March 30, 2015

Lanny McDonald: A Tale of Two Cities

In conversation with Lanny McDonald on Hockey Night in Canada earlier this season, Ron MacLean made an interesting point: Has there ever been a player so beloved in two cities Lanny McDonald?

The mustachioed McDonald remains incredibly popular in both Toronto and Calgary. In many ways he was the face of both franchises, at least for his generation.

So that got me wondering - what other players would also be in Lanny's unusual standing as a double hero. I found a few:

Mark Messier - Edmonton's hometown hero became Manhattan's Messiah. Like Lanny McDonald he remains an eternal legend in both cities.

Wayne Gretzky - Edmonton's King went Hollywood in 1988. Perhaps The Great One has left Hollywood's consciousness to some degree after his departure, but he truly transcended the sport unlike almost any other athlete at the time.

Bobby Hull - Chicago's all time great truly became a Golden Jet when he joined the WHA Winnipeg Jets. Neither of the two NHL versions of the Winnipeg Jets have aligned themselves with Hull as much as one would expect, but he will always have a special place in hockey history in Manitoba.

Patrick Roy - Montreal goaltending great left the Habs in a messy divorce, but patched things up in recent years. Roy of course became a legend with the Colorado Avalanche, too, and has since returned as coach.

What other players do you consider legendary in multiple markets?

March 27, 2015

Remembering The 1915 Vancouver Millionaires

The year is 1915. The Stanley Cup is played for in Vancouver, where the local Millionaires hockey team hosts the legendary Senators from Ottawa.

Yes, the Stanley Cup was the prize, but something much, much more important was at stake. The future of hockey - hockey as we know it today - was cemented by the city of Vancouver's only Stanley Cup championship.

In 1914-15, Vancouver playing manager/coach Frank Patrick had put together a powerhouse team that dominated the Pacific Coast Hockey Association.

The Vancouver Millionaires had Hughie Lehman in nets, acquired from the New West Royals. Si Griffis, the team captain, anchored the defense, while forward stars Frank Nighbor, Mickey McKay, Barney Stanley and hockey's very first superstar Cyclone Taylor took care of the offense. Vancouver very much was a juggernaut designed to change the course of hockey history.

The season was capped off successfully on February 28th, 1915 when the Millionaires defeated the Portland Rosebuds by a convincing score of 11-3 to capture the PCHA championship. They finished the season with a record of 12 wins and 4 losses, outscoring the opposition mightily 101-40.

The season was not done yet, though. This was the first season of a new NHA/PCHA agreement. The Stanley Cup championship would be played between the winner of each league. By winning the western Canadian championship meant that for the very first time Vancouver was going to play for the Stanley Cup!

The Millionaires would face Cyclone Taylor's old team, the Ottawa Senators. The Sens defeated the Montreal Wanderers 4-1 in a two game, total goals series to win the NHA championship. The NHA, based in Eastern Canada, was the forerunner to the NHL.

While the Senators were slowly making their way across Canada by rail, the Millionaires headed south to Portland to played two exhibition games to stay sharp. In theory it was a great idea, although it almost proved disastrous. Griffis, the team's undisputed leader, badly twisted his ankle and would not be able to play in the Stanley Cup finals. Frank Patrick proposed his legendary brother Lester Patrick substitute in for Griffis, but the Senators would not agree to that. Little known rookie Lloyd Cook would fill in admirably. Lester would man the bench, allowing Frank to concentrate on the game, too.

The series between the Sens and Millionaires was to be a best of five, with three games under western rules (seven player rules) and two games under Eastern rules (six player rules). And that is where the future of hockey was set.

The PCHA introduced many of the rules we take for granted today. Perhaps the most important rule they used that the NHA did not was the use of the forward pass. The NHA did not, and as a result their game was more of rugby-on-ice strategy as compared to the modern game. In fact the NHA absolutely detested the forward pass.

The series would be a short one. Even with the loss of captain Griffis, Vancouver walloped the Easterners. Fans who paid as much as $14 a ticket (have tickets always been ridiculously overpriced in Vancouver?) witnessed hockey history.

Vancouver skated to an easy 6-2 win in game one, with Cyclone Taylor scoring twice. Ottawa admitted after the game that the Western rules confused them, particularly the use of the forward pass at center ice. But Vancouver loved it. Cyclone Taylor said in an interview " makes the game twice as fast. A man doesn't have to slow up and wait for his teammates in starting a rush down the ice. The referees have less to worry about and it gives the forwards better chances. Frank Patrick did a great stroke of hockey business when he decided to accept the forward pass."

Using Eastern rules in game two did not seem to help Ottawa, however. Despite jumping out to a 2-0 first period lead, Ottawa would be humiliated by the Millionaires. Vancouver exploded for 6 goals in the second period alone en route to a 8-3 drubbing. Ottawa resorted to assaulting Taylor, who had three goals in the game.

The third and final game was even less of a contest, with Vancouver winning easily 12-3. Barney Stanley scored 4 times. The game was so far out of reach so early that Vancouver never made a single substitute during the entire game, using the same 7 skaters for all 60 minutes.

The Stanley Cup had come to Vancouver! The players collected $300 bonus cheques and were treated like royalty.

Mikael Samuelsson Retires

Mikael Samuelsson over came great odds to become one of hockey's most decorated players

Samuelsson almost quit hockey in his teens because he was too small. A late growth spurt helped, and he grew into a 6'2" and 210lb body as a man. Drafted by San Jose late in the 1998 draft, he struggled to find his way in the NHL, bouncing around with the Sharks, Rangers, Penguins and Panthers. He looked like a player who would never contribute to his potential.

That all changed in the 2005-06 season. He joined the Detroit Red Wings and, alongside fellow Swedes like Henrik Zetterberg and Nicklas Lidstrom, he exploded for a 23 goal season. He became a valuable special teams player, killing penalties and manning a point position on the power play. He was a good skater with a heavy shot and good head for the game. He wasn't a top line player but a versatile forward who could move up and down the lineup.

His strong play with the Red Wings ensured his spot on the Swedish Olympic team for the Torino Games in 2006. It was in Italy that he accomplished his childhood dream of winning the Olympic gold medal.

A few months later Samuelsson helped Sweden win the World Championships in Riga, Latvia.

Samuelsson completed hockey's greatest hat trick by becoming a member of the Triple Gold Club in 2008. In addition to the Olympic and World championships he became a Stanley Cup champion with the Red Wings. He scored a couple of big goals in the Final vs. Pittsburgh, too.

Samuelsson compared the three championships in a Risto Parkarinen report for

“Those three are really different things. When you win the Stanley Cup, you play with the same group of guys for a long time whereas in the Olympics, it was just a quick two-week sprint. And the Worlds just came and went,” he said.

He added winning the marathon known as the Stanley Cup was a much different feeling.

“The first thought that went through my head right after we had won the Cup just that it was over. It was an empty feeling, which is a little strange, but it was just that I was tired, both mentally and physically. Especially the mental press you feel in every game, and to be honest, in every shift, is hard."

Samuelsson went on to find more success in Vancouver, playing alongside the Sedin twins. Unfortunately Samuelsson and the Canucks lost game 7 of the Stanley Cup final in 2011. Canucks fans can only wonder what if had Samuelsson been healthy that spring, but his injuries that would haunt him the rest of his career began that season.

He was also remembered in Vancouver for voicing his displeasure with being snubbed for the 2010 Swedish Olympic team. He was also not shy to share his comments on the labour relations issues during collective bargaining sessions.

Samuelsson went on to return showings in Florida and Detroit before returning to finish his career in Sweden.

 In 699 NHL games in his 13 year career, Mikael Samuelsson scored 149 goals and 346 points.

March 26, 2015

History Begins: National Women's Hockey League Begins in 2015-16

The National Women's Hockey League will take to the ice in 2015-16. It will be professional league with four teams representing Buffalo, Boston, New York and Connecticut (Hartford). There will be a hard $270,000 salary cap per team, with all player expenses relating to equipment and travel also covered.

The NWHL will co-exist with the existing Canadian Women's Hockey League, though undoubtedly they will compete for players. It sounds like the CWHL, as it has operated in the past, will have trouble retaining some of it's talent.

This may be bad news for the CWHL, but if both leagues really can co-exist this is great news for women's players who have graduated from college.

Also, there is no mention of what the new league will do in Olympic years where the top players spend much of the season training with their national teams.

The Task Ahead For Lanny McDonald And The Hockey Hall of Fame

Lanny McDonald has been named as the Chair of the Board at the Hockey Hall of Fame, replacing the late Pat Quinn.

McDonald, who was inducted into the Hall of Fame as a player in 1992 and has spent the last 8 seasons on the selection committee, knows this will be a challenging position. But he does have one easy and early move to make - have Pat Quinn inducted as a builder. It is an overdue honour that Quinn would never have allowed while he was still serving as the Chair. Posthumous enshrinement is always unfortunate, but Quinn is a deserving builder.

Another early job for the HHOF will presumably be finding a new member of the selection committee to replace McDonald. The remaining members of the selection committee are comprised of 8 people who were primarily coaches/managers and four media members. There are six former star players, plus McDonald's vacant spot. That spot should remain open for a player. Joe Nieuwendyk? Scott Niedermayer? Joe Sakic? Or how about Lanny McDonald's close friend Wayne Gretzky? He doesn't seem too busy on the hockey front these days.

Or is it time to have a female on the committee? The old boys network clearly has had trouble identifying obvious candidates from the women's game. The problem is a female member would have to be one of the three existing inductees - Cammi Granato, Angela James or Geraldine Heaney. If the HHOF went with Cassie Campbell or Angela Ruggeiro, two strong candidates to comment on both the women's and men's game, that would risk their own overdue inductions.

One more question: Do you think Lanny McDonald's new position of power may improve the chances of former Calgary Flames players such as Mike Vernon, Theo Fleury or, perhaps most deservedly, Sergei Makarov?

March 25, 2015

Hard Hits Pay Off In Playoffs

This is a very unique playing card featuring a caricature of Detroit Red Wings defenseman Bucko McDonald.

McDonald earned his NHL paycheck by being one of the hardest hitting defensemen of the 1930s and early 1940s.

One night paid off more than others for the man who would later become better known as Bobby Orr's peewee and bantam coach.

On March 24th, 1936 the Detroit Red Wings were playing the Montreal Maroons. A well-to-do Detroit fan offered McDonald $5 for every player that he knocked off of his feet.

Little did the fan know that this game would go into six overtime periods and forever be the longest game in NHL history.

That gave McDonald plenty of time to pad his wallet while bruising Maroon players' butts.

McDonald earned $185 that night, a significant sum during the Great Depression. He was credited with having knocked Maroon players down 37 times!

Read the full Bucko McDonald biography here.

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