May 27, 2015

Ken Dryden

There is an old hockey adage that goes something like this: "A team is only as good as its goalie."

Ken Dryden ranks among the greatest goaltenders not only in Montreal Canadiens history, but in hockey history. Dryden follows in the Habs footsteps of Georges Vezina, George Hainsworth, Bill Durnan, Jacques Plante, Gump Worsley and followed by Patrick Roy as great goalies to wear the "CH"

But try to imagine this - Ken Dryden wearing a Boston Bruins uniform.

Full Ken Dryden biography

Cam Brown

Cam Brown played 3 seasons with the WHL Brandon Wheat Kings, serving principally as the team's tough guy. He however also turned in a 34 goal, 75 point season in his final year of junior. He also was the team's captain.

Despite his strong season Cam Brow was never drafted. Brown did sign as a free agent with the Vancouver Canucks organization on April 6, 1990. He would play the role of minor league tough guy for 4 seasons with several minor league teams in his pro hockey career, finally getting called up for one National Hockey League game.

That game on March 3, 1991 in Chicago where the Canucks were facing off against the Blackhawks. The Canucks were absolutely pasted that night, losing 8-0 to the mighty Hawks. Brown didn't see much ice time until the third period. He responded by doing what he did best - mixing it up. Wearing number 48, Brown picked up a high-sticking penalty at 2:59. Later that period, at 15:01, he dropped the gloves with Chicago tough guy Mike Peluso in a unmemorable fisticuff.

Brown was returned to the minors the next day. There's always a need for tough guys on any team's roster, but Brown was caught in the numbers game on Canada's west coast in those early 1990s. The Canucks emerged as a top NHL team and stockpiled themselves with some of the NHL's toughest grapplers - most notably Gino Odjick and Shawn Antoski.

Brown returned to the minor leagues, never to resurface. Instead he continued to chase the great Canadian hockey dream in places like Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and Gwinnett, Georgia.

Brown was a very popular player in such cities. So popular he was inducted into the ECHL Hall of Fame in 2010. After all he retired as the ECHL all-time leader with 789 regular season games and 2,425 penalty minutes. He playedIn 13 seasons he scored 206 goals and 499 points.

Brown would later coach in the ECHL for many seasons, too.

May 26, 2015

Stanley Cup Lost and Stolen

Buffalo Sabres fans gripe to this day that the Stanley Cup was stolen from them because of Brett Hull's toe-in-crease series winning goal.

While I won't get into that debate and just let that sit in Stanley Cup folklore, I think it is interesting that there have been three attempts to actually steal the Stanley Cup.

The first was in the spring of 1962 as the Montreal Canadiens were playing the defending champion Blackhawks in Chicago. The Hawks had the Cup on glass-encased display in old Chicago Stadium, much to the dislike of 25 year old pianist Kenneth Kilander, a seriously devoted Habs fan who made the trip to the Windy City.

During the game Kilander picked the lock and simply headed out the doors, bribing a security guard with $250 and reportedly telling him "I'm taking it back to Montreal where it belongs." Kilander, on a dare from Montreal sportswriters, was taking the Cup back to his hotel and intended to let sportswriters and photographers break the story as part of an elaborate April Fool's Day joke.

Kilander was arrested on charges of disorderly conduct. After paying a $10 fine, he was released from jail.

A much more serious theft occurred in January, 1970. The original silver collar of the Cup was stolen from the original Hockey Hall of Fame. The Hall's curator, Lefty Reid, alerted authorities and shortly thereafter was contacted by an anonymous woman who promised the collar's safe return in exchange for no charges being dropped. The RCMP refused such negotiations, and the collar remained missing.

The collar was finally recovered almost 8 years later. On September 18, 1977 the police received an anonymous phone call that the missing silverware was in a brown parcel in the basement of a drycleaner's on Woodbine Avenue.

A few months prior to that, on March 9, 1977, 7 students from the University of Montreal planned an elaborate heist of the Cup right from its display place in the Hockey Hall of Fame on the old CNE grounds. The students were on a scavenger hunt for "the best find possible." The Stanley Cup certainly could have won that contest. After detailed interrogations, the students were released without any charges.

Following the Stanley Cup parade in 1979, Guy Lafleur, of all people, stole the Cup and hid in the trunk of his car. Some 14 years before the practice of each player taking the Cup home became commonplace, Lafleur headed up to Thurso so he could show the Cup to his family and old friends. Not knowing where the Cup was had Cup trustees and caretakers in a frantic search. They were all relieved when they found out Lafleur had it.

The Stanley Cup was also lost, but no one picked it up. In 1924, Montreal Canadiens players were on their way to a victory party at owner Leo Dandurand's house. The players had set the Cup on the sidewalk snowbank while they changed a flat tire. When arrived at Dandurand's house, they realized they had left the Cup on the sidewalk. They hurriedly drove back, and were relieved to see the silver bowl sitting right where they left it, completely untouched.

Two other times the Cup was lost. In 1907, the Montreal Wanderers left the Cup at the home of a photographer they hired to immortalize their victory. The photographer's mother turned it into a flower pot for the next several months. In 1905, drunken members of the Ottawa Silver Seven thought it would a good celebratory idea to punt the Cup into the Rideau Canal. No one rescued out of the chilly waters until the next day.

Jussi Markkanen

Jussi Markkanen's long goaltending career included just 128 games in the National Hockey League. But who can forget the fantastic story of journeyman to surprise star in the 2006 Stanley Cup finals.

The Oilers were a Cinderella team looking not for silver slippers but a silver Stanley Cup. They clinched a playoff spot on the final weekend of the NHL regular season and then rode the hot goaltending of Dwayne Roloson all the way to the Stanley Cup final where they met the Carolina Hurricanes.

The Oilers unlikely hopes seemed dashed after Roloson injured his right knee late in the third period of Game 1 in a goal-mouth collision with teammate Marc-Andre Bergeron and Carolina Hurricanes winger Andrew Ladd.

But in entered Markkanen, even though he did not even back up game one. Ty Conklin was number two at that point, but the Oilers played a hunch and went with the Finn.

It was a smart move as Markkanen led the Oilers all the way to a decisive game 7 against the Hurricanes, including a 4-0 shutout in game six. But, as seemingly always in this hockey Cinderella stories, the Oilers fell shy in game 7, but to no fault of Markkanen.

"Jussi has found his game and has taken it to another level," Oilers veteran left winger Ryan Smyth said. "We kept saying in the locker room that all we needed was four wins ... and that Jussi has played well enough in stretches for us in the past. He's given us a chance to win every night since he took over for Roli."

"The last week and a half has been a little bit nerve-wracking, but it's been the best time of my hockey life," Markkanen said before Game 6. "I had never played in an NHL playoff game, before and then I wind up getting my first chance in the Stanley Cup Final. Wow! This is so exciting, I can't sleep. You know, all the energy, all the hard work. The mind, the body, won't shut down. But I'm not about to let down, not when I look around and see a lot of great players who have played for a long time without ever winning a Stanley Cup. When you get a chance like this, you have to give it your best."

Jussi did himself proud in those playoffs, and has his own little place in hockey history.  But surprisingly Markkanen played only 22 more games in the NHL and found himself finishing off his career with several more seasons in Europe.

May 25, 2015

Larry Brown

In February of 1971 the Detroit Red Wings and New York Rangers took it easy on their equipment managers when they completed a swap of defenseman. The Wings traded Larry Brown to the Rangers in exchange for Arnie Brown. The trainers were kept happy, just giving their respective new Brown the old Brown's jersey.

Mind you, names on jerseys were not mandatory until a few years later. Still, they just swapped number fours.

The trade was actually bigger than just Brown for Brown. The Rangers traded Arnie Brown, Tom Miller and Mike Robitaille for Bruce MacGregor and Larry Brown. The Rangers had actually traded Larry Brown to Detroit just four months prior, in exchange for Pete Stemkowski.

Larry was viewed as a sure thing. Teams knew exactly what to expect from him - solid, stay at home. defenseman with good size. Not much offense. Reliable depth blue liner game in and game out. A very clean player who would stay out of the penalty box.

He was exactly that throughout his junior career in Brandon, Manitoba, and he would prove to be exactly that through a 13 year professional career including 455 games in the National Hockey League.

It was with the Los Angeles Kings that Brown was best remembered for playing with. He joined the Kings for the 1972-73 season, picking him up for next to nothing as he lost nearly a year of hockey action due to a bad case of mononucleosis.

Brown would play six seasons in nearly absolute anonymity in Los Angeles. It took him three years to score his first goal. He only scored seven in his career, adding a nice 53 assists.

Mark Dufour

Marc Dufour was a top scorer in thirteen minor league seasons, but could only parlay that into fourteen games over three seasons in the National Hockey League.

Dufour was a 6-foot, 175-pound right winger with a rare junior background. He played junior hockey in Quebec, Ontario and the west. In the early 1960s he played for the Guelph Biltmores, Trois-Rivieres Reds and, perhaps most notably, with the Brandon Wheat Kings. He and future NHLer Dennis Hextall helped the Wheaties challenge for the 1962 Memorial Cup. Dufour scored 37 goals in just 33 games, as his season was shortened by a broken cheekbone. He then led the team in scoring in the playoffs with 16 points, including 10 goals,  in just 11 games.

Dufour, a New York Rangers prospect, turned pro with the Sudbury Wolves in 1962-63. The rookie scored 50 goals and 99 assists that season, teaming well with center and future NHLer Gord Labossiere.

The Rangers advanced Dufour to stiffer competition in the American Hockey League and the old professional Western Hockey League the next season. They also called him up for ten games with the Rangers. His first game was against the Detroit Red Wings on Nov. 27, 1963, just five days after U.S. president John F. Kennedy had been assassinated and two days following his burial and national day of mourning.

In his third game, Dufour scored what proved to be his only National Hockey League goal. It came against goaltender Denis DeJordy in a 3-2 loss to the Chicago Black Hawks. The goal was assisted by none other than Camille Henry and Don McKenney.

Dufour was the Central Hockey League’s leading scorer late in the 1964-65 season when the Rangers called him up for two games to replace Phil Goyette, who was ill with a virus. Tulsa's Tom McCarthy was able to pull ahead of Dufour in the CPHL scoring race.

The expansion Los Angeles Kings selected Dufour from the Rangers in the 1967 expansion draft. By no accident the Kings also drafted Gord Labossiere, trying to reunite the dynamic duo. Labossiere stuck with the Kings for almost two seasons. Dufour, meanwhile, had an uneventful two-game stint with the Kings in December, 1968.

Dufour would be a top point producer with the AHL Springfield Kings before returning to the AHL Baltimore Clippers for five seasons, retiring in 1975.

Marc Dufour passed away in January of 2015. The 73 year old was living in Trois Rivieres, Quebec.

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