Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Denman Arena, Vancouver - "The Pile"

Situated at the corner of Denman and Georgia Streets in Vancouver, sitting on the shore of Coal Harbour, the Denman Arena was once the largest in the world. Built in 1911 by Frank and Lester Patrick at a cost of $300,000 it was the main venue for their newly formed Pacific Coast Hockey Association. Until the Montreal Forum was built in 1926, it was the largest artificial ice arena in the world seating 10,500.

Constructed of wood and brick, the large brick facing led Vancouverites to refer to it as The Pile. The Patrick brothers simultaneously built the 3,500 seat Patrick Arena in Victoria to help house their three team league which also included New Westminster. They would proceed to raid the established National Hockey Association of much of it’s top talent to stock their teams.

The Pile would host the Vancouver Millionaires Stanley Cup championship in March, 1915, boxing matches featuring Max Baer and “Cinderella Man” James Braddock, movie star Rudolph Valentino as well as bicycle races and tennis matches. The Patricks, being innovators of the game of hockey would introduce many of the games’ great changes. It was the arena that had the first blueline in hockey history, the first goal crease and where forward passing was first tested.

It was mere hours after a full house had attended a boxing match on Aug 20, 1936 that the Denman Arena would be reduced to ashes. The fire may have started in a nearby coal shed, and would cause $600,000 in damage but thankfully no deaths. Today, there is no remnant or marker at the site of The Pile.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Curtis Joseph, Six Minute First Star

Curtis Joseph has had two of the stranger decisions of his career this season. This week he entered a tie game with one minute remaining and proceeded to collect a win with only six minutes of work. He also was amazingly named first star of the game. Eight of his saves were during overtime when the Capitals outshot the Leafs 8-0. He had point-blank stops against both Alex Ovechkin and Mike Green, then he stopped Backstrom, Semin and Ovechkin in the shootout. The crowd at the ACC showered him with chants of “Cujo,Cujo” reminiscent of the long gone days of the Leafs making the playoffs.

His first star selection in six minutes of play must be one of the stranger three star selections since “Rocket” Richard received all three stars of the game scoring all five goals in a shutout of the Leafs.

Cujo’s other rarely seen decision was when Ron Wilson inserted him for Vesa Toskala for the shootout in a game versus Anaheim in October. In that game he was credited with zero minutes played and an overtime loss.

It would seem that Joseph may be better suited as a relief goaltender in this the twilight of his career. In eight relief appearances consisting of 180 minutes he has a 2.67 GAA and a .900 save Pct. In his eight starts he has a 3.73 GAA and an atrocious save Pct. of .852.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Wayne Gretzky WHA All-Star

Wayne Gretzky was the leading scorer in every international tournament he played in from 1978 through 1991. This encompasses the ’78 World Juniors, four Canada Cups, the 1982 World Champinonships and Rendezvous ’87. Over these 49 games, he scored 31 goals and 61 assists for 92 points.
One other somewhat forgotten international series he lead in scoring took place during his sole year in the WHA, Gretzky played in a three game All-Star series against the Soviets which consisted mainly of Moscow Dynamo. The series took place at Edmonton’s Coliseum and attracted over 35,000 spectators. Pictured below is the program from that series, one of the gems of my collection.
Gretzky was 17 years old and was chosen as the fifth Centre on the WHA squad behind Robbie Ftorek, Serge Bernier, Dave Keon and Peter Sullivan. In fact, the Great One had a mortal 34 points in 32 games to that point in the season after being rescued from Indianapolis. He would use his experience playing with Gordie and Mark Howe among other stars, as the launch pad to a fantastic second half. He tallied 76 points in the final 48 games, more than anyone else in the loop. Only Real Cloutier was even close with 69 points while Kent Nilsson had 58, and Ftorek and Terry Ruskowki each had 55 points.
The aforementioned Howe famly formed a terrific line with Gretzky scoring 12 combined points over the three games. Gretz’s 5 points and 3 goals would lead Mark Howe and fellow teenager Mike Gartner by one. Even though they were outscored 12-7, the Soviet squad were no pushovers. They iced three veterans of the 1972 Summit Series, Viacheslav Anisin, Alexander Volchkov and Vladimir Vikulov.
The WHA goalies were Dave Dryden who played the first game, and Markus Mattsson who won the last two. Mattsson would cross paths with Gretzky just over six years later. On January 28, 1984 while with the Kings, Mattsson would be the goalie to stop Gretzky’s 51 game point scoring streak.

Walt Poddubny

Sad news comes today of Walt Poddubny's passing away. Poddubny was a talented player who had some nice scoring years in the mid 1980's. Drafted in 1980 by the Oilers 90th overall after
a 33 goal OHL season, he spent the following two years with Edmonton's top farm club in Wichita. He was traded to the Maple Leafs in exchange for Laurie Boschman and promptly collected 7 points in 11 games. 1982-83 he bagged 28 goals and 59 points and led the sub .500 Leafs with a +8 rating. He also led the squad with 3 playoff goals in 4 games.
The following three injury riddled years would see him play no more than 38 NHL games each season. In the summer of '86 he was dealt to the Rangers where he flourished with 87 and 88 point seasons. Quebec Nordiques aquired him for the 88/89 season in which he produced 75 points in 72 games. Poddubny's knee injuries would begin to take their toll and he played parts of three more seasons with the New Jersey Devils. His final NHL numbers are a very respectable 422 points in 468 games.
Following productive years in the German second and third divisions, Poddubny took up coaching and had six fairly successful seasons leading the Anchorage Aces of the WCHL before hanging up his whistle in 2002. He would return home to Thunder Bay to spend time with his family and coach minor hockey. Walt Poddubny was 49.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Mike Bossy.....Playmaker

I was recently perusing Hockey-reference.com , as I often do, and found something somewhat surprising, at least to me. I was looking at the Career Leaders in Assists per Game, and saw that the list was populated by player’s you’d expect, except one. Sitting there with the 16th highest A/GP in NHL history was super sniper Mike Bossy. We all know he was a goal scorer, one of the greatest of all-time. In fact his 0.762 Goals per Game is THE highest in NHL history, but a playmaker too?
Bossy ranks right behind Joe Sakic at 0.735 A/GP and ahead of such renowned playmakers, Ray Bourque, Denis Savard, Ron Francis, Bryan Trottier and Gil Perreault. Of course, Bossy’s high averages of goals and assists per game can be somewhat attributed to his career being cut short in his prime. He had no downside to his career to bring his averages down. To account for this, I looked at each players’ top three consecutive year period of assists per game. That chart follows.
We see, Bossy does in fact drop a bit in the ratings but still ranks 24th all-time. He is still one of only 29 players in NHL history to average over 0.90 A/GP over a three year period (only four have done that for an entire career). Ten men have averaged over an assist/game for three straight seasons, including Adam Oates, perhaps surprisingly at third. Oates had 1.18 A/GP feeding Brett Hull from 90/91 through 92/93. Joe Thornton takes sixth on the list with his three seasons prior to the current one. Elmer Lach, who had Rocket Richard as a trigger man in the mid ‘40s just missed averaging an assist per match, as did Doug Gilmour in the early ‘90s.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Johnny Bower 639 professional wins

I am currently reading the new autobiography from Johnny Bower title China Wall. Early in the book it is stated that Bower had the most wins in pro hockey history, which for him would include an amazing 359 in the American League and another 30 in the old Western League. Seeing as Martin Brodeur is nearing Patrick Roy's NHL career mark, I decided to check for the most career wins including all the high professional circuits. Obviously I will include the World Hockey Assoc., the AHL and the WHL. In the 1950's and 60's the WHL along with the Quebec League were on near equal par with the AHL, and some have said the Portland Buckaroos, old Vancouver Canucks, Quebec Aces and the Cleveland Barons of that era would have been able to compete in the NHL of the time. I also included the International League which operated as an equal to the AHL for most of it's existence.

Johnny Bower is indeed the all-time leader in professional hockey wins. Brodeur, if he stays healthy and continues at the rate since his return from injury should catch him in two seasons. Marty's total includes 14 wins with the Utica Devils in 1992/93. Plante's total includes a somewhat suprising 51 AHL wins and 105 in the Quebec League. Glenn Hall chalked up 116 victories in the AHL and WHL. Even the mighty Terry Sawchuk needed two years of seasoning in the "A" winning a tidy 69 games. Gump Worsely won 45 WHL games to start his career and 79 AHL games near the end. Harry Lumley sandwiched his 330 NHL wins with 106 AHL and WHL wins. Ernie Wakely may have had the most eclectic win totals with 164 WHA wins, 41 in the NHL, 75 in the AHL, 73 in the Central and 18 in the Western League.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Phil Maloney

I recently picked up this great old Western Hockey League program from Oct. 3, 1968. On the cover is a really cool illustration of Canuck vet, Phil Maloney. Maloney was the heart of the Canucks for almost fifteen years, amassing 923 points in 818 games. He was Western League MVP twice and most gentlemanly player three times. Also, Maloney holds the WHL record with eight points in a game. Over 21 seasons in the high minors, (including the AHL and QHL) he counted 1350 points in 1234 games. As a a 22 year old he played a full season with the NHL's Boston Bruins and had a terrific rookie year with 15 goals and 46 points. He finished second in Calder voting to teammate Jack Gelinaeu.
After retiring as a player in 1970, Maloney turned to coaching and would take over the NHL Canucks halfway through the 1973/74 campaign. He served as coach and GM until '77 and led the 'Nucks to their first ever first place finish in 74/75. Under Maloney's guidance for three seasons, Vancouver had a .478 winning percentage.
Back to the program, it's from an exhibiton game against the Toronto Maple Leafs who's lineup that evening included Tim Horton, Pierre Pilote, Ron Ellis Paul Henderson and Dave Keon. The Canucks of 68/69 were coming off a last place finish but looked to remedy that problem with the outright purchase of the AHL champions Rochester Americans. This infusion of talent (including Bryan Hextall, Len Lunde and Don Cherry) along with the aquisition of Andy Bathgate would propel the Canucks to a 29 point improvement and an eight game sweep to the playoff championship. They would also draw over 270,000 fans during the first full year of the Pacific Coliseum and would surpass it the following year with 330,000 an average of almost 10,000 per game. Of course, an NHL franchise would soon follow.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

WHA scoring comparisons

The World Hockey Association was a direct rival to the NHL and of course many stars played in both leagues. Most would rank the WHA at a slightly lower calibre than the NHL of the day, but how close were the two leagues in reality? A good way to compare the calibre of the leagues is to compare players who played a significant amount of time in each circuit. Below, I list the points/game for players who played at least 200 games in both the NHL and the WHA.

Every player on the two lists which represent the top scorers in WHA history, every single one, scored points at a better rate in the WHA than the NHL. The first list is of players whose PPG is extremely higher in the WHA. Andre Lacroix, Serge Bernier, Rob Ftorek, Christian Bordeleau, JC Tremblay, Danny Lawson, Poul Popiel and Wayne Carleton all more than doubled their NHL scoring rate. Each were at least in their mid twenties when they jumped to the WHA, perhaps we can explain their inflated scoring rates on the fact they were all merely hitting their prime as players. Perhaps, but double… doubtful. On the other end of the age spectrum are Gordie Howe, Bobby Hull, John McKenzie, Frank Mahovlich, Paul Henderson, Norm Ullman, Dave Keon and Pat Stapleton who were all at least 32 when they jumped leagues. Everyone of these guys, who’s production would in theory have dropped off, increased their PPG in the WHA. In this group however, we see that there is less discrepancy in their scoring rates and Mahovlich and Ullman were only very slightly better scores in the rebel league.
A note can be made about Mark Howe whose rate of 0.80 Points/game in the NHL is quite comparable to his 1.18 in the WHA seeing as once he joined the NHL, he was predominately a defenseman.

The two players at the bottom of the second list, are the only two who scored at a better rate in the NHL, Mike Rogers and Blaine Stoughton. They incidentally played together for the first two years of the Hartford Whalers between 1979 and 1981.

In looking at WHA career leaders, I was interested to see how many players actually NEVER got a chance in the NHL. The third list is of these leaders, all solid players but not quite NHL calibre. Interestingly, all of these guys failed to score at a point/game average even in the WHA. Most of these players had been established minor professionals in the Western, Central or Eastern Hockey Leagues (Lund, Peacosh, Patenaude, Sicinski, Adduano) or underage juniors signed right into the new “major” league (Kirk, Simpson). All could be compared to the “4A” player in baseball, too good for Triple A minor league ball, but not quite good enough for the bigs. It would seem that description could hold true for as well for the WHA in general.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Gretzky says forget 2,000

This was the headline of the Toronto Star sports section on Dec. 20, 1984. The photo above is from the paper that I kept since I was a Gretzky infatuated kid. The night before, Gretzky had tallied two goals and four assists vs. the Kings to reach the 1,000 point plateau. He achieved this in his 424th NHL game shattering the record for fastest 1, 000 points. In 1981 Guy Lafleur and Marcel Dionne had become the previous fastest in 720 and 740 game respectively.
In the article Gretzky says the lure of retirement may be more enticing than the career point total of 1,850 held by his idol, Gordie Howe. Gretzky is quoted, "I think I've said that I've played seven years and the professional hockey player averages four years. I'd definitely say I'm in the second half of my pro career." He also said he has no plans to double his point total to 2,000 points. "Barring injury, I'd say I have a shot at 1,500 to 1,600 points and let's go from there."
According to friends, the gruelling NHL schedule, his inability to settle down and his dread of flying have caused him to consider retirement before age 30.
Of course, he would take only two and a half more seasons to reach his goal of over 1,500 points.
In fact, from this milestone evening in December '84 to the end of his career, he would tally 1,852 points in 1,063 additional games over fifteen more seasons. Hardly the numbers of someone in "the second half of his career".
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