Wednesday, September 29, 2010

When Hockey Makes The Front Page : Gordie Howe

By Jim Amodeo
September 25, 2010

In the heart of Toronto's theatre district a portion of sidewalk space is dedicated to Canada's Walk of Fame. A majority of the red granite plaques are situated on the north side of King Street West. Also, plaques are located on the south side by Roy Thomson Hall. It is here you will find the plaque belonging to hockey icon Gordie Howe.

Due to weather conditions and snow removal efforts over the years, it is believed damage was inflicted on Howe's plaque. Installed in 2000, a crack now tarnishes the appearance of this tribute to one of the greatest players in NHL history.

During his career, Howe was known for being able to plant an elbow on a unsuspecting opponents jaw when necessary. He wouldn't hesitate to engage in fisticuffs if a player from the other team sought immediate retribution.

The gloves were dropped when the question of who was going to pay the bill to repair Howe's plaque was raised. Officials from both the City of Toronto and the Walk of Fame took jabs at each other. A resolution was reached when it was determined that the Walk of Fame was responsible for purchasing plaques, and the City was on the hook for installation and maintenance (repairs & replacement). After an investigation of the damage was conducted, the City announced that a replacement was necessary.

Below are photos of the damaged Gordie Howe plaque. To show a contrast, a photo of the Bobby Orr's plaque is underneath.

 In the 1950 playoffs, Detroit opened up against the Toronto Maple Leafs. In game one the Leafs coasted to a 5-0 victory. The Red Wings would go on to win the series and subsequently capture the Stanley Cup on April 23rd by defeating the New York Rangers. It was a dramatic game 7, second overtime period goal by Pete Babando that clinched the Cup victory. So, you would think that the first game in Toronto would be a passing thought. The hockey history books suggest otherwise.

As a a result of a collision with the Maple Leafs Ted Kennedy, Detroit would lose the services of Howe for the remainder of the playoffs. The violent impact of Howe's falling caused major injuries. A lengthy operation was undertaken to save Howe's life. He went on to become one of hockey's most prolific stars. He became legendary for his longevity in the game, playing 26 seasons and skating in 1,767 contests. Both of these achievements are NHL regular season records.

There is little doubt Gordie Howe's Walk of Fame plaque will have the same outcome. Crowds spilling out of the Royal Alexander Theatre, Roy Thomson Hall and surrounding restaurants, will be stopping for years and admiring Mr. Hockey's rightful place as a distinguished Canadian.

Then There Were Six : The Golden Age of Hockey

Although the National Hockey League was formed in 1917, the Original Six Era didn't begin until 1942-43. The Golden Age of Hockey was kick started when the New York Americans left the NHL due to their lease expiring. Here is a quick glance at the "birth" of the founding members.

Montreal Canadiens:
The Montreal Canadiens were formed in 1910 as part of the National Hockey Association. They were one of  five clubs which played in year one of the NHL (1917-18).

Toronto Maple Leafs:
The Toronto Maple Leafs were the fifth and final bid to be accepted into the freshly minted NHL. The Toronto franchise was first known as the Toronto Arenas. A subsequent name change took place in 1919-20 with the St. Patricks taking the ice. The name was adapted in hope of gathering support from the large Irish community. In 1926-27 Conn Smythe purchased the club and immediately renamed his new acquisition the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Crest of the Toronto Arenas and Toronto St. Pats
Boston Bruins:
 It is often the answer to this trivia question "Who was granted the first American franchise in the NHL?" This honour belongs to the Boston Bruins. The league brass first met to discuss international expansion in February 1924. Applications from New York, Pittsburgh and Philadelphia were rejected, with Boston emerging as the winner. Their inaugural season was 1924-25 with Art Ross at the helm.

New York Rangers:
Armed with a new NHL club for the 1926-27 season, Colonel John Hammond hired Conn Smythe to pull everything together. All Smythe did was to assemble a team with names like Lorne Chabot, Ching Johnson, Bill Cook, Bun Cook, Murrary Murdoch and Frank Boucher.. One would think that making such moves would add to Smythe's job security. Wrong! Before the season started, he was replaced as GM-Coach by Lester Patrick. Hammond, as a result of outside influences, feared Smythe didn't have enough experience. The Rangers would go on to win the Stanley Cup in 1927-28.

Chicago Black Hawks:
Go west young man! In 1926 Chicago joined the NHL to begin play in 1926-27. The team played in the American Division. In the playoffs they lost out in the semi-finals to the Boston Bruins. There first coach was Pete Muldoon, who became famous for planting a curse on the club prior to departing. Later, the spelling of their name would be changed to "Blackhawks".

Detroit Red Wings:
In step with Chicago and New York, the Detroit Cougars started play in the 1926-27 season. Their coach was former player Art Duncan. Like the Maple Leafs, several name changes were to follow - 1931-32 (Falcons), 1932-33 (Red Wings). One of the most important moves made early in the life of the club was hiring Jack Adams as GM-Coach for the 1927-28 season.

Crest of the Detroit Cougars and Detroit Falcons

Monday, September 27, 2010

When Hockey Makes The Front Page : Guy LaFleur

By Jim Amodeo
September 25, 2010

It is a common sight during the baseball season to witness a steady stream of fans heading from Union Station to the Rogers Centre. On this particular day, the Toronto Blue Jays are playing the Baltimore Orioles. During their travels, most of the crowd coming from the east are sure to venture past the CN Tower - How could they miss it? At this point their journey took a strange twist.

A tent nestled at the base of the Tower contained a familiar face. "Is that" could be heard coming from those now stopping and milling around the open tent. In addition to seeing the game, they could tell their friends - "A funny thing happened on the way to the Rogers Centre, I ran into Guy LaFleur."

Yes baseball fans that was LaFleur sitting behind the table greeting one and all. He was in town to host a battery collection drive put on by Call 2 Recycle. Depending on how many kilograms of used batteries the public brought to the event, they would be given a prize. The bare minimum being a 4x6 photo and the max being a Montreal Canadiens jersey.

After receiving a prize one would proceed to have LaFleur autograph the item. The presence of a hockey legend brought the environmental issue of battery recycling front and centre. With this being a digital world we live in, the Call 2 Recycle message is best explained in this passage from their brochure:

 "Millions of batteries are purchased each year that contain heavy metals that can contaminate the environment or pile up in landfills. By reusing the valuable materials found in used batteries to develop new products, Call 2 Recycle helps reduce the need to harvest our precious and limited natural resources and conserve the environment in our own communities."

There is no question that without Guy LaFleur, this drive would have been a giant flop. It just seems to be the nature of the beast. The draw of meeting a famous hockey player, but having to do something to earn the privilege. Buckets of dead batteries were being hauled and kept from the local garbage dump. The wait time in line to secure an autograph was well over an hour.

Hats off to LaFleur! Although most likely a paid participant, his intention should not be called into question. How many athletes sign up just to do memorabilia shows? Or private signings with no fan access? Guy LaFleur is a shining example of how a household name can be part of a marketing strategy that results in goals being reached. To measure the potential impact of this drive, consider the fact 21,504 spectators took in the Blue Jays game. Also, there was an event being held at the Toronto Convention Centre which is a skip and a jump away from the CN Tower. Okay, not everyone stopped for an autograph, though many took the time to inquire or observe as to what was going on under the "big tent".

As for the baseball, the Jays won 5-4 with Lyle Overbay hitting a a walk off home run in the 11th inning. It was a come from behind victory after Baltimore took a 3-0 lead. So, the question has to asked - Did all the battery talk in the vicinity of the Rogers Centre, result in the Jays batteries getting a boost and the ultimate charge out of Overbay's bat?

A New Feature

How thrilling is it to wake-up to your morning newspaper and discover that a hockey story has made the front page. Sometimes they are team related. If a club makes a major trade or fires a coach, it is big news and requires the appropriate placement beyond the sports page.

Then, there are the stories that involve an individual, but not the game itself. They can range from a player being arrested to doing something special in the community. The wonderful stories of a sporting hero giving back to those who supported and helped him reach his goals.

When possible, I like to get as close to these stories as I can. Attending an event and asking questions certainly can get the juices flowing. Having the opportunity, after the fact, to snap photographs which may help "tell the story".

The main focus will be on the "away from the rink" news. The citizen as opposed to the professional athlete - "Mr. Smith" not "Defenceman Smith". When the person and his involvement  in a situation become a news story and not a hockey story.

Within this blog, these stories will be titled "When Hockey Makes The Front Page". I look forward to pounding the pavement and shooting a photo or two, along with documenting my observations.

On This Date

Newspaper reports on September 27th, 1963 were detailing the visit to Vancouver by the Stanley Cup champion Toronto Maple Leafs. A crowd of 5,080 fans took in the game hosted by the Vancouver Canucks of the Western Hockey League, which took place the previous evening.  As expected, the Leafs dominated most of the play, with Dave Keon scoring a goal and adding an assist. The Vancouver goals were scored by Howard Hughes (on Johnny Bower), Bob McCuskee and Buddy Boone (on Swedish goalie Kjell Svensson). The final score - Toronto -6 Vancouver-3.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Lights, Camera, Action!

Who says a guy can't get lucky on a rare occasion? Who wouldn't have the desire to attend a red carpet gala screening on the opening night of the Toronto International Film Festival. Paparazzi, limousines, the evening sky being lit by a massive amount of camera flashes. Also, it was the 35th anniversary of this Hollywood North event. Did I mention the film was shot in Canada? And that it is hockey movie?

In addition to all the pomp & circumstance,  I was really looking forward to seeing this movie - Score : A Hockey Musical. As a young lad I watched in awe the filming of Face-Off at Maple Leaf Gardens. As a school project, I did a book review on the Scott Young & George Robertson novel. The cover of the paperback edition declaring in colourful print "Now A Thrilling Motion Picture!

The motivation to produce hockey themed movies is not restricted to the Canadian Film Industry. As early as 1937, an American studio released Idol of The Crowds. It starred John Wayne as a retired hockey player, Johnny Hansen. Poor Johnny (Hansen not Wayne!) had to resume his career in order to pay the bills to expand his chicken farm. Nothing more needs to be said as to why this movie laid an egg at the box office.We just happen to produce the really good ones - The Rocket, Net Worth, Les Boys - to mention a few.

The international community (including our neighbours to the south) seem to concentrate on "feel good" or "underdog does good" plots to capture an audience. The storyline is often character driven with hockey being a secondary force. The attention to details concerning the hockey action is ignored or sloppy. The Mighty Ducks is a prime example. The one exception to the rule is Slap Shot. The filmmakers brilliantly hit the mark on portraying life in the minors. If only Hollywood would apply the same production values to hockey as baseball. The Kevin Costner film Field of Dreams is a wonderful blend of telling a story and not having the baseball angle suffer. Even the baseball musical , Damn Yankees, was a hit and gathered rave reviews.

Getting back to Score : A Hockey Musical. Indeed, it is truly a musical with tunes being belted out on and off the ice. We even get to hear Theo Fleury serenade us. In the story, Farley Gordon discovers he has the talent to play organized hockey, but is not a fan of the rough stuff. Can you say conflict? This puts him at odds with his teammates. Sure, this happens all the time in hockey - the skilled player who won't drop the gloves and skates away from a physical challenge. The difference in this case is that they don't talk it out, but sing it out. At this stage, for a true fan of the sport, all hope of seeing a "hockey movie" vanishes quicker than an Al MacInnis slap shot finding the back of the net. The focus becomes musical numbers instead of line rushes. This is not to say a fan can't enjoy this movie. However, do not anticipate the rush one had after viewing The Rocket. One must suspend belief and come to grips that this is a hockey musical. Yes the players sing, just like a lion sang in the Wizard of Oz.

On the hockey front,  Fleury shared screen time with the "we are always happy to see" Walter Gretzky. Broadcasters George Stroumboulopoulos and Steve Kouleas both did a fine job acting out their day jobs. My highlight? The magnificent performance turned in by Stephen McHattie. In the story, he plays the owner of the Brampton Blades who sign Farley Gordon. In The Rocket, McHattie plays coach Dick Irvin of the Montreal Canadiens.

One of the concerns with this being act one at TIFF, was how we looked to the international press. My take on this and their reaction - Canadians love hockey, but this wasn't our finest effort movie wise. As for the theory we make the best hockey movies - well to quote a famous character from Saturday Night Live "Never Mind". Perhaps, we should take a crack-at-the-bat and shoot the great Canadian North baseball movie.

That is a wrap!

Captain of The Ship

On Tuesday night (Sept.21, 2010) Dion Phaneuf performed in his first game wearing the the captains "C" for the Toronto Maple Leafs. He became only the 5th defenceman in team history to accomplish this feat. Let's take a closer look at the first defenceman to be named captain of the Leafs.
Hap Day started his career in Toronto playing in the 1924-25 season with the St. Pats. In his rookie year, the left winger scored 10 goals and recorded 22 points in 26 games. A major change in ownership not only resulted in a new name, Maple Leafs, but an overhaul of the roster. Under Conn Smythe's new regime, Hap Day was one of the few survivors. With a new boss at the helm, Day was looking at playing a new position. In 1927-28 season not only would Day be converted to a defenceman, he would be named team captain. His leadership qualities took centre stage during the 1932 Stanley Cup final.

The 1931-32 campaign was an important time for the City of Toronto with the opening of Maple Leaf Gardens. The move to 60 Carlton Street had a double meaning for Hap Day. At the University of Toronto he had earned a degree in Pharmacology. In the Gardens early years, one of the occupants was a Pharmacy owned by Hap Day.

In the playoffs, the Leafs battled through the Chicago Black Hawks and Montreal Maroons to reach the Cup final and face the New York Rangers. In the post season Day scored 3 goals and 3 assists in 7 games. The Leafs won their first World Championship defeating the Rangers, with Day being the first Leaf captain to hoist the Stanley Cup. When his run with the Toronto Maple Leafs came to an end in 1937, he had played in 476 games and produced 161 points (G-62, A-99).

After his playing career was over, Day would coach the Maple Leafs from 1940 to 1950. As bench boss, he had his name placed on the Stanley Cup 5 more times. His finest moment came in the 1942 final against the Detroit Red Wings. With his club down 3 games to 0, he read a letter from a young fan as a motivational tool. This, along with playing some rookies, set the ship on the right path, and Day had his first Stanley Cup as a coach. In 1961 Hap Day was enshrined in the Hockey Hall of Fame as an Honoured Member.

Below is the complete list of defencemen who were named captain of the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Hap Day, 1927-28 to 1936-37
Red Horner, 1938-39 to 1939-40
Jim Thompson, 1956-57 (Shared with Ted Kennedy)
Rob Ramage, 1989-90 to 1990-91
Dion Phaneuf, 2010-11 to

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Are You Looking At Me?

Okay, I know I'm not alone on this one. How many times have we looked at a bobble head and muttered "Who"? In many cases the resemblance is not evident. Our eyes take aim on the nameplate for a quick fix on the identification of the player. I can imagine a new game show - "Name That Bobble head". However, there is always an exception to the rule. Take a look at the Terry Sawchuk bobble head below.

The construction of this item seems to really capture the Sawchuk "look". Sure, a mask is hiding any facial features, but the mask and crouching position are Sawchuk trademarks. Compare it to other Original Six goalie bobble heads. You will see what I mean. The "Sawchuk Bobble head Night" was held on Feb.20th, 2010 with the Toronto Marlies hosting the Manitoba Moose at the Ricoh Coliseum.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Hockey School 1948

With the opening of NHL training camps, we can officially declare the summer of 2010 as being history. A return to the wonderful sounds of skate blades scrapping on ice, and pucks blasted against boards.

While doing research, I came across an interesting newspaper clipping from August 1948. In the current environment of the NHL, one would have the impression that rookie camps were a relatively new means of player personnel evaluation. Or, perhaps a marketing tool to sell recently drafted prospects and drum-up interest in the upcoming season.

The  revelation from the '48 clipping can put that theory to rest. Although not referred to as a rookie camp, the concept appeared to be 62 years ahead of its time. The "Leafs Annual Hockey School". A total of 40 players were invited to participate, with a separate camp for those on the main roster. The likes of Ted Kennedy, Turk Broda and Gus Mortson clearly did not require "schooling" and were established big league players.

A review of the list with an eye towards the future activity of those 40 players as members of the Maple Leafs, reveals how difficult it was to enter into the big show. The results of the study are listed below. The first set of stats pertains to games played as a Maple Leaf. These include playoff games. Where applicable, the info in brackets relates to the players overall NHL career.

  • Howie Harvey GP-0
  • Cy Huck GP-0
  • Roy McMeekin GP-0
  • John Arundel GP-3, Tor, 1949-50
  • John Ashley GP-0
  • Alex Barilko GP-0
  • Hugh Bolton  GP-235, Tor, 1949-50 to 1956-57
  • Bob Gray  GP-0
  • Eugene Martin  GP-0
  • Dean McBride  GP-0
  • Harry Pautka  GP-0
  • Bob Robertson GP-0
  • Phil Samis GP-7, Tor, 1947-48 to 1949-50
  • Bill Juzda GP-241, Tor, 1948-49 to 1951-52 (GP-440, NYR-Tor)
  • Frank Mathers GP-23, Tor, 1948-49 to 1951-52
  • Frank Sullivan  GP-6, Tor, 1949-50 to 1952-53 (GP-8, Tor-Chi)
  • George Armstrong GP-1297, Tor, 1949-50 to 1970-71
  • Chuck Blair GP-1, Tor, 1948-49
  • Eric Pogue GP-0
  • Ray Ceresino GP-12, Tor, 1948-49
  • Bill Johansen GP-1, Tor, 1949-50
  • Danny Lewicki  GP-132, Tor, 1950-51 to 1953-54 (GP-489, Tor-NYR-Chi)
  • Rudy Migay GP-433, Tor, 1949-50 to 1959-60
  • Eldres Kobussen GP-0
  • Eugene Miller GP-0
  • Ed Mulligan GP-0
  • John McLellan GP-2, Tor, 1951-52
  • Larry Regan GP-138, Tor, 1958-59 to 1960-61 (GP-322, Bos-Tor)
  • Hugh Riopelle GP-0
  • Tod Sloan GP-575, Tor, 1947-48 to 1948-49 & 1950-51 to 1957-58 (GP-792, Tor-Chi)
  • Ray Timgren  GP-267, Tor, 1948-49 to 1952-53 & 1954-55 (GP-281, Tor-Chi)
  • Cy Thomas  GP-8, Tor, 1947-48 (GP-14, Chi-Tor)
  • Rene Trudell  GP-0
  • Ken Watson GP-0
  • Elwood Small GP-0
  • Denis Smith GP-0
  • Gordon Simpson GP-0
  • Don McRae GP-0
  • Bill Kyle GP-0 (GP-2,NYR)
  • John Wilson GP-83, Tor, 1959-60 to 1960-61 (GP-754, Det-Chi-Tor-NYR)

The most productive student to emerge from this school clearly was George Armstrong. The Chief became team captain, Stanley Cup winner (4), and an honoured member of the Hockey Hall of Fame. A future Leafs head coach was a student, Johnny McLellan. One of the most important goals in team history was scored by a graduate. Tod Sloan scored with seconds remaining in the 1951 Cup final, allowing Bill Barilko to work his magic in the overtime. His brother, Alex Barilko, received an invite to the school in September 1948. Phil Samis became a noted dentist; Frank Mathers became a successful executive in the AHL; John Ashley became a highly respected referee.

Yes sir, summer is over. Time for classes to commence in 30 NHL cities!

Friday, September 17, 2010

Kelly & Nevin

This month, I had the pleasure of meeting two great players from the Original Six era - Red Kelly and Bob Nevin .

Red Kelly started his NHL career as a defenceman with Detroit. His run in the NHL came to an end as a centre with the Maple Leafs. Kelly is an honoured member of the Hockey Hall of Fame.

Bob Nevin broke into the NHL with Toronto and won two  Cups with the blue & white. A late season trade with the New York Rangers in 1964 prevented him from gaining a third cup ring. Nevin's leadership abilities were evident when New York named him team captain.

When talking to Kelly, I couldn't help but think of his biography from the Great Hockey Players Series. Written by Maple Leaf Gardens Publicity Director Stan Obodiac, it was published in 1971.

It covers Red's childhood in Simcoe, Ontario up to the time of his coaching the Pittsburgh Penguins. Although only 70 pages long, it is packed with photos and illustrations. In my opinion, we can never have enough hockey biographies. There certainly seems to be enough content to add another volume to the Red Kelly story. He not only was a professional athlete, but a Member of Parliament and a successful businessman. In 1964, he represented Lester Pearson at the Olympic Games in Tokyo.


The game of hockey has a rich history which is being developed as each NHL season comes to a conclusion. It is my intention in this blog to explore the players and stories associated with the Original Six era (1942-1967), and comment on current events.

So, for our opening face-off, THE PUCK DROPS HERE.....