geometry and reflexes

gerry mcnIs it possible to mention Montreal goaltender Gerry McNeil, who was born in Quebec City on this day in 1926, and not allude to the goal that Bill Barilko scored on him to win the Leafs the 1951 Stanley Cup? Maybe, but I don’t know that anyone has really tried too hard. McNeil did win a Cup for himself, in 1953. At the Canadiens’ website, they call him stingiest and 5-foot-7. “Too small,” they say, “to cover much of the net if he remained in his crease, McNeil compensated with geometry and reflexes.”

the power is in his wrists

zander hZander Hollander died in Manhattan on April 11 at the age of 91. If you grew up in the pre-Google age with any appetite for hockey trivia, you’ll recall the name from the covers of the indispensable annual handbooks he filled with a nerd’s cornucopia of quizzes and line-ups, schedules, records, scouting reports, vital statistics. Douglas Martin recalled his legacy in The New York Times earlier this week, here. From Hollander’s 1972 Complete Handbook of Pro Hockey, some selected biographical intel from the season’s crop of NHL talent:

Nicknamed Smiley Bates because of his addiction to country music. (Bruce Gamble)

A rugged type, he once dropped down to block a shot with his mouth and it cost him 40 stitches. (Ed Van Impe)

Call this little Frenchman the Lone Star North Star. (Jude Drouin)

Real first name is Hubert. (Pit Martin)

Allergic to Toronto air, he lives outside of the city and comes into town only for games and practices. (Norm Ullman)

Possesses a fiery temper and often explodes in anger. (Henri Richard)

After each game, he jots down a check list of his own mistakes. (George Armstrong)

Nicknamed Gump after Andy Gump, his childhood comic strip favorite. (Lorne Worsley)

Married daughter of Red Wings’ team dentist. (Bert Marshall)

Known as something of a flake among fellow players. (Eddie Shack)

Not appreciated as much by the fans as he is by his teammates and other hockey players. (Bob Nevin)

Joined Canadian Army, lying about his age, and attained rank of sergeant. (Emile Francis)

Wife, June, is an expert figure skater. (Dean Prentice)

Takes 55 units of insulin every morning and drinks sweetened soda and orange juice to keep up his strength during games. (Bobby Clarke)

Native of Finland pronounces name “You-ha Vee-ding.” (Juha Widing)

The power is in his wrists. (Jacques Lemaire)

broad street bully pulpit

Coach Fog: Four months after Fred Shero was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto, the Flyers unveiled a statue of their championship coach on March 15. Sculptor Chad Fisher’s 8-foot, 1,300-pound bronze work stands on the site of the old Spectrum. Bernie Parent, for one, was pleased. “This statue,” he said, “will be standing in the heart of Philadelphia as a reminder to all fans back then, all fans now, and all fans to come, that Fred Shero was truly the best coach one of the best human beings this city has and ever will see.” (Photo: Chad Fisher)

Coach Fog: Four months after Fred Shero was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto, the Flyers unveiled a statue of their championship coach on March 15. Sculptor Chad Fisher’s 8-foot, 1,300-pound bronze work stands on the site of the old Spectrum. Bernie Parent, for one, was pleased. “This statue,” he said, “will be standing in the heart of Philadelphia as a reminder to all fans back then, all fans now, and all fans to come, that Fred Shero was truly the best coach one of the best human beings this city has and ever will see.” (Photo: Chad Fisher, http://www.fishersculpture.com/)

After the Rangers won the 1994 Stanley Cup, the team’s first championship in 54 years, they fulfilled the words of their coach, Mike Keenan: “Win this, and you’ll walk together forever.”

• Lucas Aykroyd writes about Trevor Linden’s
appointment as Vancouver’s new president for
hockey operations, The New York Times, April 13, 2014.

Yes, true. On June 14, 1994, as the Rangers prepared to meet the Canucks in Game Seven, Mike Keenan gave what his captain would call one of the best speeches he’d ever heard. Rick Carpiniello recounts this in Messier: Steel In Ice (1999):

“Go out and win it for each other, and if you do, you will walk together for the rest of your lives,” Keenan told the Rangers.

“He seized the moment,” Messier said. “He took control of the situation. We needed it at the time. Mike came through when we needed him most. Everything he said hit home, to everybody. It was incredible. It got us back on track.”

But credit where credit’s due. Aykroyd, Carpiniello, and Messier fail to mention the man — a Rangers’ coach of another era — who not only said it first, 20 years earlier, but proved that it worked.

Everybody knows this, right? Before he got to the Rangers, when Fred Shero (a.k.a. The Fog) was coaching the Philadelphia Flyers, he used to leave his players messages on a blackboard in the dressing room, a koan here, an adage there, words to challenge and spur the spirit. Going into Game Six of the finals against Boston in May of 1976, the Flyers had the chance to wrap up the series and win their first Stanley Cup. Lose and they’d have to go back to Boston. Shero worked his chalk. Rick MacLeish scored. Bernie Parent shut, as they say, the door.

Miracle Flyers Take The Cup and

the City Goes Wild with Joy!

read the front of The Philadelphia Inquirer next morning.

Shero chalks

Shero chalks

A quick history of Shero’s chalk-talking would have to go back a few years. Shero himself steers clear of the blackboard and its uses in the book he wrote with Vijay Kothare, Shero: The Man Behind The System (1975). According to Jack Chevalier in The Broad Street Bullies (1974), it dates to the coach’s second season with the Flyers, 1972-73, when he wrote a note about team commitment before a big win. “Ever since, Shero has been hungrily searching for clever passages and slogans to circulate among the team or to give to a particular player.”

“Ahhhh,” said captain Bobby Clarke at the time. “I look at them and laugh. I can’t remember any, because there’s a new one every day. I wonder where he gets ’em.”

Shero:

“They used to laugh at first and dream up funny things to write beside my messages. But now they act like it’s something sacred. They’d never erase it.”

With Shero gone — he died in 1990 — the central repository of Shero’s blackboard wisdom resides in Rhoda Rappeport’s Fred Shero (1977).

“An oak tree is just a nut that held its ground,” he wrote one night.

And: “A barking dog is often more useful than a sleeping lion.”

“Four things come not back — the spoken word, the sped arrow, the past life and neglected opportunities.”

“If he read this stuff to us, it wouldn’t work at all,” defenceman Barry Ashbee told Chevalier. “It’s corny, and some guys still laugh. But if you really look at the quotes, there’s a lot of life in there.”

Shero could sound a little bashful, talking about his sloganeering. “I just ran across a couple of good ones last year,” he said 1974, “and tried ’em out. Before that I guess I coached like everybody else. Now I find these things in books, magazines — everything I read.” Chevalier:

His sources range from the life story of Washington Redskins coach George Allen to an article entitled, ‘Ten Lost Years — A History of Canadians During The Depression.’

On his bulletin board is an Edgar Guest poem, ‘Team Work,’ neatly typed on Flyers stationery. Each player got a copy. He also passed out a fan’s poem, ‘It’s All A State of Mind.’ The first line: “If you think you’re beaten, you are.’ From an old Saturday Evening Post, Shero clipped a Cadillac advertisement with an editorial entitled ‘The Penalty of Leadership.’

Continue reading

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bruins aboard

On board: Bruin forwards (left to right) Art Chapman, Frank Jerwa, Red Beattie, and Nels Stewart crouch for the camera in the fall of 1932. Boston lost to Toronto in the playoffs the following spring, which put the Leafs into the finals with the New York Rangers. Rangers won.

On Board: Bruin forwards (left to right) Art Chapman, Frank Jerwa, Red Beattie, and Nels Stewart bend for the camera in the fall of 1932. Boston lost to Toronto in the playoffs the following spring, which put the Leafs into the finals with the New York Rangers. Rangers won.

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President Barack Obama’s chosen successor to David Jacobson will have his hands full juggling bilateral irritants in between some of his favourite winter past times [sic] that include hockey, snowshoeing and skiing.

• Sun Media national reporter Mark Dunn welcomes Bruce Heyman, U.S. Ambassador-Designate until yesterday, when he presented his letters of credence to Governor-General David Johnston at Rideau Hall in Ottawa.

‘I have a message, and it’s a message from the American people to all Canadians,’ Heyman said off the top of his first availability with Canadian journalists. ‘Thank you.’

Heyman locked his eyes directly on a pool television camera, and went on to list the reasons why Americans are so thankful to have Canadians as their neighbour, friend and ally.

‘It’s sometimes difficult to be a friend, and we are deeply appreciative of Canada always being there with us,’ he said.

• Canadian Press reporter Mike Blanchfield is on hand for Ambassador Heyman’s first remarks to the foreign press.

Heyman and wife Vicki are big fans of the Chicago Blackhawks and Chicago Cubs, and — despite now taking up residence in Canada — he won’t hide his support for American sports teams, especially in the Windy City, his hometown.

‘Hockey is something that I’m going to be very sensitive to, and I recognize the deep love that the Canadians have,’ he added.

‘I’m a supporter of Chicago, all things Chicago in sports, and I’m going to be a supporter of U.S. teams when they play here, but I appreciate the love that Canada has for its hockey.’

• The Ottawa Citizen’s Parliament Hill reporter Jason Fekete reveals Ambassador Heyman’s bold decision not to hide what’s in his heart, April 8, 2014.

As Chicagoans, winter is our season.

We love snowshoeing, skiing and
cheering on our favorite hockey team!

• Vicki Heyman in a March, 2014 U.S. Embassy video in which she and her husband present their bona fides to Canadians.

Ambassador and Mrs. Heywood in winter past times

Ambassador and Mrs. Heywood in winter past times

icewitness

If the name doesn’t speed a shutter in the memory, his images will. Hockey’s foremost active photographer, Bruce Bennett will shoot his 5000th game tonight when the New York Islanders host the Ottawa Senators at the Nassau Coliseum. Brooklyn-born, Long-Island-based, Bennett has been working rinkside since 1974. Over the past 39 years, he’s shot more than 45,000 photographs, including many of the sport’s iconic images. Since 2004, he’s served as Director of Photography, Hockey Imagery at Getty Images. He’s showcasing some of his own favourite shots there today, including this one, above, of a wounded Mark Messier circa 2002 and, below, Mike Bossy playing with fire for a 1980 Hockey News cover.


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Still Leaf: Photographer Nat Turofsky lines up Leafs (left to right) Syl Apps, Bill Ezinicki, and John McCormack in the dressing room at Maple Leaf Gardens during the 1947-48 season. (Photo: Toronto Archives, fonds 1257, series 1057, item 9516, Alexandra Studio fonds)

Still Leaf: Photographer Nat Turofsky lines up Leafs (left to right) Syl Apps, Bill Ezinicki, and John McCormack in the dressing room at Maple Leaf Gardens during the 1947-48 season. (Photo: Toronto Archives, fonds 1257, series 1057, item 9516, Alexandra Studio fonds)

I said let grief be a falling leaf

carlyleThe Toronto Maple Leafs lost eight games in a row to round out the month of March. April came in like a bit of a cure: the Leafs beat Calgary and Boston this past week before last night’s loss to Winnipeg appeared to kill their playoff hopes. The following anthology of disappointment is a composite of quotes from the month that was, culled from newspapers local and national, wire reports, and the Twitter feeds of a scattering of discouraged beat reporters.

“Obviously we were pretty flat the first period,” Toronto coach Randy Carlyle said. “It looked like we were still in our afternoon nap. Playing an afternoon game just took us a good part of the game to get warmed up and get awake.”

Losing the game was one thing, built on ill-timed mistakes and mental lapses. But why the lacklustre Leafs couldn’t match the intensity of a team outside the playoff race left goaltender James Reimer and others grasping for answers.

“Why are we losing? It’s different reasons all the time. If it was one thing we would correct it,” said Joffrey Lupul.

“We could not make two passes,” Carlyle said.

They looked like a team that had been beaten and given up, a dead team skating, both that night and again in practice early in the week. Continue reading

think of Gordie Howe®

howe storyGordie Howe is writing a book, unless he’s already written it — either way, Penguin Canada will be publishing it, in October, under the Viking imprint. The book will appear in the U.S. under another Penguin banner, G. P. Putnam’s Sons.

The announcement came on Monday. That, as Penguin’s press release noted, was Power’s 86th birthday. That’s one of Howe’s many nicknames, Power, though the release doesn’t mention it, and it isn’t the one that will serve as the book’s title, which is Mr. Hockey. Andrew Podnieks’ indispensable catalogue of hockey biography, Players (2003), lists along with Elbows and Mr. Hockey. gordiehowe.com lengthens the list with The Great Gordie, Mr. Elbows, The King of Hockey, and Number 9. Mr. Hockey is there, too, if only ever in an armoured form that I’m certain makes good solid anti-infringement sense while never failing to annoy the eye and the patience:

His name has been synonymous with the sport since the mid 1940’s. Literally, when fans think of hockey, they think of Gordie Howe®. To millions of fans around the globe, #9 is revered as “Mr. Hockey®”.

As a book, the unadorned Mr. Hockey will be (says Penguin) “the definitive account of the game’s most incredible legacy.” “Big, skilled, mean on the ice, and nearly indestructible” was Howe, but don’t worry, it’s not going to be as intimidating as all that: Penguin associate publisher Nick Garrison promises that the book will deliver an abundance of Howe class, generosity, and rock-solid personal integrity, too.

Number 9 is embracing the project, we learn:

“I got to do something I loved for more than my fair share of years. But no accomplishment is about just one person – no championship, no statistic, and certainly not a whole career. It’s a pleasure to tell my story with this book, and especially to include the people who have meant so much to me along the way.”

For a moment there I wondered whether Howe was going to introduce his writing partner/ghost/editorial consultant but, no, wrong. Which is not unusual. Bobby Orr was Penguin’s last big autobiographer, in the fall, and no-one on the project was copping to who was co-writing ahead of publication, when Vern Stenlund finally revealed himself between hard covers.

Guesses? Elmer Ferguson Awardwinner Jay Greenberg assisted on Mark Howe’s 2013 memoir, the straightforwardly titled Gordie Howe’s Son would have to come first. Kevin Allen from USA Today helped on Mr. & Mrs. Hockey® (2004), a ponderous oral history, privately published. Or what about Tom Delisle? He’s a former Detroit Free Press reporter who joined Howe and his late wife, Colleen, to write an “authorized autobiography” (another private project in need of a cold-eyed editor) called and … Howe! (1995). Continue reading

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a thousand and thirty-three

#33 SedinTony Harris tells the story of illicitly drawing constant Tony Espositos when he should have been taking notes as a school kid in Lakefield, Ontario: that’s where his career as an artist started. Today, Harris, who’s 49, ranks as one of Canada’s foremost painters of athletes as well as the landscapes they inhabit. His early Espositoing had a practical side, too: Harris was a young goaltender himself, who went on to play in the OHL for the Kingston Canadians in the 1980s. As a hockey painter, his subjects have included Roger Nielson, Ted Lindsay, Zdeno Chara, Chris Phillips, and Daniel Alfredsson, among many others — no further Espositos, yet.

His latest NHL commission came back before Christmas when Vancouver got in touch about Henrik Sedin. “It has to be a good portrait,” Harris was saying this week from his studio in Ottawa, “that’s the first thing I think about. Take away the hockey, out of the rink, is it a good likeness? I want the player to look like he could step out of the painting and engage you.” He prefers to paint a player in repose, he’s said, “between whistles,” rather than in mid-slapshot, “so there’s a little bit of attitude, a little bit of thought of what’s going to happen next.” The Sedin portrait, he estimates, was 75 hours in the making. A week after he’d finished, in mid-March, Harris flew it west, framed if not completely dried. Henrik, who’s 33 and scarce minutes older than his twin, Daniel, played his 1,000th NHL game in Winnipeg on March 12.

In a ceremony on March 23, before a home game against Buffalo, Harris watched from a high Rogers Arena box as the Canucks’ marked the occasion in a pre-game ceremony in which the portrait was unveiled. The night ended with good news: the Canucks won the game, 4-2, though not before Henrik had to leave, in the second period, with an injured leg. “I went to hit a guy and he came back off the boards and he fell on top of me, so we’ll see how it is tomorrow,” he told reporters after the game. “I’m not declaring anything. We’ll see how it feels tomorrow and go from there.”

A later word was that he’d be off the ice for about two weeks.

To see more of Tony Harris’ lucent work, visit http://thfineart.ca.

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Hockey stars Lionel Conacher, left, and Roger Jenkins of the Bruins, on bench for being rough on the ice.Time Share: Lionel Conacher of the Montreal Maroons, left, shares the penalty bench with Roger Jenkins of the Bruins, serving out their sentences together during the 1935-36 season. Possibly it was on the night of December 10, 1935, when the Bruins blanked the defending Stanley Cup champions 2-0. Art Ross had warned the lowly Bruins that if they didn’t show something that game, the changes would ring. Red Beattie scored both Boston goals on the night, which ended with Conacher flailing at a front-row spectator who (as the newspapers put it next day) “clipped” him from behind. The benches cleared. There was “a free-for-all.” It was “furious.” It last “a full minute.”

The photograph here — guessing — is from, earlier, the second period, after this happened:

jenkins conacher

(Photo: Boston Public Library, Leslie Jones Collection)

 

Aside

seattle metropolitansThe manner of their victory was decisive, and they dazzled the Canadiens under their own rules. I’m quoting here, from The Ottawa Citizen’s report on the Seattle Metropolitans 9-1 “regular rout” of Montreal’s Canadiens, which on this day in 1917 won the former a Stanley Cup, the first ever for an American team. The Montreal Daily Mail said that without Georges Vézina in the Montreal net, the score would have been much more. The Montreal defence put up a creditable performance in the first and second, but in the third they collapsed. “Their forwards also went to pieces, the Seattle team running in goal after goal and making a farcical runaway of it,” said The Citizen. The only thing to save Montreal from “the humiliating coat of a whitewash” was Didier Pitre’s goal.

So: not such a great day in Canadiens history, this one. They had won the opening game of the series, all four of which were played at the Seattle Ice Arena. The games alternated between west-coast and eastern rules, which is to say that in games one and three, seven players skated for each team and forward passing was permitted while in games two and four six players relied on back and lateral passes. This was a Montreal team that counted Pitre, Con Corbeau, Newsy Lalonde, and Jack Laviolette in the line-up, but they faltered after that first 8-4 win, losing 6-1 and 4-1 before the final debacle.

If you’ve read Stephen J. Harper’s A Great Game (2013), you’ll recognize the names on the Seattle scorecard, many of which had featured when the Toronto Blueshirts won the Cup in 1914 before migrating to the Pacific coast. Hap Holmes was the goaltender, with Jack Walker on defence in front of him, Frank Foyston up at the front. I don’t mean to be rude on so auspicious a day for Seattle hockey, but the Metropolitans who (The Citizen) “skated off the ice, surrounded and cheered by the echo, champions of the world,” were sons of Minesing, Ontario, (Foyston) and Aurora (Holmes), Winnipeg (Cully Wilson) and Brandon (Bernie Morris), Bayfield, New Brunswick (Jim Riley), Ottawa (Roy Rickey) and Port Arthur (Walker). Eddie Carpenter, at cover, was from Hartford, Michigan, though. That’s true.

On the carpet above, a later version of the Mets, from 1919 or so. In the back row, from the left, that’s Pete Muldoon, Bobby Rowe, Charles Tobin, Muzz Murray, unknown, Roy Rickey, Hap Holmes. Upfront: Jack Walker, Frank Foyston, Bernie Morris, and Jim Riley.

seattle