May 06, 2016

Stanley Cup Flashbacks: 1948: Kennedy Delivers Another Championship In Toronto

The year is 1948. In an increasingly familiar story, Teeder Kennedy leads the Toronto Maple Leafs to another Stanley Cup championship.

This time he sets a Toronto record and led the playoffs in goals and points (8-6). He set up the tying goal that led to an overtime win in game 1 versus Boston; then had four goals in a 5-3 2nd game win and scored the winner in the series clincher. Ended with 2 winners, two first goals and that tying assist. His tough corner work and ferocious checking were key features of the Leafs win.

Turk Broda, Syl Apps and Harry Watson were veteran returning stars, but the Leafs were really bolsters by newcomers Max Bentley, the spectacular superstar from the Chicago Blackhawks.

Two rookies of note from this team: Les Costello, a promising farm hand who would quit hockey the following season to become a Catholic priest; and Howie Meeker, who would later become a famous television broadcaster but in his rookie season outdid Gordie Howe to win the Calder Trophy.

The Leafs had no problems in the final series, sweeping Detroit in 4 straight games, scoring 18 goals while surrendering just 7. The Leafs became one of just four NHL teams to repeat as Stanley Cup champions.

Stanley Cup Flashbacks: 1947: Leafs, Habs Face Off For Cup

The year is 1947. For the first time in history, the Toronto Maple Leafs and Montreal Canadiens meet in the Stanley Cup championship series. This one would go the distance, reaching 7 games, most of which were real squeakers.

The Maple Leafs, a real power in the late 1940s on the verge of establishing a dynasty, would emerge victorious, despite the fact that their team was so young. They had six rookies, and was the youngest average-age team to win the Cup in NHL history.

The Leafs, as always back then, were led by Teeder Kennedy. Described as the most determined player in the playoffs, this young center led the Leafs with nine points (4-5) to finish second in playoff points. He scored two game winners and set up another. He was a star in two of the Leafs three games in Montreal, scoring the winning goal in both games. In game 7 he would score the game winning goal with about 6 minutes left in the third period.

Montreal missed Elmer Lach, the great Punch Line center with Toe Blake and Rocket Richard. Late in the regular season Lach was sidelined for the rest of the year when he broke his jaw in a collision with Toronto's Don Metz

May 05, 2016

Paul MacDermid

Paul MacDermid was an average player in almost every way - average skater, average scorer, average creativity.

But Paul had two great attributes - tremendous balance on his skates and an insistent physical style of play. The two went hand in hand in his effective career where his consistent grinding and crunching along the boards often set the tone of a game.

Paul was a dogged forechecker who loved to crash and bang. His success was due to his willingness to do that dirty work and his great upper body strength. But just as important, was his balance. He was impossible to knock down. He'd go into battle in the corners, and would always remain upright. You could hit him but he would not go down.

Paul enjoyed a long career with Hartford and Winnipeg, before short stints with Washington and Quebec. Only once did he score 20 goals -1987-88 with the Whalers. But don't think he was not a valuable player just because goals and points were hard to come by. In Hartford particularly he was particularly important. His best years came on a checking unit with defensive specialists Dave Tippett and Doug Jarvis.

In Winnipeg he served an equally important role on a team that was based more on speed and skill. Thus his physical presence was even more appreciated.

Eventually the physical toll was too much for even MacDermid. He was forced into retirement prematurely due to a chronic back injury.

In 690 career NHL games Paul MacDermid scored 116 goals, 142 assists, 258 points and 1303 penalty minutes.

In retirement he returned to the family business of operating campgrounds near Sauble Beach, Ontario. He also was part of an ownership group of the OHL franchise in Cornwall.

Pauli Jaks

The World Junior Hockey Championships have quickly become one of the favourite non-NHL hockey tournaments on the hockey schedule. In fact some fans will tell you that it is the most exciting hockey you'll see all season long prior to the start of the Stanley Cup finals.

We watch these kids playing their hearts out and we become instant fans of theirs. They don't get paid, they are there for their country and because they are chasing a dream - a dream that many of us have dreamed for as well but came nowhere close to fulfilling it - we live vicariously through them for a couple of weeks each season.

As we watch the excitement on television, often staying up (or getting up!) at the wee hours of the morning if the tournament is held in Europe, we develop instant favourites, and we follow them throughout the rest of their career. Many never become much of a professional player once they reach that stage, but some do.

We don't just become fans of our home countries' players either. Often we are drawn to a great player on another team. Though he is the enemy for this short tournament, we become fans of them too.

One of the best examples of an instant fan favourites from the past WJC tournaments is Swiss goaltending sensation Pauli Jaks.

If you look at his stats at the 1991 championships, you would probably scoff. Thirty goals against in five games for 6.00 GAA. Only one win.

What you have to remember about the "A" Pool at the WJC is that there are always two weak sisters combined with hockey's perennial super powers - Russia, Canada, Sweden, USA, Finland and Czech Republic. Switzerland battled Norway in 1991 for the 7th spot of the 8 team pool. The 8th place team would be relegated back to the "B" Pool the following year.

Switzerland had never been a power in hockey. Only recently has their hockey program improved. Everyone expected the powerful Russians and Canadians to run over the lowly Swiss, running up the score well into double digits.

But while that Swiss team was very weak (they only scored 5 goals in 7 games, while giving up 48), goalie Pauli Jaks became a fan favourite, and stole the show in that tournament.

The tall netminder stood on his head and was a one man show throughout the tournament. So what if he gave up an average of 6 goals a game. That's tremendously respectable considering the quality chances against him outnumbered goals surrendered 5 or 6 times most nights. In one game against Canada, with mighty Eric Lindros among others, everyone was expecting a blowout, But Jaks stood on his head and kept the score very respectable. It was Jaks who was almost single-handily kept the Swiss from finishing last.

Jaks superb play did not go unnoticed either. Despite inflated stats that normally would get him overlooked, he was named to the 1991 WJC All Star team and was named the best goalie of the 1991 WJC. The NHL noticed Jaks for the first time too. Scouts began to watch Jaks more closely. Come summer time, the Los Angeles Kings selected the Swiss goalie 108th overall in the 1991 Entry Draft.

Jaks remained in Switzerland to play for two more years, and was once again part of the Swiss WJC contingent in 1992. The Swiss team was somewhat stronger this year, scoring 23 goals - more goals for than Germany, Finland and even mighty Canada, who only managed to score 19 times. However the Swiss were still very weak in their own zone, surrendering a tournament high 44 goals. Jaks couldn't duplicate his magic of a year earlier. It wasn't that he played poorly exactly, he just didn't play above his head like he did the year earlier. As a result, the Swiss lost the relegation game to Germany, and were returned to the B Pool the following year.

Jaks crossed the Atlantic for the 1993-94 season where he played with the Kings farm team - the Phoenix Roadrunners. He had a really good year for a rookie netminder, especially a European rookie. He had 16 wins against 13 losses and one tie. His GAA was high at 3.54, but he actually outplayed his counterparts David Goverde and veteran Rick Knickle.

Jaks returned for the 1994-95 season, and struggled at the IHL level. He had an injury plagued year and went 2-4-4 with a 4.15 GAA. However the Kings did call the Swiss sensation up for a small tour of duty. Jaks even got to play 2 periods of NHL action. He gave up 2 goals in 40 minutes, stopping 23 of 25 shots in a respectable performance. He did not get a decision in the match.

By appearing in the NHL, Jaks became the first Swiss born and trained player to play in the National Hockey League. However he was not the first NHLer born in Switzerland. That honor goes to long time Los Angeles King and New York Ranger Mark Hardy - who was born in Switzerland but was raised in Canada

Jaks returned to Switzerland after the 1994-95 season, but his legacy on Swiss hockey can not be overlooked. The Swiss have never been considered to be a hockey nation however interest in the country greatly increased during the 1990s, due in part to Jaks great performance back in the 1991 WJC.

Paul Higgins

Paul Higgins was drafted out of high school where he had played for the Henry Carr Crusaders in Toronto.

During the 1979-80 season he put together a very solid season for the Crusaders, scoring 63 points. When Toronto Maple Leafs drafted him in 1980 (200th overall) they really were not sure about what they had.

Paul was sent to the junior Toronto Marlboros (OHA) where he quickly established himself as a tough guy with a short fuse. He also played for the Kitchener Rangers (OHA). In 1981-82 he got a three game call-up from the Maple Leafs. Paul engaged in a couple of brawls but didn't do much aside from that.

During the 1982-83 season he played in 22 games for the Maple Leafs. He saw very limited ice time and was in the lineup for one thing only. To fight.

Despite only playing an odd shift here and there he amassed 135 penalty minutes in 22 games. Unfortunately Paul caused some controversy in the dressing room. Nobody talked about it publicly, but it was obvious that there were some tension between Paul and his Maple Leafs teammates.

Paul's off ice problems was the reason why he only played four games in 1983-84 for the Carolina Thunderbirds in the Atlantic Coast Hockey League.

In the summer of 1984 Paul was sentenced to 60 days in jail for dangerous driving and possession of a dangerous weapon. It wasn't the first or last time that Paul had trouble with the law.

That 1983-84 season was his last. Paul's career was over at 22 before it even really started.

Norm Schmidt

Norm Schmidt wasn't a big defenseman by NHL standards. He was five-foot-eleven but was a solid 190 pounds and didn't mind the rough stuff.

His first junior season in 1979-80 was with the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds (24 points in 18 games). Between 1980-83 Norm played for the Oshawa Generals and was a OHL All-Star as well as winning the OHL title with the Generals. He scored 168 points (46 goals and 122 assists) in 193 games for Oshawa.

Pittsburgh picked Schmidt in the third round, 70th overall, in 1981. Unfortunately Norm's NHL career was plagued by injuries.

In his first professional season (1983-84) he split his time between Baltimore (AHL) and Pittsburgh. In Pittsburgh he picked up a fine 18 points in only 34 games. In 1984-85 he started the season in Baltimore but suffered a season ending knee injury after only 33 games in a collision along the boards on December 28.

At the training camp prior to the 1985-86 season Norm re-injured his knee which forced him to miss the first 13 games. As soon as he returned he became a major force on the Penguins blueline. Despite missing the 13 games Norm scored 15 goals which at the time was the second highest total ever for a Pittsburgh defenseman. Only Randy Carlyle had scored more (16 goals in 1980-81).

After Norm's fine 1985-86 season big things were expected of him in 1986-87. He didn't have a very good training camp and ended up in Baltimore again before being called up to Pittsburgh in the middle of the season. Things were going pretty well for Norm before he was checked into the goal in a game against NY Islanders and hurt his back late in the season.

Norm shrugged off the injury and continued to play, but the condition of his back was more serious than he first thought. During the summer of 1987 Norm underwent an operation to treat the irritated nerve caused by that check in the Islanders game. He put himself through an exhaustive six-month rehabilitation program.

By December 1987, he was ready to return. Only for five games though. In the fourth against Philadelphia, he was hit hard and the pain began searing through his legs again. Heroically enough Norm dressed for one more game against New Jersey on December 17. But the pain was too much and Norm never played another game.

"At that time, I could not live with the pain," Norm said "I was getting so frustrated with it...I was going crazy. I've been able to overcome a fair amount of injuries in my time. But what I didn't realize - or didn't want to admit to myself - was that (everything you do) ...your back's involved, somehow or another."

Norm didn't give up though and resumed his regiment of injections, pain-killing pills and tests. But it was only the formality of a diagnosis that separated him from retirement. When he got it, the retirement was official.

" I knew there was something more than just an ordinary muscle tear, or getting your teeth bashed out or your knee knocked around, whatever. I could overcome those things, but this back...it came to how much pain a person can bear."

Norm likened his condition to "two telephone poles with a wire between them. If one pole's falling down, there's only so much tension a nerve can take." He also added: "At some point it's either going to break or give you pain. And pain is the indicator that tells you you've got to stop what you're doing."

As most Canadian kids Norm grew up dreaming about the NHL, but at the age of 25 he had to give up that dream.

" I didn't want to jeopardize the rest of my life. I didn't want to end up in a wheelchair." Norm said.

In his only full season Norm showed his potential by almost setting a team record for most goals in a season by a defenseman. Too bad that injuries deprived him and hockey fans of a player hitting his prime.

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