Friday, July 18, 2014

Guy Trottier: 1941-2014

Like most who strutted their stuff prior to the 1967 expansion, all Guy Trottier wanted was a crack at earning an NHL roster spot.

When expansion did take place, Trottier didn't find himself in the NHL, but he did move up from the International Hockey League to the American Hockey League.

As a member of the IHL Dayton Gems, Trottier dominated the scoring column. His goal production jumped from 46 in 1964-65 to 68 in 1965-66.. A further increase came in Trottier's final year in Ohio, when he led the league in goals with 71.

When the dust settled on expansion, Trottier found a new home in Buffalo with the AHL Bisons. His first season in Western New York was 1967-68.

Under rookie coach Fred Shero, Trottier and fellow winger Larry Mickey, provided Shero with a strong right-side. But in early 1968, injuries put both of them out of commission. Mickey suffered a broken left arm and Trottier went down with a torn cartilage in his left knee. "Losing Trottier is a big blow," said Shero after learning of the diagnosis.

Trottier remained with the Bisons after his rights were traded to the New York Rangers on December 1, 1968. New York was well stocked up front and Trottier only saw action twice with the Blueshirts in 1968-69. However, he continued to flourish with Buffalo. When the season ended, Trottier's 45 goals were tops in the AHL. He didn't let up the following campaign, as his 55 goals in 71 games allowed Trottier to retain his goal scoring crown.

Trottier's scoring prowess didn't go unnoticed by other organizations. At the Intra-League draft held on June 9, 1970, the Toronto Maple Leafs claimed Trottier from the Rangers.

Prior to an exhibition contest against St. Louis in Ottawa, Maple Leafs GM, Jim Gregory, inked Trottier to a one-year deal.

"I must admit that there were many times when I wondered if I'd ever get a good shot at a job in the NHL," said the 29 year-old Trottier in late October.

A third period hit by Pittsburgh's Greg Polis in a tilt on December 8, knocked Trottier out of Toronto's line-up. He suffered a separated right shoulder. To fill his roster spot, Toronto called up Brian Spencer from the Tulsa Oilers.

An instant crowd favourite, Spencer experienced some tragedy early in his Leaf career. On the the evening of December 12, 1970, his father was shot and killed in Prince George, British Columbia. Roy Spencer became enraged when he discovered Brian's game wouldn't be televised on the west coast. He stormed CKPG TV and forced the station to go dark. As he was departing, Spencer was confronted by three RCMP officers and engaged them in a shoot-out. Mr. Spencer expired upon arriving at the hospital.

Along with Jim Gregory, Trottier made the trip west to represent his teammates at the funeral for Roy Spencer.

Trottier got back into action in early January. His numbers before he was sidelined were telling as to his style of play. In 24 contests, he connected for 12 goals. Due to his small stature (5'8"-165), Trottier was tagged with the the nickname "The Mouse". One Toronto newspaper noted in a headline that Trottier was the "Mouse That Scored."

When the regular season ended, Trottier had collected 19 goals and 5 assists in 61 games.

He participated in 5 playoff games, but didn't record a point. Along with several other Leafs, Trottier was fined $200 for leaving the bench when a brawl broke out at New York's Madison Square Garden. A highlight of that free-for-all occurred when Bernie Parent's goalie mask was tossed into the crowd and vanished.

Guy Trottier and his fans: This photo is from the Toronto Daily Star (Dec. 1970). The Leafs opened the Gardens for the general public (mostly kids) to watch the team workout

Year two in Toronto saw a dip in Trottier's offensive production. His goals dropped to 9 and he recorded 3 less points than the previous campaign.

In early March, there was speculation of Trottier being involved in a transaction with the Buffalo Sabres. The deal would have seen him return to his old AHL stomping-grounds in exchange for Danny Lawson. According to newspaper reports, Buffalo backed-out of the trade.

During the off-season, Trottier bolted from the Leafs to sign with Ottawa of the World Hockey Association.

The change of scenery for the 1972-73 season helped Trottier regain his scoring touch. He scored 26-times and added 32 helpers for the Nationals.

A new hockey year in 1973-74 brought Trottier back to Toronto, but it wasn't with the Maple Leafs. Unable to make a go-of-it in the Nation's capital, the Ottawa franchise moved to Toronto and became the Toros.

Playing out of Varsity Arena, Trottier commented on the difference between his new home and Maple Leaf Gardens, "I've seen nights at Maple Leaf Gardens when you could have heard a fly buzz past."

At the start of his second term with the Toros, Trottier was shipped (Nov. 1, 1974) to the Michigan Stags. He ended his year with the IHL Dayton Gems.

In his time with hockey's rebel league, Trottier produced 60 goals,

He returned to Buffalo to close-out his on-ice career in 1975-76. Trottier served as a playing-coach for the Buffalo Norsmen (NAHL). While he had a productive regular season - 58 points (36 goals) in 56 games - the playoffs were another story.

On March 27, 1976, Trottier and the Norsmen were scheduled to play a quarter-final series game against Johnstown. A battle erupted in the warm-up sending Greg Neeld to hospital and another Norsmen player to the medical room for treatment.

This display of violence was enough for Trottier and general manager, Willie Marshall, to forfeit the series. Marshall, a former scoring sensation in the American Hockey League, made harsh comments when he spoke to reporters. "Hockey is secondary in this league," noted Marshall. Then, he came out with this, "I hate to say I'm a member of this league,"

After a one-year absence from hockey, Trottier returned to coach the junior (QMJHL) Hull Olympiques. He replaced former NHL defenceman Marcel Pronovost, who left to work for the Buffalo Sabres. Trottier, who also held the general manager's title, left both positions when he resigned in early 1978.

Trottier remained out of hockey for an extended period of time, before returning for two stints (1994-96 & 2000-04) as an assistant coach with the ECHL Dayton Bombers.

Trottier wearing a Bombers cap

In Toronto to attend a Maple Leaf game at the Air Canada Centre, Trottier signed autographs at the alumni booth located at Gate 1 of the ACC

Looking back on Trottier's career, a quote from his second year with the Leafs best sums-up his approach to the game. "I just don't have the build to go around challenging people," began Trottier. "I wouldn't last long in this league if I took runs at the tough guys. I have to save my energy and stamina for the serious pursuits such as scoring goals."

Guy Albert "The Mouse" Trottier was born on April 1, 1941. He passed away on June 19, 2014 in Dayton, Ohio.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Larry Zeidel: Sticking it to the Opposition

Three moments from Larry Zeidel's hockey career surfaced when I read about his recent passing.

As a rookie defenceman with the Detroit Red Wings in 1951-52, Zeidel skated in 19 regular season contests and 5 playoff matches. Detroit swept Montreal in the Stanley Cup final with game four being played on April 15, 1952. There can be no greater moment, for a freshman or veteran, than winning Lord Stanley's mug.

  Zeidel paid his dues before landing a spot on the Wings roster and getting his named engraved on the Cup.

Following his final year in junior with the Barrie Flyers, Zeidel's career took him to the Quebec Senior Hockey League. In 1947-48 he joined the Quebec Aces. He stayed with the Aces for three campaigns and the time spent in his native Province helped define him as a player. As Zeidel once stated, "there were a lot of rugged guys in the league at that time, too, so maybe it was partly a matter of survival."

In his final year with Quebec, Zeidel led the league in penalty-minutes. He spent a total of 176-minutes in the sin-bin.

After winning the Cup in the Motor City, Zeidel spent most of the following year with the Edmonton Flyers in the WHL.

Zeidel rode hockey's version of a roller coaster, when his rights were traded by the high-flying Red Wings to  the bottom-dwelling Chicago Black Hawks.

Subsequent to his one term (1953-54) in the Windy City, Zeidel wouldn' return to the National Hockey League until expansion took place in 1967.

When he departed from the big-show, Zeidel bounced between the American Hockey League and the Western Hockey League.

This brings us to Zeidel's second moment of notoriety.

It happened on October 2, 1958, when Zeidel was a member of the Hershey Bears. In an exhibition match-up between the New York Rangers and the Bears held at The Stamford Arena in Niagara Falls, an  incident occurred which made the news the following day.

Under a sprawling headline - "3 Hockey Players Jailed As Riot Breaks Out In Arena" - the hockey world was made aware of an event which started one of the most ugly and malicious feuds the game has ever witnessed.

In the story, Hershey GM, Baz Bastein, is quoted on how the trouble started. "It started from a stick-swinging duel between Shack (of the NYRs) and Zeidel. They were thrown out of the game and after they got dressed they met and went at it again near the players' bench."

When the police intervened to break-up the ruckus, Zeidel lost his cool.

"Someone pulled me off Zeidel and he got up and punched me in the mouth," said police officer William Gillies when he testified later in court.

Zeidel was charged with assaulting  a police officer and causing a disturbance. His teammate, Obie O'Brien, also got involved in the altercation. He was accused of shoving Gillies and another officer away from Zeidel. He was charged with obstructing a police officer in the execution of his duties.

O'Brien and Zeidel appeared before Magistrate Johnstone Roberts to plead their cases. Zeidel took a tactical approach to his defense. He entered a not guilty plea to the assault charge and guilty to the lesser offense of creating a disturbance.

The Magistrate didn't but into Zeidel's reasoning or explanation for his actions. Zeidel's attorney told the court his client was concussed and thus didn't act appropriately. The Hershey rearguard suffered two cuts on his head which required 10 stitches. Turning a blind-eye to Zeidel's account of how things went down, the Magistrate found him guilty of assault and gave him a suspended sentence on the disturbance charge. As result, he was fined $200.

Obie O'Brien won his case and was absolved of any wrong-doing.

Eddie Shack, out on bail (set at $100), had a later court date on the charge of disturbance by fighting. His case was dismissed.

Throughout hockey, Zeidel was gaining a reputation for letting his stick do his talking.

While playing for Edmonton in the WHL, Zeidel and Jack Evans teed-off on each other. "Evans and Zeidel stood off about four feet and started swinging at each other," Lorne Davis (Edmonton Flyers '54-'55) told the Hockey News in 1958. "Finally they broke the sticks over one another's head. Then they started to spear each other with the jagged ends. Both caught about 19 stitches. The ice was covered in blood. It was terrible."

The Zeidel-Shack saw-off in 1958 was the ugly portion of their feud. The malicious part would come 10-years later in a moment near the end of Zeidel's time on the ice. And the nastiness emerged on two fronts.

On the night of March 7, 1968, Philadelphia and Boston tangled in a regular season tilt at Maple Leaf Gardens. The location of the game was moved to Toronto when the Philadelphia Spectrum closed due to roof damage.

At the mid-point of period one, Zeidel and Shack renewed their hostilities. Their weapons of choice, like in '58, were their sticks. Photographs in newspapers the next day revealed how vicious the stick-battle got. They showed blood trickling down from the head of both combatants. The lumber they gripped fully extended and within range of their unprotected areas. Their gloves remained on, a clear indication that punches wouldn't be thrown.

Afterwards, one question was being asked - why? Why did this happen, again?

There appears to be two theories concerning the cause. The first, being a cross-check Zeidel applied to Shack as he attempted to enter Philadelphia's zone. Normally, this would be a common play which occurs on a regular basis. Certainly, it wouldn't cause either Shack or Zeidel to turn their sticks into tomahawks.

The second notion carries a lot more weight in establishing grounds for a cause and why one of them reacted in the extreme.

Alleged comments made by the Boston Bruins were identified by Zeidel as the reason he blew a gasket. "Nearly the whole Boston team tried to intimidate me about being the only Jewish player in the league," Zeidel told reporter Ed Conrad. "They said they wouldn't be satisfied until they put me in a gas chamber."

An investigation by NHL president Clarence Campbell revealed, "it was not denied that Zeidel had been called 'Jew' or 'Jewish', combined with a variety of abusive terms." However, Campbell stated there was no evidence to support Zeidel's claim of references to Nazi actions in World War Two.

Although Zeidel made some early comments, a code of silence was quickly adapted. The National Hockey League would do the talking and have the final word on this matter.

When Campbell handed down his verdict, Zeidel was suspended for four games and Shack had to sit out three. Also, both were fined $300 for their misdeeds.

Zeidel would put in one more season with the Flyers before hanging-up his skates. In 158 NHL games he scored 3 goals and 16 assists. In 12 playoff dates, he recorded a lone assist.

Larry "The Rock" Zeidel was born on June 1, 1928, in Montreal Quebec. He passed away on June 17, 2014. at Pennsylvania Hospital

Friday, July 4, 2014

Fresh Hope

For those of you keeping track and perhaps, cheering on the Toronto Maple Leafs, the odds of a Stanley Cup parade in the near future are declining rapidly. Not to mention, the last festivities of this kind were held way back in 1967.

To determine the reason why there have been no celebrations on Bay Street is an impossible task. Fingers can be pointed at every level within the organization. Even the on-ice officials are included in the blame-game. Remember the non-call in game 6 of the Campbell Conference final - the contest where Kerry Fraser and crew missed the carving applied to Doug Gilmour?

Wayne Gretsky's overtime goal in game 6, sent the series back to Maple Leaf Gardens for a seventh and deciding game. The winner would receive an all paid expense trip to the Stanley Cup final and a date with the Montreal Canadiens.

Unfortunately for Toronto, Gretzky put on a show at 60 Carlton. He had all the weapons and sunk the Leafs ship.

Many Toronto faithful are of the opinion that if the Leafs had gotten by Los Angeles, a Cup victory over Montreal awaited them.

The '92-'93 Habs didn't hold a candle to the red-hot Canadien clubs of yesteryear. In particular, when compared to the powerhouse squads coached by Scotty Bowman in the 1970s.

In 1978, Toronto and Montreal collided in the conference final. It was the last time they met so deep in the post-season. Toronto joined Montreal in the next round thanks to Lanny McDonald's overtime goal in game 7 against the New York Islanders.

And it didn't get any easier facing Montreal in the conference final. During the regular season, Montreal strung together an impressive 59-10-11 record and scored a league-high 359 goals.

As expected, the Canadiens continued their march to the Cup final by stampeding over the Leafs and sweeping them in four-straight contests.Montreal reached the top of the mountain when they defeated Don Cherry's Bruins and were crowned champions.

In 1993, a possible match-up between the two Canadian teams seemed more even. Montreal closed out the year with 102 points, while Toronto registered 99 points. If Toronto had advanced, there was a good chance, unlike in 1978, that the final wouldn't be a blow-out for either team.

But it never happened. The stars weren't aligned for the long-time rivals to once again battle one another for all the marbles.

Several decent playoff runs followed for the Maple Leafs. Still, most agree Toronto's best opportunity to shake there post-expansion blues was in 1993.

If the Greater Toronto Area is to host another Cup parade, they may have to look outside-the-box.

The Maple Leafs inability to add proven top-end talent results in them spinning their wheels and negating any meaningful progress.

A second National Hockey League franchise (located in Toronto or a nearby suburb) could be the answer for Cup starved Toronto residents. Sure, there are no guarantees a second team in the GTA would hoist Lord Stanley's gift to hockey, but there would be fresh hope. And that is a major component to being a fan.

Comments made on social media this week suggest that hope is evaporating. "Same team going to be iced again this year, maybe worse actually," declared one posting. Another asked, " much longer are they going to rebuild? They have 3 playoff wins in 12 years it's getting ridiculous."

On June 25, Tim Leiweke, who holds the top job at MLSE, spoke at a Board of Trade gathering. Many share a belief the Maple Leafs wouldn't allow or welcome neighbours to their gated community. But as Leiweke pointed out, "we just have one vote," in reference to a league-wide referendum which would be required for expansion or relocating another team to Toronto.

Any worries Leaf ownership have about losing their standing in the Toronto market are unfounded. Almost 100-years of passion and unwavering support doesn't suddenly expire. Like any relationship there are good and bad times. A rocky patch doesn't always result in divorce.

The Maple Leafs will, forever, be Toronto's team. But with this comes a public trust to meet a high standard both on and off the ice.

In fact, due to the nature of their business, Bell and Rogers could benefit from the competition. The immediate rivalry between the Leafs and the new boys in town wouldn't hurt the TV ratings. To help sweeten the pot, the newcomers most likely would sign either a short-term or long-term lease to play out of the Air Canada Centre.

Then, there are the hockey fans in Toronto who just want to relive or experience for the first-time a Stanley Cup victory on their home turf.

In his book - "1967 - The Last Good Year" -  Pierre Berton wrote: "In 1967 we looked forward with anticipation. In 1997 we look backward with regret to the 'good old days' when nobody talked about deficit or 'downsizing'."

And for Toronto Maple Leaf fans, they look back to 1967 when there was hope for many more Stanley Cups.