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August 20, 2017

Hockey Heroes: Craig Janney

Wayne Gretzky is without doubt the greatest playmaker of all time. Now Craig Janney certainly isn't the second best of all time, but he may have been the second best of his era. Adam Oates and Doug Gilmour also deserve recognition as the best set up man not named Gretzky in the 1990s.

Janney was the puck feeder for some great players, most notably Cam Neely in Boston and Brett Hull and Brendan Shanahan in St. Louis. He was an extraordinary puck master, creating space for his line mates with slick moves. He possessed great hockey sense, much like Hall of Famer Jean Ratelle.

Janney was quick to dish off acclaim as he is to dish off the puck.

"I've been pretty fortunate to play with some terrific goal scorers," said the unpretentious center. "The guys who pass the puck are only as good as the guys who put it in the net. That's the real hard job, the scoring. I've been fortunate to play with guys like Neely, Hull and Shanahan."

However Janney was also labeled as a very soft player. The game plan against Janney was to hit him early and he would not be a factor for the remainder of the game. He would often just turnover the puck rather than take a hit to make a play. During his prime he was more willing to get his face rubbed against the glass, but in his latter years he lost a step and was unable to sneak away from a big hit. That of course, coupled with his spotty defensive play, landed him in many coaches and fans dog house.

Janney also takes offense to being labeled soft.

"It's a tag finesse players sometimes get labeled with," said Janney. "We take our hits making plays, not by being physical. I'm not going to run over anybody, but I certainly will try to get in their way and take them out of the play. Teammates and opposing players will respect you if they see you taking the extra hit to make a play. Some people don't see it from that perspective."

Janney was drafted 13th overall by the Boston Bruins in 1986. After playing 2 years at Boston College, Janney dropped out of school to join the United States national team program, and would have a strong showing there. He not only made the team that would compete in the 1988 Olympics, but starred there, scoring 6 points in 5 Olympic contests!

Immediately following the Olympics, Janney turned pro and finished the season with the Bruins. He stepped in and looked like an NHL veteran. He scored 7 goals and 16 points in the final 15 regular season games, and added 6 tallies and 10 helpers as the Bruins went all the way to the Stanley Cup finals! Unfortunately for the B's, the Edmonton Oilers were too strong in the finals.

Janney battled a nasty groin injury the following year, but still was strong with 62 points in 62 games, followed by another strong playoff, though the Bruins only made it to the second round that year.

But in 1989-90 the Bruins returned to the Finals to once again face the Oilers, only to once again fall to Messier and co. Janney, once again battling the groin injury during the regular season, was spectacular in the playoffs, notching 19 assists and 22 points in 18 playoff games!

Janney finally put his groin injury problem behind him and played his first full NHL schedule in 1990-91. He responded well, notching 26 goals, 66 assists and 92 points. He continued his fine play in the playoffs, scoring 4 goals and 18 assists in 18 more playoff games.

Craig Janney was dealt halfway through the 1991-92 season. The St. Louis Blues moved fellow playmaker extraordinaire Adam Oates in exchange for Janney and journeyman defenseman Stephane Quintal. Janney was expected to replace Oates as Brett Hull's set up man, as Oates became involved in a bitter contract dispute with the Blues. A funny thing happened though as Janney clicked better with left winger Brendan Shanahan than Hull.

Janney enjoyed some fine statistical years in St. Louis. He finished that 1991-92 season with 6 goals and 30 assists in 25 games. The follow year he scored a career high 82 assists and 104 points. He slumped somewhat in 1993-94 due to a sprained knee, but still posted 68 assists and 84 points in 69 games. Despite his great production, Adam Oates was producing even better numbers in Boston, thus making it hard for Janney to get respect with the St. Louis fans and media.

A weird thing happened to Janney and the Blues near the end of the 1993-94 season. The Blues signed restricted free agent Petr Nedved from Vancouver and an independent arbitrator named Janney and a second round pick as compensation. Janney however refused to report, and the Canucks swung a subsequent deal to allow St. Louis to keep Janney in exchange for defensemen Jeff Brown and Bret Hedican, as well as young forward Nathan Lafeyette. The Canucks also got to keep the draft pick, which turned out to be Dave Scatchard.

Over the summer of '94, the Blues inked Iron Mike Keenan as the team's new boss. Keenan hated anyone that he thought was a soft player, and it didn't take long for Janney (not to mention Brendan Shanahan, Curtis Joseph and Steve Duchesne among others!) to be chased out of St. Louis.

"I enjoyed my time in St. Louis very much," said Janney, who totaled 226 points in 178 games with the Blues prior to Keenan's arrival. "It was a difficult situation when I left, but it's one that other players have gone through many times. It's difficult for anyone to go through something like that, but Mike Keenan just didn't want me to play for him."

"I asked for a trade to get out of there because I was upset that I was becoming a distraction to my friends on that team," said Janney. "I was making a lot of money and not earning it. Mike Keenan has control of that organization. He is the general manager as well as the coach and is trying to get the guys he wants on that team. That's his prerogative, he's the boss."

Janney was sent to San Jose in exchange for mobile defenseman Jeff Norton. In San Jose, Janney took on a veteran's leadership role for the first time in his career.

"He is the first star we have had on this team who is still in his prime, and he's been great with the kids," said GM Dean Lombardi. "To some degree his work with our young players has been a very pleasant surprise. The kids all look up to him because it's the first time they've been exposed to a star while he is still in his prime. They all knew what Sergei Makarov and Igor Larionov had accomplished, but it's a bit different with Craig Janney coming in."

However Janney never had a star player to set up in San Jose, and that contributed to Janney's less than great production. He scored "just" 18 goals and 82 points in 98 games over 2 years. The Sharks really struggled during Janney's tenure there as the result of some poor drafting and a lack of depth.

The Sharks moved Janney to Winnipeg near the end of the 1995-96 season in exchange for defensive forward Darren Turcotte and a draft choice. Janney accompanied the Jets to Phoenix when they became the Coyotes. However his production continued to be less than stellar as he played less and less. His soft play and lack of defensive prowess really hurt him at this late stage of his career as he became more one dimensional than ever, and he was able to produce enough to survive with that lone dimension.

Janney split one last season in 1998-99 between two of the worst teams in the league - the Tampa Bay Lightning and New York Islanders. He scored just 5 goals and was often a healthy scratch in both cities.

Janney entered the NHL with a bang, but left the NHL with a whimper. Its too bad, he was pretty good during his prime. In 760 NHL games he scored 751 points, 563 of which were assists.

August 19, 2017

Hockey Heroes: Pee Wee Read

Mel Read's nickname gives an immediate hint about what kind of hockey player he was.

"Pee Wee" Read was small. Five-foot-five small. One hundred and sixty pounds small.

Not that he played small. The speedster played with an edge, as demonstrated in an incident involving Montreal's Maurice "Rocket" Richard.

Read was called up by the New York Rangers in the 1946-47 season. In a game vs. Montreal he managed to clip Richard with a real nice hip check, sending the Rocket skidding across the ice.

At the next face-off Read once again lined up against an unassuming Richard. But as soon as the puck was dropped, Richard reportedly spoke out with a quick elbow the naive and unsuspecting Read.

That was one of just six games Read would play in his National Hockey League career. He bounced around the minor leagues from Texas to Minnesota to Quebec before spending three impressive seasons out west with the Tacoma Rockets of the Pacific Coast Hockey League. He was a playmaking waterbug of a player, always making something happen with the puck.

Read would retire in 1952 and return to Quebec. He settled in Pierrefonds and worked for years as a sales agent for Wyant and Company. But he was most at home at the local rink where he coached, managed and officiated youth hockey.

Read passed away from cancer in 2005. He was 83.

August 18, 2017

Hockey Heroes: Peter McNab

Peter McNab's dad was a former journeyman hockey player, who won a Stanley Cup with Detroit in 1950, and later went on to become the New Jersey Devils GM for a time, but most of his hockey career was spent in the minor Leagues. Perhaps that is why Peter was one of the first NHL'ers to go the route of US College Hockey before embarking on an NHL career.

After a fine College career Pete signed with Buffalo in 1973. After two full seasons in Buffalo where he scored 22 and 24 goals, Harry Sinden signed Peter as a free agent on June 11, 1976. He then preceded to etch his name among Bruin scoring leaders.

He was a fine puck carrier (though a lumbering skater), with a deadly accurate shot, that saw him notch 82 power play goals in his career. He was an excellent power play performer. Firstly he was excellent on face-offs, so coaches like to put him out to start the PP with possession. He would then park his big frame in front of the net, though he was anything but a dominating physical player. He was not there to simply obstruct the goaltender's view. He had excellent hand skills score from in tight on those loose pucks and rebounds. He also had excellent hand-eye coordination for tip-ins.

Peter's best game as a Bruin came against the Colorado Rockies, February 20, 1979, when he  had a hand in all 5 Bruins goals in a 5-3 Bruin victory. When he left the Bruins he ranked in the top ten all-time in goals, assists, points and playoff scoring for the Bruins.

Peter was traded to Vancouver on February 8, 1984 for Jim Nill. After the 1984-85 season in Vancouver, Peter found himself in New Jersey where his GM was also his dad. The contract negotiations must have been the ultimate in allowance discussions between father and son.

McNab retired in 1987 with 954 career games played. He scored 363 goals, 450 assists and 813 points.

August 17, 2017

Jacques Plante's Hockey Card Poses

In many ways the 1950s was a grand ol' age of goaltending. Jacques Plante, Terry Sawchuk, Glenn Hall, Harry Lumley, Gump Worsley, and Al Rollins all dominated. Gerry MacNeil, Sugar Jim Henry, and by the end of the decade Johnny Bower also made notable contributions. 

But that was the NHL. When it came to kids hockey, coaching remained almost non-existent. No one really understood the position, so often kids were left to their own devices.

With television still in it's infancy, a lot of young puckstoppers relied on photos to worship and emulate their padded heroes. And in hockey that means hockey cards.

I wonder how many kids of the 1950s used these Jacques Plante hockey cards to learn their craft:

Now by today's standards Plante's demonstrated goaltending techniques (not to mention his archaic equipment) are pretty antiquated. There's no way a goaltender would play like this anymore.

But I bet there was a time when a lot of young goalies played like this all the time. And they probably had a wonderful time doing it.

Hockey Heroes: Wieslaw Jobczyk

April 8th, 1976.

That was the day of the greatest upset in the history of international hockey. Perhaps it was the greatest upset in the history of hockey.

Four years before a bunch of American college kids upset the mighty Soviet Union national team at the Olympics, the Russians experienced another major hiccup against Poland. The hiccup came in the form of a 6-4 loss against the hometown Poles, as the 1976 World Championships were being held in the Polish mining town of Katowice. The loss would cost the Russians the world championship.

Aside from the two aforementioned losses, the Soviets were practically unbeatable in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Just two months before Katowice the Russians had destroyed all the competition in the 1976 Olympic games, including disposing of Poland by a humiliating score of 16-1. The Russians were gold medalists in 12 of the previous 13 world championships, and later on would destroy NHL competition at the Challenge Cup and 1981 Canada Cup.

Poland, of course, has never been a hockey power, and they were always a whipping boy for the Soviets. In the previous seven contests, the Russians had won by scores of 9-3, 20-0, 8-3, 17-0, 13-2, 15-1 and 16-1. That's a combined score of 98-10!

But something funny happened on this day. The Russians clearly were guilty of overlooking their competition. They started back up goalie Alexander Sidelnikov instead of usual starter Vladislav Tretiak. Though Sidelnikov was not strong, the Russian team should have had enough offense to spot the Poles a few goals and still blow them away. But it was just not working for the Russians, for whatever reason.

Mieczyslaw Jaskierski opened the scoring at 10:21 of the first period, while Ryszard Nowinski tallied 4 minutes later. After 20 minutes, the Poles, wearing their red national team jerseys, had already shocked the hockey world. They had a 2-0 lead on the Soviets!

The Soviets came alive in the second period, but puck luck was not on their side. Boris Mikhailov scored to narrow the score to 2-1, but 2 quick goals by the Poles upped the score to 4-1, still early in the 2nd period. Previously unknown Wieslaw Jobczyk scored to make it 3-1, while Jaskierski scored his second of the game to make it 4-1.

Soviet coach Boris Kulagin was fuming by the point, and yanked goaltender Sidelnikov in favor of the great Tretiak. The Soviets quickly responded, as big left winger Alexander Yakushev tallied just outside of the 5 minute mark to make the score 4-2.

But this night would prove to be Wieslaw Jobczyk's 15 minutes of fame. At 6:40 of the second, Jobczyk scored his second goal of the game and what proved to be the game winning goal. Just to make sure, Jobczyk completed the hat trick in the third period, making Valeri Kharlamov's 2 third period goals obsolete. 10,000 Polish fans in attendance turned into a complete madhouse. They almost raised the roof off of the stadium when singing the national anthem in victory after the game.

While Wieslaw Jobczyk gets a lot of credit for his famous hat trick, Polish goaltender Andrzej Tkacz also deserves full marks. Tkacz made several remarkable saves to keep the Polish dream night going.

To show how unlikely the victory was, the Poles returned to their normal form the next day, losing 12-0 to Czechoslovakia. Despite the victory of the Soviets, the Poles could muster no more wins, and were relegated down to the B pool by tournament's end.

So whatever happened to Wieslaw Jobczyk. Well he continued to play hockey through the 1980s. According to HockeyDB.com, Jobczyk ended up playing 2nd division hockey in Germany, including stops in Duisburg and Ratingen. The 5'9" 190lb forward was quite the goal scorer. HockeyDB's incomplete statistics have Jobczyk scoring 236 goals, 439 points in 169 2nd division games!

August 16, 2017

Hockey Heroes: Kirk McLean

Utilizing his big size, Captain Kirk was one of the last classic stand up goalies to succeed in the National Hockey League. Canucks radio colour commentator Tom Larscheid described him best: "He's like one of those bubble hockey goalies, always standing perfectly straight and just letting the puck hit him."

His stand up style was ideal for his big frame, although in some ways his style made him unappreciated. While other goalies were acrobatically turning away pucks, "Mac" made all saves look routine by just getting in the way of it and making sure the rebound was under control. To the novice fan it looked routine, even boring, but to the hardcore fan it was a pleasure to watch one of the last great stand up goalies.

One of the coolest customers you'll ever meet, McLean seemed unflappable, even in the early years with Vancouver when the team was extremely weak. He had a tremendous glove hand, which made up for vulnerabilities to the low posts. He also loved to handle the puck, usually in the far corner of the rink in what is now part of the restricted zone. He would almost without fail deke out an oncoming forechecker by faking a puck dump behind the net and around to the other corner, but then pull back with a backhanded flip the other way, usually to a waiting Canucks defenseman.

Growing up in Toronto, McLean grew up idolizing Bernie Parent and Jacques Plante, as well as Dave Keon. He began playing in net at age 7, and before you know it he was the number one goalie with the OHL's Oshawa Generals. The New Jersey Devils were impressed, and drafted him 107th overall in the 1984 NHL Entry Draft.

McLean would turn pro and apprentice in the minor leagues in 1986-87. He'd appear in 4 games with the Devils, who were loaded with good young goaltenders at the time. The Devils had always lacked great goaltending and had stockpiled on goaltending prospects. With Sean Burke, Craig Billington, Alain Chevrier and Chris Terreri all emerging as NHLers at relatively the same time, the Devils decided to move McLean in exchange for help up front.

The deal was good for both teams, but especially for Vancouver over the long haul. The Canucks moved creative center Patrik Sundstrom to the Devils in exchange for McLean, and B.C. boy Greg Adams. It was one of the first moves the new Pat Quinn-Brian Burke regime would make, and proved to be a turning point in Canucks history.

McLean quickly proved he was ready for the NHL. After battling in training camp with veterans Steve Weeks, Frank Caprice and most notably long time fan favorite "King Richard" Brodeur, "Mac" emerged as the number one goalie. Adding to the pressure of being counted on game in and game out was the fact that the Canucks ended up trading Brodeur away to make room for McLean. The unproven goaltender replaced the local legend and had to prove his worth before a very watchful fan base and media.

McLean played in 41 games that first year, winning just 11 with a very weak Canucks team. His numbers improved to 20 wins in 42 contests the following year. He extended he is season by representing Canada at the World Hockey Championships. While locals knew McLean was something special, soon the rest of the league would find out for themselves.

In 1989-90, the Canucks were still struggling, but with McLean and a young Trevor Linden leading the way, the future looked bright. McLean played in 63 games that season, winning just 21. But his value to the team was recognized throughout the league when he was named a finalist in league voting for goaltender of the year. He was also invited to his first NHL all star game and was named NHL player of the week in March.

As the Canucks got better, McLean emerged as one of the league's best. In 1991-92 he won a a league high 38 games in 65 contests. His GAA was an impressive 2.74 and he posted 5 shutouts, another league high. He was named to the NHL's second all star team. He would finish second behind Patrick Roy in voting for the Vezina Trophy as the league's top netminder.

Kirk McLean, like most of the Canucks of that era, will always be remembered for his play in the 1994 playoffs. The team struggled through an underachieving regular season, but backed by the brilliance of McLean's puckstopping went all the way to game 7 of the Stanley Cup finals before finally bowing to the New York Rangers.

McLean's signature moment came in round one against Calgary. With the team clawing it's way back from a 3 games to 1 deficit, the Canucks forced overtime in game 7. In the extra frame McLean robbed Flames' sniper Robert Reichal with a sliding, pad-stacked toe save that to this day is considered the single most important save of the Canucks history.

But McLean was never better than in game one of the Stanley Cup finals in New York. The Rangers heavily outplayed the underdog Canucks, but McLean, in his classic stand-up style, committed one of the grandest larcenies in the history of Manhattan. His 52 save performance, including 17 in overtime, remains one of the most impressive games I've ever seen a goaltender play. In a game where the Rangers could have blown out the Canucks, McLean kept the score 2-2 into over time where Greg Adams, McLean's trade accompaniant from New Jersey 7 years prior, scored the game winning goal at 19:26 of the first over time.

As magical as that spring was, the entire Canucks team could not recapture it and would soon fall apart. McLean struggled to adjust to the butterfly goaltending stance that was now seemingly the only acceptable strategy. He was doubly distracted by his divorce.

Despite his all star status and tremendous resume, perhaps history will always remember Kirk McLean as the goalie who gave up Wayne Gretzky's record breaking 802nd NHL goal. On March 23rd, 1994, Gretzky broke Gordie Howe's all time NHL scoring record with a power play marker in a 6-3 loss to the Canucks. McLean had no chance on the play, but will undoubtedly be forever immortalized in hockey trivia games.

Like all members of that Canucks team, McLean was soon moved out in a dismantling process by the new Canucks regime. McLean was moved to Carolina in exchange for, somewhat ironically, Sean Burke, the goalie who ended winning the Devils net job back in the late 1980s. McLean left as the Canucks all time leader in wins, shutouts and games played by a goaltender.

Sadly McLean bounced around the league, landing later in Florida and then the Rangers before retiring in 2001. By the end he may have been a shadow of his old self, his stand up style now a NHL antique. But to Vancouver fans of the early 1990s, Captain Kirk will always be #1.

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