Thursday, May 29, 2014

A Trip to the Past: The Mike Wilson Collection

We all know people who collect hockey memorabilia as a hobby. It could be hockey cards from the time they were youngsters. Those glorious winter days of childhood, spent playing road hockey from morning until dinner, then sitting down with family to watch Hockey Night in Canada. During a commercial break there would be enough time to sneak a peek at a players stats on the back of his hockey card.

With the passing of time, shoe boxes filled to the brim with cards and wrappers fell by the waste side as other interests consumed their lives. Later in life, once established in the business world and having laid down roots in the community, a yearning develops for a link to when the game of hockey was more personal and less complicated. Once again tracking down and having the wonderful feeling of clutching Johnny Bower's hockey card in their hand and recapturing memories from the time they traded three Boston Bruins and two Detroit Red Wings for a mint Bower card.

Then there is Mike Wilson.

A member of the Society for International Hockey Research, Mike's passion for collecting dates back to when he was a small boy and received a hockey stick which belonged to Carl Brewer. His love of the game and devotion to collecting continues to this day. Being a huge Toronto Maple Leafs fan, Mike's inventory of sticks, sweaters, photos and other gems are truly impressive.

Taking a tour of Mike's mementos is similar to entering a time machine and travelling back to explore a bygone era. Are you interested in the Leafs of the 1930s and wonder what their jersey looked like? Simply push the 1930s button in the time machine and you will be instantly transported to the era when the Leafs were just settling into Maple Leaf Gardens. Items from each decade of the Leafs history can be observed with something unique from generation to generation.

Once you leave the time machine and enter the land of hockey past, your system takes an immediate jolt. The sense of touching down on foreign soil and not knowing where to turn takes over. Your eyes dart from left to right, then up and down. Your brain processing images and objects as thought they are being downloaded from a computer.

All of a sudden you find your body moving forward. A voice inside your head asking, " Is that really a photo of Wally Stanowski when he was in the RCAF during World War Two?" A step right stops you dead in your tracks. "Did Punch Imlach really write that letter to Terry Sawchuck?" Once you get your footing, the inner voice disappears and you get lost in the wonderful history before your eyes.

Ever since my first visit to Maple Leaf Gardens in the 1960s, Toronto's hockey palace became a subject of enormous interest to me. The seed was planted. Any tidbit of information related to the building Conn Smythe constructed at the corner of Carlton and Church would be clipped from the newspaper.

With this in mind, two pieces from Mike's collection leaped out and grabbed my attention. When they came into focus, I halted my movement and kept a distance. Like viewing a painting from one of the Masters, I wanted to take-in and digest the entire scope of the object.

The motion of tilting my head from side-to-side and rubbing my chin took over as my eyes were glued to the masterpiece before me. Every inch inspected for distinguishing marks and soaking in the rich colours.  By maintaining a distance, I was able to picture where the item may have been situated in the Gardens. As I got closer, the object became less abstract.  This wasn't a replica, but the real deal. I wasn't glancing at a painting of the Mona Lisa. Instead, I came face-to-face with the real Mona Lisa.

The impact was that great.

The seats pictured above date back to the 1930s. In an era when a strict dress code was enforced by Conn Smythe, one can imagine sharply dressed patrons in their Sunday best being escorted to their seats prior to the opening faceoff. The vintage style of the seats are vastly different from those sold to the public when the Gardens interior was gutted following the Leafs move to the Air Canada Centre. Upon viewing the '30s version, you will observe the wooden back as opposed to the 1990s edition having both cushioned seats and backing.

I had to do a double-take when I came across the above turnstile. How many of you can recall going to a Leaf game and passing through this twirling contraption or a model similar to this one?

Making it past this point after showing your ticket was confirmation you were approved to enter the home of the Toronto Maple Leafs. It was the gateway to paradise. You were free to roam the halls and observe the photographs attached to the brick walls. The greats like Hap Day to young stars like Carl Brewer beaming down and setting the stage for events about to unfold at 8:00pm. It was like walking down hockey's version of Hollywood's red carpet.

Sure, the pictures were a thrill to see, but one was always aware of the time. It would almost be criminal to miss the warm-up. The image of Chicago's Bobby Hull, The Golden Jet, more concerned with signing autographs for his young fans than going through the pre-game activity of taking shots on goal. The television lights along with the brilliant colours of the Original Six sweaters added to the contrast of watching at home on a black and white set.

Just as invigorating was listening to the organ music and the voice of Gardens public address announcer Paul Morris. The suspense of not knowing whom was in or out of the Leaf line-up building to a fever pitch, until Morris supplied the details.

I can still hear his voice filling the air as he announced the starting goalies, "Starting in goal for Toronto and wearing number one, Johnny Bower. Starting in goal for Chicago and wearing number one, Glenn Hall."

One of the photographs which hung from the Gardens wall was of comedian/actor Bob Hope. He is wearing a white Leaf windbreaker and the entertainment legend has a hockey stick flung over his shoulder. Hope's signature sign-off on radio and TV was "Thanks for the memories."

To borrow Mr. Hope's closing, "Thanks for the memories, Mike Wilson!"

For more on Mike's wonderful collection here is a link to his new website -

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Memories of Ken Dryden

While watching Montreal goalie Dustin Tobarski seize the opportunity provided to him when Carey Price was sidelined, I can't help but think of another Montreal netminder.

Back in 1971, I watched on television as Ken Dryden made an incredible stop on Chicago's Jim Pappin in game seven of the Stanley Cup final.

My mind flashed back to Dryden's save after watching Tobarski rob Martin St. Louis in game three of Montreal's series against the New York Rangers.

Dryden's first appearance in a Canadiens regular season contest came on March 14, 1971. On the road against the Pittsburgh Penguins, Dryden allowed only one goal in Montreal's 5-1 victory. For the record, the future Hall of Fame goalie gave-up his first NHL goal to first-time scorer John Stewart.

"It will be a matter of feeling at home from game to game," Dryden said following his debut. When Dryden called-it-a-day following the 1978-79 campaign he had participated in 397 regular season encounters and 112 playoff games.

Of all the stops Dryden made during his brilliant career, many, like myself, will never forget the one against Pappin. Dryden worked his magic in a pressure packed situation, with Montreal holding a slim 3-2 advantage over the Hawks at Chicago Stadium.

Trailing 2-0 after Chicago goals by Dennis Hull and Danny O'Shea, Montreal bounced back with three tallies. Henri Richard gave the Habs the lead when he scored early in the final frame.

This set the scene for Dryden's showdown with Pappin late in period three.

The following account of Dryden's heroics appeared the next day in The Gazette and was written by Pat Curran:

Hardly a fan in the 21,000-fan-jammed Stadium could believe how Dryden had stopped Jim Pappin at the side of his net late in the finale. Magnuson had shot from the right boards for a save by the giant Montreal goalie and Pappin took the rebound three feet out. He snapped his shot, only to find Dryden's big leg in the way.

For his efforts in the '71 playoffs, Dryden was awarded the Conn Smythe trophy.

For a young hockey fan he provided a lasting memory.


Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Sunday, Sunday

Like Leaf games on a Saturday at Maple Leaf Gardens, the New York Rangers and Madison Square Garden are a perfect on Sunday's.

The Rangers played their first Sunday regular season home game at MSG on December 12, 1926.

Their opponent for this first Sunday outing in Manhattan were the Boston Bruins.

Writing in The New York Times, Seabury Lawrence's opening paragraph provides a capsule summary of how the evening went:

More pulsating, extra period hockey was played at Madison Square Garden last night, where a crowd of 10,0000 persons saw the swift New York Rangers defeat the Boston Bruins by a 2-1 score in a game that bristled with action and fiery attack from start to finish.

The above description reads like it could apply to Sunday's tilt between New York and Montreal.

Martin St. Louis overtime goal against Dustin Tobarski made it one more special hockey game played at Madison Square Garden on a Sunday.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Hunting for Wolves

Okay, so it wasn't the Maple Leafs and Blackhawks, but the Toronto Marlies and Chicago Wolves battling it out last Friday night at the Ricoh Coliseum in downtown Toronto.

It had been some time since I took in an American Hockey League contest. With the Leafs polishing their golf clubs, the Marlies had the spotlight to themselves.

Prior to the action getting underway, I chatted with Gene Ubriaco the Wolves senior advisor and director of hockey operations. He pointed out that his team really didn't take-off until after Christmas. Down the stretch, they captured their conference title.

Once again facing a difficult task, the Wolves were down 3-0 in the best-of-seven semi-final series.

Like the three previous outings, Chicago fell behind early and never got on track. While Baz Bastien Memorial Award winner (best AHL goaltender) Jake Allen struggled for Chicago, Drew MacIntyre sparkled for the Marlies. When the Wolves mounted any sort of pressure during the series, MacIntyre slammed the door to his net shut.  On Friday night the Marlies netminder didn't let one ray of sunlight shine into his net. It was that bleak for Chicago's offence.

At the other end of the ice, Toronto's top line of Peter Holland, Carter Ashton and Sam Carrick produced a total of 5 points on offence.

Under coach Steve Spott, the Marlies blanked the Wolves 4-0 and completed the sweep over Chicago.

Depending on moves made by the parent club, it wouldn't be a surprise if Carrick made the leap next season to the NHL. He is a pesky player who would fit in nicely in the Leafs line-up as a fourth-liner.

Perhaps the most gifted player on the ice was Chicago's Dmitris Jaskin. Selected by the St. Louis Blues (41st overall) in 2011, Jaskin skated in 18 games with the Blues this season. The remainder of his year was spent with the Wolves.

Born in Omsk, Russia, the talented winger can dazzle on the ice and knows his way around the net. Next season, both Allen and Jaskin could find a permanent home on the Blues roster.

The Marlies resume their quest to win-it-all tonight when they begin the Western Conference final against the Texas Stars.

Athough the Wolves were silent last Friday evening, it was still a howling good time!

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Shirley Fischler: Paving the Way

The above photos (front & back covers) are from Fischlers' Encyclopedia written by Stan and Shirley Fischler.

As a young hockey fan, I would run home after school each Friday and make a beeline to our mailbox. Once inside the house, I would toss the junk (all the other mail) onto the coffee table and unfold The Hockey News. Without fail, I would search out Stan Fischler's column - it was a must.

Then, one Christmas, I received Fischlers' Encyclopedia and became familiar with Shirley Fischler.

As pointed out in an article following her recent passing, Shirley Fischler was a "...columnist, author, broadcaster and a journalist who forced Madison Square Garden to get women admitted into the press box..."

Shirley Fischler was 74.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Rangers & Canadiens

The Original Six angle to the 2014 Stanley Cup playoffs continues with New York and Montreal embroiled in a fight to advance.

They first met in post-season competition in late March of 1930, in a best-of-three encounter. And they did so in grand style.

Game one took place on March 28, 1930, at the Montreal Forum.

New York opened the scoring when Murray Murdoch's shot got past goalie George Hainsworth. In period two, Montreal left-winger, Armand Mondu, got the Canadiens on the board beating John Ross Roach.

Then, Montreal and New York settled in for a extended defensive battle. The outcome wouldn't be determined until 68 minutes and 52 seconds (a new record) of extra-time had been played.

If Montreal fans had to place a bet on a player to score the winner for their side, most would have chosen Howie Morenz. During the regular season, Morenz led his team in scoring, connecting for 40 goals.

On this night, however, Morenz didn't factor into the scoring. The game-winning goal was scored by Habs right-winger Gus Rivers.

In an Associated Press story containing the game summary, Gustave Desrivieres is identified as the goal scorer. "...Gustave Desrivieres, the Canadiens rawest recruit, took the puck after a scramble in front of the Rangers goal to slam it over Roach's body to win the game."

Born in Winnipeg, Desrivieres and Rivers were indeed the same person. When researching this player in reference books, the name Gus Rivers appears. Obviously, it was altered down the line, but Montreal supporters were just happy he ended the contest in their favour.

At Madison Square Garden on Sunday March 30th, New York needed a win to keep their hopes alive. A huge crowd of 17,000 fans were on-hand to cheer. But, the Canadiens tossed a wet blanket over the party.

First period goals by Nick Wasnie and Pit Lepine were the only goals Montreal needed.

In the final frame, Montreal concentrated on defence. "They depended strictly upon their defensive ability and were content to wreck the Rangers attacks," wrote Joseph C. Nichols in The New York Times.

Back home, Montreal faithful celebrated their 2-0 victory and series win over the Rangers.

It would take time before New York and Montreal tangled in playoff action during the Original Six era.

Their first match-up in hockey's golden era came in 1950. This time around, they engaged in a best-of-seven, semi-final series.

Opening night (March 29, 1950) on Broadway saw the Rangers take centre stage as they downed Montreal 3-1. Their success was attributed to the forward line of Don Raleigh, Ed Slowinski and Pentti Lund to contain Montreal's unit of Elmer Lach, Rocket Richard and Norm Dussault.

Lund, the Calder Trophy (top rookie) winner the previous year, scored a hat trick in New York's 4-1 game two win.

On Montreal ice, the Rangers and Canadiens split games three and four.

 Montreal took a 2-0 advantage in game three, but New York stormed back to edge the Canadiens 3-2.

Montreal replaced Bill Durnan with Gerry McNeil in goal for game four and the rookie netminder didn't buckle under the pressure. In overtime, he made a key stop on Buddy O'Connor, who "...slipped through unmolested, but McNeil pulled off his greatest save of the game in smothering the shot," noted Canadien Press.

Elmer Lach ended the proceedings when he scored against Ranger goalie Chuk Rayner.

Game five, also played in Montreal, provided the Rangers with another chance to get back into the final.

Neither team could score over forty-minutes and if Montreal hoped to survive they needed a big third period. Their dreams were dashed when New York scored two goals less than a minute apart.

"I'm so happy I could cry," said Rangers forward Jack Gordon, reacting to scoring the series winning goal. Rayner earned the shutout in New York's 3-0 victory.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Ralph Nattrass: 1925-2014

The hockey world lost another member from the Original Six era.

On April 20, 2014, former Chicago Black Hawk defenceman Ralph Nattrass passed away in Edmonton, Alberta.

Nattrass entered the NHL in 1946-47 and played alongside Bill Gadsby. This pairing was one of Chicago's strong points, as they struggled to make their way up the standings.

Like many defencemen in the early goings of the Original Six, Nattrass looked after his own end first. He used his large frame (six-feet/185) and strength to slow down attacking forwards and defencemen.

His final season in Chicago was 1949-50. Nattrass hung up his skates following the 1950-51 campaign when he played for the AHL Cincinnati Mohawks.

Here is a link to the death notice from The Edmonton Journal - INFO

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Boston & Montreal 1943

As another thrilling playoff series between Montreal and Boston comes to a close, we take a look back to their first encounter in the Original Six era.

The date was March 21, 1943, when Boston hosted Montreal to begin their best-of-seven semi-final round.

Suffering from a case of the jitters, Boston couldn't get on track in the early going of game one and fell behind 3-0. Then, Montreal got the shakes and allowed the Bruins to get back into the game. Following sixty-minutes of play, the score was knotted at 4 goals apiece.

At the 12:30 mark of the first overtime period, Boston's Don Gallinger ended the game. After picking up a rebound from a shot by Bep Guidolin, the Bruins centre went around the Habs net and emerged out front. On his backhand, Gallinger beat goalie Paul Bibeault.

Obviously not suffering from the jitters, 17-year-old Gallinger opened the scoring in game two at Boston Garden. It was his third goal of the series. Holding a slim 4-3 lead in the final moments of period three, Boston's Art Jackson stripped the puck from Buddy O'Connor. The Bruins forward finished the play when he proceeded to "ram the puck through goalie Bibeault, who appeared stunned by the spectacular solo effort," noted The Canadian Press.

Hoping for a different result at home, the Canadiens faced off against the Bruins on March 25th at The Forum.

Similar to game one, Montreal went in front, but couldn't finish. Boston clawed back on tallies by Herbie Cain and Dit Clapper. For the second time, extra-time was required to break the 2-2 deadlock. Down a man in the overtime, Boston's Harvey "Busher" Jackson took advantage of an error made by Bibeault. The Montreal goalie kicked out Jackson's initial shot, but the rebound went right back to the former member of Toronto's Kid Line. Jackson buried the puck to give his team a 3-2 win in sudden-death.

Facing elimination in game four, Montreal put the brakes on their losing efforts. They received solid goaltending from Bibeault, who recorded the shutout in Montreal's 4-0 victory.

Still, the odds were stacked in Boston's favour as they returned to the Garden. Montreal had no wiggle-room, while Boston had three kicks-at-the-can remaining.

Montreal gave it their all in game five, as overtime was once again necessary. But it was the same old story for the visitors. Ab Demarco's game-winner sucked the life out of their opponent and the Bruins advanced to play another day.

Tonight, a new chapter will be added to this wonderful story.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Another 1-0 Victory

Last night, the Bruins and Canadiens kept their supporters on edge as Boston downed Montreal 1-0 in overtime.

Their very first playoff encounter took place in 1929.

And like most games after, their meeting on March 29, 1929, set the tone for one of hockey's most intense and entertaining match-ups in the post-season.

Boston Garden was the setting as the two met to begin their quest for the 1929 Stanley Cup. In an exciting nail-biter, much like last nights game, the Bruins prevailed for a 1-0 victory.

The lone goal was scored by Cooney Weiland and a detailed account of his game-winner appeared in The Globe:

The clash was less than eight minutes old when Weiland, the Bruins second string centre, rushed with captain Lionel Hitchman. The latter carried the rubber down the centre as his mate started down the left wall. Both crossed the Canadiens' blue line together, and once inside Hitchman sapped Weiland a perfect pass. Weiland continued along the wall for about ten yards, cut in sharply behind Burke and Mantha, the visiting defence pair and jammed (this word was difficult to read, but seems to be correct) a left-handed shot in the open corner of Hainsworth's net.

While Boston worked to protect their slim lead, Montreal continued to attack until all was said-and-done. "Just as the game ended Morenz tested Thompson with a vicious drive, but the Boston goaler responded with the prettiest save of the game," noted The Globe.
Cooney Weiland

Game two on March 29th followed the same script as the opener. Once again, Cooney Weiland connected for Boston, but this time around, Dutch Gainor earned the assist. The Bruins held off Montreal's attempts to pull even and recorded their second consecutive 1-0 victory.

Needing one more win to advance, Boston had the opportunity to eliminate the Habs on their home turf at the Forum in Montreal.

Home cooking seemed to agree with Montreal as they built up a 2-0 advantage. The visitors satisfied their appetite with three unanswered tallies and skated off with a 3-2 margin on the scoreboard. The winning goal went to Eddie Shore.

The Boston Bruins earned first bragging-rights by sweeping Montreal in the best-of-five series.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Mighty Smitty

On April 10, 1949, Toronto Maple Leaf Leaf left-winger, Sid Smith did something that hasn't been repeated since.

The title of this piece - "Mighty Smitty" - appeared above the scoring summary published in the Toronto Telegram the next day. So, there's a clue as to the direction we are heading towards.

But first, some background leading up to Smith's historic night.

A Toronto native, Sid Smith spent the majority 0f 1948-49 skating for the Pittsburgh Hornets, Toronto's farm team in the American Hockey League. Determined to make his way back to the parent club, Smith put together a spectacular season in Pittsburgh.

The numbers tell the story of his assault on those who worked between the pipes. In 68 contests, Smith found the back of the net 55-times and he assisted on 57 other tallies. His offensive production netted him the John B. Sollenberger Trophy, an award given to the top scorer.

Come playoff time, the Leaf brass had high hopes that Smith's hot-hand would continue once he was summoned from the Hornets.

In the opening round against Boston, Smith buried the puck twice, but his best effort was yet to come.

Hap Day's squad took game one of the Stanley Cup final, beating Detroit in their own barn.

When the next encounter on April 10th came to a conclusion, Sid Smith had earned a spot in the hockey history books.

As a result of scoring 3 goals on the power-play in Toronto's 3-1 victory, Smith became the first and only player to do this in a Cup final game.

This year marks the 65th anniversary of Smith's special performance.

"I had to get the last three for the coach," Smith told reporter Allan Nickleson. "He told me he wanted to see me play a good game on the road."

Also, Smith commented on the contributions made by his linemates - Fleming MacKell and Ted Kennedy.

"MacKell is skating fast and making lots of good plays," Smith explained. "He's setting both Kennedy and myself up with his hard skating."

Then, Smith shifted his focus to Ted Kennedy.

"When Teeder makes a pass, he really lays it in there nicely," Smith gave an example of Kennedy's ability to thread-the-needle. "That's how I got the last goal. Ted played it perfectly to give me the puck in front of the net and I backhanded one that went in the opposite corner to where Harry Lumley was. On all three of the goals, the puck never left the ice."

Toronto went on to win the Cup over Detroit and in the process ventured into new territory becoming the first to win three consecutive championships and the first to capture six Stanley Cups.

While several franchises have since travelled down the same path as the '49 Maple Leafs, no player has been able to duplicate Sid Smith's evening of April 10, 1949.

Toronto's Last Cup

A night to remember

 May 2, 1967

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Edgar Laprade: 1919-2014

On the heels of reporting on Wally Stanowski's 95th birthday, comes the news of Edgar Laprade's passing.

Here is a link to The New York Times obit.