Thursday, December 29, 2011

Quebec Nordiques Thrash Red Army, 26 years ago today.

December 28, 1985. The Nordiques of Quebec convincingly beat the touring Soviet Red Army squad by a score of 5-1. This was the third game of the 1986 Super Series tour for the Russians and they had previously beaten Los Angeles Kings 5-2 and the Edmonton Oilers 6-3.

Critics were saying that the Super Series had lost some of it's lustre and this was shown in the fact that Le Colisee in Quebec was a few hundred short of a sell out. In fact the Nordiques had to offer a two-for-one promotion, selling 3,000 tickets on the last weekend before the game. Nevertheless, Quebec provided a satisfying outcome for the home crowd on the strength of a hat-trick from Michel Goulet and the adequate, if largely un-tested goaltending of Clint Malarchuk.

The match didn't open up until halfway through the first period when Goulet deflected a Randy Moller shot past goalie Sergei Mylnikov. Three minutes later, while shorthanded, John Anderson outraced Slava Fetisov and Alexei Kasatonov to score on a breakaway. The teams traded goals by Goulet and Sergei Makarov in the middle frame as Quebec opted for defence over offense managing a mere three shots on goal. Goulet completed the hat-trick on a pass from Anton Stastny with a low wrister five minutes into the third. Brent Ashton finished the scoring late to make it 5-1, one of the worst defeats administered to the Red Army in ten years of Super Series play. Buffalo Sabres had beaten them 6-1 in January of 1980.

Red Army assistant coach, Boris Mikhalov said after the game,"Quebec has a better defence than the Edmonton Oilers. Quebec stopped our power play, did a lot of other things that prevented us from playing our game. They played a near perfect hockey game." Malarchuk stopped 22 shots while Mylnikov stopped only 12 of 17 shot at him. The Quebec goaltender explained his sucess, "You have to wait when they have the puck because they shoot at the last moment. You have to stay on your feet and be patient." Red Army would take out their frustrations on the Montreal Canadiens two days later, beating them 6-1.

Mylnikov, who was on loan for the tour from Traktor Chelyabinsk would of course lead the Soviets in the 1987 Canada Cup and played every game in winning the Olympic Gold medal at the 1988 Calgary Olympics. The Nordiques drafted him in the seventh round in 1989 and he would play 10 NHL games for them the following year. He posted a 1-7-2 record with a 4.96 GAA and returned to Russia the following year. He played until his mid-30s, finishing in the Swedish third Division with a team named Saters IF in 1994/95.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Soviets Trounce New York Rangers, 36 years ago today

December 28, 1975, a new era in international hockey competition is begun but the result is eerily familiar. This date was the first in a round of games which NHL president Clarence Campbell said presented, "a new potential for hockey internationally" and hoped "this new development is the forerunner to international competition on a continuing basis".

Having played 'All-Star' teams from Canada in in 1972 and 1974, the Soviets would now send two club teams to play four games each against various NHL teams in the middle of the season. The NHL covered all expenses of the two Soviet squads as well as paying $25,000 to each team for each game played. The New York Rangers would be guinea pigs of sorts in this new format and their star centre Phil Esposito realized that fact,"If we lose it, it's not going to be the end of the world for me...It's an exhibition series that's darned good for hockey. But let's not carried away." Esposito and Rod Gilbert were veterans of that 1972 Summit Series but the Red Army had many more veterans of that classic clash. Four of the very best were present in New York. Valeri Kharlamov, Boris Mikhailov, Vladimir Petrov and Vladislav Tretiak would lead the Army against the NHL teams.

Heading into the game the Rangers sat in last place of the Patrick Divison with a 15-17-4 record and were 10th overall among the 18 NHL teams at that point. The Red Army team of Moscow was defending and perrenial champion of the Soviet league. This apparent discrepency in talent was fulfilled during the game.

Just as in 1972 when Esposito himself scored the first goal of the game a mere 30 seconds in, on this occasion Ranger Steve Vickers scored 21 seconds inton the game beating Tretiak with a six foot backhander. The Soviets bounced back quickly with two tallies in the next four minutes before going up 3-1 after a period. The lead was stretched to 7-1 early in the third period before it ended 7-3 in the Soviet's favour, the exact same score as the first game in 1972.

Esposito poured 10 shots on Tretiak this night and collected a goal and two assists. He was quoted after, "I had 10 good shots and got only one goal. Tretiak was terrific. But we have to learn to exploit our scoring chances the way the Russians do." He would add,"I don't think they dominated us. They were shooting out blind from their zone and we were getting caught."
Petrov notched 2 goals and 2 assists and Kharlamov scored a goal and three helpers. The Rangers attempted to rough it up as the game wound down. Greg Polis was given an unsportmanlike penalty in the last half minute and actually took a run at the Russian referee Karandin. Carol Vadnais was given a five minute call for butt-ending, all the while the Soviets smiled it off.

Soviet coach Konstantin Loktev bluntly said afterwards, "They have a weight problem. They have a carriage problem in skating. They're not as fast as we. They must improve their conditioning."

Esposito summarized, "We killed them in faceoffs (winning 56 of 73) and we outshot them (41-29), but they out did us on the scoreboard and that, unfortunately, is all that matters. Steve Vickers said afterwards, rather candidly,"I reserve my comment until they play some of the better teams. I don't think even if we played our best game we would have beaten them." Perhaps he had a point. When the Soviet Army later played possibly the three best NHL squads they ended up with a .500 record. They tied Montreal 3-3, beat Boston 5-2 and lost to Philadelphia 4-1.

These Super Series would continue off and on around Christmas-time through until the last visit from Moscow Dynamo and Red Army in January of 1991.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Denman Arena, 100th Anniversary

This past Tuesday (Dec. 20) marked the exact 100th anniversary of the opening in Vancouver of the second largest indoor arena in North America. Sadly, only the most minimal of mention was made of it in the local news. The Vancouver Sun had a small blurb about it in it's "This Day in History" column.

I have been high-lighting this old barn over the last couple of years (see links below), so I may as well finish up with a nod to the century anniversary. Perhaps the lack of reknown for the Denman Arena stems from the fact that it stood for only 25 years, as it burned down in 1936. Even still, the city of Vancouver really should have acknowledged it's opening this week.

Pictured at the top is the survey map showing the exact location of the building that is found in
the great book "Coast to Coast" by John Chi-Wit Wong. In it, he quotes the Vancouver Sun describing the opening day so many years ago.

"The Vancouver arena was a marvel of it's time and would probably be approved by those who compared the city to other major metropolises. It was the second largest indoor arena in North America, only New York's Madison Square Garden being bigger. Initially estimated at $175,000, it's final cost grew to $226, 382. It had an ice surface measuring 210 feet by 85 feet, which makes it five feet longer than the Montreal Arena. The building will seat over 10,000 spectators, every one of whom, owing to the admirable arrangement of the seats will have a perfect view of the play." Wong adds, "Not without a sense of civic pride, the Vancouver Province noted also that the new Toronto Mutual Street arena 'seats only 6,000'. Fifteen hundred people flocked to the grand opening of the new arena on 20 December for public skating. Even though the temperature was mild and it was raining outside, the arena's ice surface did not turn into puddles of water, usually a feature of natural ice arenas throughout the country under similar conditions."

It would appear that Vancouverites and the press of the day were extremely proud of their new arena, with good reason. The one thing that I wonder about is where 1,500 people found skates for public skating 100 years ago. Vancouver was and is a city with a fairly temperate climate and folks would really have little need for ice skates before the advent of an artificial ice sheet. I imagine that was part of Frank and Lester Patrick's grand plan, skate rentals.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Herb Cain; The Only NHL Scoring Leader Not in The Hall of Fame

Okay, I should re-phrase the title of this one. Herb Cain is the only player over the first 77 years of NHL play to lead in scoring and not be later elected to the Hall. Of the players since 1994 not yet elected to the Hall, all are still active except for Eric Lindros and Peter Forsberg and I believe each will get in sooner than later.

Cain remains the one exception having topped the NHL in scoring in 1943/44 with a new NHL single-season record of 82 points. His career numbers of 570 games, 206 goals, 400 points and two Stanley Cups are fairly impressive. He was also only the 13th man ever to score 200 career goals and twice finished second, once fourth and once sixth in goals scored. Obviously all this was not enough for selection to hockey's shrine. I may be slightly biased in his favour however as Cain was born and raised in the town I grew up in, Newmarket, Ontario. And, although steady and consistent, I don't think fellow Newmarket native defenceman Jamie Macoun will be getting the call from the Hall soon.

There are a few reasons why Cain may have been overlooked. Firstly, there is the fact that in his league leading year the talent level was quite diluted due to wartime enlistments. Indeed there were quite a few regular goaltenders that season that would go on to do little or nothing in subsequent seasons. Other than the fact 1943/44 was the rookie season of all-time great Bill Durnan of Montreal, it really was an awful year for goalkeepers. The Canadian Press expressed in newspapers across the land their thoughts on Cain's record year;

"That 82 point all-time National Hockey League scoring record set up by the Bruins' Herb Cain is going to be marred by an asterisk when it is recorded in the official records. With the forward passing rule and the number of mediocre goalies in action during the past season, the league govenors have agreed that goals and assists came much too easy to warrant the customary consideration.

As far as this department is concerned, little Cooney Weiland still is the NHL's top scorer. When he collected 73 points back in 1929/30, he did it the hard way...Weiland set his record during a 44-game schedule, when the league comprised 10 teams, every one of them strong except the Pittsburgh club."

Even reports of him breaking the record were muted at best the day after he did it. On March 14, 1944 the AP covered it with one line of type, "Boston's Herb Cain collected two assists to boost his season's total to 75 points, a league scoring record." The article went on to talk of Boston keeping their playoff hopes alive without mentioning Cain again. Right from the very beginning, reports were downplaying Cain's accomplishment.

Aside from Durnan the other goalies to play at least 15 games that year were; Ken McAuley, Bert Gardiner, Paul Bibeault, Mike Karakas, Connie Dion, Hec Highton, Benny Grant and Jmmy Franks. Household names to few. These guys cobbled together a collective goals against average of 4.46. Four of these eight would not play another game in the NHL after 43/44, the other four
were done within three seasons over which they had a collective record of 81-130-35 with a 3.98 GAA. Sure, 3.98 is better than their 43/44 mark but the average NHL team over the next two seasons lowered their goals against to 3.68 then 3.35 no thanks to these guys.

Indeed, the goaltending wasn't up to par during Cain's big year but he still managed to come out on top of an impressive field of skaters. He bested such notables (and Hall of Famers) as Doug Bentley, Elmer Lach, Bill Cowley, Bill Mosienko, Syd Howe, Toe Blake and a 22 year-old Maurice Richard.

Another reason is he may very well have been black-listed by Boston owner Art Ross due to a holdout over money after the 1945/45 campaign. Although he was only 33 years-old and had scored 17 goals that year, Ross demoted Cain to Hershey of the AHL where he proved he was anything but washed up. He tallied 36 goals in 59 games and helped lead the Bears to a championship. Nevertheless, Herb Cain would not grace an NHL ice sheet again and played three more years in Hershey before retiring.

Herb Cain passed away in 1982, surviving Hodgkin's disease through experimental treatment in 1955. Although his time to be enshrined has long passed, hockey fans really should be aware of Herb Cain and his solid career.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Maple Leafs, Playing like it's 1989. That's not a good thing.

In Monday's Toronto Star, writer Damien Cox made an interesting comment that the current edition on the Maple Leafs is reminiscent of the Doug Carpenter coached Leafs of 'twenty years ago'. It really is an interesting comparison of the style and results of the two teams.

Carpenter coached really only one season, 1989/90 (he was let go after a 1-9-1 start to the next season). In 89/90 the Leafs were exactly a .500 team with a 38-38-4 record, finishing third in the Norris Division. This year, when the silly OT/Shootout Loss points that didn't exist twenty years ago are removed the Leafs are realistically a .500 team at 16 and 17. With 338 goals for and 358 goals surrendered, the 89/90 squad finished third in each of those categories league-wide. They certainly were an entertaining squad to watch much like this year's team. So far in 2011/12, Toronto ranks 7th in goals/game and 6th in goals against/game with of course 30 teams in the league as opposed to 21 in 1989/90.

The similarities don't end there. The old Leafs were led offensively by Gary Leeman, a 25 year-old Right Winger having a breakout season after scoring 32 goals the year prior. This season they're led by a 24 year-old Right Winger Phil Kessel having a breakout campaign after scoring 32 goals last year. Both squads had a nice collection of under 30 year-old forwards providing scoring Vincent Damphousse, Ed Oczyk, Daniel Marois and Mark Osborne for the old Leafs and Lupul, Bozak, Grabovski and MacArthur currently.

The defense of the 89/90 Leafs had three guys providing points with Al Iafrate, Tom Kurvers and Rob Ramage all having at least 49. This year of course it's Phaneuf and Liles who should be around that point total. The part of Luke Richardson can be ably filled by Luke Schenn in more than their given name. Both are/were in their early 20's and hard-hitting, fairly reliable, still developing defensemen. The Leafs of 89/90 had one thing the current edition does not in Wendel Clark. He played in half the games that year, but when he did play he was a rare kind of player. The current Leafs do have also often injured Tim Connolly, a totally different and older player than Clark was but he does provide an intangible they need when healthy.

Each of the teams had goalies aged 23, 25 and 27 years old. 1989/90 was Jeff Reese, Allan Bester and Mark LaForest. Currently it's James Reimer, Ben Scrivens, and Jonas Gustavsson.
I almost hate to say it, but I think I'll take this years crop over the oldtimers.

The Leafs of 22 years ago made the playoffs and lost out in the first round in five games to St.Louis. Frankly, I'd almost settle for that result this year.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

The day Tim Horton was almost 1951

Defenceman Tim Horton was certainly one of the greatest defenders in the history of the game and he tragically lost his life in a car accident in 1974. He was 44 years old at the time and had played in 1446 NHL games. Little known to most, Tim Horton had a close brush with death at the age of 21 after playing one NHL game the year previous.

The 1950/51 season saw Horton play his second full season with Toronto's top farm team the AHL's Pittsburgh Hornets. He had tallied 34 points in 68 games an gotten into one game with the Leafs that year. In his own autobiography, Leaf teammate Danny Lewicki tells of how close Horton came to losing his life even more pre-maturely than he did 23 years later.

Lewicki says,"Tim was lucky to be at the camp as he came very close to being killed that summer in his hometown (Cochrane, Ont.). Apparently in June, a native of Sudbury by the name of Clarence Brousseau went berserk with a rifle killing three people. Tim lived a few blocks away from this deadly character. Brushing elbows with an ambulance driver who was trying to assist the three lying on the ground, Tim tried to lend a hand. He heard a couple of rifle shots and a ping right next to where he was assisting the ambulance driver. The fleet footed Horton took off. He later said he could not remember in what direction he ran as all he saw was railroad tracks beneath when he looked down. He was to take a lot of kidding later as the boys told him he would have no trouble dodging pucks after the way he dodged bullets. Tim took it all in good stride saying, 'All I know is that after the episode the colour of my shorts were the same as your brown eyes.' "

Now, I did some research on this event and found a shooting involving a Clarence Brousseau in Sudbury Ont. on June 18, 1949. A full two years before Lewicki's rendition of events and more than 200 km south of Horton's home town of Cochrane. It is possible that Tim Horton could have been involved in the 1949 incident. He had played the 1948/49 season with Toronto St.Mikes and he certainly could have been in Sudbury that fateful day. Perhaps Lewicki's memory of the events was embellished, perhaps Horton was indeed there and turned his shorts brown. Either way, it makes for a good tale.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Saturday Night at The Gardens, 25 years ago.

“We were bullied. They outplayed us in every department. We were only in the game for the first three of four minutes.” Detroit Red Wings coach Jacques Demers cut right to the point after a 6-0 shellacking at the hands of Toronto. The game was played Saturday night, November 15, 1986 at Maple Leaf Gardens and I was there as a guest of my buddy Ross.

Saturday night at The Gardens, even as a 15 year old kid I knew it was a special place. You entered the building usually at one of the smaller entrances at the western corner of the building on Carlton Street or the eastern side on Church Street. The doors themselves were very un-ceremonial. Merely a pair of plain double doors that were propped open by turnstiles but they opened up to another world, especially on a Saturday night.

The throngs of patrons nearly pushed you back out the second you gained entry. A little dodging and weaving sprung you out of the crowd near the entrance into the main concourse of the Gardens. Once here, I always made my way first to the souvenir booth on the south side of the building to pick up a Leaf calendar, program, postcard or whatever my allowance could afford. There always was a din of noise in the concourse which was cut regularly by the shouting of the sellers.

One program vendor I recall vividly as he also worked during summers at Blue Jays games at Exhibition Stadium. He was distinct mainly for his look. The guy was about 6’2”, had a close brush-cut and thick black horn-rimmed glasses. I remember seeing him at Jays games with my Dad since the early ‘80s and always noticed him as he reminded me of an abstract version of photos that I’d seen of my father from the 1960’s. This guy would eventually move with the Jays to SkyDome in 1989 and amazingly, my last time at a Jays game in 2009 I saw him once again. Some things never change, and that’s good.

After picking up my program, my over-steamed, wet hot dog, and warm soda with cellophane for a lid it was time to make our way to the seats. If you were sitting in the Greys at the upper part of the rink, the trip to your seat involved a ride on an extremely narrow escalator. This was a bit of a respite from the hustle bustle of the main floor before you were dumped into a similar scene upstairs. Perhaps before hitting your seat you needed to make a pit stop. The washrooms at the Gardens were famous for one thing, The Trough. There were no urinals in the Gardens washrooms, simply a long wall against which you did your urinating standing shoulder to shoulder with about ten other men. Literally, it was a trough on a wall. Needless to say, for a young man like myself, this was quite a disconcerting activity. You would get your business done as quickly as possible, usually whilst holding your wet hot dog in the other hand, then up the stairs to your seat you headed.

On this night, Ross and I had seats in the upper Greys while his dad and little brother got the pair of Gold seats at ice-level. These weren’t your average Gold seats, these were Rail Seats first row right against the glass in the corner. Luckily, and surprising to Ross and I, his dad traded seats with us allowing us to sit in the Rails for the third period.

The game itself was about as eventful as you could get. Toronto came into the game in first place in the Norris Division with a record of 8-5-3 while Detroit was 7-9-1, 4 points back of first. Two weeks before, the Leafs and goalie Allan Bester had shutout the Wings 2-0. In that game centre Dan Daoust fought Gerard Gallant, and broke his leg when he fell backwards. Perhaps as some sort of retribution, when the teams met again on this Saturday night Toronto’s Brad Smith fought Gallant three seconds after the opening faceoff. “Motor City” Smitty would later fight Shawn Burr as well as Basil McRae before finally being tossed by referee Dave Newell.

Toronto took a 2-0 lead after one period on goals by Tom Fergus and Vincent Damphousse. They both scored again by 6:09 of the second to stretch the lead to 4-0. By the end of the second, Smith had been in his second scrap and there had been five fights total. Then we got to move down to the rail seats for the final period.

Making our way through the crowded concourse and back down the narrow escalator to the main level was not an easy walk. The building was designed and built in 1931 with a seating capacity of about 13,500 seats. By the mid-1980’s, due to renovations there were almost 3,000 additional people jammed into the rink. The halls of the arena were not made to accommodate that many folks comfortably.

Having usually sat higher up at the Gardens, the view from the front row Golds was almost overwhelming. The only other time I had sat in the Golds was five years earlier when I was a few rows directly behind the opposition net, tonight’s Gold seats were first row right in the corner. From our vantage point the interior of the Gardens loomed up, encompassing your entire field of vision. Although the building itself was relatively small compared to today’s hockey arenas it felt simply cavernous from that Rail seat. It was quite awe-inspiring. Sitting right on the goal line 40 feet to the left of Allan Bester we really did feel like we were on the ice, which on this night was not a safe place to be.

Wendel Clark and Russ Courtnall scored in the third to make it 6-0 Toronto and things certainly got out of hand. Brad Smith had his third fight of the evening against Basil McRae and Detroit’s Tim Higgins felt inclined to join the tussle as third-man in the fight. Needless to say all of these combatants were thrown to the showers. All this happened within ten feet of Ross and I in our prime seats.

Exactly 14 seconds after this fracas, Red Wing Harold Snepsts was called for spearing Steve Thomas. Both of them as well as Leaf Todd Gill were tossed for the meeting that ensued. At this point things settled down, for five minutes. Lee Norwood and Wendel Clark fought, right in front of us impressionable youngsters in the front row. It was a truly frightening yet inspiring sight being that close to a Wendel Clark punch-up. Still, the fighting continued. Gerard Gallant paid his final Dan Daoust debt of the evening by fighting Bob McGill with five minutes left in the game. All told, four different fights occurred in the third period, most within shouting distance of our seats.

Bester stopped all five measly shots Detroit put his way in the third to wrap up his second shutout of the Wings in two weeks. During one of the third period melees Leaf coach John Brophy started yelling at Demers and later denied using any profanity. “I was just asking him where he was going to have a beer after the game,” Brophy said later.

Thusly we wrapped up another eventful trip to the Gardens.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

NHL Notes

  • The NHL's top 5 goal scorers are all newcomers to the top of the goal table. Amongst Milan Michalek, Phil Kessel, James Neal, Jonathan Toews and Claude Giroux the top single season is Kessel with 36 goals and Toews with 34. The average top season of the five is 29.6 goals. Can you say career years?

  • Coming into this season, Alex Ovechkin averaged 5.31 shots in each of his 475 career games. This season he has averaged 3.71 shots/game.

  • Brian Elliott is playing like it's 1929. His 1.46 GAA through 15 games would be the lowest since the 1928/29 season when the ENTIRE league's goals against average was 1.46. His .947 Save Pct. would shatter the record of Tim Thomas at .938 set last year. This year, Thomas's Pct is... .938.

  • If nothing else, Toronto's goaltending core has been consistent. James Reimer, Jonas Gustavsson and Ben Scrivens all have a SavePct of between .896 and .904 and GAA's of between 2.96 3.13. Incidentally since his return from injury, Reimer is 0-2-1 with a 3.63GAA and .864 SvPct. In Gustavsson's last six starts he is 5-1 with 2.31GAA and .929 SvPct.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Henderson Scores for Canada, in 1962

Paul Henderson's exploits against the Soviet Union in September 1972 was not the first time he tangled with the Russians. Far from it, Henderson first played against and scored against the Russians almost 10 years prior to the Summit Series.

During his final year of junior hockey with the Ontario League's Hamilton Red Wings, 18 year old Henderson notched a goal in a 9-5 loss on Nov. 19, 1962. A touring squad of Soviets, most of them 23 or 24 years of age had their way with the beefed up Hamilton side in front of a capacity crowd of 3,827. In 1962/63, Henderson would tally 50 goals and 76 points in 49 games.

The junior Red Wings were led that season by Pit Martin and his 87 points and were reinforced by graduates of the program from the previous two years. One of the goals against the Soviets was scored by Lowell MacDonald, on loan from Pittsburgh of the AHL. Also on the squad were future NHLers Gary Doak, Bart Crashley, Jimmy Peters, Nick Libbett and Bryan Campbell.

Henderson's goal was far less dramatic than the three he'd score in Moscow ten years later. His marker made the score 7-3 in the Soviets favour. Coincidentally, two of the Russian players, Alexander Ragulin and Vyacheslav Starshinov would also play in the fabled Summit Series a decade later. Starshinov got into one game in 1972 while Ragulin was a prominent veteran at the time and played in six matches.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Wayne Gretzky, Baseball Star

Now batting for your Toronto Blue Jays, number 99, Wayne Gretzky. This phrase was never actually uttered, but it could have been if things played out differently in the summer of 1980.

In the July 1980 issue of The Hockey News there is a quick blurb that mentions Gretzky was playing in the Inter-County Baseball League and batting .500 over the first few games. The Inter-County circuit plays senior baseball in larger cities of Southern Ontario and in 1980 a 19 year old Wayne would have been one of the younger players.

On June 12 of that year the AP reported that the Toronto Blue Jays had offered Gretzky a tryout, and if he showed major league potential, a contract offer could follow. Bob Prentice, the Blue Jays director of Canadian scouting believed the hockey star also could be a baseball star. "It's a serious offer on our part. I've seen him play in the last couple of years and he has some talent. But it was only recently he indicated that he loves the game. We had thought it had just been a recreation for him."

The plan was, if Gretzky was serious, for the Jays to give him a serious workout and "then see what he wants to do". Gretzky is quoted,"I like baseball so much, but I can't throw hockey away. Can you play both? If I could, I'd do it." Prentice added, "There is nothing to prevent us from talking to him, he is of the age we recruit players for the team." Gretzky's boss may have had other thoughts though. Oilers GM, Glen Sather said Gretzky has never asked for permission to play ball. Asked if it would be granted he said,"I don't know. You're asking me a hypothetical question."

In a story from the Canadian Press on July 8, 1980, a Brantford baseball official named Bill Moffat tells of one of the first times that Gretzky filled in at shortstop for the Senior level Brantford Red Sox. "We go to Waterloo for a tournament and it comes to the final game. We need a pitcher to face Leaside Leafs and Wayne volunteers. Well, you should have seen him. He's throwing his slow curve and keeping it low, and they're just going crazy trying to hit it. The more they go after it, the bigger the grin on his face gets. We wind up beating them, 15-5." Not only was Gretzky a fine hitter, but he had a heck of an off-speed pitch too. Whether or not any of these skills were of major league calibre, we'll never know.

Apparently by early July of 1980 Gretzky had declined the invitation to work out with the Jays. He stated,"Is it true they only make $600 a month in Medecine Hat," he asked, referring to the Jay's rookie league team in Alberta. "That's right," he was told, "And they pay their own rent. They also get about $7.50 a day to eat." Gretzky asked,"How do they survive?" and is told "on chewing tobacco." The Kid says, "Yuck. I tried it once when I was with the senior team. They had a guy from Pepperdine College on the team and he gave me some. I think it was really snuff. I stuck it in there and spit it right out. Yuck."

The innocent, neophyte ball player certainly made the correct career choice, but he may very well have had a serviceable career in baseball if he had decided to give it a shot.

Below is the photo of Gretzky that was printed with the AP article of June 12, 1980.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Maple Leaf Gardens Re-Opens

Living on the Canadian West Coast and being a diehard Leaf fan presents a few problems. The main one of course is the distance from where I live in North Vancouver to Toronto itself. This past week, the newly renovated Maple Leaf Gardens was re-opened as a Loblaw's Supermarket. I of course would have loved to go check it out but, lucky for me my parents still live in Ontario and are also big hockey fans. I have my dad to thank for these great photos he took of their trip recently to the new Gardens.

Near the entry of the new supermarket is this very cool Maple Leaf sculpture made entirely of old Gardens Blue seats. Some of the original walls are still exposed.

The exact spot of the old centre ice dot remains.

The aisle signage is reminiscant of an old scoreboard.

A beautiful mural commemorating great events in Leaf history.

As far as I can tell, even though it is filled with foodstuffs and other merchandise, the building somehow seems to retain the feel of an old arena. Apparently, the public feels the same. My dad said the place was just packed and actually doing any shopping would have been tough wth the crowds.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Around the Hockey World

  • Soon to be 40 year old (Dec 9) Petr Nedved is one point off the lead in Czech league scoring with 31 points in 25 games.

  • Ex-NHL First Rounder Rob Schremp is playing for Modo of the Swedish League and sits third in team scoring with 19 points in 27 games.

  • Leading the Swedish circuit in scoring is Mike Iggulden with 28 points in 27 games. The 28 year old last played in the NHL three seasons ago when he notched 5 points in 11 games with the Islanders.

  • Undrafted 19-year old Tanner Pearson of the OHL's Barrie Colts is scoring at well over a 2 points/game pace and has a 12 point lead in the scoring race.

  • The WHL has turned into the Quebec League of the early 1980's as no less than five players are on nearly a goal/game pace. Emerson Etem and Ty Rattie lead the way with 28 markers in 30 and 29 games respectively.

  • 20 year-old Craig Cowie of the Nepean Raiders in the Central Canadian Hockey League is having quite a season. He has a 18 point lead in the scoring race with 75 points in 32 games.

  • 19 year-old Darcy Murphy has potted an amazing 33 goals in 26 games for the Tier-II Wellington Dukes of the Ontario Junior Hockey League. He has a 9 goal lead on his nearest competitor.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Team Unit Update

It's official. The Toronto Maple Leafs and Toronto Blue Jays are in business together. Well, at least many of the two team's young players are. As I mentioned a few months ago, Leaf players Tyler Bozak, Colby Armstrong, Joffrey Lupul and Phil Kessel among others have become fast friends with several young Blue Jays including Brett Lawrie, JP Arencebia and Ricky Romero. Just yesterday their combined website went online selling their own T-Shirts (presumably with all proceeds to charity).

I have to admit, they look fairly sharp and being a diehard fan of both squads I will have to buy one. I just hope I don't look as excited as Bozak did last week after he scored a pair of goals in Anaheim and met up with fellow TeamUnit member and Los Angeles native Ricky Romero.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

NHL Notes

A few of the stats that jump out as we reach the quarter pole of the NHL season.

  • With 20 assists in 23 games, Ottawa defenceman Erik Karlsson is currently on pace for 71 assists. Only nine other defenders have collected that many helpers in an NHL season. Bobby Orr and Paul Coffey 6 times each. Ray Bourque, Brian Leetch 3 times each. Denis Potvin, Al MacInnis, Gary Suter, Sergei Zubov and Phil Housley once each. Leetch was the last to do it in 1995/96.

  • New Washington Capital coach Dale Hunter is also the franchise's all-time leader with 72 Playoff points. Perhas surprisingly Mike Ridley sits second with 60 ahead of Peter Bondra's 56 points. Alex Ovechkin sits 7th with 50 points in 37 career playoff games. Not surprising is the fact that Hunter also leads the Caps in career playoff PIM's with 372 in 100 games.

  • After four games this season, Sidney Crosby was only only 3 points behind Eric Staal and Jarome Iginla who have each played over 20 games.

  • Crosby and Alex Ovechkin have the same amount of points in November.

  • St.Louis goalie Brian Elliott has a 10-1 record, 1.31 GAA and .951 Save Pct....nothing more to say about that one.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Ryan Hugent-Hopkins, The Real Deal

As of November 27, 2001, rookie Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is tied for 10th in NHL scoring as an 18 year-old. Is this a rarity? Umm...yes, the only other teenage rookies to finish in the NHL top ten scoring was Wayne Gretzky and Sidney Crosby (yes, I consider Gretzky's 79/80 NHL season as a rookie year). Two guys did it. Not Mario Lemieux, not Dale Hawerchuk, not Bryan Trottier. Gretzky of course tied Marcel Dionne for first in scoring as an 18 year old and Crosby was 6th in his 18 year old rookie year.

In his rookie year of 84/85, Lemieux (at 19 years old) amassed 100 points good for 16th place in the high-flying 1980's. Similarly, in Hawerchuk's rookie year of 81/82 his 103 points was good for "only" 12th spot in scoring. Not bad for an 18 year old. In 1975/76, 19 year old Bryan Trottier scored 95 points and finished 12th as well.

Other teenage rookies who've placed fairly well in the scoring race were:

Gaye Stewart, 1942/43, 19 years old, 47 pts finished in 16th place.
Ted Kennedy, 1943/44, 18 years old, 49 pts finished 21st place.
Henri Richard, 1955/56, 19 years old, 40 pts finished 21st place.
Bobby Hull, 1957/58, 19 years old, 47 pts finished 19th place.
Bobby Orr, 1966/67, 18 years old, 41 pts finished 28th place but 3rd among D-men.
Jimmy Carson, 198/87, 18 years old, 79 pts finished 26th place.

And just last season, 18 year old Jeff Skinner notched 63 points to finish 38th overall. If Nugent-Hopkins continues as he's going he is bound to better Skinner's season and will likely nab the Calder Trophy as Rookie of the Year.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Maple Leafs Dress 11 Skaters, Tie the Habs

"Toronto Maple Leafs will be shorthanded for their game here at the Forum tonight against the Canadiens, bringing only 11 players instead of the customary 14. 'If Tommy Gorman has any players available around Montreal for use tomorrow night on a lend-lease basis we'll take 'em', Frank Selke was quoted."

Dec 14, 1944 was the night and the Leafs would play with less skaters than my beer-league team usually does. Sure times were different back in the wartime era NHL as teams usually only dressed 14 skaters, far less than today...but 11 skaters, that's a tough one.

Leaf coach Hap Day would have two forward lines to work with, one of Ted Kennedy, Bob Davidson and Tom O'Neill and the other of Mel Hill, Nick Metz and Lorne Carr. Absent for the Montreal game were 19 year-old scoring star Gus Bodnar who was ill, Sweeney Schriner who was out with long-term injury, and Wally Stanowski who was in the process of returning from military duty. Youngsters, Ross Johnstone and Bill McCreedy were unavailable as they only played home games due to schooling commitments. I wonder if 43 year-old Hap Day had thoughts of suiting up, having last played a game over 6 years previous.

The following day the Canadian Press headline proclaimed, "Leafs surprise! Canadiens held to 2-2 draw". The Leafs were described as "playing for the breaks throughout, apparently well content with the tie they gained. They checked persistently at every turn, and rarely did the Canucks get a chance to really hit their top pace." I find it interesting that the CP writer refers to the Canadiens as 'the Canucks'. Obviously merely an anglacized version of 'les Canadiens' but something I don't believe I have seen before.

Toronto scored first on a goal from Mel Hill, before Maurice Richard tied it four minutes later. Elmer Lach and Bob Davidson traded goals in the second and their was no scoring in the third, "thanks largely to some great goal-tending in the clutches by Frankie McCool."

The tie left Toronto in second place, three points behind Montreal and one up on Detroit. Leafs would finish 1944/45 with a 24-22-4 record in third place, 15 points back of Detroit and 28 behind Montreal. However, they upset the Habs 4 games to 2 in the Semis before besting Detroit in 7 for the Cup.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

A Tale of Two Goalies

Vancouver Canuck goalie Cory Schneider has had some tough luck so far this season. Despite a 2.24 GAA and a Save Pct of .920 he only has a won/loss record of 4-4. The main reason for this is the almost criminal lack of support by his offense. In games started by Schneider the Canucks have scored an average of only 1.63 goals per game. Two of his losses have been by shutout.

On the other end of the spectrum is Maple Leafs tender, Jonas Gustavsson. In games which he was the goalie of record he has a GAA of 3.14 and Save Pct. of .896. His record by the way is 6 wins, 4 losses. The Leafs have scored an average of 4.11 goals per game in his starts. This is almost two and a half times the support that the Canucks have given Schneider.

The contrast in the support of each goalie's teammate is also amazing. Roberto Luongo has a GAA almost a full goal higher than Schneider yet his record is 7-5-1 because Vancouver scores 3.96 goals per game for him. On the other hand, Toronto's Ben Scrivens receives a full 2 goals per game less in support than Gustavsson and his record of 2-4-1 reflects that.

It really is impressive that Schneider has even a .500 record. He certainly has earned a larger share of the work load than many thought he'd receive. If his teammates would only help, his win total would be significantly better.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Phil Kessel, meet Frank Mahovlich

Feb. 16, 1961-The Canadian Press
"The league's two top scorers - Frank Mahovlich of the Leafs and Bernie (Boom Boom) Geoffirion of the Canadiens - failed to get any points. Mahovlich, leading the race with 69 points, was well shadowed by Dickie Moore and had only a couple of good scoring chances. Geoffrion, who has 68 points, was in close several times but couldn't get a clear shot on goal."

This day would be the last time for over 50 years that a Toronto Maple Leaf led the NHL in scoring more than 20 games into a season, until today.

After 20 games of the current campaign, Leaf Phil Kessel has 27 points, one more than Flyer Claude Giroux. Granted, it's only a quarter of the way through the season, but that is as late as a Leaf has led the league in half a century.

On that same day in 1961, Feb 16, Bernie Geoffrion would explode for 5 points in a 9-1 win over Boston. The Big 'M' responded with 4 points in two games that weekend but 'Boom-Boom' kept him at bay with 3 more of his own.

Mahovlich would finish with 84 points, 11 behind leader Geoffrion and in third place behind Jean Beliveau's 90.

Below are the NHL scoring leaders on the morning of Feb. 16, 1961.
50 years later there is a Maple Leaf back on top, but for how long?

Thursday, November 17, 2011

The Typical Hall of Famer

With Hall of Fame week just finishing, talk turns to the next batch of Hockey Hall of Famers and to what makes a Hall of Famer? I had an idea to simply figure out what constituted a member of the Hall, statistically speaking.

For now I only looked at players who were Forwards, and only at guys who played at least 400 career games. I figured if only looking at stats, it's not fair to include the early NHLer's who's careers often amounted to only 200 or so games. There are still 94 NHL Hall members that were mainly forwards who played at least 400 games. It's a nice wide array of eras from Joliat, Morenz, Nels Stewart and Syl Apps to all the stars of recent decades.

These 94 players average careers work out to 946 Games and 883 points.

Remember there's many different eras of hockey included in there, as well as a number of more defensively oriented forwards but I think it gives us a fair starting point for the average Hall of Famer. I then looked at all NHL players through history to find four players that generally match these average Hall of Famer's numbers. The results are interesting:

Peter Bondra 1081 GP-892 Pts
Bill Barber 903 GP-883 Pts
Dennis Maruk 888 GP-878 Pts
Yvan Cournoyer 968 GP-863 Pts

These four average out to 960 GP and 879 Points each, and obviously only Barber and Cournoyer are actually in the Hall. What seperates them from Bondra and Maruk?
In simple terms, it's hardware that each player won during his career that pushes one over the Hall of Fame threshold. Barber won 2 Stanley Cups, was a First Team All-Star once and Second Teamer twice. Cournoyer won eight Cups, a Conn Smythe Trophy and was Second Team All-Star four times. On the other hand, neither Bondra or Maruk won a Cup, a Trophy or was a year end All-Star selection.

So, by looking at it in this very simple manner the average Hall of Fame forward looks something this. 946GP, 883 Pts, 2 Cups and 3 or 4 All-Star selections. Of course this is very simplistic, and more than a few modern era players easily match the scoring numbers but I feel it gives a nice starting point for future debates. It really does come down to the accolades a player has won, this is why Joe Sakic and Brendan Shanahan are pretty much locks for entry next year while guys like Lindros, Bure, Sundin and Oates are on the bubble.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Aaron Rome, Watch Out Paul Coffey

OK, it's only been 4 games so far this season but Aaron Rome has 3 goals and 5 points. He had played 131 career games before this year and collected a grand total of 2 goals and 12 points. He set a career high last season with 5 points. Now, we obviously won't assume he continues at his new-found level of scoring, but even if he scores 25 or 30 points this year it will be a monumental turnaround in his point production. Just how rare would it be? Extremely.

I tried to find other examples throughout NHL history that matched these parameters:
First 130 games of their career with a point scoring rate of 0.10/Game or less, then they went on to have a season of at least 0.50 Pts/Game at some point in their career.
I could pinpoint only two other guys that fit this description.

Lyle Odelein began his lengthy career with Montreal in 1989/90 and in his first 2+ seasons he had 131 games with 1 goal and 12 points, very similar to Rome's numbers. In 1992/93 he 'exploded' for 2 goals and 16 points but the following year Odelein put up 11 goals and 40 points in 79 games. His point producing may not have been unexpected due to the fact that as a junior with Moose Jaw he had seasons of 46, 59 and 58 points. Even so, it didn't last. Odelein's next three highest point NHL years would be 31, 24 and 23.

Brett Clark was another Montreal Canadien defender who in his first 144 games over 4 seasons tallied 3 goals and 9 points. He spent the entire 2002/03 season in the AHL with Hershey and as a 26 year old put up a respectable 35 points. When he finally played a full season with the Avalanche he produced back-to-back seasons of 36 and 39 points. As with Odelein, Clark had showed a potential for points production before turning professional. In his only year at the University of Maine he had 38 points in 39 games.

Can we draw similarities between the beginning of Odelein and Clark's careers and that of Rome's? As with the other two, Rome was no stranger to putting up points as a junior. In his last two years in the WHL he had 56 and 52 points. Maybe this will be the new normal for Rome...not a point per game necessarily, but a 30-something points aint half bad.

Another guy having a Rome-like breakout this season is Florida's Jason Garrison. He has 7 goals and 9 points in 17 games this year after having 7 and 26 in his first 113 career games. The weird thing about Garrison is that even in US college with Minnesota-Duluth he topped out at only 5 goals one year and in the AHL at 8 goals over a full season. His season is perhaps even more un-expected than Rome's.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

World Hockey Association, The First Season

I was recently reading an old hockey magazine from the early 1970's and there was a nice article about Johnny 'Pieface' McKenzie. He had jumped to the new WHA as a 35 year old and in his opinion the league was not getting it's due respect.

In the article he states of the upstart league, "Certainly we're not equal to the NHL, but don't forget they've been around a hundred years. If we keep robbing their players and signing juniors we'll be equal in four or five years". He continued saying "The New England Whalers would have held their own in the NHBoldL over the whole year. I know they're better than four or five teams right now. In fact, our top four teams could have beaten the Flames or the Islanders." The question is, was he correct?

The 1972/73 New England Whalers finished with 94 points in 78 games and beat third overall Cleveland 4 games to 1 in the semi-finals before beating second overall Winnipeg in the Final, also 4 games to 1. The Whale was definitely the cream of the WHA crop that first year. They were led by Tom Webster who was only one year removed from a 30 goal, 67 point NHL rookie season. Webster tallied 103 points for the Whalers and would definitely have been a solid NHLer that year. Centre, Terry Caffery was a 3rd overall selection of Chicago Black Hawks in 1966, but had yet to make an impact in the NHL. He parlayed an 88 point year in the AHL into a 100 point season with New England.

Larry Pleau had played 55 games for the Montreal Canadiens in 1971/72 and contributed 87 points to the Whalers championship campaign. Brit Selby a veteran of 350 NHL games and former Calder Trophy winner, chipped in 42 points that year and Tom Williams had over 500 NHL games on his resume and the previous season scored 17 goals with the North Stars and Golden Seals. Other than Williams, all these guys were 27 years old or younger.

The real strength of the Whalers that year was their defense. Jim Dorey, Ted Green, Brad Selwood and Rick Ley. All had played regularly in the NHL the previous season, and very well could have again if not jumping to the WHA. In net the Whalers had Al Smith
who had played over 40 NHL games the last three years with Goals Against Averages of under 3.25 each season.

In summary, John McKenzie definitely had a point. New England would have certainly held their own in the NHL of 1972/73. That season, Montreal, Boston and New York Rangers were a cut above the rest of the NHL. I would guess New England would have had at least a .500 record and been in a fight with Detroit and Buffalo for a playoff spot.

As for McKenzie's estimation that in 4 or 5 years the WHA would be equal to the NHL, that one was a bit off.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Was Gretzky really a bad coach?

It came out recently that Georges Laraque says in his new book that Wayne Gretzky was the "worst coach he ever played for". The question is should we care what Laraque thinks and if so, is his criticism valid?

Gretzky's four year coaching record was 143-161-24 for a Winning Pct. of .473 and of course he never managed to get the Coyotes into the post season. In addition to Gretz, Laraque played for Ron Low, Kevin Lowe, Craig MacTavish, Michael Therrien, Guy Carbonneau, Bob Gainey and Jacques Martin. Of these guys, only Ron Low had a lower Winning Pct. than Wayner, but he made the playoffs three of the seven years and won two different playoff rounds.

Gretzky ranks 91st in coaching victories and there have been exactly 100 coaches with at least 135 career wins. Out of these 100, Gretzky ranks 84th in Career Winning Pct. AND he is the only one of the 100 to have never made the playoffs. Even Doug Carpenter made the playoffs once (losing with Toronto 4 games to 1 in 1989/90).

So, if Gretzky isn't the worst coach ever, he is definitely a candidate. Others would be Carpenter with a .403 Winning Pct and his one playoff win, Tom Watt and his .422 Pct and one playoff win in ten games. Milt Schmidt would be another candidate with a .406 Pct but he did have two playoff round wins and a second overall league finish.

Maybe Laraque had a point.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Leafs 7-3-1. Been there four times before.

A 7-3-1 record to begin a season is definitely nice for the Toronto Maple Leafs, but it certainly is far too early to say that record guarantees an overall good season. Indeed, with 36 goals for and 35 allowed, the Leafs may very well come back to earth soon. Over their history, Toronto has in fact started with the exact same 7-3-1 record on four other occaisons. A look at how those seasons turned out:

Led by Curtis Joseph in net, this year's 7-3-1 start featured 32 goals for and only 22 allowed. They sat first in the NHL. They would continue the hot start ending the calendar year at 23-9-4 and finished the season with 100 points, first place in the Northeast Division. Toronto would lose 4 games to 2 in the New Jersey Devils in the second round of the playoffs.

This season's 7-3-1 start included 45 goals for and 32 against and placed them first overall in the NHL. They would win the 12th game before hitting the skids big time. From then until Boxing Day they sputtered along at 4-20-1 costing coach John Brophy his job. Toronto finished with 62 points, third last overall in the NHL.

This year's fast start of 33 goals and 24 against was parlayed into an overall fine season. 7-3-1 put them in second place on Nov.7, one point behind Montreal. They finished the season 37-22-11, solidly in second place and 13 behind the Habs. Leafs would beat the New York Rangers in the semis 4 games to 2 and Chicago in 6 games to win the Cup.

This season's 7-3-1 start was perhaps the most similar to the current season's. 59 years ago they had scored 37 goals and surrendered 35, very close to today's numbers. They were in a tie for first in the league. Within three weeks they had fallen to under .500 and finished 27-30-13, 2 points out of a playoff spot.

So, two of the four times that Toronto started a season with this record, they failed to make the playoffs.

Another interesting way to look at this year's start is looking at all the season's in which Toronto had at least 15 points over the first 11 games. 15 different times Toronto has done this, from the 7-3-1 starts up to the 10-1-0 start of 1993/94. The average final winning percentage of those 15 seasons was .573. If they do that this year, that's 94 points...maybe just enough to make the playoffs. Maybe.

Monday, October 31, 2011

30 years ago today.

Oct. 31, was just a little bit different than it is today. Below are the standings from exactly 30 years ago today.

To illustrate the amazing difference in goal scoring, the 1981 Colorado Rockies with 30 goals in 11 games would rank 10th in scoring today. Today's leaders, Philadelphia and their 41 goals would have ranked 15th out of 21 teams in 1981. On the other end of the spectrum, Montreal's league best 28 goals allowed in 11 games would be merely tied for 13th today.

On the individual front Phil Kessel, today's NHL leader with 18 points would have been 15th overall on the same date in 1981, one point behind Oilers defenceman Risto Siltanen and one ahead of St.Louis Blue Mike Zuke. Kessel's league best 10 goals would be only 9th in 1981.

In all honestly, comparing today's scoring to that from 30 years ago is more of a fun thing. There really is no comparison as I've shown. In 1981/82 there was just over an average of 8.00 goals scored per game, as of today it is 5.38 per game...just about exactly two-thirds.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Firewagon Hockey, It's been a while.

The 17 total goals scored in the Winnipeg/Philadelphia game is the highest scoring NHL game in over 15 years. The 17 goals are the most by two teams since Jan. 13, 1996 when the San Jose Sharks beat the Pittsburgh Penguins 10-8. Interestingly, Jaromir Jagr played in both of these games and had only one point in each.

No player scored more than four points in either of these high-scoring affairs. Mario Lemieux and Ray Sheppard had 4 each in '96 , Danny Briere and Kimmo Timonen also had 4 points each.

From New York Islanders home game statistician Eric Hornick, the five games in which a goaltender played in ONLY a shoot-out of a game.

10/27/2011 in Pittsburgh, Rick DiPietro became the 5th goalie to appear only in a shootout when he replaced Evgeni Nabakov.

The others:
10/22/2008 Toronto v Anaheim. Curtis Joseph replaced Vesa Toskala for shootout for Toronto.
10/26/2006 Atlanta v Philadelphia. Kari Lehtonen replaced Johan Hedberg for Atlanta.
3/7/2006 Edmonton v Dallas. Mark Morrison replaced Ty Conklin for Edmonton.
11/22/2005 Buffalo v NY Rangers. Martin Biron replaced Mika Noronen for Buffalo.

Incidentally, all shoot-out replacement goalies lost their respective games.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The Trouble with Luongo

I don't want to pile on Roberto Luongo. People who are calling for his head are being reactionary and counter-productive. This season is still in the very early stages and most people are aware that Luongo is a notorious slow starter.

However, given the fact that I live in Vancouver, I hear alot of this nonsense and honestly it's interesting to follow. The one thing I have noticed is the manner in which Luongo has been failing, dating back to last year's playoffs. It seems to me that when he loses, he breaks down in spectacular Hindenburg-ian fashion. I figured I'd have a look at the numbers.

Now, it may be a relatively small sample size, but I wanted to compare Luongo's numbers in games which he won to games which he lost and how those compare to the league averages.

2011/12 NHL Average
In Losses, teams had an GAA of 3.68 and Save Pct of .877
In Wins, teams had an GAA of 1.77 and Save Pct of .942

These numbers are obvious and predictable. So, how did Roberto Luongo fare in these categories last year, quite exceptionally actually.

In 22 Losses he was well better than the League with a 2.88 GAA and .903 Save Pct
In 38 Victories, he was closer to the League numbers with 1.67 GAA and .942 Save Pct

Last season Luongo managed to (on average) keep games fairly close even in a loss. He was far better than the normal in this regard and coupled with his slightly above numbers in his team's victories, he put together a Vezina nominated season.

These stats have all gone out the window since the start of last year's post-season. As stated, it is a fairly small sample size, but he has played 32 games since then, pretty much half of a full season. If these numbers are a "blip", it's a pretty big one. Since the playoffs started, his numbers;

17 Wins are 1.69 GAA and .950 SavePct.

...again, noticeably superior to the League averages.
On the other hand, since the playoffs began he has;

14 Losses and a 4.68 GAA and .838 SavePct.

His Goals Against Average in losses is a full goal higher than the NHL average. If I was a Canuck fan, I would be alarmed at that. As a comparison, let's look at the only other goalie to play as often since the playoffs started, Tim Thomas.

In Thomas' 19 Wins since the playoffs began;
1.56 GAA and .954 Save Pct.

In 12 Losses,
2.79 GAA and .906 Save Pct.

Thomas is well ahead of the average in games he won and ridiculously ahead in games he lost. Suppose that adds up to a Stanley Cup win. Perhaps Roberto Luongo had a bad few games in the playoffs, perhaps it's a trend that will continue. Either way it looks like he is prone to catostrophic collapses in games, at least over the last half-season worth of games.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Sweeney Schriner and the Dangers of Backchecking.

Last week, when looking at historical comparisons for Phil Kessel's hot start, I learned of the 1944/45 season of Maple Leaf, Dave 'Sweeney' Schriner. Kessel's 8 goals through 7 games was bested only by Schriner's 9 goals in the first 7 games of 1944. That season of course was the year of the NHL's first 50 goal season by Maurice Richard. Perhaps, if not for an injury that cost him almost half the season, Sweeney Schriner may have joined Richard as the first 50 goal scorer.

The 33 year-old Schriner would be shutout in his 8th game but notched 2 goals on Nov 8, 1944 in his 9th match of the season, the game in which he would be injured. Schriner was quoted afterwards;"That's one time the coach can't say I wasn't backchecking." The Toronto Star described the injury; "Schriner says he was cruising in home waters looking for a stray puck when he saw Mush March pounce and start for (goaltender) McCool with dirt in his eye. He swung along with Mush and next thing he knew he was mushed into the steel upright. 'You should see this leg', said he,'It's turned hard like cement.' Sweeney thinks the fibre leg pad he wore saved the limb from a fracture."

His 11 goals was four more than any other player to this point in the season. Four more than Marice Richard, the man who would indeed score 50. By mid-December, Schriner and his 17 points still sat 13th in the NHL points race. The Rocket had tallied 12 goals in 8 games since Schriner went down to sit with 19 through 17 games, well on his way to history.

Schriner would spend the Christmas holidays at home in Calgary, resting his injured knee. He planned on returning to Toronto in the New Year but at that point coach Hap Day did not know when Schriner would be ready to put the skates on again. It took until Jan. 6 for Schriner to begin a conditioning program, but he returned quickly to game shape and played on Jan. 9. He notched one assist in that game versus the Rangers, then scored 2 goals in his second game back against Montreal.

As of early March, Schriner had played 12 games since returning to action, scoring 7 goals and 5 assists in the process. Certainly his pace had slowed down, but on the strength of his hot start he managed to reappear in the NHL's scoring leaders on March 6. His 18 goals, 11 assist and 29 points sat 29th in league scoring. He finished strong with 4 goals and 8 points in his last 5 matches and ended up 22nd in points despite missing 24 of the 50 games.

In fact, Schriner's 22 goals finished 13th in the NHL. Certainly it would have been next to impossible for him the continue his early season scoring rate through an entire season, but if not for his injury he almost certainly would have bested second place goal man Herb Cain's 32 and maybe given the Rocket a run at 50.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Leaf Notes and Numbers

Toronto's Special Teams

2011/12: Power Play 16.00%, PK 77.27%

2010/11: Power Play 15.95%, PK 77.45%

Toronto's Strength (or weakness) of Schedule

so far this season is rated as the easiest by far at Minus 0.82, Zero is average and Los Angeles has had the most difficult schedule at +0.90

Phil Kessel and Joffrey Lupul have scored 11 of Toronto's 16 goals.
The Kessel, Lupul and Bozak line have counted 23 of the team's 45 scoring points.

Kessel is the first Leaf to tally 7 goals over the first 5 games of a season since Sweeney Schriner in 1944 (see below).

1944/45 Season

Although not the last time Toronto had an undefeated five game start, it's interesting to look
back into the past at another dominating start and how it panned out over the season. After five wins, the Leafs had scored 30 goals and surrendered 12 and sat two points up on Montreal. Toronto also had the top three point scorers in the entire line of Sweeney Schriner (13 points), Gus Bodnar (13 points) and Lorne Carr (12 points).

Leafs would come back to earth and finish with 52 points in the 50 game season in third place, 28 points behind first place Montreal. Carr finished with 46 points, Bodnar 44 and Schriner 37 in only 26 games.

Toronto knocked off Montreal in 6 semi-final games then beat Detroit in 7 to win the Cup.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Phil Kessel's Hot Start

Thanks to Leaf play-by-play man Joe Bowen, last night I learned that Phil Kessel is only the third Maple Leaf in history to score 5 goals in the first 3 games of the season. In game 4 he added a 6th goal to tie a Leaf record to start a season. The two players that previously scored 5 in the first 3 were Darryl Sittler and Wendel Clark (twice).

Darryl Sittler 1978
Game 1: 2G
Game 2: 3G-4A
Game 3: 0
Game 4: 1G-1A

On the strength of a 7 point game, Sittler had 6 goals and 5 assists through the first 4 games in 1978/79. He would slow down to 1 goal and 2 assists over the next 6 games finishing October 1978 with a scoring line of: 10-7-7-14.

Wendel Clark 1986
Game 1: 1G
Game 2: 4G
Game 3: 0
Game 4: 0

After 5 tallies in his first two matches. Clark notched 2 goals, 2 assists in his next 6. His October scoring ended up: 9-7-2-9

Wendel Clark 1991
Game 1: 2G-1A
Game 2: 3G-2A
Game 3: 1A

Clark had a Gretzky-esque start to 1991/92 with 6 goals and 9 points in the first three games. Unfortunately for he and the Leafs, in the third game he tore his left MCL in collision with Rich Sutter of St.Louis. He would be out for the next 10 games, came back for three then re-injured the knee putting him on the shelf until January.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Atlanta lives on in the hockey record books.

I read yesterday how the new Winnipeg Jets announcers and media will have to be careful when referring to franchise 'firsts'. The next Jets hat-trick will be neither the first in Jets history or in franchise history. The confusion will stem from the fact that there already has been a Winnipeg Jets, although an entirely different franchise and the defunct Atlanta Thrashers records will carry on to the current Winnipeg Jets.

Unless Mark Scheifele ends up being the second coming of Dale Hawerchuk, the new Jets record book will remain dominated by ex-Thrashers. Ilya Kovalchuk's 328 franchise goals and 615 points should be number one for years to come. The likes of Marian Hossa, Slava Kozlov and Kari Lehtonen will be part of the Jets records for a while still.

In fact the previous Atlanta franchise, the Flames, have a record book peppered lightly with Atlanta players from before the franchise shift. In addition to the new Jets, Atlanta hockey is still represented in the Calgary records.

  • Eric Vail played only 70 of 539 Flames games in Calgary and still sits 8th in franchise goals with 206.

  • Guy Chouinard played more than half of his Flames career in Atlanta and remains 7th in points with 529. His 107 points in 78/79 remain 4th best in Flames history.

  • Bob MacMillan has the 3rd highest scoring season in Flames history, 108 with Atlanta in 78/79. That same season he tallied the 3rd most assists by a Flame with 71.

  • Dan Bouchard played only 14 of 398 Flames games in Calgary. He sits 3rd in goalie games and his 5 shutouts in 73/74 are 4th most in any Flames year. His Flames career GAA of 3.03 is 6th best in franchise history.

  • Phil Myre, who never played in Calgary also notched 5 shut outs in 74/75 and sits 7th in career GAA at 3.21.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

1930, Maple Leafs start the year with 5 shutouts.

Researching Toronto's history of opening night shutouts, I found that the Leafs actually started the 1930/31 season with FIVE consecutive shutouts. This was the last year in the Mutual Street Arena for Toronto before moving the next season to Maple Leaf Gardens. Somewhat strange about the five shutouts is the fact that Toronto alternated goaltenders Lorne Chabot (pictured below) and Benny Grant (above), each taking turns starting games. This was fairly rare in an era when the majority of teams used one goalie for the entire year.

Following are the summaries from the Canadian Press of each of the five games:

Nov.13, 1930
0-0 vs. New York Americans
Lorne Chabot vs. Roy Worters

"The game, played before about 8,000 spectators, was a typical early season exhibition of the popular winter pastime. Neither team showed real form, and as a result the game was somewhat dull. In addition to this the unseasonably warm weather and ultra strict officiating detracted from the game's attractiveness. King Clancy, recently purchased from Ottawa, was the backbone of the Leafs, both offensively and defensively."

Nov.15, 1930
4-0 vs. Philadelphia Quakers
Benny Grant vs. Joe Milller
"Making every post a winning one, Toronot Maple Leafs last night humbled Philadelphia Quakers, in a NHL fixture here. The final score was 4-0, and the Leafs were full value for the victory. The Leafs scored two goals in the first period and two in the second period, but were held scoreless in the final. The first tally of the game came when Red Horner, husky defenceman, took Jackson's pass and drove it into the twine. One and a half minutes later, Primeau scored, and again Jackson figured in the play. Conacher and Jackson combined for the third goal, and then Ace Bailey made it four on Clancy's pass."

Nov.18, 1930
3-0 vs. Montreal Maroons
Lorne Chabot vs. Flat Walsh
"Working like Trojans in front of superb goal-tending by Lorne Chabot, the still undefeated Toronto Maple Leafs took their second victory of the young season by defeating Montreal Maroons three goals to nil. In three games Maroons have not scored a single goal." Leaf goals were tallied by Clancy, Bailey and Horner.

Nov.20, 1930
0-0 vs. New York Americans
Benny Grant vs. Roy Worters
"Eddie Gerard's 'Amazing Amerks' again presented an airtight defensive system to hold the Toronto marksmen scoreless. The game was far from being of a spectacular nature, as the Leafs didn't take many chances either with the Americans adopting Kitty-bar-the-door tactics. It was the second time these teams have played scoreless games and it marked Toronto's fourth game in which the opposition has not tallied a goal against them." Grant made 40 saves while Worters had 36.

Nov.22, 1930
2-0 vs. Ottawa
Chabot vs. Connell
"Playing super-hockey, the Toronto Maple Leafs downed Ottawa Senators 2-0, in a brilliant National Hockey League fixture here Saturday night, registering their fifth straight shutout. The Leafs have won three gamee, tied two and have not had a single goal tallied against them this season. From bell to bell, the two teams struggled at top pace, with both goalies showing brilliantly. Of the two, Connell, of Ottawa, had the much harder evening, and the two goals which did beat him were practically impossible to save." Goals were scored by Cotton and Conacher.

Toronto failed to parlay this terrific start to the year into much success. Although they would finish second to Canadiens in the Canadian Division, they would slip to sixth overall in goals allowed among the ten NHL squads. Leafs would lose to Chicago in the Quarter-Finals that year.

The team that finally did score a goal on Toronto and defeat them for the first time that season....the Quakers of Philadelphia beat them 2-1 on Nov. 25. The Quakers of course were in the midst of the worst season in NHL history and would finish 1930/31 with a 4-36-4 record.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Maple Leafs Opening Night Shutouts

Leaf goalie James Reimer shutout Montreal in the opener of the 2010/11 season and perhaps surprisingly it's only the fourth time in over 70 years that it's happened. In the almost 100 year history of the Toronto franchise, they've recorded a season opening shutout on only 7 occaisons.
The other six times were as follows:

Oct. 10, 2002 Ed Belfour
Toronto 6 at Pittsburgh 0
Belfour stopped 33 Penguin shots in his Toronto debut. Leafs were led by the line of Sundin (2G, 2A), Mogilny (2G, 1A) and Tucker (3A).

Oct.7, 2000 Curtis Joseph
Montreal 0 @ Toronto 2
On goals by Jonas Hoglund and Sergei Berezin, Toronto beats the Habs despite being outshot 26-18.

Oct.11, 1984 Allan Bester
Toronto 1 @ Minnesota 0
Bester stopped 23 shots, out-duelled Don Beaupre in a 1-0 overtime victory. Miroslav Frycer tallied the winner two minutes into extra time.

Nov.4, 1939 Turk Broda
Boston 0 @ Toronto 5
Two goals from Syl Apps and solos from Gord Drillon, Pete Langelle and Bob Davidson.

Nov.13, 1930 Lorne Chabot
NY Amerks 0 @ Toronto 0
Chabot and Roy Worters battled for 70 minutes in a sluggish game that featured 20 penalties called and unseasonably warm temperatures.

Nov.15, 1928 Lorne Chabot
Chicago 0 @ Toronto 2
Andy Blair and George Horne counted the markers as Chabot shut down Chicago.

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