October 19, 2019

The Greatest Games Of All Time

What is the greatest hockey game of all time?

That is the focus of the new collector's edition issue of The Hockey News. It's a beautifully laid-out collection of oral histories as told by the legend of hockey themselves.

THN groups the games into three distinct categories: NHL, International, and amateur. They also name the top three games for each NHL franchise.

In Canada the cover features the Crosby's Golden Goal at the 2010 Olympics. In America the cover has the 1980 Olympics Miracle On Ice.

Which is fitting because reality is the greatest games of all time are seemingly all on the international stage. The NHL should take that into consideration before making the final decision about the Beijing Olympics.

THN names the Miracle On Ice as the greatest international game, followed by 1972 Summit Series (game 8), 1987 Canada Cup (game 3), 2014 Sochi Olympics women's gold medal game, and then the 2010 Olympics.

(Clearly the marketing department's influence focuses strictly on Canada and USA. I'm sure the Swedes, Finns, Czechs, Russians etc see things a little differently).

It really is amazing, I think, that there are not so many NHL games universally hailed as the greatest games of all time. I guess that speaks to the many different allegiances across a league that has 31 teams now. Most fans in any given market may not have even seen, let alone much cared about, an all time great game in another market.

THN names the LA Kings Miracle on Manchester upset of the Edmonton Oilers in 1982 as the greatest NHL game of all time. It is much celebrated of course, because it was a rare misstep in Wayne Gretzky's career. There have been plenty of crazy comebacks in the Stanley Cup playoffs. If Gretzky wasn't involved in this one, it would just be another wild game.

 In reality almost no one saw that game. As always the East Coast was sleeping in bed before the West Coast game even started. And while the game winning goal is Daryl Evan's claim to fame, but most people can not name who scored the Miracle goal.

Also named is the 1987 Easter Epic. The dramatic game seven  between Washington and the New York Islanders went to four overtimes. Which oddly means much of the East Coast was asleep again.

Then there was the "Too Many Men On The Ice" game between Boston and Montreal in 1979. Another epic collapse but perhaps over-celebrated because of celebrity Don Cherry's presence.

Oh yes, we have to have the New York Rangers win over New Jersey in 1994, courtesy of Mark Messier's guarantee. And add the 1936 six overtime marathon game some 80 years ago between Detroit and the Montreal Maroons.

Marathon is the key word. The NHL is a marathon. International hockey is the 100m dash. Everyone knows the 100m sprint is the darling event of the Olympics. Why? Because everyone consumes it. It only takes 10 seconds. Everyone witnesses it. It's on the grandest stage.

The Olympics might not benefit the NHL in any tangible way. And if the IOC isn't going to fit the associated costs while keeping all the cash, no one should blame the NHL for staying away. But if that issue can be overcome, the NHL could surely benefit from the grandest stage.

October 14, 2019

Terrible Ted Green

Born on March 23, 1940 in Eriksdale, Manitoba, Ted played his junior hockey in St. Boniface Manitoba in the Montreal Canadiens junior system. He led the league in penalty minutes twice in his 3 full seasons in the MJHL, quickly developing a reputation as the baddest hockey player in all of Manitoba. However the Canadiens left Terrible Ted unprotected in the 1960 Intra League draft and he would join the Boston Bruins organization.

Green remained in Manitoba initially. He played two years with the Winnipeg Warriors of the WHL before the Bruins came calling for the 1961-62 season. The Bruins were looking for a rugged rearguard replacement for Fernie Flaman. Boston GM Lynn Patrick's search ended in his own system as Green quickly became a leader among the Bruins blue line corps.

Though he was brought in initially for his physicality and intimidation, Green developed into a good NHLer through sheer determination. A monster in his own zone, Green kept the other team honest. A hard hitting and willing fighter with a short fuse, Green became an integral part of the Bruins. An excellent shot blocker, Green saw time as a forward on penalty kills. His puck skills improved to the point where in 1969 he was named to the NHL Second All Star team when scored 8 goals and 46 points, a far cry from his 11 point rookie season.

Green opened the 1961-62 season in Boston and led the team with 116 PIM. He gained instant respect around the league that season, dropping the gloves with any and all comers, including a memorable fight with Frank Mahovlich in which Green broke his hand. Green playing hurt would quickly become a regular occurrence. Never a true offensive threat, Green developed into a decent d-man with the puck. He became very good at making the first pass to clear the zone, and his assist totals eventually reached the mid- 30s on a consistent basis. He scored a career high 8 goals on 2 occasions.

In September 1969, Green suffered one of the scariest injuries in NHL history in a stick swinging incident with Wayne Maki of the St. Louis Blues. It was an exhibition game in Ottawa and the two began swinging their sticks at each other as though they were Jedi Knights. The altercation ended when Maki clubbed Green on the head baseball swing style. That resulted in life threatening injuries to Green with three major operations were required to save his life. The left side of his body was paralyzed and it seemed obvious he would never play again.

Yet somehow Green made a miraculous comeback. Through courage and determination, Green returned to Bruins lineup in 1970-71 and savored the Bruins Stanley Cup victory in 1972.

Following the '72 championship, Green jumped at the big bucks being thrown his way by the WHA. He played the next three years with the nearby New England Whalers before finishing his career with seasons back in his home province with the Winnipeg Jets. Adding to his legend as a winner, Green was part of three Avco Cup championships, 1 in New England and 2 in Winnipeg.

Green was one of the toughest players ever in league history. He made the NHL in the magical days of the Original Six when jobs were scarce. He played 20 years in pro hockey and developed into an All Star and a Stanley Cup winner. Yet he his best known nearly dying on the ice.

"Today, years after the injury, people come up to me and say, "You're Ted Green? How's you're head?" That's all they seem to remember of a long career. So I find it hilarious sometimes"

Ted is able to laugh about the injury and never held a grudge against Maki, who died a few short years later of a brain tumor. Though his Bruin teammates vowed to get revenge against Maki, Green always tried to calm them down and helped to ensure nothing escalated in future matches with the Blues.

Green, who later went on to become a long time coach with the Edmonton Oilers, always joked that the injury actually led to his improved golf game because the weight of the steel plate in his head forces him to keep his head down. He also joked that he couldn't play golf in the rain because that steel plate made him a human lightning rod.

In 11 years in the NHL, "Terrible Ted" Green recorded 48 goals, 206 assists and 254 points in 620 regular season games. In 31 playoff games, he collected 4 goals and 8 assists for 12 points.

October 12, 2019

Captain Kirk

October 10, 2019

Canucks Season Opener Classy, But Big Absence

The 8-2 win over the Los Angeles Kings was nice. The naming of Bo Horvat as the new team captain was warranted. And the pre-game presentation was about as classy as it comes.

But the real story may be who was not in attendance, and why?

The Canucks paraded out former stars Dennis Kearns, Stan Smyl, Kirk McLean, Todd Bertuzzi, Orland Kurtenbach and Daniel and Henrik Sedins for the ceremony. Markus Naslund was in Sweden and unable to attend, but he did reach out online.

Yet arguably the two biggest names in franchise history were absent. Pavel Bure and Trevor Linden.
(We could bring up Roberto Luongo's name here, too, but somehow since this only game one since Luongo's retirement from Florida, somehow it feels like there is plenty of time to repatriate him as a Canucks legend).

Bure is no surprise. He has been all but estranged from the franchise since the day he left in 1999. Aside from a couple of days of appearances in 2013 to retire his jersey, it seems Bure has little interest in his place in Canucks history or even hockey history outside of Russia.

Linden is a surprise. This should have been his first appearance with the franchise that "amicably" let him go as President of Hockey Operations a year ago. He will forever remain the favorite son of the franchise, as only the Sedins have come close to similar status. Yet, on a night when most of the greats were there, he, of all people, was absent.

The question is why? And ultimately the question is just how amicable was that split?

Team officials said Linden was unavailable as he was out of town on a trip booked months ago, but that has been proven to be inaccurate. He was in town. They reassured that Linden will take part in 50th anniversary ceremonies, though a scheduled appearance in February 10th remains unconfirmed by Linden.

So is this a cover up by Aquillinis who did not want Linden there? Probably not. They do realize how important Linden is to the fans, and that's why he is so prominently featured in 50th anniversary marketing materials. No matter how strained the relationship might be, the Aquillinis have to include Linden one would think.

So is Linden avoiding the Canucks? He's been around hockey a long, long time and knows why the season starts. Was his planned trip a convenient excuse to not attend? Does he no longer want to be part of the organization that fired him?

Now everyone will stop here and point out how classy Linden is and that he would not let down the community by completely boycotting. Even under the worst of assumed circumstances he will make his appearances. 

Then again, he did conveniently have an out of town trip when Bure's jersey retirement happened, and it's long been rumoured that those two do not see eye to eye.

I am certain both sides will say all the right things. I expect Linden will be there on February night when the franchise retires the Sedins jerseys. However Linden, a close friend of Daniel and Henrik, will be there because the Sedins will have invited him, not necessarily the organization. And if that is his only appearance, wow what a story we have here.

The Canucks franchise has been hard-luck to down right cursed over 50 years. To be estranged from Bure and now Linden is terrible karma. The franchise has to right this. Aquillinis tried with Bure, but ultimately it has to be a two way street. And now they might have a karma problem with Linden.

There was a time when the Montreal Canadiens had burned bridges with several of their all time greats, including Rocket Richard and Guy Lafleur. They spent considerable effort to mend those relationships. The Toronto Maple Leafs did the same, most notably with Dave Keon.

Now some of this is on Linden, too. He should have been the bigger man and put the fans and franchise ahead of any rift with the Aquillinis. 

The Canucks better get working on mending these relationships. Or this rift will overshadow the 50th anniversary celebrations and be yet another black mark on a franchise full of black marks.

Eric Duhatschek on The Gretzky Effect

October 09, 2019

Ranking The Canucks Captains

Bo Horvat will be named as the 14th captain in the Vancouver Canucks 50 year history on Wednesday.

Now the Vancouver Canucks have not had a lot of great moments over the years, but they have had some great captains. Let's look at the top five:

5. Markus Naslund (2000-2008) - The first European captain in franchise history, Markus Naslund was a very quiet captain and even an under-appreciated star in franchise history. He captained the franchise from the very low days of the late 1990s to lead the team to become an exciting playoff contender for most of his tenure. Under his tutelage the Sedins emerged as the very capable successors. 

4. Orland Kurtenbach (1970-1974) - The original Canucks captain, Kurtenbach established the 
standards of heart and soul that all Canucks players, and especially captains, are expected to achieve.

3. Stan Smyl (1982-1990) - Stan Smyl took over the leadership of the franchise during the Cinderella Stanley Cup Finals run of 1982. Kevin McCarthy was the captain that spring, but injured and unable to play. Smyl's trademark effort and grit led the Canucks all the way to the Finals where they met the dynastic New York Islanders. Smyl would be given the C the next season and would lead the team through to 1990. He became the first player in franchise history to have his number retired in 1991.

2. Henrik Sedin (2010-2011) - Henrik Sedin took the lessons of Markus Naslund and Trevor Linden and captained the team with as much class as anyone. On the ice he led the greatest team in Canucks history while off the ice he dealt with more media and community demands than anyone before him. He did it all with a level of elegance not seen before.

1. Trevor Linden (1990-1997) - Linden was the obvious choice to take over the captaincy from Smyl in 1990, even though he was just 20 years old. He shared the captaincy with Doug Lidster and Dan Quinn that first year. From 1991 through 1997 Linden captained one of the best eras in Canucks history, highlighted by the 1994 Stanley Cup final appearance. Along the way Linden represented not just the organization with the desired attributes necessary to be a Canuck, but he came to represent the entire city and province with class and good citizenship. He will go down forever as a great hockey warrior and favorite son.

October 07, 2019

Greatest European Ever?

Nicklas Lidstrom has his autobiography out. It is a quick, easy read. Nothing terribly shocking or controversial in it, but a good trip down memory lane.

I particularly enjoyed the talk of his childhood and his admiration of the great Swedish and European hockey pioneer Borje Salming. Salming was the first European trained player to truly establish himself as a star in the National Hockey League.

When it comes down to the question "who is the greatest NHL European trained player ever?" both Salming and Lidstrom are near the top of the pack. Along with the likes of Alexander Ovechkin, Jaromir Jagr and Dominik Hasek 

There is no shortage of candidates nowadays. When I was a kid it was basically Salming, a young Jari Kurri who still has never truly shaken the label of Gretzky's winger, and a few talented but at times enigmatic stars like Kent Nilsson and Hakan Loob.

Of course there were the Eastern Block stars, notably the Soviets, who were unable to play in the NHL. Igor Larionov and Viacheslav Fetisov in particular established themselves as solid NHL stars late in their careers but were never able to compete in the NHL in their true primes.

Nowadays Canadian kids grow up dreaming of being the next Teemu Selanne, Sergei Fedorov, Pavel Bure or Pavel Datsyuk. And with the likes of Elias Pettersson and Nikita Kucherov this is no trend, but something that will continue forever.

Who is the greatest European hockey player ever? Who is the best European hockey player ever? As you know, in my estimation those are two very different questions.

The greatest means who had the best career, made the most impact, had the greatest legacy. I will always rank Salming high in this regard, along with Ovechkin and Jagr. Best means who was the best player, and when you break it down I still think Sergei Fedorov as about as perfect of a forward as hockey has ever seen. And the same can be said of Lidstrom on the back end.

Who is the greatest? Who is the best? I don't really know, its too tough of a choice! I'm just happy to say I've seen them all and then some