pre-kid sid

Old Bootnose: Sid Abel thought he had another year in him at the end of the 1951-52 NHL season, his GM Jack Adams, wasn’t so sure. The Detroit Red Wings defeated the Montreal Canadiens in the spring of ’52 to win the Stanley Cup, and Abel, 34, was the captain leading them, their frontline centre, and the highest-scoring player in team history. He hadn’t signed a new contract, though. He had bought a cocktail lounge in Detroit, and there was talk that he was thinking of starting a new career there. Instead, he signed on with the Chicago Blacks as playing coach. Five years later, he was back in Detroit coaching his old linemate and fellow Saskatchewanian Gordie Howe. Abel stayed on for 12 seasons (Howe, still playing, lasted a season longer). Above, that’s the coach in one of his natural habitats at the Detroit Olympia in January of 1961.

(Photo: Weekend Magazine / Louis Jaques / Library and Archives Canada / e002505699)

rudy pilous: chauffeur, beer waiter, ice-cream salesman, inventor

e002343755-v8

The Chicago Black Hawks were tenanting the NHL’s basement when GM Tommy Ivan announced in late December of 1957 that the old coach was out and a new coming in. That can’t have been easy — unless there was nothing easier. Ivan was himself the incumbent, having taken on the job when Dick Irvin relinquished the helm in October of 1956 due to poor health. The new man now was Rudy Pilous, late of the Junior A St. Catharines Teepees, where he’d been both coach and GM. He had one practice with his new players before heading into his first NHL game, early in January, in Toronto. With a smile, he asked a reporter for a program before the puck fell: “I’d better see who’s on the team.” The Black Hawks won that game, and the next one as well, at home to Boston. Chicago didn’t make the playoffs that year, though they had climbed up to fifth, ahead of the Leafs, by season’s end. And with Pilous aboard, they kept climbing, winning the 1961 Stanley Cup.

Pilous persevered with the Black Hawks until 1963, when Tommy Ivan fired him in favour of Billy Reay. Herewith, from earlier days, an excerpt from “Rudy Pilous’ Recipe For Enjoying a Headache,” Trent Frayne’s profile for Maclean’s, published March 28, 1959:

The coach in question is Rudy Pilous, a forty-four-year-old, bulky shambling man of six-feet-two, with a shock of black hair, dark eyes in a moon face, and no previous NHL experience whatever, even as a young player seeking a tryout. Pilous, never quite as graceful on skates as Barbara Ann Scott, played only pseudo-professional hockey — with the New York Rovers, the St. Catharines Saints and the Richmond Hawks in England. It is probably only coincidental that all three of these teams have long since quietly collapsed. Before these peregrinations Pilous endured part of a season with the Selkirk Fishermen, in Manitoba, whom he abandoned when he hadn’t been paid a penny of a promised twenty-five dollars a week.

But he has more than compensated for any lack of professional experience on the ice by the scope and variety of his activity off it. If the bewildering Black Hawks need a coach of bewildering background to get them out of purgatory Pilous (pronounced Pill-us) is their man.

Pilous, who left school at fourteen in Winnipeg to help his father support the nine children in the family, has been a chauffeur, a telephone lineman, an ice-cream salesman, a carpenter, a pipe cutter, a truck driver, a beer waiter, an inventor (General Motors paid him fifty dollars for a safety device), a receiving-department supervisor, and a publicist for ice shows, roller-skating derbies and race tracks. And, to top it off, he has coached hockey teams in such improbable places as California, Kentucky and Texas.

From this vocational mélange there has emerged a deceptively gifted, acutely observant man quite inconsistent with the bumbling, amiable, even naïve façade he often affects. Pilous’ public reputation stems partly from his tendency to link singular verbs with plural subjects and through in a mangled polysyllable now and then. When he succumbs he’ll laugh too quickly and refer to himself as “a big dumb squarehead.” Actually, he has an insight into many kinds of persons besides himself, and as a practicing psychologist it has appeared this year that he’s often been able to get blood out of a stone.

(Photo, from January of 1961: Louis Jaques/ Library and Archives Canada/ e002343755)

imaginary numbers: maple leaf math edition

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“Very proud,” Brendan Shanahan was telling the media at the Air Canada Centre, “very happy today. Happy to introduce Mike as the 30th coach in Toronto Maple Leafs’ history. Thank you, Mike. Welcome.”

Except, of course, that Babcock is the 31st man to coach the Leafs. Dick Duff is the odd man out, relegated to a footnote in the team’s media-guide list of head coaches, untallied in the overall count that runs, now, from Alex Romeril to the pride of Manitouwadge, Ontario (Babcock’s hometown) by way of Saskatoon (where he grew up).

The Leafs, of course, are free to count their coaches in any way they so choose. But the case for leaving Duff out is cloudy, at best; the logic for including him in is at least persuasive as that associated with several other names who are on the list.

Duff’s tenure was brief, just two came in March of 1980, as detailed here. It came on suddenly, overnight, when the incumbent Floyd Smith was injured in a car accident on a Friday night. Smith had a couple of assistants that year, Duff and Johnny Bower, and on the Saturday morning ahead of an evening game, GM Punch Imlach put Duff in charge. “I told the players that Duff had absolute control of the team,” Imlach told reporters, “and I wanted them to do exactly what he told them.”

Still, it was a stopgap measure, no question about that, an emergency measure, a battlefield commission. Much like (minus the highway accident) the situation that the San Jose Sharks found themselves in December of 2002. In that case, GM Dean Lombardi had fired his head coach, Darryl Sutter, and a pair of assistants, named a Shark scout, Cap Raeder, as a temporary replacement. He did the job for precisely one game, a 3-2 overtime win over Phoenix, before Lombardi got a new coach, Ron Wilson, into place. According to the Sharks’ media guide, he was the seventh coach in team history, just as the man who succeeds the eighth (Todd McLellan) will be the ninth — i.e. no bumping about in the footnotes for Cap Raeder.

Brevity shouldn’t sink Duff’s cause. Maybe, then, Leaf management and asterisk lobbyists would argue that everybody knew that Duff wasn’t going to last, he was no more than a placeholder, a bookmark, filling a space behind the Leaf bench until the new, real coach showed up.

On that basis, Alex Romeril shouldn’t count, either — he was only doing the job in the latter days of the 1927 season until Conn Smythe finished up his coaching commitment with the University of Toronto Grads. And what about Peter Horachek, this year? Like Duff, he was an assistant who found himself appointed interim coach when, in his case, GM Dave Nonis fired Randy Carlyle this past January. Nobody expected him be in the job beyond the end of the season. He was, but only for a day or so: Brendan Shanahan fired him and Nonis on the Sunday after the Leafs played their final game.

Ah-ha (as the Leafs might say, and do, in this imaginary debate I’m having with them, whether they know it or not) — ha-ha, but Punch Imlach never spoke the magic word, whatever the GM might have mentioned about absolute control, Dick Duff was never officially anointed with those three all-important syllables: interim.

Is that true, though? On Monday, March 17, 1980, the day Duff coached his second and last game in the NHL, newspapers across the continent published a brief Associated Press notice that included the words Dick and Duff and named and interim coach. The AP would have got their information from some reputable source — maybe the PR people at the NHL? Likewise The Toronto Star, wherein readers of the small print in the sports pages might have seen this:

duff interim

Is that enough to pluck Duff out of the margins and get him properly numbered as the fifteenth coach in Leaf history? I don’t know. Maybe Mike Babcock could put a word in for him. Continue reading

counting leaf coaches

Coach #2: Conn Smythe, seen here in spats in 1937, was the Leafs' second coach after they transformed from St. Patricks in 1927. (Photo: Courtesy of the Boston Public Library, Leslie Jones Collection)

Coach #2: Conn Smythe, seen here in spats in 1937, was the Leafs’ second coach after they transformed from St. Patricks in 1927. (Photo: Courtesy of the Boston Public Library, Leslie Jones Collection)

Lots of numbers flying around today with the announcement that Mike Babcock is taking over as head coach of the Toronto Maple Leafs, from one (number of Stanley Cups Babcock has won) to ten (years he was in Detroit) to 50,000,000 (non-Canadian dollars Toronto will reportedly be paying him over the course of the next years).

The number 30 has been prominent, too, in the mix, notably from the Leafs themselves, who at 11:22 a.m. this morning took to Twitter to make welcome “the 30th head coach in club history.”

Can you blame everybody else, press and public alike, for taking the team’s word for it — even though it’s wrong?

Whether the Leafs know it or not, Mike Babcock is the 31st man to coach the team.

That’s going back to the winter of 1927, when Conn Smythe transformed the St. Patricks into Maple Leafs midway through the NHL season and counting all the way through to, well, now. Along the way, the coaches have included many former playing greats (from Hap Day to George Armstrong) along with enduring bench legends (Dick Irvin) and those who’ve been unfortunate to have wear the word interim next to their job description (Peter Horachek). A couple (King Clancy and Punch Imlach) have had more than one go at the job. Any way you tally them all (try it yourself here), the number is 31.

Could just be a simple oversight handed down over time. I can’t say for certain whom the Leafs and everybody else are leaving out of their calculations, but my guess is that it’s the man with the briefest of Leaf leaderships — Dick Duff, who steered the team for just two (losing) games in 1980, post-Floyd Smith, pre-Punch Imlach.

Could be, I suppose, that it’s a matter of mercy: maybe the team believes that Duf, another Leaf great as a player, only stepped up to fill a gap that needed filling, and that his coaching days (and their .000 winning percentage) deserve to be excused from all our memories.

welcome mike

this week and others: hammy trpělivě dřel

Jaromir Jagr is the third best forward in hockey history, according to Corey Masisak of nhl.com.

He ran the numbers — they’re here — and that was his finding. “Jagr is by no means the third most iconic forward,” he wrote.

He’s certainly not the third most popular. Critics of the statement above will immediately turn to words like leadership and toughness to try and prove it wrong.

That’s OK, but Jagr’s ability to dominate during his prime, which happened to be one of the toughest eras in the history of the NHL to produce offense, along with his excellence well into his 40s is why he deserves to be considered the best forward not named Wayne Gretzky or Mario Lemieux.

“Fuck that,” the owner of the Philadelphia Flyers was saying last week, Ed Snider. Not about Jagr; he’d been asked about patience and building a Stanley Cup-contender, waiting two, three years to compete. Nope, he said: the time is now. Or, at least, next year, since the Flyers won’t be playing in the 2015 playoffs.

“They beat us all over the ice,” is what the Leafs’ coach, Peter Horachek, said after St. Louis waylaid his team by a score of 6-1. “They beat us from the beginning to the end. They beat us all over the place.”

Gordie Howe’s family had a jam-packed 87th birthday planned for him March 31, according to Helene St. James from The Detroit Free Press. All being well, his family had a barbecue planned, and a cake, maybe some catfishing. (He’s living with his daughter, these days, in Lubbock, Texas, where it’s catfish season, apparently.)

Roman Josi is the Erik Karlsson of the West, said his (Josi’s) coach in Nashville, Barry Trotz, if CP’s Stephen Whyno is to be trusted.

Evgeny Romasko became the first Russian-born referee to work an NHL game a few weeks back, lending his whistle to a meeting in Detroit between Red Wings and Oilers. Back home in Russia, former pairs skater looked to the heavens as he hoped that Romasko might land a full-time NHL contract for next year.

“If we compare the first match with Gagarin’s flight,” Zaitsev told RIA Novosti, “the contract for the season with the NHL will be on a scale with the landing of the first man on the moon, even though he was not Russian.”

Ottawa beat the New York Islanders earlier in the month, and after it was over Senators coach Dave Cameron revealed the reason why. “You can’t win in this league without goaltending. Hammy was real good.”

Nearby, Islanders coach Jack Capuano was explaining the loss. “We have to stay the course and grind it out,” he confided. “Our structure has to be there and we have to execute and play with pace. But if you can’t score, you can’t win.”

The Toronto Star’s Rosie DiManno checked in on Toronto’s Leafs, with particular thoughts on Phil Kessel’s recent defence of his captain.

No. 81 wasn’t wildly off the mark in his extraordinary outburst on behalf of Dion Phaneuf, although the aim was wide. If Kessel wanted to unload on the bitchin’ brigade, he should have targeted the ex-Leafs who’ve found a second career as radio and TV pundits because they’re the most venomous bashers of the bunch, their insider analysis far more scathing than any critical salvo launched by a beat reporter or columnist. And on the evidence, they’re right.

Of the odious tweeters and bloggers nothing more need be said. But it’s still unclear what exactly got Kessel so hot. He ain’t saying. We’re expected to read his mind, which oftentimes seems an empty cavity.

Kyle Turris, Ottawa centreman: “Hammy is standing on his head for us. I can’t even explain how well he’s playing. It’s unbelievable.”

Scott Gomez wrote about his hockey trials and tribulations at The Players Tribune:

Life and hockey kind of mirror each other in the sense that when you’re having good times, it’s difficult to imagine how things will ever go wrong. And when you’re having bad times, well, yeah.

Czech nhl.com was on the story, too:

“Hammy” ale dál trpělivě dřel a postupně se vypracoval v kvalitního gólmana. I díky zdravému sebevědomí a velkému odhodlání. Ostatně dvouletá smlouva od Sens nebyla jen dílem štěstí, nejprve totiž uspěl na zkoušce na jejich farmě v Binghamtonu.

Calgary rookie Johnny Gaudreau talked about what’s working with the high-scoring line he’s on with Jiri Hudler and Sean Monahan:

“The chemistry is there. For me, it’s the chemistry. When you get to play with a player or a few players throughout the whole season, you just feel really comfortable with them on and off the ice. You learn more and more about them and where they’re going to be at on the ice and that’s what we’re doing right now.”

“Hammy has been exceptional,” was another thing that Dave Cameron was saying in Ottawa. “Everybody knows that.” Continue reading

claude ruel: he speaks the language of hockey

ruelClaude Ruel died on Monday at the age of 76. He was a promising young defenceman in the Montreal Canadiens’ system when an eye injury stopped his playing career in 1958. As a coach, he succeeded Toe Blake behind the Habs’ bench in 1968, winning a Stanley Cup in his first year and then, halfway through his third, resigning when the team foundered. He stayed with the team, working with Scotty Bowman during his years in charge. During the 1979-80 season, he replaced Bernie Geoffrion as coach, steering the Canadiens to first-place Norris-Division finishes in consecutive campaigns. Playoff success didn’t follow and in 1981 he gave way to Bob Berry.

For fuller appreciations of Ruel’s life and hockey times, I direct you to Dave Stubbs at the Montreal Gazette and to Tom Hawthorn’s obituary at Benched. Herewith, a short anthology of Rueliana made up of sentences culled verbatim from various contemporary newspapers from 1968 through the late 1980s and presented in no special order.

You don’t need a program to identify Claude Ruel, whether he’s on the ice or wearing civvies. At 5’5”, 220 pounds, give or take a few ounces, Claude Ruel is hard to miss.

Anyone taking over the Canadiens’ coaching reins from Toe Blake is stepping into big shoes since Toe guided the club to eight Stanley Cup crowns and nine league titles in 13 years. But Claude Ruel has a theory that when a man tries his best at anything he’s bound to succeed.

As trite and repetitive as it may sound, the two words that typify Ruel’s outlook on life in general and hockey in particular are work and dedication.

“I came from a big family and I had to go to work very young. Nothing came easy. I was filling potato sacks and setting pins in a bowling alley when I was 11 and 12.”

It is difficult to see the Canadiens functioning without Ruel.

Occasionally Ruel would punctuate his running commentary with: “C’est ca! C’est ca!”

An indefatigable worker, he spends time helping people such as Engblom, Langway, Mark Napier and Rick Chartraw improve their skills long after the team’s superstars have left the ice.

While there is no substantial proof, the word is that Ruel bleeds red, white, and blue.

Claude Ruel, chubby 32-year-old coach of the Montreal Canadiens, resigned Thursday.

Ruel, who coached Montreal to its last Cup title in 1969, constantly complained of the pressure connected with the job.

“Claude didn’t like the pressure,” says former Canadiens’ coach Scotty Bowman. “His first year, his layers really performed for him. The second year, they didn’t respond.” And what about this time? “The biggest thing is he won’t have Claude Ruel to help him like I did,” Bowman said.

Ruel is considered by hockey people to be one of the best talent evaluators in the world and he is also excellent at [sic] bring out the best in young players who are willing to work at their craft.

Since Ruel came out of Sherbrooke, Que., to play organized hockey at the age of 15, his command of English was limited and he had a unique way of fracturing the language that brought laughter — and even ridicule — from both French- and English-speaking players.

“I’ll tell you how good he was,” said Pollock, “though you probably shouldn’t write it because it just won’t sound right. But Claude Ruel was a lot like Bobby Orr. He couldn’t skate like Bobby but he had something Orr does that so few others don’t have and that’s great hockey sense and great anticipation.”

Ruel too played right defence and what was considered a very bright hockey future was cut down suddenly Nov. 17 in Belleville, Ont.

“I was getting set to take a shot from the point and the guy who was checking me hit my stick and it came right up and caught me in the eye.” He spent almost three months in hospital as doctors tried vainly to save his sight in the injured eye.

“That Lafleur, he has good hockey sense,” said Claude Ruel, chief scout for the Canadiens. “He’s big, he can shoot, can play offensively and defensively. He’s just a great hockey player.”

“There’s no use just blaming it on the defence and the goalkeeping,” adds Ruel. “It’s just a lack of work and the only way to get on a real winning streak is for everyone to put their minds to work.” What’s the solution? “Don’t ask me,” replied Ruel. “I’m not Superman.”

What had been good-natured ribbing of Ruel’s sayings in the championship run the year before — “Two eggs side by side,” “A daily double” (for a big hotel room), “Two-on-one, each take a man” — became a way of blaming the coach when things didn’t go well on the ice.

His problem has always been discipline. For instance, a couple of years ago, Bowman took a day off and when the players decided they’d had enough, they set upon Ruel and pulled his pants off. Continue reading

pat quinn, 1943—2014

1971-72 O-Pee-Chee #122 Pat Quinn

Roy MacGregor’s requiem at The Globe and Mail is the one I’d send you to, here, followed by Steve Milton’s tribute at The Hamilton Spectator and this one that Rosie DiManno wrote for The Toronto Star. I’d quote Trevor Linden, who said earlier on Monday, “We have lost a great man. It’s a sad day for hockey and for everyone who loves our game.” Then I’d leave it at that.

(Photo: The Want List, hockeymedia, on flickr)

this (last) week: a busted gumball machine of loose pucks

Keep Calm and Carey On: "Target Legacy" is what Victoria artist Brandy Saturley calls this painting of Carey Price, which she finished in May of this year. "An homage to Habs goaltenders," is how she describes it, "and to an iconic Neo-Dadaist artist. Can you guess which one?" For more of her work, hockey and otherwise, visit www.brandysaturley.com.

Keep Calm and Carey On: “Target Legacy” is what Victoria artist Brandy Saturley calls this painting of Carey Price, which she finished in May of this year. “An homage to Habs goaltenders,” is how she describes it, “and to an iconic Neo-Dadaist artist. Can you guess which one?” For hints and more of her work, hockey and otherwise, visit http://www.brandysaturley.com.

Gordie Howe got rousing get-wells from all around the league after word started to circulate last week that he’d suffered a “serious” stroke. He was recovering — improving, the family said — at his daughter’s home in Texas.

“One of the game’s true legends,” Matt Larkin from The Hockey News called him, taking note of the “outpour of nostalgia and people sharing their favorite memories of him, from his dominant play as the original power forward to the way he always took time for others and never minded being adored, as he understood what it felt like to be on the other end.”

With the man himself looking on via iPad, the Detroit Red Wings paid tribute to 86-year-old Mr. Hockey ahead of their Friday-night home game against Los Angeles.

Slava Malamud from Sport Express told Pavel Datsyuk that Howe was always a big fan of his. Datsyuk: “Don’t say was. Hope he still is. Hope I’ll see him in the room again real soon.”

Among the many odes sung as the week went by were several to Howe’s hands. The Leafs’ Cody Franson shook one of them about ten years ago. “He’s just got those worker hands. That leather skin. Those very big fingers.” Allan Muir from Sports Illustrated cited “a hearty clasp from a hand the size of a canned ham, accompanied by a smile.” Another Leaf, Stephane Robidas recalled meeting Howe in 2009: “It was a real handshake. Huge hands. Even at 81, I wasn’t going to mess with him.”

Former NHL referee Paul Stewart said, yes, he was Babe Ruth of hockey but also? “He is an even better man off the ice as a true family man.”

Back to the rink, though:

In terms of his play on the ice, even apart from his nearly superhuman longevity, Gordie was the prototype for playing a hard-nosed physical game that also incorporated a tremendous level of skill. As genuinely nice and laid back as he is off-the-ice, that’s how mean and competitive he was as a player.

Stephen Whyno of The Canadian Press talked to a goaltending great, Grant Fuhr, who has an autobiography out in which he talks about, among other things, the drugs he used to take when he was playing for the Edmonton Oilers.

Looking back on it, Fuhr doesn’t believe drugs hurt his performance.

“The hardest part of goaltending is to stay focused,” Fuhr said. “So the fact that you get a mental break away from the game is almost refreshing.”

Montreal went to Edmonton and lost 3-0. Canadiens’ fan Alan Doyle from Great Big Sea saw what they were doing there:

Showing the discipline of Champs, Habs resist the urge to score any goals at all against Oilers. Opponents seriously confused. Brilliant.

The Toronto Maple Leafs ailed. Were ailing. Okay, losing. Writer Stephen Marche wondered whether this is the worst Leaf team ever. “Emotionally this team feels like the most dispiriting,” he keened. Continue reading

in russia, we have a proverb

cccpAnatoli Tarasov brought the Soviet national team to Canada in the winter of 1969 for an eight-game exhibition tour. The Soviets were on a seven-year golden streak at the World Championships at the time. The team they brought to Canada included Vyacheslav Starshinov, Anatoli Firsov, Valeri Kharlamov, Alexander Maltsev, Vladimir Petrov, and a stripling goaltender by the name of Vladislav Tretiak. Mostly they were here to play Canada’s ill-starred Nationals, coached by Jack McLeod, though there were also a few games against Junior A teams.

The Soviets starting with a win, in Winnipeg, while McLeod’s Nats took the second game, 4-3 — the first time a Canadian team had beaten their Russian rivals in almost two years. The Canadians had Wayne Stephenson for a goaltender and Fran Huck was in the line-up, along with a handful of former NHLers, including former Leafs Brian Conacher and Billy Harris. Earlier that year, the International Ice Hockey Federation had voted to allow Canada to bring nine non-NHL professionals to the upcoming 1970 World Championships, scheduled for Montreal and Winnipeg. So that was good, for Canada, right up until January, when the IIHF changed its mind, no pros would be permitted after all, and Canada withdrew from the World Championships and Olympics altogether, taking their pucks and going home. Or staying home — the World Championships went ahead in Stockholm, where the Soviets won, again. McLeod’s Nationals disbanded and Father David Bauer’s dream died; when Canadians returned to play in the World Championships in 1977 it was with a team of NHLers whose teams had missed the playoffs.

In 1969, Tarasov had no interest in playing the Junior A games that the Canadian Amateur Hockey Association had arranged. “I am not happy to play with teams that are not good,” he said after the USSR beat the Ottawa 67s 8-3 on Christmas Eve. It was a game, as Rex MacLeod wrote in The Globe and Mail, that “degenerated into a high-sticking, slugging and punching match in the third period.” Starshinov and Evgeny Zimin left the game with separated shoulders; two players from each team were ejected after a late brawl.

“Next time we’ll bring our boxing team,” Tarasov muttered when it was over.

tarasovThe team went to Montreal on December 29 to play the Montreal Junior Canadiens, the defending Memorial Cup champions who felt the need to bolster themselves for the night with nine minor-league professionals. As The Toronto Star reported next day, the enhanced Juniors prevailed by a score of 9-3, with youngsters named Gilbert Perreault and Rejean Houle contributing a couple of goals each.

Appearing in the Star’s Sports pages alongside the report of that drubbing was an article (translated from the Russian) by the losing coach himself. My father, Denis Smith, was Master of Champlain College at Trent University in Peterborough, Ontario, at the time. He was one Canadian fan who read “Russia’s Tarasov Examines NHL Play” that day, the one who found a poem in it, waiting to be extracted and arranged, which he did, using the master’s own words, adding only a title:

The Lessons of Anatoli Tarasov

Your hockey, to begin with,
has a lot of merit.
It is a kind of beautiful entertainment.
In professional hockey,
you have very strong men —
athletes who are fit.
They have strength of will
and character.

And then, your spectators:
They know a great deal about the game.
Every person who is present in the arena
or who watches on TV
wants to be a part of this entertainment.
As I said earlier, though,
I am a coach:
So I have no room for sentimentality.

Your hockey,
both offensively and defensively,
is based on simple tactical decisions.
In Russia, we have a proverb
that in simplicity lies wisdom.
However:
I don’t think it applies
in the case of great hockey.

Remember how many times
you have seen this:
The player skates to the blue line,
s
h
o
o
t
s
the puck
and follows in —
never thinking
about setting up a beautiful scoring play.

It is impossible to play the same game
for years and years.
Surely,
the pattern of the game should be changed
from time to time.
In your game of professional hockey,
you get enough scoring,
but it is not satisfying to me, personally, how goals are scored.

Finally, a few comments regarding rules
and officiating.
It’s a pity, but
we are having the same problem in amateur hockey:
Show me, please,
where it is written in the bible
that it is legal to stop an opponent with a stick —
or to fight him.

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.’

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frantic coaching

Montreal’s Canadiens, to begin, were losers. The first season they played, through the winter of 1910, they sank to the bottom of the seven-team NHA. The team was better in year two, finishing second to the eventual Stanley Cup winners from the Ottawa Hockey Club. Georges Vézina was in his first season with Montreal that year, and he had Didier Pitre, Jack Laviolette, and James Power skating in front of him, along with the great and (as seen below) easy-to-vex Newsy Lalonde. Adolphe Lecours was Montreal’s amplified coach that year, which finished in early March, on the road, with a 5-0 defeat at Ottawa’s Arena. Cue The Ottawa Citizen’s account from the morning after:

One of the features of the match was the frantic coaching by the Canadien management. From beginning to end a battery of megaphones worked overtime in [sic] the French-Canadians. Manager Lecours excitedly urging the visitors  to “put it over them.” At one stage Lecours jumped to his feet and turned the megaphone at Power and Laviolette. “Here, you fellows,” he shouted hotly. “What the —’s the matter? Why don’t you use your body.” Secretary Martin Rosenthal then threatened to have the Canadien manager ejected if he did not modify his language and thereafter he was milder, continually pleading with Lalonde to “pass the puck,” and with Pitre to “break the hoodoo.” Billy Noseworthy also rained advice at the visitors, while Pete Green and Bruce Stuart attended to the Ottawa coaching. Every time Lalonde grabbed the puck Green would shout. “Get him Marty; go to him Albert; get his body; he won’t pass it.” And Green’s tip proved the correct one for Lalonde invariably retained the rubber until the Ottawa forward robbed him of it when Newsy would slap his stick on the ice in disgust.

the only ones allowed to eat at four o’clock

Manager Jack Adams has issued
strict orders
as regards
training rules
for the Red Wings.

They must all be
up at 10 o’clock
for breakfast and
then
take
a morning walk.

On the afternoons of the day of games,
the last meal must be taken at three o’clock,
if a steak is the main dish,
then another walk
and a siesta.

Hec Kilrea and Marty Barry
are the only ones
allowed to eat
at four o’clock.

The reason is
they dine lightly
on eggs,
omitting
the steaks.

Movies are banned
on the afternoon of days the Wings play,
especially for Normie Smith.

Everyone in bed by midnight.

• The Gazette, Montreal, March 24, 1936; excerpted, edited, and poemized.

(Image: Albert E. Backlund)