gordie howe hat tricks, wally boyer edition

Seal Lion: Wally Boyer in Californian colours, c. 1967.

Seal Lion: Wally Boyer in Californian colours, c. 1967.

Artemi Sergeyevich Panarin, who’s 25, was born in Korkino in Russia. He plays on the left wing for the Chicago Blackhawks. He won the Calder Trophy last season, of course, as the NHL’s foremost rookie. He’s gained a nickname since arriving in on the Lake Michigan shore: Bread Man[i]. I’ve read that he has a wicked one-timer that he practices without tiring and, also, that one of the best things about him is that he’s just getting started. Not long ago, he became the 27th player in league history to score 100 or more points in his first 110 games, joining Sidney Crosby, Alex Ovechkin, Evgeni Malkin, Paul Stastny and Patrick Kane as the only active NHLers to have done so.

What else could I share to convince you of the Bakery Boy[ii]’s quality? Some Corsi numbers, maybe some 5v5close, Offensive Zone Starts, High Danger Scoring Chances, Expected Primary Points?

I’m going to go, instead, with another proof that presented itself back in November. Chicago was in St. Louis when Panarin shed his gloves to punch Blues winger Scottie Upshall who, as it so happened, was more than willing to punch him back. Having finished the third period in the penalty box, Panarin skated out in overtime to score the goal that won Chicago the game.

Add in the assist that Panarin had notched earlier in the game on a goal of Marian Hossa’s and, well — over to Panarin’s coach, Joel Quenneville. Mark Lazerus of Chicago’s Sun-Times was on hand to record how delighted he was.

“You’ve got to love the way he competes,” Quenneville said. “Give him credit — got the Gordie Howe tonight.”

•••

Collecting a goal, an assist, and a fight in a game gets you a Gordie Howe Hat Trick. If the GHHT isn’t widely recognized by self-respecting fanciers of advanced stats-keeping, it is nonetheless beloved across a wide constituency of hockey enthusiasts. No use declaring the GHHT a spurious statistic; its very popularity makes any such declaration irrelevant. The NHL knows this, and so while the league doesn’t record GHHTs or exactly endorse them, it doesn’t exactly ignore them, either. So maybe can we call it — how about a folk stat?

It speaks to character, I guess, marks you as a team player. That’s why Coach Quenneville was proud of Panarin: he’d scored, created, stood up. If you’re a player as skilled as he is, a GHHT is notice that you have the grit to go with your gifts. It phrases you as an all-round sort of a player, a contributor, a difference-maker, help yourself to any cliché you like. It puts you in the conversation with a player like Brendan Shanahan, who’s apparently tops among GHHTists, as best we know. Or with Gordie Howe himself, even.

Although, as you might know, Howe himself had just a few. Marty Howe thought there might be better ways to represent his father’s style. “The Gordie Howe hat trick should really be a goal, an assist, and a cross-check to the face,” he told Luke Fox of Sportsnet. “That might be more accurate.”

It is true that Gordie Howe did himself achieve — record — notch — just two GHHTs. For all his legendary tenacity (and even his well-documented nastiness), throughout the course of his remarkable longevity, he didn’t fight very much.

Historian Paul Patskou has scoured Howe’s 2,450 games through 32 seasons in the NHL and WHA. His tally of 22 Howe fighting majors is the one that’s widely accepted. The two occasions on which he fought and collected a goal and at least one assist both came in the same season, 1953-54, and both were in games against the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Flaman, c. 1952-53

Flaman, c. 1952-53

The first was early in the schedule, on October 11, 1953, when Detroit hosted the Toronto Maple Leafs. Howe assisted on Red Kelly’s opening goal before Kelly reciprocated a little later in the first period. Howe, under guard of Leaf Jim Thomson, took managed to take a pass and score on Harry Lumley. The fight that night was also in the first, when Howe dropped the gloves with Fern Flaman[iii]. “Their brief scrap,” The Detroit Free Press called it; The Globe and Mail’s Al Nickleson elaborated, a little: the two “tangled with high sticks in a corner then went into fistic action. Each got in a couple of blows and it ended in a draw.” In the third period, Howe assisted on Ted Lindsay’s fourth Wing goal.

Five months later, in the Leafs were back in Detroit for the final game of the season. This time the Red Wings prevailed by a score of 6-1. Howe scored the game’s first goal and in the third assisted on two Ted Lindsay goals. The fight was in the final period, too. The Leafs’ Ted Kennedy was just back on the ice after serving time for a fight with Glen Skov when he “lit into Howe.[iv]” Al Nickleson was again on the scene:

In the dressing-room later, Kennedy said he started the fight because Howe’s high stick has sliced his ear. Eight stitches were required close a nasty gash just above the lobe.

Kennedy, c. 1952-53

Kennedy, c. 1952-53

Kennedy earned a 10-minute misconduct for his efforts. Marshall Dann of The Detroit Free Press had a slightly different view of the incident, calling Kennedy’s fight with Howe “a smart move in a roundabout way” insofar as “he picked on Howe, who also got a five-minute penalty late in the game, and this took Detroit’s big gun out of play.”

So that’s fairly straightforward. There has been talk, however, of a third instance of a game wherein Howe scored, assisted, and fought. Ottawa radio host and hockey enthusiast Liam Maguire is someone who’s suggested as much. Kevin Gibson is another. He even has specifics to offer. From his book Of Myths & Sticks: Hockey Facts, Fictions & Coincidences (2015):

Howe’s final GHHT occurred in the game where he also had his final career fight — October 26, 1967 against the Oakland Seals. Howe had two goals, two assists and he fought Wally Boyer, which makes sense, since he used to play for Toronto. Interesting to note that October 26 is also the date of the shootout at the O.K. Corral (in 1881). Wyatt Earp and Gordie Howe — both legendary enforcers, or were they? That’s a story for another time.

A review of contemporary newspaper accounts from 1967 turns up — well, no depth of detail. The expansion Seals, just seven games into their NHL existence and about to change their name, were on their first road trip when they stopped into Detroit’s Olympia. They’d started the season with a pair of wins and a tie, but this would be their fourth straight loss, an 8-2 dismantling.

Actually, one Associated Press report graded it a romp while another had it as a lacing. They both agreed that the Seals showed almost no offense. A Canadian Press account that called Howe, who was 39, venerable also puckishly alluded to the monotonous regularity of his scoring over the years. On this night, he collected two goals and two assists. The same CP dispatch (which ran, for example, in the pages of the Toronto Daily Star) finished with this:

Howe also picked up a five-minute fighting penalty.

Which would seem to make the case for a GHHT.

Although, when you look at the accompanying game summary, while Howe’s second-period sanction is noted as a major, nobody from the Seals is shown to have been penalized. If there was a fight, how did Seals’ centreman Wally Boyer escape without going to the box?

Accounts from newspapers closer to the scene would seem to clear the matter up. Here’s The Detroit Free Press:

Referee Art Skov penalized Howe five minutes — and an automatic $25 fine — for clipping Wally Boyer on the head at 7:56 of the second period. Boyer needed seven stitches.

The Windsor Star, meanwhile, noted that both Wings goaltender George Gardner and Boyer collected stitches that night,

Gardner being caressed for 19 when a shot by [Dean] Prentice hit him on top of the head during the warm-up. Boyer was cut for seven stitches by Howe when [Bob] Baun, holding Howe’s stick under his arm, decided to let it go just as Boyer skated by and Howe made a lunge for him. The major will cost Howe $25.

So there was a tussle, probably, and maybe even a kerfuffle. But the bottom line would seem to show that Howe didn’t fight Boyer so much as high-stick him.

I thought I’d try to get a look at the official game sheet, just to wrap it up, and sent off to the NHL to see if they could help. Before their answer came back, I also called up Wally Boyer.

He was at home in Midland, Ontario. He’s 79 now, a retired hotelier. Born in Manitoba, he grew up in Toronto’s east end, in the neighbourhood around Greenwood and Gerrard.

As a Toronto Marlboro, he won a Memorial Cup in 1956. Turk Broda was the coach, and teammates included Harry Neale, Carl Brewer, and Bobs Baun, Nevin, and Pulford. After that, Boyer’s early career was mostly an AHL one, where he was a consistent scorer as well as an adept penalty-killer. He was on the small side, 5’8” and 160 pounds. That may have had something to do with why he was 28 before he got his chance in the NHL.

The Leafs called him up from the Rochester Americans in December of 1965. Paul Rimstead reported it in The Globe and Mail:

Among other players, Boyer is one of the most popular players in hockey — small, talented, and extremely tough.

“Also one of the most underrated players in the game,” added Rochester general manager Joe Crozier yesterday.

Rimstead broke the news of Boyer’s promotion to Leaf winger Eddie Shack, who “almost did a cartwheel.”

“Yippee!” yelped Eddie. “Good for him, good for old Wally.”

Shack scored the first Leaf goal in Boyer’s debut, at home to the Boston Bruins. With the score 4-3 for Toronto in the second period, with Boston pressing on the powerplay, Boyer beat two Bruins defenders and goaltender Gerry Cheevers to score shorthanded. He also assisted on Orland Kurtenbach’s shorthanded goal in the third, wrapping up an 8-3 Leaf win.

He played the rest of the season for the Leafs. The following year he went to Chicago before getting to California and the Seals. After playing parts of four seasons with the Pittsburgh Penguins, he finished his career in the WHA with the Winnipeg Jets.

He sounded surprised when he answered the phone, but he was happy to talk. I explained the business of the alleged Gordie Howe Hat Trick. Did you, I wondered, ever fight Gordie Howe?

He chuckled. “Not that I can recall. I can’t recall ever fighting Gordie. We bumped into each other an awful lot … if we did, it can’t have been very much. I can’t recall anything drastic. Where was it? In Detroit or Oakland?”

I told him what I understood, and about Howe’s high-stick, and his own seven stitches.

Howe, c. 1970-71

Howe, c. 1970-71

“That’s a possibility,” he said. He had a hard time imagining a fight. “Why would I fight against Gordie? … He was good with his hockey stick, that’s for sure. You’d bump in him the corner. Very few guys would ever drop their gloves against him.”

We got to talking about some of the other greats of the game he’d played with and against. “Oh, gosh,” Boyer said. “Béliveau was one of the better ones. Henry Richard. Davey Keon. I could name quite a few. But there was only six teams in the league then, so everybody was pretty good in those days. You could rhyme off half a team.”

Regarding stitches, Howe-related or otherwise, he said, “Yeah, I got my nose cut a few times, stitches around the forehead and the back of the head. There were no helmets then.” Continue reading

bussboys

Embed from Getty Images

Above: Behn Wilson of the Chicago Blackhawks gives his stick a
smack during a game at New York’s Madison Square Garden in
January of 1988. (Photo: Bruce Bennett)

The first of the two goals that Alexander Ovechkin scored last night in Washington’s 7-1 romp over Ottawa was a momentous one, of course, the 500th of his career. The Washington Post has a useful review of how and when he’s scored all those goals, and where Ovechkin fits into NHL goalscoring history. As for the goal itself, here’s a quick look at how it’s being worded in the hours since it went in.

The Canadian Press:

The landmark score was vintage Ovechkin. Posted up just beyond the left hashes during a power play, he fielded a feed from Jason Chimera and then whizzed a shot past the head of goalie Andrew Hammond just under the crossbar for a 5-1 lead.

Des Bieler in The Washington Post:

Ovechkin got his goal in classic fashion, sending a wrister past goalie Andrew Hammond from his favorite spot at the left circle.

Alex Prewitt in Sports Illustrated:

The milestone goal had been roofed past goaltender Andrew Hammond, a slingshot from Ovechkin’s usual office on the power play.

If you watched the game from the start, or saw the highlights, later, you may have noted the quick kiss that Ovechkin bestowed on the right-curving blade of his Bauer Supreme Totalone MX3. For luck? For thanks? Could he have scored without it? Just because we don’t know any of the answers to those questions doesn’t mean we can’t take a moment to commemorate a few other select hockey busses from years gone by. Fans of the Toronto Maple Leafs well remember Don Cherry’s lips meeting Doug Gilmour’s cheek on Hockey Night in Canada circa 1993 (there was also a 2013 reprise, featuring Nazem Kadri), but the timely hockey kiss goes back further still:

Anatoli Tarasov, 1960

“Imagine me getting kissed by the Russian coach,” said Jack Riley, whose U.S. hockey teamed zoomed to the top of the Olympic hockey tournament by upsetting Canada 2-1.

Russian coach Anatoli Tarasov of the once-tied, second-place Soviets hugged and kissed Riley in the bedlam that followed the Americans’ stunning conquest of the high-powered Canadians Thursday in the Winter Games hockey tourney.

• Patrick McNulty, The Associated Press, Ellensburg Daily Record, February 26, 1960

Glenn Resch, 1975

Glenn Resch is edgy and he admits it.

“I’ll let the pressure take its course,” the friendly New York Islanders goaltender said Thursday night. “If I get sick, I get sick. My nerves are super-jumpy.”

Of course, it didn’t show Thursday night when Resch led New York to a 4-1 playoff victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins. It didn’t show, either, when Resch kissed the goalpost behind him in the first period; he was wearing his painted facemask at the time.

Shots by Pittsburgh forwards hit the post twice in the period. “I literally kissed the post,” he recalled. “It’s my best friend. I get along with it just like my wife.”

• Frank Brown, The Associated Press, Lewiston Evening Journal, April 24, 1975

Brendan Shanahan, 1987

His composure and efficiency under pressure are dazzling for an 18-year-old rookie, but Brendan Shanahan of the Devils wants to do much more before he is satisfied with himself.

Since his arrival in New Jersey as the second overall choice in the draft last summer, Shanahan’s flamboyant looks, articulate speech and expressions of affection for teammates — he kissed Claude Loiselle, who assisted on Shanahan’s first goal — have captivated fans of the Devils.

“Some people like to keep their feelings inside,” Shanahan said before practice here today. “I just like to let them out, especially when I’m excited.”

“I kissed Claudie,” Shanahan said of Loiselle, who assisted on the goal that gave the Devils a 3-2 triumph over the Rangers a week ago. “I knew I was going to kiss the guy who assisted me. I don’t know if he noticed it.”

• Alex Yannis, The New York Times, November 17, 1987

Pat LaFontaine, 1990

After the 4-4 tie between the Islanders and the Devils at Nassau Coliseum today, the Islanders’ Pat LaFontaine, following an appropriate dictum, stepped from the locker room to the corridor — and kissed his sister.

There was only one problem. His chin was still dripping blood from a fresh, six-stitch gash caused by a speeding puck. “I dripped blood over her blouse,” LaFontaine said. “Sorry about that.”

• Joe Lapointe, The New York Times, January 29, 1990

Esa Tikkanen, 1994

How embarrassing was it for Washington? Consider the altercation between Keith Jones of the Capitals and Esa Tikkanen of the Rangers, two rough, tough, gritty players. Trying to inspire his team, Jones played a mean game, bumping, hacking and slashing whenever possible, taking three minor penalties.

After one confrontation, Tikkanen got close to Jones. He got in his face, boy, did he ever. And then Tikkanen, well, he, yes, he, uh, why he kissed him. That’s what he did. He kissed him right on the nose. And there is no penalty, minor or major, for that.

“He’s trying to be a tough guy, trying to stir the pot,” Tikkanen said of Jones. “We’ve got to turn around and skate away.” Shoot, nowadays, if you want to see a good fight, you’ve got to watch the National Basketball Association playoffs or maybe a major league baseball game.

• Joe Lapointe, The New York Times, May 6, 1994

this week + last month: we had way better radar detection than germany, crosby said

Presidential Puck: With joy in his heart and Alex Ovechkin on his team, Vladimir Putin faced off in Sochi last week against a team of gifted children.

Майк Кинэн is thinking about trading in his Canadian citizenship for Russian.

Sorry: Mike Keenan, coach of the defending KHL champions Metallurg Magnitogorsk. Really? Seriously? Seriously. Though as Keenan, who’s 65 and has been coaching in the KHL since 2013, was telling the media in Russian last month, it’s nothing certain yet.

“I’m happy to live and work in Russia,” he said. “No one is saying that it will happen, that I have decided, but I would be interested to explore this possibility.”

Asked what they might think in Canada, how his family would react, he’s reported to have laughed. “It’s only my decision.”

And what about coaching the Russian national team? Would he consider that? His diplomatic answer to that one was that there are plenty of good Russian candidates. If he could lend a hand as a consultant, though … well, why not?

“I have a certain knowledge of the Canadian, American teams — that could be handy. If they approached me for advice, I would be glad,” he said.

Dante Redux: Finnish former irksome winger Jarkko Ruutu published a memoir last week.

Dante Redux: Finnish former abrasively irksome winger Jarkko Ruutu published a memoir last week.

Finnish former right winger Jarkko Ruutu published a memoir this week. In the NHL, where he played for Vancouver, Pittsburgh, Ottawa, and Anaheim, he’s best remembered as, what, an agitator, pest, troublemaker? His book, only available in Finnish so far, bears a title that translates to The Divine Comedy. “Sport, great drama and purgatory!” his publisher promises in some of its promotional matter. “Jarkko Ruutu was a rink terrorist and nutcase, an entertainment package beyond compare.”

Ron MacLean phoned Don Cherry for the first time since the Stanley Cup Final to talk about Cherry’s love of Toronto Blue Jays’ third baseman Josh Donaldson. Cherry also paid his respects to Al Arbour, bespectacled defenceman and many-Cup-winning coach, who died on August 28 at the age of 82. “When you talk to his players, like Kelly Hrudey, they all say the same thing,” Cherry tweeted. “He was tough but he was fair. And everyone to a man say they loved him.”

Also, heads up, everybody. “I don’t know if you know it or not,” began another of Don Cherry’s recent tweet cascades, “but a policeman can come into your house, take your dog and have it put down.”

Sidney Crosby made a salad for himself at Pete’s Fine Foods in downtown Halifax. I guess at the salad bar there? For lunch. He had some egg whites, too, and an orange juice, all of which cost him about ten bucks, and which he “consumed around a small table on a publicly accessible balcony overlooking the cash registers.”

Point being? He’s a humble man, Crosby, modest, keeps a low profile during the off-season in Nova Scotia, where he drives not-new Chevy Tahoe and doesn’t expect special treatment despite having earned something like US$17 million last season in salary, endorsements and memorabilia — he “remains most comfortable in sandals or sneakers, athletic gear and a cap.”

That’s what Jason Mackey found, a reporter for The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review who ventured north to spend some summer time with the Penguins’ captain and hear him say that he while he tries to stick to a sensible pro-athlete kind of a diet, he also crushes Timbits when he can.

Also: Crosby finished up a college course last season, offered online by Southern New Hampshire University. Mackey doesn’t say which one, but the clues point to HIS241: World War II.

“The material was easy,” Crosby said, “because you’re traveling and you can read. If you have to write a paper and it’s not coming that quickly and you don’t have that much time, you don’t enjoy it as much. You’re just trying to get it done.

“It was nine years since I had done anything school-related. It was a pretty big wakeup call.”

Crosby’s final exam was writing a paper on the influence of radar in World War II.

“We had a way better radar detection than Germany,” Crosby said.

Another former NHL-playing Bure, Pavel’s younger brother Valeri, makes a high-end cabernet sauvignon that’s very popular. Eric Duhatschek was writing about this in The Globe and Mail, all the hockey players who are getting into the wine business.

99wineMaybe you’ve enjoyed a bottle of Wayne Gretzky’s Pinot Noir, his Riesling, 2012 No.99 Cabernet Franc Ice-wine. But did you know that Igor Larionov had a pretty great shiraz a few years ago and still does brew up small batches of “a high-end cab” for his own table?

Former Los Angeles Kings’ centreman Jimmy Fox is delving deeper into the art and the business. As he told Duhatschek, what he likes about wine is that it’s not hockey. On the nothockeyness of wine, he said

“Pro sports is always about the final score and there is a black and whiteness to that which, when I was an athlete, was extremely attractive to me. I loved knowing at the end of the day how you did, and the score told you.

“Wine gives me almost the opposite feeling and it’s probably something I was looking for subconsciously. Wines are scored too, but more than with hockey, it is about the process. There is an artistic element to wine. There is a chemistry element to wine. There is a terroir element to wine. There are so many different elements and I felt that that combination of all those things was so intriguing to me. It really made me expand the way I thought about a lot of things.”

“I don’t do any conditioning during the summer,” Ottawa Senators’ captain Erik Karlsson said upon his return to the capital with looking big and brown with an expanded head. At least I think that’s what the headline on Ken Warren’s article in The Ottawa Citizen was saying:

Karlsson returns to Ottawa with a bigger mindset

“I’ve been able to put on weight and keep it on,” Karlsson said, after skating Tuesday for the first time since the club was eliminated by the Montreal Canadiens in the first round of the playoffs last spring.

Indeed, Karlsson is back, bigger than ever. In his case, though, it’s a measure of pride, part of his continuing growth from the 165-pound stick figure who made his first appearance in Ottawa at the 2008 NHL entry draft.

“I’m almost 200 pounds,” said Karlsson, sporting a deep tan resulting from spending several weeks travelling throughout Greece.

Continue reading

leafs in springtime: nobody is going to give us anything

IMG_1596

Conn Smythe would have called it “Bastille Day:” Toronto Maple Leafs president Brendan Shanahan delivered his verdict on the year just ended on Sunday, when he fired GM Dave Nonis, coach Peter Horachek, and nearly 20 other members of the team’s hockey staff. Yesterday, winger Joffrey Lupul called it “a wasted season” while captain Dion Phaneuf called it “the toughest year” of his career. In a press conference, Shanahan looked to the future. “We need to have a team with more character and one that represents this city the way it deserves,” he said. If you were looking for cruel vituperative fun on an altogether sombre day in and around the Air Canada Centre, there was always Rosie DiManno’s column in The Toronto Star, which I’ll just boil down here to a dozen or so key words and phrases she used to describe the team and its effort:

unlamented, unloved, misery, big whoop, defunct, blighted, arse-over-teakettle, implode, benumbed, laughable, how many times and how many ways can you say: Oh. My. God. irrelevant, plague of inertia, ignominy, moribund, the team’s loutish character, comedia del hockey

This isn’t the first time the Leafs have missed the playoffs, of course, even if it is among the ugliest cases in recent memory. Counting back to 1917 and the dawn of the franchise, Toronto teams have avoided the playoffs about a third of the time, 32 of 97 seasons, or more than twice as often as they’ve won Stanley Cups. Actually, in fact, Toronto is the playoffs-missingest team in the history of the NHL: no team has fallen short more than they have — though the New York Rangers are a close second, with 31 futile campaigns to their credit.

With that in mind, before Shanahan’s future takes hold, there’s just time to review what lies behind, in the past, in the Leafs’ forlorn history of not being good enough.

In 1957, Leafs’ majordomo Conn Smythe took sole responsibility for his team’s — I don’t know what you want to call it, demise? downfall? collapse? Anyway, Toronto missed the playoffs that year for the first time in four years, and just the fourth in 27 seasons. “A year of failure,” Smythe called it at a “flamboyant” press conference he felt the need to hold in New York, where the NHL governors were meeting while the Leafs played out their season.

They still had a couple of games left, but Smythe wanted to get a headstart on the post-season turmoil. He’d already left his captain at home in Toronto, defenceman Jim Thomson, because treachery: he’d had the gall to be trying to help organize a players’ association.

“Next year,” Smythe thundered in New York, “our players will have to understand that they owe 100 per cent loyalty to the team.”

He didn’t fire his rookie coach that day, Howie Meeker, nor the GM, Hap Day, though many of the newspapermen had come expecting one or both to be sacrificed.

Smythe was willing to say that just maybe the Leafs would have to change the way they played. “We have a Spartan system,” he mused, “and we may be out of date. We prefer the body … we have stressed the defensive and not the offensive … Our system may be open to question.”

The very first year the Leafs were Leafs, they missed the playoffs. That was 1926-27, the year Conn Smythe took control of the team with a group of investors and in mid-season exchanged an old name (St. Patricks) and colour (green) for news. The team had three coaches that year and ended up bottom of the Canadian Division. They played their final game at home, hosting Montreal. Only a small crowd showed up, most of whom had come to see Howie Morenz and the Canadiens. But the Leafs played as if life depended on it, The Daily Star said, and ended up winning by a score of 2-1, with Bill Carson playing a prominent role along with, on the Leaf defence, Hap Day.

So that’s a plus.

In 1930, the club wanted to send the players off to their summers in style one the games were over, with a banquet, but it was hard to organize. Charlie Conacher, Red Horner Ace Bailey, and Busher Jackson were off in Montreal, watching the Maroons and Bruins in their playoff series as guests of a “Toronto hockey enthusiast,” while back in Toronto, the rest of the team was packing up for home. I don’t know whether they ever got their meal, but the Leafs returned to the playoffs the following year. The year after that, they won the Stanley Cup.

Just to be keeping it positive.

It was 14 years before they ended their season early again and while there’s no good reason, really, to be ranking the years of disappointment one above another, dropping out the year after you’ve won a Stanley Cup would have to smart, wouldn’t? 1946 Toronto did that with Hap Day now presiding as coach. (It happened again, though not until 1968.)

If only, wrote Jim Coleman in The Globe and Mail in ’46, the Leafs had a goaltender like Durnan, and defencemen of Reardon’s and Bouchard’s quality, maybe a front line resembling the likes of Lach, Blake, and Richard — well, then they’d be the Canadiens, of course, who did indeed end up winning that spring.

For solace, at least, the Leafs triumphed in the last two games they played that season, whupping Detroit 7-3 and 11-7. And that had to have felt pretty good.

Still, it was time to clean out the old, sweep in the new. It was a particularly poignant day, once the whupping was over, for a couple of long-serving Leafs who’d scored a bunch of goals over the years. Sweeney Schriner and Lorne Carr were retiring — though they did mention as they prepared to head home to Calgary that they’d be happy to listen to any other NHL teams who might be willing to make them an offer. (None were.)

As the spring playoffs went ahead without his team, Conn Smythe was feeling — surprisingly? — peppy. If nothing else, he noted for anyone who wanted to hear, the Leafs had rights to and/or options on a veritable mass of hockey talent for the year coming up, 82 players.

“We’re definitely,” he advised, “on the upswing.”

True enough: the Leafs did take home four of the next five Stanley Cups.

I’m not going to trudge through every season the team failed — where’s the fun in that? But back to 1957 for a minute. It is, if nothing else, a bit of a watershed. Teeder Kennedy, 31, retired that year for a second and final time, having returned to the ice midway through the year before deciding that it was time to make way for the next generation. Former Leafs captain Sid Smith, also 31, decided he was quitting, too, until Smythe talked him into returning for one more year. Continue reading

what the leafs need: everybody knows

leafage

Toronto Maple Leafs need to change a lot more than just the coach (Ken Campbell, The Hockey News, January 6)

Maple Leafs need to mend divided dressing room (Chris Johnston, Sportsnet.ca, January 8)

Rebuilding Maple Leafs need to get value in a Dion Phaneuf trade (Damien Cox, Toronto Star, January 30)

Emotional James Reimer says Leafs need to play with more “passion” and “resolve.” (Jonas Siegel, TSN1050, February 6)

Don Cherry says the Toronto Maple Leafs need to get tough again. (Mike Johnston, Sportsnet.ca, February 7)

Toronto Maple Leafs need to rebuild, Canadian musician Tom Cochrane says (National Post, February 9)

“We can’t change what happened in the past,” said Robidas. “All we can change is how we play tomorrow. We have to start building a foundation. We have to be a tough team to play against. That is our identity. We have to play fast, we have to compete.” (Kevin McGran, Toronto Star, February 13)

Why the Copyright Board of Canada Needs a Leafs-Style Tear-Down (Michael Geist, michaelgeist.ca, February 15)

Shanahan should emulate Wings in rebuild (Jonas Siegel, TSN.ca, February 16)

Kadri and Gardiner need to make a better impression (David Shoalts, Globe and Mail, February 17)

Foundering Leafs need rebuild architects with creativity, humour (Tim Whitnell, Burlington Post, February 20)

“We need to make some changes. That’s apparent,” said Nonis. “We have some good players that maybe haven’t played to their capabilities this season, that haven’t had the years that we need them to have. But they’re good players. It doesn’t mean we’re going to fire-sale people out. We’re not going to make moves to clean the roster out. We need to get value.” (Toronto Star, February 27)

Toronto Maple Leafs need draft picks while Montreal Canadiens could use defensive depth: What Canadian NHL teams might do on deadline day (Michael Traikos, National Post, March 1)

Maple Leafs need to find players who want to wear blue and white (Mike Zeisberger, Toronto Sun, March 3)

Might be best for the Maple Leafs to trade Bernier (Stephen Burtch, Sportsnet.ca, March 3)

“He’s a good player, a good guy, everyone likes him. But the things are said about him. People rip for this and that, but you watch him and he tries hard every night. Obviously, it’s not fair and I think it needs to stop. Why does he get the blame?” (Phil Kessel on local Toronto criticism of Dion Phaneuf, March 3)

Maple Leafs star Phil Kessel is entitled to his rant, but he needs to look in the mirror, too (Steve Buffery, Toronto Sun, March 3)

If Phil Kessel would like the other side to really see him, he can start by opening his own eyes (Cathal Kelly, Globe and Mail, March 4)

Toronto Maple Leafs need to be cut ‘down to the bone,’ says former coach Ron Wilson (National Post, March 6)

The Leafs need to develop picks in the right atmosphere. (Kevin McGran, Toronto Star, March 6)

Kessel needs to get off the soapbox and into the boxscore, where he speaks the lingo more eloquently, if not erelong. (Rosie DiManno, Toronto Star, March 7)

Maple Leafs need to look inward for answers (Elliotte Friedman, Sportsnet.ca, March 8)

Toronto needs Kadri to take next step (James Mirtle, Globe and Mail, March 9)

Leafs can’t allow Blue & White disease to claim Kadri (Jeff Blair, Sportsnet.ca, March 9)

(Illustration: Tex Coulter)

this week, several others: why do people find these leafs so hard to like?

12835015933_55eaed7e9a_oMinnesota’s Ryan Suter paid US$81,058.72 to elbow Pittsburgh’s Steve Downie in the head. That was a while ago. More recent was Zac Rinaldo, of Philadelphia, for whom the price of charging Kris Letang from the Penguins, and also boarding him, was US$73,170.72.

Boston’s Brad Marchand paid US$48,387.10 to slew-foot New York’s Derick Brassard.

And Dan Carcillo? Of Chicago? For him, the cost of cross-checking Winnipeg’s Mathieu Perreault and upper-body-injuring him was US$40,243.92

Sports Illustrated wondered: Are the New York Islanders for real? (Answer: yes.)

It’s a while back, now, hard to recall, but Randy Carlyle was coaching the Toronto Maple Leafs earlier this year. On his last day on the job, he was in North Bay, Ontario, when GM Dave Nonis called him to set up a meeting early next morning in Toronto. “I’m not going to drive five hours back and through a snow storm to get fired,” Carlyle told him. “You might as well do it now.”

“We’re trying,” Toronto’s Phil Kessel has said subsequently, of the losing Leafs. “I don’t know if people see that. We are trying. I don’t know. We can’t find it right now.”

At The Walrus, the new editor, Jonathan Kay, profiled the Kelowna man who steered a 10,000-pound truck to the 2012 World Freestyle Championship at the Monster Jam Finals in Las Vegas. “It’s hard to imagine a more gentlemanly monster trucker than Cam McQueen,” he wrote. “He’s like the Jean Béliveau of car crushing.”

Via Aaron Portzline, meanwhile, of The Columbus Dispatch, we got to know the Blue Jackets All-Star goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky, who comes from Novokuznetsk in Russia, where the average temperature in January is -18 degrees and (quote) living in the Siberian city of 600,000 is neither easy nor glamorous.

As a six-year-old there, Bobrovsky wanted to play in goal. When his family couldn’t afford to buy equipment, his coach, Alexei Kitsyn, bought (says Portzline) “some bulk leather.”

“He made the equipment for me,” Bobrovsky said, his eyes getting big with emphasis. “He made it. By himself. By his hands. He made the pads and the glove. My parents bought me the rest of it.” …

“It sounds crazy,” Bobrovsky said. “If you know how some kids today get the best gear, how much money they spend … and that’s how it started for me.”

Another Columbus All-Star was ruminating this week, Nick Foligno, son of former NHLer Mike. “My dad has always said that if you treat the game of hockey well, it will treat you well,” Nick said. “He’s been bang-on with that.”

“Morale is good,” said the Leafs’ new coach, Peter Horachek, at some point. Continue reading

this week: greatest belgian hockey stories + the most thankless job

The House That Smythe Built: Heritage Toronto and Ryerson University unveiled a plaque on Thursday, November 14, to commemorate the Leafs' first home, now reborn as Ryerson's Mattamy Athletic Centre and ... a Loblaws. (Drawing by Ross and Macdonald, architects. The Journal, Royal Architectural Institute of Canada, viii, October 1931)

The House That Conn Built: Heritage Toronto and Ryerson University unveiled a plaque on Thursday, November 14, to commemorate the Leafs’ second home, now reborn as Ryerson’s Mattamy Athletic Centre and … a Loblaws.
(Drawing by Ross and Macdonald, architects. The Journal, Royal Architectural Institute of Canada, viii, October 1931)

The Hall of Hockey’s Fame opened its doors to five new members this week, as reported in The Bangkok Post.

At the ceremony in Toronto, Scott Niedermeyer’s smoothness was recalled. “It was fun to be his teammate,” said Scott Stevens.

Ken Daneyko said he was effortless, graceful, “like a thoroughbred.”

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman called Brendan Shanahan “my personal favourite.” Shanahan, of course, is the league’s Senior Vice President responsible for Player Safety — or, as Bettman called it, “the most thankless job.”

“I think his contributions to the game based on what he’s doing now will even exceed what he did in the 21 years he played,” Bettman said.

Shanahan said that Geraldine Heaney is tough and talented. Also that Ray Shero’s gentlemanliness is a tribute to his father, Fred.

“He’s just a good man,” Gretzky said of the final inductee, Chris Chelios.

Brian Leetch: “I always tell people that Chris Chelios is America’s version of Mark Messier.”

“They’re similar in that they love the game and have a passion for it. They love to compete and winning and doing things as a group are very important to them.

“They played with an edge, whether it was a stick up or a glove in the face. They would drop the gloves if they had to. You knew if you were in a competition with either of them it wasn’t always going to be clean and you were going to get the worst of it because they would not back down.”

The IIHF.com took the time to check in on Mike Keenan in Russia and he’s doing fine. He’s coaching Metallurg Magnitogorsk, and the team is near the top of the standings in the KHL’s Eastern Conference.

His new favourite food item, Keenan owned, is Russian pizza, which is sometimes topped with mackerel and red herring. New favourite Russian saying?

Spasibo, which means thank you,” Keenan said. “Also, dobroe utro, which means good morning.”

From The Globe and Mail’s James Mirtle we learned, this week, what the new Buffalo coach told his players after the first period against Toronto. Said a Sabre source of Mirtle’s: “Ted came in and told us ‘You guys are garbage.’”

Detroit’s coach, Mike Babcock, is getting a Doctor of Laws, honoris causa, from his alma mater, McGill University in Montreal, next week, on Monday, November 25.

A former hockey co-captain of the McGill Redmen, Babcock (BEd ’86) is being cited for “coaching winning teams” and “the achievement of excellence,” which is, according to a McGill press release, “the subject of his 2012 book, Leave No Doubt, highlighting the theme that one cannot accomplish great things without facing great adversity and making peace with uncertainty.” Continue reading