Monday, January 20, 2014

Seeing Stars

There are certain memories a hockey fan will never forget.

Most of us can remember key games our favourite team participated in and were over-the-moon if they involved a Stanley Cup championship.

One hockey event I enjoyed seeing each year was the NHL All-Star Game. Growing up in an era when the National Hockey League received limited television exposure, the All-Star contest was a welcomed addition.

In my memory bank, thoughts emerge from viewing All-Star clashes after the league expanded in 1967-68. As I recall, the games always occurred in mid January and were scheduled for a weeknight. This led to intense negotiations concerning my bedtime. A little give-and-take ultimately resulted in a treaty favourable to both sides.

The elite gathering of hockey's best had a different feel than a regular season contest. It was unique in every aspect. There were line combinations and defensive pairings one could only dream of seeing on any given night in an NHL barn. Mortal enemies worked together instead of going after one another.

Unlike recent All-Star tilts, where the score sheet is plastered with goals and assists, the early post-expansion were low scoring affairs.

I recall one year, 1971, when only 3 goals were scored.

On January 19, 1971, the West squad defeated the East 2-1 at Boston Garden. The amazing part being that all the scoring took place in the first period. After inspecting the box score, which included the East-West line-ups, one can only shake their head trying to figure out a reason for the lack of offensive production.

Somehow, the goaltending duo of Tony Esposito and Ernie Wakely, the last line of defence for the West, managed to limit their opponent to one goal. This included facing a potentially wicked power play with Phil Esposito, Gordie Howe and Frank Mahovlich up front, and Bobby Orr joined by J.C. Tremblay on the blueline.

St. Louis goalie, Ernie Wakely, offered an explaination as to why things didn't jell for the attacking units.

"What can anyone expect when players come together for the first time without practice," said Wakely.

New York Ranger goalie, Eddie Giacomin, who gave up goals by Chico Maki and Bobby Hull, expected more scoring punch from his teammates.

",,,I thought with the guys on our team they might have bailed me out by scoring more," Giacomin told reporters in his post-game comments,

Reflecting on the special team unit mentioned earlier, Phil Esposito stated, "we were like strangers in the night."

Bobby Hull, no stranger to having an opposing player shadow his every move, spoke of the need to pay attention to defensive responsibilities.

"This was likely the tightest-checking of all the All-Star Games," observed The Golden Jet. "Of course, you have to - it's a pretty potent punch we were facing."

For a youngster glued to the television screen, the lack of firepower had no impact. The anticipation leading up to the opening face off provided enough fuel to stick with it until the final whistle. There were no blindside hits or obstacles to contend with.

The night sky sparkled and I was seeing stars.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Montreal's Gain

In hockey there is no greater rivalry than the one between Toronto and Montreal.

Dick Duff and Frank Mahovlich experienced early success with the Maple Leafs, then found their way to Montreal. As members of the Toronto Maple Leafs they shared Stanley Cup wins in 1962 and 1963. Mahovlich went to capture two more championships wearing Blue & White in 1964 and 1967.

Duff was traded to New York in February '64, thus ending his run in Toronto. Mahovlich left the Leaf organization in March 1968. He was the cornerstone of a huge transaction with Detroit.

While the two ex-Leafs were productive with their new teams, additional chances to sip from Lord Stanley's mug didn't materialize. Their luck changed, however, when they joined the previously despised Montreal Canadiens.

A native of Kirkland Lake, Ontario, Dick Duff became a Hab on December 22, 1964.

"If Dickie plays anything like he used to play for Toronto,  I don't see why he shouldn't help us," noted Canadiens coach Toe Blake. "He was a good two-way player with the Leafs."

Montreal's new left-winger made his debut in a contest at the Forum on December 23, 1964.

"The critical crowd of 13,313 appreciated Duff's work as he set up some smart plays, had a couple of scoring chances and was always back on the wing as soon as the Rangers had the puck," wrote Pat Curran in The Gazette of Duff's performance.

Forty-three years ago today, on January 13, 1971,  Frank Mahovlich was shipped from the Red Wings to Montreal for Guy Charron, Mickey Redmond and Billy Collins.

"I'm happy with the move to Montreal, but the trade didn't really come as a surprise," said Mahovlich upon arriving in Bloomington, Minnesota, to face the North Stars.

Rising to the occasion, it didn't take The Big M long to fit in.

"It was a case of Frank being in position when he scored the opening goal at 16:59," noted a game story of Mahovlich's first period tally. "Terry Harper's shot deflected off Cournoyer and Mahovlich was just outside the crease when he steered the puck past Cesare Maniago."

Of interest, the piece documents that Mahovlich wore a sweater with number 10 on the back, as Montreal and Minnesota skated to a 3-3 tie.

Like their time in Toronto, Duff and Mahovlich enjoyed enormous success in Montreal. Duff flourished in his new surroundings winning Cups in 1965, 1966, 1968 and 1969. Mahovlich upped his Cup count with victories in 1971 and 1973.

On both counts, clearly a case of Montreal's gain .