February 09, 2016

Canucks Back In Black

The Vancouver Canucks are bringing back their black jerseys from the 1990s for one night.

When the Canucks host the Toronto Maple Leafs on February 13th they will wear their throwback jerseys, officially commemorating 1995. That was the first year the Canucks played in Rogers Arena (then known as GM Place) and is part of their 20th year anniversary celebrations at the current rink.

But any Canucks fan who sees these sweaters will instantly think of the 1994 team that came a goal post away from winning the Stanley Cup. Sure, that Canucks team played in the Pacific Coliseum still while the new downtown rink was being built. But that team is forever in the hearts of Canucks fans. To the rest of the league these jerseys may be ugly. For us Canucks fans these jerseys are true classics.

Would it not be awesome if the Canucks came out for the pre-game skate wearing the names and numbers of that 1994 team?

Henrik, the captain, could come out wearing Trevor Linden's #16. Daniel in Pavel Bure's #10. Ryan Miller in Kirk McLean's #1. And it is never in bad taste to salute the late Pat Quinn another time.

I mean, it is very likely that all night long when I see Linden Vey's #7 that I will be thinking of Cliff Ronning anyway. Alex Burrows will remind me of Geoff Courtnall. And why are Martin Gelinas and Greg Adams playing defense? Oh, sorry. That's Alex Edler and Chris Tanev.

The Canucks have a chance to do something special here. Let's hope they surprise us.

February 08, 2016

Sean McKenna

An potent goal scorer who starred with the Sherbrooke Beavers of the QMJHL, Sean McKenna was drafted 54th overall by the Buffalo Sabres in 1980. He would carve out a 414 game career in the NHL as a useful role player.

McKenna was initially returned to junior after being drafted, and he turned in back to back 57 goal seasons. In 1982 he helped Sherbrooke reach the Memorial Cup tournament thanks to his 32 goals in 26 playoff contests. For his goal scoring exploits McKenna was presented the Stafford Smythe Memorial trophy as the MVP.

McKenna turned professional in 1982-83 and spent considerable time with the Sabres but ended the year tearing up the the AHL with the Rochester Americans. McKenna would stick in the NHL the following season, posting back to back 20 goal seasons while playing with Paul Cyr and Gilles Hamel.

The Sabres were spinning their wheels in the NHL standings, and decided to make some changes. McKenna was having a bad 1985-86 season, with just 6 goals in 45 games before the Sabres traded McKenna in a multi-player deal with the Los Angeles Kings. That trade also involved Larry Playfair, and saw Brian Engblom and young enforcer Ken Baumgartner become Sabres.

McKenna matured into a checking role for the Kings but the club deemed him disposable in December 1987, trading him to the Toronto Maple Leafs for Mike Allison. McKenna was a part time player for the Leafs and ended up spending half his time in the AHL with the Newmarket Saints before retiring in 1990.

Rocky Farr

Norm "Rocky" Farr got into 18 NHL games with the Buffalo Sabres in the early 1970's. A veteran minor league goalie, Farr was unable to take hold of a permanent spot in the big leagues.

The Toronto native bounced around the minor leagues in the Montreal Canadiens system for three years before he was acquired by the expansion Buffalo Sabres in 1970.

Farr started out low in the Sabres system too, bouncing around various minor leagues that first 1970-71 season. The following year he was placed with the Sabres top farm team, the Cincinnati Swords of the AHL. He played solidly in 52 games.

Farr excelled for the Swords in 1972-73, backstopping them to the AHL Calder Cup championship. He even played so well he got a call up to the NHL, and even relieved in his first NHL appearance.

1973-74 was Farr's big chance. Veteran Roger Crozier became injured in 1973-74, Farr was promoted to the Sabres to back up Dave Dryden. Farr posted a 2-4-1 record in 11 appearances but the Sabres were really struggling without the injured Crozier and Gilbert Perreault.

Farr returned to play seven games for a much stronger Buffalo team in 1974-75 but when Gerry Desjardins was acquired in the second half of the season, Farr's days were numbered. He played in the minors in 1975-76 before retiring.

Mike Hurlbut

Mike Hurlbut was a collegiate hockey star with St. Lawrence of the ECAC from 1985 to 1989. An All-American in his final season, the New York Rangers drafted Hurlbut. He stepped into the minor leagues and made an immediate impact.

In 1992-93 Hurlbut finally got his chance to play in the NHL. The Rangers spotted him in 23 games where he scored 1 goal and 9 points. He also posted a respectable plus 4 on a team that was only a year away from winning the Stanley Cup.

Hurlbut never had a chance to play on the Rangers championship team. He badly injured his knee when accidentally colliding with teammate Darren Turcotte in practice.

"I had an opportunity with the Rangers, and I really took advantage of it," Hurlbut said. "If you look at the numbers I had and the amount of playing time I was getting, that was my big opportunity. I got hurt and by the time I was ready to go again, the season was pretty much over. I had just begun to establish myself. It's pretty tough to jump right back in at the NHL level."

He was traded to the Quebec Nordiques to begin the 1993-94 season, although Hurlbut would only play in one game with the Nords.

The Buffalo Sabres signed the veteran minor league defenseman from Massena, New York, in 1997. They were looking for a veteran presence on their minor league blueline. Hurlbut fit the bill, steadying and teaching younger prospects.

The Sabres rewarded Hurlbut with a call up for 5 NHL games. He remained with the franchise until 2003 when he retired as an active player.

Hurlbut returned to his alma mater and began coaching at St. Lawrence.

Gord Donnelly

Gord Donnelly, no relation to former NHLer Mike Donnelly, enjoyed a lengthy career in the NHL and in hockey because of his willingness to play the physical game.

The defenseman/winger wasn't a great skater and did not handle the puck overly well. The few goals he scored (28 career goals in 554 games) were either point shots that found their way through traffic, or banged in rebounds in front of the net.

But Gord was undoubtedly one of the NHL's toughest players. He was incredibly strong, which helped him win battles in the corners and clear the front of the net. He was also an excellent and willing fighter. He was always a popular member of the dressing room, always keeping the guys loose and encouraged.

Donnelly was born in Montreal, and played his junior hockey in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. His aggressive play was enough to convince the St. Louis Blues to draft the defenseman 62nd overall in the 1981 Entry Draft.

However Gord never had a chance to play for St. Louis. He was given to the Quebec Nordiques in the summer of 1983 as a form of compensation for the Blues signing of coach Jacques Demers. Essentially Gord can claim to be one of the few players ever traded for a coach!

Over the next three years, Gord split his playing time between Quebec City and Fredericton, New Brunswick, home of the Nordiques' AHL farm affiliate. By 1986-87 Gord had made the NHL on a full time basis for a long time to come. Injuries did limit him to 38 games, but he played solidly in 13 playoff games.

If they didn't already know his name, in 1987-88 Gord made sure all the NHL, especially the tough guys, knew his name and jersey number. He played 63 games, scoring 4 goals and 7 points. But he also accumulated 301 penalty minutes, many of them earned the hard way.

Although his exuberance was welcomed, the Nordiques went looking for more experience when they traded Gord part way through the 1988-89 season. In a trade with the Winnipeg Jets, the Nordiques acquired veteran Mario Marois.

Winnipeg was a fast skating team with a lot of skill, but needed to bulk up in the wild Smythe Division. Donnelly arrived and instantly gave the Jets that presence which made his teammates play proudly and bravely. It was as if they would play bigger than they normally would when Gord arrived. They could initiate contact without fear, because they knew big Gord would be there to back them up no matter what. In that sense Gord, and players like him, are extremely valuable assets to any NHL team.

Gord's first year in Winnipeg proved to be his best statistically. Including the 4 goals in 16 games he scored in Quebec, Gord registered 10 goals and 10 assists for 20 points, as well 274 penalty minutes.

Gord would play three seasons in Winnipeg before an early season trade in 1991-92 would send him to Buffalo in large trade which saw Darrin Shannon, Mike Hartman and Dean Kennedy go to the Jets while Donnelly, Dave McLlwain and a draft pick (used to select Yuri Khmylev) came to Buffalo.

Gord's job in Buffalo was similar as always, but this time he had some help. His 316 minutes in penalties made him one of three Sabres to accumulate 300 or more penalty minutes that year. Rob Ray had 354 while Brad May had 309. The Sabres were a very tough team to play that season, also boasting Brad Miller's 192 PIM in just 42 games.

Gord did a nice job in Buffalo until an early season trade in 1993-94 saw him head to Dallas in exchange for James Black. Injuries limited Gord to just 18 games after the trade. Gord would only play in 16 games during the following season, which featured only a 48 game schedule due to the owners-players labor dispute.

That proved to be Gord's final season in the NHL, but he wasn't done playing hockey yet. He signed on in the IHL until 1997, playing with both the Houston Aeros and Chicago Wolves. The minor leagues are not an easy place for a former NHL tough guy, especially with the stature Gord had earned. Every up-and-comer challenged him while trying to make a name for themselves.

That first season in Houston, 1995-96, saw Gord having to fight a lot, as he accumulated a career high 333 penalty minutes. But his second season, splitting the 1996-97 season between Houston and Chicago, saw Gord fight a lot less. He picked up just 169 minutes in penalties. It was probably a welcomed relief for the weary warrior, as word got around the IHL quickly - don't mess with Gord or his teammates.

Gord headed to Austria in 1997-98. He would play three seasons for VSV Villach, and would play his usual style, although demonstrated his hockey abilities too. The team he played for featured several former NHLers including Marty Murray, Brad Schlegel and Gino Cavallini.

Gord retired from the National Hockey League with 28 goals and 69 points in 554 NHL games. He sat in the penalty box for 2069 minutes in his career as well, an average of 3.7 minutes per game!

Mike Donnelly

Mike Donnelly was a classic late bloomer.

Never drafted by the NHL, Donnelly attended Michigan State University always dreaming of making it to the NHL, but realizing it might be a stretch.

And maybe it was a stretch, at least until his final season with the Spartans. In 44 games, Donnelly amassed 59 goals and 38 assists for 97 points, catching the eyes of several NHL teams. After all, his 59 goals set a new NCAA single season record. And his final goal of the season broke a 5-5 tie in the dying minutes of the NCAA championship game, giving Michigan State the NCAA title.

The Livonia, Michigan native opted to sign with the New York Rangers. Donnelly, a magnificent speedster, had a good first year of pro playing with the Rangers farm team in New Haven of the AHL. He had 27 goals and 34 assists for 61 points in 58 games. He added 1 goal and 1 assist in his first 5 game call up to the NHL.

Donnelly made the Rangers lineup from training camp the following season, but after just 17 games was traded to the Buffalo Sabres, where he played 40 games, notching 6 goals and 14 points. His stay in the Queen City was short however, as he became a regular minor leaguer with AHL Rochester. He was called up for 34 NHL games over the two year span.

Donnelly's fortunes changed in 1990-91 when he signed as a free agent with the Los Angeles Kings. He signed with the Kings because if he was to be demoted to the minor leagues, he wanted to live and work back in New Haven. Aside from 18 games that first season, Donnelly would not see much minor league time in the early 1990s. Instead he became an important member of the Los Angeles Kings. He even earned ice time on Wayne Gretzky's left side.

It wasn't until the 1991 playoffs that Donnelly showed he could be a scorer in the NHL. Having scored just 10 times in 53 games that season, Donnelly surprised many with a 5 goal, 9 point offensive outburst in 12 playoff games. The following year the Kings were sure to give Donnelly a better opportunity to continue that scoring outburst. It worked as Donnelly achieved 29 goals and 45 points in 1991-92.

1992-93 is Donnelly's season to remember. He equaled the 29 goal performance from the previous year, but added 40 assists for a career high 69 points. He was a strong contributor in the Kings march to the Stanley Cup finals as well, scoring 6 goals and 13 points while serving as a strong penalty killer in 24 games.

Donnelly, like the Kings, came back to reality in 1993-94. Donnelly remained a valuable asset for the team, but his production level dipped to 21 goals and 42 points. Early the following season he was traded to Dallas, where he never found his game in parts of two seasons.

Injuries really slowed Donnelly in his final couple of seasons. He got into 3 games with the New York Islanders, which did make him the first player in history to skate for all three New York state teams.

Donnelly would continue on in the minors and Switzerland before retiring in the 1998 season. He had played in 465 NHL games, scoring 114 goals and 235 points.

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