Tuesday, May 31, 2011

2011 Playoffs : Vol.7

Let the countdown begin! We are on day away from the Stanley Cup final getting underway. There is little doubt, Boston will be facing their toughest competition yet in the 2011 playoffs. The Vancouver Canucks have a nice blend of skilled and physical forwards. Up front, it will be vital for Daniel and Henrik Sedin, along with Ryan Kesler and Alex Burrows, to hammer away at Zdeno Chara. In goal, there must be some questions concerning 37-year-old Tim Thomas. Will he finally melt after going 7 games against Tampa? On the other hand, he could emerge as the key to any success experienced by Boston. He is certainly holding the-hot-hand and we all know what a goalie playing in "the zone" can accomplish. My prediction? Vancouver in five games.

Congratulations to coach Gerard Gallant and his Saint John Sea Dogs, winners of the Memorial Cup. They defeated the Mississauga St. Michael's Majors 3-1 on Sunday night. After taking a 2-1 lead into period three, the Sea Dogs held-off a fierce attack by St. Mike's. Goaltender Jacob DeSerres was outstanding in the final frame. A late goal by Jonathan Huberdeau was icing-on-the-cake, giving Saint John the junior title. Prior to the Memorial Cup presentation, Huberdeau was named tournament MVP and picked-up the Stafford Smythe Trophy. For the first time in history, the Memorial Cup will reside in Atlantic Canada.

On the topic of Memorial Cup history, there was a very interesting article published in the Toronto Star (May 26, 2011). Written by Jonathon Jackson, the piece contains an interview with Bunny Clark (nee Keeling). Bunny is the 103-year-old sister of former NHL player Melville "Butch" Keeling. It was wonderful to read her recollections of the 1924 Memorial Cup. Her brother was a member of the championship squad (from Owen Sound). Keeling reached the NHL in 1926-27, signing as a free agent on September 7, 1926, with the Toronto St. Pats. In his rookie campaign with the St.Pats/Maple Leafs, Keeling scored 11 goals in 30 games. On April 16, 1928, he was traded to the New York Rangers for Alex Gray. Butch Keeling would play 10 seasons in the Big Apple, winning the Stanley Cup in 1933. FULL STORY.

Ex-NHL player, Barry Potomski, passed away on May 24th. The 6'2" left winger was signed as a free agent by the Los Angeles Kings on July 7, 1994. Over two seasons with L.A., Potomski scored 6 goals in 59 games. His final NHL stop came in 1997-98. He went scoreless while playing in 9 games with the San Jose Sharks. Barry Potomski was born on November 24, 1972 in Windsor, Ontario.

On May 25th, Red Wings defenceman Brian Rafalski announced his retirement. The three-time Stanley Cup champion walks away from NHL duty at the age age of 37.

The Red Wings now sit and wait for Nicklas Lidstrom to decide on his future, I'm sure general manager Ken Holland will be paying close attention to Vancouver during the Cup final. Potential free agent Kevin Bieksa should draw a ton of looks this summer.

In Uniondale, New York, Doug Weight called it a night with his retirement from the New York Islanders. He will remain in the organization, serving as an assistant coach and an aid to GM Garth Snow.

News from Chicago concerning Hawks legend Stan Mikita. It was announced last week the Hall of Fame centre has been diagnosed as having oral cancer. Caught in the early-stages, Mikita will under go radiation treatments. According to his doctor, Mikita's prognosis is "excellent".

Golly Gee - It's Me! It was terrific seeing Howie Meeker being honoured with the Order of Canada by Gov. General David Johnston on Friday.

Catching-up with Hall of Fame executive Brian O'Neill. On May 28th, the Toronto Star ran a Q&A piece featuring O'Neill. He came upon the NHL scene in 1966, when Clarence Campbell required additional staff due to the NHL doubling in size (6 to 12). Now 82, O'Neill serves as Discipline Chairman for the Memorial Cup tournament.

Monday, May 30, 2011

The Original Six : A Return to the Cup Final

For the second consecutive year, the Original Six era will be represented in the Stanley Cup final. Boston's 1-0 victory over Tampa Bay sent them to the final against Vancouver. Last season, hockey's Golden Age emerged victorious with Chicago's Cup win.

Here are some interesting facts relating to Original Six teams and players in the post-expansion era...


-Montreal, 10, 1968,69 1971,73,76,77,78,79 1986, 1993
-Boston, 2, 1970,71
-New York Rangers 1, 1994
-Chicago 1, 2010


-Montreal, 1971 (vs. Chicago)
-Boston, 1972 (vs. New York)
-Montreal, 1973 (vs. Chicago)
-Montreal, 1977 (vs. Boston)
-Montreal 1977 (vs. Boston)
-Montreal 1979 (vs. New York)


-Toe Blake, 1968, Montreal
-Al MacNeil, 1971, Montreal
-Tom Johnston, 1972, Boston


-Fred Shero, 1974 & 1975, Philadelphia
-Al Arbour, 1980 to 1983, New York Islanders
-Glen Sather, 1984,85,87,88,89, Edmonton Oilers


-Billy Reay, 1971, Chicago
-Emile Francis, 1972, New York
-Billy Reay, 1973, Chicago
-Bep Guidolin, 1974, Boston
-Floyd Smith, 1975, Buffalo
-Fred Shero, 1976, Philadelphia
-Don Cherry, 1977, Boston
-Don Cherry, 1978, Boston
-Fred Shero, 1979, New York
-Glen Sonmor, 1981, Minnesota
-Glen Sather, 1983, Edmonton
-Al Arbour, 1984, New York Islanders


-J.C. Tremblay, 1968, Montreal
-John Ferguson, 1969, Montreal
-Bobby Orr, 1970, Boston
-Henri Richard, 1971, Montreal
-Bobby Orr, 1972, Boston
-Yvan Cournoyer, 1973, Montreal


-Gump Worsley & Rogie Vachon, 1968 & 1969, Montreal
-Gerry Cheevers & Eddie Johnston, 1970 & 1972, Boston
-Rogie Vachon (Ken Dryden), 1971, Montreal
-Bernie Parent, 1974 & 1975, Philadelphia

Friday, May 27, 2011

Conn Smythe - 1965 : Roger Crozier

It was only a matter of time before the selection process pertaining to Conn Smythe Trophy winners raised it's ugly head. Like most circumstances which don't call on statistical data as a prerequisite for determining a winner, the Conn Smythe selection was based on opinion. Of course, statistical information came into play, but is wasn't the overriding factor. It was the responsibility of the National Hockey League Board of Governors to determine "the outstanding player of the play-offs".

In the 1966 playoffs, the Board of Governors would get their first taste of Conn Smythe Trophy controversy. In the final, defending Stanley Cup champions, Montreal, were matched-up against the Detroit Red Wings. The Canadiens emerged victorious, taking the best-of-seven series four games to two.

The Canadiens were odds-on favourites to repeat and when they completed the task, many thought the Conn Smythe recipient would come from the winning squad. Names such as Jean Beliveau, Gump Worsley and J.C. Tremblay were being bantered about as possible candidates.

When the league announced Detroit goalie Roger Crozier as the winner, many people in hockey were surprised. How does a player on the losing team, rate consideration over an individual who made a contribution to a winning effort? The debate began immediately, with pros and cons on each side of the argument.

Roger Crozier was Detroit's talented young goaltender who had a style all his own. In an era where stand-up goalies were the norm, Crozier resembled a fish out of water. His acrobatic movements were a thing of pure delight. On many plays around his goal crease, Crozier would be flat on the ice. His legs and arms flapping to reach the puck or cover as much space as possible. It was poetry-in-motion when Crozier moved to the front of or beyond his crease to confront a shooter head-on. By doing this, he took away the angles, which suddenly narrowed, as Crozier moved out from the net. As the opposing player advanced, Roger "The Dodger" would back-up in order to adjust to the situation. If a cross-ice pass was completed, the Detroit goalie reacted by propelling his extended body laterally to protect the open-side.

His flair for the dramatic was evident in his skill to engage his glove hand. Crozier had the ability to make a routine glove save look as though the puck was shot at 100mph and headed right towards the top-shelf.

In games one and two of the Cup final, Detroit upset Montreal in the Forum, winning both contests. With the score tied 1-1, early in period three of game two, Crozier's glove hand went to work.

Red Burnett of the Toronto Daily Star, described what happened next in his game report the following day.

Tremblay, a left winger, crossed over and stormed in from the right side for his try. He had Crozier well out on a good angle and lashed a low backhander, one that he described as one of his best shots of the season, for the far corner. Roger's right hand snaked out and gloved the sizzling puck.
 Seconds later, it was Big Jean, one of the most feared close-in marksmen in the game, powering in alone from the left side. Like Gilles (Tremblay), he had Crozier well out, with the far side yawning an invitation. He let go with a thunderbolt, but Crozier's right hand was quicker than the shot.

In game four, Crozier suffered two injuries - a sprained knee and twisted ankle. Crozier was at his acrobatic best on the play involving Canadiens forward Bobby Rousseau. Crozier commented on what transpired following the game, "At first, I thought my leg was broken. I was stretching for the corner of the goal when Rousseau fell going through the crease, jamming my leg against the post. There was a searing pain and my leg went limp. It started to quiver, I couldn't control it and couldn't regain my feet."

Despite the injury, Crozier returned for game five. However, his presence wasn't enough to ward off Montreal's powerful offensive attack. The Canadiens won game five by a score of 5-1. In game six, a disputed goal by Henri Richard in overtime, ended Detroit's dream of a Stanley Cup.

Roger Crozier learnt he was the Conn Smythe Trophy winner, while removing tape away from the injured parts of his body in the Wings dressing room. He quickly changed into his streetclothes to accept the trophy from Clarence Campbell.

In the Canadiens room, this quote came courtesy of netminder Gump Worsley concerning the Conn Smythe Trophy, "I think Big Jean Beliveau should have won it. We wouldn't have retained the Cup without him."

Did I mention controversy?

If Roger Crozier needed something to help him forget about his banged-up leg, the Board of Governors supplied the perfect tonic. In addition to the $1000. cash award, a $5000. sports car was thrown into the mix. Crozier could motor around Bracebridge, Ontario during the summer, never having to worry about applying too much weight or pressure on his leg.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Spelling it Out

Last week, I wrote about goalkeeper Harry "Hap" Holmes and his back-to-back Stanley Cup wins in 1917 (Seattle Metropolitans) and 1918 (Toronto Arenas). Since Holmes accomplished this feat, no other goaltender has manged to win consecutive Cups while playing for different teams.

Harry "Hap" Holmes

Also mentioned, was Corbett Denneny, a teammate of Holmes on the 1918 Arenas. In the fifth and deciding game of the Stanley Cup Series, Denneny scored the game winning goal, which gave Toronto a 2-1 victory and the first Stanley Cup in National Hockey League history.

Corbet Denneny
Corbett Charles Denneny, a  5'8"/160lbs centre, was born in Cornwall, Ontario. He began his professional hockey career in 1914-15 with the Toronto Shamrocks of the National Hockey Association (NHA). Over the next 17 years, Denneny would skate for a number of clubs in different leagues.

In Toronto, he was a member of the Shamrocks (1914-15/NHA); Blueshirts (1915-16 to 1916-17/NHA); Arenas (1917-18 TO 1918-19/NHL); St. Pats (1919-20 to 1922-23/NHL); St. Pats/Maple Leafs (1926-27/NHL). Also, Denneny had stints with the Ottawa Senators of the NHA and several clubs in the National Hockey League. These would include the Hamilton Tigers (1923-24) and Chicago Black Hawks (1927-28).

In the NHL, Denneny participated in 176 matches, scoring 103 goals and 42 assists for 145 points. His final season in pro hockey came with the Chicago Shamrocks (American Hockey Association) in 1930-31.

A quirky fact relating to Corbett Denneny is the spelling of his last name. The legal surname is spelled D-e-n-n-e-n-y. For confirmation of this fact, I checked the 1901 Census of Canada. In the census, Corbett Denneny is listed along with other relatives. The census provides collaborating details, such as date of birth (Jan.25, 1894) and residency (Cornwall & Stormont). Also listed as a household member is Corbett's younger brother, Cy Denneny. He had a brilliant 15 year run as a pro, winning five Stanley Cups. Cy Denneny is an honoured member (1959) of the Hockey Hall of Fame.

An obituary published in 1963, explains the origin of the misspelling of Corbett's surname. When he first appeared on the hockey scene, sports writers of the time, added another letter to the spelling. Newspaper accounts document the name being spelled D-e-n-n-e-n-a-y.

Newspaper report from 1918 which captures the misspelling

The obituary reveals Denneny adapted the new spelling. This fact is clearly established when visiting Corbett's final resting place in Etobicoke, Ontario.

His tombstone (above) reads, "IN LOVING MEMORY OF CORBETT C. DENNENAY 1894-1963.

Corbett Denneny passed away on January 16, 1963. His post-hockey career was spent working for the YMCA. He was a director for the organization, assigned to Toronto's Central YMCA.

Hockey game or name game - Corbett Denneny/Dennenay was a willing participant.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Hamming it Up

With Victoria Day having come and gone, my memory filters back to the holiday weekend in 1971.

Unlike today's NHL, the Stanley Cup playoffs for 1971 had already come to a conclusion. On May 18th the Montreal Canadiens were crowned Stanley Cup champions. In Toronto, Maple Leaf fans were disappointed with their teams failure to advance beyond the quarter-finals. On April 15th, Toronto was eliminated by New York. The Rangers defeated Toronto 2-1 (overtime) in Maple Leaf Gardens, to take the best-of-seven series 4-2.

Despite the Leafs season being over, there were National Hockey League players skating on Gardens ice come late May. Included in the mix were members from the Maple Leafs roster. Sounds like an oldtimers or charity game - right? Good guess, but if this were a TV game show, the buzzer would be blaring, indicating an incorrect answer!

On Monday May 24, 1971, Victoria Day, it was no ordinary holiday for this youngster. Usually, the big event of the day would take place after the sun had gone down in the west. Following a spread of goodies prepared on the barbecue, everyone was ready to chill-out and enjoy the sights and sounds of firecrackers and flares.

My fireworks actually started about 12 hours earlier. As the clock struck 8:00am, I was on my way to Maple Leaf Gardens. Deserted streets, vacant of cars and pedestrians, being the first clue it was indeed a holiday Monday. Approaching the shrine on Carlton Street, a strange feeling hit me. It seemed odd to be at Maple Leaf Gardens in the early morning. The hustle and bustle of attending an NHL game was missing. No staff were on hand selling programs nor was there any discussion on how well the local heroes were doing.

These thoughts quickly vanished once I entered the majestic art deco entrance. My hope of making a mad-dash for a decent seat suffered a serious blow. Strolling along the Gardens numerous hallways and corridors, my eyes kept wandering upward. They were met by framed photographs hanging on the walls. You couldn't miss these large images which seemed to capture the entire Maple Leaf history. In one photo, the lens captured Rocket Richard in action surrounded by Leaf players. The Caption read, "ROCKET RICHARD GETS SET TO FIRE PUCK AT HARRY LUMLEY." The play is just starting to develop, so the outcome is left to the imagination. I'm sure "Apple Cheeks" made a huge kick-save on Number Nine of Habs fame. Home for this glorious black & white print was the west golds hallway.

As flocks of people passed by, I decided to make my move. The purpose of this venture to downtown Toronto, came into focus as I took my seat. The interior of Maple Leaf Gardens was front and centre, as a production company (Agincourt Productions) took over the facility. I was about to witness the filming of a hockey movie - Face Off.

Over the next several hours, I watched as movie-making equipment was shifted into place and lighting angles were checked in order to record the action scenes. Many of these shots involved Leafs defenceman Jim McKenny, who served as a "hockey-double" for the main character.

The storyline of Face Off revolves around two young characters. Billy Duke, portrayed by Art Hindle, is a hotshot rookie blueliner with the Toronto Maple Leafs. Sherry Nelson, played by Trudy Young, is a pop-rock singer. The plot thickens when the couple are exposed to each others work and social environment. The cultural differences become a point of contention. Billy has trouble accepting Sherry's show business friends and the use of narcotics. Sherry doesn't care much for the sports scene and the violent nature of hockey.

From a hockey perspective, there was a ton to observe while taking in the action at Maple Leaf Gardens. The "hockey cast" assembled for the day of filming was amazing. Representing the NHL were...Garry Monahan, George Armstrong, Jim Harrison, Paul Henderson, Ron Ellis, Jacques Plante, Brian Glennie, Brad Selwood, Rickey Lee, Bob Baun, Jim Dorey, Mike Pelyk and McKenny (Toronto) Rosaire Paiement, Gary Doak, Murray Hall, Ray Cullen and Dale Tallon (Vancouver) Fred Stanfield, Mike Walton, Don Marcotte, Don Awrey, Derek Sanderson and Gerry Cheevers (Boston) Doug Jarrett, Jim Pappin, Lou Angotti and Eric Nesterenko (Chicago) Noel Price and Bob Pulford (Los Angeles) Rod Seiling and Ed Giacomin (New York).

When I viewed the finished product, it was an eye-opener to see Leaf players "acting" on the silver screen. From Harold Ballard to George Armstrong, it was a jolt to the system when they popped-up on screen. To a hockey fan, there presence seemed so out of place. We were familiar with seeing them interviewed on Hockey Night in Canada, not in our local movie houses as actors. I wasn't ready for George Armstrong playing George Armstrong.

The world premiere of Face Off occurred on November 12, 1971. The event took place at Toronto's Odeon Theatre, which just happened to be a Tim Horton to Dave Keon pass away from Maple Leaf Gardens. Of note, the Gardens was celebrating it's 40th anniversary on November 12th. The guest list included players from Toronto and the Vancouver Canucks. In total, 500 guests were invited and 1500 seats were made available to the general public.

It was a magnificent Victoria Day back in 1971. The type of occasion where memories are created and stored forever. Like the story in Face Off, the blending of sports and entertainment made it a unique experience. The next day, however, it was back to reality.

Gone was the trip to Maple Leaf Gardens, hockey players impersonating actors, steaks off the barbecue and fireworks. They were replaced by a classroom, Mr. Smith's zany science projects, peanut butter sandwiches for lunch and there certainly wasn't any fireworks. Unless, Mr. Smith crossed-up his test tubes and provided the class with an unexpected show.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

2011 Playoffs : Vol.6

When Tampa Bay won the Cup in 2004, the team was constructed by general manager Jay Feaster. Last week, Feaster was confirmed as the full-time GM in Calgary. He took over the position on an interim basis, following Darryl Sutter's resignation on December 28, 2010. Under Feaster, the Flames went 25-11-9, missing the playoffs by only three points. The eighth and final spot was snagged by Chicago.

I wonder if San Jose forward Patrick Marleau and Jeremy Roenick will be getting together this summer for a round of golf?

Hockey fans in Winnipeg are once again having a carrott dangled in front of them. Let's hope this isn't another ploy on the part of the NHL executives in New York. The threat of relocating Atlanta's franchise, could be a tactic to stir the pot in Georgia. It worked in Phoenix, with city council making a $25-million payment to keep the team in Glendale. Is the league operating under some theory a rich investor will scoop-up the Thrashers and keep them in Atlanta? Then, down the road, move the club to a location on the NHL's wish list - say Kansas City or Las Vegas. At this stage, the odds are in Winnipeg's favour. Let's hope it becomes official - sooner, rather than later.

The more I watch Boston goalie Tim Thomas, I can't help but see Roger Crozier. Granted, Thomas is a larger, bulkier version of Detroit's wonderful goalkeeper from the 1960s. I would love to view a split screen of the two in action. Vintage footage of Crozier on one side and HD quality of Thomas on the other side. Thomas and Crozier moving out from the net to meet a shooter head-on, taking away as much of the net as possible. Playing the angle and giving the puck carrier nothing to work with. If the player holds onto the puck, Thomas and Crozier slowly retreat to the crease. A scramble shows both goalies flopping and twisting. Their bodies being extended here, there and everywhere. Their mission is complete, only when the puck is stopped, smothered or cleared.

I wonder if Dwayne Roloson has consulted with Johnny Bower on tips for goalies who have extended their career beyond the age of forty?

Scotiabank is running a cool contest - See Stanley with Lanny - with the prize winner attending a playoff game with Lanny McDonald. The concept is excellent, but with no slight to Lanny, my choice of an alumni player would be different. My selection? Imagine sitting down with Habs legend Jean Beliveau for sixty-minutes of playoff hockey and hopefully, several periods of overtime. The conversation drifting from the game in progress, to Montreal's dynasty in the late 1950s, which included five consecutive Stanley Cups. "So, Mr. Beliveau, what was it like to play with the Rocket, Dickie Moore, Boom Boom Geoffrion, Doug Harvey, Jacques Plante and company?" I toss this question to Beliveau as he closely follows the play on the ice. He is watching Vincent Lecavalier lead a rush into the offensive zone. The Tampa Bay forward wearing number four in honour of the Canadiens icon. The questioning would be endless. What was it like to play for Punch Imlach in Quebec? How did it feel to have the entire Province watching every move you made as a young player? Was Toe Blake a difficult coach to play for? Which guys in the Original Six era kept you on your toes? How much fun were those train rides and team dinners? How about the Conn Smythe Trophy; scoring 500-plus goals; the Hockey Hall of Fame; life after hockey? For the sake of time, we better make the game Beliveau and I attend a triple-overtime extravaganza. I may have a couple of more inquiries.

In a previous 2011 Playoffs Volume, I wrote a piece concerning Nashville's Shea Weber having the best playoff beard. After watching some Memorial Cup matches from the Hershey Centre, I have to change my vote. Gaining the number one spot in this category, is Saint John Sea Dogs left winger Mike Thomas. Although he is playing at the junior level, his facial growth is on par with any NHL player.

P-L-E-A-S-E. No more afternoon games on the weekend. The lawn has to be cut and it won't stop raining. Adding afternoon hockey to the mix doesn't help the situation.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Conn Smythe Trophy : The First Winner

The nameplate on this magnificent piece of silverware provides the essential details as to it's origin and purpose. it reads as follows...


Named after legendary Leaf owner, Conn Smythe, the trophy reflects one of Smythe's greatest contributions to the game - Maple Leaf Gardens. The four tier statue is a wonderful object of artwork, from top to bottom.

On the bottom base, sit two tiers of hardwood which have miniature silver maple leafs attached. The maple leaf insignia marks the year, player and team of each individual winner. The third tier has the trophy nameplate attached. As the naked eye moves upward, it meets the stunning silver replica of Maple Leaf Gardens. Rising from behind Toronto's former home (1931-1999) is a large silver maple leaf. The image is absolutely striking, as it brings together both the team and building. The silver maple leaf, representing the team crest. The glory years (1940s & 1960s), instantly come to mind. Also, it reflects another powerful visual - the rising sun coming out of the east, as it slowly makes it's way above the landscape.

In the 1965 Stanley Cup final, the Montreal Canadiens went the seven game limit against Chicago. In game seven, the Habs blanked Chicago 4-0 and won Lord Stanley on home ice.

Once the Stanley Cup has been won, everything else seems so  anti-climate. On May 1, 1965, in the Montreal Forum, this was not the situation. For the first time since the Richard Riots in 1955, league President Clarence Campbell was to make a Cup presentation. As expected, the Montreal faithful were relentless in their booing of Campbell.

There was another aspect which added to the drama. Not only was Campbell on the ice to present Lord Stanley's mug, but it was his job to announce the first winner of the Conn Smythe Trophy.

The inaugural recipient was Canadiens captain Jean Beliveau. The Forum crowd continued to voice their displeasure over Campbell, until Beliveau took the microphone.

In the regular season, Beliveau performed in 58 games, having missed 12 contests due to injury. It was a difficult year for Beliveau as his point production dropped to 43 from 78 the previous campaign.

The playoffs, which are considered as hockey's "second-season", supplied Beliveau the opportunity to shine in the semi-final and Cup final. Beliveau seized the moment and ran with it in spectacular fashion.

In game seven of the Cup final, Beliveau took immediate control by scoring 14-seconds into the first period. It was the only tally Montreal required in their 4-0 victory. Overall, Jean Beliveau would skate in 13 games during the 1965 playoffs. His 16 points came as a result of 8 goals and 8 assists.

Jean Beliveau - outstanding player of the 1965 playoffs. The first winner of the Conn Smythe Trophy in the Original Six era.

Friday, May 20, 2011

2011 Playoffs : Antti Niemi and Harry Holmes

Came across this neat tidbit in the Toronto Sun while munching on my second bowl of Cheerios. The last goaltender to capture consecutive Stanley Cups while playing for different teams was Harry "Hap" Holmes.

In the 2011 playoffs, San Jose Sharks puck-stopper Antti Niemi has the opportunity to match Holmes accomplishment. Last year, Niemi won the Stanley Cup as a member of the Chicago Blackhawks. Niemi and his San Jose teammates are in tough against the Vancouver Canucks, as they battle for the Western Conference title.

Harry Holmes was born on February 21, 1892 in Aurora, Ontario. For three seasons (1908-09 to 1910-11) he played on the Parkdale Canoe Club in the OHA-Sr. league. Over the following five seasons (1911-12 to 1914-15) Holmes participated in one match with the Toronto Tecumsehs (1911-12), and the remainder of his playing time saw him 'tending goal for the Toronto Blueshirts (National Hockey Association).

Hap Holmes

In November of 1915, Holmes headed west. He signed a contract to play for the Seattle Metropolitans of the Pacific Coast Hockey Association (PCHA). Having missed the playoffs in his initial year in Seattle, Holmes reached the pinnacle of hockey success for a second time in the 1917 post-season. Earlier in his career, he won a Stanley Cup with the 1914 Toronto Blueshirts.

On March 26, 1917, the Metropolitans faced the Montreal Canadiens in game four of the Stanley Cup Series. Holmes opponent at the other end of the rink was George Vezina. Playing in Seattle, the Canadiens took game one by a score of 8-4. The Metropolitans responded by winning games two (6-1) and three (4-1). The Series was a best-of-five affair. With Lord Stanley's silverware on the line in game four, Seattle cruised to a 9-1 landslide pasting of Montreal. In a brilliant display of offensive skills, Bernie Morris netted 6 of Seattle's 9 goals. The only Montreal player to beat Holmes was Didier Pitre.

Prior to the 1917-18 hockey season, Harry Holmes became the centre point in a series of convoluted deals. Most history references indicate that Holmes signed with the NHL Montreal Wanderers as a free agent in November 1917. The next transaction involved him being loaned to Seattle in the PCHA. Under the impression he had a deal to return to the PCHA, Holmes received a wire 15-minutes before his scheduled departure from Toronto to the coast. He was advised by Frank Patrick to delay his trip. Holmes only goal was to play hockey, so he entered into discussions with Charlie Querrie who ran the Toronto franchise in the National Hockey League. Frank Patrick had apparently granted Holmes permission to negotiate with another organization for the 1917-18 campaign.

Then, the Montreal Wanderers staked their claim as the rightful owners of Harry Holmes, professional hockey player. At the end of December 1917, Sammy Lichtenhein, owner of the Wanderers, offered to trade Holmes to Toronto for one of their better players - Reg Noble. The Toronto Arenas wanted no part of this proposal. Reading press reports from that era, reveals that neither Holmes or Toronto management were convinced the Wanderers had any say concerning the goalies future.

With a new calendar year underway, developments in this situation quickly brought the matter to a resolution. On January 2, 1918, a fire destroyed the Westmount Arena in Montreal, which served as home to the Wanderers. This combined with roster issues, forced the Montreal Wanderers to leave the National Hockey League. The Montreal players were dispersed to other clubs. A newspaper headline on January 4, 1918, reads, "WANDERERS OUT OF THE N.H.L., TORONTOS TO GET HOLMES."

The Toronto club, by adding Harry Homes to their line-up, represented the National Hockey League in the 1918 Stanley Cup Series. Holmes was a considerable upgrade when compared to Toronto's other two goalies - Artie Brooks and Sammy Herbert. His inclusion was deemed as the missing ingredient which was required for Toronto to advance and challenge for the Stanley Cup.

Facing the Vancouver Millionaires to determine the 1918 Stanley Cup champions, the Series went the full distance of five games. The seesaw battle started with Toronto winning game one by a score of 5-3; Vancouver took game two 6-4; Toronto game three 6-3; Vancouver game four 8-1.

The fifth and deciding game was played on March 30, 1918 at Toronto's Arena Gardens on Mutual Street. There was no scoring in the first and second periods. In the final frame, Alfie Skinner opened the scoring providing Toronto with a 1-0 lead. Cyclone Taylor scored for Vancouver, after converting a pass from Mickey "Tornado" Mackay. The clinching marker for Toronto came off the stick of Corbett Denneny. In a solo rush, which started at centre ice, Denneny breezed by the Vancouver defenders to reach goaltender Hugh Lehman. The netminder took a "plunge and slide" motion towards Denneny, who flipped the puck past Lehman. The Arenas held on for a 2-1 victory and were crowned Stanley Cup champions.

As for Harry Holmes, the following excerpt from a newspaper report on the game, provides details on his contribution to Toronto's win.

Outside of Dennanay's great work the outstanding feature was the marvellous work of Harry Holmes and Hugh Lehmann, the rival goalkeepers. No better exhibition of goalguarding has ever been seen in Toronto than this pair gave Saturday night. They were both wizards. It is positively uncanny the way in which this pair came out and out-guessed players who penetrated the defences. The crowd cheered them time and time again.

NOTE: Back in the day, newspapers misspelled Corbett Denneny's surname. They added an "a" prior to the last letter. Also, they added an extra "n" to goalie Hugh Lehman's last name

After his stint in Toronto (playing two games in 1917-18), Holmes returned to the PCHA and Seattle. He would play 12 more years of pro hockey (1918-19 to 1927-28). In addition to his Stanley Cups with Toronto (1914 & 1918) and Seattle (1917), Holmes would notch a fourth title win with the Victoria Cougars. The Cougars, of the Western Hockey League (WCHL), were the final non-NHL team to win Lord Stanley.

Harry "Hap" Holmes passed away on June 27, 1941 in Florida. He migrated to the sunshine State hoping the climate would aid his ill health. At a meeting of the Hockey Hall of Fame selection committee on June 7, 1972, Holmes was elected to join hockey's other elite performers in the grand institution.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Maple Leaf Gardens Update

Every time I travel downtown, I make an effort to swing by Maple Leaf Gardens and check-out the progress being made in the redevelopment project.

On April 25th, I ventured over to 60 Carlton Street to observe what was transpiring. On n Carlton, where the front entrance is located, there was very little activity taking place. The doors were boarded up and workers were busy cleaning the exterior bricks.

Carlton Street - April 25, 2011

As I walked along Church Street, I heard the sounds of construction equipment humming and buzzing within the building. After a brief moment of silence, the constant noise of hammering filled the morning air.

The hub of the action came into view as I turned the corner and moved west via Wood Street. A portion of the sidewalk, from the Gardens wall outward, was littered with bits and pieces of construction material.

Wood Street - April 25, 2011

As depicted in the above photo, a section of the building wall on Wood Street has been opened up. The purpose of this aperture is to allow work crews and trucks to go in and out of the Gardens. Standing across the street, I watched as a forklift made numerous trips back and forth, transporting supplies to work stations inside. On occasion, the area would be cleared as a dump truck made it's way up a ramp and out the dual entrance/exit.

After my visit and prior to preparing this piece, I contacted the public relations department at Loblaw Companies Limited. The grocery chain is one of three partners involved in the make-over. Since the redevelopment started in earnest, I have been baffled by the lack of media attention. I quickly learnt the reason why. Their response to my inquires indicated no media tours or information would be released until the opening, which is scheduled for fall 2011.

It was my intention to obtain an update on the interior work being conducted within Maple Leaf Gardens. Over the past months, I have been able to document the exterior findings, but activity on the other side of the wall has been a mystery. Although my request for fresh details didn't go anywhere, I did come across another source which provided a fountain of information - the website at ryerson.ca.

As is my nature, I thought about how developments were covered by the press in 1931. Doing some research, I discovered the following picture which appeared in the July 11, 1931 edition of the Toronto Daily Star.

The text which accompanied the photograph reads as follows...

Excellent progress is being made in the erection of the new $1,500,000 Maple Leaf Gardens at Church and Carlton Sts. The men are working night and day in order to complete the building according to contract, on the 1st of November. A tremendous amount of work has already been done and the structure is beginning to rise above the high board fence that surrounds the immense building. Carlton St. has been widened to 86 feet between Yonge and Church Sts, the streetcar tracks have been moved, and the whole district has undergone a wonderful transformation. The photograph shows a corner of the buildings operation by night. The erection of the building has given employment to hundreds of men, which is a big thing for the community.

Maple Leaf Gardens - Hockey then and now.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Chicago Black Hawks 1961

With great expectations thrust upon them, the Montreal Canadiens entered the 1960-61 season with one goal - winning a sixth straight Stanley Cup. To accomplish this feat, the Canadiens would have to proceed without the services of Maurice Richard. The Rocket announced his retirement on September 15, 1960.

If there were any cracks in the Habs line-up, they didn't surface during the regular season. The defending champions were at the top-of-the-heap following the seventy-game schedule. Montreal accumulated 92 points with a 41-19-10 record.

Any concerns over the loss of Rocket Richard, were quickly put to rest. Perhaps, emerging out of the Rocket's shadow, Bernie Geoffrion's play propelled him directly in the path of hockey's bright spotlight. Playing in 64 contests, Geoffrion hammered home 50 goals and 45 assists for 95 points. His 50 goals tied a record set by Richard in 1945.

When the winners of the league trophies were made public, there was rejoicing in only two NHL cities. In an even split (of awards), Toronto and Montreal were the only two teams represented. Bernie Geoffrion, based on his Art Ross Trophy numbers, was awarded the Hart Trophy as MVP. Doug Harvey was named top defenceman for the sixth-time. In Toronto, the Maple Leafs were making strides under the leadership of coach/general manager Punch Imlach. Veteran Red Kelly (Lady Byng) was joined by Dave Keon (Calder) and Johnny Bower (Vezina) as Leafs being recognized for their individual efforts.

Doug Harvey
The Montreal Canadiens opened the 1961 Stanley Cup semi-final matched-up against the Chicago Black Hawks. With Rudy Pilous at the helm, Chicago finished the regular season in third place (70-29-24-17-75). The Hawks possessed a balanced line-up with Bobby Hull and Stan Mikita on offence, and defenceman Pierre Pilote and goalie Glenn Hall looking after the defensive responsibilities.

The Canadiens/Hawks semi-final got underway on March 21, 1961, in the Montreal Forum. The Canadiens hope of setting the pace was established in game one. Montreal rattled Chicago with a convincing 6-2 win. Taking their lumps in game one, Chicago rebounded in game two, which was a closely played affair. The Hawks defeated Montreal 4-3. The game winning goal was scored by Eddie Litzenberger.

Eddie Litzenberger
In game three at Chicago Stadium, the two clubs left the ice after sixty-minutes of play with the score knotted at one-a-piece. Three overtime periods were required before Murray Balfour settled the matter in Chicago's favour. Two nights later, the Canadiens evened the series at 2-2 by winning 5-2. Of note, goalie Glenn Hall had 60 shots fired at him.

As the series returned to Montreal for the all important game five, there was evidence the powerful Habs were starting to become unhinged. In game three, coach Toe Blake took a poke at referee Dalton McArthur, which resulted in a hefty fine. Also, injuries started to creep throughout the roster. In the Chicago portion of the series, Jean Beliveau, Don Marshall and Bill Hickie all suffered injuries.

If coach Rudy Pilous had any fears his starting netminder would be exhausted - after a game in which he played three overtime periods and a subsequent contest where he was peppered with 60 shots - they were laid to rest in games five and six. Glenn Hall recorded back-to-back, identical, 3-0 shutouts to help his club eliminate the five-time Stanley Cup champions. Montreal's tremendous run came to an end in Chicago Stadium on April 4, 1961.

Glenn Hall
With Chicago's stunning upset, a new champion would be crowned in the National Hockey League. Joining Chicago in this quest, were the Detroit Red Wings. In a five game series, Detroit ousted the Toronto Maple Leafs four games to one. Toronto fans were hopeful for a return visit to the final after winning game one in double-overtime on George Armstrong's goal. The Leafs were Cup finalists in 1959 and 1960. All dreams of a three-peat were wiped-out when Detroit took the next four games.

The Stanley Cup final, game one was played in Chicago Stadium. With the home crowd urging them on, Chicago downed Detroit 3-2. In game two, the Red Wings got revenge by recording a 3-1 victory on their home turf.

Chicago was successful in taking game three as the series shifted back to the Stadium. They beat Detroit 3-1. Game four returned to Detroit, and once again, the home team skated off with a 2-1 win, thus sending their fans out of the Olympia in a happy mood.

The winner of game five in Chicago Stadium, would be one contest away from laying claim to Lord Stanley's prized silverware. It was all Chicago in this pivotal game game as they doubled-up Detroit 6-3.

With momentum on their side, Chicago were hopeful of clinching the series when they visited Detroit on April 16th for game six. The Detroit Red Wings took a 1-0 first period lead on Parker MacDonald's powerplay goal. The tally was set-up by Gordie Howe, who outmaneuvered several Hawk players and fed the puck to an open MacDonald.

Detroit dominated the first five-minutes of period two. Then, Chicago got back into the game, thanks to an unexpected source. At 6:25 of the middle frame, Reg Fleming stripped the puck from Alex Delvecchio.

"I had the puck twice. I took it off Len Lunde in our zone, lost it to Stasiuk (Vic) and got it back when the puck bounced off Delvecchio. I just walked right in and Bassen (Hank) gave me enough space on the short side", Fleming told reporters in a post-game interview.

Reg Fleming
The Hawks Ab McDonald would give his team a 2-1 margin, scoring a goal late in period two. The goal at 18:49 seemed to take the wind out of Detroit's sails.

In the final period, it was all Chicago. Just as devastating as McDonald's marker, Eric Nesterenko scored in the opening minute to give Chicago a two goal spread. The Hawks would add two more goals by Jack Evans (6:27) and Kenny Wharram (18:00). With a 5-1 victory, Chicago claimed their first Stanley Cup in 23 years.

Leading the Hawks in scoring, was future captain, Pierre Pilote. The Chicago defenceman registered 15 points in 12 games (3 goals & 12 assists). He tied Gordie Howe for the playoff lead.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

2011 Playoffs : Vol.5

It is an age-old question come each and every playoff season. Is it a benefit to start a series on the road or at home? Certainly, home ice advantage is important, but it can quickly disappear should the visiting team secure a split in games one or two. On Saturday, Tampa Bay seemed less tight than the hometown Bruins and their fast start (3 goals ion one minute and twenty-five seconds) lead them to a 5-2 victory in Boston Garden. It should be interesting to see how Boston responds this evening in game two.

In the Vancouver/San Jose series, the Sharks appeared to be suffering the consequences of going through seven tough games against Detroit. They were unable to hold a 2-1 lead in period three. The extra rest (the series doesn't resume until tomorrow night) should benefit San Jose.

It was a joy to watch and listen as Jim Robson recalled his memories of Vancouver's prior playoff experiences during the intermission on Hockey Night in Canada. His call at the end of game six in the 1994 Cup final, is something one never gets tired of listening to.

As if advancing to the Stanley Cup final isn't enough inspiration for Tampa Bay to beat Boston, there is another factor providing them with incentive. On May 3rd, assistant coach Wayne Fleming underwent an operation to remove a brain tumor. Tampa Bay players certainly must have Fleming on their mind each and every time they hit the ice.

Jaromir Jagr's performance at the World Championships begs one question - Why isn't this guy playing in the National Hockey League? Sure, he could be difficult and uninterested at times, not to mention being a coaches nightmare, but there is no doubting his gifted offensive skills and ability to dominate a game.

Is it time for NHL clubs to reconsider employing enforcers who have only one purpose within the team structure. We are all aware of the physical pounding these players take, but the mental repercussions can be just as devastating. Last week, the fraternity lost one of it's current members with the passing of 28 year-old Derek Boogaard, who played for the New York Rangers.

On this topic, isn't it strange how most people in hockey boil over when a player suffers injuries from a head shot. Many argue, at both the league and club level, that blows to the head will not be tolerated. However, the same policy does not apply to two heavyweights who are engaged in fisticuffs and landing repeated blows to the skull of his opponent. Are violent impacts to the head region acceptable only if clinched fists are involved?

The sports media lost a gifted writer and editor with the passing of Glenn Cole. In his career, Cole worked for the Montreal Gazette, Toronto Sun and Montreal Daily News, to mention a few of his employers. He was also a statistician, working for the NHL and several media outlets.

There seems to be a buzz concerning Montreal assistant coach Kirk Muller. Will he be the next head coach of the Dallas Stars or the New Jersey Devils?

What is up with the National Hockey League. They seem to be using the city of Winnipeg, Manitoba as a designated destination when negotiating financial terms with less than solid franchises. The threat of relocation to Winnipeg always seems to enter the discussion when the league isn't getting their way with a troubled ownership group. What are their true intentions regarding putting a team back in Winnipeg?

Came across an ad for the 2011 Memorial Cup which offered a ticket package consisting of two weekday games plus the championship game at a reduced rate. This late in the proceedings, a consumer could be wondering if the organizers are having trouble unloading tickets to the event at the Hershey Centre in Mississauga, Ontario.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Montreal Canadiens 1956 to 1960

In the era of Original Six hockey, no club was as dominate or successful as the Montreal Canadiens from 1956 to 1960. Under the direction of coach Toe Blake, the Canadiens won five consecutive Stanley Cups in this span of time. Five years. Five Cups. Five dates which brought another banner to the Montreal Forum.

April 10, 1956
The 1955-56 Montreal Canadiens finished in first place with 100 points. Jean Beliveau was a double-trophy winner, taking home the Hart and Art Ross Trophies. In 70 games, Les Gross Bill, bagged 47 goals and 41 assists, giving him 88 points. On defence, Doug Harvey (Norris) and Jacques Plante (Vezina), were the Habs other individual trophy recipients.

In semi-final action, Montreal easily handled the New York Rangers. They eliminated the fourth place Rangers four games to two. The Detroit Red Wings, having bounced Toronto in the other semi-final (4-1), were the Canadiens opponent when the final got underway.

Games one and two were played in Montreal, with the Canadiens taking both contests by scores of 6-4 and 5-1. Back before their home fans, Detroit won game three, edging Montreal 3-1. The Canadiens took a commanding series lead, with Jacques Plante earning the shutout in a 3-0 victory in game four.

On April 10, 1956, with the Stanley Cup in the Forum, Montreal had the opportunity to seize hockey's grand prize. In the second period, Montreal's powerful powerplay went to work, as Marcel Pronovost served a two-minute penalty. The first powerplay goal was set-up by Doug Harvey. The Norris Trophy winner, lead a rush up ice and in the process garnered the attention of both Detroit defencemen - Bob Goldham and Red Kelly. Sensing he could make a play, Harvey dished the puck to Floyd Curry. The Montreal forward spotted Jean Beliveau open by the Detroit goal and fed him a backhand pass. Beliveau beat goaltender Glenn Hall to give Montreal a 1-0 advantage. On the same powerplay, Maurice Richard got into the action. Helping out teammate Jean Beliveau, who was battling both Gordie Howe and Red Kelly for possession of the puck, Richard broke loose from the scramble. The Rocket fired a 25-foot shot which beat Hall.

Both teams scored a goal in the first 35-seconds of the final frame. Connecting for Montreal was Bernie Geoffrion and Alex Delvecchio for Detroit.

Final Score - Montreal 3 Detroit 1.

April 16, 1957
In the 1956-57 campaign, the Canadiens were unable to repeat as league champions. They finished in second place with 82 points and trailed Detroit by only 6 points. Both Doug Harvey (Norris) and Jacques Plante (Vezina) were recognized for their outstanding play.

For the second year in-a-row, Montreal faced the New York in the semi-finals. And like the previous year, they bounced the Rangers from post-season play by taking the series 4-1. Montreal's rival, Detroit, were hoping for a similar result, but the Boston Bruins had other plans. In an upset, Boston advanced to the Stanley Cup final by winning their best-of-seven series 4-1.

The Montreal Canadiens took a stranglehold on the Cup final by winning the first three games. The Bruins were able to stave-off elimination in game four by blanking Montreal 2-0 in the Boston Garden.

On April 16, 1957, game five was played in Montreal. The opening goal was scored by little used rookie Andre Pronovost.

With Leo Labine taking a highsticking penalty late in the opening period, Montreal's powerplay extended into the middle frame. At the 14-second mark, Dickie Moore scored with the man advantage. The only other goal of the period was scored by Bernie Geoffrion at 15:12. Taking a pass from Bert Olmstead, Geoffrion uncorked a wicked blast which beat goalie Don Simmons.

In the final period, Montreal added to their lead after Leo Labine scored for Boston to make the score 3-1. The Habs responded with Don Marshall scoring at 17:38 and Floyd Curry at 18:31.

Final Score - Montreal 5 Boston 1.

April 20, 1958
The Montreal Canadiens made a return trip to the top of the league standings in 1957-58 with a 43-17-10 record. This was good for 96 points and a 19 point margin over the New York Rangers.

The duo of Doug Harvey (Norris) and Jacques Plante (Vezina) celebrated their third year of dominance in each category. They were joined by teammate Dickie Moore, who won the Art Ross Trophy (36 goals-48 assists-84 points).

The 1958 Stanley Cup playoffs opened on March 25, 1958. In a twist, the Canadiens and Red Wings met in a semi-final series, rather than their usual confrontation in a Cup final. Montreal had no difficulty advancing, as they swept Detroit in 4 games.

For a second year, Montreal tangled with Boston in a showdown for Lord Stanley. They split games one through four, with road victories being obtained by both clubs. In game five, Montreal took a 3-2 series lead, thanks to Rocket Richard's overtime winner.

On April 20, 1958, Montreal was in a position to claim their third straight championship. The star performer in game six, was a player many thought wouldn't be fit to skate in the playoffs. In February 1958, Bernie Geoffrion suffered a ruptured bowel after running into Andre Pronovost during practice. Number Five for Montreal, was sidelined  after having a major operation.

Montreal's explosive offence was on  display right from the start of play. After one-minute and fifty-four seconds of action, the Habs had gone ahead 2-0. The first goal came as a result of Geoffrion knocking down a Jean Beliveau shot and sending it past Don Simmons. The "Boom Boom" Geoffrion show didn't end there. On Montreal's third goal, Geoffrion set-up Beliveau , giving them a 3-1 lead. Then, Geoffrion stole the puck away from Bruin defenceman Leo Boivin and went in alone on Simmons. Geoffrion's shot from 30-feet out eluded the Boston goalie. Geoffrion's second tally of the night proved to be the game winner.

Final Score Montreal 5 Boston 3.

April 18, 1959
After three straight Stanley Cups, many in the hockey world had one question concerning the Montreal Canadiens - would complacency set in? If their regular season record was any indication, there was no need for worry on the part of Montreal's loyal faithful. The Canadiens once again sat at the top of the perch in regards to the league standings with 91 points (70-39-18-13).

Left winger Dickie Moore won his second consecutive scoring title (70-41-55-96), thus claiming the Art Ross Trophy. Dog Harvey's rein as top defenceman came to an end, as teammate Tom Johnson was the 1959 Norris Trophy winner. Jacques Plante earned his fourth straight Vezina Trophy.

In the semi-final, Montreal required six games to eliminate the Chicago Black Hawks. In the other series, Toronto upset Boston in a best-of-seven battle that went the distance.

Going into the Stanley Cup final, Montreal was the heavy favourite to once again be presented the Cup by league President Clarence Campbell. After four games, Montreal's only loss came in game three when Dick Duff scored in overtime to give Toronto a 3-2 win in Maple Leaf Gardens.

On April 18, 1959, the Canadiens, playing on home ice, were hopeful of closing out the series. Going for the kill, Montreal would not be denied. The Habs put together a 5-1 lead in the third period. Scoring for Montreal were Bernie Geoffrion (2), Ralph Backstrom, Marcel Bonin and Tom Johnson.

Final Score - Montreal 5 Toronto 3.

April 14, 1960
As expected, there was no change concerning the fortunes of the Montreal Canadiens in the 1959-60 regular season. They remained league champions by amassing 92 points in 70 games (40-18-12).

Jacques Plante, suffering no consequences from donning a face mask, won Vezina Trophy number five. Doug Harvey returned to the winners circle (Norris Trophy) by being crowned top defenceman.

In the playoffs, the task at hand seemed even easier to accomplish than previous years. After completing a four game sweep of Chicago in the semi-final, Montreal was ready to face Toronto for Canadian bragging rights.

With back-to-back wins in Montreal, the Canadiens hit the road with a two game series lead. After a 5-2 win in game three in Maple Leaf Gardens, Montreal players were eager to get game four underway.

On April 14, 1960, the Canadiens left little doubt as to who was the better team in game four. Jean Beliveau and Doug Harvey scored 28-seconds apart in the first period, putting Toronto down by two goals. The lone tally in period two, came off the stick of Henri Richard. The final scoring play came in the third period, The goal came courtesy of Jean Beliveau, who scored after being set-up by linemates Bernioe Geoffrion and Marcel Bonin.

Final Score Montreal 4 Toronto 0.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Detroit Red Wings 1954 & 1955

After a period of rest during the summer, the saga of Gordie Howe and the Detroit Red Wings versus Rocket Richard and the Montreal Canadiens, continued in the 1953-54 season. The Wings led the class of '54 by racking-up 88 points, compared to second place Montreal's 81 points.

In the battle of superstars, Howe won his fourth straight Art Ross Trophy, finishing with 33 goals and 48 assists for a total of 81 points in 70 games. Richard was right behind Howe with 67 points. The Rocket scored 37 goals and 30 assists for 67 points in 70 contests.

Both Detroit and Montreal added prized rookies to their line-ups. The Canadiens signed Jean Beliveau to a contract, while Detroit inked Earl Reibel. Beliveau was limited to participating in 44 games due to injuries. In Detroit, Reibel played in 69 games, scoring 15 goals and adding 33 helpers for 48 points. This was good for seventh spot in the points race. When the final votes were counted for the Calder Trophy (top rookie), Camille Henry emerged the winner. The New York Rangers centre potted 24 goals which seemed to influence those marking their Calder ballot.

Besides Howe winning the Art Ross, Detroit had one other trophy winner - make that double-trophy recipient. In '53-54, the National Hockey League introduced a new award - the Norris Trophy. This was to be presented to the leagues top defenceman. The initial winner was Red Kelly of Detroit. Also, Kelly was named the winner of the Lady Byng.

The semi-finals opened on March 23, 1954, with Detroit hosting the Toronto Maple Leafs. In the Montreal Forum, Boston paid a visit to play the Canadiens. In game one, both Detroit and Montreal set the tone for the remainder of the series. Detroit blanked Toronto 5-0, while Montreal shutout Boston 2-0. The Habs would sweep Boston in 4 straight. Detroit required one extra contest to win their best-of-seven tilt 4-1.

The two best teams over the course of the season, opened the final on April 4, 1954. Detroit and Montreal split games one and two in the Olympia by identical 3-1 scores.

In Montreal for games three and four, Detroit stunned the Montreal crowd by taking both games by scores of 5-2 and 2-0.

Facing elimination in game five, Montreal buckled down defensively, with Gerry McNeil replacing Jacques Plante in goal. In a brilliant display of netminding, McNeil blanked Detroit 1-0, with Ken Mosdell scoring the overtime winner.

With momentum shifting to their side, Montreal needed a win in game six to force a seventh and deciding contest. Playing on home ice, Montreal defeated Detroit 4-1. The stage was set for a winner-takes-all, one game battle, for Lord Stanley.

Tony Leswick
On April 16, 1954, all eyes in the hockey world were focused on the Detroit Olympia. As expected, it was a closely played game. Following the first period, Montreal had a 1-0 lead on a goal scored by Floyd Curry. A goal by Red Kelly in the middle frame evened the score at 1-1. There was no scoring in period three.

For only the second time in NHL history, would a game seven be decided in overtime. The winning goal would come courtesy of Detroit's Tony Leswick at 4:29 of the first overtime period.

Details of the dramatic Cup winning goal were recorded in the following newspaper account.
Tony, who scored only six goals during the regular season, came coasting into the Montreal zone while tall Glen Skov, centre on Tony's line, went into the left corner. Skov dug out the puck and sent it across the front of the Montreal goal. Tony pounced on it and let drive from about 30 feet out and off toward right wing.
Goalie Gerry McNeil saw the shot coming and was set to play it. Harvey, anxious to protect the little Montreal goalie, stuck up his hand to block the shot. The puck struck his hand, caromed off and down and went over McNeil's left shoulder.
Second verse, same as the first. In the battle hymn of the National Hockey League, it was the same old tune. Once again, regular season play was dominated by Detroit and Montreal.

It was a rather routine season until March 13, 1955. In a contest between Montreal and Boston, Rocket Richard unloaded on linesman Cliff Thompson, who was attempting to restrain Richard. The Montreal player was in the process of trying to whack the Bruins Hal Laycoe with a stick. Richard's rage was caused by Laycoe's stick striking his face/head area. As a result of his actions, Richard was suspended for the remainder of Montreal's three scheduled games in the regular season and all playoff action. The suspension set-off riots in Montreal, as fans expressed their anger concerning the length of time their hero was vanished from participating.

At the same time, Richard and teammate Bernie Geoffrion were in a close race for the scoring title. With the Rocket out of commission, Geoffrion finished the year one point ahead.

Bernie Geoffrion
Like the the previous post-season, both Montreal and Detroit advanced to the Stanley Cup final. In semi-final play, Detroit swept Toronto in 4 games. Montreal eliminated Boston in 5 games, with a 5-1 win in the Forum on March 31, 1955.

For the second consecutive year, the Stanley Cup final would pit Montreal against Detroit. And the similarity wouldn't end there. After game six, each team had 3 wins, as was the case in the 1954 final.

Detroit won games one and two in the Olympia by scores of 4-2 and 7-4. In game five, on home ice, they downed Montreal 5-1.

On the Montreal side of the ledger, they captured games three and four in the Forum, by upending Detroit 4-2 and 5-3. They extended the series in game six, by doubling-up the Red Wings 6-3 in front of a home crowd.

Montreal and Detroit played for all the marbles on April 14, 1955. Like the previous year, Detroit had home ice advantage in game seven. And they had no lack of support. The Olympia was packed with 15,541 spectators, making it the second most attended game in the history of the building.

The clubs went scoreless in period one, with Terry Sawchuk and Jacques Plante blocking all scoring attempts.

In the second period, Alex Delvecchio scored the opening goal at 7:12. Taking a pass from Red Kelly, the Wings centre danced by defencemen Tom Johnson and Butch Bouchard, then unleashed a deadly backhand past Plante. For Hab fans, Detroit scored a gut-wrenching goal with 11 seconds remaining in period two. Gordie Howe, parked in front of the net, guided a pass from Marcel Pronovost into the Montreal goal. Howe accomplished this while giving Tom Johnson a piggyback ride and directing an elevated puck into the net.

Up 2-0 in the third, Detroit would increase their lead with another Alex Delvecchio tally. He scored on a breakaway, which was made possible after he intercepted a pass in his own zone. Montreal's lone marker came from Floyd Curry at 14:35.

The leading scorer in playoff action was Gordie Howe. He set a new NHL record of 20 points in 11 games. He produced 9 goals and 11 assists. All Rocket Richard could do was sit back and watch.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Wearing Number...

As a youngster, I was fascinated by the sweater numbers players selected or were assigned once they cracked a National Hockey League roster. Like most kids growing up in the Original Six era, I discovered number 9 to be very popular with both fans and players. There was Gordie Howe (Detroit), Bobby Hull (Chicago), Andy Bathgate (New York), Johnny Bucyk (Boston), Dick Duff (Toronto) and Rocket Richard (the last Hab to wear #9), who all wore hockey's royal number.

All the low, one-digit numbers, were usually distributed to defencemen. Then, there were the goalies. In the six-team league, most starting netminders wore number 1. When the two-goalie system was adapted, the second goalie was provided with a jersey bearing number 30 or 31.

Former NHL goalie, Dave Dryden, tells an interesting story from his first venture into the National Hockey League. On February 3, 1962, Dryden was in attendance for a game between Toronto and New York being played in Maple Leaf Gardens. The twenty-year-old Dryden was designated as the substitute goalie and would be employed should either goalie be felled by illness or injury. As fate would have it, New York's starting netminder, Gump Worsley, suffered a back injury in the second period. Dryden was summoned from the stands and quickly changed into his equipment.

Then, came the moment all hockey players dream of in living colour. The wonderful ritual of pulling a hockey sweater over your head and letting the team crest unfold before your eyes. The rich colours and insignia of the Leafs, Rangers, Bruins, Canadiens, Red Wings or Black Hawks on display for all to see.

In the case of Dave Dryden, the sweater didn't exactly fall in regal fashion. With Dryden being 6'1" and Worsley generously listed as being 5'7", there was a great deal of pulling and stretching. To describe the New York Ranger jersey as a tight fit, would be a colossal understatement. Dryden still has a good chuckle when he recalls having to wear the Gumper's sweater!

When I attended a contest at the Gardens, picking up a game program was my first priority. I still have the program from my very first live game on Saturday January 9, 1965. The Leafs were playing host to the Boston Bruins. Reading the line-ups and absorbing player numbers was such a thrill as a kid.

On Hockey Night in Canada, games would be joined in progress, often during the late stages of period one. At the start of period two, a crawl of the line-up for both teams would magically appear on screen. In most circumstances, the graphic was imposed over a live shot of the players making their way from the dressing room corridor to the ice surface. From my position on the living room carpet, I had a close-up view of the crawl, which always seemed to move way too fast.

On occasion, one of the goalies would go down, resulting in the back-up being called into service. If Johnny Bower had to come out of the game, his spot in the Toronto goal would be taken by Terry Sawchuk. In subsequent years, it would be Bruce Gamble who made the skate from the Leaf bench to the vacant net. It was something out of the ordinary to watch as Sawchuk or Gamble took their warm-ups. Unlike today, there was none of this just throwing a goalie in cold.

While all this was going on, my focus would suddenly shift. I couldn't miss the announcement. It was vital that I heard it. Quickly, my body moved closer to the speakers on the television. If I turned, my face would be flush against the screen. There was a rhythm to the whole process. Any movement towards the speaker would only come near the end of Sawchuk or Gamble kicking away their warm-up shots. If they survived the endless stream of slaphots from the blueline, their arrival would soon become official. Almost on cue, the next voice I would hear belonged to Paul Morris, the P.A. Announcer at Maple Leaf Gardens. It was like the Royal Speaker was about to declare a proclamation. Everything would go quite as Paul Morris called out, "Now playing goal for Toronto and wearing number 30, Bruce Gamble."

All these memories came flooding back to me courtesy of watching Roberto Luongo play goal for Vancouver. Out of the blue, it struck me as to how rare it is to see a goalie wearing number 1. Of all the goalies who participated in NHL games this season (87 according to my database), only nine wore number 1.

To this day, I can picture Johnny Bower and Glenn Hall, both wearing sweater number 1, leading their respective clubs onto the ice. The first players to come into camera range. At the front of the line, ready to guide the troops over the hill. Their number indicating how important they were. A time when being number 1 meant a great deal.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Montreal Canadiens 1953

The defending Stanley Cup champions continued to excel during the 1952-53 season. Once again, the Detroit Red Wings finished at the top of the league standings after 70 games. Detroit's 36-16-18 record gave them a 15 point cushion over second place Toronto.

As expected, when it came time to distribute the major NHL silverware, Detroit players were prominent in 4 out of 5 categories. In a repeat performance, both Gordie Howe (Hart & Art Ross) and Terry Sawchuk (Vezina) duplicated their feats from the previous year. After a one year absence, Red Kelly reclaimed the Lady Byng Trophy. The Calder Trophy went to New York goalie Gump Worsley.

Gump Worsley

The battle between two of the games greatest right wingers was front and centre during the regular season. The duo of Gordie Howe and Rocket Richard were consistently in competition with one another. The debate raged as to which player was the NHL's finest right winger. Both Howe and Richard provided their supporters with plenty of ammunition to debate their cause.

Early in the season, on November 8, 1952, Rocket Richard set a new NHL record for most goals scored. His tally against Chicago gave him 325 career goals, surpassing the mark held by Nels Stewart. Not to be outdone, Howe made his own imprint in the record book. He concluded the '52-53 campaign with 95 points (49 goals & 46 assists), thus shattering his own standard of 86 points, which he established the previous year.

If one was marking a scorecard in the epic fight between the two superstars, the unanimous winner, based on results from games 1 to 70, would be Gordie Howe. In the points race, Richard ranked third with 28 goals and 33 assists for 61 points in 70 games. Coming in second, with 71 points, was Howe's teammate Ted Lindsay. Come selection time, it was Number Nine in Detroit who was named to the First All-Star Team at right wing. Although Howe was declared the winner in Round One, fans of Rocket Richard looked forward to Round Two - the Stanley Cup playoffs.

In the semi-finals, Detroit faced third place Boston, with the series opening in the Olympia. The Red Wings made a definite statement by crushing Boston 7-0 in game 1. With opening night jitters out of the way, Boston rebounded in game 2 by defeating Detroit 5-3. With goaltender Sugar Jim Henry as the anchor to their defensive unit, Boston took full advantage of home ice by downing Boston 2-1 (OT) in game 3 and 6-2 in game 4. The defending Cup champs would relinquish their title without a fight. In game 5, Detroit sent their fans home happy with a 6-4 victory. The series would end in game 6, as Boston bounced Detroit from post-season action. Boston outscored Detroit 4-2 at Boston Garden, thus completing their stunning upset.

Sugar Jim Henry
The other semi-final featured Montreal and Chicago. The Black Hawks were a vastly improved club, having increased their points total by 26 over 1951-52. Could they show further improvement in hockey's second season? Based on results from game 1 and 2 in the Montreal Forum, it was going to be an uphill battle. The Canadiens took both games by scores of 3-1 and 4-3. The tide would turn with play shifting to the Chicago Stadium. Like the other semi-final encounter, goaltending was a deciding factor. With Al Rollins guarding the Hawks net, Chicago took game 3 in overtime 2-1. They followed that up in game 4 by outlasting Montreal 3-1.

In the pivotal game 5, Chicago earned a 4-2 road victory in Montreal. Again, goaltending became a key component to the series. The Canadiens replaced Gerry McNeil with Jacques Plante. The move certainly paid off for the Habs. Plante blanked Chicago in game 6 by a score of 3-0. Thus, setting-up a one game contest to determine Boston's opponent in the Stanley Cup final.

On April 7, 1953, in the Forum, Jacques Plante and the Canadiens easily handled Chicago in a 4-1 decision to advance.

With little rest, Montreal and Boston played game 1 of the final on April 9, 1953. The two teams split games 1 and 2, with Montreal taking the opener 4-2. The Bruins skated off the Forum ice after game 2 with a 4-1 result. The game of musical chairs continued when it came to the goaltending situation. As the series moved to Beantown, Plante was replaced by McNeil. Felled by an illness earlier in the Cup final, Boston had to do without Sugar Jim Henry. His replacement was Hershey (AHL) netminder Gordon "Red" Henry. This development clearly swung the advantage in Montreal's favour. The Canadiens swept each contest in Boston by scores of 3-0 and 7-3.

With a 3-1 series lead, Montreal was in a position to capture Lord Stanley's mug on April 16th at the Forum. Hoping to counter their adversity, Boston once again had Sugar Jim Henry in goal. True to form, game 5 turned into a goaltending battle. After sixty-minutes of play neither team was able to put a puck past the opposing netminder.

As is the case in all overtime games, a hero is destined to emerge. In game 5, this honour went to Elmer Lach of Montreal. The deciding goal was scored early at 1:22 of the first overtime period. A newspaper report provides the details.

 The end came with suddenness, when it appeared as if the Bruins were in command of the situation. Eddie Mazur of Habs had missed on a rush, and Milt Schmidt was forming a counter-attack. He wheeled away from two Habs, carried behind his goal and then tried to send a breakaway pass to Woody Dumart, which would have trapped Richard, Lach and Mazur. His aim was poor. Lach intercepted and presto it was all over but the cheering and speech-making.

As for the Gordie Howe/Rocket Richard confrontation, Number Nine of Montreal regained the title-belt from Howe. In 12 playoff dates, the Rocket netted 7 goals and 1 assist. Howe, eliminated in the semi-final, notched 2 goals and 5 assists in 6 games. More importantly, Maurice Richard had his name engraved on the Stanley Cup.