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.
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