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December 15, 2017

Dave Ritchie

Ever wonder who scored the first goal in National Hockey League history? The answer is Montreal Wanderers defenseman Dave Ritchie.

On December 19, 1917, Dave Ritchie scored exactly one minute into the NHL's first game. He added another goal in the third period as the Wanderers defeated the Toronto Arenas 10-9.

Ritchie was a high scoring backliner who had spent the three previous seasons with the Quebec Bulldogs of the National Hockey Association, the predecessor of the NHL. In the final year of the NHA, Ritchie scored 17 goals in 19 games. Not bad for a blueliner!

Ritchie was heading off to another spectacular season with the Wanderers when tragedy struck. Scoring 5 goals and 2 assists in his first 4 games, the financially troubled Wanderers folded after just 6 NHL contests. A mysterious fire started in the Wanderers dressing room and resulted in their arena burning down. The owner took the insurance money and ran, leaving the league to fold the Wanderers.

The Wanderers players were dispersed amongst the rest of the league. Ritchie finished the year with the Ottawa Senators. He finished strongly, scoring 4 goals and 10 points to bring his totals to 9 goals and 17 points.

Following Ritchie's transaction sheet from this point on gets confusing. He signed with the Toronto Arenas in 1918-19 but only played 5 games that year. The following year he was traded back to the Quebec Bulldogs team. Dave played in 23 games and scored 6 goals and 3 assists. However the Quebec franchise transferred to Hamilton Ontario the following year, something Ritchie didn't want to go along with. He eventually was traded to the Montreal Canadiens for the 1920-21 season, but played in just 5 games.

Ritchie then opted to retire from the game to devote himself to a full time referee. However just three years later Dave found himself holding a stick again. The Habs had some injury problems and signed him to fill in late in the season. He played 5 games and 1 more in the playoffs. A similar situation happened the next year too, as Dave filled in for 2 games, his final 2 games in the National Hockey League as a player.

December 14, 2017

Leapin' Louie Fontinato

Leapin' Louie Fontinato (dubbed so because he would jump into opponents when he bodychecked them) started his professional career with the old Western Hockey League, splitting time with the Vancouver Canucks and Saskatoon Quakers. Fontinato was called up part way through the 1954-55 season to supply the New York Rangers with some muscle along the blue line. He went on to become one of the biggest and most infamous physical presences in National Hockey League history.
In his first full season in the NHL, he became the first player in history to spend 200 minutes in the penalty box in a single season. Nowadays if a player gets 200 minutes he's considered to be a power forward or a monster on defense. In 1956, 200 minutes in penalties was unthinkable.

Although Fontinato is remembered for being a tough guy and for leading the league in penalties no less than 3 times (and was runner-up another 3 times) in his 9 year career, often forgotten is the fact that he was a very solid defensive defenseman. Fontinato scored 26 goals and 78 points in 535 NHL contests. He added 2 more assists in 21 playoff games.

"Leaping Louie" is often thought of for losing one of the most famous fisticuffs in NHL history. On February 1, 1959, Fontinato came to the aid of teammate Eddie Shack, who was being tossed about by the living legend Gordie Howe. Louie quickly challenged Mr. Hockey and connect with three huge blows before Gordie had a chance to counter. But when Gordie endured the heavy punches, he countered with one of the most one-sided assaults in an NHL fight. Howe pounded Fontinato with several quick piston-like jabs, severely breaking Louie's nose and sending him to the hospital.

In the summer of 1969, Fontinato was dealt to Montreal in exchange for one of the all time greats in NHL history - Doug Harvey. Harvey's best days were by him by this point. But Fontinato would terrorize NHL opponents for two seasons with the Habs.

Fontinato's hockey career was shortened by one of the most horrific injuries in NHL history. The accident happened on March 9th, 1963, ironically against the New York Rangers. Fontinato and Vic Hadfield crashed into the boards while chasing a loose puck. While Fontinato ducked out of the way of Hadfield's elbow, he ended up smacking his own head against the boards. Fontinato suffered a badly broken neck and never skated again.

December 10, 2017

Tim Ecclestone

Tim Ecclestone was born in Toronto in 1947. In choosing his profession, he followed in his Uncle Cam's footsteps more than his father's. Cam Ecclestone was a notable athlete in Canada, a top softball pitcher. Being an athlete appealed far more to Tim than getting into the family dry cleaning business.

While Tim enjoyed a variety of sports as a youth, it was hockey that he was best at. He went on to play for the Kitchener Rangers junior team and by 1964 he was ninth player chosen overall in the NHL draft.

Ecclestone would never get a chance to play for the Rangers. When the NHL expanded in 1967 he was trade to newly minted St. Louis Blues franchise in a package (Gary Sabourin, Bob Plager and Gord Kannegiesser) for defenseman Rod Seiling.

"I still had one year of junior left and was the youngest guy at training camp," he recalled recently. "Lynn Patrick was coach and manager and Scotty Bowman his assistant. They sent me to Kansas City for seasoning but then the big team had some injuries and Doug Harvey, who was the coach at Kansas City, recommended me and I flew into New York to play against the team that had traded me. Five or six games later we were back in New York for another game, and I scored a couple of goals, my first ones in the NHL."

It was the start of a great ride for both Ecclestone and the Blues.

"We traded for Red Berenson and Glenn Hall got hot for us in goal. Scotty took over as coach and while we barely made the playoffs, we reached the Stanley Cup finals."

Tim was the versatile type of forward Scotty Bowman loved. He could skate and check and reliably fill any role the team needed that particular night. He could chip in with some timely offense now and again too.

Ecclestone played four seasons in St. Louis before playing parts of four more in Detroit. In 1974 he briefly got a chance to play for his hometown Toronto Maple Leafs.

"I enjoyed coming home but near the end of the season I got a shoulder injury. Then in training camp the next year, I got a bad rib injury. Cliff Fletcher, who helped put the team together in St. Louis, was running the club in Atlanta, and he wanted to get me back."

The Leafs traded Ecclestone to Washington in exchange for, ironically, Rod Seiling again. The same day the Capitals flipped him to Atlanta.

Ecclestone found a home in Atlanta, and though the Flames would leave, he never would. He spent five seasons with the franchise as a player and then as an assistant coach.

Ecclestone never moved with the franchise, even though he had a promising start in his coaching career. Tim got into the restaurant and bar business in Atlanta instead and was a fixture ever since.

December 08, 2017

Dave Maloney

Though maybe not a true number one defenseman, Dave Maloney was a good puck moving defenseman with a physical dimension. His mobility and hockey sense made him a useful member of both the specialty team units.

The native of Kitchener, Ontario, Maloney starred with the hometown Kitchener Rangers for two years before being selected 14th overall by the New York Rangers in 1974. After two years of seasoning with the AHL's Providence Reds, Maloney earned a full time slot with New York in 1976-77.

Maloney assumed a key role as quarterback of the Rangers power play. Often playing with Barry "Bubba" Beck, Maloney was quite aggressive himself, as his 1154 career penalty minutes attest. The solid rearguard played so well during his first two years that by 1978-79 he succeeded Phil Esposito as the Blueshirts' captain. Under his leadership, Maloney helped the team reach the Stanley Cup finals. That was an especially proud moment for the Maloney family as younger brother Don joined the team. The two would star on Broadway until Dave's departure up state to Buffalo for the 1984-85 season.

In Buffalo Maloney was a stabilizing influence during the last 52 games of the 1984-85 season and the first round of the playoffs before retiring. He scored 71 goals and 317 points in 657 NHL games.

In retirement Maloney has worked, among other jobs, as a Wall Street stock broker and as an in-studio analyst for Fox Sports. He also coached youth hockey in Connecticut.

December 06, 2017

Darius Kasparaitis

Talented, feisty on the ice and a free spirit away from it, Darius Kasparaitis was a highly competitive defenseman from Lithuania. A strong skater who mostly concentrated on the defensive side of the game, Kasparaitis had an infectious enthusiasm for the game.

Kasparaitis succeeded Ulf Samuelsson as the NHL's resident controversial hard hitting defenseman. He loved nothing more than to lay a booming hit and he preferred to target the other team's superstars. Just ask Mario Lemieux, Eric Lindros and Mark Messier, among many others.

When he was not seeking victims with his deadly hip checks or flying shoulders, he was known to use his stick liberally and yap constantly. Dirty? Sure. Tough? Definitely.

"I think they no like me," he said of his opponents. "First year, it's good. Second year, maybe people know me as good player, tough guy. When I come in N.H.L. I must sell my name: 'Kasparaitis, this guy is no easy player. This is hard player.' Be ready for me. Hockey is man game."

"It's my game, my style," he said. "Sometimes I hit guy in first period and guys want to hit me back all night and make me hurt. I must be always ready, careful."

Somehow Kasparaitis survived 14 NHL seasons with the Islanders, Penguins, Avalanche and Rangers. Going to battle 863 times in the regular season and another 83 games in the playoffs as the most hated man on the ice could not have been easy.

But Kasparaitis loved the role and every minute of every battle.

Kasparaitis was the first and only Lithuanian to play on the national team of the former Soviet Union.

Kasparaitis had left Lithuania at the age of 14 to play hockey for Moscow Dynamo. He had to overcome extreme homesickness to continue on to become the first Lithuanian to play in the National Hockey League.

"I come home for holidays, I tell my mom, 'I don't want to play hockey and live with Russian people,'" Kasparaitis recalled. "My mom cry and say: 'Go back. It's your job. Go back to Moscow.' I go back. Cry. I was 15 years old. Now, I very thankful to my mom."

He quickly became one of the top defensemen in the Soviet Union. Representing the national team and competing at the Olympics became his goal.

At the 1992 Olympic Winter Games in France, Kasparaitis represented the Unified Team, a team consisting of Russia and of former Soviet territories that were trying to figure out their political futures after the collapse of communism. The former Soviets ended up beating Canada for the gold medal.

But to play in those Olympics Kasparaitis had to sign away his eligibility to play any sport for a Lithuanian team.

“I had a choice to play in Olympics (for Russia) or represent Lithuania (not in the Olympics). I made a choice to play on the highest level.”

"You feel good when you win Olympic Games," he said. "You can be rich guy but you never buy Olympic championship. Big title, for all life. Have children, show children picture and medal. Gold medal. It's great."

The New York Islanders drafted Kasparaitis fifth overall in 1992. With the changing political world seeing Soviet stars allowed to freely pursue careers in the NHL, Kasparaitis immediately began focusing on his new goal.

"Win world junior championship, win Olympic Games, play in world championship," he said. "Then, drafted by New York Islanders. Come and see America. Play in NHL. Unbelievable! Hockey is a great life."

After a career being one of hockey's most punishing hitters, Kasparaitis retired and moved to Florida. In his playing days he was known as a big spender, blowing his high paychecks on clothes and cars and nights out. But he has settled down and started his own real estate development company.

December 04, 2017

Billy Smith

Perhaps the best clutch goaltender of all time, Battlin' Billy Smith was a major reason for 4 consecutive Stanley Cup championships on Long Island with the N.Y. Islanders.

His most celebrated Stanley Cup championships might have come in 1983. His 2-0 performance in game 1 of the 1983 finals against Edmonton is considered one of the greatest classics of all time. He would go on to shut out Wayne Gretzky during the entire series and was named playoff MVP.

The Los Angeles Kings selected the young goaltender with their third round draft pick in 1970. He starred in the American Hockey League in 1970-71, his first pro season. His strong play and 2.56 goals against average helped the Springfield Kings win the 1971 Calder Cup championship. He was named the team's most valuable player.

The following season he topped the AHL with four regular season shutouts. That same season, Smith was called up to the NHL, appearing in five regular season games with Los Angeles.

At the 1972 NHL Expansion Draft, the New York Islanders claimed him from the Kings system. He supplied reliable goaltending as the Islanders' struggled in 1973 and 1974. During the next five seasons he was a part of one of the league's top netminding tandems along with Glenn "Chico" Resch. Or perhaps we should say competition more than tandem, as the two battled it out for the starting job on a weekly basis, seemingly forever.

In 1978, Smith was rewarded with an appearance in that year's NHL All-Star game. He went on to be named the game's Most Valuable Player. Surprisingly, it was his only appearance in an NHL all star game.

On November 28, 1979 he became the first NHL goaltender to be credited with scoring a goal. With his goalie pulled for an extra attacker, Colorado Rockies' defenseman Rob Ramage accidentally sent a pass, originally intended for a teammate, the length of the ice into his own net. It was Smith who was the last Islander to touch the puck and was identified as the official goal scorer.

In 1979-80, Smith became the undisputed first string goalie for the Islanders and went on to be a pillar of strength during the Islanders' domination of the Stanley Cup. In 1981-82 he enjoyed his greatest individual season. That year the cagey puck stopper registered 32 wins, was awarded the Vezina Trophy as the NHL's top goaltender and was selected to the NHL's First All-Star Team. In 1982-83, Smith shared the William Jennings Trophy with Roland Melanson after recording the lowest goals against average in the NHL. Later that season "Battlin' Billy" (he was as notorious for physically defending his crease from opposing players as he was for protecting his goal from opposing pucks) was the key to the Islanders' defeat of the Edmonton Oilers to win their fourth consecutive Stanley Cup. He had been brilliant in the post-season and was presented the Conn Smythe Trophy as the playoffs' Most Valuable Player.

Although the Islanders soon went into a rebuilding period, Smith continued to perform at a high level until his retirement after the 1988-89 campaign. He finished with a career goals against average of 3.17 and 22 shutouts, very respectable numbers for someone who played the entire decade of the high scoring 1980s.

More importantly than numbers, Smith is considered to be one of the NHL's greatest playoff goaltenders of all time. Smith twice posted 15 post season wins and recorded a stingy 2.73 goals against average and five shutouts in 132 NHL playoff games. For 5 straight playoffs he led the entire NHL in appearances and wins, and three of those years he led in shutouts and GAA.

Billy didn't always see eye to eye with his coach Al Arbour. Arbour liked to split his goaltending among Smith with first Resch and later Melanson. Smith, like any goalie, wanted to play more during the regular season, and his post season play certainly proves he deserved it. But in almost every season Smith played with the Isles he hovered around the 40 games played mark.

Perhaps if he had been given a chance to play more in the regular season he would have won more individual honors and bolstered his all time numbers so that he would be hailed even more so as one of the all time greats. But his playoff performances alone have cemented his place among the immortals.

The Islanders recognized his tremendous contributions to their franchise by retiring his number "31" on February 20, 1993.

In retirement Billy has gotten into the coaching and goaltending consultant business. From 1989 through 1993 he was behind the Islanders bench, but left to join the Florida Panthers for 8 years in 1993. For the 2001-02 season he has returned to the New York Islanders where he once again works with their goalies, specifically Rick DiPietro.

December 03, 2017

Marty McSorley

Marty McSorley worked hard to rid himself of his reputation as a goon early in his career. He worked hard to improve himself as a player, and became very well respected throughout the entire league, both for his on ice play and off ice class.

However that all changed on February 21, 2000.

With less than five seconds left in regulation time and the Canucks cruising to a 5-2 victory over the McSorley's Boston Bruins, the hulking defenseman closed in on fellow tough guy Donald Brashear and took a two-handed swing at the Vancouver forward's head, connecting with his right temple. Brashear dropped like a rock, hit his head on the ice and lay twitching on the ice. Brashear, who was then carried off on a stretched with blood flowing from his nose, suffered a severe concussion but could have suffered much worse.

McSorley, who has a short fuse and a history of violence, crossed the line of what is considered to be "acceptable" acts of violence in a hockey game. The Vancouver RCMP continue to look into assault charges.

McSorley was genuinely apologetic following the game, though that was not enough.

"I'm in shock with what I did," said a contrite McSorley. "That's not the way I want to be remembered as a hockey player.

"I have to reflect upon what I did. I have to come to terms with what I did.

"I've done that with so many guys, so many times, but I don't know what happened," he said. "There's no excuse. I got way too carried away. It was a real dumb play."

McSorley's act was probably the worst act of violence at the NHL level since Rocket Richard attacked Hal Laycoe and a linesmen back in the '50s. For his despicable act, Richard was suspended for the remainder of the regular season and the entire playoffs, sparking the now infamous Richard Riots in Montreal.

No one will be rioting now, but McSorley too got kicked out for the rest of the year. He was banned officially for 23 games plus the playoffs, the harshest penalty handed out by the NHL for an on ice incident to that point in history.

Its an unfortunate exclamation mark at the end of McSorley's career. No one should ever condone what he did, but it is important to tell the story of the rest of McSorley's career as well.

Marty McSorley went undrafted after playing junior hockey with the Belleville Bulls. The Hamilton, Ontario native signed as a free agent with the Pittsburgh Penguins in 1982 and made the team in 1983-84 as simply a goon. He record 224 penalty minutes. However Marty would spend most of the next season in the minors.

In 1985 he was then traded to the Edmonton Oilers with Tim Hrynewich and later Craig Muni in exchange for goaltender Gilles Meloche. McSorley was brought into Edmonton with the idea that he could be Dave Semenko's eventual replacement as Wayne Gretzky's "bodyguard."

The move to Edmonton proved to be a great move for Marty as he would be part of back to back Stanley Cup championships in 1987 and 1988.

Then came "the trade." Wayne Gretzky, Mike Krushelnyski and McSorley were shipped to Los Angeles for Jimmy Carson, Martin Gelinas and $15 million. McSorley was supposedly a throw in in the deal but some sources say that Wayne Gretzky insisted that his good friend Marty be included.

McSorley brought his bruising physical style to Los Angeles where he became an instant fan favorite. He racked up a 350 penalty minutes his first year and 322 in the following year. But Marty also became a really good player while in Los Angeles. He scored 15 goals and 36 points in 1989-90. 1990-91 saw McSorley tie Theo Fleury with a +48 rating, tops in the NHL. Marty even recorded a six point game against the Vancouver Canucks.

In 19 92-93 McSorley set the Kings record for penalty minutes with 399. It was also the season of the Kings Cinderella run into the Cup Finals. It was the franchises first time in the Finals. Though Marty had a great year and incredible playoffs, McSorley may most be remembered for happened in Game Two of the Finals. With the Kings in position to win and go up 2-0. Montreal coach Jacques Demers took a gamble and won big by asking the referee to check if McSorley was using an illegal curve on his stick. The move paid off for Demers, as the curve was indeed illegal. On the ensuing power play, Montreal scored to send the game into overtime, where they would win the game and tied the series at 1 game apiece.. The call turned the series in Montreal's favor, who would eventually down the upstart Kings to win the Stanley Cup.

Before the 19 93-94 season began, McSorley was traded back to Pittsburgh. Marty had earned a big pay raise and the Kings didn't want to pay the bill, so they sent him packing. It signaled the start of the downfall for LA as the Kings lost their emotional leader.

He played 47 games in Pittsburgh, but struggled. Much to Marty's relief he was traded back to Los Angeles later in the year. Oddly enough Shawn McEacheran was also involved in both trades. Upon his return to La-la-land he set the Kings franchise record for career penalty minutes. He also made a nice pass to Wayne Gretzky on Gretzky's NHL record breaking 802nd NHL goal.

McSorley was traded by the Kings again, this time March 1996 to the New York Rangers. McSorley was a free agent at season's end, so the Rangers were effectively using him as a rental player for the playoff run. As it turned out McSorley would only play 13 games for New York, including just 4 playoff contests.

After that, he signed on with San Jose as a free agent, but was used sparingly due to his lack of foot speed and defensive blunders. McSorley returned to the Edmonton Oilers in 1998-99, and signed with Boston for the 1999-2000 season.

TH will be remembered for his hideous assault on Donald Brasher, which is unfortunate. Marty McSorley was more than a goon. He started out as a goon in Pittsburgh who went on to become Dave Semenko's replacement as Gretzky's bodyguard in Edmonton and later Los Angeles. But a funny thing happened a long the way - McSorley worked his butt off and he turned himself into a fine player, especially during his first tenure with the Kings. In fact, in my opinion, McSorley was the second most dominant LA King in the 1993 Cup run, after of course Wayne Gretzky.

Though he was an awkward skater, Marty learned to play within his limitations, and as soon as he did that he thrived. Originally a winger, Marty is best known for playing defense where he cleared creases and intimidate attacking opponents on a nightly basis. He did possess a heavy shot.

Marty earned great respect around the league for his hard work, his fine team play, and his articulate intelligence off the ice. That all changed because of a sick stick swinging incident that even left McSorley shocked.

"He'll have to live with this for the rest of his life" said Canucks GM Brian Burke. "That's quite a burden."


December 02, 2017

Mark Napier

As an 18-year old Napier was rated as the top player in Canada born in 1957 by pro scouts. He had an impressive 223 points in 131 games during two seasons for his hometown team Toronto Marlboros in the OHA. In his last season with the Marlies, 1974-75, Napier led the team to the Memorial Cup as well as being named to the 1st All-Star team. He also led all scorers in goals (24) and points (48) in the playoffs.

Despite still having two years of junior eligibility remaining, he signed as an under-age junior with the WHA Toronto Toro's May 1975. Napier was an instant hit in the WHA, recording 93 points, and was the only rookie to finish among the league's top 50 scorers. He also was voted as the WHA rookie of the year. In his sophomore season Mark exploded for 60 goals, one of only 8 players to do so in WHA history.

Napier was a spectacular skater, blessed with tremendous speed and acceleration. He also had good balance, skating with his legs wide apart forming a low center of gravity. He maintained his fine speed until he was well past 30. Mark thrived on fast-breaks, transition offense and two-on-one situations.

He was drafted from the Birmingham Bulls (WHA) by Montreal Canadiens in the 1st round,10th overall of the 1977 entry draft. The Montreal fans loved his eye-pleasing end-to-end rushes and his streaky goal scoring exploits.

Often paired with fiery Doug Risebrough, Napier led Montreal in goals three consecutive season with 35 tallies in 1980-81 and 40 in back to back seasons in 1982 and 1983. On January 23rd, 1982 he set the team record for fastest two goals from the start of a game, scoring twice in the opening 38 seconds against Calgary.

Early into the 1983-84 season Napier Mark was traded to Minnesota together with fellow speedster Keith Acton a draft pick for strapping center Bobby Smith. After a short stint in Minnesota, Mark was traded to Edmonton for Gord Sherven and Terry Martin on January 24, 1985. The deal to Edmonton was a jackpot since it gave him two Stanley Cup rings. He also got to play with brother in law Pat Hughes.

His last stop in the NHL came when he was traded from Edmonton to Buffalo on March 6, 1987 with Lee Fogolin in exchange for Normand Lacombe, Wayne van Dorp and future considerations. Mark closed out his solid NHL career in 1988-89, totaling 767 games and 541 points (235 goals and 306 assists). In the WHA he had 254 points in 237 games.

Interestingly, Napier finished his career wearing jersey #65 back when such NASCAR numbers were not so common place. Since his favored #9 was already in use courtesy of Danny Gare, Napier chose 65 because of his involvement with the charitable Cystic Fibrosis Foundation where he was an honorary chairman. The terrible disease is often mispronounced by its youngest victims as Sixty Five Roses, leading to the annual fundraising and awareness campaign by the same tagline. Napier brought further attention to the cause by donning the jersey number.

Napier went on to play in Italy between 1989-93 where he continued to rely on his fine speed. He played for Bolzano, Varese and Milano becoming the Italian champ three out of the four years. Mark led the league in goals and points in both 1990 and 91, as well as assists in 1991. In 128 games Mark scored a whopping 376 points.

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