aide-mémoire: a short history of nhl assistant coaches

Mike Nykoluk was an up-and-coming 21-year-old forward when he played for the Winnipeg Warriors of the old WHL in 1955-56, a team loaded with former NHLers, including goaltender Ed Chadwick, defenceman Bill Juzda, and forwards Bill Mosienko and Paul Masnick. Also manning the Warrior blueline that year was a former New York Ranger, 30-year-old Fred Shero, who was just about to launch a coaching career that would take him to Philadelphia in the early 1970s.

It was there, of course, that Shero would contriveto guide the Flyers to successive Stanley Cup championships, in 1974 and ’75. Nykoluk was there for those, too, you might remember: following his brief NHL career (32 games with the ’56-57 Toronto Maple Leafs) and a longer cruise (16 seasons) in the AHL, Shero had hired him as an assistant coach in June of 1972.

Mike Nykoluk, I’m sorry to say, died last week at the age of 87. In 1978, he followed Shero when he went to New York to coach the Rangers. Mostly he was referred to (again) as an assistant, though Shero preferred to call him a co-coach. Eventually, between 1981 and 1984, Nykoluk got his chance to be the boss, seeing service through parts of four seasons as head coach of the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Something he was not: the NHL’s first assistant coach.

That’s a claim that has been often repeated over the years, with confidence. Eric Duhatschek, for instance, in a 2017 Globe and Mail feature about the evolution of the role of coaches in the NHL declared that Shero had “hired the first official full-time assistant coach, Mike Nykoluk, in 1972.” History doesn’t agree.

Reminders of Nykoluk’s (supposed) trailblazering resurfaced last week, too, so maybe time for some clarifying. For all his achievements through the years, Nykoluk wasn’t even close to being the NHL’s original assistant coach.

Jeff Marek, Sportsnet’s esteemed hockey broadcaster, keeps a careful eye on hockey’s history, and he was attentive in seeing the record corrected …

… up to a point.

Because while Al McNeil and Doug Harvey did indeed precede Nykoluk as NHL assistants, others went before. Many others. Onward into the obscurity.

The first? That distinction would seem to belong to Dick Carroll, in Toronto, all the way back in the league’s inaugural season, 1917-18. There’s some cloudiness to this, so bear with me, if you will.

To start with, some straightening out of terminology is in order: in those early decades of pro hockey, teams tended to have one man who both coached and took care of player personnel, and he was usually called (in the baseball way) the manager. This was true, for example, in the mid-1920s, with icons like Art Ross in Boston, Lester Patrick of the New York Rangers, and Jack Adams in Detroit.

Toronto’s manager for the 1917-18 season was Charlie Querrie, who happened to be the man who ran Toronto’s Arena Gardens on Mutual Street, home to the new team. Querrie was appointed in early December of ’17, two weeks before the NHL’s opening night. Dick Carroll’s appointment as Querrie’s aide was announced at the same time.

So there it is: Dick Carroll was the NHL’s first assistant coach.

Ottawa’s Journal reporting the news (and misspelling the name) in December of 1917.

If that’s clear enough, here’s some cloud to obscure things: as the modern-day Maple Leafs recount it, Carroll was head coach in 1917, steering the team through its first 40 games and onward through to 1919. Querrie’s 1917 service is recognized in the team’s list of GMs; as a coach, he’s recognized for two later tours he served in the ’20s, by which time the team had turned into the St. Patricks.

Got that?

Wrong, I’d say, in my nitpicking way, with a kicker to the effect that, by failing to acknowledge the way things used to be, the Leafs have (not for the first time) muddled their own history.

Further fogging things is the fact through the course of the 1917-18 season, Toronto’s bench was anything but settled.

Charlie Querrie had taken the job in Toronto on the understanding that he’d be free to operate without the interference of Eddy Livingstone, the NHA owner, Toronto hockey eminence, persona non grata — it was to ostracize and spite Livingstone that the NHL was formed in the first place in November of 1917. Livingstone’s ongoing meddling seems to have prompted Querrie’s resignation at the end of December, after Toronto had played just three NHL games, leaving Dick Carroll in charge: the assistant coach was now the coach.

Unless Querrie didn’t quit.

Newspapers that had reported that Querrie was finished were soon correcting the record to say that he was still on the job, or would be again as soon as the team’s owners at the Montreal Arena Company guaranteed him that Livingstone would really, truly, be kept away from the team. Querrie also seems to have sought to download some of the coaching he was doing to Carroll.

This all seems to have taken some negotiating, leaving Carroll in charge. Querrie did return to the fold, but as of January of 1918, Carroll does seem to have assumed day-to-day — and game-to-game — control of the team, with Querrie moving more into the realm of — well, yes, what we would today recognize as GMing.

That April, when Toronto won the first Stanley Cup of the NHL era, accounts of the final series only confirm this division of labours: Carroll was coach, Querrie was manager. Glory to them both, along with a footnote or two: Querrie’s NHL’s coaching record should include those first three games that he coached, the very ones that constitute Carroll’s entire tenure as the league’s original assistant coach.

Hawk’s Nest: Helge Bostrum (left) and Clem Loughlin in May of 1934. The caption on this photo, as it appeared in the Chicago Tribune: ‘Loughlin’s appointment as the new manager of the Chicago Blackhawks was confirmed yesterday morning. Helge Bostrum, former Hawk defense star, will be his assistant.”

Next in the NHL’s long line of assistant coaches? A non-definitive listing might look to Boston.

Sprague Cleghorn was 37 in 1927, playing out the last year of his long, distinguished, and very brutal career with the Boston Bruins. He was team captain again that year, as he had been previously, and he had a new role, too, as manager Art Ross’s (playing) assistant. Cleghorn was running practices and stood in as interim coach for several games in early 1928 when Ross was home with a stomach ailment. So he seems to have been second among assistant coaches.

Born in Copenhagen, Emil Iverson went from head coach of the University of Minnesota hockey team in the 1920s to being hired as the NHL’s first full-time physical director when Major Frederic McLaughlin brought him on with the Chicago Black Hawks in 1930. Iverson was appointed head coach after that (the league’s first European-born pilot), only to be replaced in 1933 by Tommy Gorman … whom Iverson continued to serve as assistant.

Gorman departed in 1934, having won the Stanley Cup. When Clem Loughlin was named his successor, the newly retired Chicago defenceman Helge Bostrum signed on as his assistant.

More and more teams in the ’30s were hiring deputies, a review of newspaper archives shows, some of them who were still playing, some others fresh off hanging up their active careers. To wit:

Bill Cook aided Lester Patrick with the New York Rangers in 1936-37, with Frank Boucher stepping in to take up the same role the following season, ’37-38.

Frank Boucher’s Ranger role was reported in September of 1937.

Larry Aurie served as a playing assistant to Jack Adams with the Detroit Red Wings in 1938-39.

Paul Thompson was Chicago coach Bill Stewart’s playing assistant that same season.

When the Montreal Canadiens shifted coaches in the latter stages of that season, swapping in club secretary Jules Dugal to replace Cecil Hart, Babe Siebert was named captain and playing assistant.

In Chicago in 1938, Carl Voss was hired to assist Paul Thompson, now the coach of the Black Hawks. And in 1941, Helge Bostrum resurfaced as an assistant to Thompson.

The Bruins had a run of distinguished assistants through the ’40s and ‘50s, with Dit Clapper, Jack Crawford, and Milt Schmidt all appointed to the role at one point or another.

In 1958-59, Bert Olmstead served as a playing assistant to Toronto Maple Leafs’ coach Punch Imlach. King Clancy, too, served Imlach and the Leafs the same role in Toronto in the ’60s, as well as working as assistant GM.

This is, again, no official register, but it does make clear that at least 17 men served as assistant coaches in the NHL before Mike Nykoluk started in Philadelphia in 1972.

I don’t know exactly how the Nykoluk glitch get into regular rotation, but it seems it started at the source. Discussing the hiring that June, 50 years ago, Flyers GM Keith Allen is quoted in several newspaper reports as confirming Nykoluk as a pioneer, with Fred Shero weighing in on the breakthrough, too. Why not add an assistant? “Football and baseball have assistant coaches,” Shero opined, “and those sports are not as physical or mentally demanding as hockey.”

The error was enshrined early on in the local literature. The Flyers’ 1975-76 yearbook, for instance, casually mentions it.

In Full Spectrum, a comprehensive history of the team from 1996, Jay Greenberg scales it back a bit: Nykoluk is identified there “one of the NHL’s first assistant coaches.”

Keith Allen is quoted as crediting Flyer owner Ed Snider for the hire. “Eddie came from football, where they had assistant coaches, and thought Freddie could use some help,” Allen recalled. “Mike had never been fast enough to play in the NHL,  but he was a smart player and I had a lot of respect for him.”

Helpmeet: A team-issued photo of Al McNeil, who appointed an assistant to Montreal Canadiens coach Claude Ruel in 1970 and, a few months later, succeeded him.

 

why be a coach, anyway?

Flyer + Friend: Philadelphia coach Fred Shero in the mid-1970s, with his Siberian husky, given to him as a gift by Flyers’ captain Bobby Clarke. Sorry to say, I don’t know the dog’s name.

“Why be a coach, anyway? The money is not great; usually less than a team’s greenest player. The future is absolutely certain: you’ll be fired. The wise, the safe, or the lucky are the ones who take the first chance to get higher into management. Be a general manager, and fire somebody else: be a Harry Sinden, Sam Pollock, Jim Gregory, Tommy Ivan.”

That was the great Scott Young writing in a Globe and Mail column headlined “A Coach’s Fate is to Get the Chop” back in 1977, not long after the Toronto Maple Leafs sacked Red Kelly. Today, when Alain Vigneault lost his job with the underwhelming Philadelphia Flyers, he was the second NHL coach to go in just 24 hours, joining Travis Green, formerly of the Vancouver Canucks. Young’s theory of sanctuary in management isn’t looking so good today: Canucks GM Jim Benning was also let go yesterday, not a week after his (former) Montreal counterpart Marc Bergevin was shown the Bell Centre door.

And the money? What’s the deal on coaching dollars 44 years on from Red Kelly’s day? I don’t have good sources on his exact Leaf salary, but the Globe reported in ’77 that his successor on the Toronto bench, Roger Neilson, signed a one-year deal with Harold Ballard that the Toronto owner said was “about the same salary Red had,” but with more opportunities for bonuses.

That, the Globe asserted, put Neilson “in the $40,000 bracket, or roughly half the average salary of players in the National Hockey League.”

Today? Under the CBA, the minimum an NHLer can be paid annually is $750,000. When it comes to an average, as Bryan Murphy at NBC Sports writes here, there’s no such definitive number. “However, given that each team has $81.5 million in cap space for this season, with 23 players allowed on the active roster, the average of that comes out to around $3.5 million per player.”

According to CapFriendly, Vigneault was in the third year of a five-year deal that’s been paying him $5-million annually. That’s less than the Flyers’ best-paid player, Claude Giroux, who makes $8.275 a year, and six other of the team’s more valuable members. Travis Green’s 2021-22 salary isn’t listed, but last year he was making $1-million. Looking at this year’s Canucks’ roster, that’s less than 14 of his (erstwhile) players.

Coaches do have another option, of course, a middle way between getting fired and taking a chance on the safety of management: as Fred Shero did in the summer of 1978, they can walk away.

In his day, the man they called the Fog had been seven years doing the job that Alain Vigneault just stopped doing on the Flyers’ job. Shero’s record included bringing home a pair of Stanley Cup championships, but at 52 he just didn’t think he had what it took any longer. “The reason for this resignation,” he said, “is simply that I feel my effectiveness to motivate the players, as well as to inspire them to the degree that would result in a Stanley Cup victory, has been exhausted.”

He went on to coach the Rangers in New York, but in November of 1980 he reached the end of the road there, too, resigning a second time, with Craig Patrick stepping in to succeed him.

That was a grim month all around for NHL coaches: the Edmonton Oilers also canned Bryan Watson that November, making way for Glen Sather’s return, while Detroit replaced Ted Lindsay with Wayne Maxner.

 

a broad street bully reconsiders: regrets, he had a few

Born in Waldheim, Saskatchewan, on a Friday of this date in 1949, Dave Schultz is 72 today. He scored some goals in his 11-year NHL career, but mostly the man they called the Hammer is remembered as the muscle behind the Philadelphia Flyers’ back-to-back Stanley Cup championships in the early 1970s, which is to say the fist. In helping his team claim their second straight Cup in 1975, Schultz amassed 472 minutes in penalty minutes, a single-season record in NHL annals.

“The Flyers’ home, the Spectrum, is on Broad Street in Philadelphia,” Dick Brown wrote in Weekend Magazine the summer before that spree, “and newspapers have referred to Dave Schultz as ‘Broad Street’s biggest bully.’ Okay, then, what is it that goes into the making of a bully? As far as Dave is concerned, the answer is obvious: his fighting is his success. With all that it’s done for him, it would be big news if he decided not to fight.”

Schultz was 24, then, with a five-year contract in hand and “a fine, five-bedroom home across the river from Philadelphia in Cherry Hill, New Jersey.” He was “at an all-time heavy, all-time healthy 196 pounds on a frame of six feet one.” He smoked two or three cigarettes a day during hockey’s season, Brown reported, more in the summer; he liked beer and rye. “A star’s life,” the story went, “for a guy who might not be a star if he didn’t fight.”

After Philadelphia, Schultz carried on to Los Angeles, Pittsburgh, and Buffalo, where he continued to hammer away as a King, a Penguin, a Sabre.

So surprise was general across the hockey world when Schultz published his autobiography in 1981, a year after his retirement from the NHL. Schultz had Stan Fischler shaping his sentences for The Hammer: Confessions of a Hockey Enforcer, and together they questioned hockey’s propensity for violence, exploring the regrets Schultz now felt for the hockey life he’d led and weighing the question of what might be done to change the culture in which he and his Flyers thrived. (They also, incidentally, accused Schultz’s former Philadelphia captain, Bobby Clarke, of cowardice.)

“Hockey can be the most exciting sport on earth and the most artistic as well,” Schultz declared, to sum up his 200-page case, “but only when properly played and administered. Tragically, it has degenerated into a sloppy, brawl-filled mess. I certainly do not deny my own contribution to the problem, which I have tried to spell out as clearly as possible in this book. I hope that I succeeded and that the NHL will, in the future, sell hockey, not blood.”

 

fred the fog

Born in Winnipeg on a Friday of this date in 1925, Fred Shero was a stout defenceman for the New York Rangers in the late 1940s long before he made his name (and won two Stanley Cups) as coach of the unforgiving Philadelphia Flyers in the early 1970s. Shero, who was inducted into hockey’s Hall of Fame in 2013, later went on to serve as coach and GM of the Rangers. He died at the age of 65 in 1990. “There must be something more to life than hockey,” he told Trent Frayne in 1974. “I look around and I see brainy men, people I went to school with, contributing to society in important ways. A friend of mine is a chest surgeon on the west coast and another is a defence attorney. I was smarter than they were in school and look what they’ve done and what I’m doing. I feel maybe I could have been the same thing, and I wonder sometimes what the hell I’m doing in hockey.”

(Image: Ken Bell)

jimmy jamieson: recalling another of the nhl’s indigenous trailblazers

October, 2019: Originally asserting that Jimmy Jamieson was almost certainly the second Indigenous player to take to NHL ice, this post has been updated to reflect … a  certain lack of certainty about that ranking. Joe Benoit preceded him onto NHL ice, and possibly others, too. Johnny Harms made his NHL debut in April of 1944.

Born on a Monday of this date in 1921, Jimmy Jamieson was a hard-hitting defenceman who played just a single big-league game, with the New York Rangers, in 1944. Suiting up that winter for duty on the bluelines of Madison Square Garden, Jamieson was one the NHL’s earliest Indigenous players, hitting the ice 13 years after Buddy Maracle debuted in Rangers’ blue in 1931, nine years before Fred Sasakamoose skated for the Chicago Black Hawks in 1953.

During his hockey career, newspapers tended to refer to Jamieson’s Cayuga background, though Canadian government records seem to show that his family was Mohawk. He was born in Brantford, Ontario, though his family lived on the Six Nations of the Grand River reserve, probably near Ohsweken. His father, Venus, was a farmer who’s said to have chased pucks in his own right, plying a stick on outdoor rinks as a youth.

His son’s eight-year career as a minor-league defenceman took him to New York and Baltimore in the Eastern Amateur Hockey League, out to Pasadena for a stint in the Pacific Coast Hockey League, and to Milwaukee and Akron in the International Hockey League. While we have have his physical specs from those years (5’9” and 170 pounds), and the usual bare-bones statistical reporting, there’s no detailed descriptive accounting of Jimmy Jamieson’s hockey years.

He played one full season, 1943-44, with the Rangers’ farm team, the EAHL New York Rovers, and it looks to have been a solid one. The Rangers took him to their pre-season training Winnipeg that year, but he didn’t make the cut. With the Rovers his teammates included goaltender Al Rollins, who was later a Leaf and a Black Hawk, as well as defenceman Fred Shero, a Ranger-to-be who’d eventually win a pair of Stanley Cups coaching the Philadelphia Flyers. In 40 games, Jamieson was the highest-scoring defenceman, with six goals and 16 points, and led the team in penalty minutes with 73.

Frank Boucher was in his fifth year coaching the New York Rangers in 1943. While he’d steered the team to a Stanley Cup in his first year behind the bench, things had slipped since then. As the new year replaced the old, the team was, as the local Daily News put it, firmly cellared, dead last in the six-team NHL standings, 13 points adrift of Chicago. Though Boucher’s stellar career on the ice had ended five years earlier, the situation was so desperate in New York — and the Ranger roster so depleted by wartime manpower shortages — that Boucher had returned to the ice at the age of 42.

It wasn’t enough. Heading into a mid-January home game against the Black Hawks, New York was mired in a five-game losing streak. Trying to jolt the team’s fortunes, manager Lester Patrick announced that he was adding three new players to the roster, including winger Kilby Macdonald, who’d been on that 1940 Stanley Cup team and won the Calder Trophy as the league’s top rookie. With centre Hank Damore, acquired from the Brooklyn Crescents of the EAHL, he’d do his best to boost the Rangers’ attack. Jamieson was summoned from the Rovers to bolster New York’s blueline.

Macdonald didn’t make it to New York in time for the Chicago game, but the other two suited up. It’s possibly (probably?) a coincidence that Jamieson wore the number 14 that night — the same one that Buddy Maracle had borne on his sweater during his stay with the Rangers 13 years earlier. (No-one seems to have noticed at that time; in fact, I can find no mention of Maracle and his achievement at all in the coverage from the 1940s.)

Against Chicago, when Damore rifled a second-period shot past Black Hawks’ goaltender Mike Karakas, the assists went to Ab DeMarco and Jamieson. That made the score 4-1 for Chicago, and the visitors did end up winning 5-2 to push New York’s unhappy streak of losses to six games.

And that was all for Jim Jamieson in the NHL. Macdonald would stick, playing out the season in New York and returning for one more; Damore lasted four games in all, the only ones he played in the NHL before returning to the minors.

For Jamieson, it was one and done: following the Chicago loss, he was returned to the Rovers. The coming-and-going was nothing new, Harold Burr wrote that same week in The Brooklyn Daily Eagle; the way it was with the Rangers that year, he quipped, trainer Harry Westerby didn’t know half of the players’ first names.

Other factors that may have been at play: by adding three new players, Patrick does seem to have exceeded the NHL roster limit. With centre Chuck Scherza out injured, the Rangers’ long-serving captain Ott Heller had been moved up to the forward line. With Scherza’s return, Heller was shifting back. So it may have been a matter of numbers that bumped Jamieson back to the Rovers.

The American papers did take note of Jamieson’s background, even if they weren’t quite so sure what it was they were talking about, variously identifying him as “a full-blooded Cherokee Indian;” “a full-blooded Iroquois Indian;” “a full-blooded Cayuga, Indian;” and a plain old “full-blooded Indian.”

Several reports did note that his status eased his travels between Canada and the U.S., which was often a complicated process for hockey players in wartime. “His people,” the Daily Eagle advised, “have numerous peace treaties with the Canadian Government that make it easy for Jimmy to cross the border where other players are held up by yards of red tape.”

Accounts of Buddy Maracle’s career from a decade earlier make the racism he faced, in rinks and in newsprint, all too insidiously clear. That there’s nothing so explicit in the press attending Jamieson’s years as a professionally hockey player doesn’t mean that he didn’t experience any, just that it may not have been written down and reported as it once so casually was.

I can’t tell you much about Jim Jamieson’s post-hockey life, other than that he seems to have done some coaching in Brantford in the 1950s. He died at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Brantford in December of 1985 at the age of 64. He’s buried in a family plot at Six Nations.

Also worth a note: Jamieson’s brother, elder by seven years, was also a talented hockey player. Mostly a right winger, Wendell Jamieson was (somewhat confusingly) also mostly known as Jimmy during his hockey-playing days. He never made it to the NHL, but he did have a long career as a minor-leaguer through the 1930s and ’40s, much of it in the old American Hockey League.

In 1938-39, the elder, non-NHL Jimmy Jamieson joined the Detroit Holzbaugh of the Michigan-Ontario Hockey League. At 24, he was described as a fast skater and accomplished stickhandler, and seen as one of his team’s prime offensive threats. Anchoring the defence of one of the teams he faced that year, the Detroit Pontiac Chiefs, was a 34-year veteran with “an oft-broken nose” who’d converted from left wing to blueliner: Buddy Maracle.

welcome to philadelphia

welcome-to-phi

“We never play such animal hockey,” CSKA Moscow coach Konstantin Loktev seethed after it was all over. Philadelphia captain Bobby Clarke shrugged when he heard that. “We’ve been called a lot of worse things,” he said. “This wasn’t one of our rough games.” On this afternoon in 1976, his Flyers pummeled CSKA Moscow in a mid-winter exhibition game (they also happened to win it, by a score of 4-1.) A fuller accounting of what went on that day might read something like this; for a more graphic telling, there’s “The Check Heard ‘’Round The World” at Victory Journal, a print and digital magazine that, by its own lights, seeks to illuminate the intersection of sport and culture. It’s vital and vivid and worth your time, starting with the story (here) by writer David Hollander and artist Stephen Halker of the night Ed Van Impe got acquainted with Valeri Kharlamov.

(GIF courtesy Victory Journal)

(Correction, 01/15/21: As Jean-Patrice Martel points out, the CSKA-Philadelphia was an afternoon game, a 1 p.m. start, on January 11, 1976, whereas I originally referred to it as a “night” game. The post has been corrected.)

the thing about ulf

 Date: April 24, 1977 Heading: Hockey 1964-1979 Caption: Ulf Nilsson Call Num: PC 18-6669-001neg

“The thing about Ulf is that he seldom, if ever, misses a play. The reason we come out of our own end so easily is because Ulf gets himself into position to get the puck and then never gives it away. Anders and I work ourselves into position and he always finds a way to hit us with the pass.

That was Bobby Hull talking, back in 1976, about his Swedish linemates with the Winnipeg Jets, centreman Ulf Nilsson (seen above in 1977) and over on the right wing, Anders Hedberg. It was May of the year and the Jets had just beaten the Houston Aeros by a score of 6-3 to move closer to winning the WHA championship and the Avco World Trophy that went with it. Nilsson had a hat trick in the game and (as the Associated reported) he’d “also glared steadily into the eyes of Aeros’ players, prepared to drop the gloves if necessary.” Jets’ coach Bobby Kromm couldn’t ask for any more. “He played super hockey, offense and defense, scored goals and hit people. What else is there to do?”

Forty years later, the NHL Jets are set to honour Nilsson and his wingers: tomorrow, at a luncheon ahead of the weekend’s Heritage Classic, the trio will be the first players to be ushered into the team’s new Hall of Fame. The Swedes will be there in Winnipeg, but not Hull: as Paul Friesen of The Winnipeg Sun advises, Hull is staying away because — well, “it’s believed he’s upset with media references to his past legal trouble, which involved claims of spousal abuse from his former wives and his daughter.”

Nilsson was 24 when he first arrived in the Manitoban capital in 1974, Hedberg 23. They hailed from Nynäshamn and Örnsköldsvik, respectively. Nilsson had starred for AIK and Hedberg at Djurgårdens IF; both were stalwarts of the Swedish national team.

Was Nilsson maybe the toughest Swede ever to play big-league hockey in North America? Murray Greig says so, in Big Bucks and Blue Pucks (1997), a history of the WHA. Like Borje Salming and Inge Hammarström, who’d crossed to the NHL’s Toronto Maple Leafs a year earlier, Nilsson and Hedberg found themselves … not exactly warmly welcomed the North American game. They were hacked and insulted — “took their initiation lumps,” as Mark Goodman later put it in Weekend Magazine.

It didn’t keep them from scoring. They both scored goals in the first game of the season and with Hull’s assistance, they kept on going. Nilsson finished the regular season with 94 assists and 120 points, while Hedberg (who also took home the league’s rookie-of-the-year trophy) notched 53 goals and 100 points.

Hull had seen enough of what he called “goon hockey” by the fall of the following year that in October of 1975 he staged a one-man wildcat strike, to protest hockey violence. “It’s been buggin’ him for a long time,” Jets GM Rudy Pilous said, “last year as well as this year.”

He was back after sitting out a single game. Did anything change? Hard to say. A few years later, in 1979, Anders Hedberg looked back on the nastiness he and Nilsson suffered when they first got to the WHA. “It’s always a problem when you let in anyone strange,” he told Goodman. “When something is established, you don’t want it to change because there’s no good reason to change it.” It made him think about Jackie Robinson. “Maybe we were a little bit like that when we first went to Canada. Through the press, guys would say, ‘Don’t come and take our jobs.’ But I think it enriches a sport for people from all over the world to play it. I like to think we bring something new to the game.”

Hedberg looked like he belonged in a Viking movie, Goodman said, and he had more speeds than a racing bike. Nilsson resembled “an American high school senior;” he handled the puck “like a Thai stick juggler.” By the time they left Winnipeg, they’d scored 376 goals between them in four seasons.

They jumped to the NHL in 1978. There was talk that they wanted to go to the Leafs, but they ended up as the New York Rangers’ best-paid players. They prospered in Manhattan, even though their production did decline (as yours would, too) without Bobby Hull on the wing.

The NHL wasn’t a whole lot easier on them than the WHA had been. Asked why referees didn’t call more penalties on players who attended the star Swedes with sticks and elbows and unpleasantries, Rangers’ coach Fred Shero thought about it for a moment.

“Well,” he said, “if we went and played in Sweden and Russia, we’d get the same treatment. I imagine the world is the same all over. Nobody likes a foreigner. What can you do? When it comes to foreigners playing here, we got to almost murder them before they call something.”

Ranger goaltender John Davidson sparked a brawl at Madison Square Garden in December of 1979 when he went after the Bruins’ Al Secord, whom he accused of “cheap-shotting Nilsson.”

A subsequent Associated Press report was careful to explain to its domestic readership: “Swedish players, because they prefer a finesse game, often attract rugged play.”

Davidson was happy to elaborate after the game. “They have so many welts on their bodies it looks like they’ve been barbecued,” he said of Nilsson and Hedberg. The AP dispatch went on to include the sentence fragments “several Bruins entered the stands and fought with spectators” and “four fans were issued summonses for disorderly conduct.”

“The two Swedes are considered among the league’s most polished players,” Dave Anderson noted a few days later in The New York Times. “Ulf Nilsson is the Rangers’ leading scorer with 37 points (nine goals, 28 assists). Anders Hedberg, the Rangers’ other Swedish import, is second with 35 points (19 goals, 16 assists).”

He had a larger point to make about the game with the Bruins, too:

Instead of acknowledging the European style and accepting the imports, NHL machos prefer to continue testing their toughness.

Following the melee, the Garden needed city policemen to disperse 200 spectators who threatened to overturn the bus.

Al Secord justified tripping the 165-pound Nilsson because, he said, the Swedish center had blind-sided him early in the third period, as if the Bruin defenseman had never been blind‐sided before. John Wensink, another Bruin, later called Ulf Nilsson “a little wimp,” but the NHL, even the Bruins, would be better with more little wimps like him.

(Image: University of Manitoba Archives & Special Collections, Winnipeg Tribune fonds, PC 18-6669-001neg)

riot-ready

La Sainte-Flanelle: As a part of his excellent effort to (his word) foodify the NHL, artist Scott Modryzynski rendered Montreal's sacred CH in, well, gum. For more of his nourishing work, visit Foo-gos.com at http://foo-gos.com/gallery/nhl/.

La Sainte-Flanelle: As a part of his excellent effort to (his word) foodify the NHL, artist Scott Modryzynski has rendered Montreal’s sacred CH in, well, chewing gum. For more of his nourishing work, visit Foo-gos.com at http://foo-gos.com/gallery/nhl/.

With Max Pacioretty scoring a late goal last night to lead Montreal to a fourth straight win over the Tampa Bay Lightning, the Canadiens were the first team to advance to the second round of the NHL playoffs. A few stray notes from the happy city on the morning after:

• Along with all those expectant fans, Montreal’s police were standing by for victory last night … with riot gear. “In past years,” The Gazette noted, “when the Canadiens advanced to the second round of the playoffs, celebrations on the street turned violent.”

• The Catholic Church in Montreal is encouraging fans to support their annual fundraising drive at www.laflammadesseries.ca. For as long as the Canadiens stay in the hunt, the faithful can donate a dollar and light a virtual candle in aid of the Canadiens’ playoffs hopes.

•  In La Presse, under the headline

Le retour des Glorieux?

Philippe Cantin’s column wasn’t waiting for the end of the game to wonder whether Montreal’s salad days are in sight again.

• Raymond Pacioretty was at last night’s game, watching his son in person for only the second time this season. Pacioretty the younger hadn’t been scoring, and as he told Pat Hickey of The Gazette, having his dad on hand was a help. “He’s always been supportive and he always says the right things, and he calmed me down tonight. He said: ‘You’ve scored 39 goals this year and maybe you should be more confident.’ I had no confidence. I was hitting posts, missing breakaways, missing empty nets. It shows that the difference between scoring goals and not scoring goals is so mental.”

• At Le Journal de Montréal, Réjean Tremblay was ready to book the Bell Centre anthem-singer for round two:

Let’s get to the big question. Yes, it must be Ginette Reno at the Bell Centre for the Canadiens’ first home match against Boston Bruins or Detroit Red Wings.

• Would it be rude to mention how much teams have, historically, enjoyed being swept out of the playoffs by the Habs? Well, maybe enjoyed isn’t the right word. It is true that when teams lost to those magnificent Canadiens’ teams of the 1970s, their coaches knew that they’d been beaten by a superlative bunch. Here’s Leafs’ coach Roger Nielson after Toronto lost their semi-final in four straight in to the eventual Cupwinners:

“Nobody likes to lose, but if you have I’d rather lose to a great team like the Canadiens.”

In 1976, they swept the Cup incumbents from Philadelphia in the Final. Frank Brown from The Associated Press described the scene after the Habs clinched the deal with a 5-3 away win:

Through the crush of newsmen, tired but happy hockey players and the usual number of hangers-on, a youth pushed his way up to Montreal Canadiens Coach Scotty Bowman and handed him an envelope.

The emissary was Rejean Shero whose father’s hockey team, the Philadelphia Flyers, had just relinquished the Stanley Cup.

Bowman, squeezed for space, opened the envelope and read the words: “Congratulations on such a fantastic season,” it said. “You’re truly champions — not only of the league, but of the world.”

The letter was signed, “Fred.”

Amidst sweaty uniforms, equipment discarded for the final time this National Hockey League season and standing on a floor doused by champagne, the Canadiens’ coach looked that boy and said, “Thanks.”

Rejean was thirteen at the time. Now 51, he works, of course, as GM of the Pittsburgh Penguins, where he answers to Ray.

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.’

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

this week: rattlebrains, eye-gougers, a garbage fire on skates

white house

U.S. President Barack Obama welcomed the Chicago Blackhawks to the White House on Monday, as U.S. presidents do when American teams win the Stanley Cup. Dan Rosen from the NHL.com reported:

Upon arrival at the White House the Blackhawks were feted with an exclusive opportunity to mingle through several rooms in the East Wing, including a few that look out onto the South Lawn and one that has a view of the Rose Garden. They took pictures and marveled at the history.

The President greeted the Blackhawks, shook their hands and received a Stanley Cup replica popcorn maker as a gift prior to delivering his remarks.

“These are not just good hockey players,” President Obama said, among other things, “they’re good guys.”

Meanwhile, to the north and over the border, ‏‪@gmbutts started the week in an owly mood, tweeting:

Anybody ever see ‪#Harper on a pair of skates? Beginning to think this ‪#hockey persona is as phony as George W. Bush’s Texas rancher ‪#cdnpoli

Given that the man asking the question was Gerald Butts, Liberal leader Justin Trudeau’s chief advisor, it probably wasn’t the answer he was looking for, but a follower soon pointed to this all the same.

Could it have been the man himself, defending his own passion? Because author Stephen J. Harper was out that same day promoting his book, A Great Game, on the eve of its publication. Or not out, exactly: he did call in to Toronto’s Sportsnet 590 The Fan to Bob McCown that he calls himself “an amateur hockey historian” and started writing the book “as a pastime, when I needed to turn my mind off from the grind of work.” Asked about the game’s violence, he said: “I’m sorta torn on that.”

“Look, it wouldn’t bother me if we didn’t have fights. I don’t watch hockey for the fights. What I wouldn’t want to see, though, is, you know, situations where teams would pick fights deliberately to get stars off the ice. I think you’ve got to be careful. I don’t like fighting as a strategy, I actually hate it as a strategy but the fact that it happens once in a while in a tough sport is not a surprise.”

Chris Selley from The National Post was one of the first in with a review, come Tuesday. To sum up: “Impressively thorough, very dull, lacks promised insight.”

The Hall of Hockey’s Fame prepared, this week, to welcome a new class that includes Geraldine Heaney, Fred Shero, Chris Chelios, Brendan Shanahan, and Scott Niedermeyer.

On TSN, James Duthie asked Bobby Clarke why had it taken so long for Shero to ascend? Clarke said he didn’t know but his guess was that people blamed the coach for the bullying way the Flyers played in the early 1970s. It wasn’t him, Clarke said: he never told the team to fight. “You did it yourselves?” Duthie said. “On our own,” said Clarke.

“It’s embarrassing,” a Florida centreman said this week, Shawn Matthias, after the coach there, Kevin Dineen, was fired. “I can’t remember the last time we won. There are no positives right now.”

At http://www.habseyesontheprize.com, Andrew Berkshire frowned on a couple of recent Montreal games:

In Minnesota the Habs played well and were undone by bad coaching decisions. In Colorado, it was a garbage fire on skates, and painful to watch.

Over in Britain’s Rapid Solicitors Elite League, the Belfast Giants hosted Cardiff’s Devils a week ago, and …. Sorry, I’m not sure I can go on without first pausing to emphasize that Britain’s Elite League is sponsored by the United Kingdom’s largest personal-injury law firm, who profess online a special focus on Medical and Dental Negligence, Motorcycle Accidents, and Slips & Trips.

Back to Belfast. Cardiff was in town. At 21:36 of the second period, referee Tom Darnell assessed a match penalty to the Devils’ Andrew Conboy for “excessive roughness.” Conboy, 25, hails from Burnside, Minnesota, and he was a draftee of the Montreal Canadiens, playing several seasons for their Hamilton farm team before crossing the Atlantic. The excess of his roughness involved the Giants’ Jeff Mason and an “attempted eye gouge,” for which Conboy was subsequently suspended — banned, the British papers prefer —for 12 games.

The league’s Brendan Shanahan, a Scottish-born former referee named Moray Hanson, was the one to lay down the law. “There is no place for this type of incident in our game,” he said, “and offenders will be suspended accordingly.”

“It’s not just about wins, it’s how we play,” said Toronto coach Randy Carlyle. He told Mark Zwolinski at The Toronto Star what else he wanted from his players:

“We need more compete level, we need more doggedness around the puck, it all has to go up.”

Bad British-league behaviour isn’t new this month: in October, Moray Hanson banished Derek Campbell, 33, for 47 games for his conduct in a game against the Dundee Stars. Sorry: 47 matches. Born in Nepean, Ontario, Campbell was a winger for the Hull Stingrays until, after that game and before the Hanson got in with his sentence, the team dropped him outright.

The Hull Daily Mail called it a fracas; others said it was an incident. It happened this way: Dundee’s Nico Sacchetti boarded Campbell, for which he was ejected from the game; Campbell followed after Sacchetti to the dressing room; Campbell attacked Sacchetti in front of “shocked fans.”

Hanson’s ban broke down this way:

• fighting off the ice (15 matches)
• attempted eye gouge (12 matches)
• knee to the head (10 matches)
• excessive force to the head resulting in an impact to the ice (10 matches).

“I was extremely upset at the time,” Derek Campbell said, once he’d had some time to think about what had happened against Dundee. “But 100 per cent regret what I did in front of fans and little children who were watching the game. I’m a person who plays on emotions, but it’s no excuse.

“As a father of a little girl, I can only apologize to any little girl or boy who was watching and to any fan who felt offended.”

Campbell’s teammate Jeff Smith, from Regina, had his own thoughts about the whole affair:

“I know they are making a point of Soupy, but 47 games, that’s outrageous, I think. I think it’s an absolute joke. It’s a disgrace what Soupy did, but 47 games is just as much a disgrace.”

Who did you hate to play against? Chris Chelios was asked at a Hall of Fame fan-forum this weekend. Easy, he said: Dale Hunter of the Quebec Nordiques.

At USA Today, Kevin Allen reported (this week) that fighting has fallen by 20.5 per cent this season without the NHL’s having done much at all, really, to curb it.

“There are fewer heavyweights now and fewer guys willing to fight, and it just seems like fighting isn’t used as a deterrent the same way it was in the past,” said a wistful Darren McCarty.

There is the new rule that incurs an additional penalty for players who remove their helmets for a fight. “It’s more inconvenient now,” said the NBC commentator Keith Jones, who once skated for Colorado and Philadelphia, “and I wonder if that has had an effect on it. Now a little more thought process has to go into it, rather than the quick reaction.”

Jeff Smith really couldn’t believe it. He was — what’s the word. Speechless? No, not speechless. He was, if anything, speechful:

“I could see for the off-ice stuff, yes, 20 games for that, but the guy played the next day with no marks on his face, there was nothing broken. The off-ice stuff that was absolutely wrong, but 47 games? Last year a guy punched a fan and wasn’t banned, and another player slashed an opponent two-handed and only got three games.”

TV game-show host and hockey fan Pat Sajak weighed in on Ray Emery of the Flyers and his flailing of Washington’s Braden Holtby, tweeting: “Taking a cue from the @NHL, I’m planning to jump Trebek and pummel him in an effort to fire up my staff and prove my manhood.”

Brendan Shanahan spoke up on the same subject. “I hate what Ray Emery did,” the NHL’s Director of Player Safety told Sportsnet’s HockeyCentral At Noon.

NHL veteran Sean Burke — he coaches the goalies now in Phoenix — was talking, too, about Emery:

“What he did to Holtby, that’s not the kind of stuff that is good at all for the game. The biggest joke is that they named him the third star in the game. To me, that’s classless, and whoever picked that, that’s making a mockery of the game.

“That was just bullying. When you punch a guy 10 times in the back of the head, that’s not being tough. Tough is a goalie sticking up for a teammate because he’s getting abused or something happens in the course of the game where the intention is to even things out.”

No-one knew, this week, what happened to make Peter Harrold’s right elbow swell up and fill with a bunch fluid and not bend. The Newark Star-Ledger was monitoring the Devils’ defenceman’s condition, which might have been triggered in Columbus back in October.

“One of those freak things. It just kind of blew up on me,” said Harrold. “I had very limited movement and a bunch of fluid and swelling.”

GM Lou Lamoriello wondered whether Harrold had used his elbow too much. “It just popped up,” he said. “I don’t know if it was from over-use. Really all you can do is speculate. The doctors aren’t certain. It wasn’t a bone spur or chip. It’s a mystery at this point. Once the swelling is down and the fluid is gone, we were good to go.”

“I feel good,” said Harrold. “I’m certainly close,” said Harrold.

In Chicago, where Winnipeg lost 4-1 to the Blackhawks, Brandon Bollig checked the Jets’ Adam Pardy, which caused a piece of glass to fall on fans sitting in some corner seats at the United Center. Everybody was okay, other than Pardy: a guy yanked off his helmet and put it on. Pardy told The Winnipeg Free Press:

“I was just going back for the puck there. Two big, solid boys coming together there, I guess. And the glass came out. One of those situations where you don’t want to see anybody get hurt. Then I got a beer dumped all over my head. All over the side of my face and on the side of my jersey. I don’t know if you can smell it but the bench could definitely smell a little booze there for the last six minutes.”

“It’s no secret we have passionate fans,” Bollig said.

The Chicago Blackhawks apologized, to the Jets and to the NHL at large. “We have spoken to those involved,” read the team’s Thursday statement. “The individuals were immediately ejected from the arena to preserve the safety of everyone in attendance, including other fans, players and officials.

Kevin Mize was the guy who grabbed the helmet. The Chicago Tribune figured that out, and posted his CV online. That’s how we know not only that Mize is the Dealer Principal and President of O’Hare Honda and O’Hare Hyundai, located in Des Plaines, Illinois, but what he does in his spare time: golfs, fly-fishes, skis, kayaks and devotes his time to philanthropic activities.

From Tampa Bay came news that Martin St. Louis has long since forgiven his GM, Steve Yzerman, for cutting him from the 2010 Canadian Olympic team. Reported Mike Brophy at CBC.ca:

“I’m not upset, but there was nothing Steve could have said to me to make me feel better about not being on that team. I told him I’ll always be disappointed no matter what he tells me, but they are put in a position to make tough decisions and he had to make the decisions he had to make. Obviously he made the right ones because they won the gold medal.”

In The Hockey News, Adam Proteau wagged a warning finger at Montreal coach Michel Therrien, who’s been benching Norris Trophy-winning defenceman P.K. Subban, and not using him to kill penalties.

If the Canadiens aren’t too careful, they’ll finger-poke him in the chest all the way into a corner, then wonder why he becomes interested in the colour of grass on other sides of the fence.

A Stockholm newspaper, Aftonbladet, profiled Vancouver coach John Tortorella this week and lest anyone get the wrong impression from the headline —

Quote Machine, Lunatic Leader — and Champion

— it’s in fact a pretty admiring piece. I’m relying on the help here of Google’s resident translator here, so there’s room for interpretation — when it comes, for instance, to the word lunatic. Galning is the original, which could also be rendered as maniac, just for the record. Vildhjärna is another word that comes up, later, which Google gives as wild brain but could just as well be rattlebrain, I find, or scapegrace.

(Photo: @BarackObama)

the kindness of pucks

Only the puck knows what it might do next: Philadelphia goalie Bernie Parent waits to see in a 1969 game against the Black Hawks at Chicago’s Stadium.

“It’s just one of them things,” Calgary winger Curtis Glencross was saying between periods the other night. Was it really just a few weeks back that the Flames were striding so confidently towards a playoff spot, looking good? Yes, it was, but then they’d lost five games in a row. By last Saturday, their hopes for post-season playing were all but over.

Hockey Night in Canada’s Scott Oake wondered why. What happened? So Glencross told him:

It’s just one of them things where we weren’t getting the bounces, or the puck wasn’t going our way and, ah, all them games, we had a lot of shots and a lot of quality scoring opportunities and, and things just weren’t going in for us.

Right. Of course. It’s tough when the puck decides against you. A hockey problem, to be sure. Anyone who’s played the game knows that sometimes, for some reason, pucks turn fickle. Does anyone know why? Is it just caprice or is there some kind of bias involved — in Calgary’s case, a preference among pucks for the likes of San Jose and Colorado?

We just don’t much about it. There’s just no good solid research on why pucks might (a) have an interest in influencing the outcomes of hockey games and/or (b) have come by the power to exert their will.

All we really know is that puck animism is nothing new. “We’ve had enough chances to win the last two games, but the puck hasn’t rolled for us,” Jacques Lemaire shrugged in 1984, when he was coaching Montreal. Whether you’re a player or a coach, you can’t really get angry about it, because, really, what can you do? If anyone knows how to win the favour of pucks, they haven’t revealed it. Here’s Flyers’ coach Fred Shero in the 1975 playoffs, after the New York Islanders came back from three games down to tie the series:

We had enough opportunities to be three up. But there is nothing we can do if the puck won’t go in. If we weren’t getting chances I would be worried.

It happened to Montreal in 1964. “We’ve only scored five in our last four games,” coach Toe Blake said. “We’re getting the chances but the puck won’t go in.”

That’s the lesson, I guess: all you can do as a hockey player is get your chance, put the puck on the net. Once it’s there, hovering by the goal-line, there’s nothing more you can do: the puck has to decide whether it’s going in or not.

Chicago GM Bill Tobin was someone who thought there was more to it, maybe, on the puck’s side than mere whim. In 1949, when the New York Rangers scored four third-period goals in two minutes and 57 seconds to beat his Black Hawks, Tobin was the one who looked at it this way: “The puck,” he said, “has not been kind to us.”