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December 08, 2016

Cam Neely

Cam Neely was the ultimate Boston Bruin. Character, perseverance, team work, physical play, play to death, win - all traits that can be easily used to describe both Neely and his B's.

Cam Neely actually started his NHL career with his hometown Vancouver Canucks when they made him their first round selection way back in 1983. Neely probably turned out to be their best first round pick ever selected by the Vancouver Canucks. It's just too bad, as any Canucks fan will tell you, they traded him away so early in his career.

The trade happened on Neely's 21st birthday. In hindsight it was the best birthday present he probably ever got. The floundering Canucks traded him and the third overall draft pick in 1987 ( Boston selected Glen Wesley who went on to a career spanning 2 decades) for Barry Pederson, who at the time was a star in the league but was coming off of two major shoulder surgeries to remove a benign tumor. Pederson never did regain his superstar form. Neely became the Bruins leading scorer and the Boston Garden's fan favorite.

Cam would score 36, 40, and 38 goals in his first 3 seasons with Boston. Cam would go on to record two straight 50 goal seasons before he suffered a major blow to his knee. During the Bruins Conference Final against Pittsburgh, a cheap hit on Cam's thigh by rival defenseman Ulf Sameulsson began Cam's injury woe's that would plague him for the rest of his tragically shortened career.

Limited to 22 games the next 2 seasons Cam still managed to chip in 20 goals and 10 assists, and added 4 playoff goals in the '93 playoffs.

Cam returned for the 93-94 season scoring 50 goals for the third time. It took Cam only 44 games to reach the 50 goal plateau, only Wayne Gretzky has done it faster. (Mario Lemieux in the 88-89 season also scored 50 in 44 games.) Cam hurt his knee again shortly after scoring his 50th, and missed the playoffs that season.

Again, Cam went into an extensive rehabilitation program, and returned in the strike shortened season of 1994-95 and scored 27 goals in 42 games. The 1995-96 season proved to be Cam's last, as on February 7, 1996 the Boston Bruins suffered perhaps their worst loss in franchise history. They lost to Buffalo in overtime 2-1, but Cam suffered a degenerative hip condition forced Cam into a premature retirement. But not before he had established himself in the hearts of Bruin fans everywhere. Cam played the game the way it was meant to be played. Cam was as devastating with his body checks and fists, as he was with his goal scoring exploits. Cam's intense efforts to come back time and again from devastating injuries were recognized with his winning of the Masterton Trophy after the 93-94 season.

On January 12th, 2004, the Boston Bruins bestowed their highest honor on Neely, retiring his jersey number 8 high to the rafters, never to be worn again. It was a fitting tribute, as Neely truly ranks with the Bruins all time greats like Eddie Shore, Bobby Orr, Phil Esposito and Raymond Bourque.

Neely's career lasted 726 games, long enough to earn enshrinement in Hockey's Hall of Fame. In those 726 career games his numbers were staggering - 395 goals, 299 assists and 694 points, not to mention a healthy 1241 penalty minutes. And he carried on his production in the clutch when games mattered most. In 93 Stanley Cup playoff games he scored 57 goals and 89 points. Had he been healthy he possibly could have challenged the 650 goal mark.

As amazing of a goal scorer that he was, lighting the lamp did not define Cam Neely. He was the ultimate power forward of his time. His hands were as soft as a feather when he handled the puck, yet hard as a rock when handled an enemy. Defensemen feared going back into their corner to chase a loose puck knowing Neely was right behind them. As a forechecker he was relentless and imposing. He was an insane body checker and a dangerous fighter. Through his physical play he set the tone of games.

The physical game took it's toll on Neely's body, yet he handled diversity with the utmost of class. He showed courage and perseverance, and a deep love of the game. Cam Neely gave everything he had to the game of hockey - his blood, sweat and tears, his hip, quad and knee, and most of all his heart.


chapters.indigo.ca

December 06, 2016

Glen Harmon

This is Glen Harmon. The Manitoba defenseman was a junior star with the Brandon Elks and Winnipeg Rangers, winning the Memorial Cup in 1941.

It was not long before he was in the NHL. The Montreal Canadiens signed him in the summer of 1941. They brought the 5'9" and 165lb classic defender to the city for a couple of seasons of high level senior hockey. By 1942 he was a full time member of the Montreal Canadiens.

Sure, all NHL teams were missing players due to conscription and voluntary enrolment in the allied efforts in World War II. But make no mistake Glen Harmon was not just some fill-in. He would go on to an impressive nine year career in the NHL, winning Stanley Cups in 1944 and 1946. He followed that up with four more years of senior hockey, all in Montreal.

How good was he? These were the days before the NHL had a trophy for the top defenseman every year. The only true measure of blue line excellence is All Star status. In both 1945 and 1949 he was named to the NHL's Second Team All Stars. Hall of Famers like Butch Bouchard, Babe Pratt, Jack Stewart, Bill Quackenbush and Ken Reardon were also named to teams that year, along with high scoring dman Flash Hollett. That is some excellent company to keep.

Harmon was described as an excellent skater and a solid positional defender. He was a strong outlet passer and, despite his small size, a solid hitter.

But don't take my word for it. Let's here what his peers had to say:

Detroit coach Jack Adams: That boy Glen Harmon has put plenty of life into them....He's travelling all the time. He's got speed to burn. He clears pretty well, is shifty, and seems to give the team more pep than they ever had early on in the season.

And Montreal manager Tommy Gorman: "You know the most underrated player on the team? Glen Harmon! Boy, he's a dandy. He always gets a goal when it's badly needed, like the tying one in Toronto on Saturday. And he has been on the ice for only 16 goals scored against the club all season !"

It seems to me Glen Harmon was sort of a Brian Rafalski of his day. An excellent though undersized and underrated defenseman.

December 05, 2016

Garry Unger


It may be hard to believe nowadays, but there was a time when the Detroit Red Wings were the weakest of the weak in hockey. Head back to the late 1960s and especially the 1970s. They were ridiculously outpaced by their Original Six counterparts. Even most NHL expansion teams and even some of the WHA teams were stronger than the Red Wings.

The Red Wings made some real bonehead moves back then. Most notably they alienated a young Marcel Dionne and later let him get away. Another young star they chased out of town was Garry Unger, all because of his hair.

In 1971 the Wings had an old school coach named Ned Harkness. In some ways he was the epitome of the later day Mike Keenan, a strict authoritarian who would make unreasonable demands, but without Keenan's success.

Harkness and Unger clashed almost immediately. Unger, who scored 42 goals as a sophomore in 1969-70, had a somewhat misplaced reputation as a playboy. He was good looking with rosy cheeks, and he wore colorful clothes. His signature had to be his shoulder length blonde hair. He was known to use a hair dryer as much as a hockey blade torch. And hey it must have worked, as he was dating Miss America in 1970.

It may have been the 70s, but Harkness would have none of this. He ordered all of his players to get crew-cuts. Unger refused, and on February 6th, 1971 he, Tim Ecclestone and Wayne Connelly were traded to St. Louis in exchange for expansion scoring star Red Berenson. It turned out to be a terrible trade for the Wings.

Berenson had a couple of solid seasons in Detroit, but he was near the end. Connelly and Ecclestone would go on to become solid NHL players, while Unger erupted in St. Louis. In each of his 8 seasons as Mr. Blue he scored at least 30 goals. Year-in and year-out he would lead the Blues in most offensive categories.

Of course Unger also became known as Mr. Ironman. Unger never missed a game until December 22, 1979, then playing with the Atlanta Flames. He participated in 914 consecutive NHL games, breaking Andy Hebenton's record of 630 games in the process. The ironman record has since been upped to 964 games by Doug Jarvis.

Unger said :...back then it was difficult for me to complain about a sore ankle or leg when I knew that in two weeks it was going to fine, yet my sister was never going to be able to walk again.” His sister suffered from polio, but despite that she “could be so peaceful and happy with her life despite the fact that she couldn’t walk.”

Unger also tamed his playboy image while in St. Louis, too. Unger moved into the guest house of the Blue's owner's ranch some 40 miles from downtown St. Louis. Unger loved the horses and the outdoors. Instead of partying in the city for a night on the town, he spent more of his free time dirt biking, mountain climbing and water skiing.

Unger always remained a free spirit. One off-season he decided to drive cross-country in a convertible with the top down. Even when he hit heavy rains he would keep the rag top collapsed, claiming "it gave me a sense of accomplishment."

Unger accomplished a lot in life, thanks to hockey. But he was never the most likely candidate to become a hockey star. His father, a member of the Canadian Army, build a rink in the backyard of the family home in Edmonton. Garry was given a pair of skates, but they were girl's figure skates. Undaunted, Garry painted them back and taught himself to skate.

Much of Garry's formal hockey development occurred in Calgary, where his father was transferred. The Toronto Maple Leafs signed Unger to a C-form in the days before the creation of a entry draft. He would move to southern Ontario and play with the London Nationals.

Garry barely had a chance to play for the Leafs. He got into just 15 NHL games with the Leafs before he was included in the big Frank Mahovlich trade to Detroit. Unger, Mahovlich and Pete Stemkowski headed to the Motor City in exchange for a package including Carl Brewer, Norm Ullman, and Paul Henderson.

Garry Unger moved to Detroit where his famous battle over his hair would be waged. Towards the end of his career he came to realize that perhaps success came too early in Detroit, and that the best thing that ever happened to him was the trade to St. Louis where he would escape the limelight somewhat and mature as a person and a player.

Late in his career Unger would be able pass these lessons on to budding NHL superstars Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier and Paul Coffey. Unger finished his career with parts of three seasons in his hometown of Edmonton.

Unger retired from the NHL in 1983. He played in 1105 games, scored 413 goals, 391 assists and 804 total points.

He would briefly come out of retirement and play in Great Britain later in the 1980s. His playboy lifestyle well behind him, he became quite religious while spending much of his post-playing days riding buses and coaching the low minor leagues.

Tony Granato

It is not often that a player goes on to a 774 NHL game career plus several notable USA national team appearances, including the Olympics, and then becomes a NHL head coach, and is not the most famous of his hockey playing siblings.

But such is the case for Tony Granato. But while his brothers Don and Kevin played the game, too, they all played in the shadow of their sister - Hockey Hall of Famer Cammi Granato.

While Cammi went on to become one of the greatest skaters in women's hockey history, Tony was a pretty NHL player in his own right.

A veteran of 13 NHL seasons with the New York Rangers, Los Angeles Kings and San Jose Sharks, Tony Granato was a feisty forward who battled for every inch of ice. The scrappy and short-tempered winger always played bigger than his five-foot-ten, 185 pound frame, making him a fan favorite.

Aside from his trademark determination, the key to Granato's game was his skating. Had speed and agility to spare. He also had a good nose for the net, 248 career goals including seasons of 36, 30, 39 and 37 goals.

The Granato family grew up near Chicago, and hockey was always their game.

"I was always a big Chicago Blackhawks fan when I was growing up," said Granato, who started skating when he was four. "I loved watching Bobby Hull and Stan Mikita play. From the first time I saw the game, I was hooked."

But it was the New York Rangers who drafted him 120th overall in 1982. He had relocated to New York to attend Northwood Prep and ready for what would prove to be a very successful college career at the University of Wisconsin. The Rangers had to wait.

From 1983-88, Granato become one of the great Badgers players of all time. But he also found a love of playing with the American national team. Twice he played for USA at the World Junior Championships and then he played in three consecutive World Championships - all before he played a single pro game.

The confident Granato bypassed the opportunity to join the Rangers in 1987. Instead he opted to continue skating as an amateur, committing to the United States national team for the entire season in a bid to make the 1988 Olympic team.

"Playing for your country is the ultimate honour," said Granato. "Any time you have the chance to put on that sweater, it's the greatest feeling."

Granato made the Olympic team and had a strong showing with a goal and seven assists in six games. After competing at the Winter Olympics in Calgary, Granato turned pro with the Raangers farm team in Colorado. He seamlessly scored 27 points in 22 games.

Granato made a spectacular NHL debut in 1988-89, scoring 36 goals and 63 points in 78 NHL games. He earned All Rookie Team status. Had it not been for fellow Ranger rookie Brian Leetch, Granato may have very well NHL Rookie of the Year that season.

Though he quickly established himself as a fan favorite in New York, Granato was dealt to Los Angeles during his second NHL season. The Kings offered star scorer Bernie Nicholls in exchange for Granato and Tomas Sandstrom.

The switch to the west coast turned out to be a great move for Granato, who topped 30 goals three more times and enjoyed a pivotal role in LA's first Stanley Cup appearance in 1993.

And of course he got to play with Wayne Gretzky.

"I had the pleasure of playing with Wayne Gretzky, someone who I admire for so many reasons," said Granato. "You learned so much from just watching how he prepares for the game."

Granato would spend a total of six seasons with Los Angeles, prior to signing with their California rival, the San Jose Sharks, in September of 1996. It was during his time with the Sharks that Granato suffered a serious head injury, one that required the removal of an abnormal collection of blood in the left temporal lobe of the brain.

Yet again Granato overcame his obstacles, making a triumphant return. For his efforts he was the obvious winner of the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy in 1997.

Granato continued to play until 2001. His offense was replaced by his leadership and veteran presence but he always remained a valuable asset and mentor to the younger players.

That made Granato an obvious choice to become a coach. He would be both an assistant and head coach with Colorado as well as an assistant in Detroit and Pittsburgh.

In 2016 Granato returned to the University of Wisconsin to become the head coach of his alma mater.

True to form, Granato made a triumphant return to the game and in 1997, was rewarded with the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy. He continued to provide strong leadership and veteran savvy until he hung up his skates in 2001.

December 03, 2016

Bill Cowley

Bill Cowley was very much an early day Wayne Gretzky. He is considered to be the greatest playmaker in hockey while he graced the ice surfaces of the NHL.

Born in Bristol, Quebec in 1912, Cowley played his junior and senior hockey in Ottawa. He wasn't discovered by NHL scouts until he was 21 when he went on tour with the Ottawa Shamrocks in Europe in 1933. The Shamrocks, who went 33-0-2 in the tour, were led by the 5'10" 165lb center who dazzled on-lookers with his dizzying play. Praise wasn't the only thing Cowley got while in Paris that year. He soon would have a pro contract too. He returned to Canada where he relocated to and played senior hockey in Halifax, easily leading the league in all major statistical categories.

Cowley entered the NHL in the 1934-35 with the St. Louis Eagles. Cowley spent the season learning the ropes of the NHL. The Eagles however would only last the one season. Their players were dispersed around the league in a special draft. Boston eagerly picked up the slick stick-handler.

Cowley quickly developed into a superstar in Boston. He became an all star by 1938. By 1939 he led all playoff scorers in scoring as the Bruins won the Stanley Cup Championship. By 1940-41 Cowley was the best player in the league. He earned the Hart Trophy as the league's MVP while winning the scoring title and leading the Bruins to another Stanley Cup. He also set a new league record for assists in one season with 45.

Cowley's greatness was hampered by serious injuries. He missed much of he 1941-42 season with a broken jaw (broken in 5 places). He rebounded to capture his second Hart Trophy in 1942-43 (equaling his own season assist record) but had a fine 1943-44 season cut short by a separated shoulder. The injury cost him a shot at destroying the NHL single season scoring record. He was at 71 points with 6 weeks left. The old record was 73 points (held by Cooney Weiland). Cowley would rebound the next year but had a broken wrist in 1946. He retired at the end of the 1947 season.

At the time of his retirement, Cowley was arguably the greatest player the NHL had seen. He retired with 548 career points, enough for him to claim the title as the NHL's all time leading scorer until 1952. His 353 career assists were also all time highs.

Cowley never really got the notoriety such a fine player should have received. Despite his breathtaking play he was somewhat overlooked by playing for the Bruins at the time he did. In fact, on many nights Cowley was centering the second line as the famous Kraut Line of Milt Schmidt, Bobby Bauer and Woody Dumart remained Boston's key to success for much of Cowley's tenure. Cowley, who teamed often with hard-nosed Ray Getliffe and speedy Charlie Sands before centering sharp-shooter Roy Conacher and "Sudden Death" Mel Hill, would not be overlooked for very long though. Cowley was enshrined in Hockey's Hall of Fame in 1968.

December 02, 2016

Sergei Fedorov

Sergei Fedorov became a man larger than life. 

He was one of the flashiest and best hockey players of his day, paid millions and millions of dollars. He was known outside of the game for fast cars, nice clothes and his relationship with tennis sex symbol Anna Kournikova (and Tara Reid and Danielle Meers, for that matter).

There was a time when Sergei lived a much simpler life. The Russian was born in Pskov, just outside of what we now call St. Petersburg, but he grew up in Apatiti, a town literally north of the Arctic Circle. He learned to skate on the frozen rivers, and before he was a teenager was playing in the local adult hockey league, with his father Viktor as the center.

Word of Sergei's incredible hockey ability traveled fast, even from the Arctic. By the age of 13 his family agreed to let him move to Minsk, in what is now known as Belarus, to attend a special sports school to hone his hockey skills. It would not be long before he was relocated again, this time to Moscow to train with the Red Army and the famed Russian national team.

The national team and father Viktor pushed Sergei because they all knew he was a true hockey prodigy, somebody who very possibly would one day be considered the greatest hockey player from Russia ever. Remember, this was still in the days of communist Soviet Union where a star player like Sergei was essentially developed to be part of the superiority propaganda machine of the Kremlin. It was very important that Sergei and others become the best hockey players possible.


Here's the full Sergei Fedorov biography

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