Friday, April 29, 2011

'47-'48-'49 Toronto : The First Cup Dynasty

The honour of being hockey's first Stanley Cup dynasty in the Original Six era belongs to the Toronto Maple Leafs. The 1947, 1948 and 1949 Toronto teams were the first to be crowned World Champions in three consecutive seasons. Since they were the first team to accomplish this feat, I decided to lump each trophy win into one story. A dynasty deserves special treatment, especially when they are pioneers. I will follow this pattern for each repeat winner in upcoming editions.

The 1947 Stanley Cup final commenced on April 8 ,1947, with Montreal hosting the Toronto Maple Leafs. The two teams split games one and two in the Forum. With the action shifting to Maple Leaf Gardens, Toronto defeated Montreal in both games to take a 3-1 series lead. A victory in game five pulled Montreal to within one and forced another contest in Toronto.

Ted Kennedy
In game six, played on April 19, 1947, Montreal came out of the chute on fire. On their second rush, Buddy O'Connor scored on Leaf netminder Turk Broda. This would be the only scoring taking place in period one. In the final two periods, Toronto's K-M-L Line of Ted Kennedy, Howie Meeker and Vic Lynn took centre stage. Early in the middle frame, Vic Lynn put one past Bill Durnan to even the score. In the third, Ted Kennedy beat Durnan on a long shot to give his club a 2-1 lead.

Montreal, would keep things interesting right to the end. With goalie Durnan on the bench, Montreal had an extra skater on the ice. Coach Dick Irvin had a designed play for the situation. He moved defenceman Kenny Reardon to centre, thus adding more muscle up front. Each Canadiens player was instructed to tie-up a Leaf player, therefore, leaving one man open. The plan, as mapped out by Irvin, never materialized. The final score was 2-1 in favour of Toronto as 14,546 fans cheered their conquering heroes.

After a summer of celebrations, the 1947-48 Leafs were ready to defend their title as Stanley Cup champions. With the close of the regular season play, Toronto held top spot in the league standings. Their 77 points put them 5 points ahead of second place Detroit. Being ranked first and second in total points, it came as no surprise when the two clubs meet in the 1948 Cup final.

The best-of-seven final got underway on April 7, 1948 in Maple Leaf Gardens. Before the home crowd, Toronto downed Detroit 5-3 in game one and 4-2 in game two. Having home ice advantage for the next two contests didn't help the Wings cause. In game three, Toronto blanked Detroit 2-0 with Turk Broda earning the shutout.

The final game of the series was played on April 14, 1948 at the Olympia. Sensing another Cup victory was around the corner, Toronto jumped out to a 3-0 first period lead. They would match this effort in period two by increasing their margin to 6-1. The two clubs would exchange goals in the final frame, with Detroit's Pete Horeck scoring with 1:12 remaining.

A four game sweep resulted in another Cup for coach Hap Day and the Toronto Maple Leafs. Two straight and counting.

If Toronto had any hopes of adding a third consecutive Cup, they would have to do it without their captain. The team had a new leader, with Ted Kennedy adding the "C" to his jersey. This all came about with the retirement of Syl Apps following the Cup victory in 1948.

The Leafs finished 1948-49 with 57 points,  slipping to fourth place in the standings. Their arch-rival, Detroit lead the league with 75 points. If the Wings thought Toronto were floundering, they were in for a jolt come the 1949 Cup final. For the second straight year, it would be a Toronto versus Detroit match-up.

One couldn't blame Red Wing players if they were muttering - "The more things change, the more they remain the same" - following game four of the Cup final,

On April 16, 1949, Toronto completed  another four game sweep over Detroit, winning 3-1 in a contest played in  Maple Leaf Gardens. In game four, Ray Timgren emerged as an offensive threat. He scored the opening goal and set-up Max Bentley's insurance marker in the third period.

With new talent like Timgren (pictured above) in the organization and making nine straight appearances in the finals, the future looked bright for Leaf fans. Only one question remained. Could the Toronto Maple Leafs make it four consecutive championships?

Thursday, April 28, 2011

2011 Playoffs : A Hockey Diary

It was one of those wonderful nights of hockey. It started Tuesday evening with game 6 of the Montreal versus Boston series. This was followed by the Vancouver Canucks hosting Chicago in game 7. Then, out of the blue, another contest was thrown into the mix. When the Canucks game went into overtime, I needed a quick fix of action. The alternative was to watch the talking heads during the intermission. Not satisfied with this, I grabbed the remote and went exploring for gold. After travelling what seemed like 500 channels up the dial, I found gold on Leafs TV.

12:43 AM...The end of regulation comes in the Vancouver and Chicago game with the score knotted at one. I have a graving for more action and set out to discover if there is an alternative to the HNIC intermission.

12:44 AM..I find my pot of gold on Leafs TV. At midnight, they began broadcasting game 7 of the 1964 Stanley Cup final (April 25, 1964) with Toronto hosting the Detroit Red Wings.

12:46 AM...The trio of Ron MacLean, Mike Milbury and Kelly Hrudey are chatting about Vancouver goaltender Roberto Luongo.

12:48 AM...The contrast is stunning going back and forth between the CBC and Leafs TV. Colour vs. black & white. HD transmission of 2011 vs. "over-the-air" transmission from 1964. I catch the final shift of the first period from Maple Leaf Gardens. The names flowing from the speaker, courtesy of Bill Hewitt, bring back wonderful memories. On the ice for Toronto are Bob Pulford, Ron Stewart and Gerry Ehman. Their blueline was being patrolled by Allan Stanley and Tim Horton. The Red Wings countered with Pit Martin, Johnny MacMillan and Paul Henderson. In front of goalie Terry Sawchuk, skated two of the best defencemen to play the game - Marcel Pronovost and Bill Gadsby. Guarding the Leaf net was Johnny Bower.

12:53 AM...I quickly realize what a dangerous game I have started. Under no circumstances do I want to miss one second of the overtime in Vancouver. Lady Luck is on my side. HNIC is running a packaged piece titled "Overtime Magic". Feeling confident, I once again engage my remote.

12:56 AM...Intermission hosts Ward Cornell and Frank Selke Jr. are interviewing NHL coaches Billy Reay (Chicago) and Toe Blake (Montreal).

12:57 AM...Back to 2011 and the first overtime period in Van City. Burrows is assessed a minor penalty for an infraction against Chicago's Duncan Keith. Thousands of miles away, I can feel the tension.

1:00 AM..The Canucks kill off the penalty. Chicago could only muster one shot on net. Does the tide turn in Vancouver's favour?

1:02 AM...Leaf broadcaster Joe Bowen and alumni guest Andy Bathgate are discussing Punch Imlach. Bathgate notes that Imlach didn't like scrimmaging during practice. The former New York Ranger pointed out the benefits of playing a little shinny during a workout. It was a chance to learn your linemates habits and  fine tune some plays.

1:04 AM..Pandemonium breaks out in Vancouver. Alex Burrows scores the winner at 5:22 of the first overtime period. Hawk defenceman Chris Campoli, attempts to clear the puck, but he doesn't get it high enough. Burrows extends his right arm and directs the puck back to the ice. He moves toward the centre of the rink. As the puck is rolling and on edge, Burrows blasts it past netminder Corey Crawford. Vancouver-2 Chicago-1.

1:08 AM..Time for a quick glance back up the dial. Ward Cornell and Frank Selke are in the midst of interviewing Charlie Hodge and Bobby Hull. I begin a struggle with the remote. I curse my TV for not having the picture-in-picture function. Have we really come that far since 1964?

1:09 AM...Scott Oake is at ice level talking with Roberto Luongo and Kevin Bieska.

1:10 AM...The man of the hour, Alex Burrows, is next in line for questioning. The interview begins with Bieska handing Burrows the puck which was retrieved following the goal.

1:12 AM...Second period action is underway in Toronto. Leaf forward Gerry Ehman has an excellent scoring opportunity, but Sawchuk makes a nice stop. Suddenly, I have a gut feeling something is happening in Vancouver.

1:14 AM...There was no need for alarm. The panel of MacLean/Milbury/Hrudey are discussing the goal.

1:16 AM...Hockey Night in Canada signs off the air with Ron MacLean doing a  promo for Wednesday nights game 7 between Montreal and Boston. It dawns on me that it is already Wednesday. Then, it crosses my mind that dawn is just hours away.

1:17 AM...I quickly find a replacement for the CBC coverage. As fast as I can say "there will be a new Stanley Cup champion", the images of Don Taylor, John Garrett and Gary Valk pop onto my TV screen. The Sportsnet Connected - Playoff  Edition- is a terrific source for info as the feed comes from Sportsnet Pacific.

1:21 AM...Reporter Gene Principe interviews former Canuck Dixon Ward outside the arena. Hockey fans strolling by can be heard chanting "WE WANT THE CUP".

1:24 AM..Joe Bowen and Andy Bathgate are talking about curved sticks. Bathgate recalls playing hockey as a youngster with his brother back in Manitoba. To get an advantage, Andy would "bend" his blade. When he reached junior, he experimented some more with this equipment change. Early in his NHL career, the curve in his stick was approximately a half-inch. Bathgate did tell an interesting story concerning Stan Mikita. During a game between New York and Chicago, Mikita had gone through his supply of hockey sticks. The Rangers trainer, by mistake,  gave Mikita two of Bathgate's "bent" sticks. The thought was left hanging, but one has to wonder if this was Mikita's first venture into the world of blade manipulation.

1:29 AM...Talk on Sportsnet has now shifted to Vancouver's next opponent, Nashville. A shot on Robson Street shows fans carrying Canuck flags and cheering.

1:32 AM...The TV camera at Maple Leaf Gardens picks-up Wings coach Sid Abel. He is pacing behind the bench. His arms are folded and he is chewing gum.

1:35 AM...The panel on Sportsnet give their opinion on Chicago goalie Corey Crawford.  Gary Valk was impressed with his ability to control rebounds.

1:39 AM...They may have run out of topics on Sportsnet. They are running highlights from all 3 games played - Montreal over Boston (2-1), Philadelphia over Buffalo (5-2) and of course the Vancouver/Chicago game.

1:47 AM..The Leafs are on a power play. Terry Sawchuk stones Larry Hillman who unleashed a blast from the blueline.

1:49 AM...Dave Keon takes a nasty hit from Marcel Pronovost. The impact seems to have stunned the Leaf centre.

1:51 AM...The second period has come to a close. There was no scoring and each team was assessed a minor penalty.

1:54 AM...Another interesting exchange between Bowen and Bathgate. They are reminiscing about Foster Hewitt's radio broadcasts from Maple Leaf Gardens. Bathgate told the viewers he learnt so much about NHL players by listening to the broadcasting pioneer. He made mention of Bill Cowley and how Foster would describe his stick handling abilities. His first trip to the Gardens came as a 17 year old member of the Guelph Biltmores. Bathgate was amazed at how huge the building was and how many fans could fit into the home of the Toronto Maple Leafs.

1:59 AM...A very short interview is conducted by Ward Cornell. He is joined by Prime Minister Lester Pearson and Conn Smythe. They talk about their time together at the University of Toronto.  A replay of the only goal so far is shown by Joe Bowen. On the play, Detroit defenceman Al Langlois fans on the puck at Toronto's blueline. Bathgate scoops up the puck and breaks in alone on goal. His shot beats Sawchuk to give his club a 1-0 lead.

2:02 AM..."There is no tomorrow". This was Bill Hewitt's opening line at the start of the final period.

2:05 AM...Sportsnet Pacific signs off.

2:08 AM...Hockey Central Playoff Edition (Sportsnet) is now on the air with Darren Millard, Nick Kypreos and Doug MacLean.

2:12 AM...Dave Keon scores for the Maple Leafs. His shot goes off the post and pass Terry Sawchuk.

2:13 AM...Red Kelly scores Toronto's third goal of the game.

2:18 AM...The Leafs are keeping Detroit hemmed in their own zone. The Wings can't get any offence going. A rush by Norm Ullman goes nowhere.

2:25 AM...Sid Abel puts out a line of Andre Pronovost, Irv Spencer and Bruce MacGregor. I have never seen Spencer play. This is one of the great things concerning vintage games. It is interesting to read about a player, but to watch him perform is an added bonus.

2:28 AM...A puck is shot over the boards. The camera is focused on the crowd. The spectators are dressed in their Sunday best.

2:34 AM...George Armstrong gets to a loose puck on his wing. The shot taken by the Leafs captain eludes Sawchuk. Toronto's lead is now 4-0.

2:38 AM...Gordie Howe, Paul Henderson and Pit Martin apply some late pressure, but it is a case of too little, too late. Just over two minutes remaining in the game.

2:40 AM...Carl Brewer takes a late penalty for charging. No worries. Leaf goalie Johnny Bower is at the top of his game and makes several outstanding stops.

2:44 AM...The final bell rings and the Toronto Maple Leafs are once again Stanley Cup champions. They match the streak of three consecutive titles which were won by the 1947, 1948 and 1949 Maple Leafs. The team is joined on the ice by photographers who document the celebration. They gather around Bower and Imlach with flashbulbs exploding. The Detroit players skate down to the Leaf zone and offer their congratulations. The clubs executive join in on the fun. At ice level are Stafford Smythe, John Bassett and Harold Ballard. Don Simmons, in his street clothes, gives Johnny Bower a big hug. Finally, league President Clarence Campbell presents the Stanley Cup to George Armstrong. The entire team gathers around Armstrong and Lord Stanley for a group photo.

After going 16 hours with no National Hockey League playoff action, the arms in my watch couldn't move fast enough. At 7:00pm last night, I was firmly planted in my favourite chair. Another game 7 - Montreal vs. Boston. Another terrific series coming to a conclusion. Also, there was game 7 between Tampa Bay and Pittsburgh to check-out during commercial breaks and intermissions.

When all was said and done, the games certainly lived up to the hype. First, Boston eliminated Montreal with a 4-3 win in overtime. Then, Tampa Bay ousted  Pittsburgh by defeating the Penguins 1-0 in a close contest.

We can only hope Round Two is as thrilling and compelling.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

2011 Playoffs : Vol 2

Who would you rather be - the player who scores an overtime goal or the goalie who blocks 40-plus shots and leads his team to victory?

Time for an episode of NHL Idol. The two contestants are waiting in the wings, preparing to leave nothing on the table. Who would get your vote - Jim Cornelison the featured vocalist at the Madhouse on Madison with his riveting rendition of the "Star Spangled Banner" or the duo of Lauren Hart and Kate Smith from Broad Street with their powerful presentation of "God Bless America"?

On the topic of Anthem singers, doesn't Mark Donnelly in Vancouver have his role down-pat. The tenor in an opera ready to perform his solo in a crucial aria. His booming voice hitting all the notes. The troops on stage feeding-off his energy, ready to fight to the end.

Something no NHL team can match. The torch passing ceremony at the Bell Centre in Montreal. The ritual of having former Hab legends passing a lighted torch to a youngster, who then makes several laps around the rink, is an amazing sight to witness. The visual becomes even more stunning when the skater glides to centre ice, places the torch downward, setting off a pyrotechnical explosion which engulfs the entire ice surface. In games 3 and 4 the alumni participants were Jean Beliveau and Henri Richard. Last night, Yvan Cournoyer was the torch bearer in festivities prior to game 6.  There is one change I would make. How about having a current player accepting the torch? Imagine having Patrick Roy passing the torch to Carey Price.

When I see fans in Vancouver waving their white towels, I can't help but think of Roger Neilson.

Do you feel cheated when overtime comes to a quick end? When Michael Ryder scored at 1:59 of the first overtime period in game 4, it was a classic example of "sudden death". I was settling in hoping for end-to-end rushes that would extend well beyond midnight. During the intermission I made a mad dash to get the garbage curbside and ordered an extra-large pizza to get me through the early morning hours. The overtime in game 5 was more to my liking. My pizza was consumed way prior to Nathan Horton's goal at 9:03 of the second overtime period.

Razzle-dazzle. Michael Ryder's brilliant stop on Thomas Plekanec in game 5.

Razzle-dazzle (2). Bobby Ryan's maneuvering of the puck every-which-way past human pylon David Legwand. Without his stick, the Nashville forward resembled a mouse being played by a cat. No matter what Legwand did, he wasn't going to escape in a positive fashion from Ryan's wizardry.

Let the debate commence. Is it an advantage or disadvantage when a team must sit and wait for their next opponent to surface? On one hand, nagging injuries can be rested, but being game ready and any momentum which has been established can suffer.

Tuesday. Hockey Night In Canada. Montreal lives to play one more game. Vancouver lives to play one more series.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Montreal Canadiens 1946

With the military conflict coming to a close, there was a flood of players returning to their respective National Hockey League clubs. In Toronto, the Leafs welcomed back Syl Apps and Boston did the same with their famed Kraut Line of Schmidt, Dumart and Bauer.

In addition to team rosters being turned over to accommodate returning veterans, their were changes at the management level. In Boston, Art Ross gave up his coaching responsibilities and turned the reins over to player-coach Dit Clapper. Ross wanted to dedicate 100 per cent of his efforts to being general manager. In New York, Frank Boucher was entering his first full season at the helm of the Rangers. In February 1945, he replaced general manager and hockey pioneer Lester Patrick.

On the ice, two teams, in particular, experienced difficulty in adjusting to the post-war game. The Maple Leafs, having to endure a contract dispute with goalie Frank McCool, struggled coming out of the gate. McCool would eventually put pen to contract in late November 1945. In January 1946, starting netminder Turk Broda would return, but it was too little, too late. For the first time since 1929-30, Toronto failed to make the playoffs. They finished in fifth place (45 Pts.), 16 points behind league leading Montreal Canadiens (61Pts.).

The other club which stumbled in '45-46 were the New York Rangers. Early in the season, it appeared as though New York had stabilized their goaltending situation. The Rangers had both Chuck Rayner and Sugar Jim Henry at their disposal. With one hole plugged, problems developed in other areas. The Rangers were crippled with injuries. Star forward Bryan Hextall was absent the entire year due to a liver problem. Defenceman Muzz Patrick was felled by a knee injury. One of the bright spots for New York was rookie Edgar Laprade. The Ranger finished in last place going 13-28-9 for 35 points.

Although Rocket Richard wasn't able to duplicate his numbers from the previous year, he did add NHL records to his resume. In his 145th game, Richard became the quickest player to reach 100 goals. In the playoffs, he went 8 straight games scoring a goal, thus setting a new NHL mark.

Max Bentley of Chicago won the scoring title, netting 31 goals and 30 assists for 61 points in 47 games. This feat earned him the Hart Trophy as MVP. Edgar Laprade was awarded the Calder Trophy as top rookie. The Vezina went to Montreal's Bill Durnan and the Lady Byng went to teammate Toe Blake.

The semi-finals pitted Chicago against Montreal in one series and Detroit and Boston hooking-up in the other. For Montreal it was a 4 game sweep over the Hawks. Boston had to play one additional game before ousting Detroit 4-1 in the best-of-seven series.

The Stanley Cup final opened up in the Montreal Forum with games one and two going into overtime. The Canadiens prevailed in both, defeating Boston 4-3 and 3-2. With play shifting to the Boston Garden, the teams split games three and four. Montreal won game four by a 4-2 margin over Boston. The Bruins staved off elimination by producing a 3-2 overtime victory in game four.

Stanley Cup fever hit Montreal when the series returned for game five. It was played on April 9, 1946. Montreal and Boston entered the final frame tied 3-3. In the third period, Montreal went into attack mode. Goaltender Frank Brimsek was the victim of Montreal's offensive assault. Scoring for Montreal were Toe Blake, Murph Chamberlain and Dutch Hiller. The Canadiens and their fans celebrated a 6-3 victory which produced another Stanley Cup banner for the Forum.

The Stanley Cup win marked the end of an era in one regard for the Habs. Executive Tommy Gorman would depart as general manager and be replaced by Frank Selke.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Toronto Maple Leafs 1945

As World War 11 continued to rage on, NHL markets still felt the pinch when it came to the make-up of their rosters. Unique circumstances often came into play. Doug Bentley was restricted from travelling outside of Canada due to a war exemption. Bentley sought relief from active duty due to his operation of a working farm in Saskatchewan. Seeking the exemption came with consequences.

As was the case in the previous year, gaping holes in NHL line-ups resulted in opportunities where they didn't exist in the past. In Detroit. the Red Wings signed Ted Lindsay. Still seeking a replacement for Turk Broda, Toronto signed goalie Frank McCool. Also, Detroit summoned 17 year old Harry Lumley from Indianapolis.

On the ownership front, Leaf boss Conn Smythe returned from the military theater. The Major suffered injuries while in battle and was sent home to recover. In Chicago, Major Frederick McLaughlin passed away at the age of 67.

On the ice, one player dominated like no other in NHL history. Maurice "Rocket" Richard was the major story of 1944-45. Two nights, in particular, stand-out when examining Richard in '44-45. The first, December 28, 1944 was a contest played against Detroit in the Montreal Forum. After spending an exhausting afternoon lifting and moving furniture, Richard had a game to play in the evening. In a 9-1 whipping of the Red Wings, Richard contributed 5 goals and 3 assists. The event is wonderfully depicted in the film, "The Rocket", with Roy Dupuis playing the Rocket.

Richard saved the best for last in the closing contest against Boston. In the final scheduled game of the '44-45 campaign, number 50, Maurice Richard became the first player in NHL history to notch 50 goals in 50 games.

Other highlights from '44-45 included Syd Howe of Detroit becoming the all-time points leader. His 516th point enabled him to surpass Nels Stewart. Howe's teammate, Flash Hollett, became the first defenceman to record 20 goals in one season.

When the NHL handed out it's hardware, it was the Rocket's linemmate Elmer Lach who was named the recipient of the Hart Trophy. Despite Richard's accomplishments, few had any qualms with Lach taking the MVP prize. He set an NHL record for assists in a season, 54, and won the scoring title (29G/54A/80PTS). Frank McCool (Calder), Bill Durnan (Vezina) and Bill Mosienko (Byng) were the other trophy winners.

Semi-final play saw Toronto defeat Montreal (4-2) and Detroit bounce Boston (4-3)

On April 22, 1945, the Toronto Maple Leafs and Detroit Red Wings faced each other in game 7 of the Stanley Cup final. The winner would be presented with Lord Stanley's mug. The runner-up would get the O'Brien Trophy. Detroit was able to force a deciding contest, thanks to Mud Bruneteau's overtime goal in game 6 at Maple Leaf Gardens. His goal gave Detroit a 1-0 victory. The goalies and their respective shutouts certainly were a storyline in Cup final action. In games 1, 2, and 3, McCool closed the barn door on Red Wing snipers. In games 5 and 6, it was Harry Lumley's turn to return the favour.

In game 7, Toronto opened the scoring with Mel Hill's shot beating Lumley in the first period. Detroit tied the game in period two when McCool left his net to retrieve a rebound off a Flash Hollett shot. Also dashing for the puck, was Detroit forward Murray Armstrong. He reached the puck first, pulled it back, then fired it over a sprawled Leaf goalie.

The winning goal would come off Babe Pratt's stick in the final frame. It came on a Leaf power play as Syd Howe was sent off for highsticking Gus Bodnar. On the play, Lumley, stopped a Nick Metz scoring chance, but Pratt pursued the puck and poked it from under Lumley's pad into the net.

Toronto, playing a strong defensive game throughout the entire series, held on for a 2-1 win. The largest crowd in Red Wings history, 14,890, witnessed Leaf captain Bob Davidson being presented the Stanley Cup and his counterpart, Flash Hollett, the O'Brien Trophy.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Scotty Bowman : The First Stanley Cup

Stress. A definition from Funk & Wagnals Dictionary is as follows - Emotional or intellectual strain or tension. To witness stress over the airways, all one has to do is watch a Stanley Cup playoff game on television. When something goes wrong on the ice, the TV camera immediately takes focus on the coach for the offending team. The bench boss usually has a large array of facial expressions and unique body movements in his repertoire. These can range from rolling his eyes to removing a wad of gum from his mouth and tossing it north, south, east and west.

Even the coach who comes across as being calm, cool and collected, can't escape the emotional roller coaster. As former NHL coach Ken Hitchcock put it, "Coaches are like ducks. Calm on the top, but paddling underneath. Believe me, there's a lot of leg movement."

The one exception to the rule could be Scotty Bowman. When the red light came on the camera and Bowman's face was framed on our television sets, his expression never seemed to change. Bowman's head was always straining upward, as though it were rising above the situation at hand. Nothing appeared to faze him. Not a bad goal, missed checking assignment or an officials call against his club. Coach Bowman would simply deal with the difficulty by devising a new strategy or addressing a personnel problem. He wouldn't let his players or fans have a glimpse of the frustration or disgust which may have been festering within him. Why give his opponent a psychological advantage.

In the history of Stanley Cup competition, Scotty Bowman is in a class of his own. He holds the record of winning 9 Stanley Cups as a head coach. In a NHL coaching career which spans from 1967 to 2002, Bowman captured 5 Cups in Montreal, 1 in Pittsburgh and 3 in Detroit. His final Cup as Red Wing boss, provided him with a one Cup margin over Toe Blake.

Scotty Bowman amassed an amazing playoff record. He coached in 353 games, winning 223 and losing 130. Taking into account the longevity of coaches in today's hockey environment, Bowman's 9 Cup wins could remain a record for some time to come. His first Stanley Cup? Well, that came with Montreal in 1972-73.

The hockey year in '72-73 started with a bang and concluded in the same fashion. In September 1972, Team Canada and the Soviet Union engaged in an 8 games series which hasn't been matched since in International Hockey. At seasons end, the Montreal Canadiens posted an amazing 52-10-16 record in 78 games.

In the Stanley Cup quarter-finals, Montreal won a best-of-seven series over Buffalo 4-2. In the semi-final action, they eliminated Philadelphia in 5 games (4-1). Their opposition in the Stanley Cup final were the Chicago Black Hawks. On May 10, 1973, Scotty Bowman and the Montreal Canadiens would claim hockey's most prized trophy while visiting Chicago Stadium. Of the 6 games played, this was the best of the crop.

The Hawks took a first period lead on 2 goals scored by centre Pit Martin. Montreal closed the gap when Henri Richard scored with 12 seconds remaining in the period. The Habs outscored Chicago 3-2 in the middle frame and they entered period three tied at 4-4. Goals by Yvan Cournoyer and Marc Tardiff clinched Montreal's Cup victory.

For Scotty Bowman, it was the first of 9 Stanley Cups. Comments made by Bowman following the game, demonstrate how important this initial Cup was to him. "I'm so happy I could cry. It is my biggest moment in sport. This team had a tremendous year, but I have to make special mention of Richard (Henri)", said Bowman.

In 2010, Bowman's son, Stanley, named after Lord Stanley's mug, would win the big prize as general manager of the Hawks. His senior advisor/hockey operations was Scotty Bowman.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

April 21, 1951

Saturday April 21, 1951.

The headline, in bold print, streamed across the front page of the Toronto Daily Star. It exclaimed - REDS HALT RETREAT, FIGHT BACK. World attention at this time was focused on the Korean conflict. The story underneath the headline, detailed a battle which took place at the transportation hub of Chorwon. The raw nature of conducting this fight between Korean and Allied troops can be found in the following paragraph, "At other points U.N. infantry men used fists and clubbed rifles in hand-to-hand conflict."

Back in Toronto, the weekend forecast called for rain in the morning and showers come evening. The temperature was expected to peak at 54 degrees Fahrenheit and dip to 34 degrees.

On the local beat, there was a story on how the Bell Telephone Company were co-operating with police on a criminal matter. In a move to restrict bookmaking activity, law enforcement and Bell were working in unison to remove phones from locations associated with such activities.

On Palmerston Avenue and Lennox Street, there was an automobile accident which made the news. The collision between a taxi and another vehicle, resulted in serious injuries. Following an initial impact, the taxi was propelled 100 feet north and smashed into the porch of a house. Minutes earlier, a 2 year old child was playing on the front lawn.

Under a headline titled, "Women Really Weaker Sex Swede Treadmill Tests Show", were results of a study conducted by the Stockholm Central Gymnastic Institution. Men and women running on a treadmill were tested for oxygen intake, pulse rate and lactic acid. The results? Women scored 30 per cent lower than men

The Simpson's department store was advertising their advance May Sale. For men, rayon suits, single or double-breasted, could be purchased for $35.55. Ladies could pick up an artists' smock for $1.98, Racello Straw Hats $3.98 and a striped Pinafore for $2.98. A Moulton Continental Bed was reduced by $10.00, now selling for $99.50.

Adams, a floor covering store, were offering imported Lancastreum Rugs ranging in size from 6x9 / $4.45 to 9x12 / $9.50. On sale at Loblaws was Old Cave - "The good old cheddar cheese." Frank Stollery, located at Bloor and Yonge, were advertising a Stetson Hat which was produced for them - The Squire - and sold for $10.95.

The Greek Line, a passenger ship company, were offering one-way fares to Europe for $141.75. The New York State Department of Commerce provided information on how to obtain a free 1951 vacation guide.

The Toronto Daily Star printed a review of a new book - A King's Story - written by the Duke of Windsor. Included in the memoir is an account of his abdication from the throne on December 10, 1936. Purchase of the book would set a buyer back by $4.50.

In New York, Kid Gavilan fought Aldo Minelli as a tune-up for his May 18 welterweight clash with Johnny Bratton. Kid Gavilan scored a unanimous decision over his opponent in the 10 round fight.

At Famous Players Theatres spread across the city, a variety of offerings were being projected onto the silver screens. Fans of westerns could see Alan Ladd in "Branded" at Shea's. The Palace at Danforth and Pape featured a double-bill - James Gagney in "The West Point Story" and Gary Cooper in "Dallas".

A sure sign that spring was in the air, came with the announcement that 2 Drive-Ins were opening on April 23, 1951. Starting at dusk, 2 shows, a colour cartoon and first run news would fill the night sky. Remember, kids and cars are free!

The Royal Alexandra took out an ad for a booking of Walt Disney's film "Fantasia", scheduled to open on April 23. Massey Hall was promoting an upcoming concert by pianist William Kapell. Seat prices ranged from $1.50 to $3.00.

Hungry before or after attending a show? Lichee Garden, situated on Elizabeth Street, offered a full menu of their famous Chinese food.

The Odeon Toronto, at Carlton and Yonge, presented Columbia Pictures " The Valentino Story". Actor Anthony Dexter portrayed Rudolph Valentino and his leading lady was Eleanor Parker.

A short distance down the road at Carlton and Church, the Globe newspaper documented a tale from the previous night. A photograph depicted Stan Smith and George Hancin as they camped-out hoping to obtain standing room tickets for game 5 of the Leafs and Canadiens Stanley Cup final series.

Approximately 24 hours later at 11:07 pm, history would take place mere steps away from where they huddled, drinking tea from a flask in order to keep warm.

At 2:53 of the first overtime period, Bill Barilko would score and provide the City of Toronto with another Stanley Cup. News of the day would come to a standstill. The sporting world supplying a temporary diversion from war, criminal activity and horrendous traffic accidents. There was a new story and it was one for the ages.

The following link - Bill Barilko Goal - to the CBC Archives, provides the audio call made by Foster Hewitt on April 21, 1951. Turn down the lights and close your eyes as you listen. Let the sound fill your head, but switch on your imagination to capture the magic of the moment. Just as it did for the entire Nation 60 years ago this evening on Saturday April 21, 1951.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Montreal Canadiens 1944

Like everything in life, the National Hockey League didn't escape the consequences of World War 11. NHL rosters were stripped of key components, as players signed up for military action. The main competition between NHL clubs was battling for players. The goaltending position took a direct hit. In Toronto, the Leafs starting goalie, Turk Broda, left the team to join the Canadian war effort. Scrambling for an experienced replacement, Toronto signed former Leaf Benny Grant. He was on the Leafs 1931-32 squad. Grant's last NHL action came with the 1933-34 New York Americans. In '43-44 Benny Grant played in 20 games with Toronto. In Montreal, the Canadiens turned to rookie Bill Durnan.

The major stories of 1943-44 revolved around, as you would suspect, goaltenders and rookies. Right from the outset, they both assaulted the NHL record book. Gus Bodnar of the Leafs entered the record book by scoring 15 seconds into his first regular season game. The goal came against the New York Rangers in Maple Leaf Gardens. Bill Durnan established a new measure of excellence by a rookie goalie. He went unbeaten in 14 consecutive games. In Detroit, Harry Lumley became the youngest goalie to suit-up for an NHL franchise. He was 17.

Highlights from 1943-44 included Montreal's perfect run on home ice. Their record in the Montreal Forum was 22-0-3. Toronto defenceman, Babe Pratt, gathered 6 assists in a contest on January 8, 1944, against Boston. Pratt would go on to capture the Hart Trophy (League MVP) at the end of '43-44. Other trophy winners were Gus Bodnar (Calder), Bill Durnan (Vezina) and Clint Smith (Lady Byng/Chicago).

The National Hockey League owners took steps to change the style of game being produced on the ice. They voted in favour of putting a red line across centre ice, thus allowing players to pass the puck to that point. This rule change is considered to be the start of the modern era in hockey. The move was designed to increase offensive play and supply entertaining action in a league which was depleted of many NHL regulars.

In the playoffs, semi-final play set Toronto against Montreal and Chicago versus Detroit. Both were best-of-seven series with Montreal downing Toronto (4-1) and Chicago taking out Detroit (4-1).

On April 13, 1944, the Montreal Canadiens defeated Chicago 5-4 to claim the Stanley Cup. It was Montreal's first Stanley Cup since 1931. And they performed the feat in dramatic fashion.

Leading the series 3-0, Montreal had the opportunity to sweep Chicago in four straight games. Game four was played in the Montreal Forum before 12,880 spectators. The first period ended in a 1-1 tie with Elmer Lach scoring for Montreal and  George Allen for Chicago. In the middle frame, Chicago benefited from  two straight Montreal penalties. In a span of three minutes, they scored three goals to go ahead 4-1. Scoring for the Hawks were John Harms, George Allen and Doug Bentley.

This set the stage for a thrilling third period. The fireworks for Montreal was ignited by their number trio of Toe Blake, Elmer Lach and Rocket Richard - the Punch Line. Half-way through period three, Lach scored for Montreal. Then, Rocket Richard netted two and tied the contest at 4-4. After nine minutes of overtime, Toe Blake scored giving Montreal an incredible come-from-behind victory. In addition to scoring the tally which won the Stanley Cup, Blake assisted on all four goals his linemates scored in regulation.

Toe Blake set an NHL record for most points in the playoffs. His 18 points surpassed Rocket Richard's record of 15 points which was reached earlier in the finals against Chicago.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

2011 Playoffs - Vol.1

At times, playoff hockey resembles the following quote from William Faulkner, a Noble Prize-winning authour - "To the innocent, it seemed discorded and inconsequent, bizarre and paradoxical like the frantic darting of weightless bugs which run on the surface of stagnant pools" - this quote is attributed to Faulkner after watching an NHL game in 1955.

Team Canada. The Nation certainly is being well represented by the Vancouver Canucks (3-0 vs. Chicago) and Montreal Canadiens (2-1 vs. Boston) Both teams are playing excellent defensive hockey with Roberto Luongo and Carey Price setting the pace for their respective clubs.

An image I can't erase from the current Budweiser ad. The custodians of Lord Stanley, delicately holding the Cup, hands enclosed in white gloves. What the ad doesn't show is what happens next. The Stanley Cup is mauled by sweaty hands belonging to players who have spent several hours engaged in rigorous physical activity.

You have to admire the fans in Philadelphia. On television, the sea of orange spectators is a striking sight to witness. Their enthusiasm fills the Wells Fargo Centre and I'm sure the players feel the vibe.

The stress of playoff action is really evident on the faces and body language of the coaches. During game 1 and 2 in Boston, coach Claude Julien appeared to let his emotions get the best of him. He seemed distracted by the officials, instead of concentrating on his bench duties. I wonder what impact this has on his players?

Just a thought. How about making the first round of competition a best-of-five series. Teams would have to be ready right from the opening faceoff of Game 1, as there would be little room for error.

As a reward for winning the Stanley Cup, how about giving the champions a salary cap option. The Cup winner would have a cap exemption to carry two salaries over the ceiling. In the case of defending champs, Chicago, I'm certain they would love to have a combination of Dustin Byfuglien, Andrew Ladd and Kris Versteeg in their line-up.

Jaroslav Who?

Congratulations to the 2011 Allan Cup champions - The Clarenville Caribous!

Monday, April 18, 2011

Detroit Red Wings 1943

As playoff action is well underway, I thought it would be interesting to explore previous Stanley Cup Champions from the Original Six era.

The NHL became a six-team league in October 1942. The New York Americans franchise collapsed under the strain of an expiring lease agreement and from losing personnel to the war effort. With the New York Americans becoming extinct, Toronto, Montreal, Boston, Chicago, Detroit and the New York Rangers were the nucleus of clubs forming the National Hockey League.

Several changes were put in place for the '42-43 season, as a response to wartime conditions.  It was estimated the NHL had 90 players on active duty. Faced with this reality, the league reduced the roster size for each club to 14 players (including one goalie). Also, overtime during the regular season was scrapped in order to allow teams adequate time to travel from city to city.

There were many highlights from the 1942-43 campaign. In Montreal, coach Dick Irvin formed a new line consisting of Toe Blake, Elmer Lach and Joe Benoit. They were branded with the tag "Punch Line". Down the road, Benoit would be replaced on the line by "Rocket" Richard.

In a game played on January 26, 1943, Max Bentley of Chicago would score 3 goals and 4 assists against the New York Rangers. This tied an NHL record for most points in a regular season game. The record had been set earlier (Nov.5/42) by Carl Liscombe of Detroit.

Alex Smart, a rookie with the Montreal Canadiens, scored 3 goals in his first NHL game (Jan.14/43). He was the first player to accomplish this feat. In a game played in Maple Leaf Gardens (Nov.12/42), Boston's roster featured 16 year old Bep Guidolin. His inclusion into the line-up made him the youngest player to participate in an NHL game.

The National Hockey League suffered a loss when President Frank Calder succumbed to heart attack. He was replaced by former New York Americans general manager Red Dutton.

In semi-final action, Detroit won a best-of-seven series over Toronto 4-2. The other semi-final match-up ended with Boston holding a 4-1 margin in games over Montreal. Thus, setting-up a Stanley Cup final between Detroit and Boston.

The Detroit Red Wings captured Lord Stanley on April 8, 1943. Detroit blanked Boston 2-0, giving goaltender Johnny Mowers his second consecutive shutout. As if winning the Stanley Cup wasn't enough, Wings owner Jim Norris Sr. added some incentive. He already pledged $5000 to the playoff kitty. On the eve of game 4, he tossed in an additional $2500 if his club ousted Boston in four straight.

With the additional bonus on the line, Detroit scored goals in both the first (Joe Carveth) and second (Carl Liscombe) periods. The tally by Liscombe in the middle frame, enabled him to tie an NHL record. The point earned on his goal, gave him 14 points, equalling the mark set by Bill Crowley in 1939. Also, sharing in the record was Don Grosso who registered 14 points in 1942.

Of interest, the last goalie to post back-to-back shutouts in playoff action was Boston's Tiny Thompson. His victim was the Montreal Canadiens in 1929.

Friday, April 15, 2011

A Special time of Year

The Stanley Cup playoffs truly are the beginning to a new hockey season. The pretenders have been unmasked. Their hockey sticks replaced by golf clubs. The ultimate prize awaits a team who out maneuvers their opponents. To accomplish this, players and coaches must be at the top of their game and willing to pay whatever price is necessary to advance.

With the passage of time, from winter to spring, there is an obvious change in the air. Slowly, winter coats are exchanged for lighter gear. The changing of the clocks to Daylight Saving Time produces longer days. This provides more time to play road hockey after dinner. The National Hockey League schedule dwindles down, with fans eagerly awaiting the playoffs.

I recall the escalating feelings of anticipation which would engulf my whole being back when I was a youngster. My earliest memories of playoff action go back to 1964. The Toronto Maple Leafs were my heroes and no other team was going to prevent them from lifting Lord Stanley. Certainly not the New York Rangers, Chicago Black Hawks or Boston Bruins. The Detroit Red Wings were a worthy opponent, but no match for the boys in Blue and White. The team causing a degree of panic to set in were the Montreal Canadiens. If Toronto showed the skill, grit and passion to advance past Montreal, other teams would be a push-over.

At playoff time, hockey would consume my entire day. Sure, my physical presence was mandatory at school, however, my state of mind was somewhere else. Would Johnny Bower be sharp for tonight's game? How many goals will Frank Mahovlich score? At recess, I would transform into Dave Keon for the foot-hockey game. I pursued the green tennis ball as though it were the puck in play at Maple Leaf Gardens or the Montreal Forum. In spirit, Keon was providing the guidance for me to excel.

Unfortunately, school didn't cease with the closing bell. Homework assignments became a royal pain. On most nights, there was plenty of time to hit the books and tackle those math equations. When the playoffs rolled around, time was at a premium. The usual routine was put out to pasture. Instead of lingering about and watching Superman on television, the pages in my school books would be flipping at an excessive rate of speed. There was no time for baloney or peanut butter sandwiches. The glass of Nestles Quick chocolate milk would take way too long to make. Then, I started to sound like mom. I would tell myself "no problem, I don't want to spoil my supper." Why did it have another meaning when mom said it?

Before sitting down to my pre-game meal, there was another matter to focus on. The daily newspaper. I looked upon the broadsheet as my scouting report. It contained all the vital information - quotes from the players/coaches, statistical data and line-up details. Was Tim Horton still suffering from a knee injury? How will Punch Imlach try to limit the Habs scoring opportunities?

On occasion, disaster would strike. In the spring of 1964, mom and dad were exploring the possibility of purchasing a new house. With dad working during the day, this meant viewings must occur in the evening. Of course, this activity included yours truly. I was too young to be left on my own. The whole process sent me on an emotional roller coaster. Why me? What did I do, to deserve this treatment? I couldn't care less about moving. The TV worked in our current home and that was sufficient. Especially at playoff time. I would only budge off my stance of resistance after explicit guarantees were secured that not a single moment of hockey would be missed.

How could I miss one minute of play? The contest in question was game 7 of the 1964 semi-final. Toronto versus Montreal in the Forum. The winner advancing to the big show. How could I explain to my buddies that I missed the opening goal or, perhaps, the latest encounter between Eddie Shack and John Ferguson? It was a close battle from the opening faceoff right through the third period. Toronto held a one goal lead, 2-1, when Montreal coach Toe Blake pulled goalie Charlie Hodge. With an open net, Dave Keon scored his third goal of the game giving him his first NHL hat-trick. Was this an omen I would score 3 goals in the next road hockey game?

Looking back, it is amazing I survived. I put my heart and soul behind the Maple Leafs. A loss would hit me like a ton of bricks. They might as well have taken my dog and thrown him off a bridge. I could feel the players pain. They weren't responsible for the lead disappearing, it was the terrible calls by the referee. He let the Canadiens get back into the contest. Tomorrow couldn't arrive any sooner.

When the mighty Leafs were victorious, all was right in the world. Another win meant we were closer to hoisting the Stanley Cup. I could picture the newspaper headlines and enjoy pasting the bold lettering  and photographs in my scrapbook. The mood in the city appeared to be more upbeat. As a kid, there seemed to be more talk when Toronto won. You really didn't want to discuss a loss. It was too painful. As an adult, it is the opposite. A loss can result in non-stop bitching from morning to night. Have you listened to sports talk radio recently?

In 1962,1963 and 1964, my team won three straight Stanley Cups. As a youngster, this had a huge impact. The playoffs meant something. Not one, but as many as four games would be televised in the span of a week. Bill Hewitt handling the chores in Toronto and Danny Gallivan taking over when play shifted to Montreal. It was no nonsense time. Games were telecast from start to finish. There was none of this "joined in progress" routine. Players who didn't qualify for post-season action or who were eliminated, appeared on Hockey Night In Canada as intermission guests. It was so strange seeing Bobby Hull and Gump Worsley in their street clothes.

Although this period of time has passed, the rituals of spring remain the same. Seeds planted long ago continue to produce new life each year. Images of the past forever locked in the thought process. Each new playoff season adding to the inventory.

A special time of year.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Marcel Pelletier to the Rescue

As is the case with most things in life, timing is often a key component. We have all read stories of how timing has changed fate and the course of events. Stories like the person who gave up the last seat on a plane. Then, the plane crashes when a sudden storm causes it to nose-dive into a densely wooded landscape.

In the hockey world, fate and timing usually thrust an unknown individual into the spotlight. In February 1951, the light was shining brightly on Marcel Pelletier.

Marcel Pelletier was born on December 6, 1927, in Drummondville, Quebec. He played junior hockey with the Verdun Jr. Maple Leafs in the QJHL. His next step up the ladder was playing senior hockey in Kitchener ('48-49 OHA-Sr.) and Quebec ('49-50 QSHL). In the 1950-51 season, Pelletier was the starting goalie for the Milwaukee Sea Gulls of the USHL, who were a Chicago Black Hawks farm team.

Marcel Pelletier's big moment would come in a game played on February 1, 1951. Unfortunately, only 5,204 fans were in Chicago Stadium to witness his accomplishment. Why the sparse crowd? Well, Chicago was in the midst of a gigantic winless streak which stood at 21 games. Between December 17, 1950 and January 28, 1951, Chicago lost 18 games and tied 3. Their last victory coming on December 16, 1950, a 3-2 win over Toronto in Maple Leaf Gardens. They shared the longest winless streak record with the 1943-44 New York Rangers (17 wins - 4 ties). In game number 21 of the winless stretch, Chicago fell 4-3 to Toronto on January 28, 1951.

The starting netminder for Chicago on February 1, 1951, was Harry Lumley. In the first period, Lumley fell ill with a stomach ailment and left the game having played less than five minutes.

Pelletier, up from Milwaukee, was sitting in the stands. Thus, by the time he skated out to Chicago's goal crease, Pelletier had plenty of time to think about the task at hand. Another loss would give Chicago the dubious distinction of setting a new NHL record.

Right from the outset, Chicago looked like a club determined not to set the new mark. Roy Conacher gave the Hawks a 1-0 lead, 29 seconds into the contest. The Boston Bruins, quickly got the equalizer, 20 seconds later on a goal by Milt Schmidt. Chicago regained the lead thanks to Bill Mosienko. At this point, young (23) Marcel Pelletier was summoned to duty. Harry Lumley passed him a 2-1 edge in goals and it was Pelletier's opportunity to maintain the advantage. All eyes, not to mention the spotlight, were on Pelletier.

In period two, Jim Conacher increased the margin to 3-1. The first goal in the final frame was Milt Schmidt's second of the night. Chicago's two goal lead was restored by Gus Bodnar. The fifth Hawk tally was Roy Coacher's second goal.

Marcel Pelletier and his teammates defeated Boston 5-2. Allowing only one puck to get by him, Pelletier made 28 saves. His next crack at NHL action wouldn't come until the 1962-63 season.  Pelletier played in two games for New York that year, spending the majority of time in Baltimore with the AHL Clippers. His last professional game was in 1968-69 with the New Jersey Devils of the EHL. The bulk of his career was in the WHL with a number of teams.

After hanging up his goal pads, Marcel Pelletier became a scout with the Philadelphia Flyers and Boston Bruins.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Two Goalie System

Yesterday, I wrote about several rule changes and their impact on the game. One of the most contentious matters during the Original Six era wasn't a rule pertaining to goaltenders, but the lack of a rule. Previously, I wrote a  story, "A Backup Plan" which chronicled the origins of the two goalie system - Full Story.

The lack of a rule requiring each individual team to carry a second goalie, left the league open to criticism. If a team failed to play it's starting netminder (usually due to injury), his place would be taken be a local guy. This individual was often a goalie with limited skills who played junior or senior hockey. This goalie would also be available to the visiting team, should their netminder suffer an injury or fall ill.

As the NHL season was coming to a close in March 1959, there was an exciting race for the final playoff spot. The participants were New York, Toronto and Detroit - Full Story. As the three teams were battling for precious points, Detroit general manager, Jack Adams, vocalized his concerns over the second goalie situation.

On March 9, 1959, Toronto played the Montreal Canadiens in the Forum. The Canadiens starting goalie, Jacques Plante, was unable to play due to injury. Instead, they employed the services of Claude Pronovost and Claude Cyr. The Leafs won 6-3 and added two very important points to their total. The Habs were on cruise control, having already captured top spot in league standings.

Jack Adams, sensing his club wasn't benefiting from what was transpiring with the Montreal goaltending rotation, went public with his concerns. Montreal's next opponent was the New York Rangers. Would Plante be starting in Madison Square Garden? By going to the press, Adams was planting a seed for both league officials and Canadiens management. Without saying so, Adams was discouraging the notion of any plans Montreal were formulating to rest Plante.

Taking the matter a step further, Adams contacted league President Clarence Campbell. The Detroit general manager was assured that Plante was injured and couldn't play against Toronto. He stressed to Campbell that the spirit of the rule relating to this matter must be enforced - if the regular goalie is fit, he must play. In Detroit, Adams used his assistant trainer, Lefty Wilson, as his second goalie. Wilson regularly practiced with the team and Adams didn't have to rely on a goalie which was provided by the opposition.

On Sunday March 22, 1959, the Canadiens and Rangers faced off in New York. Once again, Jacues Plante was absent from Montreal's line-up. To upgrade their goaltending situation, general manager Frank Selke summoned Charlie Hodge from the Montreal Royals (QHL). Hodge was the number two goalie on Montreal's depth chart. His promotion was considered an improvement from Claude Pronovost and Claude Cyr. Hodge started the Habs final two games of the season. Against New York, to end the '58-59 campaign, Hodge and his teammates defeated the Rangers 4-2.

As for the playoff run, Toronto (65 pts.) edged past New York (64 pts.) by one point. The Red Wings finished last with 58 points. Their playoff hopes were extremely slim with two teams ahead of them in the standings.

In time for the 1965-66 season, the National Hockey League adapted a new rule relating to the goaltending position. It required that each team dress two goaltenders for each regular season game. The one general manager who wasn't around to see this rule change was Jack Adams. Following the 1961-62 season, he departed the Detroit Red Wings organization to become President of the Central Professional Hockey League.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

A Costly Rule Change

In the history of the National Hockey League, rule changes have been implemented to enhance play on the ice. In 1929-30, the league adjusted the rule on forward passing by allowing such passes to be completed inside all three zones on the ice (defence-neutral-offence). As a result of the new rule, goal production increased dramatically. According to the National Hockey League Official Guide & Record Book, the goal rate doubled. The normal instinct in matters of this nature, rule changes, is to take an action/reaction stance on situations. As the game evolved, so would the rules.

With the rate of goals per game increasing, NHL owners took action. A tweak was made to the forward passing rule by adding the following clause, "no attacking player allowed to precede the play when entering the opposing defensive zone." If this sounds familiar, you are most likely thinking of the offside rule.

In 1930-31, the structure of the offside rule continued to evolve. Those in command decided the puck should first enter the offensive zone prior to any player. The implications are two-fold. First, the clear wording left little room for interpretation. Second, the rule influenced a new style of play. Adapting to the rule, teams could now employ an offensive strategy which included the "dump & chase" and "shoot-in". The intention was to concentrate on puck pursuit and pressuring the opponents defensive core. Other aspects of the game would be affected, such as concepts for backchecking and forechecking.

Then, there are other rule changes that are cosmetic, but have the intended impact.

In January 1941, the NHL altered the rule for those engaging in fisticuffs. Players embroiled in a fight wouldn't suffer a financial penalty, but any player joining in on the mayhem would be fined $25. It didn't take long for the league to witness how this rule would work under game conditions. In a contest played on January 16, 1941, Boston's Milt Schmidt and New York's Art Coulter dropped the gloves and duked-it-out. For a moment, think back to all the vintage footage relating to this period of time. If two players started whaling on each other, it would only be seconds before the old film showed others joining in on the fracas.

The threat of financial retribution made players think twice prior to just leaping in. The amount of $25., provides some correlation with salaries being paid out. A player and his family couldn't afford to relinquish this sum every time a scrap broke out on the ice. In New York, Schmidt and Coulter were the lone combatants. As newspaper report put it, "Coulter and Schmidt squared off while their mates acted as interested spectators."

Monday, April 11, 2011

Maple Leaf Gardens : The First Stanley Cup Pt.2

Exactly 79 years ago, newspapers were documenting Toronto's Stanley Cup win against the New York Rangers. It was the third Cup for the franchise, but the first for their new arena - Maple Leaf Gardens.

Game one of the 1932 Stanley Cup finals was played on April 5, 1932. The contest took place in New York's Madison Square Garden.  Going into the third period, Toronto lead 5-2, but Ching Johnson and Bun Cook pulled the Rangers to within one. As New York continued with their offensive assault, one member of the Leafs decided to take action. Sensing his teammates required a timeout, goaltender Lorne Chabot pulled one of the oldest tricks ever created by the goaltending fraternity. In order to stall for time, Chabot undid a strap on his goalie pads. Working in conjunction with King Clancy, the two were able to prevent the game from proceeding. Noticing what his goalie was up to, Clancy got the attention of referee George Mallinson. By the time Mallinson reached Toronto's goal, Chabot had unfastened several more straps. The delay enabled the visitors enough time to regain their composure. Red Horner's goal at 14:37 of the final frame provided Toronto with an insurance goal. The Leafs escaped New York with a 6-4 win.

Game two was played on April 7, 1932, however, there was a change in venue. No, the action wasn't shifting to Toronto. Due to a circus booking at Madison Square Garden, the Rangers and Leafs played game two at a neutral site. Both teams arrived in Boston on April 6th. Game two would unfold on Boston Garden ice, with locals and visitors from New York and Toronto filling the stands. Neither team was able to skate on the off day due to a wrestling event which was scheduled in the Garden.

In game two, it appeared as though the Rangers felt right at home on Bruins ice. They held a 2-0 lead in period two on goals by Bun Cook and Doug Brennan. On a solo rush, Busher Jackson deked by two Ranger defenders and scored on goaltender John Roach. The equalizer came off the stick of Charlie Conacher. Once again, setting up a thrilling third period.

While Busher Jackson was serving a penalty, King Clancy took the occasion to play a little offence. With Joe Primeau on the attack with him, the two played some give-and-go. On the play, Clancy emerged from behind the New York net with the puck and after three attempts, shot the puck past Roach. Clancy's shorthanded goal opened the floodgates for Toronto. Goals by Conacher, Clancy and Cotton provided the Leafs with a 6-2 win.

Game three of the best-of-five series was played on April 9, 1932 in Maple Leaf Gardens. The stakes were high for both clubs. Toronto, one victory away from winning their first Stanley Cup in the Gardens. New York, a loss would shatter their dreams of continuing the series.

With crowd support firmly in their favour, Toronto took a 3-1 lead into period three. An attendance record was set for Maple Leaf Gardens with the final tally reaching 14,366. There wasn't an inch to spare in the standing room sections. All eyes were focused on the ice as Toronto built-up a 6-2 margin on New York. The Rangers scored two late goals, but the contest was already out of their reach. Toronto captured the Stanley Cup with their 6-4 win. The Leafs became the first team to sweep a best-of-five series. Also, they set a scoring record by netting 18 goals in 3 playoff games.

A newspaper account described the final game in the following fashion.

The game itself was a brilliant exposition of hockey. Speed was the predominant factor. Every man stood up under the gruelling, and both teams turned loose a bewildering display of beautifully timed combinations. There were no fluke goals. Every counter was earned by sheer wizardry of stick, blade and brain.

At the conclusion, fans in the Gardens flung paper and programs into the air. New York players hung around long enough to shake hands with the victorious Leaf squad. The penalty box area was the primary focus of attention, as a microphone was set up in the vicinity. The crowd was addressed by Conn Smythe, coach Dick Irvin and captain Hap Day. Their speeches were broadcast on the radio for all to hear. When Toronto Mayor William Stewart attempted to express his congratulations, the crowd took action. They wanted to hear from King Clancy and other members of the club. The best the Mayor could do was utter "Ladies and Gentlemen."

The Maple Leafs dressing room was surrounded by fans. Ace Bailey was the first to take a footstep out the door and was promptly swarmed by autograph seekers. Next in line was goalie Lorne Chabot. When Busher Jackson appeared, the young ladies went wild. As he was about to depart, Jackson gave one woman an autograph along with a "sweet smack on the lips."

Like the first kiss, the first Stanley Cup is always the sweetest.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Maple Leaf Gardens : The First Stanley Cup

Tomorrow, April 9th, marks the 79th anniversary of the first Stanley Cup won in Maple Leaf Gardens. Fittingly, the honour of being the first recipient belongs to the hometown Maple Leafs.

The 1931-32 campaign was perhaps the greatest in team history. In November 1931, Toronto moved into the newly constructed Maple Leaf Gardens, a place they would call home for the next 68 years. One would think Leaf boss Conn Smythe's major focus during this period of time would be getting the building up and running. However, Smythe knew the importance of icing an upgraded product for the City of Toronto's new hockey palace. With more seats to sell, Smythe realized his club had to be competitive. Although he didn't allocate much time to his roster, he did make some moves. As Smythe put it in his autobiography, he was "being busy hounding people to get the building finished on time." The most important adjustment would come once the season got underway.

Prior to beginning in '31, Smythe made several transactions which were meant to bolster his line-up.

The Leafs obtained centre Syd Howe (above) on loan from the Philadelphia Quakers, who ceased operations following the conclusion of play in 1930-31.

In April 1931, Toronto claimed forward Harold Darragh (above) from Boston.

The Ottawa Senators didn't take part in the 1931-32 season and loaned Toronto right winger Frank Finnigan (above). Thinking towards the future, Smythe acquired King Clancy on October 11, 1930.

The National Hockey League introduced a new twist to their '31-32 schedule. The number of games played increased to 48 from 44. Toronto played in the Canadian Division, along with the Montreal Canadiens, Montreal Maroons and New York Americans.

On November 12, 1931, amid much pomp and circumstance, the official opening of Maple Leaf Gardens occurred. The Leafs didn't burst out of gate with guns blasting. In the home opener, Toronto fell 2-1 to Chicago. With a record of 0-3-2 after five games, Smythe fired coach Art Duncan. As previously noted, this was the major adjustment Smythe implemented to set the ship straight. Duncan's replacement was former Chicago coach Dick Irvin. With Conn Smythe guiding the ship for a game on November 28, 1931, Andy Blair would score in overtime to give Toronto it's first win of the season, defeating Boston 6-5. Dick Irvin's arrival in Toronto was several days away.

At seasons end, the Maple Leafs posted a 23-18-7 record, good for 53 points. The Division was won by the Habs who racked up 57 points.

The Maple Leafs quarter-final opponent in the playoffs was Chicago. The winner would be determined in a two game showdown with total goals being the deciding factor. Game one took place in Chicago, with the Hawks squeezing out a 1-0 win. The return match was played two days later on March 29, 1932. In the very first NHL playoff game held in Maple Leaf Gardens, Toronto didn't disappoint their fans. They defeated Chicago 6-1 and advanced to the semi-finals against the Montreal Maroons.

In game one, Montreal and Toronto skated to a 1-1 draw. On April 2, 1932, the two clubs would participate in another close contest. Based on a 3-2 victory, Toronto won the two game, total goals series,  4-3.

It had been an amazing calendar year for the Toronto franchise. On April 1, 1931, construction crews began the task of bulldozing existing buildings on the future site of Maple Leaf Gardens. One year later, they would be advancing to the Stanley Cup finals in their new home.

Monday - Maple Leaf Gardens : The First Stanley Cup Pt.2

Thursday, April 7, 2011

NHL Oldtimers : Team Pictures

In last weeks final piece (Part 3) on Sid Smith, the story contained four photographs which came courtesy of Blaine Smith (son of Sid Smith). Three of the photos depicted very early editions of the NHL Oldtimers Teams. After doing some sleuthing and assistance from Blaine Smith and Pete Conacher, I can now match names with faces (for the most part). Only players in uniform are identified.

Back Row : (Left to Right) Bob Goldham, Harry Watson, Brian Cullen, Jackie Hamilton, Murray Ezzard.

Front Row : (Left to Right) John Henderson, Charlie Conacher, Sid Smith, Gus Bodnar, Herb Cain, Gus Mortson, Wally Stanowski, Murray Henderson, Cal Gardner.

Back Row : (Left to Right) Herb Cain, Bob Goldham, Murray Ezzard, Gus Bodnar, Wally Stanowski, John Henderson, Ivan Irwin, Hank Goldup, Harry Watson.

Front Row : (Left to Right) Cal Gardner, Murray Henderson, Rags Raglin, Sid Smith, Jackie Hamilton, Tod Sloan, Eric Pougue.

Back Row : (Left to Right) Unidentified, Harry Pidhirny, Ed Shack, Murray Henderson, Andy Bathgate, Wally Stanowski, Keith McCreary, Pete Conacher, Bob Roberston.

Front Row : (Left to Right) Norm Ullman, Aggie Kukulowicz, Wayne Moulton, Brian McFarlane, Ivan Irwin, Ike Hildebrand, Harry Watson, Bob Baun, Cal Gardner, Unidentified, Mike Trenton.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Game Film : Circa 1931

Spending hours sifting through newspaper archives can be rewarding and frustrating at the same time. Every once in a while, a story or image will capture your full attention. As you pursue additional details, the trail goes cold. Then, there are stories or images which send your heart racing and your imagination into overdrive.

For this writer, the text in the above noted article supplied that affect. It was published in the February 27, 1931 edition of the Toronto Telegram. I couldn't read it fast enough. Were my eyeballs playing tricks on me? After all, gazing at microfilm for an extended period of time can cause double vision. Was it possible - an entire game from 1931, featuring Montreal and Toronto, preserved on film?

My first reaction was to investigate the rosters for both teams. From goal out, the line-up for each club contained names which have become part of hockey history. Chabot (Leafs) and Hainsworth (Canadiens) guarded the nets. Toronto's famed Kid Line of Primeau, Conacher and Jackson fuelled the Blue & White offense. Montreal countered with Howie Morenz and Aurel Joliat. The icing on the cake? The venue - Mutual Street Arena. The first home of Toronto's NHL franchise would be the backdrop for all the action. Many people can declare they have watched a game from Maple Leaf Gardens, but few can reply in the affirmative concerning the Mutual Street Arena.

As I digested all this information, my imagination took over the thoughts running through my mind. Was it really possible? An entire contest showcasing the skills of hockey's greatest performers. In a way, I didn't want to know the answer. What if the film was destroyed or in such poor condition that it was classified as being useless. If this was the case, my hope of screening the film would evaporate.

I can't tell you how many times the 1931 article has been shuffled from pile to pile on my desk. Each glance bringing a wide smile to my face. It was similar to a security blanket. The game film, if it existed, would be something to look  forward to viewing. Not in the present, but in the future. Why shatter the visual in my thought process with harsh realities of the truth. Why not let the matter linger in a state of abeyance?

Ten years later (Yes, that long!), I am now ready to confront this unresolved issue. Would this turn ugly or have a happy ending? To answer this question, I sought help from an individual who would be qualified to pronounce the patient dead or alive. This person was Paul Patskou, an audio/visual archivist specializing in sports research. Paul's work has been documented in a number of books including "Barliko - Without a Trace" (Kevin Shea) and "Toronto Maple Leafs, Diary of a Dynasty, 1957-1967" (Shea / Patskou / Harris / Bruno). I sent Paul an email and he quickly provided a diagnosis.

Is any footage still around today?
 Yes, the few minutes of that National Film Board piece exists. The NFB has it for purchase and my copy came directly from them.

Is it in good condition?
 Yes, great quality.

Was there any sound?

Was it shown anywhere?
 Maybe in a movie theatre at the time. The newspaper report of the game explains more.

Is any of the content available online for viewing?
 Maybe the NFB has it on their site. Otherwise, it's on DVD

It was a brutal blow. Obviously, it was time to abandon the hope of viewing an entire game from 1931. Still, I had to know the details. For this, it was back to the newspaper archives.

If ever a hockey game was meant to be immortalized on film, it was this one. It incorporated many facets unique to the game during that era.

As the newspaper headline indicates, the contest on February 28, 1931 was a rambunctious affair. With residual anger from the previous meeting between Toronto and Montreal festering, all hell broke out in the third period. The initial combatants were Maple Leaf Harvey "Busher" Jackson and the Habs Marty Burke. While in penalty box, Jackson and linemate Charlie Conacher ganged-up on Burke. Conacher was already in the sin-bin serving time for an infraction. As one would expect, a good old donnybrook erupted. The melee included players, fans and three policemen. Imagine watching that on film?

The offensive talent on both teams took over when fisticuffs weren't dominating the action At 1:40 of the final frame, Howie Morenz gave Montreal a 3-1 advantage. Toronto fought back, netting 2 goals and sending the matter to overtime. In the NHL during this circa, teams would play one period of extra time prior to calling it a night. The end would not come with sudden death. In the overtime, Montreal restored it's 2 goal lead. Then, a hero materialized for Toronto. Andy Blair's goal lifted the Leafs to within one and he assisted on Charlie Conacher's equalizer. Montreal - 5 Toronto - 5. Imagine watching that on film?

The final paragraph in a newspaper report seems to be the most accurate summation as to what occurred on Saturday February 28, 1931. Montreal Canadiens versus Toronto Maple Leafs.

There have been many better games played at the Arena, but for excitement, hard feeling and turbulence, and interest, it would be hard to equal this one.

For now, I will resist the temptation to watch what remains of the National Film Board footage. Why let a few minutes of delight be extinguished so quickly. It should be an event that is savored and enjoyed at the right moment. Sound familiar?

Besides, I don't want to remove the Toronto Telegram article from the huge mound of paper on my desk. It has been there so long, I can't picture it not being somewhere in the mess gathering dust. Would anyone ask Linus (A character in the "Peanuts" comic strip) to give up his blanket?

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Omaha Knights : 1945-46

Last month, I chronicled the induction of Rod and Don Morrison into the Omaha Hockey Hall of Fame. Full Story.

In 1945-46 the Knights were one of  7 teams which formed the United States League. The other teams were  Kansas City Pla-Mors, St. Paul Saints, Tulsa Oilers, Fort Worth Rangers, Dallas Texans and Minneapolis Millers. The Knights were a farm team of the Detroit Red Wings.

Recently, I discovered a team photograph of the '45-46 Knights.

Unfortunately, attempts to positively identify each player was a difficult task. An identical photo was signed by the players, however, it contains a Lefty Wilson signature in two locations. Thus, putting the names/faces out of sequence. The alignment of names with players on the signed copy is as follows -  (Left to Right) - Frank Melong, Harvey Jessiman, Lefty Wilson, Barry Sullivan, Al Dewsbury, Gordie Howe, Jake Forbes, Gordon Petrie, Don Morrison, Jim Skinner, Ross Wilson (a.k.a. Lefty Wilson), Ed Reigle, Rod Morrison, Connie Poitras, George Homenuke, Carl "Winky" Smith, Tommy Ivan (coach).

Eight individuals who signed the photo, played in the National Hockey League during the Original Six era. In 1943-44, Carl "Winky" Smith played in 7 games with Detroit; Don Morrison 1947-48 (40 games/Detroit) 1948-49 (13 games/Detroit) 1950-51 (59 games/Chicago); Lefty Wilson, substitute goalie, October 10, 1953 (replaced an injured Terry Sawchuk in 3rd period) January 22, 1956 (loaned to Toronto to replace an injured Harry Lumley in 3rd period) December 29, 1957 (loaned to Boston to replace an injured Don Simmons in 1st period); Barry Sullivan 1947-48 (1 game/Detroit); Al Dewsbury 1946-47 (23 games/Detroit) 1947-48 (1 playoff game/Detroit) 1949-50 (11 games/Detroit) 1950-51 to 1955-56 (313 games/Chicago); Ed Reigle 1950-51 (17 games/Boston); Rod Morrison 1947-48 (34 games/Detroit); Gordie Howe 1946-47 to 1970-71 (1,687 games/Detroit) 1979-80 (80 games /Hartford). These are all regular season stats, with the exception of Al Dewsbury's participation in the 1948 playoffs.

Tommy Ivan would go on to serve as coach in Detroit (1947-48 to 1953-54) and Chicago (1956-57 to 1957-58)

Monday, April 4, 2011

When the Bell Rings

Last week, I wrote about Detroit goaltender Bob Champoux. How in the 1964 Stanley Cup playoffs, he was thrust into action due to an injury suffered by Terry Sawchuk. His time in the spotlight lasted only 55 minutes. Today, another story about a player coming out of nowhere and being given the opportunity of a lifetime. A different goalie. A different set of circumstances.

Frank McCool
In the 1944-45 season, rookie goaltender Frank McCool had an amazing run with the Toronto Maple Leafs. He lead all NHL goaltenders in games played, 50, and minutes played, 3000. He posted a 24-22-4 record and a 3.22 average. He lead the league in shutouts with 4. In the playoffs, he was in the net for 13 games, winning 8 and losing 5. Of his 8 victories, 4 were shutouts. On April 22, 1945, McCool would out battle Detroit's Harry Lumley to win game 7 of the Cup final 2-1. Besides winning the big prize, McCool won the Calder Memorial Trophy. Not bad for an opening act.

The following year, McCool was a training camp hold out, which extended into the regular season. Thus, begins the story of Gordie Bell.

Gordie Bell played one year of junior hockey with the Portage Terriers of the MJHL. The following season. 1942-43, he turned pro with Buffalo of the American Hockey League. Like many players from his generation, Bell's career was interrupted due to military service. When he returned for the 1945-46 campaign, he would face another challenge.

With Frank McCool in a contract dispute and Turk Broda still engaged in military service, Toronto had to look else where for a starting netminder. To begin the 1945-46 hockey year, Baz Bastien started the first 5 games. His record, 0-4-1, didn't evoke the confidence of coach Hap Day. This is when the bell rang for young Gordie.

Gordie Bell
On November 8, 1945, Gordie Bell played in first National Hockey League game. His opponent was the Red Wings with the game taking place in the Detroit Olympia. Although the Leafs lost, 3-2, newspaper accounts of Bell's performance were positive. The only criticism was his knack for allowing big rebounds. Two of Detroit's goals came as a result of this tendency.

Gordie Bell would get his first home start on Saturday November 10, 1945. The visitors were the Chicago Black Hawks. In a close contest, Bell and the Maple Leafs defeated Chicago 3-2. The game winning goal came off the stick of Syl Apps in the third period. Gordie Bell would go on to play in 6 more games with Toronto. He would post a 3-5-0 record and a 3.55 average.

On November 21, 1945, came news that Frank McCool settled his contract dispute. This spelled the end of Bell's time in Toronto. On December 12, 1945, Bell played in his first game with Providence in the AHL. He lead the Reds to a 7-2 win over the Indianapolis Capitals. Bell's only other NHL appearance would come in the 1956 playoffs, when he participated in 2 games with the New York Rangers. He would take off his pads for a final time in 1957-58 after playing for Belleville in the EOHL.

Joe Bell - New York Rangers - 1942-43 & 1946-47

In 2006, I wrote Joe Bell (pictured above), Gordie's brother, and asked him to comment on brother Gord.

 Career highlights. Voted MVP with the Portage Terriers, Canadian Junior champs. Turned pro in 1943 with the Buffalo Bisons of the AHL, recording 9 shutouts in a 50 game schedule. Buffalo won the AHL title and Gordie was voted to the First All-Star Team.
 Joined the Canadian Navy in 1943 and served on the HMCS Restigouche (Destroyer).
 At the conclusion of World War II in 1945, he reported to the Toronto Maple Leafs camp. He played several years in the AHL.
 His last action was with the Belleville McFarlands who represented Canada at the Olympics in Europe. They defeated the Russians and won the World Title. The following year while playing for Belleville, he was hit in the eye on a screened shot and lost his vision in that eye.
 He retired and worked for McFarland Construction for several years. He passed away in 1980 at age 55.
 Gordie was an outstanding "stand up" goalie, who would have made a fortune in today's 30 team NHL.
Gordie Bell. Another example of how tough it was for a young goalie to break into the NHL during the Original Six era. They were often denied an extended stay, but continued to pursue the dream of cracking a big league line-up.