As Montreal Canadiens goaltender Carey Price prepares to play the 500th regular-season game of his NHL career tonight, is worth recalling Ken Dryden’s debut, on this day in 1971? Of course it is. Dryden, who’d end up playing 397 regular-season games for Montreal along with another 112 in the playoffs, started with a 5-1 win in Pittsburgh. He’d play five more games that year before the regular season ended, and he won them all, including an impressive 2-1 victory in Chicago over the Black Hawks after which Canadiens’ coach Al McNeil said he rated “no lower or higher” in the pecking order than the team’s other two goaltenders, Phil Myre and Rogatien Vachon. But it was Dryden, 23, who played every game once the Canadiens started their playoff campaign two weeks later. By the middle of May, he had a Stanley Cup and a Conn Smythe Trophy to his name. (He’d have to wait another year to win the Calder Trophy as the NHL’s top rookie.)
In the Pittsburgh win, he made 35 stops. “They had very few real good shots,” he told Pat Curran of The Gazette. “Sure I made a couple of reasonably difficult saves but I was warmed up to them after easier ones on the same shifts.”
Was he nervous before the game? He was.
“Sometimes you feel it in your stomach, other times in your legs. Tonight it was in the legs but certainly not as much as those games in training camp.”
A rookie Pittsburgh winger named John Stewart took the only shot that beat him on the night. “Maybe some goalies don’t think of shutouts but I do,” Dryden said. “Trouble is it’s just when you start patting yourself on the back that you get beaten.”
(Image: Ken Dryden, A-1 Goalie by Aislin, alias Terry Mosher, December 6, 1975;
ink, felt pen, marker, film on paper; © McCord Museum)
The slap that Shea Weber puts into his shot has a history of wreckage. Pucks he’s propelled have torn through nets at the Vancouver Olympics and busted out endboards in Nashville. He’s broken Chris Osgood’s mask. Bones, too, several of which have belonged to teammates whose dangerous duty it was to stand in front of a net Weber was aiming at. Martin Erat broke a leg that way when Weber played for Nashville, and Jordin Tootoo a foot. Weber is in Montreal now, and the breakages continue. Last week, his slapshot smashed Brendan Gallagher’s hand. He’s out for eight weeks.
Investigating Weber’s assets earlier this month, The Globe and Mail’s Sean Gordon described his on-ice demeanor as “Mars, the god of war, maybe, only with a migraine.” Heavy and high-flying, Weber’s shot, Gordon wrote, is “terrifying” and a “demoralizer.” He asked Carey Price about it. “So fluid and smooth,” the Montreal goaltender said, “and just so, so hard.”
Rod Gilbert once noted that Boom-Boom Geoffrion and Rocket Richard would sometimes bash pucks off the boards so hard that you’d have to cover your ears. Weber’s shot, Gordon writes, has a similar quality — “it sounds different than other players’ hitting the boards on the occasions his rangefinder is off.”
What is it that makes the Weber shot so powerful? Size (6’4” and 230 pounds) matters, and muscle. Montreal captain Max Pacioretty told Gordon that you have to be a very fast skater to have a shot like that, and also mentions “body control.”
Weber himself isn’t much help. He can’t really say how he acquired the shot. “Just repetition, I guess,” he told Gordon.
His stick is a factor, its stiffness in particular. Pittsburgh’s Phil Kessel, famously, uses a customized Easton that’s believed to have a flex rating down around 70, which gives the shaft the pliability of a whip and makes his shot (as James Mirtle has written) one of the hardest-to-stop in the world. Winnipeg’s exceptional rookie Patrick Laine uses an 87 flex.
Many NHLers tend toward a stick in the 100 flex range. Weber’s is well beyond that. In a game this month against Toronto, Weber broke a stick with a flex of 122 cross-checking a trespasser Leaf in the Montreal slot. “You need to be a strong man to use that thing,” Carey Price told Sean Gordon.
There are heavier sticks in the NHL, but not many. Zdeno Chara’s, for one. His, as you might guess, is longer than anyone else’s in the league. On skates Chara towers almost seven feet over the ice, which is why he gets an exemption from the NHL’s limit on stick-length. Fifty-three inches is the rulebook maximum; Chara’s Warrior is said to wander on for 65.
On the ice, that means it’s ubiquitous, as Jonathan Toews told Nicholas Cotsonika of Yahoo! in 2013. “I don’t know what to compare his reach to,” the Chicago captain said. “It’s tough to get away from him. On his half of the rink, he’s going to get a piece of you somehow.”
At that length, Chara’s sticks have to be exceptionally stiff. According to Boston’s equipment manager, Keith Robinson, they’re typically 150 to 155 flex. If Weber’s stick is unyielding, Chara’s (as Justin Bourne has written for The Score) “is basically a gigantic piece of rebar.”
All of which leads, inevitably, to a headline from The Vancouver Daily World in December of 1921:
Sounds like a salacious euphemism. Maybe that’s as the sub-editor intended. In fact, it’s a faithful description of the story it tops. As is this one, from The Ottawa Journal, across the country:
Newsy Lalonde was 34 that year, and pretty much at the end of his playing days. He’d been a superstar in both hockey and lacrosse for years by then. On the ice, he was Montreal’s almost-everything: coach, captain, primary offensive weapon. If he was slowing down as an NHL force, it wasn’t obvious: when the 1920-21 season came to an end, he led the league in scoring.
Senators’ manager Tommy Gorman tried to pry him from Montreal in the fall of ’21, bring him west to play for Ottawa, but that didn’t work out. The news of his newfangled stick surfaced, if only briefly, just as the new season was about to get underway. Just how it all worked out, and whether he was permitted to use it, isn’t clear: I can’t find any follow-ups to these original articles.
What they say is that Lalonde had designed and built his own stout stick. The description isn’t much: “Lead is filtered in,” the papers tell us, “and it is balanced to an ounce when held from the centre.” With no evidence to the contrary, I say we have to accept that this was all about improving his puckhandling. Lalonde does sound like he wishes the news had never leaked: he wouldn’t say, The Globe mirthlessly reported, “what this stick would do in a game.”
Last we know, the league was studying the case. I’d surmise they nixed Lalonde’s bespoke stick, but I don’t know for certain.
Canadiens opened their season a few nights later in Toronto against the St. Patricks, a.k.a. the Irish. They lost, 5-2. The goal Newsy Lalonde scored in the third period on a pass from Didier Pitre was the least of the news he made, whatever stick he had in hand.
In a game that featured (said The Globe) “much ill-feeling and rough play,” Lalonde was “the storm centre.” Lou Marsh told the tale for The Toronto Daily Star and in his lively narrative next morning, Lalonde was both “wily” and a “human pest.” Early on, he clashed with Toronto defenceman Harry Cameron. There was an encounter, too, with centreman Reg Noble, in which the two men “sassed each other with the good old ash.”
In the second period, Toronto winger Corb Denneny cross-checked Lalonde across the stomach, which provoked the Montreal captain, a few minutes later, to charge Denneny from behind. Marsh’s description is the vivider:
In an Irish rush on goal [Bert] Corbeau knocked Denneny kiting and the Toronto lad spilled Lalonde. Both went sliding into the nets like a varicolored avalanche, with Lalonde riding the prostrate Denneny. In the melee Lalonde’s stick lovingly caressed Denneny’s neck, and Denny did the possum act in the corner. Lalonde was booted for a major penalty despite his protests that it was all an accident. Lalonde shouldn’t have accidents with his truncheon caressing the vicinity of the other fellow’s collar button. It doesn’t seem reasonable.
In the third, before Lalonde scored his goal, he ran into Toronto’s Babe Dye. I’ll let Lou Marsh take it out:
Lalonde spilled Dye and Dye gave a correct imitation of a corpse. While the first aiders were doing resuscitation business and Lalonde was standing around weeping crocodile tears, Denneny sailed across the pond and pucked the famous Canadien one in the famous puss. Lalonde looked as surprised as a bulldog bitten by a gold fish.
“You don’t know how heavy it is,” Eric Fehr was saying, back in June. The Pittsburgh Penguins had just won the Stanley Cup and Fehr, a winger, was telling The Winnipeg Sun’s Paul Friesen about the joy of the triumph and the subsequent uplift, and how he’d wondered, briefly, whether his two surgically repaired shoulders would be able to handle the heft. “You don’t know how it’s going to feel,” Fehr was saying. “You’ve pictured it for so many years. When you finally get your hands on it, it’s a pretty unbelievable feeling.”
The shoulders were fine. “It felt a lot lighter than I thought it would.”
Later, after a parade in Pittsburgh (400,000 were said to have come out), the Cup went on its annual pilgrimage to visit the hometowns of the players and coaches who’d won it. With Phil Pritchard, its Hockey Hall of Fame guardian, Cup travelled to Landshut, in Germany, and to Moscow, Russia. It visited Helsinki, in Finland, and Jyväskylä, too, in the Finnish Lakeland. Swedish stops included Stockholm, Sollentuna, Sundsvi, Södertälje, Luleå, and Nykvarn.
Canadian stops included Fehr’s hometown, Winkler, Manitoba, where it visited the Southland Mall.
“It still hasn’t fully kicked in,” said Fehr, who got a key to the city from Mayor Martin Harder. “Still kind of a wow factor for me, especially a day like today when you get to walk around with the cup and especially when you see everybody’s faces when they get a look at that cup.”
“We all squeezed the stick,” Gord Downie sang this summer, crossing the land one more time with The Tragically Hip, “and we all pulled the trigger.”
In Denver, Colorado lost its coach when Patrick Roy resigned. It was a surprise, maybe even a shock. Roy said he didn’t feel he had enough say in shaping the roster he was expected to command on the ice. “I remain forever loyal to the Avalanche,” he said, “with which I played 478 games, coached another 253, and won two Stanley Cups.”
GM Joe Sakic was sorry to see him go, but he respected the decision. “We’re all good,” he told Nicholas Cotsonika of NHL.com. It took Sakic just over a week to find a replacement: Jared Bednar, who last season won the AHL’s Calder Cup championship at the helm of the Lake Erie Monsters.
Was it worrisome that by early August Shea Weber still hadn’t travelled to Montreal? People were wondering, this summer, including several writers on the Habs beat.
His agent said no, not a problem, because … summer. Weber was at home in Kelowna, that’s all. “His initial reaction was there was a pause and a little bit of shock,” explained Jarrett Bousquet, the agent. “And then when he realized it was true, he was pretty excited. Obviously, now he’s extremely excited being back in Canada and the pieces that they’ve put together. And he knows Carey Price from B.C. and the Olympics and whatnot, so I know he’s very excited now.”
Man disguised as hockey goalie robs beer store in Manitoba
was a headline running amok across social media last week. It’s true; it happened, in Russell, Manitoba, about four hours’ journey to the northwest from Winkler. While police continue to search for the culprit, a consensus has solidified online that this was
the most Canadian crime story ever, Non-Moose Division (CBS Sports)
Most Canadian heist ever (Huffington Post)
The Most Canadian Thing Ever (@Breaking911)
a scene from a clichéd Canadian movie — if it wasn’t so bizarrely real. (CBC.ca)
Defenceman Justin Schultz welcomed the Stanley Cup to West Kelowna, B.C. His parents were there, at Royal LePage Place, beaming their pride.
“This is huge,” his mother Kim Schultz, told Carmen Weld of Castanet:
Kim said she tries to keep it all in perspective and keep Justin and the family grounded.
“It is a game, after all, and he just has a different job,” she said. “That is how I look at it, as his mom.”
Artist and writer Doug Coupland had a Stanley Cup question for his Twitter followers in August:
Answer: while interested parties suggested up Bell Centennial Bold Listing, Times New Ransom, and DIN Mittelscrift, the likeliest one seems to be … no font at all. As detailed here, at the Hockey Hall of Fame’s Stanley Cup Journal, the cup’s engraver, Louise St. Jacques of Montreal, uses a collection of small hammers and custom-made letter stamps to knock each letter into the silverware.
Thumb Up: Montreal Canadiens goaltender Carey Price was named winner yesterday of the 2015 Lou Marsh Trophy as Canada’s topmost athlete. He’s the ninth hockey player to be so recognized since the award was first given in 1936, and the only goaltender. Those who’ve gone before: Sidney Crosby (twice), Wayne Gretzky (four times), Mario Lemieux, Guy Lafleur, Bobby Clarke, Phil Esposito, Bobby Orr, and Maurice Richard. Above, Lou Marsh himself takes the air high up in Toronto, wearing his NHL reffing get-up circa the late 1920s. When he wasn’t whistling at hockey games, Marsh was a beloved Toronto Star sports columnist and editor who also made his mark on the football field, as a sprinter, and as an arbiter of boxers and wrestlers.
(Photo: City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1257, Series 1057, Item 3610)
“I don’t mind seeing pucks,” Minnesota Wild goalstopper Devan Dubnyk said this month. “That’s what I’m here to do.”
Frank Seravalli of TSN.ca got talking to 43-year-old Jaromir Jagr of the Florida Panthers.
Q: You said a couple years ago that you’d like to play until you’re 50. Is that still realistic?
A: I know I’m going to play to 50. I know that — if I don’t get injured. I never said I’m going to play here (in the NHL) until I’m 50. That’s a different story. You can always play ’til 50. There’s a lot of guys that play until 60, you know, just beer hockey.
Q: But what about the NHL?
A: I don’t think I could go until 50. It’s very tough.
Sidney Crosby is at war with Mario Lemieux, according to reports emerging from Pittsburgh, or at least they’re feuding or … mutually miffed? We don’t have a lot of details, so let’s try to get it right, the what-we-know. They’ve fallen out. There’s been a falling out.
Former player Matthew Barnaby is the source for this, at SiriusXM. Could be because they disagree about who’s coaching in Pittsburgh, or else … maybe it’s the 2014 playoffs that soured the relationship. Does this mean Crosby will be traded? “That,” says Barnaby, “I don’t know.”
Someone asked Mario Lemieux about all. “It’s absolutely not true,” he said. “It’s silly.”
Jagr is the cover story in the new issue of Sportsnet magazine, where his age/agelessness is again front and centre. “The time between when I quit hockey and I die,” he tells Kristina Rutherford, measuring air with his hands, “I want it to be the shortest.”
Jagr goes on:
“If I can play til I die, that’s what I will do. What else are you gonna do? Even if you retire, you still will have to go work out, and maybe harder than you do when you play hockey because you don’t wanna look ugly and fat. At least I don’t want to.”
Fans in Toronto are selling blue-and-white striped socks with Mike Babcock’s head at the ankle. They’re called Babsocks, obviously. One of the principals, Jake Mednick, explained the rationale to Sportsnet.ca. “There’s been a lot of negativity, especially last season, around the team, around the organization — and it wasn’t as fun to be a fan anymore,” he said. “We want everyone in the city to have fun and feel good to be Leafs fans.”
No word so far on what the coach himself thinks. He did have a thought, in recent weeks, to add to the flaring debate around how to fertilize scoring in the NHL: bigger nets. Others advocated for slimming down the gear that goaltenders are permitted to pack on.
Said Mike McKenna, sometime NHLer now netminding for the AHL’s Portland Pirates:
“I’ve become completely numb to any pending goalie equipment regulation changes. I’ll play in whatever as long as I’m not getting hurt.”
ECW announced a pair of memoirs they’ll be publishing down the road, in September of 2017: Greg Oliver is assisting Gilles Gratton on Gratoony The Loony, while Sportsnet’s Ken Reid is sidekicking Dennis Maruk: The Unforgettable Story of Hockey’s Forgotten 60-Goal Man.
Also in the works from ECW for 2016: David Dupuis and Waxy Gregoire have been working with Hall of Fame defenceman and erstwhile coach Red Kelly to tell his story.
Stu Cowan from Montreal’s Gazette reported that the Canadiens’ new captain, who’s taking lessons in French this fall, has been greeting reporters with a confident “Bon midi.”
The Toronto Maple Leafs and their goaltenders are working with the man who revamped/rescued Devan Dubnyk’s aforementioned game. The National Post’s David Alter reported that in September, the Leafs officially enlisted the services of “puck-tracking guru” Lyle Mast.
His specialty is something called head trajectory, which is … well, keeping an eye on the puck that’s trying to get by you. It sounds much more interesting when Mast describes it, though, at his Optimum Reaction website:
“Head trajectory impacts the ability to efficiently execute every aspect of your training, development and game play, based on your setup. It empowers the athlete to train on the values of efficiency versus just speed and seeing the puck versus just looking at it. It exposes the difference between being able versus unable to execute your save and post-save responses, eliminating delays.”
Saving and/or post-responding, Montreal puck-seer Carey Price hurt his lower body in some way that required a week’s rest and recovery away from the ice. “It’s always nice to come home,” he said before that. “I always miss the smell of the mountains.”
Price disclosed his injury, which is to say Montreal did, announcing that he’d been hurt in an end-of-October game against Edmonton. Or, sorry: he sustained the injury. He didn’t disclose his injury, which is also to say that Montreal didn’t, to the extent there was no press release describing where and how it hurt, when and wherefore. Because — of course not. Why would you pinpoint your own weaknesses for other teams? Carey Price’s ailments are proprietary information.
“Pricey est fait fort,” tweeted P.K. Subban. “Tout ce qu’on sait pour l’instant, c’est qu’il est évalué.”
Also in Minnesota, Jason Pominville hasn’t been scoring goals. “You have to dig deep and find a way,” he advised The St. Paul Pioneer Press. “Right now I’m kind of in that boat where pucks aren’t finding me, and when they are, they’re bouncing. I’ve just got to find a find a way to put one in.”
“Blessé au bas du corps,” said La Presse Canadienne.
“The thing is,” confided Montreal coach Michel Therrien a couple of days later, “it’s nothing major. He had some treatment and said Friday morning that he had a certain amount of pain, so the medical staff didn’t take any chances and kept him off the ice. He went to see the doctor when we returned and our medical team recommended that he take a week off.”
The week turned into three. The diagnosis continued undisclosed, non-divulged, irrevealed. Mike Condon, Montreal’s back-up, was asked to fill in. “I’m not going to try and be Carey,” he said. “I don’t think anyone can.”
He was, nevertheless, pretty good, going 5-1-2 in the eight games Price missed in November. Price went to New York with his father, Jerry, to get a second opinion, which very well could have cheered him, or confirmed what he already knew, or even, possibly, surprised everyone. For most of us it was nothing new insofar it was (of course) kept secret.
“We’re not the Russian Red Army team,” Leafs’ winger Brad Boyes mentioned a week or two back, or several, in hearing of Stephen Whyno from The Canadian Press, “so we’ve got to make sure that we’re out there playing our style, our game.”
“We’ve had some shots and chances,” said Taylor Hall, regretting an Edmonton Oiler loss to St. Louis, “but not enough to create momentum for our team. It’s disappointing.”
When Price returned to the Montreal net last week, he helped the Canadiens beat the New York Islanders. “Carey Price was Carey Price,” Therrien said afterwards.
He beat them again over the weekend, and then he beat the Rangers, mostly — in that game, a 5-1, he gave way to Condon after two periods.
So everybody wondered, as Sportsnet.ca did:
“The reason it’s all so hush-hush,” Renaud Lavoie from TVA Sports told TSN, “is nobody knows what’s going on.”
Which makes sense.
Someone from Montreal’s Gazette spotted Price limping through the lobby of the team hotel Thursday morning.
All Therrien would say was that, yes, it was that previous injury nobody really wanted to talk about in the first place. “He tweaked it.”
Lavoie said that it was pretty definitely the right leg, the right knee is what people who knew these things knew, though Lavoie was also thinking there was more to it than that, could be a combination of things, a hip, a groin. “If you look at him right now, there’s a lot of question marks.” Continue reading