Thursday, May 31, 2012

Gretzky said What?

For a brief moment, I thought the heat was finally causing damage to my brain cells. Somehow,  messages were being scrambled or, perhaps, a simple case of not believing what was before my eyes.

What brought all this about? A headline at tsn.ca which read, "Gretzky: Playoff MVP Award Should Be Named After Beliveau".

Beliveau, being Jean Beliveau, the legendary captain of the Montreal Canadiens. The sports network quotes Gretzky from a piece penned by Larry Brooks of the New York Post.

"What I'd like to see is the Conn Smythe Trophy be renamed the Jean Beliveau Trophy, and have Beliveau come onto the ice with the commissioner to present the award to the MVP and then stay by the commissioner's side for the presentation of the Stanley Cup," explained Gretzky to Brooks.

As a youngster living in southern Ontario, Gretzky followed the exploits of the Toronto Maple Leafs on Hockey Night in Canada. He watched with his grandmother, Mary Gretzky. During the broadcast, young Wayne shot rubber balls at his willing grandmother.

The Leafs were his team, although his favourite player was Detroit Red Wings star Gordie Howe.

Being a true student of the game, Gretzky always displayed a respect for the rich history of the sport. He showed an appreciation for those who built the game one brick at a time.

Howe was his hero, someone he admired both on and off the ice.

Gretzky met Gordie Howe in 1972 at the Kiwanis Great Men of Sports Dinner in Brantford, Ontario. At the time, Gretzky was 11-years-old.

When called upon to address the audience, Gretzky froze. Seeing his admirer struggling to get his words out, Howe sprang into action. He literally came to Gretzky's rescue.

"When someone has done what this kid has done in this rink, he doesn't have to say anything, " Howe told those in attendance.

At the age of 16, Gretzky joined the Soo Greyhounds to begin his time in Junior "A" hockey. Through his agent, Gus Badali, Gretzky insisted on being assigned the number 9, in honour of Gordie Howe. Unfortunately for Gretzky, Brian Gualazzi, a three-year veteran, already laid claim to the number. And coach Murray MacPherson wasn't about to make him relinquish it.

To start the season, Gretzky wore number 19, then 14, but he couldn't get use to not pulling a number 9 jersey over his head.

When Phil Esposito was traded in November 1975 from Boston to New York, the Rangers encountered a similar dilemma. Donning sweater number 7, Esposito's number in Boston, for New York was Rod Gilbert. No one, including New York's new acquisition, expected Gilbert to give-up the number he possessed since arriving on Broadway in the early 1960s.

Rod Gilbert hung up his skates for good after the 1977-78 campaign. On October 14, 1979, prior to a contest between New York and Washington, Gilbert's retired number 7 was lifted upwards to the rafters in Madison Square Garden.

Back in '75, the solution in Manhattan called for Esposito to wear 77, instead of 7.

If this pleased Espo, the Soo Greyhounds were of the opinion Gretzky should have no problem agreeing to a similar compromise. In the wink of an eye, Gretzky switched from 14 to 99.

Gordie Howe and the famed number 9 meant that much to Gretzky.

Later in his career, Gretzky made certain Howe was present, no matter the location, if he was on the verge of overtaking his idol in the NHL record book.

This concern and desire to recognize those who paved the way, makes Gretzky's current statement relating to Beliveau a tad puzzling.

Sure, most of us can understand that on one hand he is attempting to honour a Montreal icon.

In the same vain, he is making light of Conn Smythe's enormous contributions. Why rob Peter to pay Paul?

It can be said Conn Smythe saved professional hockey in the city of Toronto in 1927. The Toronto St. Pats, playing in the National Hockey League, were not performing to expectations on the ice, and this reflected on the box office receipts. Ownership, suffering from financial hardships, received an offer to purchase from interests in Philadelphia.

Sensing the consequences of selling to a group south of the border, Smythe assembled an ownership group and put in an offer.

History was put in motion. Smythe changed the team name to Maple Leafs, and Maple Leaf Gardens emerged on the Toronto landscape in November 1931. Stanley Cups followed and Hockey Night in Canada became an institution, first on radio, then TV.

This is one suggestion by the Great One that isn't so great.



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