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.

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