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August 15, 2018

Book Review: Kevin Shea's The Hall

The new hockey season is upcoming, and that also means a new hockey book season.

And if the first hockey book of the new season is going to be any indication, it's going to be a fantastic year for hockey book enthusiasts.

Kevin Shea writes The Hall: Celebrating Hockey's Heritage, Heroes and Home. On the Hall of Fame's 75th anniversary, and the 25th anniversary of the Hall's move to the famed Bank of Montreal building in downtown Toronto.

The book is billed as "A stunning hardcover book that features dramatic and compelling imagery and uncovers the fascinating history of the Hockey Hall of Fame." It is rare that anything lives up to that type of hype, but this book truly does.

With all the photos and features this book serves as both a page turning coffee table book. But there is enough text in here for even the most studied hockey fan to enjoy at length. By now every hockey fan should know a book with Kevin Shea's name on it will be nothing short of fantastic.

The book covers everything from the earliest visions by the Hall's founders to the ghost that haunts the bank where the Stanley Cup resides. Honoured members are front and centre, including a great story about how a kid working at the Hall tried to give Wayne Gretzky some advice on how to shoot a puck at the interactive shooting display.

You will have to wait until September 10th to pick up the book in stores and online. It is part of the National Treasure Series of books that celebrates the Hockey Hall of Fame. The first, A Century of NHL Memories, had a different aura about it that this new book exceeds.

August 07, 2018

Stan Mikita: High Flying Hawk

Born in Sokolce, Czechoslovakia, Stan Mikita was the first Czechoslovakian-born player in the NHL. Born Stanislaus Gvoth, he was adopted by his aunt and uncle and he moved with them to Canada at the age of 8 in order to escape poverty and the growing communist movement.

Stan, as he became known in Canada, knew nothing of hockey when he came over to Canada, but he became intrigued when saw some neighborhood kids playing on a local pond and on the streets. Although he didn't know much English or how to skate, he soon fell in love with the game.

He would soon join organized hockey and develop into one of the top prospects in the game. As a teenager he would join Chicago's junior team in St. Catherines. Following an outstanding junior career with Tee Pees, Mikita would star in the NHL for 22 seasons as a center for the Hawks from 1958 to 1980.

Described as hockey's ultimate playmaker, his skill and finesse game was often overlooked by his vicious stick work and aggression. Hall of Fame defenseman Bill Gadsby once described Mikita as "a miserable little pain in the butt. He'd cross-check you, he'd spear you in the belly. You'd be going around the back of the net, and he'd spear you in the calf. Down you'd go."

Despite that reputation, never doubt just how a great of player he was.

His coach, Billy Reay, was understandably a big fan of Mikita.

"I have to say that I have never seen a better center. Maybe some could do one thing better than Stan, like skating faster or shooting harder. But none of them could do all the things that a center has to do as well as Stan does. And very few of them came close to being as smart as he is. He's about the brightest hockey player I've ever seen. He's a hard nosed hockey player. One of his biggest assets is that he has got a lot of pride."

Mikita didn't exactly set the league on fire in his first two seasons in the NHL, but did show nice creativity with Bobby Hull as the Hawks emerged from their decade long doldrums in the early 1960s. By the playoffs of 1961, Mikita led all goal scorers with six and was a key reason behind the franchise's first Stanley Cup win since 1938.

The following season Mikita emerged as an elite NHL skater as he joined new linemates Ken Wharram and Ab McDonald on the original Scooter Line. That year he scored 77 points and was voted onto the NHL First All-Star Team. Mikita enjoyed an outstanding post-season with 21 points in 12 games, however the Hawks failed to repeat as Cup champs when Toronto beat them in the finals.

In 1963-64, he won his first Art Ross Trophy with 89 points and duplicated the feat the next year with 87 points despite accumulating a career high 154 PIMs. By this time, Doug Mohns had replaced McDonald on the Scooter Line and helped the unit attain even greater heights. In 1964-65, the team also reached its third Stanley Cup finals of the decade but the Hawks lost to the Montreal Canadiens.

Mikita would soon prove his greatness. Playing in his 8th NHL season, Stan Mikita turned in one of the greatest seasons in NHL history in 1966-67, becoming the first player to capture three major individual trophies. Not only did he win his third league scoring title, tying the then-NHL single season record of 97 points and setting a new high mark with 62 assists, he also captured the Hart Trophy as the league's most valuable player. Unexpectedly, at least prior to the start of the season, Mikita, one of the NHL's top hatchet men, won the Lady Byng trophy for gentlemanly play and sportsmanship. Straddled with a well deserved reputation for dirty play, "Stosh" had always been among the league leaders in penalty minutes, registering four 100 PIM seasons. But Mikita vowed to change his ways when his young daughter could not understand why he played that way.

While some pundits of the day championed Mikita's amazing season as the most dominant in NHL history, many simply couldn't fathom what he had accomplished. Mikita proved his season was no fluke, repeating the same trophy hat trick in 1967-68. Mikita's scoring title was his 4th in 5 seasons.

An 8 time all star, Mikita is the Blackhawks all time leading scorer with 541 goals, 926 assists and 1467 points in 1394 games. A serious back injury in 1969 would hamper Mikita's play for the remainder of his career, but he was always capable of a spectacular night.

One of his favorite memories in hockey would have to be the 1972 Summit Series. Though the cagey veteran would get into only two games against the Soviets, he had his own unforgettable moment two days after Paul Henderson's famous goal. After leaving Moscow Canada was slated to play an exhibition game in Prague against the Czechoslovakian national team. Named captain for the game, Mikita enjoyed an emotional homecoming. For the first time in his long career he was able to play before his parents and siblings. He had visited his family several times once he could afford the expensive trip thanks to professional hockey, but had never performed in front of his family.

In retirement, Mikita started the Stan Mikita Hockey School for the Hearing Impaired.

August 04, 2018

Jarome Iginla

 One of hockey's all time good guys hung up the skates this summer, a full year after playing his last game.

Jarome Iginla played hockey hard and honest, skillfully and physically. He was the complete package, a modern day Gordie Howe if you will. Despite going to war night in and night out, he never made an enemy.

In 21 seasons and 1554 NHL games, Iginla did it all in his career, except win the Stanley Cup. Twice he won the Rocket Richard trophies as the NHL’s goal-scoring leader, and was once the NHL scoring champion with the Art Ross trophy. He won the Ted Lindsay award as the best player in the league as chosen by his peers.

Despite never winning hockey's coveted silver chalice, Iginla's lasting legacy will be golden. He was a significant contributor to two Canadian Olympic gold medal victories.

 In 2002, Canada ended a 50-year gold medal drought in men’s hockey, thanks in large part to the line combination of Iginla, Joe Sakic and Simon Gagne. The trio combined for eight points in the gold-medal final, a 5-2 victory over the United States.

Eight years later, at Canada’s home Olympics in Vancouver, Iginla punched the puck through to an open Sidney Crosby, who famously scored the overtime "Golden Goal." in the most pressured filled and scrutinized hockey tournament any Canadian team had ever faced. The result was not just hockey gold but hockey immortality.

Iggy was always willing to represent Canada, and he proudly represented the Calgary Flames most of his career as well. The modern day NHL sees even its most legendary stars turn to vagabonds late in their careers, and Iginla was no exception. He chased the Stanley Cup with brief stops in Colorado, Pittsburgh, Boston and Los Angeles.

If there was ever a player you wanted for that one big game, it was Jarome Iginla. He is a certain Hockey Hall of Famer come 2020.

July 26, 2018

Thoughts on Trevor Linden

Wednesday's announcement that Trevor Linden was stepping down as President of Hockey Operations of the Vancouver Canucks took almost everyone by surprise 

From the day he returned to the organization over four years ago, Trevor Linden resigning from the Vancouver Canucks was inevitable.

That's because the Canucks hired the one man they could never fire. It would be political suicide to do so.

But this is a results business and eventually even the game's best managers face the reality of not winning.  Hey, the results over the four years he has been in charge are completely lacking. There is no arguing that. Especially when you compare his results to that of Brendan Shanahan's. He was hired by Toronto 2 days after Linden was hired in Vancouver, and he has that franchise years ahead.

And when owner Francesco Aquillini, during his thank you to Linden speech, makes sure to mention that everyone needs to share the vision going forward to make the team great again, it makes you wonder if Linden, entering the final year of his contract, was pushed out. And it makes you wonder how much say Linden really ever had to begin with.

Elliotte Friedman of Sportsnet, who first reported rumbling of Linden/ownership not seeing eye to eye two years ago, has been on the radio circuit suggesting that Linden's vision and ownerships' vision were not the same. 

There is a bit of a sinking feeling for long time Canucks fans. The sad-sack team now moves forward not only without the faces of the franchise - twins Daniel and Henrik Sedin who retired - but also without its heart and soul. 

Is this rock bottom for a franchise that is used to scraping along the ocean floor?

Linden escapes the job dented but remains more or less as "teflon" as ever in this marketplace. He will be forever loved, more than team itself in many seasons. He jumps ship as captain who was never allowed to be the captain.

July 21, 2018

Names On The Cup

If it isn't hockey, I don't watch it. My television collects dust in the summer months. I try, but I can't find much of anything on Netflix. I have more luck with YouTube, be it TED Talks, running videos, or, especially, hockey.

I found this great documentary available on YouTube in it's entirety. Watch it, and you will wish it was winter again, too.

July 16, 2018

Remembering Ray Emery

Terrible news this past weekend as former NHL goaltender Ray Emery died in what police are calling a boating misadventure.

It seems Emery jumped off a boat for an early morning swim on Sunday. Only he never resurfaced. Rescuers recovered his body by 3pm

Ray Emery was best described by The Athletic's Chris Stevenson as "brilliant and self-destructive, a star and a distraction, infuriated and infuriating.:

Emery, who played for Ottawa, Chicago, Anaheim and Philadelphia, was known as a scrappy goalie to say the least. A modern day Ron Hextall, Emery enjoyed dropping the gloves and took on not just other goalies, but the other team's goons, too.

That made "Sugar" Ray Emery fun. Volatile. Competitive. Fun.

He had a tattoo that stated "Anger is a Gift," but Emery took it his love of fighting little too far when he debuted a mask with the Ottawa Senators featuring former heavyweight champion and convicted rapist Mike Tyson.

That was the start of Emery's misadventures in the NHL.

There was rumors around the league that he loved to party. And then there was a road rage incident where no charges were ever laid. And who will forget the $500 bet he won from Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson for eating a cock roach. True story.

More concerning, at least on the hockey front, he allegedly was late for team practices on a few occasions, and later missed a team flight for a playoff game. Couple that with wrist surgery in the off-season and the Senators unloaded their goalie before he became more of a distraction even though he backstopped the Senators to the Stanley Cup final in 2007.

The rest of the NHL seemed concerned about Emery, too. He had no contract offers and had to go to Russia to resurrect his career.

He did get a chance to return with Philadelphia in 2009, but a bad hip injury threatened to derail his career once and for all. The injury required surgery that had 13 centimeters of bone taken from his leg and placed in the hip.

Emery was able to rehab from that and played his best hockey in Chicago. In 2013 he went 17-1 with a 1.94 goals against average and .922 save percentage as Corey Crawford's back up. The Blackhawks would win the Stanley Cup that year.

From there it was on to brief stops in Anaheim, Philly again and Germany before leaving hockey altogether.

The controversies didn't stop, however. As recently as 2017 there were TMZ reports of a break up with his fiancee after incident involving restraining orders and arrest warrants.

I guess Ray Emery was right when he told columnist Earl McRae back in 2011 that "for the rest of my life, 90 percent of the articles written about me will refer to the negative things about me that happened.”

Even the articles following his shocking death at the age of just 35

July 03, 2018

Thoughts On Free Agency

Some thoughts on what has transpired so far in Free Agency:

  • Good for John Tavares. I was cheering for him to leave just like the audience cheered Jim Carrey's character to leave his own bizarre circumstances in the movie The Truman Show. This is ultimately the result of poor management over the years. The team has gone nowhere, except to Brooklyn and even that uncertainty remains. The dollars could be found anywhere. The opportunity, the stability and the respect was to be found anywhere but Long Island...err, Brooklyn.
  • Oh my Canucks. Overpaying for 4th liners. But I do like that they seem intent on defining roles and leaving roles open for the prospects where they hopefully will thrive. That is a positive.
  • What's up with Anthony Duclair? Lots of talent, but already been through three organizations by age 22. And all three of those organizations dumped him quickly. And we're not seeing teams jump on him quickly so far.
  • Austin Czarnik in Calgary could be the steal of the summer. If he's given the right chance, he has some decent upside in him I think.
  • Another good gamble, for somebody, might be Nick Shore. He needs to play with better linemates because he makes strong plays with the puck from the wing.
  • I wonder if Jason Garrison will get a chance to return to the NHL next season.

June 27, 2018

Will HHOF Give Wickenheiser The Spotlight In 2019?

The Hockey Hall of Fame induction class of 2019 appears to be the weakest class in many years.

The most notable first year eligible player is Hayley Wickenheiser. As arguably the greatest female player of all time, it is a guaranteed lock that the four time Olympic gold medallist gets the nod.

But the men's side is not nearly as strong. Of the first year eligible players, only Patrik Elias and a trio of Tampa Bay Lightning standouts deserve mention: Vincent Lecavalier, Brad Richards and Dan Boyle all led the Lightning to the Stanley Cup in 2004.

Elias had a very underrated career with New Jersey and was as consistent as they come. All three Lightning stars were NHL standouts at that time, and enjoyed lengthy careers as impact players. Is that enough to get them elected?

Were any of them any better than the list of holdovers from recent years, such as Daniel Alfredsson, Theo Fleury, Alexander Mogilny or Sergei Zubov? I'm not so sure.

Given the lack of an obvious candidate from the NHL side, it would be nice for the Hall to give women's hockey the full spotlight for a change. Hayley Wickenheiser has done more for hockey - both men's and women's - than most and deserves it.

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