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.

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