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.

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