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February 20, 2017

Paul Coffey

The first thing everyone thinks about when the name Paul Coffey is mentioned is his skating ability. Wearing skates several sizes too small, this guy was simply amazing. In a couple of strides he was able to glide through the neutral and offensive zones faster than those dogged checkers chasing him. He was every bit as silky smooth as he was lightning quick.

Scoring exploits are also always remembered. He retired as the 10th highest scorer in NHL history, even though he was a defenseman. Coffey tallied 396 goals and 1,135 assists for 1,531 points in 1,409 regular-season games. He added 196 points, on 59 goals and 137 assists, in 194 Stanley Cup Playoff games. He eclipsed the 100-point mark five times in his career, and set the single-season goal-scoring record for defenseman with 48 goals in 1986.

Given the green light to play offensively from the blue line while skatinging alongside the likes of Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux, Mark Messier and Steve Yzerman allowed him to attain such lofty career numbers. The three time Norris trophy winner and eight time All Star was a brilliant passer, often triggering transition offense with amazing and instinctive breakout passes. While everyone will remember him for his skating and his puck rushing, Coffey may have been the best first-pass defender in league history.

The Oilers drafted Coffey 6th overall in the 1980 NHL Entry Draft. It took a little patience, but soon Coffey was a key member of hockey's last great dynasty.

"Joining the Oilers was a great opportunity for me to get a chance to play on a young team that had a lot of talent," Coffey said. "I was always a good skater, but I was not as offensively oriented as a junior as I was as a pro. That was the style Glen Sather wanted me to play. My first partner was Gary Lariviere and he gave me a lot of confidence. I had the green light every time I was on the ice. Then, working with Charlie Huddy, we took it to another level. He allowed me to play the way they wanted me to play. Charlie was a very good defenseman and we had a lot of fun playing together."

"It was exciting to be on the ice with him and watch the way he could skate," Huddy said. "The great thing was he would take a few strides and then he'd just glide most of the time. He would glide by people, which is fairly unusual. He was such a powerful skater that it was fun to watch. He could come out of our end and find guys in the middle of the ice and the pass would be right on the tape. There weren't very many times that it wasn't right on the tape."

February 15, 2017

Lindros Auctions Off Memorabilia

I'm going to preface this article and come right out and say it: I like Eric Lindros. Actually he's one of my favorite players of the 1990s.

There, now I said it. Full disclosure.

I don't expect you to like Eric Lindros. It is not the easiest thing to do. He dug his own hole, taking unpopular stances about dictating where he was going to play. He's guarded, moody, abrupt and has no visibly likable personality, and he pissed off a lot of fans and a lot of hockey people along the way.

Before he ever stepped out on an NHL ice surface, Eric Lindros was heralded as the next great superstar. Even as a boy he could dominate NHLers physically, as he proved in the 1991 Canada Cup. Plus he had all the skills to be a great scorer - great shot, good passing, good skating, good stickhandling. He was unrealistically billed as the closest thing to a perfect hockey player since Gordie Howe. Expectations were out of this world.

Add to that the fact that he spurned much of Canada, especially French Canada, for his refusal to play for the Quebec Nordiques, and he had already turned many fans and media members against him. Then he goes to Philly, where he is immediately the target of a vicious circle of media and fans from arch rival cities like Washington, Pittsburgh, and especially New York. It seemed like the whole world was against this guy.

You can continue on reading my Eric Lindros biography, but the point of today's post is to mention that Eric Lindros is selling off a lot of the memorabilia from his personal collection at ClassicAuctions.net.

There is no shortage of NHL worn jerseys, equipment and sticks. There is even a knee brace, which if you are as big as Lindros could be a really good buy. Personally I'd rather have his 1991-92 Oshawa Generals jersey.

On the international side there is his 1992 Albertville Olympics game worn jersey, as well as jerseys from the 1992 World Juniors, 1993 World Championships and 1991 Spengler Cup

Be sure to check out the Babe Ruth and Toronto Blue Jays items, too. 

February 13, 2017

Bill Beveridge

It is very sad that some excellent goalers will never be recognized for their abilities because they played for a bad team. A few, like Roy Worters and Chuck Rayner, have been , but Bill Beveridge hasn't.

Beveridge was born in 1909 and played his hockey in his hometown of Ottawa with local teams. Naturally, the Ottawa Senators owned Beveridge, but oddly enough, Jack Adams of Detroit wasn't satisfied with Clarence "Dolly" Dolson despite making the playoffs in 1928-29 and asked Ottawa for Beveridge on a loan basis.

Ottawa agreed and Beveridge had a bad rookie season with Detroit and Adams refused to purchase him, thus Beveridge was back as Ottawa's property. However, during the 1930-31 season Alex Connell wasn't playing well and manager-coach Dave Gill decided to go with Beveridge for 8 games. He lost every one of them and his goals against average was a sorry 3.69.

When Ottawa suspended operations for the 1931-32 season, Beveridge found himself in the minors with Providence. He led the Canadian-American league in wins that year.

Ottawa was back in the NHL for 1932-33 and Connell had the Senators doing fairly well early in the season. However, Connell injured his knee in a December game against Chicago and Beveridge became the Senators goaler. He did very well in his first 8 games, getting 3 shutouts. But both the Senators and Beveridge faded after that. When Connell came back, he was sub-par and so he was benched by coach Cy Denneny and Beveridge was the Ottawa goaler for the rest of the season. Even Beveridge didn't do well at that point and the Senators plummeted to the cellar where they finished.

He toiled valiantly in front of his inexperienced and old defense in 1933-34, but after this season, the Senators folded until 1992-93 when they would return to the league. After a bad year in St.Louis with the sickly Eagles, the Montreal Canadiens drafted him when the Eagles folded, and sold him to their rivals, the Maroons who needed a goaler when Alex Connell retired temporarily. He had a good year, but the strain of goalkeeping got to him and he quit when Tommy Gorman got Lorne Chabot from Chicago.

Beveridge couldn't get back in the line-up when Chabot took over. Chabot played so well that he won the job. However, Chabot was 35 and it was time for him to retire, so Beveridge was not out of a job just yet. Even though Connell came back in 1936-37, he was inconsistent and after a 5-0 humiliation by the Canadiens, Gorman called Beveridge back and he played very well as the Maroons almost nipped the Canadiens for second place in the Canadian Division. Beveridge's great goalkeeping beat Boston in the playoffs, but after a heartbreaking 1-0 loss to the New York Rangers in which Dave Kerr, the former Maroon, time and again foiled Maroon forwards with sensational saves, the Maroons lost heart and bowed 4-0 to the Rangers in what would be the Maroons final playoff game.

As the result of selling players and trading youngsters like Toe Blake, when Lionel Conacher retired
it weakened the defense and it wasn't surprising when the Maroons plummeted to the cellar and gave up the most goals against in 1937-38. Crowds were few and the team lost money. When the Maroons folded after that season, Beveridge's NHL career, it seemed, was over.

He spent 4 years in the minors, some of those years successfully. Then World War II was in full swing and NHLers did their duty and forsook the NHL for the sake of their country. With so many now joining the military, suddenly ex-NHLers were needed in the NHL, and when Jimmy Franks, New York Rangers goaler, was injured, Beveridge was an NHLer once more. He was welcomed back with a shower of rubber as Chicago bombed the Rangers 10-1.

Ironically, he got the Rangers only shutout that season, a 4-0 shutout over the Toronto Maple Leafs. But now it was Beveridge's turn to do his duty to his country, and he joined the Canadian Army. He played for the Ottawa Commandos of the Quebec Senior League the next few seasons and then retired. He was at the Senators opening game when Ottawa returned to the NHL in 1992-93,and saw Don Beaupre get the first shutout for a Senators goaler in 50 years during the 1994-95 season, just before he died February 13th, 1995.

February 09, 2017

Martin Havlat

Martin Havlat grew up with the game of hockey. Literally.

From the time he was a young boy right up until his early teens, Martin travelled with his father's teams all over what was then known as Czechoslovakia. His father coached second level professional hockey teams out of Brno. Young Martin rode the buses, skated at practices, and stood on the bench during games.

Exposure to the pro game gave Martin a head start on many other young players in his country. He also got significantly more ice time than most kids in Brno. Back then it was a city of about 450,000 people but there was only two rinks - one indoor and one outdoor.

By the time Havlat was emerging as a top young talent in the country, his father increased his coaching influence. He was hard on his son, but instilled the work habits necessary to make it to the National Hockey League.

By the age of 16 Havlat moved to Trinec and dominated the Czech junior hockey. By the age of 17 he was playing in the top men's league.

The Ottawa Senators selected him in the first round (26th overall) of the 1999 draft, and after one more season in Trinec, Havlat joined the Senators for 2000-01. Despite knowing very little English, Havlat made the NHL's all-rookie team by getting 19 goals and 23 assists in 73 games.

“I was fortunate to have had a few Czech and Slovak players around me in Ottawa, like Marian Hossa, Radek Bonk and Vinny Prospal to make me feel comfortable,” Havlat said. “The Czech players helped me with the language, to feel comfortable, and to find good restaurants to eat at both home and on the road.

He continued to develop in his second year, establishing himself as an explosive skater with soft hands, but the highlight of the year came when he played on a line with Czech superstar Jaromir Jagr at the 2002 Olympics.

"He may be the most exciting player on our team," said Ottawa coach Jacques Martin. "He reminds me of Guy Lafleur. Some players have a flair, and when they touch the puck, it seems to raise fans up out of their seats. He has that."

Martin also agreed that Havlat reminded him of Pavel Bure, though he wished Havlat was more selfish with his offense like Pavel.

"I'd like Marty to focus on shooting the puck more," Martin said. "He's got a great shot and too often he wants to get the defenseman one on one instead of using the shot. He'd get a lot more production if he started shooting more."

Another career highlight came a year later when Havlat helped the Ottawa Senators emerge as a contender. Along with the likes of Daniel Alfredsson and Marian Hossa, the Senators were a strong team that never quite seemed to figure out how to take that final step.

"I am disappointed we didn't win the Stanley Cup in Ottawa because we were so close and I always felt like we had the talent here that could get the job done," said Havlat. "We were so close in 2003 and we came within one game (of reaching the Stanley Cup final).

Oddly enough, the Senators finally realized their potential and played in the Stanley Cup final in 2007 - the same season Havlat left the team. In search of a new contract that was too rich for Ottawa's liking Havlat was traded off to Chicago prior to the 2006-07 season.

"I thought of Ottawa as my home. I spent most of my summers there, I was there all season and I spent more time there than I did in the Czech Republic in the last six years. That's why it is tough for me to leave and go elsewhere. But I have to move on."

Havlat did move on and for a brief time he was the face of the Hawks, helping bring struggling franchise back to respectability. Injuries would derail his first two seasons in Chicago, though he was clearly a nice building block in what would become a powerful Stanley Cup dynasty.

Coach Denis Savard called Havlat “just a great player. He makes a lot of things happen out there and he's fun to coach. Obviously, with us, as young as we are, some of the young players will pick up on the things he does."

Havlat would be gone from Chicago before the likes of Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane and Duncan Keith were hitting their prime. He would go on to play a couple of seasons in Minnesota under their suffocating defensive system before moving to San Jose where injuries always seemed to haunt him. He briefly played in New Jersey and St. Louis, too.

All said and done Martin Havlat had a pretty nice career in hockey. He played in 790 NHL games, scoring 242 goals, 352 assists and 594 points.

“I know when you retire people ask you about your favourite moment or memory, but for me, it’s tough to pick one. There are so many things I’m grateful for. It was a great run. Sure I had my ups and downs, but I loved the game and enjoyed too many positive things to pick one,” Havlat said.

February 07, 2017

John "Pie" McKenzie

When you think of the great Boston Bruins teams in the 1970s, a few names immediately pop into mind.

There is of course Bobby Orr, arguably the greatest player of all time. There's super scorer Phil Esposito. Scarfaced goalie Gerry Cheevers. The old warrior Johnny Bucyk. The playboy, Derek Sanderson. The coaches, first Harry Sinden then Don Cherry. Ken Hodge. Wayne Cashman. Ted Green. That Bruins team was so good that they probably should have won more than two Stanley Cups that they did win.

But don't forget John "Pie" McKenzie, the diminutive pest who was a real leader and fan favorite on that team. He was so popular that Boston fans bought 100s of bumper stickers that said "No matter how you slice it, Pie is the greatest."

Bostonians loved his courageous physical presence and dogged defensive attention. General Manager Milt Schmidt best summed up McKenzie as the Bruins' "mood-setter."

McKenzie described his approach to hockey to writer Andy O'Brien once.

"I guess what it boils down to is my custom at the start of games. I like to take a run at somebody on my first shift just to stir things up and plant the idea that if a squirt like me can go after 'em - particularly if my target is a big star - then why not everbody? I try to act the same way when were sagging in a tight game."

McKenzie was a tough customer, as you might expect a true cowboy-on-skates from High River, Alberta to be. McKenzie loved two sports in life and excelled at them both - hockey and rodeo. He could rope a calf with the best of them at the annual Calgary Stampede, but it was hockey where this cowboy would leave his mark.

It did not come quickly for the man known as Pie, a reference to his facial similarities to a cartoon character named Pie Face. He bounced around the NHL with Chicago, New York and Detroit along with several stops in the minor leagues before catching on in Boston in 1966.
He finally found a NHL home, forming an effective line with Fred Stanfield and Johnny Bucyk.

He didn't drop the gloves with great regularity, but that's what McKenzie instigated his rivals to do on numerous occasions, usually resulting in a Boston power-play. And when the Bruins did have the extra-man advantage, the man responsible for the situation was front-and-centre on the ice.

McKenzie also saw second unit power play time in Boston, allowing him to become a regular 20+ goal scoring threat.

In his best season the 5'9", 180-pounder netted 31 goals and recorded 77 points in 1970-71, despite missing 13 games due to a shoulder separation that required an operation.
That wasn't the worst injury McKenzie had in his playing career. He had to have his spleen removed in 1963, and in 1971 he actually was playing with a cracked skull before doctors clued in and forced him off the ice.
McKenzie was a nice piece of the Bruins' championship puzzle in both 1970 and 1972, but he would leave the team shortly after the second Stanley Cup celebration. The Bruins left him unprotected in the next season's expansion draft. Although he was somehow not selected, he felt very slighted by the Bruins' move and jumped at a $300,000 contract offer from the Worl Hockey Association.
He would join the Philadelphia Blazers where he was hired to play and coachup for the second time in 1972 before moving on to the World Hockey Association where he was hired to play and coach the Philadelphia Blazers, where he was reunited with Bruins' teammate Derek Sanderson.
After Philadelphia, McKenzie had stints in Vancouver, Minnesota and Cincinnati before settling for his final three seasons with the New England Whalers where the familiar hero was treated like a legend. In the end, his No. 19 was retired.
In 691 career NHL games, McKenzie scored 206 goals and added 268 assists for 474 points. In 477 WHA games, he netted 163 markers and contributed 250 helpers for 413 points.

McKenzie has always stayed in the Boston area since retiring. He first worked as a building supply salesman, helped to found a bank and for a long time sold BMWs.
In 2007 McKenzie returned to the game of hockey in the most unlikely of locations. He volunteers as the head coach for the newly created college hockey team at Berklee College of Music. He also has worked as the liaison of hockey development for University of Massachusetts Lowell.

February 06, 2017

GreatestHockeyLegends.com Interview With Rod Gilbert

I recently had the chance to interview Hockey Hall of Famer and New York Rangers legend Rod Gilbert. We talked about his youth, his scary back injury, the Rangers and the Bruins, and the 1972 Summit Series. We also discussed what Rod Gilbert is up to nowadays.

I hope you enjoy the interview:

Who were your idols growing up?

"It was easy for me picking one because Boom Boom Geoffrion was a young player for the Canadiens and his uncle was hanging out with my dad's blacksmith shop and right away from when I was 5 or 6 it was Boom Boom this and Boom Boom that. We would listen to the radio and occasionally see a game on Wednesday night on TV. It was extraordinary. And I grew up, you know, admiring all the Canadiens, Jean Beliveau, Rocket Richard, that's my era, Jacques Plante, Doug Harvey. But Boom Boom, I had the good fortune to play with him later on in my life. It's ironic, he came to the Rangers as a player and then wind up coaching me later in my career. It was quite the experience.

How did you end up in Guelph and how tough was it to leave French Quebec?

At that time my dream and my goal was to play hockey for an organized team. I had played my youth hockey in Montreal but at an independent school, which we weren't affiliated with the Montreal Canadiens. Every kid in my neighborhood that played in Parks and Recreation, they belonged to the Canadiens, as young as 8 years old. So when I played at that school I did not have to sign with the Canadiens.

At 14 I practiced with a team, an industrial garage league team, with adults and former professionals, a very, very good league. The would up winning the Allan Cup one year that team. The coach of that team became a scout for the Rangers. Yvon Prudhomme was his name. He started a team in a new league, to compete against the metropolitan Jr. B league, which was all controlled by the Canadiens. It was an independent Jr. B league and he asked me to play for his team. I was the very first player he drafted.

I wanted a try out because I also had the chance to tryout with the Canadiens junior team in Ottawa. So (Prudhomme) agreed to get me a tryout in Guelph. With the advice of my brother, I chose (Guelph) over the Canadiens because they had so many players. And that particular year in Guelph they were losing 11 players. They had won the Memorial Cup. So I went to Guelph on a tryout, and darn it, I didn't come back.

It was interesting because I didn't speak a word of English and the coach was really a tough guy. Eddie Bush. He was like a sergeant in the army. He would just curse and yell at every player. But for me it didn't matter because i didn't understand what he was saying.

Tell us about your special relationship with Jean Ratelle.

At the time I was going to play with the junior B league I suggested Jean Ratelle, who had played with me since we were 10 years old, that he would come and join us on the same team. And they signed him without having even seen him. So I paved the way for Jean to come (to Guelph) the following year. We got reunited and we played three more years together in junior there in Guelph. Then we both came up to the Rangers.

You broke your back at the age of 19. Your injuries were so serious that it really is amazing you could play in the NHL at all. How did you get through that?

I was paralyzed in Guelph. I was in hospital for 10 days and then they said it was a sprain. The got a chiropractor and for 10 days I was in traction. My team was the best team in Canada that year, you know with Ratelle and Cunningham and Mike McMahon and Bobby Plager - all these guys played in the NHL. They went through the first round (of the playoffs) and then the second round was a little tougher and they brought me back after 10 days in the hospital and my back was completely shattered. I started to skate and I played one shift and I fell down again and was paralyzed.

They put me on a train. The Rangers, the chairman of the board, Admiral Bergen, was a big admirer of the Mayo Clinic. And he said you are our best prospect and we are going to have the best hospital take care of you. They sent me to the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota. So I was on the train for 22 hours. When I got there they told me if you want to walk we have to perform a spinal fusion. I said 'What do you mean walk? I want to play hockey'. 'Well, we can't guarantee you that. You fracture is quite severe, the vertebrae, your spinal cord is weak.' I said 'I don't care, just do it.' They operated on me. It took about 6 hours.

The problem was I contracted a staph infection. And my wounds got infected. The graft never actually took solidly. The doctor in New York said it's not really perfect. You play and we will redo it in 4 years. Four years later the graft broke. He performed the operation in New York. Emile Francis and Bill Jennings were visiting me. I had an out of body experience. I died, you know. But I can hear Francis when I was out, I heard Francis tell the nurse, 'Bring him back, he's my best player." When I woke up and Emile came back in I said "Emile if I'm your best player how come I'm not getting paid like one."

It is amazing that you were able to come through all that and become arguably the greatest player in New York Rangers history. What are some of your favorite memories of playing in New York?

After my first surgery I was out for 10 months. When I did come back I played for the Kitchener Beavers, not far from Guelph. They had an Easter senior league there. Red Sullivan was the coach. I played there for 20 games. Then (the Rangers) brought me up for the playoffs against Toronto. My first time on the ice I scored a goal against Johnny Bower. At the end of the first period I got another goal. So we beat the Maple Leafs 4-2 and I got a couple of goals in my first game in the playoffs.

There was another time in Montreal where I had 16 shots in front of my hometown friends and parents. I scored 4 goals against Rogie Vachon.

They gave me a couple of nights to honour me. They retired my number.

There was some difficult memories. Like the Boston Bruins beat us in '72. The Flyers beat us in '74. We felt we could win the Stanley Cup then.

Bobby Orr was the greatest player to ever play the game. Wayne Gretzky did all the records and stuff, but I think Bobby Orr, to me, was extraordinary and revolutionized the game. The Bruins had Esposito and Cashman and Hodge. We could counteract against that line with Ratelle and Hadfield. We did have Brad Park. But Bobby Orr made the difference. Every big game we lost Bobby Orr was the first star.

How tough was it when Ratelle and Park were traded to the Bruins?

They had already traded Hadfield so you could see the writing on the wall there. It was hard for me more than them. They went on and continued their career. They were very successful in Boston. And the Rangers were going down.

I would be remiss if I didn't ask about the 1972 Summit Series. How did that series change hockey?

Every player on the team admits it was the greatest hockey moment in their career. Yvan Cournoyer won 10 Stanley Cups and he says he'd trade all of them for one Team Canada win. Every year we get together and celebrate. You can't go to Canada without somebody asking about it.

Tell us what Rod Gilbert is up to nowadays.

I'm employed by the New York Rangers. I do a lot of charity work, community stuff. We have the Gardens of Dreams which is for kids in distress. I have my own golf tournament which helps out for diabetes research institute. And I do a lot of Ronald McDonald House and Speak With The Greats where we bring about 1000 people to Rockefeller Center each year and raise money for the House.

I have a business. Boom Boom Geoffrion's uncle said he was using a device to develop his forearms and his wrists. My dad fabricated one. I credit that tool to help me with my great shot. At the end of my career still nothing was available. I tried to find out if we could create one. I would like the kids to have it in their hands. And it's good for golf too. So if you go to my website, www.thepowerarm.com, you will see that. You get a broom stick or a stick and then you drop in a weight. Then roll it up and using your wrists. you strengthen your forearms and it helped my shot. A hockey shot is a lot of wrist so if you have strong wrists… I wanted to develop something that could help develop strength.

Special thanks to Rod Gilbert for agreeing to do the interview. Also thank you to Adam and Judy for making the arrangements to make this interview possible.

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