Monday, April 30, 2012

Hockey Night in Toronto

It is a routine I go through with each ride on the train. If no seat is available, I firmly plant my feet, and hope it is going to be a smooth ride. Getting a seat is a luxury, not to mention a welcome opportunity to do more than stare at advertisements for business schools and radio stations.

 The benefit of plobbing down on a padded surface allows time for some relaxing reading time. Once submerged in the text, a biography or crime novel becomes the main focus.

One night last week, my concentration was broken by a conversation between two men. Their voices were just loud enough to distract me from a biography I was reading on goalie Bruce Gamble. They were babbling on about the Stanley Cup playoffs, and breaking down each series.

All of sudden, their discussion switched to the Maple Leafs. As Toronto is the centre of the hockey universe, this detour didn't come as a surprise, nor did the tone of their yakking.

Hockey's post-season in Toronto, for folks who follow the home town team, takes on an entirely different meaning. Fans in New York and Philadelphia cheer on their teams, living and dying with each win or defeat in a best-of-seven series.

The difference in Toronto? We bitch and moan about our beloved hockey squad. After missing the playoffs for so many years, it seems the natural thing to do. It is a form of collective therapy. As though the good doctor is advising us not to hold it in, rather to talk about it. Holding emotions close to the vest will only result in additional stress.

Very quickly, the train chatter evolved into a total bitch-fest, I mean counselling session. Both players and management were thrown under the train.

One pointed out how much Brian Burke sucked at his job. His pal, nodding his head up and down in agreement, took on the appearance of a Dion Phaneuf bobblehead. Then, they turned on the players. "Reimer is a bum," stated the Phaneuf bobblehead. Ignoring his opinion, his friend wondered aloud as to why Kessel couldn't score 50-goals.

My stop couldn't come fast enough!

Instead of paying so much attention on a team failing to produce positive results, couldn't these two shut-up and take note of another hockey team in town? - the Toronto Marlies.

It is vital for Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment to take full advantage of the success their American Hockey League team is experiencing.

In the opening round of the 2012 playoffs, Toronto swept the Rochester Americans in three games. Their line-up is sprinkled with potential future starters  for the parent club. Names like Joe Colburne, Cater Ashton and Korbinian Holzer are on the roster.

For fans unable to see the Leafs perform in-person, here is a chance to watch some Marlies, who also played a portion of the 2011-12 campaign with the big-club. In particular, Jake Gardiner, Nazem Kadri and Matt Frattin. Right-winger Jerry D'Amigo is having a break-out playoff, scoring five goals in the three games against Rochester.

Players and the coaching staff are doing their jobs, now it is up to MLS&E to support the cause.

How about moving games to the Air Canada Centre, which is easier to get to than the Ricoh Coliseum? Attendance for the first two dates at the Ricoh - 6,244 and 7,816 - has been impressive. Most likely though, people who gave a second thought to attending and passed, were concerned about travelling down to the Exhibition grounds. The Ricoh is located in an isolated district, making it an undesirable trip for the very young and very old.

With the Raptors joining their hockey counterparts on the golf course (is this bitching?), why can't the Marlies jump on their bus and head uptown to the Air Canada Centre? When the AHL affiliate played in the big-house on December 26, 2011, the joint was rocking with 13,238 spectators.

A check of the ACC website, reveals there are four bookings during the merry month of May. These are public concerts, so private events may not be listed. If dates are available and coincide with the AHL playoff schedule, there should be no hesitation in transferring them to Bay Street.

Every corporate asset should be engaged and put in motion, from marketing to in-house promotion. Ticket pricing should be inviting, not discouraging. Now is the time for MLS&E to plant the seed and watch the Marlies franchise grow.

For hockey-starved fans in the city, it is an opportunity to support a winner and watch exciting action.

It beats sitting around bitching and moaning.

Friday, April 27, 2012

The Odyssey Continues

They fell like bowling pins - Detroit, San Jose, Vancouver, Pittsburgh, Chicago, Boston, Ottawa and Florida. Delivering the perfect strikes were Nashville, St. Louis, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Phoenix, Washington, New York and New Jersey.

With stunning upsets by Los Angeles and Washington, these quarter-final results resemble the opening round of the NCAA Basketball Tournament. In the early stages of competition, it is always a wonder to watch an underdog slay one of the giants.

It couldn't get anymore dramatic than the Boston and Washington series. The Caps, pushing the defending Stanley Cup champions to a game seven. Then, for good measure, hanging in to extend play into overtime. The home crowd waiting for the Killer-Bs to sting their pesky opponent, and put an end to the nonsense. At 2:57 of OT, Washington's Joel Ward took out his fly-swatter and whacked the Killer-Bs right between the eyes.

For NHL teams looking in from the outside, one fact is picture clear - to advance, a first-rate goalie between the pipes is a must.

All three goalies named as Vezina Trophy finalists - Henrik Lunqvist, Jonathan Quick and Pekka Rinne - were key components in helping their teams take the next step.

A tale of two goalies: In Chicago, general manager Stan Bowman, commenting on goalie Corey Crawford, said he "has to get better." Although not coming right out and blaming Crawford for Chicago's elimination from the post-season, everyone got the message.

At the other end of the spectrum is Braden Holtby in Washington. After leading his teammates to victory against Boston, the young netminder is the toast-of-the-town in the American capital, with comparisons being made to Ken Dryden's playoff run in 1971.

What a difference winning makes.

On and Off the Ice

A tale of two general managers: Late in the third period of game seven between Ottawa and New York, the TV camera caught a shot of Bryan Murray, then a little later, Glen Sather. The Ottawa GMs body language was full of emotion, as were his facial expressions.

In the Rangers executive box, Sather was stoned-faced, but he did seem to be working his unlit stogie a tad more vigorously.

The lone Original Six club to bust into the next round is the New York Rangers. The squad from Broadway will only go as far as King Henrik can carry them. Look out if his suffers a back injury.

What an amazing year for both the Ottawa Senators and Florida Panthers. A great deal wasn't expected from either franchise, but they hung around like a dirty penny and qualified to participate in the big-dance. Once they got their feet wet, Ottawa and Florida didn't want to come out of the pool. They gave their all, extending their respective clashes to a seventh and deciding contest.

How annoying are those post-whistle scrums which seem to occur on a regular basis? One of the biggest culprits for shoving and poking at the opposition in Boston's Brad Marchand. He is like the guest who just doesn't know when to finish his drink and go home. He is always hanging around. Also, his lips seem to be going a-mile-a-minute.

On the topic of GMs popping-up on our TV screens, Dale Tallon was front and centre in game seven between his Panthers and New Jersey. His passion and frustration flowed from the screen.

The stage is set for the conference semi-finals. In the west, St. Louis takes on Los Angeles and Phoenix hooks-up with Nashville. The eastern conference will feature New York against Washington, and Philadelphia versus New Jersey.

Who will survive? The conference finalists could include Philadelphia and New York in the east, and Nashville matching-up against Los Angeles.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Down to One

It is the final showdown for Washington/Boston, Ottawa/New York, and Florida/New Jersey. The Bruins and Caps hit the ice this evening, while the two other groupings get down to business on Thursday night.

In Boston and New York, having home ice advantage will be important. Both teams are expected to benefit from being backed by the cheering masses. In Florida, the Panthers could suffer from stage-fright, taking into account they weren't expected to get this far. New Jersey is a tough road opponent, with only one thought running through the entire team - defence.

It should be two nights of thrilling action.

Tuning on the tube and witnessing Braden Holtby work his magic in goal for Washington, results in a flashback to 1971 and Ken Dryden.

Holtby, who played in only seven regular season games for the Caps, is making a splash so far this post-season. In 1970-71, Ken Dryden got between the pipes in six regular season contests for the Montreal Canadiens.

In '71, Dryden and his teammates upset the Boston Bruins to proceed to the next round. In subsequent series, they defeated the Minnesota North Stars, then the Chicago Black Hawks to capture the Stanley Cup.

Leading all goalies in games played (20) and wins (12), Dryden's importance to Montreal's Cup run was evident when the time came to calculate the votes to determine who would win the Conn Smythe Trophy. It was no surprise when Dryden was named the winner.

Holtby and company are in a similar situation as Dryden in 1971. Tonight, they have the opportunity of upsetting Boston and advancing to the next round.

In the case of Raffi Torres vs. the National Hockey League, the punishment dished-out fits the crime. Torres, received a 25-game suspension for his vicious hit on Marian Hossa.

The short-team ramifications of Bredan Shanahan's ruling would come when another head shot incident took place. One would tend to believe the league and Shanahan would not want to lose the momentum of hitting a home run with their stiff, but fair judgement against Torres.

It was vital the NHL, when handling the next flare-up, didn't drop the ball, and give the impression that throwing the book at Torres was just a fluke. A precedent was established to deal with the aftermath of another head-hunting expedition. Any player stepping outside the boundaries would have to answer for his actions, and be prepared to sit for an extended period of time.

And no one could blame NHL for sticking to their guns next time around. Otherwise, the game would only be spinning their wheels, and as the radio promises, "the hits keep coming."

To sway in even the slightest direction, would result in the Torres verdict being looked upon as a decision to appeal to the masses. All flash and no substance, would be the refrain from those who observe the game.

How would it look if the NHL suddenly went soft and pulled a 360?

Well, the answer to the above question came on Saturday when the Rangers and Senators faced-off in game five of their playoff tilt. Chris Neil's head shot on New York's Brian Boyle, resulted in the big forward suffering a concussion.

Unfortunately, the National Hockey League imposed no penalty. Shanahan's court of justice falling silent, and the Torres sentence becoming a mere memory not to be spoken of again.

In this instance, silence isn't golden.

On and Off the Ice

Luongo or Thomas? This could be the question weighing heavily on the minds of several general managers in the coming months.

With Cory Schneider appearing to be the new flavour-of-the-month in Vancouver, incumbent Roberto Luongo could be up for grabs.

Tim Thomas could be made available by Boston, with GM Peter Chiarelli thinking now is the best time to part company with his Stanley Cup winning goalie. On July 1, 2012, Thomas no longer controls his destiny, as his no-movement clause expires. This opens the way for Boston to send him packing to the team who offers the best deal.

In addition to Luongo and Thomas, there could be a flood of goalie talent on the market, as GMs scramble to plug holes throughout their rosters. The list of padded warriors being exposed could include Jaroslav Halak, Thomas Vokoun and Jonathan Bernier. In each case, another netminder has emerged and displayed enough skills to wrestle away the number one job.

St. Louis goalie Halak is being pushed by Brian Elliott; Braden Holtby has jumped two spots in Washington's pecking order to displace Vokoun and Michal Neuvirth; Jonathan Quick in L.A. has solidified his hold as the Kings top-rated puck-stopper, thus turning Bernier into asset who could produce a nice return in any transaction.

As the clocked ticked down in Pittsburgh's disastrous first round series against Philly, I couldn't help but think of general manager Ray Shero. More precisely, what must he be thinking, witnessing his club getting the boot after six games?

The role of a general manager is to not only look after current happenings, but to have a plan for the future. As Shero gazes into his crystal ball, he cannot be impressed or comfortable with the way his team performed on both defence and offence.

In order to secure talent for the purpose of filling holes in his line-up, Shero knows he will have to give-up players with skills to get back players of equal talent. The Pens defence was struggling right out of the gate. For sure, this is one area Shero will have to concentrate on.

Now, here comes the big question Shero and Pittsburgh's entire front office, including ownership, will have to consider - do they trade Malkin or Crosby to obtain help on the blueline? The return on either player would be enormous, and provide dividends in more than one spot on the roster.

Malkin or Crosby? At this stage, my choice would be Crosby. A change of scenery for the future free agent would bring a renewal to his career. After a season of injuries and media speculation he wasn't happy in Pittsburgh, Crosby would benefit from a fresh start. Watching him become unravelled against Philadelphia was painful to watch. It was so out of character and an indication of how frustrated Crosby was with himself and everything going on around him.

From the outset, Crosby was unable to get his game on track. Instead of making the Flyers pay in his usual fashion, scoring goals and producing points, Crosby resorted to challenging the players in black and orange with physical play. This, however, didn't take the form of bone-crushing collisions. Crosby, took another path to release his pent-up frustrations. How many times did the camera catch him participating in extended scrums, which only distracted the superstar from what he should be doing - making the Flyers the frustrated party.

It should be an interesting summer for both Crosby and Shero.

I watched a documentary on Niagara Falls, with one segment featuring special music composed to reflect the ever changing flow and rhythm of the Falls.

Now, comes the Hockey Sweater Symphony composed by Abigail Richardson. The Hockey Sweater, as fans know, is a children's book written by Roch Carrier. In the story, a young Montreal Canadiens supporter ends-up with a Maple Leafs sweater, instead of the Habs jersey ordered by his mother from Eatons.

In the production, Carrier takes to the stage and brings his story to life.

As pointed out in an article in the Toronto Star, "Carrier wears the dreaded Leafs jersey on stage, breaks his hockey stick in two and even mimics praying throughout the performance, accompanied by composer Richarson's playful music."

The premiere takes place on May 12, 2012 in Toronto,

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Leaf Talk

All this talk about Francois Allaire is making my head spin. Sure, a goalie coach can be beneficial, but the game survived for many years without someone holding the post. In junior and minor-league hockey, I can see an individual, like Allaire, grooming young prospects for promotion.

 If the Leafs bring in an established goalie with solid credentials this off-season, does management really want Allaire messing around with his style?

There is little doubt the Leafs need to go out and obtain a number one goalie.

In theatrical terms, they have been dipping into the understudy pool and shoving talented, but unproven performers, from the wings to centre stage. In the meantime, the paying customer has been robbed of watching a star attraction take command of the role.

On April 14, 2012, Hockey Night in Canada's Elliotte Friedman, reported Allaire is giving consideration to packing it in as an NHL goalie coach.

Stay Tuned.

Critics have been calling into question Dion Phaneuf's leadership skills as captain of the Toronto Maple Leafs. To do so is fine and dandy, but to strip Phaneuf of the "C" is another matter.

The Leafs could argue that with Randy Caryle now behind the bench, it is his choice to decide who he can work with as captain of the team. Brian Burke could make the hard decision to go in another direction, and either nudge Phaneuf into resigning his portfolio, thus removing the heat off management, or take full responsibility for the shake-up.

And where would that leave the organization? You would have an disgruntled high profile player and a new leader who is doomed for failure in an unhealthy atmosphere.

There are two avenues to travel in this situation. Trade Phaneuf or retain him as your captain.

It should be pointed out all the squawking concerning the captain is coming from parties outside the Leaf front office.

Really, does anyone expect Toronto to do a 360 in regards to Phaneuf as long as the Burke administration is still in power?

On and Off the Ice

Being a fan of either the Toronto Maple Leafs or Montreal Canadiens can be difficult at this time of year, especially when both miss the playoffs. Adding insult to injury is the fact these two historic rivals have not met in a post-season series since 1979. In April '79, the two clashed to determine which club would proceed beyond the quarter-finals. Coach Scotty Bowman's squad was an offensive powerhouse, who also had Ken Dryden between the pipes. They swept the Maple Leafs in four games to advance.

If you are feeling nostalgic concerning the Leafs and Canadiens, I suggest reading "The Last Hurrah - A Celebration of Hockey's Greatest Season "66-"67" by Stephen Cole.

To wet your appetite, the following endorsement comes from the back cover.

Excellent reporting and superior writing...(Cole) vividly recaptures the final season of that era - before the NHL expanded to twelve teams in 1967 - and the white-hot rivalry between the Leafs and the Montreal Canadiens...

Just because the Maple Leaf are absent from the big-show, it doesn't mean hockey fans in the GTA can't witness some terrific post-season play.

Their AHL affiliate, the Toronto Marlies, opened up their western conference quarter-final series against Rochester last week. Toronto took games one and two at Ricoh Coliseum by identical 4 to 3 scores.

On Monday, play shifted to the Blue Cross Arena in Rochester. Goals scored by Philippe Dupuis, Jerry D'Amigo and Nazem Kadri gave Toronto a 3 to 0 win, and a sweep of the best-of-five series. Goalie Ben Scrivens stopped all 29 shots directed at the Marlies net for his first AHL playoff shutout.

Coming into his own for the Marlies thus far in post-season competition is right-winger Jerry D'Amigo. In three contests he has fired home five goals.

Barbara Underhill is now on board as the Leafs skating consultant.

Of interest is Underhill's work and results with New York Ranger forward Brian Boyle. The 6-foot-7 Boyle commented to CP on his time spent under Underhill improving his skating. "It's helped me with my agility and my straight-ahead speed, and my efficiency...It's really helped my game and confidence," said Boyle.

When hearing of this new addition to the staff, the first player that popped into my head was Dion Phaneuf. Watching the 6-foot-3, 214 pound defenceman lumber up the ice is often a painful experience. He seems too upright, and unable to fully develop his stride.

One intermission event at the Air Canada Centre features players donning inflated uniforms and participating in a quick game. The extra padding limiting the mobility of those attempting to maneuver up and down the ice. Phaneuf would have no problems fitting in with this group. He has the appearance of wearing shoulder pads that are several sizes bigger than they should be. Thus, there seems to be no flexibility in his upper body. As a result, his skating skills appear to suffer, as he is unable to fully extend his body.

If Underhill can assist Phaneuf with his mobility and straight-ahead speed in the same manner as Boyle, the Leafs and their captain should see positive results.

The name Elizabeth Harlander doesn't ring too many bells when thinking about the Toronto Maple Leafs or Maple Leaf Gardens. Thanks to an article in the Saturday Sun (April 21, 2012), hockey fans are now familiar with her association to both - Full Story.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Maple Leaf Gardens: A Return Visit

Post-season action in the American Hockey League is underway, with one series featuring the Chicago Wolves and San Antonio Rampage.

Recently, I spent time with former NHL player and coach, Gene Ubriaco. The one-time Pittsburgh Penguin (he also coached the Pens), Oakland Seal and Chicago Black Hawk, was in town to watch his Chicago Wolves tangle with the Toronto Marlies. Ubriaco, is the senior advisor/director of hockey operations for Chicago.

During our visit, we made a trip to Maple Leaf Gardens to check-out how the building has changed since hockey was last played at the historic arena.

Ubriaco's first trip to Maple Leaf Gardens came in the mid-1950s.

"I will never forget leaving home," noted Ubriaco. Prior to heading down to Toronto, he played in the All-Ontario Juvenile Championship game. Ubriaco and his Sault Ste. Marie teammates, defeated a team from St. Catharines, Ontario.

"A day later, I had to get on a train, St. Mike's had called me down to go to a spring camp and that was to take a look at me," explained Ubriaco.

What laid ahead for young Gene was a 13-hour train ride from the Soo to Union Station in downtown Toronto. To complicate matters, Ubriaco was suffering from a charley-horse injury. He was given some advise before boarding the train - to sit with his foot tucked under his rump and keep it bent.

"You know what?" asked the man known in hockey circles as Ubie. "It worked! I was still sore, but I could bend my knee. I sat on my leg all the way down."

Once he arrived in Toronto, he got settled in his new surroundings. "I stayed at a hotel on Jarvis Street - The Jarvis Hotel, I believe. Then, we went out and skated at Maple Leaf Gardens," recalled the veteran hockey executive.

I snapped the above photo of Ubie standing at the spot where centre ice was located prior to the renovations at Maple Leaf Gardens.

Gene Ubriaco skated for the St. Michael's Majors from 1954-55 to 1957-58.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Double the Pain

Playoff time is well underway. Hockey's second season and an occasion to focus on skilled players giving their all, game in and game out.

This usually happens when each spring rolls around. The nonsense and cheap shots take a backseat, as there is simply too much at stake. Goons and misfits are relegated to the press box to munch on their popcorn or are firmly planted on the bench.

In round one of the 2012 tournament, we have witnessed a return of 1970s hockey. Philadelphia's Broad Street Bullies mentality has popped-up and revealed it's ugly head.

The latest act of violence, Raffi Torres laying-out Marian Hossa, did nothing to enhance hockey's image or quality of play. Like Daniel Alfredsson in Ottawa, who suffered a blow to his head courtesy of Rangers forward Carl Hagelin, Mr. Hossa is now out of commission.

Enough is enough.

It is time for the National Hockey League to lower the boom and bring down the long arm of the law.They alone possess the power to change how games flow, and can severely punish those who are out to create mayhem.

Discipline is key, on and off the ice, and guidance can only come from above. The executives at league offices in New York and Toronto, must inform on-ice officials as to what is and is not acceptable behaviour during an encounter. Then, it is up to those donning striped shirts to enforce the rules.

Time has come for the NHL and NHLPA to clamp down on players who go on head-hunting expeditions. It can no longer be tolerated. There is no positive spin to what has been going down. Not even American television ratings going up.

Perhaps, Bettman and company should become creative and explore the concept of dishing out double-misconducts.

Here is an example of how a double-misconduct would be applied. Let's take the Torres/Hossa hit as a case study on how head shots should be handled at ice level.

Following the whistle Torres is given a two-minute or five-minute penalty for decking Hossa. He'd serve this time and an automatic ten-minute misconduct would be tacked onto his sentence.

Then, here comes the twist or double-whammy.

Chicago coach, Joel Quenneville, would select another player, who was on the ice with Torres, to also sit in the box for ten-minutes. Thus, imposing a double-misconduct.

So, what happens if Torres is banished (major/10-minute misconduct/game misconduct) and sent to the showers? The player selected by Quenneville would serve the major and two ten-minute misconducts. His time in purgatory coming to a grand total of twenty-five-minutes.

Everyone involved, from general managers to coaches to players, would feel the consequences. Do you think Brad Richards or Marian Gaborik would be jumping for joy if they were skating along side Hagelin when he batted Alfredsson's head, as though it were a floating balloon? There is little doubt one of them would be picked to join their colleague who instigated the head shot.

John Tortorella wouldn't be pleased. His blood pressure would go through the roof. Also, he would think twice about pencilling a repeat offender into his line-up next time around.

The pitfalls associated with this system are limited to those breaking the rules and their teams. A guilty party, having to explain his actions in the dressing room, and when being called on the carpet for an NHL hearing.

Coaches would have no other alternative than to juggle their lines to compensate for two missing parts. A pulsating sting really sinking in if his counterpart buried a key component, like Richards or Gaborik, for ten-minutes.

Players would be asked to adjust their output and possibly perform in a position they are not accustomed to. Hardest hit being forwards dropping back due to a couple of defenceman sitting in the box. The game taking on the feel of a chess match, with skaters being strategically moved around the board.

Now, comes the million-dollar question - Would players and management get the point of all this and respond accordingly? They certainly digested the message when steps were taken to eliminate the trap. Not too many players would enjoy having their ice time slashed due to a teammate being unable to pull-in-the-reins and control himself.

Some may consider the double-misconduct too radical, too harsh, too outside-of-the-box. I doubt if Daniel Alfredsson or Marian Hossa would agree.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Emile "Butch" Bouchard: 1919-2012

In a season when their club failed to make the Stanley Cup playoffs, there was more bad news for fans of the Montreal Canadiens. On April 14, 2012, the hockey world was informed of the passing of former captain Butch Bouchard.

A native of Montreal, Quebec, Bouchard, a six-foot-two, 205 pound defenceman, signed his first contract with the Habs on February 21, 1941. After starting the campaign with the Montreal Sr. Canadiens (QSHL), Bouchard was assigned to Providence by the NHL club. He participated in 12 contests with the Reds, who played in the American Hockey League. It wouldn't take Bouchard  long to reach the National Hockey League.

On November 13, 1941, the Montreal Canadiens played their third game of the 1941-42 NHL campaign in Toronto. Prior to the contest,  Bouchard received high praise from coach Dick Irvin.  "He'll remind you of Joe Louis tonight, six-foot-two, weighs 200," stated Irvin to a Toronto reporter. The reference to "Joe Louis," boxing champion, indicating Bouchard's style of play.

"He keeps bees and stings like one too," added Irvin for good measure.

When Irvin referred to Bouchard keeping bees, he wasn't kidding. The young defenceman not only had a keen eye for playing hockey, but business ventures were also of interest to him. In addition to running an apiary, Bouchard built a wood-carving shop at his home and created pieces of furniture.

"They'll see plenty of Bouchard, our new defenceman. He's the smartest blocking defenceman to come up to the National Hockey League in ten years, in my opinion," bellowed Irvin about his rookie on game day.

For the tilt at Maple Leaf Gardens,  Bouchard joined Cliff 'Red" Goupille on Montreal's blueline. The Canadiens were missing rearguard Ken Reardon, who remained in Montreal with an infection. The other defensive pairing included Jack Portland along side Tony Graboski.

Bouchard and his teammates fell short, falling to Toronto 4 to 2. Although on the losing end, it was a good night for Bouchard. When Leaf forward Sweeny Schriner couldn't breeze by the big defender, Leaf coach Hap Day instructed him to try his luck on the opposite side against Goupille. As a result of the shift, Schriner hit the twine twice.

During the 1942 Stanley Cup playoffs, Bouchard recorded his first National Hockey League goal. It came against Detroit in game two of a best-of-three series. Bouchard scored the third goal in Montreal's 5 to 0 victory. The victim of his first tally was netminder Johnny Mowers.

Over the next couple of seasons, Bouchard worked on improving his skating, but his finest asset was his physical strength. As the late Leaf legend, Ted Kennedy, told author Mike Ulmer in "Canadiens Captains," Bouchard was "so strong."

Kennedy, provided Ulmer with an example of how Bouchard applied his brute strength, " If he happened to get you along the fence, well, you were going to come out second best, but he wouldn't be one of these guys who would run you into the fence to hurt you. He'd rub you out that's all, " noted the former Leaf captain.

This perception of Bouchard as a sort of gentle giant was shared by many in the game. Referee Red Storey, in his autobiography "Red's Story," pointed out Bouchard was the "first of the modern policemen" in hockey. Due to the Canadiens having a number of small, but speedy forwards, this role was important, and Bouchard made a huge contribution towards protecting his mates.

As Storey relayed in his book, policemen like Bouchard and other's in the Original Six era who filled the role, "would drop their sticks in a fight and go at it with their fists. They earned respect."

After winning his first Stanley Cup in 1943-44, Bouchard and the Canadiens were ready to fight off all challengers and defend their championship in the spring of 1945.

In the semi-final versus Toronto, the Habs dropped the first two games at home in Montreal. The series then moved to Maple Leaf Gardens. Following game three, everyone involved agreed Bouchard stole the show. The visitors outscored Toronto 4 to 1, and the main reason for the Leafs offence being debilitated was Butch Bouchard.

"He's the greatest defenceman in the league. In fact the best since Eddie Shore departed from Boston. Tonight he played the greatest game I've seen in this rink since one night long ago. Shore gave me and the Leafs of that period a large headache," said the former Leaf coach, now pacing behind the Canadiens bench.

The Leaf coach in '45, Hap Day, couldn't help but heap praise upon his opponent. "That beekeeper! Not only did he take a lot of starch out of our attackers, but he stopped as many shots as Durnan (the Montreal goalie)," observed Day.

A repeat wasn't in the cards for Montreal in 1945, as Toronto went on to win the semi-final four games to two. In total, Bouchard captured four Stanley Cups - 1943-44, 1945-46, 1952-53 and 1955-56.

Heading into 1948-49, Bouchard's leadership skills and overall importance was about to be recognized by management and fellow players. With Bill Durnan giving up the captains "C", the prestigious honour was  up for grabs. In mid-October, after the tradition of holding the vote in the dressing room, came word a new captain had been selected. The distribution of votes wasn't close. One news report from the time indicated "Bouchard's election was practically unanimous."

It was a responsibility Bouchard took seriously, as noted by Jean Beliveau in his autobiography ("Jean Beliveau - My Life in Hockey" with Chrys Goyens and Allan Turowetz). "As captain Butch senior took great pains to listen to everyone's opinion on any issue and served as a role model for my stint as team captain in the 1960s," wrote the Hockey Hall of Fame member and still beloved icon.

It didn't take Bouchard long to show one and all his teammates made the proper choice. In the November 10, 1948 edition of The Hockey News, Bouchard was named Player-Of -The-Week. He earned the award for a contest involving the Detroit Red Wings on November 6, 1948. Montreal shutout their rival 2 to 0, with both goals coming courtesy of Bouchard. On defence, the newly crowned captain, put his shot blocking talent on display. He blocked four scoring chances, which appeared to have some potential.

Like dance couples, who perform complicated routines, it is vital defence partners complement each other on the ice. Labelled a stay-at-home defenceman, Bouchard became an essential component for Montreal coaches who structured the game line-up.

When he first entered the NHL, Bouchard was teamed with Montreal's number one blueliner, Ken Reardon. Coach Dick Irvin, realizing the benefits of grouping Reardon, a rushing defenceman, with a defensive-minded partner, created the tandem of Reardon and Bouchard.

When Reardon retired prior to the 1950-51 campaign, another player, with offensive prowess, took his post beside Bouchard. This individual was Doug Harvey. In the history of hockey, this combination is perhaps the quintessential pairing of all-time. Harvey, a master at controlling the tempo of a game, enjoyed the luxury of motoring up ice, knowing Bouchard was in position to protect his back.

In his final NHL year, 1955-56, Bouchard's ice-time dwindled considerably. During the regular season, he only got into 36 matches. Bouchard, thought about hanging up his skates, but management wasn't ready to dispose of his veteran presence. Come playoff time, Bouchard didn't see any action until the final seconds of the Cup winning game. On April 10, 1956, Montreal defeated Detroit in the fifth contest to claim Lord Stanley's silver mug.

After taking his final shift, Bouchard skated to centre ice to accept the big prize from Cup trustee Cooper Smeaton. And how did Bouchard celebrate his farewell Cup victory and retirement? He hung-out a "Gone Fishing" sign. Literally. With his good pal, Rocket Richard, along for the ride, the two headed out for a fishing vacation in the Laurentien Mountains.

Emile Joseph "Butch" Bouchard was born on September 4, 1919. He was tagged with the nickname "Butch" in junior hockey. Most likely due to pronunciation, his French last name became associated with the English word butcher. His NHL career spanned 15 seasons ('41 to '56 / 785 regular season & 113 playoff games). Selection to the NHL First All-Star Team came in 1945, 1946 and 1947. Selection to the NHL Second All-Star Team came in 1944. Election to the Hockey Hall of Fame came in 1966. Butch Bouchard left this world on April 14, 2012.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Making it to the Top

It is the type of story hockey fans love to witness and read about come Stanley Cup playoff time. It features the third-string goalie or player from the minor-leagues, who leap from obscurity and takes their place under the spotlight.

So far in the first round of the 2012 tournament, the man taking centre stage in Washington is goalie Braden Holtby. With Tomas Vokoun and Michal Neuvirth on the sidelines, Holtby has come to the rescue in Washington.

Back in the 1949 playoffs, it was Sid Smith's turn to show what he could do. Having spent the bulk of his time with the Pittsburgh Hornets (AHL), Smith was summoned by the Leafs for their Stanley Cup run. And no one could blame the Leafs for making this move. In 68 games on the farm, the Toronto born left-winger, lead the American League in goals with 55 and in points with 112.

Sid Smith took this opportunity and ran with it. In game two of the Cup final against Detroit, Smith completed his hat trick at 17:58 of period two. He scored all three tallies in Toronto's 3 to 1 win in the Olympia. All told, Smith skated in six contests during the '49 playoffs. He scored five goals and pitched in with two helpers.

His performance certainly caught the eye of Hap Day. "I can't ever recall a player coming from the American League to join a team in the Stanley Cup playoffs performing with the brilliance that Sid Smith has shown us," commented Day on the new addition to his roster.

~On and Off the Ice~

A marriage between the Montreal Canadiens and agent Pat Brisson could result in a new birth for the historic franchise. How long after their trip down the altar, would a new bundle of joy descend on the Bell Centre? The prediction by some is that by 2013 they will be in a position to make a grand announcement.

Headlines around the hockey world will herald the new arrival - "The Montreal Canadiens and general manager Pat Brisson welcome their new son, Sidney Crosby!"

The blessed event could take place in 2013, when Crosby becomes an unrestricted free agent. No word yet if Don Cherry, John Tortorella or Mike Milbury will be asked to fill the role of godfather.

I wonder if Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment chairman, Larry Tanenbaum, ever saw the movie "Love Story"? The film, released in 1970, starred Ali MacGraw and Ryan O'Neal. In the script, screenwriter Erich Segal penned this gem, "Love means never having to say your sorry."

In his letter of apology to Leaf faithful, Tanenbaum noted, "We have fallen short of everyone's expectation, and for that we are sorry."

It's okay MLS&E, we still love the Leafs. However, using the "S" word at this point is like the zookeeper standing before the TV cameras and apologizing for leaving the gate to the lions cage open. We don't blame the lions for escaping and roaming the streets just as the bell is ringing to mark the end of the school day. Instead, the zookeeper has to held accountable beyond saying sorry. In both situations (Leafs and the zoo), actions speak louder than words.

For Tanenbaum and company, the movie quote should be changed to "Winning means you never have to say your sorry."

I'm not a big fan of playoff games taking place during the day on weekends. The whole exercise of sitting all day and night in front of the tube doesn't make sense to me. The spice of life is variety, and with so many options (PVR - VHS), steps can be taken not to miss any action.

Clearly, the weekend match-ups are scheduled to accommodate television demands.

For the sports networks in Canada and south of the border, their intention is to space-out as many games as possible on Saturday and Sunday. The double/triple header concept is tailor made for this purpose. They are hoping for a captive audience, who will stick-it-out from start to finish.

 Included in this grouping is the CBC and their Hockey Night in Canada franchise. When a game is being broadcast, not too many properties in their stable can muster-up better numbers than hockey - day or night. As freelance TV columnist, Bill Brioux, wrote on the weekend, HNiC "still means the most to Canadians and brings in the most commercial revenue."

In the U.S. the opposite is true. NBC benefits from not having to disrupt their prime-time agenda. State-side, the sport has regional interest, and making an impact on the national ratings is almost impossible, even with the overnight figures improving so far this playoff.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Tom Manastersky: 1929-2012

On March 11, 2012, former Montreal Canadien and Montreal Alouette (Canadian Football League), Tom Manastersky, passed away at the age of 83.

Looking back on his career in sports, 1949 was a banner year for young Tom Manastersky. In the spring of '49 he helped the Montreal Royals (QJHL) capture the Memorial Cup. Total Hockey - The Official Encyclopedia of the National Hockey League - described the series between Montreal and the Brandon Wheat Kings as "one of the greatest series in hockey history." The best-of-seven championship went to eight games, with one contest ending in a draw, before the Royals were declared last team standing.

In the deciding encounter, with play underway in the third, Montreal trailed Brandon by a score of 4 to 2. Luckily for the Royals, there was plenty of time left on the clock for them to mount a huge comeback. Their 6 to 4 victory resulted in Manastersky and his teammates being crowned Memorial Cup Champs.

As 1949 was coming to a close, there was one more challenge for Manastersky to tackle. This came on the football field. Working on the Montreal Alouettes special teams - kickoff and punt returns - Manastersky and coach Lew Hayman's squad advanced to the Grey Cup game in Toronto. In addition to special teams, he lined-up in the halfback position for Montreal.

Once again, the 5-foot-9, 185 pound, Manastersky was on the winning side. The Alouettes defeated Calgary 28 to 15.

The following year, 1950, Manastersky was named Montreal's "Athlete of the Year" for his play with the Royals and Alouettes.

In mid-December 1950, with the football season over, Manastersky returned to the ice. He joined the Montreal Royals of the Quebec Senior Hockey League and took part in six workouts with the team. While getting into hockey-shape, he didn't participate in any league games.

During this time, the NHL Canadiens were in a five game slump and managing director, Frank Selke, took steps to correct his teams down slide. His first move involved Manastersky, who was summoned from the Royals for a three game tryout.

On December 14, 1950, Tom Manastersky played in his first National Hockey League contest with the Montreal Canadiens. He made his debut before 5,086 spectators in Madison Square Garden, as the Habs faced the New York Rangers. Although Manastersky didn't play many minutes on Montreal's blueline, a game report did note, "the former amateur showed up well during his few appearances."

With Tony Leswick scoring two goals, New York edged Montreal 3 to 2.

Frank Dean, writing in The Hockey News, provided this assessment of Manastersky's initial NHL effort. "Tommy's performance in the NHL (he's had one year of Senior) was a little short of sensational and he worked like a man who felt he belonged," observed the Montreal scribe.

By all accounts, Manastersky was a physical defenceman who didn't shy away when the action heated up. This was evident when Montreal visited Toronto for a game in Maple Leaf Gardens against the Leafs on December 20, 1950.

Just as Manastersky was trying to impress Selke and company, a newcomer to the Leafs line-up was attempting to make an impact. Fern Flaman, obtained by the Leafs from Boston, was making his first appearance in a Leaf uniform. Since the trade, he was skating for the Pittsburgh Hornets in the American Hockey League.

As time was running down in the third period, Manasterky cross-checked Flaman and the two defencemen squared-off to settle the matter.

Although Manastersky had a brief stay in the NHL - six games during the 1950-51 campaign - his desire to play didn't fade. Following his stint with the Canadiens, he finished his hockey career in '50-51 playing for three teams - Cincinnati Mohawks (AHL - 5 games), Victoria Cougars (PCHL - 18 games) and the Montreal Royals (QMHL - 1 game).

His time in the Canadian Football League came to an end in 1954 when he was on the roster of the Saskatchewan Roughriders.

Timothy "Tommy" Manastersky was born on March 7, 1929 in Montreal, Quebec. He passed away in Toronto on March 11, 2012.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Stanley Cup Journal: New York vs. Ottawa

New York Rangers vs. Ottawa Senators
Game one
April 12, 2012
Game time 7:00pm

7:00pm - Dusted-off the final portion of my chicken and stuffing sandwich. It was so delicious. I have room left in my belly for another, but there is no time to spare.

7:07pm - The Canadian and American National Anthem is being belted out by John Amirante. Fans, waving white towels, are pumped and ready to cheer the home team to victory.

7:11pm - The game is underway. Madison Square Garden has never looked better. Renovations have given it a new sparkle.

7:15pm - Typical start to a first round playoff series. Both clubs are not taking any risks. It is a feeling-out process.

7:20pm - Ottawa survives a Rangers power play opportunity. Going into the first TV time-out, neither team has hit the twine.

7:22pm - The sun is still out. A sure sign the playoffs have truly arrived.

7:23pm - Ottawa applies pressure following the penalty kill. Both goalies - Craig Anderson and Henrik Lundqvist - look sharp.

7:26pm - Brandon Prust is called for a misdemeanor in the offensive zone. It is Ottawa's turn to go on the power play.

7:29pm - The Senators fail to capitalize with the advantage.

7:33pm - The all important first-goal is scored by number 24 of New York, Ryan Callahan. He gained control of a rebound and sent the puck past Anderson.The tally is scored at 12:01, with assists going to Anton Stralman and Artem Anisimov.

7:41pm - Stu Bickel goes off for cross-checking Milan Michalek. Shortly after, Brian Boyle and Erik Karlsson are called for roughing.

7:45pm - Ottawa is unable to muster up any offence with Bickel in the box.

7:47pm - A montage of hits by Ryan Callahan displays why he is wearing the "C" on his jersey. He doesn't hesitate to stick his nose into the thick of things.

7:49pm - End of twenty-minutes. The Rangers lead by 1 to 0.

7:52pm - An ad for the new Hockey Hall of Fame campaign ("Most Hockey Dreams Die") comes on the screen. One frame shows a great shot of the Maple Leaf Gardens marquee.

7:54pm - Don Cherry's blue and white checkered jacket looks like it came straight-off the table of Italian restaurant. I wonder if there is any leftover pasta in the fridge? Any thought of Italian food and New York City, reminds me of the mouth-watering dishes at Mamma Leone's.

8:00pm - A past playoff series comes to mind -1964. It is one of my early memories of viewing playoff hockey. First, the Maple Leafs took on Montreal, then defeated Detroit to capture the Stanley Cup. Of particular interest, was watching the games when Toronto went on the road. It seemed strange seeing them skating around in their white uniforms. The broadcasts from Montreal and Detroit seemed so foreign. It didn't take long for me to discover the Forum and Olympia were special venues.

8:07pm - Drop of the puck to start period two.

8:10pm - A fresh playing surface reveals the logo at centre ice. The Rangers crest is framed with "1926", their first year in the National Hockey League.

8:14pm - Second verse, same as the first. After five-minutes, the second period, to this point, is very similar to the first. Lundqvist is stopping everything Ottawa is firing at him.

8:19pm - A shot from the goal-cam shows the distinctive ceiling of the Garden. They no longer play NHL hockey in the Montreal Forum, Detroit Olympia, Chicago Stadium, Boston Garden or Maple Leaf Gardens. The game does, however, continue to live in Madison Square Garden.

8:24pm - John Tortorella takes a time-out. Momentum is turning to Ottawa, but as Bob Cole put it, "they can't buy a goal."

8:32pm - Ryan McDonagh is assessed a two-minute penalty for tripping.

8:35pm - The Rangers dodge a bullet. Ottawa doesn't get a shot on goal during their power play.

8:37pm - The goal lamp behind Craig Anderson is flashing. Marian Gaborik blocks a clearing attempt and carries the puck towards the net from the right wall. His shot goes in and New York extends their lead by two goals. Time of the goal 16:24.

8:42pm - Brian Boyle scoops-up the puck in the slot and beats Anderson high to put New York up by three. Time of the goal 19:06.

8:45pm - Forty-minutes of play is in the books. The time-out by Tortorella looks like a very wise decision. It seemed to wake-up his squad, who were clinging to a one goal margin with Ottawa attacking.

9:03pm - New York and Ottawa line-up at centre ice for the face-off to begin the final period.

9:07pm - Not a good start for the visitors. Nick Foligno is stripped of the puck by Carl Hagelin, who sends it to Brad Richards. He finds the back of the net at 2:15.

9:13pm - I kill the sound on the tube and tune in the MSG Radio Network on XM. Kenny Albert (play-by-play) and Dave Maloney are working the game.

9:23pm - Daniel Alfredsson cuts in front of the Ranger goal and deflects a shot from the point past Lundqvist. Time of the goal 10:05.

9:32pm - The clocks ticks down and there is five-minutes remaining.

9:37pm - Ottawa strikes again with a late goal. On a two-on-one, Nick Foligno passes the rubber to Erik Condra who fires it home. Time of the goal 17:41.

9:44pm - Game over. The Rangers mob King Henrik as they head to the dressing room. Game one goes to New York as a result of their 4 to 2 win.

9:45pm - I drop to one knee. Time for a post-game prayer. "Dear Lord, I know you are busy, but if at all possible, could you send a Guardian Angel down to look over the Toronto Maple Leafs? They require Divine intervention to steer them in the right direction. All they really want is to make the playoffs. Also, could you do something about the high ticket prices at the Air Canada Centre? Okay, that could even be a difficult task for you to handle. Amen."

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Let the Fun Begin!

~On and Off the Ice~

If opening night of the 2012 playoffs is any indication, hockey fans can look forward to some entertaining action.

The Los Angeles Kings and Philadelphia Flyers pulled off important road victories to get their respective series underway. In Pittsburgh, the Flyers came from behind to sink the Penguins 4 to 3 in overtime. The sudden death goal coming off Jakub Voracek's stick.

In the late game out west,  the Los Angeles Kings scored a late goal to defeat Vancouver 4 to 2. The game-winning-goal came at 16:46 of the third period. On the play, Kings forward Jeff Carter made a nifty move by deflecting the puck to teammate Dustin Penner with his left skate. Once he had the puck, Penner's shot beat Roberto Luongo. With 17.9-seconds remaining on the clock, the Kings other Dunstin, being Dustin Brown, closed out the scoring with Luongo having been yanked from the Vancouver goal.

The lone home victory was recorded by the Nashville Predators. Gabriel Borque lead the scoring for Nashville, netting two goals in their 3 to 2 win over Detroit. One of the highlights in this contest was a dazzling save made by Predator goalie Pekka Rinnie. Diving across his net, Rinnie robbed Red Wing Pavel Datsyuk of a goal.

For an opening act, the first night of post-season competition certainly didn't disappoint. Each game was close, which only added to the excitement.

The fun has only started.

An excellent addition on the newsstand is Sportnet - The Captains - Ranking The Greatest Leaders In Hockey History.

Like most ventures of this nature, there will be those who have a problem with the placement of certain players. Some will be upset concerning individuals left off the list, who in their opinion, make the grade.

As noted by publisher and editor-in-chief, Steve Maich, "a few people on this list spent most of their careers without being recognized as captain, but that didn't diminish their leadership role on their teams."

Taking this into account, it is interesting no goalie made the list. Is there any better example of a player leading by skill and example than Glenn Hall? Although he often suffered from nerves prior to taking his spot in the Chicago net, Hall set a unique record for NHL goalies. He appeared in 502 consecutive games (from 1955 to November 7, 1962) for the Hawks. In this span, Hall was the last line of defence as he backstopped Chicago to the 1961 Stanley Cup.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

A Family Celebration

In most NHL rinks, one in-game promotion allows fans to have their names posted on the video screen in recognition of their birthday. It is a nice touch, especially for youngsters, to see their names projected for all to see.

Back in the day, many hockey publications would make note of the birthday's being celebrated by those in the game. The example below appeared in The Hockey News.

The month of April certainly was a time for breaking out the birthday candles in the Reardon family. Both Terry and Ken Reardon played in the National Hockey League and both won a Stanley Cup. Terry, with the Boston Bruins in 1941 and Ken with Montreal in 1946. When their careers came to an end, both remained in the game at the executive level. For a number of years, Ken served under Frank Selke in the Canadiens organization and Terry in the American Hockey League.

Terry, the eldest brother, was born on April 6, 1919 and Ken was born on April 1, 1921. The two were born in Winnipeg, Manitoba.

Shortly after his birthday in 1949, Terry Reardon received a belated gift from his employer - the Providence Reds (AHL). The present took the form of a new contract to handle the coaching responsibilities. The two parties involved in the negotiation were Reardon and Reds owner Lou Pieri.

On the day of the contract discussions, Reardon was scheduled to meet with Pieri at 1:00pm, then at 2:00pm, play a round of golf with Jack Stoddard, who was on the Reds roster. If Reardon was concerned about missing his tee-off time, he had little to worry about.

The two came to terms on a new five-year contract within moments of sitting down to throw figures around. And how did they accomplish this so fast? Well Pieri passed Reardon a piece of paper and requested that he write down a dollar amount. Ten-minutes later, the deal was signed, sealed and delivered.

"I am quite pleased and happy over everything. The contract really is a wonderful one and I hope that the good years can continue for the Reds," commented Reardon after putting pen to paper.

At the time, Reardon became the highest paid coach in the American Hockey League. In addition to being the bench boss, Reardon was an important player on the ice for Providence.

The wonderful tradition of acknowledging birthday's has been kept up by Al Shaw of the NHL Oldtimers lunch. Prior to each event Ron Would makes the rounds to secure signatures on birthday cards, which are then presented to the applicable individuals.

Bob Beckett, a former member of the Boston Bruins, is shown in the above photo which was snapped at the April luncheon. He is taking a time-out to read his birthday greetings. Bob celebrated his 76th birthday on April 8th.

~On and Off the Ice~

I'm leaving on a jet plane: If I could board an aircraft, with my choice of a flight plan, the big bird would land in Pittsburgh. Of all the first round match-ups, the Philadelphia versus Pittsburgh series is the one I would love to view in-person. This one could get very ugly, very quickly. It has the makings of a take-no prisoners/no-holds barred/last-man-standing takes all confrontation.

On the subject of birthday celebrations, Wally "The Whirling Dervish" Stanowski will be marking his 93rd year on this planet come April 28th!

The Toronto Star published a feature story on Wally in their February 19, 2012 edition. Penned by former Leaf beat-writer, Paul Hunter, the piece provided insight on Stanowski's career with the Toronto Maple Leafs. At the recent NHL Oldtimers lunch, Cathal Kelly, also a writer in the Stars sports department, presented Wally with a ready-to-be-framed copy of his colleagues article.

Stanowski and Kelly check-out Paul Hunter's article on Wally
The following day, Kelly wrote a wonderful story on his experience at the lunch.

"Once a month and for a few hours, these men turn a prefab Markham dining hall into a more vibrant recollection of that shared past than any Hall of Fame can ever hope to be," wrote Kelly in his closing.

His text certainly captured the heart and soul of this monthly gathering.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Tips from Sid Smith

Throughout the history of hockey, certain players have carved out a distinctive style or technique that is all their own. In the case of Max Bentley, it was his stick handling skills which baffled opponents and thrilled fans. Rocket Richard's competitive spirit often resulted in his carrying the Canadiens, not to mention opposing players, on his back.

Entering his third full-season with the Toronto Maple Leafs (1951-52), Sid Smith earned the reputation for mastering the fine art of tipping the puck past goalies. Positioning himself in front of the net enabled him to cash in on scoring opportunities. As Leaf coach Joe Primeau put it at the time, Smith is "an exceptional opportunist."

The job didn't come without a certain degree of hardship. By securing his location in front of the net, Smith would often become the focus of physical retaliation by burly defenceman wanting to clear him away. And how did Smith respond to the rough stuff and the importance of maintaining a territorial edge? "You just have to keep moving around," noted the left winger.

The ultimate result for Smith was tipping a shot into the net, but there were additional benefits.

"Even if you never get a piece of it, there's always a good chance that you will screen a shot coming in. Some players seem to think that standing at the side of the net gives them a chance to pop a goal in. I can't see that. When you're in front though, anything is liable to happen," observed Smith.

Born and raised in Toronto, Smith worked on his offensive skills while playing for Don Willson, who coached the Toronto Staffords (OHA-Sr.). In 13 regular season contests, Smith blossomed offensively, netting 9 goals and contributing 12 assists for 21 points.

The following season, 1946-47, Sid Smith continued to apply the lessons taught by his former coach. "Don used to work with me after practices, and when I moved to the Quebec Aces the following year ('46-47) I started to connect a bit," recalled Smith in a 1953 interview. In Quebec, he notched 12 goals in 15 encounters.

Pittsburgh Hornets
While suiting-up for the Aces, the Maple Leafs, who owned his rights, took note of Smith's progress on offence. After brief stints with the big club in 1946-47 (14 games) and 1947-48 (31 games), Smith spent the bulk of the 1948-49 season with Pittsburgh in the AHL.

If there were any doubts relating to Smith's ability to light-up the goal lamp, they were put to rest in 1948-49. Skating in 68 games with the Hornets, Smith lead the American Hockey League in goals (55) and points (112).

Over the next six seasons (1949-50 to 1954-55) with the Maple Leafs, Smith recorded twenty or more goals in each campaign. Hap Day, who  was Smith's first coach in Toronto, noticed his improved play. "He use to roam all over the ice and now he's sticking with that wing. And he's learned how to carry the puck in and get around defencemen," commented Day, who became general manager of the Leafs after giving up his coaching duties.

Sid Smith's final year in pro hockey came in 1957-58 with Toronto. In 601 NHL games, all played in the blue and white of the Toronto Maple Leafs, he scored 186 goals and his point total reached 369.

At the beginning of this piece, reference was made to Rocket Richard and his burning desire to win no matter the cost. It is said Richard's dark eyes could burn holes in the opposition. He hated to lose and the other guys wearing different colours were the enemy trying to stop him.  Of course, Sid Smith was one of those players and he quickly became aware of how Richard's fire extended beyond the ice.

On one trip, the Leafs and Habs were riding on the same train. As Smith was munching on his breakfast, a reporter noticed the Rocket passing by Smith's table. This individual observed that Richard and Smith exchanged glances, but there was no verbal communication.

The writer approached Smith and commented on how civil the moment was between the two rivals. Without missing a beat Smith replied, "fine nothing, did you see him put his thumb in my corn flakes?"

Friday, April 6, 2012

Ahead of his Time

The mark of a good coach in any sport is demonstrated by his/her ability to identify problems and react accordingly.

In February 1952, with his power play on the skids, Boston Bruins coach Lynn Patrick was forced to confront such a problem. When his club failed to score with the advantage in a contest against Chicago, Patrick knew he would have to take action to resolve the problem of goal production on his power play.

His solution was something other teams were not implementing at the time. To get his power play back on the tracks, Patrick used five forwards in an attempt to increase his offence. Other coaches in the NHL would place one forward at the point when a penalty was called against the opposition, but Patrick took it one step further.

Patrick's five-man unit was composed of Dave Creighton, Red Sullivan and Ed Kryzanowski up front. On the blueline were Milt Schmidt and Johnny Peirson.

Clearly, Lynn Patrick was ahead of his time.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Getting the Hive's!

In the past, I wrote about the wonderful connection between hockey and the St. Lawrence Starch Company Limited - Full Story.

As noted in the initial piece, this company was responsible for producing the Bee Hive collection of hockey photos prior to and including the Original Six era.

Above is an example of the advertising material used to promote the campaign. It is from the early 1960s and features Toronto Maple Leaf centre Red Kelly.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Geoffrion Scores!

In the rich history of the Montreal Canadiens, certain names immediately register with any hockey fan who follows or reads about the game.

One such name is Bernard (Bernie) "Boom-Boom" Geoffrion. His last season in Montreal came in 1963-64. His son, Danny Geoffrion, played in 32 games with the Canadiens in 1979-80. During his time in Montreal, Danny failed to score a goal.

Bernie Geoffrion was called-up by the Canadiens in December 1950. At the time of his promotion, Geoffrion was playing for the Montreal Nationale in the OHA. In addition to Geoffrion, Montreal managing director Frank Selke summoned Jean Beliveau, Dick Gamble and Tom Manastersky. With his club in the midst of a slump, Selke looked to the new faces to supply some life to his hockey club.

On December 16, 1950, Bernie Geoffrion played in his first regular season contest with the Montreal Canadiens. Their opponent for the match were the New York Rangers. At 4:51 of the second period, Geoffrion scored his first National Hockey League goal when he beat Rangers goalie Chuck Rayner. He played on a line with centre Elmer Lach and left winger Dick Gamble.

The Gazette provided this description of Geoffrion's goal.

"Doug Harvey had just returned from serving a holding penalty when Canadiens scored the opening goal in the second session. Tom Johnson fed Boom Boom Geoffrion a long pass and the latter shot from deep in the Rangers defence zone. The puck caromed in off Frankie Eddolls, who was standing in front of the nets. Billy Reay was also credited with an assist."

The Hockey Hall of Fame member recalled his first tally in his biography - "Boom-Boom The Life and Times of Bernard Geoffrion."

"I skated over to the net and grabbed the puck and as I skated back to our bench all the guys were slapping my back and congratulating me. My first NHL goal wasn't the game winner; New York scored six minutes later and we ended tied 1-1. For one game at least I proved I belonged."

Almost sixty-two year after his grandfather, Bernie, scored his first goal for Montreal, Blake Geoffrion became the next generation of Geoffrion's to score a goal for the historic franchise. He is the son of Danny Geoffrion.

Obtained on February 17, 2012 by Montreal from Nashville, Geoffrion scored his first goal in a Montreal uniform on March 10, 2012. The goal came at 18:43 of the middle frame in a game against Vancouver. The young Geoffrion beat goalie Roberto Luongo.

His acquisition by the Canadiens placed him in elite company when looking at family members who wore the red, whit and blue. It all started with Montreal icon Howie Morenz, who is Blake's great-grandfather.