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May 22, 2022

Entrepreneurial Germain Gagnon

This is Germain Gagnon.

On October 12th, 1972, Germain Gagnon scored with 69 seconds left in the game to give the New York Islanders their first victory ever in team history. Final score: 3-2 Islanders over Los Angeles.

It would prove to be one of only twelve wins in a 78 game schedule for the inaugural Isles team. It was a long season for the players and the fans. Despite the team's nightmarish season, for Germain Gagnon, already a long time minor leaguer, his first full season in the NHL was a dream come true.

Gagnon, a lanky left winger out of Chicoutimi, Quebec, had spent most of the previous seven seasons in the minors. He toiled in places like Omaha, Houston, and Memphis as well as Quebec, Vancouver, and Nova Scotia. He enjoyed a breakout season with Nova Scotia in 1971-72, earning him his first four game call up to the NHL.

The Habs traded Gagnon to the expansion Islanders. Gagnon had no chance of playing in Montreal, but he became a key player in New York, finishing third in team scoring with 12 goals and 41 points. Only Ed Westfall and Billy Harris had more points. He also registered the first hat trick in Islanders history.

Gagnon returned for most of the following season, playing in 62 games before a late season trade to Chicago. His offense had dried up.

Gagnon's time in New York was dutiful though insignificant. But he did play a role in Denis Potvin's future.

When Potvin, the most heralded defenseman to break into the league since Bobby Orr, arrived in New York, they asked what number he wanted to wear.

“I told him that I wore the number seven in junior hockey with the Ottawa 67’s,” Potvin explained. “Of course I had no idea who was who on the Islanders at the time and it turned out that there was a fellow named Germain Gagnon who was wearing the number seven.”

Potvin went on to say, “Of course, this is in September of ’73 and at that point I had to pick another number. I said ‘Well, let me see what I can think of.’ The next morning I got in to the dressing room and the number seven jersey was hanging up in my stall, but there was a note on it. Germain Gagnon was willing to let me wear number seven if I paid him $500. In 1973? So I said, ‘Forget it.’ ”

Gagnon found his game in Chicago, turning in his best NHL season in 1974-75. He set career highs with 16 goals and 51 points with the Hawks.

Only 5 games into the 1975-76 season Gagnon found himself traded to the lowly Kansas City Scouts. Gagnon floundered, only scoring 1 goal in 31 games to end his career on a whimper.

Gagnon ended up playing in a very respectable total of 259 NHL games. In that time he scored 40 goals and 101 assists for 141 points. He added 2 goals and 5 points in 19 playoff games, all of which came in his two springs in Chicago.

April 22, 2022

Guy Lafleur 1951 - 2022




The man known as "The Flower" entered the National Hockey League in 1971 under perhaps the most intense pressure of any projected- superstar.

By 1971 the Montreal Canadiens had a long established history of French Canadian superstars. Names like Morenz, Richard and Beliveau had all set the standards, and with Beliveau retiring in 1971 Montreal was looking for a new hero to take the proverbial torch.

Enter Guy Lafleur.

After two outstanding seasons with the Quebec Remparts of the QMJHL, one of which saw him score 130 goals and add 79 assists for a then-record total of 209 points, Montreal fans expected Lafleur to score at will in the NHL right from the get-go.

However it did not happen.

Lafleur had respectable totals in his rookie year, but respectable was not what management and fans had hoped for. With 29 goals and 64 points in his rookie season, people said "just wait for next year." Next year his totals slipped to 28 goals and 55 points, and the year after that 21 goals and 56 points. Meanwhile Marcel Dionne, another French Canadian player drafted 2nd behind Lafleur, was tearing up the league with Detroit.

In his fourth season " The Flower" blossomed into the scoring machine everyone knew he was capable of. Lafleur, who wore a helmet his first three years but removed it at the beginning of year four, erupted 53 goals and 119 points.

That was just the beginning of an era where the Canadiens were the dominant team in pro hockey, and Lafleur eclipsed Bobby Orr as the game's dominant player. He would go onto lead the league in scoring the next three years in a row, and recorded an amazing 6 consecutive years with at least 50 goals. Twice he was named as the NHL MVP and three times he was awarded the Pearson Trophy. He was the most exciting player in the second half on the 1970's, and helped lead the Habs to five Stanley Cup Championships, including four straight to end the decade.

His blazing speed and long flowing hair combined with his puck wizardry placed him first in Montreal Canadiens all time scoring and second on Montreal fan's all time favorite list, behind the immovable Rocket Richard, of course. He was one of the rare players that got you out of your seat almost every time he touched the puck. And to witness him score a goal was more often than not an event onto itself.

The Canadiens went through a transitionary period immediately following their dynasty at the end of the 1970s. The team became extremely focused on defensive hockey, and Lafleur's style did not fit in well. Injuries also slowed Lafleur.

After being at odds with the coaching staff, Guy decided to retire after 19 games in 1984-85.

Following the mandatory waiting period of three years, Guy was an obvious election into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1988.

After taking his place as a legend of hockey in hockey's famous shrine, Lafleur made a surprising return to hockey in 1988, first with the New York Rangers and later in the city where his hockey career started so many years ago with Quebec. Perhaps one of his finest moments in his comeback was his first game back at the Montreal Forum, where he played so brilliantly for 13 and a half seasons. After a boisterous reception, Lafleur had the best game of his second career, notching 2 goals.

Guy retired permanently at the end of the 1990-91 season after 1 year in New York and 2 years in Quebec City. In total he brought his numbers to 1126 games, 560 goals, 793 assists and 1353 points.

Almost all of those points were scored with a flare of excitement that few other men in National Hockey League history have ever delivered better than Guy "The Flower" Lafleur.

April 15, 2022

Mike Bossy 1957 - 2022


The New York Islanders dynasty in the early 1980's ranks among the greatest teams of all time. Mike Bossy, often playing on one of the most feared lines in hockey history along with Bryan Trottier and Clark Gillies, was a key component of the success enjoyed on Long Island.

Hindsight is 20/20, but it seems hard to believe the Islanders were able to snatch up "Boss" with the 15th overall pick in the 1977 NHL Entry Draft. How could 14 other teams over look a guy who average 77 goals a year in a brilliant 4 year junior career?! At the time the QMJHL was notorious for developing the small snipers who didn't know how to play defensively or physically, and despite their knack for scoring goals NHL teams feared taking a chance on a boom or bust situation.

The Islanders were happily surprised to snatch up Bossy at number 15, and he would quickly prove that he would be no bust. Bossy is considered by many to be the best pure sniper in the history of hockey - even better than a Brett Hull or Ilya Kovalchuk for modern fans. And Bossy worked very hard at becoming a well rounded player. He openly admitted to not playing any defense in his junior days, but he became a very reliable back checker with the Isles.

He carried his goal scoring ways right into the NHL, scoring a then-rookie record of an unheard of 53 goals and earning the Calder trophy as top rookie. Bossy, always a very confident person, even had predicted to team general manager Bill Torrey that he would score 50 goals in his first NHL season - something never before seen in the NHL.

He would go on to score 50 goals in every single season he played in, except his final campaign which was plagued with back problems. He also scored 50 goals in as many games during the 1981 season. It was only the second time a player had accomplished that milestone that Hall of Famer Maurice "Rocket" Richard made so famous in 1945.
Mike Bossy's brilliant career included: 573 goal along with 553 assists for 1,126 points; In playoff action, Bossy tallied 85 goals and 160 points in 129 games; At least 60 goals on five occasions, and seven 100 plus points seasons; Four Stanley Cup rings; he scored the series winning goal in both the 1982 and 1983 Stanley Cup finals making him the only player in NHL history to record Cup winning goals in consecutive seasons; the 1982 recipient of the Conn Smythe Trophy awarded to the playoffs' Most Valuable Player; awarded the Lady Byng Trophy for gentlemanly play three times; A first team All-Star five times and a second team All-Star three times; And his 573 goals also put him high on the NHL's all-time list.

Bossy was also a member of Team Canada in the 1981 and 1984 Canada Cup Tournaments. It was his overtime goal in the 1984 sudden death semi-final that eliminated the Soviets and sent Team Canada to the final and eventually to their second Canada Cup championship.

Bossy was and remains outspoken about violence in hockey. As one of the most gifted and talented players ever to grace the game, he was often the target of thugs. However Bossy took great pride in never stooping to retaliation. The three time Lady Byng Trophy winner who accumulated only 210 PIM in his career, Bossy was often criticized for not fighting back. Critics passed him off as not tough enough. Bossy's sweet revenge would however often come in the following 2 minutes after the cowardly attacks. Bossy - perhaps the greatest power play weapon in the game's history - would score on the man advantage, and that would only upset the other team even more. Of Bossy's 573 career goals, 181 were scored on the power play.

A chronic bad back forced Bossy to retire prematurely. Oddly enough, the back injuries that still haunt him to this day were caused by the constant abuse he had to take on the ice. In his final season he tallied 38 goals, the only season in which he did not record at least 50 goals. Bossy termed the "failure" to score 50 goals as his biggest disappointment. In actuality he probably shouldn't have played that year either, as his back was just that bad. Bossy's love of the game outweighed doctors advice. But by doing so Bossy forever silenced his critics. He played through immense pain and showed the hockey world just how tough he really was.

It is an absolute shame Mike Bossy had to call it quits so soon. He is perhaps the greatest goal scorer the game has ever seen. But he also took great pride in working on his all around game, and became a very dependable defensive player and underrated playmaker.

March 11, 2022

Schony


 Jim Schoenfeld was a tough as nails defenseman in the 1970s and 1980s, most notably with the Buffalo Sabres. He was a physically punishing defender who could really rock you. 

He later went on to be a manager and successful coach, unfortunately best known for his "Have another donut" line in this playoff incident:


But did you know he had a musical career? That image on top is his album of cover songs he released in 1973. He also released another album, The Key is Love, a couple of years later. 


Remember when I said he could really rock you on the ice? It turns out he could rock you off the ice, too:

Through the magic of YouTube, you can listen to Schony.


And, just because I found it by mistake, it turns out Jim Schoenfeld can also add mattress salesman to his resume:




February 27, 2022

Ukrainian Hockey History

Russia has invaded Ukraine. I am not knowledgeable enough to comment on politics, or international affairs, but clearly this a terrible situation that could just be the beginning of an unthinkable powder keg. That last thought might be getting ahead of ourselves. In the meantime how is Ukraine supposed to defend itself against such an army, without any military help from other nations? This is not going to end well.

All that being said, Ukraine being in the news turned my thoughts to something completely trivial at this point. Hockey. Of course. I wondered if I could name a Ukrainian hockey player. I couldn't without looking it up. There have been eight Ukrainian players reach the National Hockey League:


Now of course I've heard of the first four. Dmitri Khristich was a regular 30+ goal threat most notably to Washington. Ruslan Fedotenko was a nice piece of the Tampa Bay Lightning's 2004 Stanley Cup championship. Alexei Ponikoarovsky - The Poni Express - was a highlight in Toronto. Alexander Godynyuk was one of the younger former Soviet players to arrive after the fall of the Eastern Bloc but never really found a NHL home.

The other four players all had cups of coffee in the NHL, but I'm sorry, I don't remember you. But I think most serious NHL fans of the 1990s/2000s will remember the first four.

It should be noted that the highest scoring Ukrainian born player in NHL history is not represented on the list above. Peter Bondra, the Washington Capitals goal scoring great (and one of the most underrated superstars in NHL history) was born in Lutsk, Ukraine but was Slovak through and through. His father moved to Ukraine for work in 1968. The family returned to their Slovak home when Peter was three years old.

When it comes to Ukrainian hockey history, we should also mention the name Anatoli Khorozov. 
Khorozov is the only Ukrainian inducted into the International Ice Hockey Federation's Hall of Fame.

Born in 1925, Khorozov was a World War II veteran who, following the war, dedicated his life to Ukrainian hockey. He served as the president of the Ukrainian Hockey Federation from 1965 all the way to 1997. He was instrumental in the building of rinks and youth hockey programs and ultimately the rise of Sokol Kyiv hockey team into a power in the Soviet hockey league. 

Let's also mention Alexander Almetov. He was born in Kyiv in 1940 when Ukraine was part of the Soviet Union. He went on to star with the legendary CSKA Red Army teams and Soviet national teams in the 1960s, forming a powerful troika with Konstantin Loktev and Venjamin Alexandrov. He won Olympic gold in 1964 and five consecutive World Championship golds from 1963 through 1967. He was noted as a very strong defensive forward and penalty killer.

All of this matters not in comparison to the invasion of 2022, which hopefully somehow ends with freedom and peace for Ukrainian people in the near future.



February 07, 2022

10 All Time Hockey Greats History Has Forgotten


I have compiled a list of ten of the greatest players of all time who, somehow, have been all but forgotten by the hockey world.

Frank Boucher - Boucher he most clever center pre-Wayne Gretzky, which says something since he retired like 40 years before The Great One arrived. His New York Rangers line with brothers Bill Cook and Bun Cook played with a beauty that was later remembered as close to Soviet hockey as the NHL had ever seen. And Boucher did all this while winning seven Lady Byng trophies. In fact, the NHL just gave him the original trophy to keep!

Max Bentley - This frail hypochondriac emerged as quite arguably the most exciting player in the entire National Hockey League in the 1940s, not to mention a three time Stanley Cup. "The Dipsy Doodle Dandy" because of the way he zigged and zagged his way through an opposing team "like a scared jackrabbit." Several NHL old timers were quick to compare Wayne Gretzky upon his NHL debut to the electrifying Bentley. Others favor the modern day comparison of Denis Savard or Gilbert Perreault.

Al Rollins - This star goaltender's best days came with one of the worst teams in NHL history. In 1953-54 the Chicago Black Hawks had 12-47-7 record. Rollins battled valiantly in net, playing in the all star game and had 5 shutouts. Most importantly, he won the Hart Trophy as the league's MVP! That tells you just how good Rollins was - a 12 win season in 66 games earned him the most prestigious individual prize in hockey, over names like Howe and Richard!

Frank Nighbor - This early hockey genius was one of hockey's greatest two way forwards, and he played back in an era when forwards didn't backcheck so much. He was very good offensively, but peerless as a defensive forward. As a result he won four Stanley Cups and the Hart Trophy,

Earl Seibert - If Seibert is remembered at all these days, it is as an intimidating and imposing rearguard roughian. But he was a heck of a defenseman, too. The fact that he was feared and unforgiving just made him all the more effective.

Norm Ullman - Norm Ullman was an incredibly underrated star for 22 years in pro hockey, maybe the most underrated superstar ever. A hard worker who took immense pride in his defensive play, Norm, much like Ron Francis, quietly amassed one of the greatest careers in National Hockey League history.

Helmut Balderis - A fantastic skater and dazzling puck handler, one of the most interesting great players ever to come out of the Soviet Union was a mustachioed showman named Helmut Balderis. He was a fun loving, entertaining player back when Soviet players' were very accurately portrayed by North Americans as "robots." The Latvian Guy Lafleur.

Alexander Maltsev - Alexander Maltsev became a legend on the International side of the game. He participated in three Olympic games, helping the Soviet Union win gold in 1972 and 1976, as well as a silver medal in 1980. Maltsev also played in 12 World Championships, winning gold in 9 of those tournaments. Three times he was named the World Championship's best forward and was a tournament all star 5 times. He does not get enough mention in debates concerning the greatest Soviet players of all time,

Neal Broten - Minnesota is known as "The State of Hockey." With notoriously frigid winters and countless frozen lakes, ponds and streams to play on, hockey was as natural to Minnesotans as it was for Canadians. In fact, in a state that has produced more hockey superstars than virtually every other state in the country, most consider Neal to be the best player the state has ever produced.

Bill Quackenbush - Hockey Hall of Fame defenseman was as good as they come defensively. And he did it all with an amazingly minuscule 95 penalty minutes in his 14 year career.

February 04, 2022

Canada Cup Lost And Found

 

Aside from the Stanley Cup, my favorite hockey trophy is easily the old Canada Cup trophy.

The Canada Cup tournament was the original incarnation of the World Cup. Held in 1976, 1981, 1984, 1987 and 1991, the tournament was the first true best on best hockey tournament, though it was mostly a showdown between the only two hockey powerhouses of the time, Canada and the Soviet Union.

The heavy trophy, made of $11000 (1970s dollars) of nickel, was a stylized Canadian half maple leaf. The original trophy resides in the Hockey Hall of Fame. At one time the official replica trophy was said to reside at Rideau Hall, the official home of the Canadian governor general, in Ottawa. A third replica exists, though the whereabouts are unknown. When the Soviets won in 1981 but were not allowed to take the trophy home with them, a Winnipeg trucker named Gary Smith commissioned a replica and took it to Moscow to give to them.

Anyway, did you know in 1991 Team Canada lost the famous trophy only hours after winning it?

The Canadians, despite missing an injured Wayne Gretzky, swatted aside the upstart Americans to win the tournament. Afterward, the team celebrated from their headquarters at the Westin Harbour Castle hotel in Toronto and got a little carried away. At one stage they were racing around the property in a golf cart when the trophy may have vacated the vehicle one way or another.

A hotel bellman put the trophy in a storage room. Hotel staff had their own fun snapping photos with the trophy before panicked Team Canada officials began looking for their lost treasure.

The trophy was officially found in the hotel's lost and found, much to the relief of everyone.

January 23, 2022

Under where? 1983 New York Islanders in Penthouse Magazine

 


This is a photo of a Penthouse magazine spread from February 1983. That issue featured a six page layout showing four members of the Stanley Cup champion New York Islanders - Clark Gillies, Wayne Merrick, Gordie Lane and Bob Nystrom - hanging around the dressing room in little more than their unmentionables. Victoria Lynn Johnson, a one time Penthouse Pet of the Year, has some how found her way on to the ice. In this photo she is wearing considerably more clothing than the guys, but in another she is not. 

January 22, 2022

Remembering Clark Gillies

Clark Gillies was born and grew up in Moose Jaw which at that time had a population of approximately 36,000. His dad was a department store salesman and Clark had an easy childhood. In the summer he played baseball and in the winter hockey.

Clark was actually so good at baseball that he played three seasons of minor-league baseball with the Houston Astros' farm team in Covington, West Virginia, where his season-high batting average was .257. Later on he once impressed the New York Mets as a power hitter when he took informal batting practice at Shea Stadium. But luckily enough for all hockey fans Clark decided to pursue a hockey career instead.

He played three seasons of junior hockey for the Regina Pats (WHL) where he had three very solid seasons, collecting 79, 92 and 112 points. His last season culminated in a Memorial Cup win, the championship of junior hockey. Clark recalled the years in Regina.

"My first year in Regina I had a lot of fights, over 200 minutes in penalties (248 including playoffs). I gained a little respect. I was a big kid, and it just came naturally. I didn't want anybody to push me around. I had to establish a base for myself. I think it helped me the last two years. The second year I didn't have too many problems and the third year was relatively quiet - five, six, 10 fights."

What Clark developed in Regina was confidence. Clark also went on to be a massive 6'3" and 215 Ibs. His size, toughness and leadership qualities made NY Islanders draft him 4th overall in the 1974 entry draft.

Clark immediately made an impact in the NHL by scoring 25 goals and 47 points. Although Clark got little support for rookie of the year honors in 1974-75, many hockey people still felt that he was a far superior player to Eric Vail, who won the Calder Memorial Trophy that season.

As a rookie, Clark took on Dave Schultz in the Stanley Cup semifinals against the eventual champions Flyers. Schultz had just set a new NHL record with 472 PIMs and was the "terror of the NHL" at that time. Clark destroyed Schultz and sent everyone around the NHL a clear message. Nobody messes with Clark Gillies or the up and coming New York Islanders.

Clark quickly blossomed to a key player in the NY Islanders quest for the Stanley Cup. He scored over 30 goals in six of his next seven seasons and had point totals of 61, 55, 85, 91, 54, 78 and 77. In the late 1970's and early 80's he was one of NHL's premier left wingers and was a 1st team All-Star in 1978 and 79. He was also the MVP in the 1979 Challenge Cup series vs. the Soviets. And when Canada was trounced 8-1 against the Soviets in the 1981 Canada Cup final, Clark scored the only Canadian goal and was the only player on the Canadian squad who really gave 110 % until the end.

He didn't dazzle you with his speed or his stickhandling. He had a hard shot, but his best trademarks was his great two way play, hard work, leadership and the respect opponents had for his fists. Clark didn't have to drop em' very often, but when he did there was virtually nobody who could beat him. Clark destroyed the reputation of quite a few so called enforcers.

He once knocked out tough guy Ed Hospodar that left him in a pool of blood with a broken jaw...all this with one single punch! He also gave solid beatings to such great fighters as Terry O'Reilly and Al Secord. But he was in no way an enforcer himself.

"I never thought about fighting or myself as an enforcer or a policeman. I was on the ice to do a job, score some goals and mainly stop the other guys from scoring. Fighting never was a priority to me." Clark said.

For many years Clark played on the so called "Long Island Lightning Company" line. His original line mates on that line was Bryan Trottier and Billy Harris who was later replaced by Mike Bossy. The trio of Gillies-Trottier-Bossy couldn't be stopped on most nights and struck fear into opponents. Clark always used his size and strength to his advantage while Bossy and Trottier conducted their magic with the puck. He was most effective when he positioned himself in front of the net to screen the goalie.

Clark was also a great leader, and a proud member of the NHL captain's fraternity. Clark was only 22 years old when he was selected to replace 36-year old veteran Ed Westfall as a captain on February 3,1977. Westfall had been NY Islanders only captain since 1972 at that time.

"It was time for a younger man to take over the job" Westfall said. "Clark was the right man. He gets along with everyone and is the type of player who can lead others. He can be closer to the younger guys on the team."

The other guys considered for captaincy at that time were Hall of Famers Bryan Trottier and Denis Potvin. The young Trottier (20) at that time fully agreed with having Clark as a captain.

"He's just big and everybody likes him. Everybody looks up to him. His hustling gives us a lift out there. He hasn't got a hated bone in his body. He's easy to talk to and he holds a lot of respect among the other fellas." Trottier said.

Clark played for the NY Islanders until 1986 and led them to four consecutive Stanley Cups. He was a vital part of the NY Islanders machinery and a great fan favorite.

In 1986 NY Islanders exposed Clark in the waiver draft. He was picked up by Buffalo Sabres and played two more years for the Sabres before hanging 'em up in 1988. He retired with 958 games under his belt, and 319 goals, 378 assists and 697 in his pocket. More importantly he has 4 Stanley Cup rings on his fingers, thanks in large part to his 94 points in 164 playoff games.

Clark Gillies was the power forward of the 1970's and 80's. He did not only bang in goals from the slot, but he was great in the corners, a very good two-way player, could fight, worked hard, had fine leadership qualities, had a huge heart and was a winner. GM's today would kill to have a guy like Clark on their roster.

January 10, 2022

Trying To Figure Out What Made Wayne Gretzky So Good

 "A lot of people came to watch Gretzky play. So did the Maple Leafs."
- Leafs coach Joe Crozier 1980

Back in 1980, Montreal Gazette legendary writer Red Fisher couldn't figure out this teenage phenom in Edmonton named Wayne Gretzky.

"He does and has done things at a superstar level and pace even though he appears to be badly equipped in most areas, starting with a scrawny physique worthy of a turkey-in-the-straw description. It doesn't appear that he was either the speed or staying power called for at the NHL level," Fisher wrote.

There were lots of dismissive experts back then, even though Gretzky, in his second year in the league was the reigning Hart Trophy winner and the highest scorer in the league since he debuted.

Mr. Fisher continued....

"He's the original Mr. No . . . until his accomplishments are studied. This, after all, is a youngster who scored 51 goals with a 16th place team (in a 21 team league) in his rookie season. Guy Lafleur needed two and a half seasons to match the 137 points Gretzky scored in his first. And it wasn't until Lafleur's fourth season that he scored more than 50 goals.

"What, then does Gretzky have?" questioned Fisher.

He polled the NHL players to find out.

"He's smart. He's as smart a player as there is in the league," said Bobby Clarke. "And he's a lot quicker than he appears to be."

Clarke added, "They tell me a test was made during the season and they found that he's got 30 per cent better peripheral vision than anyone. I mean, here's a kid who isn't big, who doesn't look like he's skating very fast, and nobody seems to catch him. Nobody can hit him. I mus have something do with how quickly he sees the puck."

"The uncanny thing I find about his game," continued Clarke, one of the best defensive centermen in the game, "is the way he can spin and take off. He does that faster and quicker than anybody I've ever seen. I've heard a lot of people talk about his skating. They say he doesn't seem to have the skating strength, but anybody who scores 137 points has to be able to skate...and skate very well."

Fisher also talked to coach Al Arbour, perhaps the best tactician of the day.

"Smart. That's the first word that comes to mind when I see him. Very smart. He knows what he's doing every time he's on the ice. Do you see what he does with the puck behind the net?" said Arbour in amazement. 

Fisher also asked Gretzky's own coach, Glen Sather. He didn't talk about any skill set at all, just his hard work.

"That's the great thing about him. A lot of guys give up, but not this kid. He keeps going at until the game is over. He never figures it's over until there's no time left. We had a lot of goals scored against us during the year. We scored a lot, too. But it didn't matter whether we were down by three or four or ahead by one or two. you can never tell from the way this kid is playing. With others, yes. With Gretzky, no. That's the one thing that makes him so different."

Fisher also sought out the thoughts of grinding defensive center Doug Risebrough.

"The biggest thing about him is that he makes goal scorers out of anybody who plays on his line. He had a kid with him in the WHA during the second half of the season. At Christmas time, when the kid was put on his line, he had three goals. After he joined Gretzky, he scored about 25 more. That has to tell you something about Gretzky.

When Fisher ask Risebrough if Gretzky could make a goal scorer out him, he grunted "That would be the ultimate test."

January 06, 2022

The Story Behind The Quesnel Kangaroos Name


Picturesque Quesnel, British Columbia, south of Prince George and north of Williams Lake, was established as a gold rush town, much like nearby and more famous Barkerville. It quickly became and largely remains a forestry town.

It has always been a hockey town. Quesnel born NHL players include Bob and Brad Gassoff, Brad Festerling, Errol Rausse and Aaron Gagnon. More notable names like Carey Price, Sheldon Souray, Gilbert Brule, Link Gaetz, Terry Ryan, Trevor Smith and Jamie Leach played junior hockey with the Quesnel Millionaires.

Quesnel hockey scene has long been associated with the name Millionaires. They are most notable on the junior hockey scene, in several different leagues, from 1975 through 2011, when the BCHL team left to become the Chilliwack Chiefs.

The junior scene resuscitated the name to the central BC hockey scene. The Millionaires named was used at the senior level going back to hockey's earliest days in the Cariboo region, though records seem to be missing. But at some point around World War II, the team name changed.

Millionaires made sense, given the city's gold rush days heritage. But they changed the team name to the Kangaroos! The Kangaroos?! Yes, the Kangaroos!

Kangaroos is a fantastic name, but trust me, Quesnel has never seen a kangaroo unless it's in frozen patty form in a specialty meat shop. So how the heck did the hockey team get the name Kangaroos?

Paul Gauthier, a long time Quesnel resident, owner of the local theatre and former manager of the hockey team, told the Quesnel Observer newspaper the story of the Kangaroos name origins back in 2012.

It turns out the Millionaires, likely in the 1940s, needed some new team sweaters. Of course back in those days players would wear the exact same sweater from game to game, and from season to season. As you can imagine, the sweaters would get pretty tattered back in those days.

But the Millionaires weren't actually very wealthy at all. But they did find a friend named Arnie Hasselgren, owner of the Quesnel Hotel. Hasslegren had recently won $50,000, but with a catch. The money was won in an Australian lottery. He could not take the money out of the country, so he offered to use some of it to buy hockey sweaters, or what would suffice as hockey sweaters anyway, in Australia and have them shipped to Quesnel. The only catch was the sweaters would have a kangaroo on them. Hence why they decided to change the name of the whole team at the time.

December 28, 2021

The Whole Story Behind The Greatest Goal Ever Scored

 


It is one of the most famous photos in hockey history. Sugar Jim Henry (so called since infancy because his mother would dip his pacifier in sugar) silently shaking the hand of the dazed and confused Rocket Richard, who had just beat the goaltender for the playoff series winning goal despite being semi conscious.

That much of the story is Stanley Cup lore. But for the whole story, lets check in on Andy O'Brien's 1961 book "Rocket Richard."

"On the night of April 8, 1952, in the seventh game of a bruising Stanley Cup semi-final series, the Rocket was knocked into deep freeze on the same Forum ice. After an express train collision with Leo Labine, followed by a head long plunge into defenceman Bill Quackenbush's knee, Richard's head twisted so violently to the right and he lay so utterly motionless after crashing on the ice that, from the press box, we though neck was broken.

"Blood was flowing freely from a deep cut on his forehead and there was a reddish blot on his right cheek as he was carried off.

"He didn't move an eyelid," recalls physiotherapist Bill Head, "all the time the doctor worked at putting in six stitches. It happened in the second period and he came around slowly. Finally in the third period - despite our protests - he got up and, at a whistle break, skated back to the Canadiens bench."

"Richard sat there, apparently not quite sure where he was. He stared long at the clock, his eyes failing to focus. Elmer Lach told him it was four minutes to go and the score was tied 1-1. Almost certainly the next goal would win the semi-final series.

"I'm alright," Richard said, turning to coach (Dick) Irvin.

Not without misgivings, Irvin gave him the nod. Then came what's still classed the greatest goal ever scored in Stanley Cup play - towering even above all the other 81 Richardian goals scored in a total of 133 playoff games in hockey's big time.

He made it on an end to end rush in which he actually went through or around the entire Boston Bruins hockey club.

"Rocket picked up a pass from Canadien defenceman Butch Bouchard beside his own net and ducked by a forechecker, veering toward centre ice. In four strides he eluded the other winger who had cut in sharply. He veered right, away from the Boston centre's reaching poke check.

"Over the Boston blue line, defenceman Bob Armstrong and Quackenbush were skating backwards. Richard tried to circle Quackenbush, but the cagey veteran rode him off angle almost to the boards. Richard was still in high gear, however, shoving Quackenbush aside with his left arm, he switched in sharply toward the Boston goal mouth. Unable to wait, Armstrong surged forward. Richard button-hooked around and swooped in on the frantic goalie, Sugar Jim Henry, who was squinting through a mess of a face that had suffered a broken nose and two black eyes earlier in the game.

"There were a flurry of sticks, Henry dove, Richard pulled the aside and blasted the netting with his very last ounce of strength.

"The chaos in the rink was unbelievable. Richard was mobbed by the players but skated bleakly to the bench and sat brooding. The game ended with a 2-1 decision, and entry into the finals for Canadiens. An immortal photograph was shot as Richard and Henry, looking like the two sole survivors of a head-on highway crash, stood shaking hands - without exchanging a word.

"Richard was surrounded by ushers and police on his way into the dressing room where he sank down, breathing deeply, not even smiling as the team and sport scribes whooped it up like crazy kids. Senator Donat Raymond, then president of the team, made one of his infrequent visits to the room, pushed me aside, sat down beside the Rocket, put out his hand and said "Well down, Maurice."

"At that the Rocket broke into a wild, sobbing convulsion. Silence fell abruptly as several players rushed to lift him on to a rubbing table. Some tried to hold down the quivering legs, others the thrashing arms. The Rocket's retching sobs scared us stiff. As Dr. Gordon Young rushed up with a hypodermic needle, teammates tore off the Rocket's sweater and pulled up the underwear sleeve; the needle was inserted and as the players held on the sobs gradually slowed and ceased. It was almost two hours before the Rocket recovered enough to leave."


December 18, 2021

Come See The Great, Great Gretzky Play In Indianapolis

He was just a 17 year old rookie, and he only played in Indianapolis for eight games. But the "great, great Gretzky" was the key attraction in a town not known for hockey, and in a town that likely never heard of the kid from Canada who would go on to be the greatest player in hockey history. Check out this old newspaper ad from 1978. 


December 07, 2021

Steamer Steamed: Vancouver's Heart and Soul Voice Heard

 The Vancouver Canucks finally - FINALLY - cleaned house this week, ending perhaps the most disappointing era for a franchise that has many of them.

Gone are GM Jim Benning, his assistant John Weisbrod (who in 8 years we haven't been able to figure out what exactly he did anyway), coach Travis Green and assistant coach Nolan Baumgartner. 

Eight years of failure is over. Now to salvage what can be salvaged, and move forward.

Leading the way is new coach Bruce Boudreau, an excellent choice to change the immediate atmosphere among the players, on the ice and in the dressing room. He will build these guys back up again and bring some joy back to the game. That is what is what is immediately needed, especially for underperforming Elias Pettersson. Boudreau's key job this season is to resurrect #40. The playoffs are already out of reach, but finding Pettersson's elite game again and making him happy is the key to the Canucks future. 

The Canucks also need to fill the front office holes, namely general manager and hopefully a president of hockey operations. They really, really need to look at adding more to their front office too. They must have one of the smallest front offices in pro sports. The more voices, the more ideas, the better.

Stan Smyl was named as interim general manager. No one is really sure how much autonomy he really has, though no one seems to expect him to be there long. He is a placeholder until the next boss arrives.

Smyl needs no introduction in Vancouver. He was a Lower Mainland junior legend from 1974 to 1978 when he was drafted by the Canucks 40th overall. He went on to be the long time captain and heart and soul of the team on the ice, retiring as a Canuck in 1991 with his #12 raised to the rafters. He immediately became a fixture in Canucks management, working in almost every capacity in the past 30 years.

But Smyl already made a significant impact, reminding us all that a) the organization actually still does have a heart and soul, and b) it is very much Stan Smyl.

In the press conference announcing Smyl would serve as interim GM, he came across with passion, humility and an honesty that calmed the angry masses. 

“I have been a Canuck for 40 years. This is my team. My only team. 

“I will always do what’s best for this organization. I will always step up when asked to help. Bottom line, our performance this season has not been good enough. We do have some talented young players and a good core to build around. But we need to be better… There is pride in wearing this Canuck jersey. There is also a huge responsibility that comes with pulling on that jersey… It’s an honour to be sitting here today. This opportunity and responsibility means the world to me, and I will work extremely hard to get this team back on track.”

He was also blunt and clear, and clearly something the Canucks need more of. 

“I talked to Francesco (Aquilini) about an identity. What is our identity? Where does it start? It starts with your accountability. It starts with your effort,” said Smyl.

“To get out of it, it’s not just going to be one individual. It’s going to take a team and they’ve got to come back to being a team, and make it hard to play against. That’s the identity I want for this organization, to be hard to play against. If I’m lining up against you, I’m going to make it as miserable as possible. That was my message to Francesco. I talked to the players about that this morning. I think that’s an important area and that’s an area we’ve got to start in.”

He sounds almost presidential there, doesn't he?

Many changes have been made and will continue to be made in Vancouver. One that needs to be sure to happen is that Smyl's voice is heard more.