October 20, 2013

Keeping Hockey Clean With Frank Boucher

Frank Boucher was one of the most beautiful, artistic and brainy players to play the game. Together with linemates Bill and Bun Cook, Boucher led the New York Rangers in the 1920s and 1930s with stylized play that the Soviets would copy decades later.

Boucher was a annual NHL all star and a Hockey Hall of Famer. His place among the legends of the game is undeniable. He was also one of the cleanest superstars ever to play the game. In fact, Frank Boucher won the Lady Byng trophy seven times in an eight year span between 1928 and 1935!

I've often wondered what a true hockey legend like Boucher would think of today's game. Frank passed away in 1977, so we'll never know. But based on his comments in the December 1964 issue of International Hockey magazine, it is safe to say he died quite dismayed at the violent state of hockey in the 1970s.

Here's some highlights of Boucher's 1964 article:

"When I watch a game of hockey today I'm often reminded of what the Mona Lisa might look like with a black mustache painted under her nose. Utterly defaced. So, too, hockey's image has been severely blemished by today's style of play.

"In too many cases violence has replace healthy rough play. Scrambly goals have become the substitute for artistic passing plays and clever shooting. The absurd slap shot has become to hockey what rock 'n roll is to music. Morality - especially respect for referees and rules - has given way to a deplorable "anything to win philosophy."

Wow! Boucher doesn't mince his words. He does offer several rule changes (remember, this is 1964) to "save hockey."
  1.  Eliminate the center red line (which they essentially have now)
  2. Move each blue line three feet toward each other (which they have)
  3. Permit forward passing to the opposing blue line (long ago)
  4. Remove linesmen. Employ two referees 
  5. Place linsemen in a seat at each blue line (well he got the two refs)
  6. Icing calls for all shots from outside the blue line (No dump ins. Interesting)
  7. Stiffer penalties for spearing, fighting, high sticking and boarding (well they have, but I'm sure Boucher would still be calling for this)
  8. Limit slap shot to offensive zone only (evolution has more or less seen this happen)
Boucher added "the essence of classical hockey is stickhandling, passing and shooting, not head long skating, dumping the puck in corners and crazy puck-slapping from blue lines or beyond. Eliminating the center red line and introducing the blue line changes would be a start toward a return classical hockey."

What is interesting is Boucher was originally one of the biggest proponents of putting the red line in the game in the first place.

"My thought was that hockey had become a see-saw affair with defending teams being jammed into their end for minutes because they couldn't pass their way out of the new five-man attack. The red line was introduced to open the dam for the defending team and restore end-to-end play."

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