Sunday, June 30, 2013

Robbie Irons and the Three Minute Career

To be fair to Robbie Irons, the three minute career refers only to his time in the NHL. The Toronto born goaltender played well over 500 professional games and was a mainstay during the 1970's for the Fort Wayne Komets of the International Hockey League. The story of his three minute NHL stint is a good one and involves two of the greatest goalies of all time.

Two seasons after leading the OHA in shutouts with the Kitchener Rangers, 22 year-old Robbie Irons found himself a member of the St. Louis Blues. The Blues were in their second year of existence and featured in net 37 year-old Glenn Hall and 39 year-old Jacques Plante. The two future Hall of Famers had been splitting the goaltending duties evenly and on the night of November 13, 1968 nothing had changed. Hall got the start at home against the New York Rangers, while Plante got the night off and was upstairs in the press box helping out on the television broadcast. This meant that young Robbie Irons was the dressed back-up on the Blues bench.

As well, this was the first game ever that Glenn Hall would be wearing a face mask. This fact wold help contribute to Robbie Irons three minute NHL career. Just over one minute into the game, Ranger sniper Vic Hadfield drove a hard shot past Hall to open the scoring and a half a minute later St. Louis
Defenceman Noel Picard was penalized for a delay of game by referee Vern Buffey. Hall, who was furious with the call and likely the early goal by Hadfield charged at the official and pushed Buffey with his gloved hand. This action of course earned Hall a game misconduct.

In came the rookie Irons. During his subsequent warm-up however, he took a shot off the right ankle and required some time for repairs. He would be able to play, but this extra delay allowed Plante to rush downstairs and suit up. He took over for Irons with only five minutes elapsed in the first period.
Irons had faced no shots in his three minutes of relief time. Plante stopped all 23 directed his way and the Blues won 3-1. He said after the game, "Too bad I don't get credit for the shutout."

This would be the extent of Robbie Irons NHL career. He played parts of the next three seasons with the Kansas City Blues of the Central League before playing 482 games with Fort Wayne. He retired after the 1980/81 season and still shares the dubious record for shortest NHL career by a goalie, his three minute appearance was equalled in 1993/94 by Chicago's Christian Soucy.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Jonathan Bernier Is Going To See a Lot More Rubber

The Toronto Maple Leafs are an improved defensive team. They were before they acquired Jonathan Bernier this week and are improved that much more now that they possess two high quality young goaltenders. During the 2012/13 regular season, Toronto's defence improved dramatically and allowed a half goal per game less than the previous season. This occurred despite the fact their shots allowed per game rose from 30.8 to 32.3. During this year's playoffs versus Boston, that number climbed to an amazing 39.0 per game.

Luckily the Maple Leafs have a goaltender that appears to thrive under a large barrage of rubber. Over James Reimer's three seasons encompassing 104 games, he has faced over 30 shots just about half of the time. By contrast, his new goaltending partner has faced over 30 shots in a game a mere 12 times over his 62 game career. He'd better get used to, and embrace the thought of more action in front of him.

Toronto's 32.3 shots allowed ranked 4th worse in the NHL while Bernier's Los Angeles Kings surrendered 25.0 shots a game, 3rd best in the circuit. The question is then, how will Bernier perform while facing perhaps 30% more shots in each match?

The numbers seem to show that he may do just fine.
Firstly, Reimer's split numbers:

James Reimer, Career Facing 30 or less shots


2.92 GAA
.891 Save Pct

James Reimer, Career Facing 30 or more shots

2.53 GAA
.931 Save Pct

Clearly, Reimer enjoys facing a lot of rubber. He wins a far higher percentage of his games with over 30 shots against, and he stops pucks with much greater frequency. 
Now for Bernier's splits:

Jonathan Bernier, Career Facing 30 or less shots

2.35 GAA
.907 Save Pct

Jonathan Bernier, Career Facing more than 30 shots

2.40 GAA
.929 Save Pct

Sure, the sample size is fairly small but like Reimer, Bernier also sees a significant jump in his Save Percentage when facing a larger workload. Leaf fans like myself should expect a healthy battle between two guys who luckily seem to play better when facing more shots than the average goaltender.

Unless there is a dramatic turnaround, Toronto will yield a higher than average shots to the opposing team. That's just the Maple Leafs way, hopefully Bernier can embrace that fact as Reimer has.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Patrick Kane for Conn Smythe. The Right Call?

Patrick Kane is your 2013 Conn Smythe Trophy winner. The question is, was he the right choice?
Personally, I like to look at the individual numbers from Cup Finals and give them a little more weight when selecting a Conn Smythe winner. Below are the numbers from the Finals only:

(GP-G-A-PTS +/-)
Lucic 6-4-2-6 -1
Kane 6-3-2-5 +3
Krejci 6-0-5-5 -1
Bergeron 6-4-0-4 -2
Paille 6-2-2-4 +1
Bickell 6-1-3-4 +5
Chara 6-1-3-4 -5
Frolik 6-0-4-4 +1
Sharp 6-2-0-2 -3
Toews 6-0-2-2 +4
Keith 6-0-2-2 +4
Marchand 6-0-0-0 -3

And the goaltenders (W-L-GAA-SvPct)

Crawford     4-2 2.07 .929
Rask             2-4 2.21 .932

Kane did indeed tally five points in the final and ended up with 19 points, good for second place in playoff scoring. Those 19 points tied Milan Lucic who led the final round with 4 goals and 6 points. In my opinion however the Hawks true most valuable player, and therefore the should-be Conn Smythe winner was goaltender Corey Crawford.

Even considering his Game Five display when he seemed to be playing with two blockers (a game the Hawks still won despite the 5 goals against), Crawford still posted a 2.07 GAA for the final series. In a series and a playoff in general where defence reigned supreme, Crawford kept Chicago in games when they were being outplayed and made the big save when called upon.

I would have even selected Defenceman Duncan Keith over Kane as far as valuable Hawks went, but in the end the Trophy should have gone to Crawford. 


Veteran Jaromir Jagr put up a rather strange and rare scoring line over the course of the playoffs. In 22 games he tallied 10 assists and zero goals. He is only the fourth forward in NHL history to have at least 10 helpers while not scoring a goal. Expectedly more defencemen have done this than forwards, still Jagr is only the tenth man to do this.  They are listed below by (GP-Assists)

Mark Howe 1989 19-15
Niklas Kronwall 2008 22-15
Larry Robinson 1986 20-13
Alex Delvecchio 1966 12-11
Tomas Kaberle 2011 25-11
Mike Ridley 1992  7-11
Mario Tremblay 1980 10-11
Jordan Leopold 2004  26-10
Sandis Ozolinsh 1994 14-10
Jaromir Jagr 2013  22-10


In a losing effort, Boston's Nathan Horton achieved something not seen in almost 30 years. His +20 plus/minus rating is the highest in the NHL playoffs since 1985 and ties for the fifth highest ever.

Wayne Gretzky 1985  +28
Paul Coffey 1985   +26
Jari Kurri 1985   +24
Paul Coffey 1984  +21
Nathan Horton 2013 +20
Charlie Huddy 1985  +20

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Ovechkin for Hart, Was it the Right Call?

Sidney Crosby had it in the bag. When he broke his jaw on March 30, he was unquestionably the Most Valuable Player in the NHL. He was the scoring leader up until the very last week of the season despite not playing. Even though Ovechkin went on a goal scoring tear in the second half, many people feel that Crosby still should have been awarded the Hart. The final voting was indeed one of the closest ever ending up 1,090 to 1,058. Ovechkin garnered 50 first place votes to Crosby's 46.

Some of the issues raised are the fact that Ovechkin played in the weakest divison in the NHL and the fact that he ended up with the same number of points as Crosby while playing 12 more games. Let's have a look.

1.) Ovechkin played in the weakest divison in the NHL.

It's true that Ovie played 18 of his 48 games against the Southeast Division, and he definitely had far more success playing these opponents, the truth is, Crosby also lit up the Southeast.

vs. SE Div.
Ovechkin  18GP-16G-13A-29Pts, +10
Crosby      11GP-6G-15A-21Pts, +6

If we look at their numbers while playing the rest of the NHL we see a clear advantage in Crosby's favour:

vs. Non SE Div
Ovechkin  30GP-16G-11A-27Pts, -8
Crosby      26GP-8G-32A-40Pts, +11

2.)Ovechkin played 12 more games than Crosby.

This is an easy fix, and it only makes Ovechkin look better. Since he had a slow start, let's remove his first dozen games and see how Ovie's final 36 games compare to Crosby's:

Final 36 games.
Ovechkin  28G-20A-48Pts, +6
Crosby      15G-41A-56Pts, +26

Now the numbers tighten up considerably. Crosby scored at a 128 point full season pace, but Ovechkin scored at a 64 goal full season pace.

In my opinion this one is really a toss-up and the tight voting result illustrates that. In the end, I have no real problem with Ovechkin winning this year's Hart Trophy.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Bruins Blackhawks All-Time Team


Bobby Orr and Phil Esposito. Most hockey fans know that these two players, more known as Boston Bruins also played with Chicago at points in their careers. Of course there have been many players over the years to have played for both of this season's Cup finalists. You can make a pretty good squad from the names of guys who played for both the Hawks and Bruins in their careers.
Phil Esposito
Bronco Horvath
Pit Martin
Gus Bodnar
Dave Creighton
Cal Gardner
Mike Walton
Ken Hodge
Jim McKenzie
Jerry Toppazzini
Bobby Schmautz
Murray Balfour
Roy Conacher
Al Secord
Fred Stanfield
Vic Stasiuk
Ed Sandford
Bep Guidolin
Ron Murphy

Bobby Orr
Pat Stapleton
Doug Mohns
Mike O'Connell
Dick Redmond
Reggie Fleming
Frank Brimsek
Harry Lumley
Jim Henry
Eddie Johnston
Bert Gardiner
Jack Gelineau
Paul Bibeault
Robbie Tallas

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Bruins & Blackhawks Through the Years

Awesome 1971 Sports Illustrated cover featuring Phil & Tony Esposito

Boston vs Chicago. March 17, 1946
#8 Murray Henderson, #15 Milt Schmidt, #15 Woody Dumart

Boston vs. Chicago. Dec. 19, 1957
#12 Ed Litzenberger, #1 Don Simmons

1972 Hockey mag picturing both Espos, Wayne Cashman, Bill White, Pat Stapleton & Stan Mikita
All of whom played on Team Canada 1972.

1970 Sports Illustrated picturing the late Keith Magnuson

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Teeder Kennedy, 1972 Signed Program

I picked this one up on the weekend, an old program for the Toronto Marlboros Junior squad. The cool thing is that it is signed by Leaf great Ted Kennedy. Teeder was 46 at the time and 15 years removed from his playing career. This was from the third game of the Ontario League Semi-Finals against the Peterborough Petes. Check out the names on the rosters of the teams below.
The Marlboros won this game 5-3 to make the series 2 to 1 for the Petes. This would be the last win of the season for Toronto as Peterborough would win the next two games. They would then sweep Ottawa to advance to the Memorial Cup. They would eventually lose in the final to Cornwall.

One interesting player from this game is Doug Gibson of the Petes. He led Peterboro in scoring that season with 99 points. We would lead the OHA in playoff scoring with 29 points in 15 games. After a 114 point season in 1972/73 Gibson was drafted in the 3rd round by both the Boston Bruins and the WHA's Los Angels Sharks. Within two years he led the AHL in points with 116 for the Boston Braves. He ended up playing 63 games in the NHL with both Boston and Washington, collecting 28 points and ZERO penalties in minutes. This is the longest NHL career ever by a player without ever being penalized.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Victoria Maple Leafs Programs

The latest additions to The Den, a couple of old Western Hockey League programs of the Victoria Maple Leafs. I've got a fair amount of programs from this old league which used to rival the AHL in terms of top minor-pro circuit, these are my first two of Victoria.

 The Victoria Maple Leafs existed for only three seasons from 1964/65 to 1966/67 as the franchise had transferred from Denver. They would become the Phoenix Roadrunners in 1967.
The Vic Leafs were the secondary farm-team for the Toronto Maple Leafs after the AHL Rochester Americans and ahead of Tulsa Oilers in the Central League. The big star for Victoria was Milan Marcetta who led the team in scoring each of the three seasons and would play three games for Toronto in the 1967 playoffs earning his name on the Stanley Cup.

Monday, June 3, 2013

McSorley's Stick and Desjardins Hat Trick, I was there.

Twenty years ago today. Montreal Forum. Stanley Cup Finals.
I was there.
My only Stanley Cup Final, and man what a game to have witnessed.

This was game two of the 1993 Stanley Cup Final between Montreal and Los Angeles. My buddy and I were living in Monreal at the time and had camped out in front of The Forum a week earlier for these tickets. We spent a thankfully pleasant night about twentieth in a line of Habs fans that eventually numbered well into the hundreds. The night was spent literally on the sidewalk on Ste. Catherine St. right in front of the Forum. We had sleeping bags and a battery operated radio and honestly  we barely slept the entire night. Most of the kids in front of us were there on behalf of scalpers and being paid fifty bucks to buy the maximum amount of tickets allowed. My pal and I were on much more of a budget and opted for only the standing room tickets for games Two and Seven. I think we paid 30 apiece for them.

So, there we were at Game Two, about a week later. We stood at about blue line depth halfway up the arena, and even better we had the front of the standing section which meant a railing to lean on. I have to admit, it was a tight fit as they must have sold every single standing ticket and we were about four deep all around the rink. We had to go individually on beer runs or washroom breaks so as to not lose our railing spot. It was on one of these forays into the concourse that I met Janet Gretzky who was there with golfer Craig "The Walrus" Stadler who was obviously pals with Wayner.

Then, late in the third with the Habs in danger of going down two games to none, Jacques Demers called for a stick measurement on Marty McSorley. The coach was quoted after the game, "We were dead. We didn't want to go down 2-0. I never like to embarrass a man who has so much pride like Marty. I just do my job. We didn't have a choice." Kings coach Barry Melrose felt the move lacked class saying, "We got a lesson tonight. We're going to have to watch stuff like that throughout the series. I don't believe in wining that way." Apparently Montreal captain, Guy Carbonneau had noticed that both McSorley and Luc Robitaille used illegal sticks in Game One and said later, "With six or seven minutes left, I reminded Demers that Robitaille and McSorley had bad sticks and that we could call it. It was McSorley's fault. It was too big".

Anyway, while all this was happening on the ice we up in standing room and the rest of the crowd were trying to figure out what was going on. Once we saw referee Kerry Fraser take the stick to the penalty box, we knew. The rest was history. With Patrick Roy pulled, Desjardins scored 32 seconds later and won it 51 seconds into OT. Desjardins had also notched the first ever (and still only) three goal game by a defenceman in Stanley Cup Finals history. It was one of the more incredible turn of events I'd ever seen at a sporting event and I have to admit I was high-fiving some of our French standing room neighbours when the Habs won. We really had no choice in the matter, the mass of standees jumped as one and pandemonium ensued.
Of course, we would not need our Game Seven tickets as Montreal took the Cup in five. That game, we DID manage to make it to the Peel Pub to watch, and when it was over we spilled out of the bar onto Rue Ste. Catherine and into the Stanley Cup riot. I've probably never been more scared for my well-being before or since. That's what happens when beer bottles are flying off tenth floor balconies and people are running metal barriers into police car windshields. But, that's another tale.

As well, it's needless to say the Game Two high-fiving was the first and last time I've ever celebrated a Montreal victory.

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