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April 24, 2018

A Beautiful Mind: Frank Boucher

Often considered to be the Wayne Gretzky of his day because of his superior playmaking skills and understanding of the game, Frank Boucher had the gentility, class and manners rarely matched at such an elite level. In a game that is enthralled by it's violent behavior, Boucher won the Lady Byng Trophy, emblematic of gentlemanly play and excellence, 7 times from 1928-1935. In fact in 1935 he was given the trophy to keep, and a second trophy was created to give to the annual winner.

Barely standing 5'9" and weighing a mere 135lbs, he was strong and sleek on his skates. He was a genius of a puck handler, with this uncanny ability of drawing defenders to him while the his linemates Bill and Bun Cook raced to open holes. Selflessly, and almost without fail, he would thread the puck through defenders, right on to the stick! He was truly the balance wheel on arguably hockey's best line. He also was credited for perfecting the drop pass so common in today's game.

He debuted in 1921-22 in the NHL with the Ottawa Senators. A native of Ottawa, Boucher grew up playing hockey from dawn to dark on the frozen Rideau River. It was at this early age that he developed his meticulously clean style of play, emulating the great Frank Nighbor - his idol. But soon his hockey journey moved him out to the Vancouver Maroons of the PCHA where he starred for 4 years in the NHL calibre league.

Boucher was acquired by the NY Rangers in 1926-27 and was paired with the Cook brothers Bill and Bun. The "A" Line or "Bread" Line quickly became the most feared in hockey, and remains one of the most potent in NHL history. The threesome would lead the Rangers to the Stanley Cup in just their second year.

Feathering pucks masterfully to the Cooks in a Gretzky-like fashion, "Raffles" led the league in assists three times. While it is tough for a modern fan to comprehend just how impressive Boucher's statistics were, Total Hockey once did an interesting study to translate old scoring totals into modern times. The study really puts Boucher's brilliance into perspective. In his first 5 seasons Boucher would have scored 100 assists! In fact, Boucher's league leading 16 assists in the assist-rare 1928-29 season would translate into 151 assists today! And in Boucher's first 4 seasons Boucher would have averaged about 175 adjusted point! In total, Boucher's adjusted career totals would have been 401 goals, 1000 assists and 1401 points!

Of course such studies are fun though flawed and in the end interesting but useless. Frank's real career totals with 160 goals, 263 assists, and 423 points in 557 games. What no statistic or study will ever reflect would be the true artistry of this great hockeyist. When modern fans compare Wayne Gretzky to Frank Boucher, the compliment is very telling of just how good Frank was!

While best known as a player, it should be noted Boucher later coached the Rangers and captured the Stanley Cup in his first season as a coach. His coaching record isn't great as his team was decimated by War and struggled for years to regain elite status. Boucher's biggest problem was he never had a player as good as he was. He was an innovative coach. He developed the now common box penalty kill formation. He also was the first coach to pull his goaltender for an extra attacker.

Its really too bad that only the old timers got to witness Frank Boucher, as he'd be one of the all time greats if he played post WWII. One of the old-timers that did really respect Boucher's skills was legendary broadcaster Foster Hewitt. While broadcasting the 1972 Summit Series in 1972, the highly skilled Soviets reminded Hewitt of Boucher.

"There aren't many people around to remember" Hewitt said, even 30 years ago. "but the way the Russians play reminds me of the old Rangers, especially the line of Boucher and the Cooks. They were even better than the Russians. When Frank, Bill and Bunny were on the ice, it always seemed to me they had the puck on the string."

April 22, 2018

Dipsy Doodle Dandy: Max Bentley

One of the most exciting players of any era in National Hockey League was Max Bentley. He was nicknamed "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.

Although he was puny at just 5' 8" and 155 pounds, Bentley quickly learned to use his superior skating abilities to survive the rough and tough NHL. He was also brilliant with the puck. He could stickhandle through a maze of players at top speed - a true rarity in any era. He was a deft passer and had a laser like wrist shot.

Bentley credited his incredible wrist shot to his farm chores back home in Delisle, Saskatchewan. His father would tell him that milking cows would make his wrists strong, and in turn would provide him with an excellent shot.

The Bentleys, like most western Canadian farming families, worked hard to earn their living but relished athletics almost as much. Bill, the father better known as "Boss," was a blazing speedskater in his day, and taught all of thirteen his children to skate expertly. All 6 of his sons went on to star at various levels of hockey, including Max, Doug and briefly Reg in the NHL. Even the seven daughters formed a team that would often beat any local teams looking for a scrimmage, including the brothers.

In 1938 Max and Doug headed to Montreal to try out for the Canadiens. But Max became ill and upon further examination was diagnosed with a severe heart condition. He was told to never play hockey again in order to maintain a normal and long life.

Max returned to the farm and initially followed the doctor's orders, which left him miserable as could be. Eventually, with the encouragement of his wife Betty, he returned to the rinks and joined 5 of his brothers with the Drumheller Miners of the Alberta Senior Hockey League.

Doug got another training camp invite, this time with the Chicago Black Hawks. Doug stuck with the Hawks and impressed immediately. The following season, 1940-41, Max got an invite and also made the team.

Almost from the get-go the Bentley brothers took the Windy City by storm. Originally paired with Bill Thoms, the dynamic duo became the terrific trio once Bill Mosienko joined the Bentleys on the top line. Using their great speed and intricate passing plays, they became known as "The Pony Line." They patterned themselves after their heroes Frank Boucher and Bill and Bun Cook. Both the Pony Line and the Rangers "A Line" have been compared in modern terms to the great Soviet Red Army teams of the 1970s and 1980s.

Not including the two years he missed for military duty, Max enjoyed 5 seasons in Chicago. However it was his two year stint following WWII duties (1945-1947) that Max really asserted himself as one of the game's elite. Nicknamed the "Dipsy Doodle Dandy from Delisle," Max won the Hart Trophy (1945-46), the Art Ross Trophy (1945-46 and 1946-47) and was voted to the first All-Star team (1945-46) and second All Star team (1946-47).

Despite the Pony Line's success, the Black Hawks were never able to acquire enough depth to become true contenders in the competitive 6 team NHL. So on November 4, 1947, they went looking for depth, and sacrificed Max Bentley to get it. In one of the biggest trades in all of hockey history the Hawks sent Bentley to the Toronto Maple Leafs for 5 players - an entire forward unit consisting of Gaye Stewart, Gus Bodnar and Bud Poile, plus defensive pairing Ernie Dickens and Bob Goldham.

Max was initially heartbroken about the trade, and NHL insiders didn't understand why the Leafs gave up such a big part of their team to get just the one player - even if it was the great Max Bentley. The trade would quickly backfire on the Hawks instead and stands as one of the most lopsided trades in NHL history. The Hawks floundered without Max, missing the playoffs for the next several years.

Meanwhile in Toronto, Max was a key player in three Stanley Cup championships (1948, 1949 and 1951). Playing on a much deeper team (Max had to share ice time with fellow centers Syl Apps - who retired in 1948 - and Teeder Kennedy), Max never posted the same offensive statistics during the regular season in Toronto. However come playoff time he was unstoppable - twice leading all scorers in assists and once in points.

Max, who often played with Joe Klukay and Nick Metz (then Ray Timgren after Metz's retirement), was a fan favorite in Toronto. Perhaps his greatest moment as a Maple Leaf came final game of the 1951 Cup finals against Montreal. With the Canadiens up 2-1 in the dying seconds, the Leafs pulled their goaltender for an extra attacker. Bentley managed to manoeuvre his way right into the slot and set up Sid Smith who in turn hit the goal post. Tod Sloan was there to make sure the game headed into overtime. The Leafs won the game - and the Cup - in the extra frame, thanks to the heroics of Bill Barilko.

Bentley's career was winding down by 1953, but he wanted to end his career by once again playing with his brother Doug. The two reunited briefly with the New York Rangers before both waved good bye to the NHL, and returned to Saskatchewan until his death in 1984.

Fittingly, both Max and Doug Bentley are members of the Hockey Hall of Fame.

April 21, 2018

Captain America: Chris Chelios

Chris Chelios was a skating contradiction. On one hand he was no-nonsense S.O.B but on the other he was a sentimental sap. 

Chelios has fused these two character traits into a Hall of Fame hockey career. His emotional passion for hockey has created a hockey resume that leaves most jealous: A Stanley Cup championship with Montreal in 1986 and two more in Detroit in 2002 and 2008. Three Norris Trophies, four first-team NHL All-Star selections and eleven appearances in the All-Star game. He was the first American born defenseman to win the Norris Trophy. He became the first blueliner in Hawks history to lead his team in scoring. He also participated in Canada Cups, World Cups and in four Olympics. 

You get no argument here that he is the greatest American born hockey player ever.

It certainly wasn't an easy journey to the NHL for the Chicago-born Chelios. His father came to Chicago from Greece and became somewhat of a rink rat at the old Chicago Stadium. His love for the game was passed on to Chris. Chelios started playing hockey in high school but by the age of 15 his family moved to San Diego. 

Needless to say there wasn't many hockey opportunities in San Diego. He tried out for the University of San Diego hockey team but didn't make the team! He had all this raw ability but never had any coaching. So Chris left home and ventured to Canada. He eventually wound up in Moose Jaw. Playing under coach Larry Billows, Chelios showed great improvement over 2 years in Moose Jaw. He also caught the eye of the Canadiens, who picked him 40th overall in the 1981 draft. 

He honed it further at University of Wisconsin and later with the United States National Team that represented the country at the 1984 Olympics. The Canadiens were very patient with their diamond in the rough and didn't rush him. He joined the Habs following the Olympics 

Chelios spent seven seasons with Montreal, learning from the likes of Rick Green, Larry Robinson and Jacques Laperriere. 

"Those were great years," Chelios says. "I listened and learned a lot." 

Chelios developed a reputation as a talented and tireless player--logging heavy ice time--but was someone who had a hot temper and often took a stupid penalty. Entering the 1996-97 season, Chelios ranked 32nd all-time with 1,926 penalty minutes. 

Chelios was traded to the Hawks on June 29, 1990, for Denis Savard, a move that proved mostly unpopular at the time because of Savard's popularity. 

It was tough for Chelios to accept too. 

``I should be the happiest guy in the world, but I`m really very sad about leaving Montreal,`` Chelios said. ``But it was once my dream to play in Chicago.`` 

Despite losing their favorite player in Savard, Hawks fans quickly embraced the fiery Chelios and his leadership abilities emerged. Soon enough he was named captain -- an honor he held with Montreal as well -- for the 1995-96 season. 

Chelios never has taken his NHL job for granted. And he loved to play for Chicago. Before long he sounded totally different than the day he first arrived in Chicago. 

"Every time I look back and see the position I'm in -- every single game -- I'm just as excited as I was the first game I ever played in," Chelios says. "I'm fortunate to be playing in my hometown and to be playing for the Blackhawks. To me, it's a great honor to play in the NHL and especially for the Blackhawks." 

Sadly, the rebuilding Blackhawks traded Chelios on March 23, 1999 to the Detroit Red Wings. Chelios was aging and looking for a contract extension that the Hawks weren't willing to give. 

"Never in my life did I imagine I would leave the Blackhawks and play for another team," an emotional Chelios said "It's not what I wanted."

Chelios in a Red Wings jersey soon did look right. He played in the Motor City for 10 more seasons, winning Stanley Cups in 2002 and 2008.

Towards the end of the decade Chelios, an extreme fitness nut, openly mused with the idea of playing into his 50s, bettering Gordie Howe's amazing record of playing until the age of 52. His ice time was severely cut in Detroit, so in 2009-10 he moved on to Atlanta hoping to extend his career. But he could not make the lowly Thrashers team, playing in just 7 games and spending the rest of the season in the minor leagues.

It may have been a whimper of an end for one of hockey's greatest warriors. But he played on, for the love of the game.

April 20, 2018

Big Mak: Sergei Makarov

Sergei Makarov enjoyed a good NHL career, but his legacy should not be judged by his North American career.

Makarov's greatest feats occurred during the 1980's when he played for the communist regime in the old Soviet Union. Because of that regime and the ever existent Cold War, we rarely saw Makarov play other than at world championships, Olympics, Canada Cups and NHL exhibitions. Because of the political and social settings we were raised to hate him, yet secretly we marveled at his awesome skills.

Makarov was a crazy legged skater, blessed with dazzling speed and agility. He was as dangerous of a one-on-one player as there ever has been, emulating the bold and sudden dashes of his idol Valeri Kharlamov. He had a laser of a shot and as much of a goal scorer's mentality as the Soviet system allowed. But he was every bit as lethal with his great passing game, be it short give-and-goes or impossible breakout passes.

He played 11 years for CSKA Moscow of the Soviet league with his team winning the league title each season. He also participated in 3 Winter Olympic Games and 11 World Championships and has been a member of 13 gold medal-winning teams: Canada Cup (1981), World Jr. Championships (1977, 1978), Olympics (1984, 1988), World Championships (1978, 1979, 1981, 1982, 1983, 1986, 1989, 1990).

An 11-time Soviet National League All-Star and 8-time World Championship First-Team All-Star, Makarov also was a 2-time winner of the "Gold Stick" award as the outstanding player in Europe.

Makarov's greatest honor from his playing days in the U.S.S.R. would be his placing among 23 others as a Masters of Sport in Russia, an honor equivalent to Hall of Fame selection.

Here's a look at Sergei Makarov's career stats prior to joining the National Hockey League: 519 league games; 322 goals, 388 assists for 710 points. Keep in mind that this is just Soviet League games and does not include Olympic or World Championship games where Makarov and his linemates shone brightest. Makarov scored 189 goals in 315 games in 14 seasons with the Soviet national team.

Sergei Makarov was the greatest right winger in all of Europe during the 1980s, and the late Valeri Kharlamov's heir as the Soviet's most electrifying and deadly weapon. Together with linemates Igor Larionov and Vladimir Krutov, Makarov was a magnificent player, as good as anyone in the world, except maybe Canada's Wayne Gretzky. The KLM Line was certainly the top line in all of hockey in the 1980s, and perhaps the most awesome offensive trio ever.

The fall of Iron Curtain allowed Makarov, along with linemates Larionov, Krutov, and defense partners Fetisov and Kasatonov amongst others to leave the Central Red Army and pursue a career elsewhere in 1989, and the NHL was waiting. Although they all came in their twilight of their careers, all have had varying success in the NHL. Despite being under an intense microscope, Makarov made the immediate adjustment the easiest of all the old Russian players, as he would score 24 goals and 62 assists with the Calgary Flames in 1989-90, earning him the Calder trophy as the NHL's best first year player.

Despite being critical of North America's dump-and-chase game as compared to the Soviet's intricate passing and puck control game, he would go on to put up impressive statistics for 4 more years before age caught up with him. Other than 4 lonely games in Dallas, Makarov finished his NHL career in San Jose, playing on the "ov line" with Igor Larionov and Swedish player Johan Garpenlov.

Sergei Makarov electrifying speed and stickhandling terrorized Canadian hockey fans for most of the 1980s, which is why he was inducted into the IIHF Hall of Fame in 2001. When he joined the NHL people doubted he could do it against NHL competition over an 80 game schedule. Despite some tough circumstances, Makarov proved them otherwise. Yet it is not his NHL career that earns him his place as a one the Greatest Hockey Legends.

Last I've heard Sergei Makarov still lives in California's Bay Area, with his wife American Mary and his children; son Nicky and daughter Katya. His oldest son, Artem, from a previous marriage, was living in Calgary. Makarov was said to be enjoying his anonymous life, but he is still active in the game. He is a certified player agent who acts as a liaison for young Russians wanting to play in North America.

Minister of Defense: Serge Savard

Serge Savard was a key component of the Montreal Canadiens dynasty in the 1970s. A consummate professional, Savard sacrificed personal awards and statistics for the success of his team and his teammates. Such selflessness allowed the Guy Lafleurs, Steve Shutts and Larry Robinsons achieve great acclaim, although Savard too received much recognition for his fine play.

Savard, nicknamed "The Senator" and the "Minister of Defense," played 16 seasons with the Habs, including being named captain for 2 of those years. With Savard in the line up, the Canadiens won 8 Stanley Cup championships, including 4 successive Cups from 1976 to 1979.

Savard is best known as a member of The Big Three. Along with Larry Robinson and Guy Lapointe, Savard helped to make what many consider to be the best blue line in NHL history. No other team, say many experts, has ever iced three defenseman of the same quality as The Big Three.

Savard was the elder statesman of The Big Three. A native Montrealer, Savard graduated from the Junior Canadiens to turn pro in 1966. By the 1967-68 season he was on his way to a standout career, winning his first Stanley Cup.

In just his second NHL season, Savard progressed nicely during the regular season, but dominated in the playoffs. He played incredibly through the entire post season, and picked up 4 goals and 10 points in 14 games to earn him the Conn Smythe Trophy as the NHL's Most Valuable Player in the playoffs. Savard became the first defenseman in history to win the award.

Tragedy struck Savard on January 30, 1971. In a game against the Toronto Maple Leafs, who had already had a history of knee and leg injuries, broke bones in both of his legs. He would be able to participate in only 60 games over the 1970-71 and 1971-72 seasons.

Despite the major set back, Savard was cleared to play for the the 1971-72 season. Before the season got underway Serge was asked to represent Canada against the Soviets in the now-fabled 1972 Summit Series. It is well documented jus how much trouble he Canadians had with their Soviet counterparts, but Savard had a calming influence on the team and made a significant difference when he played. Savard played in only 5 of the 8 games against the Russians, and Team Canada never lost a match, going 4-0-1. Coincidence? Maybe, but there can be no doubt that Savard was a big part of the games that he did play in.

Savard returned to the NHL and continued his steady and spectacular play. However he was never noted as much of an offensive threat until the 1974-75 season. Coming off of a 4 goal, 18 point season the previous year, Serge exploded with a 20 goal, 60 point season. That season proved to be a bit of a fluke, as Serge never returned to those numbers again, although he was a consistent 5-10 goal and 40+ point threat through the rest of the Canadiens dynasty in the late 1970s.

Savard stayed in Montreal until the conclusion of the 1980-81 season. The Habs were looking to bring in some youth and exposed Savard on the preseason waiver draft. The Winnipeg Jets, the worst team in hockey, eagerly claimed the wily veteran. The Jets, who had never made the playoffs and finished the previous season with an awful 32 points, convinced Savard to play for them as opposed to retiring. In Savard's first year with Winnipeg, the Jets made the playoffs and improved by 48 points!

Despite suffering two broken legs early in his career, Savard has an impressive collection of awards. Savard earned the Conn Smythe Trophy as most valuable player in the Stanley Cup playoffs in 1969, and was also awarded the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy for perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey. He was also named in 1979 to the NHL Second All-Star Team. Serge likely would have been named to more All Star Teams but he was overshadowed by the offensive likes of Bobby Orr, Brad Park, Denis Potvin and teammates Robinson and Lapointe. Nonetheless, Serge is also an enshrined member of the Hockey Hall of Fame.

Following his playing career, Savard established himself as a top hockey executive with the Montreal Canadiens, as well as astute and successful business man.

April 18, 2018

Hart Trophy Doesn't Always Go To Top Scorer

The Hart Trophy, awarded to the player deemed to be the most valuable player to his team, often to goes to a player who has a dominant offensive season.

But when the award was first presented in 1924, it was given to Ottawa's Frank Nighbor. Nighbor was a distant third in scoring on his own team. Teammates Cy Denneny and Georges Boucher finished one-two in the entire league in scoring. Denneny took the goal scoring lead, scoring double the goals than Nighbor.

Nighbor was one of the great defensive forwards of any era, and certainly the best of his era. He clearly must have been very effective to be selected as the league MVP despite being dominated on the score sheet by his teammates. He was like today's Patrice Bergeron or Jonathan Toews.

Unfortunately I have never been able to find Hart Trophy voting results for that season, though there is some suggestion the only known runner up was Montreal Canadiens defenseman Sprague Cleghorn.

But it got me thinking - has any other Hart Trophy winner not led his own team in scoring (not including defensemen and goaltenders obviously)? I found five other instances, though with some asterisks.

The very next season, 1925, Billy Burch was named as the Hart Trophy winner. The Hamilton Tigers' center and Hockey Hall of Famer has been completely forgotten in hockey annals nowadays, but back then he outdistanced Howie Morenz, Clint Benedict, Babe Dye and Aurel Joliat in the voting. He played on a line with brothers Red and Shorty Green, with Red taking the team scoring title by 7 points on both of his linemates. Red Green also played the full season, with the other two missing 3 and 2 games, respectively.

In 1949, Sid Abel won the Hart Trophy, with 43 votes. Only Montreal goaltender Bill Durnan came close with 36 votes. Abel led the league in goals with 28, but technically tied linemate Ted Lindsay for the scoring lead in Detroit. Gordie Howe missed 20 games that season, by the way.

In 1955 Teeder Kennedy somewhat infamously won the Hart Trophy. Kennedy was one of hockey's all time great warriors and he had announced before the season started that this would be his final season. The voters had a Kennedy-love-in and gave him the Hart essentially as a version of hockey's lifetime achievement award. Teeder, who was the Hart Trophy runner up in 1950, finished the year with just 10 goals but was only two points behind Sid Smith for the Leafs scoring lead. Another Leaf probably should have won the award, as goaltender Harry Lumley finished second in Hart balloting with 61 votes compared to Kennedy's 86.

1965 saw Bobby Hull win the Hart Trophy, even though it was far from his best season in the league. And he had a lot of great seasons. Stan Mikita outscored him 87 points to 71, but never got a single Hart Trophy vote. Norm Ullman finished a close second in voting (96 votes to Hull's 103), with Gordie Howe, Roger Crozier and Charlie Hodge also getting votes. Now it should be noted that back then the Hart votes were taken at the mid-way point of the season, and then again at the end. The tallies were combined to find the winner. Hull was clearly the best player in the league in the first half, scoring 32 goals. In the second half he scored just 7.

More recently, Joe Thornton won the MVP in 2006, becoming the first Hart Trophy winner despite being traded mid-season. As a result of the trade, technically he did not lead the San Jose Sharks in scoring that season. He scored 92 points in 58 games with the Sharks, one fewer than Jonathan Cheechoo scored in a full 82 games. But combined with his Boston stats he led the entire league in scoring, capturing his first Art Ross Trophy as well.

April 17, 2018

The Best Of The Best

Let's face it - history is too often his story (or her story) story and, by nature and unintended or not, revisionist to some degree.

That's why I love just scrolling through newspaper archives and finding nuggets of information from the actual time period.

Take for example, this March 13th, 1934 poll of hockey writers conducted by the Canadian Press. I found it in the Montreal Gazette archives, sorry no link available). It gives us a clear picture of who was the best player at several attributes right then, right there, in real time.

Who was the fastest skater? (number in brackets is how many votes the player received)

Howie Morenz (10)
Busher Jackson (5)
Hec Kilrea (4)
Mush March (4)
Jimmy Ward (3)
Herbie Lewis (2)
John Sorrel (1)
Cecil Dillon (1)
Jerry Shannon (1)
Buzz Boll (1)
Georges Mantha (1)

Joe's take: This is the one category where we see a number of players mentioned. Morenz is the clear winner, but he has company. 

Who was the best stickhandler?

Aurel Joliat (17)
Johnny Gottselig (5)
Frank Boucher (4)
Joe Primeau (2)
Larry Aurie (2)
Bun Cook (1)
Nels Stewart (1)
Busher Jackson (1)
Ace Bailey (1)

Joe's take: My impressions of this era would have had named Frank Boucher or maybe Bun Cook, but Joliat is the clear winner here.

Who had the hardest shot?

Charlie Conacher (32)
Lionel Conacher (1)
Jimmy Ward (1)

Joe's take: No contest. We can see where Charlie Conacher's Big Bomber nickname came from.

What was the best line in hockey?

Jackson - Primeau - Conacher (28) (Toronto Maple Leafs)
Cook - Boucher - Cook (7) (New York Rangers)

Joe's take: Two of the greatest lines in hockey history.

Who is the best box office attraction?

Eddie Shore (24)
Toronto Maple Leafs (6)
New York Rangers (1)
Howie Morenz (1)
Aurel Joliat (1)

Joe's take: It is interesting that Eddie Shore gets no votes in any of the categories, but when it comes to the best box office attraction - which I interpret as hockey's superstar of superstars - he clearly wins. Of course, this was Shore's most infamous season, playing in only 30 games as he was suspended for his attack that ended the career of Ace Bailey.

April 14, 2018

Gil The Thrill: Gilbert Perreault

For 17 glorious seasons, Gilbert Perreault was the Buffalo Sabres. As he went, so did the Sabres. An absolute magician with a hockey puck, Perreault ranks high on the NHL's all-time scoring list with 512 goals and 814 assists, for 1326 points in 1,191 games.

Perreault was the first draft choice in Buffalo Sabres history when selected first overall in the 1970 NHL draft. In 1971 he captured the Calder trophy as the NHL's rookie-of-the-year.

In the Sabres second year, the Perreault became the center of the famous "French Connection" line with Rick Martin and Rene Robert.

"Rick Martin joined the Sabres as their first round draft pick in the second year of the franchise. In the same year, Buffalo got Rene Robert in a trade with the Pittsburgh Penguins. We clicked right away. I was there to make the plays, Rick was there to score the goals, and Rene did a little of both. All three of us were good skaters. Our style was comparable to the European style, frequently crisscrossing with a lot of speed" said Perreault, the slickest of the three.

Gilbert was one of the greatest one-on-one players ever. He had more tricks up his sleeve than the rest of his teammates combined.

"In my day, offensive players did a lot more skating and stickhandling, changing speed, dekeing two guys and making plays in the offensive zone. I loved the thrill of beating everyone on the ice, dekeing through the opposition. When I got the puck, I'd dare them to try to get it away from me. Its rare to see that today, save for a few players like Mark Messier or Jaromir Jagr," said Perreault, who grew up admiring great stickhandlers Jean Beliveau and Dickie Moore.

Perreault was often compared to Marcel Dionne and Guy Lafleur, as those three were the top offensive players out of Quebec in their day. Perreault never reached the scoring plateaus that those two did, but many considered him to be the most individually talented. And later on in his career he became aware defensively. Lafleur of course was in Montreal and won many Cups with a great team, so he got the nod as the best Quebecer in the NHL. Dionne was way out in the obscurity of Los Angeles, and never got the recognition he deserved, so Perreault was often considered to be ranked in the middle of that French Trio.

Perreault got off to a blistering start in his NHL career, a career he credited a lot of his success to coach/gm Punch Imlach.

"In my first seasons, Imlach told me to go for goals and not worry about checking. That really helped me get my confidence. The first few years I was there, it was loose. I was rushing the puck a lot. We had style." He (Punch Imlach) showed me video tapes of me in games to prove I was shifting one way too much. He got me to shoot faster; not to nurse the puck for careful aiming. He also wanted me to shoot more and to cut down on what he called 'walking in' on the goalie, something I developed on finding my slap shot wasn't hard enough."

Perreault won the Lady Byng Trophy in 1973 and was a two-time member of the NHL Second All-Star team in 1976 and 1977. The closest Perreault and the Buffalo Sabres franchise has ever come to a Stanley Cup championship was in 1975 when the Sabres were defeated in the finals by the Flyers in six games. Those Sabres teams were special, as the entire team was built around size and solid defensive positioning, plus the explosiveness of Perreault and his linemates. He is an oft-forgotten member of Team Canada 1972, as well as Canada Cup squads.

Perreault never won a Cup, but that was his sole focus. At one point he even considered being traded in order to get that chance at the Cup.

"After 8 or 9 years in Buffalo, I thought about asking for a trade. I wondered if a change would help my career. I was also curious to see how things were done elsewhere. Even the thought of going to the Canadiens crept into my head. I had grown up being a part of winning teams. I knew it would take a few years to get to that point with buffalo, but from 1974-79 we had an especially good chance. We had a lot of good years in Buffalo, but every hockey player wants to win the Stanley Cup. There was a change in Sabres management in 1979 that revived the team, and my thoughts of moving disappeared. In the end I was glad to finish with the Sabres.

Perreault retired as the all time leader for the Buffalo Sabres in every offensive category - 512 goals and 814 assists for 1,326 points in 1,191 regular season games.

Always humble, Perreault's career landed him the ultimate acknowledgement - enshrinement in the Hockey Hall of Fame.

"I didn't enjoy attention when I played but the Hall of Fame is different. It's the greatest honour a player can have."

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