swede + sourpuss

Born in Sundsvall in Sweden on a Tuesday of this date in 1948, Inge Hammarstrom turns 72 today. Featured here on the cover of a Maple Leafs program from Febraury of 1974, Hammarstrom was 25 when he and his 22-year-old compatriot, Borje Salming, joined Toronto Maple Leafs for the ’73-74 NHL season. Celebrated in Toronto, where Hammarstrom’s speed and left-wing wile made an early impression on a line with Darryl Sittler and Rick Kehoe, the Swedes were not so kindly welcomed in other NHL markets. The Leafs went to Philadelphia to play the unruly Flyers two games into the season, losing by two goals to none. “I don’t think they like Swedish boys,” Salming said after a game in which he was lustily speared by Flyers defenceman Ed Van Impe. “They don’t play hard, they play dirty.” Philadelphia winger Bill Flett told the Daily News that he’d chatted with Hammarstrom early on in the first period. “I told him that the first time he touched the puck, I’d break his arm.”

The Swedes showed no signs of intimidation. Hammarstrom finished his rookie season with a respectable 20 goals and 43 points; Salming, for his part, came in third in voting for the Calder Trophy that New York Islanders’ defenceman Denis Potvin won.

The Leafs fell to Boston’s Bruins in the first round of the playoffs that year. When in the fall of the following season they stumbled out of the gate, winning just five of their first 16 games, Leaf president and 70-year-old miserable curmudgeon Harold Ballard announced that the players should be ashamed to walk the streets of Toronto.

Coach Red Kelly wasn’t driving the team hard enough, Ballard told the Globe and Mail’s Lawrence Martin, and captain Dave Keon was derelict in his duty as Leafs’ leader. (Asked if he thought any of his Leafs were showing captainly qualities, Ballard singled out a winger the team had acquired in the off-season: Bill Flett.) On went Ballard’s rant, and on. “Things are too damned serene around here,” he griped. “That’s the trouble. I think we’re too fat.” No-one on the team was hitting. It was here that he (famously) picked on one of his second-year Swedes: “You could send Hammarstrom into the corner with six eggs in his pocket,” he sneered, “and he wouldn’t break any of them.”

If Ballard was hoping to jolt his team back to the win column, the bluster didn’t immediately do the job: the Pittsburgh Penguins beat them 8-5 next game out, and it took them five more outings before they eked out a victory. The Leafs did find eventually find their way into the playoffs the following spring, lasting two rounds before they were ousted by Philadelphia, the eventual champions.

Hammarstrom almost matched his rookie numbers that year, scoring 21 goals and 41 points. He’d skate for the Leafs in parts of three further seasons before a trade sent him to St. Louis in 1977. He played two seasons with the Blues before returning to finish his career at home in Sweden.

gump worsley’s pineapple squares

I don’t have a whole lot to say about hockey-player cookbooks, other than this: Borje Salming’s Grilled Moose with Whey Butter Sauce does sound delicious.

I guess I could venture further that, of all the volumes I’ve gathered on the surprisingly crowded shelf I’ve reserved for the books of hockey’s recipes, Grilling With Salming (2010) is easily the most appetizing. Borje thoroughly loves grilling (as he confesses on page three) and (as he makes clear in the book’s 11-page hockey/culinary introduction) he’s actually a bit of a whiz at it. It doesn’t feel like a novelty act: it’s too heartfelt for that. The photographs (by Bruno Ehrs) are incredible, too, and even if you don’t get around to cooking Salming’s Herb-Stuffed Trout, I do recommend that you put some time in, as I have done, staring at its portrait on page 33.

In endorsing Salming, I don’t mean to cast aspersions on anyone else’s kitchen credentials. Several NHL teams made a habit in the 1980s and ’90s of compiling collections of player-recommended recipes to raise funds for good community causes. The Jets Are Cookin’ from 1983, for instance, offers up Moe Mantha’s Filet of Sole with Shrimp Sauce alongside Dave Babych’s Broccoli Casserole. Paul Coffey’s Meatloaf might be a meal you’ll serve some future spring to celebrate Edmonton’s return to the playoffs, unless it’s Wayne Gretzky’s Stir-Fry Beef With Tomatoes: either way, the plain cerlox-bound pages of Oilers Favourite Recipes (1981) have what you’re looking for.

Can I recommend Mark Messier’s Carrot Cake, from that same volume? I can’t, not in good conscience. How do I know that the 20-year-old budding superstar actually reached into his very own recipe-box to contribute what we’re seeing here? I don’t. That may be the Messier signature at the bottom of the page, but can all that precedes it really be Mark’s own? The instructions for making the icing, for instance. “Cream well,” the soon-to-be-50-goal-scorer advises, “mix in icing sugar until stiff for icing. Sprinkle with coconut if desired.”

I have no such doubts about Gump Worsley’s Pineapple Squares. On this, the 90th anniversary of his birth, it’s high time we amplified the word that one of hockey’s greatest goaltenders was also a master of desserts.

Fans of They Call Me Gump remember— how could they forget? — that while the 1975 autobiography Worsley wrote with an assist from Tim Moriarty is mostly a tale of hockey trial and tribulation, it also includes chapter called (pointedly) “My Pineapple Squares.”

It’s but brief, a page-and-a-half, and gets right to the point. “My hobby,” Worsley declares, “is baking pastries: pies, cakes, cookies.” The titular squares whose recipe soon follows are a favourite, he divulges, along with his wife’s name for them: to Doreen, he says, they were only ever Gumpies.

It’s been years since I first read that passage and, over the page, the list of ingredients and how to render them. As much as I respect Worsley’s devotion and any work of literature that finds room for a recipe, I admit that I’ve never yet followed Worsley’s lead in the kitchen — but that’s really a pineapple issue more than anything else.

What I can report is that new research reveals that before it appeared between hard covers, Worsley’s recipe made its public debut in March of 1974 in The Minneapolis Star. Worsley was 44 that year, tending the North Stars’ nets in his final NHL season along with Cesare Maniago and Fern Rivard.

Beth Anderson wrote the Star’s foodie feature that appeared under the headline “Some North Stars Know The Kitchen Isn’t Penalty Box.” North Stars’ centre Murray Oliver is first up, contributing a pair of recipes, for Marinated Steak and Toronto Garlic Chicken Breasts.

The Olivers, we learn, like to cook with friends; when its chicken on the menu, the “you can smell the garlic cooking all over the house,” though “the final taste is not too much.”

When it comes to introducing Worsley and his baked goodness, the shrift is much shorter: “He said he has served them to a lot of hockey players and takes them anywhere there is a party.” The recipe, for scholars of these things, varies from the one in They Call Me Gump in only a single detail: both call for crushed pineapple, but  the newspaper also wants it “well-drained.”

Other than that, what’s important is the illustration, reproduced above: the first known (and maybe only?) photograph of Gump’s peerless Pineapple Squares.

where players dash with skates aflash

On this night in 1973, the Toronto iced a line-up featuring Dave Keon and Ron Ellis, players who’d actually won a Stanley Cup as Maple Leafs, and they also had a talented rookie Swedish rookie on the defence, Borje Salming. Things didn’t work on the night, I’m afraid to report: the Leafs lost to Boston by a score of 3-2.

Also in the air, all those 45 years ago? A little ditty by Stompin’ Tom Connors that Canadians, like it or not, have hardwired in their heads: 1973 was the year “The Hockey Song” made its debut. Seems like reason enough celebrate it ahead of tonight’s game between the Leafs and Winnipeg’s Jets at the Scotiabank Arena, which they’ll do during a pre-game ceremony inducting the song into the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame. The late singer’s son, Tom Connors Jr., will be on hand to receive a plaque on his father’s behalf; country singer Tim Hicks will sing the song, along with everybody else in the house.

(Image: Gary Clement, from Greystone Books’ The Hockey Song, 2016)

stopping a salming

sverige76

The Canadians had a simple plan: stop a Salming.

Tuesday, September 7 was the day Sweden and Canada clashed, at Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto in that September of 1976. The home team had opened its account at the first Canada Cup with a merciless mincemeating of Finland: 11-2 was the final. Next day, Sweden beat the United States by a count of 5-2. Canada went on to master the U.S., too, 4-2, while the Swedes shared a 3-3 tie with the Soviet Union.

Canada’s plan for the Swedes had two parts, the first of which precipitated a line-up adjustment: out went a couple of goalscoring wingers, Reggie Leach and Danny Gare, in came a pair with recognized defensive chops, Bob Gainey and Lanny McDonald.

Part two: smother a Salming.

There were two of them to choose from, both defencemen. Stig, the elder at 28, didn’t worry Canada too much, not in the way that his younger brother did, the Maple Leafs’ own Borje, who was 25. If Lars-Erik Sjöberg was the Swedish captain, Salming Minor was their on-ice leader, not to mention an offensive threat — he’d scored a goal in each of the first two games.

There was no secret to Canada’s strategy. “He’s too good,” Gainey said. “If you let him skate, he’s going to hurt you.”

“It’s nothing new, eh?” captain Bobby Clarke told the Toronto Star’s Jim Proudfoot afterwards. “Just like playing the Leafs in the National Hockey League. Everybody knows you’ve got to control Salming or he’ll murder you. The Swedes built their whole offence around him. He’s the guy who brings the puck out of their zone, and he’s the man they want to get the puck to on the powerplay.”

“Everybody had the same instructions — get in there quick and take Salming before he gets underway,” coach Scotty Bowman said afterwards.

Bill Barber was the first to hit Salming hard in the first period, before Bobby Hull applied himself. “He threw two clean checks,” Scott Young wrote, “with all the power of the strongest physique in North American hockey.”

Salming had one long shot on goaltender Rogie Vachon — Proudfoot rated it the hardest he had to handle all night — but otherwise the Leafs’ defenceman wasn’t prominent in the 4-0 win that Canada composed. Bob Gainey had been assigned the job of checking Anders Hedberg, but he found time to score a pair of goals, too, with Hull and Marcel Dionne counting the others.

“The man said he wanted us to hit Salming,” Hull said after the game. “I’m just here to please.” Canada’s back-up goaltender, Gerry Cheevers, agreed that Salming hadn’t been the force he’d been in his team’s previous games. “We can thank Hull for that. Those hits would have stopped a Clydesdale.”

(Canada Cup poster by Thomas Ross McNeely. Credit: Library and Archives Canada)