the nhl’s first finn, only almost a leaf, was also the coach who didn’t get the gold in 1936

“They are stepping along nicely,” Al Pudas said that day, having put his team though their paces ahead of their opening game. It was 1936, February. The 36-year-old coach was confident. “This is the strongest club I’ve ever had,” he said.

Spoiler alert: Pudas, who died on a Thursday of this date in 1976 at the age of 77, didn’t get the gold medal he, his team, and all of Canada was expecting. Maybe you know the story of the ’36 Olympics, which were in Germany, and how they ended Canada’s golden hockey streak. There’s more on that, here and here, if you’re interested. What we’ll say here is that to that point, teams sporting the maple leaf on their sweaters hadn’t lost a game let alone a gold medal in four Olympics, going back to Antwerp in 1920. Also, this: the fact the fact that the ’36 team could only manage silver wasn’t really Pudas’ fault.

Before he was a coach, Pudas was a referee. Before that he played, mainly on the wing. He did most of his skating in the ’20s, for teams in Port Arthur, though the fact that he was summoned in late 1926 to the NHL means that he was the league’s very first Finnish-born player: born in Siikajoki in Finland in 1899, Pudas had emigrated to Canada with his family before he turned two.

Pudas was playing right wing for the Windsor Hornets of the Canadian Professional Hockey League in December of 1926 when the Toronto St. Patricks signed him. They brought in left winger Butch Keeling at the same time. Both made their debut in a 4-1 win over the Boston Bruins at Toronto’s Arena Gardens. Pudas wore number 14 during his short stay with Toronto, which lasted just four games. By mid-January of 1927 he was back in the Can-Am with Windsor, which means that he was only almosta Maple Leaf: it would be another month before Conn Smythe and his partners swooped in to acquire the team and switch the team’s identity almost overnight.

Irish Times: The Toronto St. Patricks weren’t long for the world when four of them posed at the Arena Gardens on Mutual Street in December of 1926. From left to right, they are Hap Day, Al Pudas, Bert Corbeau, and Ace Bailey. A few months later, when Conn Smythe and a parcel of investors bought the team and decided the St. Pats would now be Maple Leafs, Pudas’ NHL career was over, and he was back in the Can-Am loop. (Image: City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1266, Item 9948)

 

special k

May 18 was a Wednesday in Helsinki in 1960, as it was elsewhere, too, but never mind them, it’s Finland we’re interested in here, for the purpose of observing Jari Kurri’s 60th birthday — here’s to him. His high-scoring, Hall-of-Fame career included stints right-winging for Jokerit and with Los Angeles, the New York Rangers, Anaheim, and Colorado in the NHL, though of course it was as an Oiler in Edmonton, often at Wayne Gretzky’s side, that he had his heydays. He won five Stanley Cups and a Lady Byng Trophy, captaining the team to … wait, what? Kurri captained the Oilers?

Well, no, not according to the team’s own accounting. Doesn’t seem quite right to me, but the fact remains that you won’t find him listed in the list the Oilers make available in their media guide. There and in most other listings, you’ll see that in Kurri’s decade as an Oiler, four non-Finnish players wore the C: Blair MacDonald, Lee Fogolin, Gretzky, and Messier. But it’s true, too, that in the fall of 1988, captain Messier was suspended for six games for the damage he did with his stick to several teeth belonging to Rich Sutter of the Vancouver Canucks. During Messier’s absence, Kurri wore the C. He did it with aplomb, too, scoring a hattrick against Pittsburgh in his debut as skip, and leading the team to a 5-1 record overall. Is that service not deserving of, I don’t know, somesort of recognition or, um, asterisked notation in the Oiler annals? An added oddment: Kevin Lowe and Glenn Anderson were Edmonton’s assistant captains for the 1988-89 season. Kurri didn’t get an A until the following year, his last with the team, when he replaced Anderson. So when Kurri got his (brief) battlefield commission in ’88, he was promoted from the ranks.

u!s!a! crossing the finnish line, 1980

Embed from Getty Images

“Tell your whole team I love them,” U.S. President Jimmy Carter commanded Mike Eruzione, captain of the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team, when he got him on the phone in the moments following the Americans’ 4-2 gold-medal victory over Finland on this date, a Sunday, in 1980. It was the game two days earlier, of course, that everyone remembers, the one where Eruzione, goaltender Jim Craig (above, celebrating gold), and all their star-spangled teammates overthrew the mighty Soviet Union. Mostly they forget that the U.S. team still had plenty of work to do against the Finns. Under the complicated medal-round formula, an American loss combined with a Swedish win over the Soviets could have left the U.S. in fourth place. As it was, goals from Phil Verchota, Steve Christoff, Rob McClanahan, and Mark Johnson sealed the U.S. win, while the Soviets crushed Sweden 9-2. “Outside the arena an exultant throng counted down the final seconds,” Gerald Eskenazi reported for The New York Times, “then started to cheer as a Dixieland band began to play. When the doors of the field house opened, the crowd of 10,000 (including 1,500 standees) streamed into the Olympic Center driveway with chants of ‘U.S.A’ and ‘We’re Number One.’”

finn factor

Twenty-six pucks failed to get by Pekka Rinne last night, though of course — probably — likely — what I really mean is that it was one single puck, possibly a couple, or three, that didn’t succeed, 26 times. Not that Rinne doesn’t deserve credit for his preventative part in Nashville’s big 2-0 home win over the Dallas Stars, just saying the puck(s) need to be bearing some of the responsibility here, too. It was, in any case, the seventh instance this season of complete puck futility involving Rinne, the best goaltender ever to have come out of Kempele, which is near Oulu, in Northern Ostrobothnia, in Finland. His record in the last 19 games he’s played is 17-1-1. When Adam Vingan of The Tennessean talked to Rinne post-game, the goaltender reached into the post-game loot-bag of triumphant clichés and extracted this one: “A lot of good things are happening to us right now, so we’ve just got to enjoy it right now.”

The portrait here, from the 2017 playoffs, is Toronto illustrator Dave Murray’s. For more of his work, visit at www.davemurrayillustration.com.

 

breaking now: teemu selänne ei pitänyt valmentaja bruce boudreau

teemuTeemu isn’t published in Finland until tomorrow, and Ari Mennander’s biography of the legendary Selanne won’t be out in English until some time in 2015. That doesn’t mean there isn’t news today to fill Helsinki newspapers and the Twittershire alike, most of it regarding what the affable, accomplished and not-long retired Flash has to say about his coach in Anaheim, Bruce Boudreau. If you’re an elder and high-achieving Finnish right winger, Mennander is your go-to biographer, I guess: he is, at least, the man behind Jari Kurri 17 (2001), which you can get in English. A quick browse of those pages — in particular the ones devoted to Edmonton coach Glen Sather — suggest that it’s safe reading for all the family.

Not having seen (much less being able to understand) what Selanne has to say in the original Finnish, I’m not in no position to confirm that he “demolishes” or “blasts” Boudreau, who took over as coach of the Ducks in November of 2011. Those are typical of the verbs that are headlining North American reports about the book today, at Yahoo Sports’ Puck Daddy and the Los Angeles Times respectively. According to what Juha Hiitela (@jhiitela) has been (helpfully) translating and tweeting throughout the day, Selanne does mention that “there’s nothing wrong with my relationship with Boudreau. In fact, he’s a nice man.” But Hiitela, who writes for the Helsinki sports magazine Urheilusanomat, also notes that Selanne wasn’t always happy with his ice-time under the coach (“He didn’t keep his promises”). And: during the first intermission of Anaheim’s seventh-game loss to Los Angeles on May 16, Selanne sent out a text from the Ducks’ dressing room to his wife and a couple of friends, writing (in English): “fucking joke.”

Ari Mennander’s Teemu is available to order (in Finnish) here. If savouring a headline (multilingually) is all you need at this point, this is from the Helsinki tabloid Ilta-Sanomat today:

selanne joke

this week: no one will ever see me in downtown vancouver ever again

(Boys' Life, January, 1932)

One-Timer: “A tall slender chap with the right sleeve of his jersey pinned down at the waist, and with his left arm wielding an ash with all the dexterity of a fencer.” Paschal N. Strong’s story of overcoming the odds appeared in Boys’ Life in January, 1932.

Phoenix captain Shane Doan was ill this week, had been, and continued to feel it. He had headaches and a temperature. Nobody knew why. “Out With Mystery Ailment,” USA Today headlined. Said a teammate, Paul Bissonnette:

“It’s hard to not picture him here. He’s a big body. He eats a lot of minutes. He plays hard minutes, too. He wears down D and gets to the net. Anytime you lose a guy like that, it’s kind of killing us a little bit.”

“No one will ever see me in downtown Vancouver ever again,” said Milan Lucic of the Boston Bruins.

In Toronto, where Ken Dryden wrote this week about Mayor Rob Ford, who won’t go away, Tyler Bozek’s injury was oblique.

Also, the Leafs’ goalie, Jonathan Bernier, has something the matter with his lower body. “I woke up and it felt pretty bad,” he said. It? His coach, Randy Carlyle, said he was “nursing a minor ailment.”

Sorry: Bozek’s injury is, in fact, pretty straightforward: he has an oblique muscle strain.

Ron MacLean said that the big worry for Canada in Sochi is big ice. “It’s the sword of Damocles that hangs over the team,” he confided to Maclean’s, looking ahead to the year that’s coming. On concussions he said that when the rules changed in 2005-06 to weed out interference, the speed that the game gained was good for hockey-player heads. “The road to hell,” he told Jonathan Gatehouse, “is paved with good intentions.” He thinks that fighting will be gone in 10, 15 years. “We’re up against the science. It’s like cancer and cigarettes.”

Amalie Benjamin of The Boston Globe had reported on the start of Lucic’s weekend in British Columbia:

 Lucic, a native of Vancouver, got the chance to see some family and friends Friday night with dinner at his grandmother’s house. “Don’t get to have that too often,” Lucic said. “It’s been 2½ years since we had a chance to play here, so it’s nice to be back.”

But then after Saturday’s game against the Canucks, at a bar, two different men punched him. That’s why he’s never going back downtown.

By the end of the week, doctors had figured out Shane Doan’s mystery. “It looks like some form of Rocky Mountain fever disease,” Coyotes GM Don Maloney said.

“Our medical team is on top of it. Every day he seems like he’s getting a little better and a little more energy and has started to exercise a little more. We’re encouraged. He’s trending in a positive manner and for us, it’s just going to take time.”

Bruce Cheadle from The Canadian Press reviewed the prime minister’s book this week, A Great Game. “Harper has said he worked on the book for about 15 minutes each day,” he wrote, “and it probably should be read the same way.” Continue reading

pentti lund, 1925–2013

Low Poke: Chicago's Doug Bentley reaches for Pentti Lund's puck in a game at New York's Madison Square Garden in December of 1949.

Low Poke: Chicago’s Doug Bentley reaches for Pentti Lund’s puck in a game at New York’s Madison Square Garden in December of 1949. “The game was a spotty one,” opined The New York Times next day, “with long sessions of aimless puck chasing interrupted by brilliant individual sallies. Still, the outcome proved satisfactory to most of the 9,174 spectators.” New York won, 2-1.

The New York Rangers eventually lost to Chicago in the Stanley Cup semi-finals in 1971, but they had some big wins along the way. One of them included a hattrick by centre Vic Hadfield, the first to be notched in the playoffs by a Ranger since Pentti Lund managed it. “I remember Lund,” Jean Ratelle said after the game, Hadfield’s linemate. “From the bubblegum cards I had as a kid.” Hadfield: not so much. “I never heard of Lund,” he said. “How long ago did he do it?”

It was the spring of 1950, in fact, which is worth recalling, with word today from Thunder Bay today that Lund has died at the age of 87. The second Finnish-born player to make a mark in the NHL, those who do remember him in New York know that he not only won the Calder Trophy as the league’s outstanding rookie in 1949, but Lund’s hattrick the following year almost — it was close — helped the Rangers win a Stanley Cup, too. Continue reading