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.
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