over 4 different seasons, talk about catching lightning in a bottle.

1990’s to current
One of the most consistent second stringers of the 1990s was Craig Billington who performed the role behind the likes of Bill Ranford, Patrick Roy and Olaf Kolzig. He had eleven different years in which he played between 12 and 27 games, the most of these so-called "backup seasons" of all time.
Jamie McLennan proved to be a solid backup for six different teams posting a 2.68 GAA over 254 career games. He never played more than 38 games in a season, and that was in the Minnesota Wild’s inaugural season when he went 5-23-9. He split time that season with Manny Fernandez who managed to have an over .500 record. McLennan would revert to a straight backup role for the final four years of his career.
Perhaps one of the truest backups ever was Jeff Reese who never started more than 30 games in a year. He milked 174 games out of his career and in 92/93 with Calgary went 14-4-1 and also set the record for points by a goalie in one game with three assists. Not a bad season.

In 2002/03 Corey Schwab posted the lowest goals against average of any goalie playing at least ten games since the late 1920’s. Backing up Martin Brodeur on the way to a Stanley Cup win he had a 1.47 goals against average. He even got into two playoff games, allowing no goals in 28 minutes. His career wrapped up the following year with three games for Toronto in which he had a 0.64 GAA. Overall in his last two seasons Schwab would play 801 minutes in the backup role and allow a mere 17 goals for a 1.27 average, talk about finishing strong.

The aforementioned Martin Prusek had two stellar years for Ottawa in 02/03 and 03/04. Backing up Patrick Lalime he went a combined 28-8-4 with a 2.22 average. David Aebischer had three nice years in Colorado before Patrick Roy retired leaving the job to him. His 13-6-0 with a 1.88 GAA in 01/02 is one of the better recent backup years.

The likes of Prusek, Aebischer, Schwab, Billington, Bob Froese and Roger Crozier et al had some nice seasons as backups but cannot compete with the numbers put forward by Ross Brooks of the Bruins and 'Bunny' Larocque. I feel the nod would have to go to 'Bunny' simply for length and quality of his backup tenure as well as the Cup wins he contributed to. Here are my top five backup goalies of all-time.

1. Michel Larocque

2. Ross Brooks

3. Jamie McLennan

4. Craig Billington

5. Jeff Reese

Monday, November 2, 2009

Tim Horton and some weird stats

Sometimes I’ll notice something statistically that just seems rare or out of place. The dictionary calls this an anomaly; “a deviation from the common rule and an odd, peculiar, or strange condition, situation, quality.” I love finding these little quirks in hockey history. Thanks to the great sites, hockeydb.com and hockey-reference.com I can then go delve further into these anomalies.
I don’t know why, but I was just looking at Tim Horton’s career numbers and noticed he once finished third in the NHL in game winning goals with seven of them in 1963/64. Now, we all know Tim Horton was not known for his goal scoring having topped ten in a year only three times in 22 full seasons. In fact he scored 115 goals total. The game winning goal stat was not officially kept until the same season of Horton’s third place finish behind Boom Boom Geoffrion (9) and Ken Wharram (8). From this year onward, Horton would score only 16 GWG’s in eleven seasons with seven of them in 63/64. This seemed like what I would be considered an anomaly. After a few clicks, I found out it was quite strange, very close to being unique.
Horton’s 7 winners out of 9 total goals represents 78% of his total. Amongst players with that many game-winners in one season, this is in fact the top percentage ever. However, if we lower the GWG number to five for the year we find Horton’s rate barely beaten. In 2000/01, Scott Niedermayer tallied five winners among his six total goals for an 83% rate. Kelly Buchberger in 94/95 and David Legwand in 05/06 each scored five game winners of their seven total for 71%. Of course none of these other players were as close to leading the league as Horton. As well, in 1963/64, Horton and the Leafs won the Cup and the entire team autographed a hockey stick that I now have hanging in Nitzy’s Hockey Den. Coincidence?

Speaking of noticing surprising tidbits, here are a few career numbers that made me look twice. Let me know if you realized all these numbers were fact.
The aforementioned Kelly Buchberger played in a total of 1182 NHL games, one more than Frank Mahovlich. Marc Bergevin played in 1192 career games and Radek Bonk played 969 games. If was to guess before I checked, I would have said about six or seven hundred for each. The much-maligned Alexei Kovalev currently has 946 points, did you realize it was that high? Also, Brian Rolston now has 303 goals in the NHL, I would have guessed maybe 200. Were you aware that Rod Brind’Amour now has 725 career ASSISTS a mere 10 behind re-knowned playmaker Doug Weight.
Adam Oates scored 45 goals in 1992/93, a fact that escaped my memory. Hall of Famer Bernie Federko has a career plus/minus rating of MINUS 132. Gilbert Perreault had a -39 rating as a rookie in 1970/71 and a -40 the next year. Phil Esposito was a -40 the year he was traded from Boston to the Rangers. Peter Stastny was once a -46 (89/90) including -45 in 62 games with the Nords before going to the Devils. Also, he was a career minus at -12 (sorry Bidzy). Over the last eight years of his career, Wayne Gretzky checked in with a total -76 rating. Reggie Leach was a -61 with the California Golden Seals in 1973/74 then was traded to Philly the next year were he posted a +53. This has to be the largest turn-around from one year to another in history. I’ll have to get back to you on that one.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Team Russia 2010

Yeah, yeah... I know they're not the Soviets anymore, I just love the iconic jersey they wore back in the day. Anyway, here is Nitzy's Hockey Den's choices for the 2010 Rusian Olympic squad. Click the chart below to open it larger.

I tried to use guys who are eligible for the Russians (pretty sure Antropov, Ponikarovsky and others are ineligible), and I "e-scouted" the Kontinental League to see who may help round out the squad. Feel free to add or argue any picks I have made.
Anyway you look at it, it's quite a team. They will definitely be one of the favourites (along with Canada) going into the games. The Russians are absolutely stacked on Left Wing but not so much at the other forward spots. At center, after Malkin and Datsyuk are slotted one and two, the quality drops off. I went to the KHL for enigmatic Alexei Yashin who is having a fine season for St.Petersburg. Sergei Fedorov, playing for Magnitogorsk likewise would make a nice fourth-line center. I have added New York Ranger Artem Anisimov as the thirteenth forward over the likes of Maxim Afinogenov and Stanislav Chistov who has 19 points in 20 games for the Mettalurg.
The right side is the weakest of the Russians forward positions with Alexei Kovalev leading the way. Alexander Radulov of Ufa Salavat is battling Yashin for second place in KHL scoring (behind Swede Mattias Weinhandl, who should make Team Sweden) and slots in as number two right winger. Another ex-NHLer Alexei Morozov who is having a fine year with Kazan Ak-Bars should make Team Russia. The fourth RW went to hulking Evgeny Artukhin of Anahiem which gives the Russians some much needed size.
The defense is definitely hurt by the loss of Andrei Markov who for my purposes I will assume is not going to be ready for the Olympics. If he is back in time, this team obviously gets much improved. Often injured Sergei Gonchar will lead the offense from the back end along with Sergei Zubov who is having a great year with KHL's St.Petersburg. Two other KHLers, Dmitri Kalinin and Anton Babchuk round out a rather non-descript defense core, although Edmonton's Denis Grebeshkov seems to be having a breakout year.
In goal the Russians have their pick of three Western Conference tenders in Nabokov, Khabibulin and the surprising Bryzgalov. They may opt to take Semyon Varlamov as well.
All in all, this is one fine offensive machine. A powerplay with Ovechkin, Malkin, Kovalchuk and the likes will be the most frightening of the Olympics. If this team gets the goaltending, it very well could walk away with a gold medal.

Monday, October 26, 2009

NHL Teenagers

A lot has been written about this season’s terrific crop of teenagers in the NHL. There does seem to be an inordinate amount under twenty year olds excelling so far. From Steven Stamkos, John Tavares, Michael Del Zotto and Viktor Hedman to Matt Duchene and Evander Kane there are a total of 14 teenagers currently skating in the league. If none of them are sent back to their junior squads as we approach the ten game mark, this could be the largest group of NHL teenagers over the last ten seasons. It will be far from the highest number of sub twenty year olds in league history.

There were also fourteen teenagers that played at least twenty games in 1999/00 led by Vinny Lecavalier, Simon Gagne, Tim Connolly and Nik Antropov. These four players were in fact the only four of the fourteen that notched at least 30 points (Connolly and Antropov just barely). The current season’s crop definitely has the chance to have far more players with at least 30 points.

The 1995/96 crop of NHL teens was the highest since 1986 and numbered 17 but it’s quality seems to have been lower than the two discussed already as Ryan Smyth and Shane Doan were the only two semi-stars produced. The six year period between 1980/81 and 1985/86 however, was a golden age for teenage NHL’ers as each season produced at the very least 15 of them. The peak was 1984/85 when twenty-four teens played at least 20 games. Mario Lemieux, Steve Yzerman, Pat LaFontaine and Cam Neely were the cream of the 84/85 teen crop. Joining these four that season was Tom Barrasso, Kirk Muller, Ed Olczyk, Russ Courtnall, Al Iafrate and Peter Zezel. A truly exceptional group of teenagers for one season that is more impressive considering there were 21 teams compared to the 30 of today.

This spike in the early 1980’s was a definite anomaly as those levels of youthful players have not been matched before or since. Prior to 1980 the most teenagers in one NHL year was 1974/75 with nine, headed by the French trio of Pierre Larouche, Wilf Paiement and Mario Tremblay.

During World War II, the shortage of players in the league prompted a rise in teenagers in the league. There were seven teens used in 1942/43 and seven more used in 43/44. The extreme of this practice of using teenagers occurred in November of 1942 when “Bep” Guidolin suited up as a 16 year old for the Boston Bruins. He would tally a very respectable 22 points in 42 games that year. As well, in 43/44 Ted Kennedy debuted with Toronto as a 17 year old and scored 49 points in 49 games.

Overall, this year’s contingent of teenage NHL’ers may not be the largest ever or the greatest ever (although time will tell), but there is a definite resurgence in the use of youngsters throughout the NHL.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Maple Leafs in Vancouver

The Leafs visit GM Place this Saturday, and I will be there watching. Since moving to Vancouver in 1994 I have been to probably two-thirds of the games when my Leafs visit. I must say, it`s always an exciting atmosphere when the hated Leafs come to town.
The first game I went to was perhaps the most heart-breaking for me as it was the game that ended any Stanley Cup hopes of the Leafs in 1994. May 24, 1994 was the date that Greg Adams scored the overtime winner against Felix Potvin to send the Nucks to the finals aginst the Rangers.

Since that game, the Leafs have visited Vancouver 21 times and somewhat surprisingly, Toronto has a record of 10-7-4 even thought Vancouver has outscored them 79-74.
It seems that when the Canucks do beat the Leafs at GM Place, it`s usually by a large margin which makes my viewing experience all the less pleasurable. Vancouver has won by scores of 7-3, 4-1, 5-2 and 6-1 and has won the last two meetings at home by 4-3 and 4-2 scores. When the Leafs win here in Van City it`s most often a close contest. After a 6-2 win in March of 1996, all nine wins since have been by two goals or less (7 of the wins are one goal margins).
It used to be that the Buds would make two trips out to the coast every season, but thanks to Gary and his unbalanced schedule that hasn`t happened for six seasons. I was a little shocked to realize that this week`s game will be only the third trip here since November of 2003.

Anyway, I shall be there this weekend in my full Leaf regalia sitting beside my friend who is a Canuck fan. As I said, its usually an interesting night, either way the game goes.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Toronto Maple Leafs...not so good.

My Maple Leafs are not a very good hockey club.

There, that feels good. Once in a while the truth has to be acknowledged.
The problem facing me is that this aforementioned truth has plagued me throughout my life on far too many occasions. In other words, the team which have I followed and embraced since the 1970’s has more often than not been a not very good hockey club.
To quote Yogi Berra, the current edition of The Maple Leaf Hockey Club of Toronto feels like “déjà vu all over again”.

A recent addition to the actual Nitzy’s Hockey Den is a hockey preview magazine for the 1982/83 season and the summation of the Leafs upcoming year back then is eerily similar to their current state of affairs. I will quote the comments from the nearly thirty year old magazine and compare them to today.

The Leafs of autumn 1982 were coming off a season in which they missed the playoffs by a wide margin and had allowed the most goals against in the league, exactly the same way they entered this year. In 81/82 they had also placed 17 out of 21 teams in goals for although their 298 goals would have led the NHL in 2008/09. Apples and oranges though. At least last season they managed to finish 10th out of 30 teams in scoring. In ’82 they were a team much like now that had recently ‘cleaned house’ of older established talent. Gone were Sittler, Paiement, Rene Robert, Dan Maloney, Don Luce and Ian Turnbull all were 28 or older except for Paiement at 26. The current version has purged older talent as well with Sundin, Antropov, Kubina and Moore all at least 28 years old having been sent packing.

This lack of proven scoring prompted the following analysis in the 1982/83 preview, “the Leafs can also use an extra dash of firepower if improvement is on the horizon….only two men, Rick Vaive and Bill Derlago, bettered 80 points.” Of course, in 08/09 not one Leaf cracked even the 65 point plateau, awful. So, going into 1982/83, they had one proven sniper in 22 year old Rick Vaive much as today they have one in 22 year old Phil Kessel. The second tier scoring of Derlago, John Anderson, Miroslav Frycer and Rocky Saginiuk was all between the ages of 23 and 26 much like today’s supporting cast of Stajan, Ponikarovsky, Grabovski, Mitchell and Stempniak (aged between 26 and 29). The anomaly on today’s team would be Jason Blake at age 35 although the Leafs of ’82 had a 31 year old Billy Harris patrolling the right side.
The old squad had a similar situation with today’s influx of new talent via the college free agent route although the new talent in 1982 came via Europe. Today’s addition of Viktor Stalberg, Tyler Bozak and Christian Hanson by way of a relatively new source (college free agents) is similar to the ’82 squad taking gambles on Peter and Miroslav Ihnacak and Vladimir Ruzicka. Peter actually panned out quite nicely, his brother would not defect for another three years and frankly should have stayed home. The fourth round draft pick from ’82, Ruzicka would never play for Toronto and be traded seven years later to the Oilers.

On the defensive side the great similarity is the fact that each version of the Leafs had a defense core anchored by a European veteran and each team had a highly drafted Western League stud to pin the future upon. Borje Salming was 31 in 1982/83 and would put up 45 points in 69 games, similarly today’s Leafs are led by 31 year old Tomas Kaberle. To quote the magazine, “the Leafs reached out to draft a blue chip rearguard in the ’82 Entry Draft, and came a way with highly rated Gary Nylund, a potential superstar. Nylund comes off a flashy junior career with the Portland Winterhawks…and will certainly move right into a regular job.” Sound a bit like the hype surrounding Luke Schenn? I just hope Schenn’s career doesn’t parallel Nylund’s who would retire before the age of 30 with devastating knee problems. Gaston Gingras would be brought in from Montreal in December and provided what newly acquired Francois Beauchemin is supposed to provide, secondary blue line scoring.
In the goaltending department originally the ’82 squad was to be lead by an experienced goaltender who had spent most of his career as a capable back-up goalie (Michel Laroque) and by a young flashy goaltender (Vincent Tremblay). Vesa Toskala and Jonas Gustavsson fill these two roles quite well. Of course in mid-September of 1982, Toronto brought back into the fold a past fan favourite on his last legs in Mike Palmateer who would play over 50 games that season. If injuries to Toskala and ‘The Monster’ continue, could a return of Curtis Joseph be the final parallel to the 1982 squad? I sure hope not. In the end, 1982/83 would prove to be another fruitless year for my Buds as they snuck into the playoffs with 68 points in the weak Norris division only to lose to Minnesota in the first round. However, right about now, I would probably take a result similar to that this season.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Molson Hockey House...Joke

I had heard about plans for an Olympic hockey pavillion near GM Place a few months ago and naturally was very intersted in the concept. I actually am lucky enough to have some tickets to Olympic events including the Canada vs Switzerland mens game. I figured it would be great to hang out as close as could get to the games for a few of the days when I don't have tickets. Even if it costs 50 bucks or so to get into this hockey pavillion with it's giant screens, it would be worth it to be part of the Olympic environment.

Then, a few days ago Molson and Hockey Canada unveiled the plans for "Hockey House". Well, were my plans ever shot down....

Sure there's 40 foot screens and nightly entertainment, plus the admission includes all you can eat and drink, but come on...500 bucks? A bit much no? Let's do the math here, the Hockey House will be open daily from 11am to 2am. If I was going to be charged $500, I would arrive at 11:01am and eat three full meals, and perhaps drink a beer an hour (even though Molson Canadian is far from a good beer). Let's say twelve beers at eight bucks each, $96, three meals plus snacking all day for maybe $100. That plus my initial expectation of say $50 to get in the place and we're looking at $250 for the entire day. Of course this is considering a 15 hour day of event watching, and I can say right now, that's about seven or eight hours more than I would take or my wife would allow.

But wait, if I were to time my five hour visit correctly, on top of watching hockey on TV, I could catch the comedy stylings of Sean Cullen or Brent Butt and maybe even see some Barenaked Ladies, Gowan or Glass Tiger. Amazingly these endeavours add nothing in value to the ticket price for me.

So, what would I propose? I'd be happy to pay up to fifty bucks to get into an event like this without the "entertainment" or food and booze included. Then I could hopefully purchase a "good" beer at my own pace and desire. I wouldn't mind spending a hundred bucks inside the pavillion. The organizers of the event have admitted the prices may be "flexible," based on the response. Sadly, I know they won't come down to a level at which I will attend. It's a shame, and perhaps I shouldn't be surprised that the Olympics will be geared more toward the corporate attendees as opposed to the real hockey and sports fans.

Team Canada Darkhorse Possibilities

Each and every Olympics there is a huge debate as to who will represent Canada on the hockey squad. Usually, once the rosters are finalized, there is one or two players that make you wonder about their merit. We can call these players darkhorses that weren’t quite on the radar throughout the orientation and evaluation process.
In 1998 Rob Zaumner made the squad and could very well be described as the longest of long shots to have made a Team Canada. Also in ’98, Trevor Linden and Shayne Corson made the cut when perhaps others should have. These two were having sub-par seasons even by their standards, and Linden’s 1997/98 season really was awful, sporting a -14 rating and getting traded to the Islanders.
The 2002 Olympic squad really didn’t have any darkhorse picks on the roster other than perhaps Eric Brewer and Mike Peca, but Peca was in the midst of a career season and won the Selke Trophy that season. Perhaps this is a reason Canada won the gold that year, not a lot of gamble picks.

2006 on the other hand had a few somewhat questionable selections in Kris Draper and Bryan McCabe. Draper was 35 at the time and was basically being rewarded for a career year the season before, McCabe had really had only one full good year prior to the Olympics and probably should not have been on the squad.

On that note, I will present a few players that I think may be darkhorse candidates for selection to the 2010 team with apologies to Marc Savard who simply has too many talented centremen in front of him on the depth chart.

1. Paul Kariya LW I truly believe Kariya has a legitimate shot to make the squad if he stays healthy. If his play on opening weekend with a much improved Blues team is any indication, then he is back to prime form. Remember he has missed almost two full seasons in his NHL career, so in actuality has the wear and tear of a 33 year old, not 35. There is a definite need for wingers and his experience would be an asset. The fact that he’s a hometown boy doesn’t hurt either.

2. Alex Burrows LW Yzerman did state last year that Burrows was “on their radar”, not enough to get an invite to orientation camp however. If he shows that last year was not a fluke, there may very well be a role for him on the squad.

3. Brian Campbell D Sure he didn’t have the greatest season last year, but if the likes of Mike Green, Dan Boyle or Drew Doughty have slow starts to this season there may be an opening for a puck moving defender.

4. Brooks Laich LW/C The versatile forward who brings size and talent. I’ve been waiting for his breakout for a few years now. Could this be the year? So far so good. He may be hard for Yzerman and company to ignore.

5. Chris Kunitz LW This may be the darkest of the horses but the guy is a winner. Why look any farther for Crosby’s Olympic winger than his Penguins winger? Kunitz has quietly put together a nice career and scored 7 points in 9 games representing Canada at the 2008 World Championships.

In reality the odds of even one of these guys making Team Canada 2010 is long at best, but I do think Kariya has at least a 50/50 shot if he stays healthy.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

My New Book

I've been busy the last month or so finishing the artwork for my new hockey children's book title, "The Sterling Seven, Hockey's First Team Ever". I finally have the book's website up and

running and should have more time for hockey history blogging very soon! Check it out at;

Monday, September 28, 2009

Hockey travels in Ontario

Today is my last day of a family visit to the Toronto area. Of course I managed to mix in alot of hockey related activities throughout the ten days I was here. Last night I went to the Sudbury Wolves vs. Oshawa Generals game in "quaint" downtown Oshawa.

The Gens play in a fairly new rink (2006) General Motors Centre which seats about 5,500. It was less than half full last night due to the fact that the team is in a youth movement in the post-Tavares era. It's a nice little arena with a major league calibre retaurant/bar and private boxes.

Christian Thomas, son of ex-NHLer Steve is one of the leaders on the Generals and plays alot like his dad. At 5ft 9 in he is also built like dad which may hold him back slightly in the NHL 2010 NHL draft. The Wolves sport a lineup with more star power. Jared Staal, 2008 Phoenix draft pick and the fourth of the Staal brothers looked good but I was more impressed by Marcus Foligno brother of Nick and son of Mike who was drafted this past year by Buffalo. He skates exactly like his old man, and definitely brings the Foligno intensity. On top of these two, the Wolves have Eric O'Dell who sits 3rd in OHL scoring and was a 2nd round pick by Anaheim in 2008. As well, the Wolves have John McFarland who was almost granted exceptional player status to play in the OHL as a fifteen year (like Tavares) and as a sixteen year old last year scored almost a point per game. On this night, McFarland notched two goals and an assist including the powerplay OT winner on which he drew the penalty at the end of regulation time. He is definitely one to watch for next year's NHL draft.

Earlier in the week, I had to make the pilgramage to the hockey superstore Pro Hockey Life which is just north of Toronto in Vaughan. There's about 10 or so of these stores in Eastern Canada and two now in Alberta, it's like walking into a Home Depot of ONLY hockey equipment and related merchandise. Pictured below is one of three glove racks...

The stick aisle was really something to behold, they have a stick testing pad where a machine passes you pucks to shoot at a net with computerized accuracy and speed results. Very cool.

The pinnacle of my week had to have been my trip to the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto. Sure I had been there many times before, but not in the basement workshop of the Hall. I tagged along with Angelo D'Amico, son of Hall of fame linesman John D'Amico and an ex-NHL official himself. Angelo and I are in the process of doing a kid's book among other projects, and he was going to the Hall to drop off some of his father's artifacts for their collection. We met the Hall of Fame Display Designer out front and he took us in a side door to the basement under the Great Hall of the old bank building built in 1885. Needless to say I was in hockey heaven. What struck me first was the fact that there was so much great stuff just laying around the room any of which would have looked good in my personal collection.
Below is a set of game used Canadien jerseys just hanging on a wall behind some cans of pop. One may figure the Habs would deserve slightly more respect, not I though.
Here is a closeup of Joe Sakic's stick with which he scored the game winning goal in the gold medal game at the 2002 Olympics. I was able to hold it in my greasy little hands.
Here's a stick autographed by the 1931/32 Montreal Canadiens and Maroons. We see Hall of Famer Aurel Joliat in the middle. I was NOT able to hold this one in my hands.
Below is the guy in charge of the Hall's Displays checking out some of the items that Angelo D'Amico brought for the collection.
A pile of items from a recently removed display about Olympic hockey. Jersey's from the 1920's 30's and 40's just laying there, crazy.
This was from a World Championship entry in I believe 1951. Awesome looking jersey that would have looked nice in Nitzy's Hockey Den personal collection.
Here is an overall view of the basement of the Hall with it's original stone and exposed bedrock near the bottom of the walls. The subway can be heard rumbling by one floor down past the far wall.
I believe I told Mr. Hall of Fame Display Designer three times that he had the best job in the world. That means alot coming from a guy who draws cartoons for a living.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

"Small" town Ontario? Durham Region All-Stars

I have been spending my late summer holidays with my wife and daughter visiting my folks in Ajax, Ontario. Ajax is not unlike any other of the towns and cities along the highway arteries into Toronto. It used to be a quaint little burg, and now it's Best Buy's, Boston Pizza's and Walmart's make it look indestinguishable from Newmarket, Oakville, Vaughan or Etobicoke. But I digress.

Driving around beautiful Ajax, Whitby and Oshawa this week (I'm going to a Generals game on the weekend), I got to wondering what NHL players this area has produced. Most of us know that Gary Roberts and Joe Nieuwendyk grew up playing hockey and lacrosse in Whitby, yet Roberts was actually born in North York and Nieuwy in Oshawa. Therefore only the latter can claim a spot on my All-Durham Region NHL All-Star Team.

Pos Player Place of Birth GP-G-A-PTS Stanley Cups
C Joe Nieuwendyk, Oshawa 1257-564-562-1126 3
C Sean Avery,Pickering 420-73-116-189 0
RW John MacLean, Oshawa 1194-413-429-842 1
RW Kevin McClelland, Oshawa 58-68-11-180 4
LW Basil McRae, Beaverton 576-53-83-136 0
LW James Neal, Oshawa 77-24-13-37 0

D Charlie Huddy, Oshawa 1017-99-354-453 3
D Arnie Brown, Oshawa 681-44-141-185 0
D Jeff Beukeboom, Ajax 804-30-129-159 3
D Brent Burns, Ajax 326-35-82-117 0

W-L-T GAA Cups
G John Ross Roach, Port Perry 219-204-68 2.46 1
Glenn Healy, Pickering 166-190-47 3.37 1

Not the flashiest squad ever but definitely full of grit and winners. Any first line sporting Nieuwendyk and John MacLean could definitely do some damage even with Basil McRae riding shotgun. The defense is solid if unspectacular and could get better with teh development of Burns. Any random group of 12 players like this one that produced 16 Stanley Cups seems quite extraordinary. Only one of the non-active players failed to win a Cup.
John Ross Roach was an All-Star goalie from the 1920's and 30's and won a Cup with the Toronto St. Patricks. He was the first ever tender for the Maple Leafs when Conn Smythe adopted the new moniker in 1926. His 5'-5" stature makes the 5'-9" Healy the giant of the two goalies, a first in his career.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Steve Buzinski, Worst and Funniest Goalie Ever

I recently picked up a 1971 book “Strange but True Hockey Stories” by legendary writer Stan Fischler (he has written over 90 (ninety!) books about the game). One of my favourite chapters in the book is titled “The Worst Goalie Ever”.
Steve “The puck-goes-in-ski” Buzinski may very well have been the worst goalie in NHL history. He played a mere nine games for the New York Rangers to start the 1942 season and posted a 5.89 goals against average with a 2-6-1 record. His numbers are indeed awful and amongst the worst all-time, but he may also have been one of the most colourful players ever as well.

In October, 1942 one week from training camp, Rangers manager Lester Patrick did not have a goaltender for his club. More than half of his previous season’s first place squad including goalie Jim Henry, were in the armed services. Patrick and coach Frank Boucher decided to comb every town in Canada for an undiscovered netminder. The message went out to Ranger scouts across the land and three days later one of the scouts in Saskatchewan wired New York to tell them their worries were over in the form of Steve Buzinski.
The Rangers soon opened camp in Winnipeg, and Buzinski arrived while the team was on the ice. Coach Boucher recalled he was startled upon first spying his new keeper. “I remember seeing a wee fellow with a black helmet.”, told Boucher. “He was so small all I could see was his head and shoulders over the sideboards. ‘Oh my God’, I said to myself, ‘this couldn’t be’. But it was. Steve Buzinski had arrived.” He was a little, thin man with bowed legs and he wore a pair of old pads that ‘curved around his legs like cowboy chaps’. The team was in no position to complain as there were no other challengers and Buzinski was awarded the job by default.

The season opened Oct 31 in Toronto as New York lost 7-2. During the match, Maple Leaf Bob Davidson bounced a shot of the rookie goalie’s head during a scramble inflicting a minor cut. However, as soon as Buzinski detected blood he fell to the ice in a faux faint. The Rangers charged the referee looking for a penalty for the so-called infraction. New York defender Ott Heller demanded a penalty for high sticking as his goalie lay prone beside him. Davidson yelled, “He got hit with the puck!”
“Stick,” retorted Heller.
“Puck,” snapped Davidson.
Just then, Buzinski opened his eyes, looked up and yelled, “I got hit with the stick.” before quickly resuming his position sprawled on the ice.
This was only game one.

Detroit man-handled the Rangers 12-5 led by a then record seven points from Carl Liscombe. With the Wings up 7-1 halfway through the debacle, a shot from centre was fired in on Buzinski which was going considerably wide of the cage. He lunged out of the net to make a desperate snag of the disk in his trapper then casually tossed it into the corner of the rink as team-mate Bryan Hextall skated by. “Hex”, the rookie confidently yelled to the vet, “it’s like pickin’ cherries off a tree.”

The Blueshirts managed to win their third game 4-3 in overtime over Montreal then proceeded to lose the following night to the Habs 10-4. Even with 32 goals against in four games, Patrick wasn’t ready to give up on the new goalie. Buzinski even managed another overtime victory, this time against Chicago. Back to back losses to Boston and a 7-3 drubbing at the hands of Toronto was just about the end of the Buzinski experiment. By this point he had adopted a new technique of goaltending. The New York Telegram reported, “He adopted a falling system. Figuring that he who drops over the disk need not have fears of it being elsewhere, he spent more time on the ice than a mackerel in cold storage.”

After the ninth game even Patrick was just about ready to concede that Buzinski may not be a major leaguer. Some of the Rangers had heard that Jimmy Franks, a more proven goalie was available. They threatened a mutiny unless the manager replaced Buzinski with franks. Ranger, Phil Watson explained rather politely, “His newness in the NHL was disconcerting to us.” Patrick relented, yet kept the entertaining rookie on the payroll. “He was a refreshing prairie boy,” said Boucher, “always good for laughs. We simply listed him as a member of our P.R. department.”
One afternoon, the Rangers farm team The Rovers ask Patrick to lend a few players to round out a scrimmage. The manager suggested to Buzinski that he could use a practice to keep in shape if needed. Buzinski, who was quite enjoying his P.R. job told his boss, “Gee I’d like to help you out, Mr. Patrick, but I’ve got a lot of letters to write”.
The following day Buzinski was on a train to Swift Current, one-way ticket in hand.

It turned out that his replacement Jimmy Franks wasn’t much better in his 23 games played going 5-14-4 with a 4.48 GAA. Bill Beveridge, the Rangers third attempt at solving their net dilemma went 4-10-3 with a 5.24 average. Neither one was half as entertaining as Steve Buzinski however. The following season Charlie Rayner and Jim Henry returned from the service to alleviate the Rangers goaltending woes.

Monday, September 14, 2009

100th Greatest Montreal Canadien

I've been in Montreal for the last five days, and I must say they really are excited about this 100th anniversary stuff.(Not sure why the celebration lasts two years though...) There are ads for 100th anniversary collectable coins in the newspaper (at least that what I've come to surmise using my limited French skills). Most stores and depanneurs have at least a few of the numerous commemorative books for the occaison and Habs logos certainly are everywhere, more prominant than the "fleur de lis".
I figured I had better add in my angle from an outsiders point of view. With most people compiling lists of the greatest and most memorable Canadiens teams and players of all-time, I figured I'd try to determine the 100th greatest and somewhat less memorable Hab player in history. It's all subjective, so here we go.
If we list the 100th top point scorer in Canadien history we see Vladimir Malakhov with 141 points. I refuse to list a Ruskie as even 100th greatest Hab, just doesn't seem right. At 99th place is Wildor Larochelle with 144 points. He is definitely far from memorable. He was born in Sorel in 1906 and played most of his 474 NHL games with Montreal winning back-to-back Cups in 1930 and 1931. Larochelle topped out at 18 goals in 1932 and was a serviceable winger on a line with Pit Lepine and Armand Mondou.
Paul Haynes with 133 Canadien points is 105th overall, and had seasons of 35 and 38 points in 48 game seasons. He would be cut by coach Dick Irvin in 1941 for allegedly skipping a practice in New York in order to attend an opera. Haynes would eventually become one of the team's first scouts and discovered among others Elmer Lach and Ken Reardon.
In looking at the top 100 Goal scorers in Habs history there is a three-way tie at 99,100 and 101 with Dave Balon, Albert "Battleship" Leduc and Mickey Redmond all at 56 Montreal goals. Perhaps any of these three could be considered the 100th greatest Hab, but at 106th in goals we find Calum Mackay with 50 goals. Mackay, being a Toronto native heightened my interest.
Calum Mackay may very well be your prototypical "average" Habitant. Mackay was raised in Fort William, Ontario and would originally join the Detroit Red Wings in 1947 after a season with the Oshawa Generals of the OHA. He would play most of the next four seasons in the minors and get only six games total with the Wings. His rights were traded to Montreal in 1949 for Joe Carveth and he played the majority of 49/50 with the Habs. In 1950/51 he tallied 18 goals in a full season with the big club, but struggled out of the gates the following year before being returned to the AHL. He performed adequately until being called up for the 1953 NHL playoffs. His timing could not have been better as he scored four points in seven games in helping the Habs win another Cup. Mackay played two more years with Montreal including a career year of 35 points in 50 games in 54/55. That seasons' playoffs saw him finish fourth in Habs scoring behind Geoffrion, Beliveau and Floyd Curry with 11 points in 12 games. He suffered a knee injury in the following training camp and would never play in the bigs again. He played 32 games with the Montreal Royals of the Quebec Senior League that year before hanging it up for good.
I'm gonna go with Calum Mackay as the 100th greatest Montreal Canadien in their storied history.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Projected Rookie Scoring Leaders

Click the chart below for my thoughts on this years crop of rookies.....

Friday, September 4, 2009

John McCreedy, Champion

John McCreedy's NHL career consisted of a mere 64 total games, but boy did he make the most of it. As a 30 year old rookie with the Maple Leafs in 1941-42 he notched 15 goals and another seven points in thirteen playoff games. He was a big part of Toronto's un-paralleled Cup Finals comeback from a 3-0 games defecit. Soon after, McCreedy would join the military and like so many other athletes of the day put his career on hold. He would help lead the Toronto RCAF squad to an Allan Cup appearance in 1943. He returned to the Leafs to finish the 1945 season and helped them win another seven game final over the Red Wings. Two Stanley Cups in two seasons, doesn't get much better than that. Of course, by the time he made his late debut in the NHL he was already well accustomed to winning champioships.

In 1937 he led the Winnipeg Monarchs to a Memorial Cup victory with 13 goals in 9 playoff games. The following season he played with the Trail Smoke Eaters and was part of an Allan Cup victory as the best in Canadian amateur hockey. The Smokies travelled to Zurich, Switzerland as Canada's representative in the World Championship and easily won the 1939 tourney. McCreedy then led the Kirkland Lake Blue Devils to their Allan Cup win in 1940. He'd play for the coveted amateur crown again in '41 with the Sydney Millionaires, this time coming up short.

Overall John McCreedy won a Memorial Cup, two Allan Cups, two Stanley Cups AND a World Champioship during his short career.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Eddie Dorohoy. Minor League Star, Major Leaguer Talker

Eddie Dorohoy started the 1948/49 season as a 19 year old rookie with the vaunted Montreal Canadiens. The smallish (5ft 9in) centreman was not without credentials. He had tallied 81 points in 27 games the previous season with the Lethbridge Native Sons of the Alberta Junior League. To say he was unfazed by the aura of playing bigtime hockey in Montreal would be an understatement.

Upon arriving at camp, coach Dick Irvin placed the rookie on a line with Maurice Richard and Elmer Lach. Dorohoy immediately began instructing the vets on how the game should be played. During a rush in an intrasquad scrimmage he abruptly stopped and demanded the old vets come confer with him. Dorohoy told Richard and Lach, “Listen,the trouble with you guys is that you’re out of position.” Upon seeing the coach doubled over in laughter on the side boards, Dorohoy demanded he cease the chortling. “What’s so funny?” he asked the boss. “Richard and Lach can ,make mistakes too. I’m only trying to help them”. No word on whether Irvin in fact did stop laughing, or escalated it.

As the season started, Eddie Dorohoy wasn’t much help to the Habs, and coach Irvin became fed up with his rookie funnyman. After producing zero points in sixteen games, he was dispatched to the hockey hinterland of Dallas in the USHL. He’d eventually settle into life in the old WHL starring with Victoria, Seattle, Vancouver Calgary and Los Angeles. He led the loop in scoring one year and garnered the MVP in 1959 after scoring 109 points in 64 games with the Calgary Stampeders. At one point in the mid-fifties there was renewed interest in him in the NHL. The New York Rangers brought him to camp for a tryout. The Ranger players were as amazed by Dorohoy’s audacity as the Habs were years earlier. After his first workout he came into the room pulled off his Ranger jersey and handed it to trainer Frank Paice while exclaiming, “Here Paicer, you can put this in the Hall of Fame.” Alas, Dorohoy again wasn’t good enough to stick in the big leagues and he returned to the west coast.

When all was said and done, he notched almost 1000 career points in the minors.
Eddie Dorohoy passed away this past June while watching the NHL playoffs at his home in Victoria. He was definitely a minor league star with a major league attitude.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

The worst rink in the WHA

I recently came across this snippet in the Sports Illustrated archives in an article about Andre Lacroix from May 28, 1979. It details the travails of playing in the sub-par facility that was the Cherry Hill Arena, short time home of the New Jersey (nee New York) Knights.

"Of the 33 buildings used by WHA teams, perhaps the worst facility was the Cherry Hill Arena, where the New Jersey Knights played the 29 home games of their brief existence. There were no showers in the visiting team's dressing room, so the opposition had to dress at the Holiday Inn two miles up the road.
"It was embarrassing to see Bobby Hull and Gordie Howe coming to the games with their uniforms on and their skates hanging around their necks," says Andre Lacroix.

Most arenas have a long players' bench for each team, but in Cherry Hill the players' section consisted of three rows of five seats. The teams looked like choirs. There was little room for a coach in Cherry Hill, so one night Winnipeg Coach Nick Mickoski sat in the first row of the stands. But every time he stood up to make a line change or give instructions to a player, the fans would complain so loudly that he would have to shout his orders sitting down.

The ice at Cherry Hill had a definite tilt to it, too, prompting Bobby Hull to say, "It's the only arena I've ever been in where the visiting team had to skate uphill for two periods of every game. There was also a huge dip in the ice." In fact, one night Ted Scharf of the Knights was waiting for a pass when the puck shot straight up and struck him between the eyes."

I love old tales of the WHA, and will continue to post the awesome stories I come across.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

A Trip Down Memory Lane

Recently a friend of mine sent an article from Sports Illustrated detailing the things mosted missed from the good ol'days of baseball. I emailled some of my pals and asked them the same thing about hockey. What are some of the things you miss the most about the old days of hockey. Being that we are all at least in our late 30's and 40's, and all grew up in southern Ontario...alot of the answers pertain to our Maple Leafs and visiting The Gardens as youngsters. Here are some of the best memories of old time hockey that have gone by the wayside.

1. "The Bunker" at Maple Leaf Gardens
How cool and unique was it that the owner Harold Ballard and whomever was his GM of the year along with the legend King Clancy would sit and watch the game a mere twenty feet from the corner boards. The odd puck would even strafe their perch (some perhaps intentional) sending the old boys scattering.

2. Puck scuffs on the wall behind your head
Along the lines of number one, My buddy Song came up with this memory which I remember fondly as it can mean only one thing, you were sitting in the Gold seats. Once I was lucky enough to sit in the Garden Golds seats right behind the net. There were five or six rows crammed in front of the end brick wall of the arena, which was of course peppered consistenly with rubber.

3. Players wearing their numbers on their gloves and the outer heels of their skates
My pal Dupper came up with this one, and I love it. I'm not sure if the numbers were put on the equipment so the players could keep track of their stuff in the rooom, or simply a matter of pride. They certainly weren't for helping in identification from afar as they were too small. I suppose nowadays with multiple person equipment staffs and dressing room attendants, the threat of misplacing your equipment has vanished and with it the numbers on it.

4.Goalies with 2 hands on the stick
This one's from my friend JQ and he is older than me, but not by THAT much to actually have actually witnessed goalies holding the stick with two hands. It was a simpler time way back when and there was even a time when goalies were not aloud to even fall down. JQ is an old goalie from back in the day so I wont doubt him on this matter.

5. Danny Gallivan and his "cannonading" descriptions
This one is a great memory for any hockey fan that is old enough. Growing up in Ontario, we didn't hear Gallivan on HNIC for every game, but when the Leafs played the Habs he was an added treat.

6. Insanely curved sticks
These are no longer legal in the game, but at the dawn of the "banana blade" with Hull and Mikita there really was no limit.

7. No advertising on the boards
This one is self-explanatory and really didn't die out until the late '80s and early '90s. The boards really do seem naked now when you watch an old game with no ads on them, and that's the way it really should be.

8. Peter Puck
Created by Brian MacFarlane in the mid 70's, Peter Puck was an animated character that would explain the finer points of the game to newbies (Americans). I picked up a Peter Puck DVD last year and it still holds it's charm.

9. Pissing in a trough at Maple leaf Gardens
I was at a single 'A' Vancouver Canadians game this week and they have a trough at the aging Nat Bailey Stadium, but it's a metal one that hangs from the wall. The Gardens' troughs were beautifully tiled and stood from the floor to higher than the top of my head as a young kid. Truely daunting, and something you don't forget easily.

10. Al Iafrate's Hair
Simply ridiculous.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...