August 29, 2014

1971-72: Goodbye Howe, Beliveau

The Three Stars

Howe, Beliveau Retire: The season begins with two of the all time greats retiring. Jean Beliveau, the long time Montreal captain and 10 time Stanley Cup champion hangs up his skates. As does 25 year veteran Gordie Howe, the NHL's all time scorer in goals (786), assists (1023) and points (1809). Gordie, of course, would come out of retirement to play in the WHA and one more season in the NHL.

Another Fantastic Year For Orr: Bobby Orr becomes hockey's first million dollar player when he signs a 5 year deal worth $200,00 a season. He celebrates by going out and winning the Hart Trophy the third straight time, the Norris trophy for the 5th straight time, and the Conn Smythe Trophy for the second time. He led the Bruins to their second Stanley Cup in three seasons.

Habs Add Lafleur, Bowman: The Bruins may be the team to beat this season but Montreal reloads by adding two key pieces to their team that will quickly become the dynasty of the 1970s. The Habs use the first pick overall in the draft (which they acquired in the previous season from the California Golden Seals) to land Guy Lafleur. The Habs, who don't forget are the defending Stanley Cup champions, replace coach Al MacNeil with Scotty Bowman.

Season Highlights:

  • The NHL introduces rules to curb brawling. Any player who joins a fight in progress is immediately ejected.
  • The Bruins regular season record was 54-13-11. Goalie Gerry Cheevers went 32 games without a loss - 24-0-9 - a NHL record.
  • Phil Esposito again leads the league in goals (66) and points (133). Bobby Orr is second with 117 points, including a league best 80 assists.
  • The New York Rangers are the second best team in the league, thanks to the strong goaltending tandem of Eddie Giacomin and Gilles Villemure. Both win 24 games each.
  • The Ranger's GAG Line finishes third, fourth and fifth in the league in scoring - Jean Ratelle had 109 points, Vic Hadfield 106 including 50 goals and Rod Gilbert 97. A broken ankle knocked Ratelle out of the playoffs and really hobbled the Rangers in the Finals vs. Boston
  • Ken Dryden, a seasoned playoff performer and Stanley Cup champion, officially begins his rookie season and wins the Calder Trophy. He had 39 wins and 8 shutouts.
  • Tony Esposito posted an amazing 46 wins and 9 shutouts. His 1.77 GAA is the best post World War II mark up until the late 1990s.
  • Mickey Redmond, acquired in exchange for Frank Mahovlich, picks up Gordie Howe's slack and scores 42 goals for Detroit.
  • Bobby Hull scores his 5th 50 goal season for Chicago. He also notches his 1000th point.
  • For the first time since 1963 the Soviets do not win the World Championships. The Czechoslovakian national team won, though the Soviets did take the Sapporo Olympics gold medal.
  • 10 year old Wayne Gretzky makes national headlines as he scores 378 goals for his Brantford, Ontario novice team.

August 28, 2014

1970-71: Rookie Sensation Ken Dryden Stuns Boston Bruins

The Three Stars:

Dryden Stops Bruins: Despite playing almost the entire season with Rogie Vachon and Phil Myre in net, the Montreal Canadiens take a huge gamble when they turn to Cornell University graduate Ken Dryden - a near unheard of rookie - for the playoffs. Dryden pulls off one of the greatest upsets in hockey history when he shuts down Bobby Orr, Phil Esposito and the heavy Stanley Cup favorites Boston Bruins in the first round. Dryden would lead the Habs all the way to a surprise Stanley Cup championship while winning the Conn Smythe trophy as playoff MVP. All of this happens one year before Dryden officially wins the Calder trophy as rookie of the year!

NHL Expands Again: The NHL expands by two more teams, as the Buffalo Sabres and Vancouver Canucks bring the league to 14 teams. The Sabres win the right to draft superstar Gilbert Perreault while Vancouver has to settle for Dale Tallon, setting the course for each franchise for most of the next decade or more.

Sawchuk Dies In Freak Accident: Great goaltender Terry Sawchuk, 40, dies in a freak accident. He and roommate/teammate Ron Stewart are involved in a mysterious drunken off-season altercation where he suffered serious internal bleeding that soon led to his passing.

Season Highlights:
  • The Bruins finished the regular season with a commanding 57-14-7 record, smashing the goals scored record with an amazing 399. Boston boasts the NHL's top four scorers and seven of the top ten. 
  • Phil Esposito shatters the NHL records for goals (76) and points (152) as well as shots on goal (550). He wins the Art Ross trophy, as well as the newly minted trophy - the Lester B Pearson trophy as league MVP as selected by the players.
  • Bobby Orr becomes the first player to record over 100 assists, finishing with 102, obviously earning him the Norris Trophy. He also adds 37 goals, further unthinkable numbers for a defenseman. Orr wins his 2nd straight Hart Trophy. 
  • Johnny Bucyk's 51 goal season almost gets lost in the hoopla as finishes third with 116 points. Ken Hodge finishes with 105. 
  • Montreal acquires Frank Mahovlich from Detroit for Mickey Redmond, Bill Collins and Guy Charron. 
  • In Philadelphia a young diabetic emerges as a star. Bobby Clarke leads the Flyers to a third place finish with his fierce determination.

Cory Sarich's Unbelievable Escape From Death

Cory Sarich spent much of his nearly 1000 game NHL career as a tough as nails depth defender. He hit hard as a truck, as they say. He undoubtedly got hit just as hard more than a few times.

Now Sarich can really compare those NHL battles with getting hit by a truck, thanks to a terrible cycling accident near Windermere, British Columbia in the summer of 2014.

Kristen Odland of the Calgary Herald tells the story:

Sarich had gone out for a morning ride on July 21, taking his hybrid bike along Windermere Loop Road — a challenging, 40-minute training session on a quiet road.

He approached a descent and spotted an oncoming grey Ford F-350 Ford truck. The driver made a left-hand turn in front of him without signalling. Sarich used his brakes and tried to stay in control of his bike but skidded and ended up sliding underneath the vehicle on his stomach.

The driver’s right rear tire had driven over his back, nearly crushing his body. Sarich suffered five cracked vertebrae, burns on his shoulder and wrist from the truck’s muffler, a swollen left arm and leg, a large laceration on his head, and a serious case of road rash.

Shaken, shocked, and bleeding extensively, Sarich still managed to stand up and called for help.

“The first thing in my mind was, ‘I’m not going to die here right now, so let’s get this thing moving,’ ” recalled the Saskatoon native who was drafted 27th overall in the 1996 NHL entry draft. “I wasn’t sure the severity of my injuries. I’d worn all the ends of my fingertips off. I was bleeding from everywhere, I had so much road rash.

“My helmet was busted up in probably seven or more pieces. It was just in pieces hanging by the chinstrap and was actually choking me, so good thing I had that on because it helped in saving my life.”

Unfortunately for Sarich he was an unrestricted free agent at the time of the accident. Given his age and deteriorating foot speed, there was not a lot of interest in the veteran defenseman shown early in the summer. His lingering injuries may scare off all NHL offers altogether now, effectively ending his NHL career.

Let's hope not, as a comeback would be one heck of a feel-good story to celebrate.

August 27, 2014

1969-70: Ted Green Nearly Dies After Stick Fight

The Three Stars:

Ted Green Nearly Dies: Boston defenseman Terrible Ted Green, no stranger to altercations and rough-housing, suffers a life-threatening skull fracture during a pre-season stick fight with St. Louis forward Wayne Maki. Green would miss the entire season and suffered from temporary paralysis but would eventually return. Both players were charged with assault with attempt to injure, though each, in separate trials, were acquitted. Maki was suspended for 30 days. Green was also suspended for 13 games.

Briere Dies In Car Crash: Pittsburgh's first young star was a fellow named Michel Briere. In his rookie season he scored 32 assists and 44 points and showed signs of stardom. However on April 13th, 1971 Briere suffered fatal injuries in a car crash. His number 21 was retired.

Orr Powers Bruins To Stanley Cup: Bobby Orr became the first defenseman to not only score over 100 points but he also became the only defenseman in history to win the Art Ross Trophy as NHL scoring champion! He finished with 120 points including 87 assists, and won the Art Ross, Norris and Hart trophies. He then earned the Conn Smythe trophy as playoffs MVP as the Bruins won their first Stanley Cup in 29 years by sweeping the St. Louis Blues. Of course it was Orr who famously scored the Stanley Cup winning goal just 40 seconds into overtime.

Season Highlights:
  • Phil Esposito also had a strong season for Boston, leading the league in goals with 43 (including 18 on the power play) and finishing second in the league (behind Orr) in assists (56) and points (99). He actually outscored Orr in the playoffs (27 vs 20).
  • Phil's younger brother has quite the rookie season in Chicago. Goaltender Tony Esposito leads the entire league in wins with 38 and posts a modern-day record 15 shutouts.
  • Much Hull-abaloo is made when younger brother Dennis Hull replaces old man Bobby Hull on Chicago's top line (with Stan Mikita and Cliff Koroll). Dennis, who scored 30 goals the year before, ended up with only 17. Meanwhile Bobby made himself at home with new linemates Pit Martin and Jim Pappin and scored 38 goals (only Esposito, Garry Unger and Mikita scored more league wide) despite missing 15 games to a broken jaw! Hull also joined Maurice Richard and Gordie Howe as the third player to score 500 goals in a career.
  • Poor Brad Park. The New York Rangers defenseman continues to dominate unlike most defensemen before him, but he never gets the credit because of Bobby Orr's presence. In his second season Park finishes with 37 points and is runner up to Orr in Norris Trophy balloting. Park would be runner an amazing six times, and never did win the Norris.
  • Another defenseman with a strong year was Carol Vadnais, who scored 24 goals and helped the Oakland Seals get into the playoffs.
  • Minnesota's Bill Goldsworthy was a hard-nosed player who went from a 14 goal scorer to a 36 goal scorer this season. He celebrated each goal with a special dance that was dubbed "the Goldy Shuffle"
  • The Philadelphia Flyers set a NHL record with 24 ties.

August 26, 2014

1968-69: Habs Win Again, But Espo, Orr Lead Rising Bruins

The Three Stars

Espo Smashes Scoring Record: Phil Esposito's 126 points (including a lead leaguing 77 assists) outdistances Bobby Hull (107) and 40 year old Gordie Howe (103) to win the Art Ross Trophy. They are the first three players in NHL history to record 100 point seasons. Espo also wins the Hart Trophy as league MVP.

Hull Sets New Goal Scoring Mark: Bobby Hull ups his own NHL record for most goals in a season when he notches 58 goals. It is his 4th time scoring 50. Frank Mahovlich and Phil Esposito narrowly miss out with 49 each.

Habs Win Again: Even though the defending champion Montreal Canadiens replace legendary coach Toe Blake with 30 year old newcomer Claude Ruel, the Habs repeat to win another Stanley Cup. Again the Habs defeat St. Louis with a Stanley Cup Final sweep. Serge Savard became the first defenseman ever to win the Conn Smythe Trophy.

Season highlights:

  • The NHL draft becomes eligible for players around the world.
  • Bobby Orr leads the NHL with a +65 rating.
  • Alex Delvecchio scores his 1000th point and wins his third Lady Byng Trophy.
  • Expansion stars include St. Louis'  Red Berenson, Minnesota's Danny Grant, LA's Eddie Joyal and the St. Louis goaltending Vezina Trophy winning tandem of Jacques Plante and Glenn Hall.
  • Red Berenson scored 6 goals against Philadelphia in a 8-0 win on November 7th, 1968.
  • Jim Dorey sets a mark of a different kind when the Toronto rookie takes nine penalties (totalling 48 minutes) in one game. Chris Nilan (10) would eclipse that mark in 1991.
  • The New York Rangers create the GAG Line - Goal A Game Line - when Jean Ratelle, Rod Gilbert and Vic Hadfield are united.

August 25, 2014

1967-68: NHL Expansion

The Three Stars:

Original Six Becomes Even Dozen - The largest single-season growth in National Hockey League history occurs when six expansion franchises take to the ice. The Los Angeles Kings, California Seals, Pittsburgh Penguins, Philadelphia Flyers, St. Louis Blues and Minnesota North Stars all begin by stocking their roster on June 6, with established teams allowed to protect only 1 goalie and 11 skaters. Los Angeles makes the great veteran goalie Terry Sawchuk the first expansion selection.

Bill Masterton Dies - Crunched by California defensemen Larry Cahan and Ron Harris in a game on January 13th, Minnesota forward Bill Masterton strikes his head on the ice and suffers massive brain injuries. The helmetless Masterton dies two days later. The Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy is introduced and awarded for dedication and excellence achieved in the sport of hockey.

Blockbuster Trades - The Chicago Blackhawks trade Phil Esposito, Ken Hodge and Fred Stanfield to Boston in exchange for Pit Martin, Gilles Marotte and Jack Norris.The Leafs also trade Frank Mahovlich, Garry Unger, Pete Stemkowski and Carl Brewer in exchange for Paul Henderson, Floyd Smith and Norm Ullman.

Season Highlights:

  • The NHL is divided into two divisions - the "East" which features all of the Original Six teams, and the "West" which features all of the new franchises, even if they are in Eastern time zones. The playoff format ensured a showdown between the winner of each division, therefore guaranteeing the new franchises a chance to compete for the Stanley Cup.
  • The St. Louis Blues stumble to 4-10-2 start and replace Lynn Patrick as coach with a rookie bench boss named Scotty Bowman. Bowman would guide the Blues to the Stanley Cup final in each of their first three seasons.
  • Prior to the NHL expansion draft the Los Angeles Kings buy the entire AHL Springfield team from Eddie Shore, giving the Kings a fully stocked farm system.
  • NHL Amateur draft is set for players aged 20 and over.
  • The New York Rangers begin play in the newly constructed Madison Square Gardens. MSG debuts luxury boxes.
  • CBS begins airing the NHL game of the week, marking the first regular national broadcasting agreement with an American broadcaster.
  • Jean Beliveau scores his 400th goal and his 1000th point this season.
  • Bobby Hull leads the league in goals with 44, while teammate Stan Mikita again leads the league in points with 87. Mikita again wins the Hart and Lady Byng trophies - his second rare triple crown of hockey greatness.
  • Bobby Orr wins his first Norris trophy. He scored 11 goals and 42 points in 46 games - a season again cut short due to injuries. Phil Esposito leads the entire league in assists with 49 and finished 2nd in league scoring with 84 points.
  • Montreal defeats St. Louis in a 4 game sweep to win the Stanley Cup. They also swept Boston and lost only once to Chicago en route to their 14th Stanley Cup title.

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