September 30, 2011

The Quebec Nordiques

I'm in Quebec City, wandering around beautiful Vieux-Quebec in a retro Nordiques jersey.

Here's some old footage of Les Nordiques:

September 29, 2011

Hockey Dans La Peau

If you want to make friends in Quebec City, wear a Nordiques jersey around town. I literally had women asking to take photos with me!

Also, my jersey came in handy when I entered the Quebec Nordiques recreated dressing room. Here I am waiting for Dale Hunter and Peter Stastny to arrive:

That was part of a temporary hockey expo called Hockey Dans La Peau. It featured a lot of hockey history, with special emphasis on the Battle of Quebec and Patrick Roy.

I have lots of photos of the expo, as well as the hockey artifacts at Quebec's Musee de Civilisation on Facebook.

September 27, 2011

Canada's First Televised Hockey Game

On Oct. 11, 1952, popular Quebec media personality René Lecavalier is behind the mike for Canada's first televised National Hockey League contest. In this footage we see Rocket Richard vs. Gordie Howe as the Canadiens and Red Wings battle at the Montreal Forum.

The footage continues with Foster Hewitt's English broadcast of the Montreal Canadiens Stanley Cup victory.

September 26, 2011

Video: Howie Morenz, Charlie Conacher and Hockey In 1933

Here is an amazing YouTube find: It's a game between the Montreal Canadiens and Toronto Maple Leafs way back in 1933.

The rare video footage captures such legendary figures as Howie Morenz, Charlie Conacher, Aurel Joliat, Red Horner, Joe Primeau, King Clancy, Hap Day, Battleship Leduc, Frank Finnigan and many others in action.

The footage, narrated by the legendary Foster Hewitt, is 8:37 minutes long. It is a bit confusing as both teams are wearing their dark uniforms.

Note how bodychecking as we know it today is almost non-existent. It was still a physical game, but hitting along the boards is rare. Also the pace of the game impresses, given most of these players are playing most of the game. There is very little passing, and a lot of solo rush attempts. And watch the defenseman, who strictly stay back to defend.

YouTube is home to an even older set of NHL video clips. Here is footage of the 1929 Chicago Blackhawks, retrieved from an old black and white 16mm home movie reel. There is no audio.

September 25, 2011

Jean Francois Jomphe

JF Jomphe was born on December 28th, 1972 in Havre Saint-Pierre, Quebec. He would move on to play his youth hockey in Rosemère and Granby before jumping to Shawinigan of the QMJHL.

"I had tons of fun in Shawinigan," Jomphe told interviewer Frederic Lavallee. "In my second season there, we made it far in the playoffs. In my third year, I was traded to Sherbrooke. They were the best team in the League, but we lost in the Finals against a Laval team with the likes of Martin Lapointe, Philippe Boucher and Manny Fernandez in their roster."

Despite his play in the QMJHL, Jomphe was never drafted by a NHL team.

"I was not really worried," he continued with Lavallee. "In 1992, the Pittsburgh Penguins offered me an invitation to go to their training camp and try to sign me to an ECHL contract, but I went back to Shawinigan. In 1993, five teams gave me a try, including the Quebec Nordiques who offered me $33,000 in the minors or $235,000 in the NHL for three full years!"

Jomphe opted to sign with the Anaheim Mighty Ducks, one of two expansion franchises. He hoped that would give him his best shot at making it to the NHL.

It did not work out quite like Jomphe had hoped. He struggled in the minor leagues for the first two seasons, and then joined the Canadian national team program for the 1994-95 season.

"The Ducks organization thought it would be better for my development to play with Team Canada during the lock-out shortened season (1994-95) and I got to learn to play a more defensive game under Pierre Page," he told Lavallee.

It was one of his favorite seasons in hockey.

"I traveled around the world. I didn’t have the chance to play for Team Canada before, and to wear this jersey was very special for me. I grew up a lot that season!"

Jomphe returned to the minor leagues as a different player. He was having an excellent season in Baltimore, scoring 55 points in 47 games. It was his ticket to the NHL, playing 31 games in Anaheim, scoring twice and adding 12 assists."

The 1996-97 season will be Jomphe’s only complete one in the NHL. He played 64 games with Anaheim, scoring 7 goals and 21 points. But an abdomen injury prevented Jomphe from completing the season and participating in the playoffs.

Despite being reunited with coach Pierre Page in 1997-98, Jomphe was demoted to the minor leagues after just nine games. A knee injury prevented any chance of returning.

In June of 1998 Jomphe was traded to Phoenix for Jim McKenzie. He would only play one game in Phoenix. He was farmed out but later would be acquired by the Montreal Canadiens.

Playing for Montreal was a dream come true, albeit a brief one. He would only play in six games for the Habs.

"The Canadiens treated me very well. Seeing the Habs dressing room at the Molson Centre ( became the Bell Center in 2002 ) was impressive. On April 7th, we were playing Boston in Montreal. My parents were celebrating their 30th year of marriage and I wore number 30. During the game, a message appeared on the scoreboard, telling the crowd about my parents anniversary."

Jomphe would extend his career for four years, playing in Germany and Switzerland.

"Playing in Switzerland was great. We had cars for our families, an apartment, a good salary. Fans are great there and the ambiance during games is a fun experience as a player. We won the championship in my first season there, but I injured my knee. After my second season with Biel, the doctors advice was to stop playing, and so I retired, this time for good, to be able to walk after my hockey career!"

A Very Young Mario Lemieux

I'm not quite sure what year this is from. It is a very young Mario Lemieux still playing for the Laval Voisins:

In his last year of junior hockey, Mario set records that are unlikely to ever be beaten. In 70 games he scored 133 goals, 149 assists for 282 points!

Even more impressive, Mario accomplished all of that with not a lot of elite help. His maining running mates were Jaques Goyette and Alain Bisson (both of whom barely played hockey at all beyond that season), Francois Sills (who played 1 year in the AHL before moving to Germany) Michel Mongeau (54 NHL games played) and Yves Courteau (22 NHL games played).

Only three Laval players went on to NHL careers - defensive defensemen Steven Finn and Bobby Dollas, and a Voisins rookie that year named Vincent Damphousse.

Gretzky Looks Back

Wayne Gretzky was in Edmonton this weekend for a Kinsemen dinner, to watch Ryan Nugent Hopkins play for the first time and to catch up with old friends.

One of those old friends was Jim Mathieson of the Edmonton Journal, who asked The Great One about his son Trevor signing with the Chicago Cubs.

"I think Trevor’s going to play next year in Boise in single A ball; they’re going to try him in centre or left-field. He’s got a long road ahead of him, but he’s got the tools. He’s six-foot-five, he’s fast, a good hitter, he’s got some power. One thing about baseball: they don’t rush you. They want you getting 500 or 600 at bats, no matter where you are,” said Gretzky.
Gretzky had to laugh when Mathieson pointed out that his son got a bigger signing bonus on his first pro contract than #99 did.

Gretzky got a $250,000 signing bonus in 1978 from Nelson Skalbania when he signed his first pro hockey contract with the World Hockey Association’s Indianapolis Racers. His son got more than his dad as a seventh-round draft pick. Times change.

“Back in my day, you’d get a signing bonus and the first thing you were thinking of was going out to buy a car. I asked Trevor what he wanted to buy and he said he was going to go on a Disney cruise. We were laughing at that. He gets seasick. He doesn’t even like boats,” said Gretzky.
And what about Gretzky's future plans?

Gretzky has no interest in working for another NHL team or for the league. His oldest of five kids, daughter Paulina is working on an album, and second oldest, son Ty, is in his sophomore year at Arizona State University studying business. Ty is starting his baseball career while son Tristan and daughter Emma are still at home. Gretzky still watches lots of games on TV but only saw about 10 games in a rink last year.
Here's the full article, including some memories from Dave Semenko and Steve Tambellini.

September 21, 2011

Wayne Gretzky Playing Baseball

Here's Wayne Gretzky playing charity baseball game back in his Oilers days. Note Kevin Lowe in behind the umpire.

Of course Wayne's son Trevor signed with the Chicago Cubs organization this past summer. And here's a look at some more of hockey's ties with baseball.

September 20, 2011

Honouring The Old Lamplighter

The community of Coniston (part of Sudbury) Ontario recently held a ceremony to name their rink the Toe Blake Memorial Arena. The rink is close to where the great Blake grew up playing the game. His nearby hometown of Victoria Mines no longer exists.

Blake's last surviving son, Bruce, was on hand sharing stories of the great coach, reminding us he was also a great player, too. He was so good they nicknamed him "The Old Lamplighter."
When Hector "Toe" Blake was a child growing up in Victoria Mines, one of his teachers encouraged his love of hockey.

"Keeping his skates on in the classroom was one thing he remembered," Toe's son, Bruce Blake, said.

"One of his teachers allowed dad and a few others to keep their skates on during the morning so they didn't waste time lacing up and they would have more time at recess" to play hockey, Bruce said."
Rachel Punch of the Sudbury Star has the full story.

NHL Remembers Fallen Players

Disappointment Lingers

In talking with a number of Vancouver Canucks fans of late, I definitely get the feeling that 2011-12 season promises to be a very different season. Not necessarily for the team, but more-so for the fans.

Prior to the playoffs, and especially prior to last season's Stanley Cup final, I had a definite suspicion that the 2011 playoffs would change me somehow. I had no real idea how at the time. But I guess part of me knew I had to take a break from hockey, at least for some period of time.

I was really hoping the 2011 playoffs would be the culmination of my fandom. I was truly cemented as a Canucks fan forever following their terrific 1994 Stanley Cup final run. Even though that team, too, lost in game 7, I would never go back and change a thing. However, I was really hoping the 2011 team would complete the saga, finally winning the Stanley Cup and ending the story. That would allow me to move on with a great deal of satisfaction.

Of course, the 2011 team did not win. Despite being a superior team to that of 1994, these Canucks, felled by injuries, questionable refereeing and Boston's penalty kill, also lost the Stanley Cup in game 7. But this time, despite an incredible season, the only lasting feeling is that of disappointment.

Even had the Canucks actually won that damn Stanley Cup, the lasting feeling would have been relief, not joy. I guess that has left me feeling so disillusioned. The 2011 Stanley Cup playoffs were not fun for me. With each victory I rarely felt the joy and anticipation that I felt I should have. I wanted my team to win so that I could feel relief, not euphoria. That is not how it is supposed to be.

The 2011 Stanley Cup changed me as a fan. All summer I rarely worked on hockey projects, which I had always done in the past. I turned away jobs. I skipped the draft and free agency. I read the headlines regularly, but rarely got too involved in most stories. I pursued other things in life - like family time, vacationing, camping and my other serious passion - hiking.

Even though the summer was a short one for Canucks fans, I remain in no hurry for a return to the ice. I needed time away. It makes me wonder how the players deal with such issues, and the long term effects on them and the team.

It still remains to be seen how the 2011 Stanley Cup playoffs has changed me long term. I suspect I will take the upcoming season a little less seriously than I usually do, at least in the beginning. Maybe I will not watch every game. Maybe I can find something else to do on game night.

September 18, 2011

Ted Lindsay Was Such A Teas

Here's a 1962 advertisement for tea, starring Ted Lindsay, then coach of the Detroit Red Wings:

September 16, 2011

Collared Hockey Sweaters?!

Here's a photo of Wayne Gretzky taking on Team Sweden at the 1984 Canada Cup.

Note the collars on the Swedish national team jersey!

September 15, 2011

Canada Cup '87 - The Greatest Hockey Ever Played

There is little doubt that the 1972 Summit Series between Canada and the Soviet Union is the single greatest hockey tournament, perhaps sporting event, ever. Due to the political and cultural differences, and the dramatic ending, it is unforeseeable that anything could rival 1972. However the 1987 Canada Cup did rival it. While the Cold War was thawing, the drama was almost equal to 1972. And unlike 1972, the tournament was filled with great play on the ice. In fact most will agree that the 1987 Canada Cup highlighted perhaps the greatest hockey ever played.

"I don't think you'll ever see better hockey than what was played in that series," said Wayne Gretzky. "For me, it was probably the best hockey I've ever played."

The 1987 Cup not only had the greatest player of all time in his prime, but many others as well. Grant Fuhr, Paul Coffey, Viacheslav Fetisov, Vladimir Krutov, Sergei Makarov also were at the highest points of their incredible careers. The series also saw the rise to prominence of a young Dominik Hasek, as well as the elevation of Mario Lemieux to Gretzky's stratosphere.

The round robin went pretty much as expected. Canada and the Soviets finished 1-2 with Sweden and CSSR narrowly edging out the Americans for the final playoff spots. The Soviets handed Sweden a 4-2 loss and Canada downed the Czechs 5-3 to set up the greatest showdown in history.

The best of three series went the distance and thrilled fans world wide. All three games ended with the same score, 6-5, which was the identical score of the final game of the eight-game 1972 Summit Series, which saw Paul Henderson win the game for Canada with just 34 seconds left.

1987 was the longest series since 1972 between the two nations. The three games dripped with intrigue and drama. The Soviets shocked the Canadians with a 6-5 overtime win in game one in Montreal.

In the second game in Hamilton, Ontario, the Canadians assumed a 3-1 lead but watched it vanish. The game went into overtime which required a Mario Lemieux tally in the second over time period to force a third and deciding game. Some have called that second game the best game ever played.

In the third game, which was also played in Hamilton, the Canadians fell behind early 3-0 and 4-2. But, by using grit, determination and skill, they rallied in the second period to take a 5-4 lead, which the Soviets would erase in the third period, setting up the last minute heroics.

Late in the third period, Dale Hawerchuk was out to take an important faceoff in his own zone. Hawerchuk won the draw from Valeri Kamensky and tied up the Soviet center. Mario Lemieux got the puck and pushed it ahead to Wayne Gretzky at the blueline. Breaking across center ice with Lemieux and Larry Murphy trailing, Gretzky swooped in on Igor Kravchuk, and goaltender Sergei Mylnikov.

Gretzky, who led all tournament scorers, fed a perfect pass back to Lemieux, who led all tournament snipers, at the top of the faceoff circle. "I had lots of time," said Lemieux, "more than a second. The top shelf was open and I just put it there." For the next minute and 26 seconds, Team Canada would kill time by defending their zone, knowing they were seconds away from being crowned winners of the greatest series in hockey history.

"There is a generation of hockey fans who have grown up not having seen the 1972 Summit Series," said tournament head Alan Eagleson. "But the 1987 tournament bridged that generation gap. It was that good. To a new generation it will be their 1972 series."

September 14, 2011

Charlie: A Hockey Story

Canada may be star struck with all the Hollywood A-Listers visiting Toronto for the Toronto International Film Festival these days. But out in Vancouver, there is an interesting alternative for entertainment, especially for the hockey fan.

The 27th annual Vancouver International Fringe Festival runs until September 18th. There are over 600 theatre performances by 80 groups over the 11 days.

One of the most critically acclaimed shows is Charlie: A Hockey Story. Created and performed by Jim Sands, he combines music and storytelling to share the important lesson of forgiveness he learned by exploring the myth and meaning of the life of an uncle he never met. The uncle is none other than Charlie Sands, who from 1933 through 1943 played NHL hockey for the Leafs, Bruins, Canadiens, and Rangers.

During his 12-season career, Charlie met many of hockey’s greatest legends including Foster Hewitt, King Clancy, Eddie Shore and Ace Bailey. He was involved in many key events during a formative decade in hockey history. These included one of the longest games ever played and one of the most violent incidents in all of hockey.

The Vancouver Sun calls it "an appealing hour of rambling storytelling with some nice guitar work at either end, Charlie's legend is well-served by his nephew's gentle patter about the glory days of the NHL."

Plank magazine called it an unexpected treasure.

"This wasn't a superficial play about hockey facts or the heroic journey of small town boy who becomes a star, although there were elements of that, of course. But there was so much more. This is a human story about relationships and perseverance and family and mistakes and triumphs. And I certainly wasn't expecting to hear a comparison between hockey and Shakespeare's plays!"

So if you are in Vancouver this week, head down to the Havana Theatre on Commercial Drive and check it out. If you are not in Vancouver then check out the Charlie Sands Hockey Trivia Challenge.

Interview with Enio Sclisizzi

I love these old newspaper cartoons:

Jim Amodeo of the hockey history blog Hockey Then And Now recently interviewed the man with such a tough name to say that Foster Hewitt just called Jim Enio.

Also, feel free to take the Jim Enio Nickname Quiz

September 12, 2011

Alexander Galimov Dies

While the hockey world and all of Russia mourned the plane crash that took away entire Lokomotiv Yaroslavl hockey team, there were two miracles that day. Two people on that plane survived the crash.

One was Aleksandr Sizov, part of the flight crew, who at the time of this writing remained in hospital but in stable condition. The other was Alexander Galimov, a long time forward with his hometown team.

The scene of Galimov's discovery, as described by Ellen Barry of the New York Times, is absolutely surreal.
Oleg Smirnov, a police officer, described arriving at the scene moments after the crash to see a man standing in shallow water, tearing off what remained of his flaming T-shirt and saying, “Brothers, help me.”

“At first we thought maybe he was a fisherman who happened to be sitting on the riverbank, and was splashed by burning kerosene,” Officer Smirnov said. The man was already in the ambulance when the officers asked his name, Lt. Dmitri Konoplyov told Komsomolskaya Pravda.

“He whispered, ‘Brothers, I am Galimov,’ ” Lieutenant Konoplyov said.
Approximately 90% of his body was covered by severe burns. Those injuries would claim his life five days later.

Somehow Mr. Galimov seems better off dead than going through the incredible pain he must have been in. But at least he had the opportunity to talk to his father and say good bye before he was induced into a coma. That was a precious opportunity no other player on Yaroslavl had.

Wayne Gretzky On Letterman

September 11, 2011

Remembering Ace Bailey and Mark Bavis

Check out this photo of a teenage Wayne Gretzky:

Gretzky and Bailey held a special relationship. The veteran Bailey was a bit of a cross between a big brother and a father figure for the teenage phenom. As you will read below, he once saved the rookie's butt from the wrath of their coach.

Outside of that special relationship, Bailey was likely destined to be a forgotten footnote in the history of hockey. He was a run of the mill role player with the Boston Bruins, Detroit Red Wings and Washington Capitals back in the 1970s. He moved on to become a long time scout.

Then the unthinkable happened on September 11, 2001. Terrorists hijacked commercial airplanes and inconceivably crashed them into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. The most dramatic footage was of United Airlines Flight 175. Caught on several amateur and professional cameras, the plane zoomed in on the second of the WTC Twin Towers, resulting in a fiery collision followed by shortly by the horrific collapse of the 110 story structure.

Such sickening events puts things such as the insignificance of such things as hockey in proper prospective. But the hockey world quickly learned that two of there own were among the victims on that particular flight. Los Angeles Kings scouts Mark Bavis and Garnet "Ace" Bailey were leaving Boston to attend the Kings training camp. They never made it.

Bavis was a former minor leaguer and Boston University alumni, but was largely unknown in the hockey community. Quietly he was an  up and comer in the scouting ranks and had a promising future in the game off the ice.

Bailey was a well known hockeyist, both in the internal community and among the fans and media - and not just because he shared the same name as the old Hall of Famer.

Bailey was a wonderful man to be around. He was a popular teammate when he played, and popular in retirement. He had an infectious love of life and of hockey, and it was well received by players, media and fans.

Garnet Bailey, who inherited the nickname Ace from unrelated hockey Hall of Famer Irvine "Ace" Bailey, was best known as a nice utility player who specialized as a defensive left winger. He also specialized in intangibles, both on and off the ice.

Born in Lloydminster, Saskatchewan, Bailey was a junior hockey star with the Edmonton Oil Kings from 1965 through 1967. He was drafted by the Boston Bruins 13th overall in the limited 1966 NHL Entry Draft.

Bailey spent the next two years apprenticing in the minors as the Bruins were quickly becoming a powerhouse, and a spot on the roster was not easy to acquire. However by 1969-70 Bailey found his niche as a defensive role player. It was good timing as the Bruins were on their way to the Stanley Cup championship, although Bailey did not play in the playoffs because of a broken ankle.

Injuries plagued Bailey for the 1970-71 season but he returned to full time duty in 1971-72, and again helped the Bruins win the Stanley Cup. This time Bailey played in 13 post season games and contributed 6 points.

The Bruins traded Bailey late in the 1972-73 season to Detroit, and Detroit traded Bailey midway into the 1973-74 season to St. Louis. Despite getting off to his best start in his NHL career ( 41 points in the first 49 games easily eclipsed all of his career highs with 1/3rd of the season left to go) Bailey's stay with the Blues was again short as he was traded part way through the 1974-75 season to the awful Washington Capitals.

While the 1970s Capitals were perhaps one of the worst teams in hockey history, it was a good fit for Bailey, who got to play a lot more than he did with Boston.

The fact that the Capitals General Manager at the time was Milt Schmidt, the former Boston Bruin legend who Bailey had worked with before during the two Stanley Cup championships in the early 1970s.

"Ace is the kind of player you need when you're building a team," Schmidt said. "He's a good checker, a hard working digger and he can play center or the wing, whichever you want."

Bailey played with the Capitals until 1978 when he signed on with the Edmonton Oilers with the WHA. He played just 38 games in Edmonton, but has some good stories to tell.

An interesting story about Bailey occurred in the WHA where the likable veteran made a great impression on a young Wayne Gretzky.

The two were roommates and on one occasion overslept their pre-game nap. They woke up with just minutes before game time.

Gretzky, just a rookie, was in a natural panic, but the wily veteran Bailey seemed not too worried. He helped Gretzky get going and told him to go ahead and not worry about me.

Gretzky frantically made his way to the rink and got there just in time for the pre-game warm-up. The team skated for approximately 45 minutes, yet Bailey never showed up, much to Gretzky's dismay.

When the team left the ice, Gretzky walked back into the dressing room and was shocked to see Bailey sitting in his stall - fully equipped and sweating like he was out on the ice with the rest of them.

Gretz whispered into his ear "Ace, I didn't see you on the ice. Where were you?"

Even quieter, Bailey whispered back "I didn't get here until 5 minutes ago. So I put on my equipment and went into the shower and got all wet. They never even missed me!"

Gretzky has lots of stories about Bailey, who still a very good friend of his.

Like the time Bailey had rented a house in Edmonton without seeing it. After a few drinks with the guys,

Bailey and some others went to see the house, although they were all half inebriated. The key just wouldn't work. Bailey was using all his might to pry the garage door open while Cowboy Flett was on the roof trying to get in through a skylight. Next thing you know the cops showed up. It turned out to be the wrong house! Its pretty funny, but the elderly couple inside probably weren't amused.

Bailey certainly had his effect on a young Gretzky off the ice, but also served as an on ice protector as well. He was always the first player to step in if the teenage sensation was being abused. Ace wasn't a heavyweight by any means, but he always showed up.

Bailey played for brief stints in the Central Hockey League up until 1981 when he retired for good. All in all he had 107 goals, 171 assists and 278 points in 568 NHL games. He was a useful player and a great dressing room guy. He was real free spirit which probably angered his coaches at times.

No coach would admit to that now though. They, like anyone whoever had the immense pleasure of even a short visit with the jovial Ace, have dozens of great stories. It is those memories which we must remember and cherish.

"Ace was one of the most popular guys in the NHL, and he was a friend to all of us," former teammate Kevin Lowe said. "You will be hard-pressed to find anyone who hasn't been touched by his incredible personality, and words simply can't express how we feel right now."

"Ace may not have been the greatest hockey player to play in the NHL but he taught many players how to win championships and more importantly, he was a winner as a person. We will all miss him greatly," said Gretzky

Garnet "Ace" Bailey died horrifically, as did 1000s of other innocent people. He is survived by his wife Kathy and a grown son. It is important the we do not forget Ace, the other victims, or the incidents themselves. We must not let their deaths go for not, we must reach for world peace.

September 09, 2011

Legends Come Alive In Video Game


Wayne Gretzky, Gordie Howe and Mario Lemieux are among nine legends included in EA Sports video game franchise NHL 12.

Chris Chelios, Ray Bourque, Jeremy Roenick, Borje Salming, Patrick Roy and Steve Yzerman are the other legends included. Gamers will be able to play with or against the legends as a complete team, or add the legends to any team.

Imagine that - Wayne Gretzky centering the Leafs top line. Blasphemy!

Check out this high quality trailer:

The game is available in Europe on September 9th, and in North America on September 13th. You can pre-order your copy today:

Buy The Game:
Amazon.com - Xbox 360 - PS3
Amazon.ca - Xbox 360 - PS3

September 08, 2011

Soviet Hockey Air Disaster of 1950

From a young age Latvian Harijis "Harry" Mellups, pictured above, showed athletic promise. He would grow up to play football (soccer), basketball, boxing and hockey. As an adult he focussed on two sports: football in the summer and hockey in the winter, winning Latvian championships in both sports for the team Dynamo Riga.

On the ice Mellups was a celebrated goaltender. In the 1946 season he reportedly gave up only 3 goals all season long. Not surprisingly Dynamo Riga won the Latvian championship that season.

The Soviet Union made it's historic entrance into international hockey in 1948. For the very first game (a 6-3 win over Czechoslovakia) Mellups was in goal. By 1949 he had fully transferred to Moscow to play both football and hockey, and was instantly recognized as one of the earliest stars in Soviet hockey.

That all came to a crashing halt in 1950. An airplane carrying Mellups, fellow Latvian Roberts Sulmanis and several other members of the Soviet Air Force hockey team crashed near Yekaterinburg (which at the time was known as Sverdlovsk). There were 19 people on board, including 11 hockey players and 2 team medical staff. There were no survivors.

Even more heart-breaking: Mellups' son was born 6 days earlier. He never had a chance to hold his own son.

The other hockey players on board were: Ivan Novikov, Zdenek Zigmund, Yuri Tarasov, Yuri Zhiburtovich, Victor Isaev (another goaltender), Alexander Moiseev and coach Boris Bocharnikov. Coach Bocharnikov wanted his team to fly rather than to take the train, as was originally planned, so that the team had 3 extra days of practice. For whatever reason Vsevolod Bobrov, the first great Russian hockey star, was permitted to take the train.

The team was run by Vasiliy Stalin, son of Russian leader Josef Stalin. Vasiliy feared repercussion from the incident, and kept it secret. The state run media never made mention of the accident. A replacement team was formed in quick order, as if nothing had ever happened.

Czechoslovakian Air Disaster of 1948

This is Ladislav Trojak, one of the earliest stars of Slovakian ice hockey. He was a brilliant skater and play maker, often setting up linemates Josef Malecek and Oldrich Kucera. They starred together for years with LTC Prague (winning 5 league titles) and the Czechoslovakian national team.

Trojak was part of the national team that won the World Championship in 1947. He also represented Czechoslovakia at the Olympics in 1936 and 1948. (There were no Olympics in 1940 or 1944 due to World War II) He was the first Slovakian player to make the Czechoslovakian national team. When the team won the silver medal at the 1948 Olympics, he became the first Slovakian ever to win an Olympic medal.

In early November 1948 the Czechoslovakian team was going to London for a couple of exhibition games. But the entire team did not fly to London together. Eight players took one flight one day earlier. They were to be followed by another six players who were to leave Paris the next day, among them Trojak. On the morning of November 8th, London was covered in a heavy mist. The first set of players who had arrived the day before waited for their teammates in the hotel, but to no avail.

The Czechoslovaks had a game to play at Wembley later that day, so the eight players left for Wembley thinking that their six teammates would arrive directly to Wembley instead. In the second period the English players showed great sportsmanship and also played the game with only eight players. The Czechs won the game 5-3, but the players were more worried about their teammates.

It was not until late that night that they found out that the small plane had vanished from the radar over the waters of La Manche. There was never a trace found of the plane. It is believed to be resting somewhere at the bottom of La Manche. Also vanishing that night were Trojak's Czech teammates Zdenek Jarkovsky, Miroslav Pokorny, Vilibard Stovik, Zdenek Svarc and Karel Stibor.

The families suffered a tremendous loss but to add salt to their wounds, the secret police started to interrogate them. The secret police accused the players for having staged their own deaths and that they were living somewhere abroad.

Wife Lea Trojakova and her six year old daughter were devastated by the threats, accusations and lies surrounding their dead husband and father. Lea was blocked from taking any jobs and only with the help of some good friends did she eventually get a job as a janitor.

The prosecution of Trojak's teammates continued for years and virtually all the players were sentenced to hard labour, some ranging between 10 to 15 years.

Remembering The Players of Lokomotiv Yaroslavl

Needless to say, today is a terrible day for hockey. Yet another such day in a summer to forget.

The private jet carrying the Russian Kontinental Hockey League team Lokomotiv Yaroslavl crashed just after taking off, killing 43 or 45 people on board. The entire team perished, with the exception of Alexander Gailamov who was in critical condition with burns up to 90% of his body. A plane crew person also survived the crash. 

The Yaroslavl team featured several names familiar to National Hockey League fans. I spent the afternoon sharing my memories of the following former NHLers:

Remembering Ruslan Salei
Remembering Karlis Skrastins

Also, Alexander Vasylunov played 18 games with the New Jersey Devils last season, but returned to his native Yaroslavl this season.

Non NHL players who perished in the plane crash were Vitali Anikienko, Mikhail Balandin, Gennady Churilov, Robert Dietrich, Marat Kalimulin, Alexander Kalyanin, Andrei Kiryukhin, Nikita Klyukin, Stefan Liv, Jan Marek, Sergei Ostapchuk, Maxim Shuvalov, Pavel Snurnitsyn, Daniil Sobchenko, Ivan Tkachenko, Pavel Trakhanov, Yuri Urychev, Alexander Vyukhin, and Artem Yarchuk.

Here is the team's 2011 team photo (click to enlarge):

To make the tragedy even worse, there are reports that the mother of Sergey Ostapchuk died of a heart attack upon hearing of her son's death.

This is not the first time the sports world has had to deal with an air disaster. CBC has a list of notable sports air disasters.

CBC failed to include a notable hockey plane crash from 1948. I will have more on that plane crash here soon.

September 07, 2011

Remembering Ruslan Salei

One of the top Belorussian players, Ruslan Salei was a solid and physical NHL defenseman. His 917 NHL game career was best remembered with the Anaheim Mighty Ducks, though he also played with Florida, Colorado and Detroit.

Unfortunately for me, I probably never appreciated Salei for being as good of a player as he actually was. I still tend to remember him for early career controversies where he hit Mike Modano from behind, sending the defenseless superstar awkwardly into the boards. His reputation was cemented early after the scary play and the resulting 10 game suspension. It was a bit of an unfair reputation as for the most part Salei was a reliable and steady physical defender.

Interestingly, Salei and Modano became teammates in 2011, as the Detroit Red Wings sought veteran help from both of them. Even though incident happened 12 years earlier, Salei was certain to make sure there was no hard feelings.

Both veterans were let ago after the season. Salei opted to go to Russia and signed with the KHL's Lokomotiv Yaroslavl. Unfortunately he never got to play. The team's plane crashed as they prepared to open the season on the road. All but one member of the team perished.

For Salei's family and friends it must have been a heart wrenching moment. Yaroslavl was opening the season in Minsk, Belarus, close to Salei's home. During the early confusion in the breaking news of the plane crash and the team's demise, there were conflicting reports as to whether Salei was on the plane or not. There was some thought that he had travelled earlier, perhaps by car, to Minsk to spend some extra time with family.

Unfortunately, Salei indeed was on that doomed plane. He was 36 years old.

Karel Rachunek

Karel Rachunek turned out to be a solid, reliable NHL defenseman over a 371 game career.

Many NHL fans remember him breaking in as a rookie with Ottawa. He distinguished himself as a really steady presence right away, and many people were raving about the Senators great young group of defensemen - Wade Redden, Sami Salo, Chris Phillips, and now the unexpected rookie rock, Karel Rachunek.

The hype was a bit over blown. He was solid and reliable, best suited for a depth role. After 4 seasons of gradual descent in Ottawa, he really began bouncing around the hockey world. He played for the New York Rangers and New Jersey Devils, but he never found a comfort level in North America. He also played for Znojemsti Excalibur Orli in his native Czech league, as well as Moscow Dynamo and most notably Lokomotive Yaroslavl in the KHL. He really emerged later in his career as a standout, though he had left the NHL by then.

Rachunek really came into his own with Yaroslavl. He actually had three distinct stints in Yaroslavl, but in his last stretch he emerged as a KHL star. He scored 11 goals and 46 points in 50 games.

He showed off his confident, improved game to the entire world when he helped the Czech Republic win gold (2010) and bronze (2011) at the World Championships. Rachunek set up team captain Tomas Rolinek for the gold medal winning goal in 2010. In an earlier game against Sweden Rachunek scored a memorable shoot out by unleashing an overpowering slap shot.

Rachunek was named as Lokomotiv Yaroslavl's team captain for the 2011-12 season. Unbelievably, Rachunek and his teammates perished in a plane crash on September 7th, 2011. The team was just taking off for their season opener in Minsk.

Remembering Josef Vasicek

I will always remember Josef Vasicek as the lumbering but imposing giant with the Carolina Hurricanes in their Stanley Cup finals appearance in 2002 as well as with their championship victory in 2006.

Vasicek was a player who never really fulfilled his NHL potential. Despite his humongous size and terrific hockey instincts. And he was not a bad skater by any means, considering he was so big. But he was inconsistent and, like so many European players, preferred to pass than shoot. It was frustrating for fans so I can only imagine how his coaches felt. More than a few must have laid wide awake at night trying to light a fire under him so that he would just take the puck and drive the net like a true power forward.

Vasicek did do nicely in Carolina's unsuccessful Cup run in 2002, where he really stood out as a surprise breakout player. You could not help but be wowed by this giant kid most of us had never really watched before. He would go on to a 460 game NHL career, but became bogged down with injuries.

Big Vasicek left for Yaroslavl of the KHL in 2008 and became of the team's top players in it's history. He and Pavol Demitra formed a special bond and entertained local fans with great play.

In September 2011 Josef Vasicek was looking forward to his fourth season in Yaroslavl when, unbelievably, the team's chartered jet crashed killing Vasicek and all but one of his teammates.

Remembering Karlis Skrastins

Not too many people can say this, but Karlis Skrastins was one of my favorite NHL players.

I have always had a soft spot for underrated players, and I often felt the Latvian was one of the NHL's best kept secrets in his time. Over a 12 year NHL career he was a hard working, unheralded defensive defenseman. He was noted for his shot blocking, and for his durability.  In fact, he broke Tim Horton's NHL record for consecutive games played by a defenseman, playing 495 games in a row.

In total he played 832 NHL games, most notably with Nashville and Colorado, but also with Florida and Dallas. He just left the NHL in 2011, joining the doomed team in Yaroslavl, Russia. On the team's first road trip of the 2011-12 season, a plane crashed claimed the lives of all but one of the members of the team.

Igor Korolev

Hockey fans will always remember Russian Igor Korolev as a skillful, elegant player who, unlike some of his countrymen, earned a great reputation as a hard worker and coach's dream.

He always displayed a very solid work ethic and rarely took a shift off. He was solid in his own zone. He never really thrived in physical games, but he had a nice offensive touch around the net.

Looking back at Korolev's stats it is somewhat of a surprise that he did not put up bigger numbers in the NHL. He had the talent and a certain presence that was always admired. Or perhaps it was just how he embraced Canada when he played here, first with Winnipeg and then Toronto. The Russian was often noticed singing "O Canada" during the pre-game anthem. He became a Canadian citizen late in 2000.

Fans gained even more admiration for Korolev after reading Dave King's book King of Russia. The legendary coach had moved to Russia to coach the KHL team Magnitogorsk Metallurg. King raved about the professionalism of Korolev, a late addition to the team, and how much Korolev's presence helped him succeed in Russia. Korolev after all was well respected in Russia. He was a long time NHLer but also a notable star with Moscow Dynamo in the early 1990s.

That experience may have helped Korolev decide to become a coach himself. He retired in 2010 after playing with another KHL team, Lokomotiv Yaroslavl. He became an assistant coach with the team, a position he held when all of the members of the team perished in a plane crash on September 7th, 2011.

Korolev left behind a widow, Vera, and two daughters.

Remembering Alexander Karpovtsev

Moscow native Alexander Karpovtsev was an intriguing Soviet import.

Blessed with good size (6'2" and 210lbs) and great skating strength (in terms of balance and agility, and even quickness out of his pivots), the New York Rangers had high hopes for Karpovtsev when they acquired him from the Quebec Nordiques. The Nords drafted the Moscow Dynamo defenseman 158th overall in the 1990 Entry Draft but never brought him to North America. That only happened after the Rangers, led by general manager Neil Smith's enthusiasm for Soviet players, brought him over in 1993. Sergei Nemchinov, Alexei Kovalev and Sergei Zubov were also amongst the influx.

Karpovtsev enjoyed 5 seasons in New York, including in 1994 when the team won the Stanley Cup. It may have been the Rangers' first championship in over 50 years, but Karpovtsev hoisted the chalice as a NHL rookie. In doing so, he, Nemchinov, Kovalev and Zubov became the first Russian players to have their name on the Stanley Cup!

But Karpovtsev never really got untracked. The Rangers had great depth on the blue line, limiting Karpovtsev's playing time. Also limiting his playing time was a series of injuries. He missed half of two seasons in New York due to injuries.

The Rangers moved Karpovtsev to Toronto in 1998 in exchange for Mathieu Schneider. The Rangers were looking for an experienced upgrade as they figured Karpovtsev was no better than a third pairing dman who could make safe outlets from his own zone, tie up larger forwards in front of the net and maybe eat up some second pairing power play minutes.

Karpovtsev played two seasons in Toronto (quietly having a really solid 1998-99 season) before moving to Chicago for four seasons. He seemingly spent as much time in the medical room as he did on the ice, drawing famous criticism of his desire to play. Chicago broadcaster Pat Foley was not shy to rip into Karpovtsev's character, damaging Karpovtsev's reputation. He essentially left the NHL, rightly or wrongly, known for poor work ethic. He certainly is remembered in Chicago with great despise.

Karpovtsev briefly appeared with the New York Islanders and Florida Panthers, but for all intents and purposes he moved back to Russia to complete his career.

Karpovtsev was starting his coaching career but tragedy would strike. Karpovtsev and Igor Korolev were assistant coaches for Brad McCrimmon with the KHL team Lokomotiv Yaroslavl. The team was chartering on a private jet for their opening game of the 2011-12 season. The plane crashed, killing 43 of the 45 people on board.

Pavol Demitra

Blessed with amazing speed, Pavol Dimetra was a pretty good NHL player and scorer for 16 NHL seasons. But once he put on the Slovak national team jersey he somehow turned into a superstar.

That was never so evident at the Vancouver Olympics in 2010. He was arguably the best individual player, leading the tournament in scoring with 10 points. He was just absolutely fantastic in that tournament. He gave Canada fits in their showdown, nearly tying the game with less than 10 seconds left in the game. It was truly amazing to see, It was as if that Slovakian team uniform might as well have been a Superman outfit - that's how good he was at the 2010 Olympics.

Dimetra was a pretty good player in his NHL heyday, too. Playing alongside Keith Tkachuk, Demitra was a dynamite player for several seasons in St. Louis. In fact in 2002-03 he scored a career high 98 points, the 6th highest total in the NHL that season. In fact three times he finished in the NHL's top ten scorers. Three times he played in the NHL all star game and in 2000 he won the Lady Byng trophy for his clean play.

Later in his career he formed a dangerous duo with countryman Marian Gaborik with the Minnesota Wild.

After the 2010 season Dimetra headed to Russia, signing with KHL's Lokomotiv Yaroslavl. He was said to really being enjoy hockey in the KHL and life in Russia. The Slovakian great was excited to return to Yaroslavl for the 2011-12 season when the unthinkable tragedy struck. Pavol Demitra and all of his Yaroslavl teammates perished in a plane crash as the team made their first road trip for the season.

The hockey world lost a great Slovakian legend that day. Pavol Dimetra will always be remembered as one of the best players from his country, and as a long time, entertaining NHL player.

Remembering Brad McCrimmon

Brad McCrimmon was one of the top defensive defensemen in the 1980s, and one of the most underrated hockey players of all time.

A fantastic junior player with the Brandon Wheat Kings, McCrimmon broke in with the Boston Bruins when Ray Bourque and Gord Kluzak were also just youngsters. McCrimmon was deemed expendable and was moved to Philadelphia for Pete Peeters.

McCrimmon really came into his own in Philadelphia, particularly when he assumed the spot along side highly skilled defenseman Mark Howe. The fierce competitor was never a star, but was a valuable member of the Flyers. He would take care of the defense and physically manhandling players in his own zone allowed Howe to take chances offensively and become one of the best (and most underrated) defenseman in history.

McCrimmon was never an offensive threat at the NHL level, he did put up some decent numbers from 1984 through 1987. Though it wasn't until his trade to the Calgary Flames in the summer of 1987 that saw him emerge from Howe's shadow. He was named as a second team All Star as he posted a league high + 48 as well posting 42 points without Howe.

The Flames traded a 1st round draft pick to Philadelphia in exchange for McCrimmon. The trade came shortly after the 1987 Stanley Cup finals in which McCrimmon was a key performer for the eventual runner up Flyers. The Flames were seeking some veteran leadership, defense and toughness to help guide them to the Stanley Cup finals, and in McCrimmon's second season in Cow Town, that is just what happened. Only this time McCrimmon was the bride and not the bridesmaid, as the Flames won their first Stanley Cup in 1989.

Later also playing in Detroit, Hartford and Phoenix, Brad McCrimmon retired with 81 goals, 322 assists and 403 points in an amazing 1222 games career. He added 11 goals and 29 points in 116 playoff games.

Brad McCrimmon went on to become a highly respected assistant coach with in New York, Calgary, Atlanta and Detroit. But he really wanted to be a NHL head coach. In order to get more experience running his own bench, he headed to Russia's KHL to coach Lokomotiv Yaroslavl.

Here is Brad McCrimmon's full biography.

Batman vs Superman: Hockey Rivals

Check out this Swedish Superman comic book from 1951:

Apparently long before the Sedin Twins were even born Sweden had their own dynamic duo on ice. Look at how badly Batman and Robin are outscoring Superman!

This Day In Hockey History

1988 - Tony Esposito, Brad Park, Buddy O'Connor and Guy Lafleur were inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame. Ed Snider (builder) and George Hayes (official) were also inducted. Dick Irvin, Jim Proudfoot and Scott Young were all named as media honourees.

2011 - The private jet carry the players and coaches of Russian KHL team Lokomotiv Yaroslavl crashes, killing 43 of the 45 people on board. Player Alexander Gailamov and a plane crew person were the only ones to survive, though Gailamov had burns to 80% of his body. Among the dead were former NHLers Brad McCrimmon, Pavol Demitra, Igor Korolev, Alexander Karpovtsev, Ruslan Salei, Karlis Skrastins, Karel Rachunek, Josef Vasicek and Alexander Vasylunov.

Happy Birthday to Jacques Lemaire, Tony Tanti, Baldy Northcott, Gino Odjick, Bryan Maxwell, Chris Oddliefson and Orland Kurtenbach.

September 06, 2011

The Golden Jet: For The Record

When it comes to the Winnipeg Jets, there may never be a greater player in city history than "The Golden Jet" Bobby Hull.

If you have never heard the old Billy Van song "The Golden Jet" you absolutely must. Here's the link. I've posted the lyrics below, but it simply must be heard to truly enjoy.

A jet propelled star
A scoring sensation
A powerhouse winger
The craze of the nation
A prolific scorer
A skater supreme
A classy stickhanlder
A coach's dream

A goal a game is a fantastic clip
And add his power and pulsating zip
And his stamina, speed, style and skill
Performance perfection and brilliance at will
His quality, dignity and class
Set ups refused, because he'd rather pass
And his games of hat tricks, three or four
Even give goals could be in store

A Morenz and Conacher, a Howe and Richard
All wrapped up in one in this mighty die hard
If we examined Bobby we'd surely find
The greatest athlete of all time

The Blonde Bomber
The Golden Jet
A Superstar
Improving Yet
Pucks in the net are his maximum goal
50 for silver, 51 for gold
To add to his goals would add to his glory
60 or more an unparalleled story

Bobby Hull, Bobby Hull, The Golden Jet!

The Hockey Sweater

Must See T.V. for any Canadian hockey fan: Le Chandail de hockeyThe Hockey Sweater.

Roch Carrier's most famous story is about a young boy who orders a Montreal Canadiens sweater from the Eaton's catalogue, but receives a Toronto Maple Leafs jersey instead. Brilliantly capturing the cultural tensions between English and French Canada, it is considered to be one of the most important works of Canadian literature ever written.

The book is based on the real experience of Carrier growing up in an isolated part of Quebec in the 1940s. He, like all boys his age, was a big fan of the Montreal Canadiens and their star player, Maurice "The Rocket" Richard. 

When Carrier's Montreal Canadiens hockey sweater wears out, his mother orders a new one from Eaton's. 
Unfortunately, the department store giant sends a Toronto Maple Leafs sweater instead, the Canadiens' bitter arch rivals.

A loyal fan of Les Habitants, Carrier protests having to wear the new sweater. But his mother refuses to let her son wear the old worn out sweater and, apparently unaware of the business's traditional policy they advertised, "Goods satisfactory, or money refunded", insists that if they were to return the sweater it may offend Mr. Eaton, himself a Leafs fan. As a result, young Carrier is forced to wear the Leafs sweater to his hockey game, feeling humiliated before the other players on the ice, each proudly wearing Canadiens sweaters.
Getting your first hockey sweater is one of the truly great Christmas gifts one can receive. I'd love to hear your stories of Christmases past or present about giving or receiving a special hockey jersey.

By the way, if you liked that, don't forget to check out these two Disney classics: From 1939 here's Donald Duck in The Hockey Champ and from 1945 here's Goofy in Hockey Homicide.

September 05, 2011

Pucks On The 'Net: The eBook

Coming in October 2011: GreatestHockeyLegends.com presents Pucks on the 'Net, an e-book by Joe Pelletier. Foreword by Kirstie McLellan Day

This is Joe Pelletier's third book release. He has previously released The World Cup of Hockey (co-authored with Patrick Houda) and The Legends of Team Canada. This is his first e-book release.

Kirstie McLellan Day is Canada's best selling hockey author. She has released Theo Fleury's autobiography Playing With Fire, and Bob Probert's autobiography Tough Guy. In 2011 she is releasing Ron MacLean's autobiography, Cornered.

Praise for Pucks On The 'Net:

Amongst hockey historians Joe Pelletier takes a back seat to no one. His unparalleled ability to unearth a bountiful of great stories has helped illuminate the continuing story of our country's national obsession - the great sport of hockey. Speaking for his countless followers, I can testify that this book is not only as entertaining as it is informative, but is also as enlightening as it educational. In other words, it is the best of the best of Joe Pelletier - researcher, historian, writer and one of the most unique voices in the world of hockey literature.

Todd Denault – author of Jacques Plante: The Man Who Changed The Face of Hockey and The Greatest Game

September 02, 2011

Tough Summer

The apparent Wade Belak suicide was obviously shocking news. Outwardly he seemed so well adjusted, so personable, so at peace with himself. That should serve as a wake up call to fans who think they know their heroes inside out just by watching the nightly sports interviews.

It's been a tough summer for hockey, with three deaths amongst it's clan. All three were enforcers, which has led to so many calls to end fighting.

But what I find concerning is how so many people are quick to link hockey fights and the deaths of three of hockey pugilists in Belak, Rick Rypien and Derek Boogaard. Bruce Arthur of the National Post offers the voice of reason, stating:

"Evidence matters, though, and there is no evidence that this had a damned thing to do with the fact that Wade Belak fought more than 100 times in the National Hockey League." He later adds "none of this means there isn’t a legitimate debate to be had over fighting, and the effect it has on some of the people who do it for a living."
He's right. For all the speculation about concussions and steroids and other substance abuse, the only confirmed consistency between the three deaths are they were hockey fighters who all died.

Boogaard was apparently accidental, mixing painkillers with alcohol. Rick Rypien had long battled mental illness, long before he was a hockey fighter. Belak's story still has to see the light of day.

Another hockey player took his own life this year, and no one blamed hockey on that one. Tom Cavanagh, a minor leaguer and former San Jose Shark and Harvard University standout, ended his life. He was previously diagnosed as schizophrenia. Aside from the lower profile, the only difference between him and Rypien was Rypien was a fighter.

Yes, the dangers of hockey are becoming more and more apparent. But let's not use these deaths as an anti-fighting soap box when there is absolutely no evidence that hockey fights played a role in their deaths in the first place.