whale gun

Net Gains: Born in Taschereau, Quebec, on a Wednesday of this date in 1955, Pierre Larouche turns 67 today, so here’s to him. Drafted as a centreman by the Pittsburgh Penguins in 1974, he would become, at just 20, the youngest player in NHL history to score 50 goals in 1976. (Wayne Gretzky broke that record in 1980.) He scored 50 for Montreal, too, in 1979-80, and 48 for the New York Rangers in 1983-84, making him the only NHLer to score 45 goals or more with three different teams. His 14-year career also saw him stop for a stint with the Hartford Whalers, and he scored 25 goals in their green in 1981-82. (Image: Fonds La Presse, BAnQ Vieux-Montréal)

tommy woodcock, 1933—2022

Sorry to see news of the death earlier this week of Tommy Woodcock, the first trainer the St. Louis Blues ever had, and a veteran of the dressing rooms of the Hartford Whalers and San Jose Sharks. He was 89.

In Providence, Rhode Island, Woodcock grew up as the son of the manager of the local Arena, and he got his first job there in the 1940s when, as a 12-year-old, he served as (in his words) “a squeegee boy, helping brush the excess water off the rink after it had been flooded.” On his skates, he played centre and right wing, and scored some goals in the 1950s on New England senior amateur ice and, briefly, in the Eastern Hockey League.

As the story goes, Buddy LeRoux, trainer of Boston’s Celtics and Red Sox, was the one to suggest he take up as a trainer. Woodcock started out tending college teams at Brown, in Providence, and worked with the AHL Providence Reds, as well as with local baseball and football teams before GM Lynn Patrick hired him in 1967 to be the trainer for the expansion St. Louis Blues. With the Reds, he was a protégé of trainer George Army, a local legend who maintained that he’d learned to stitch hockey wounds by slicing up oranges and then sewing them back together.

Woodcock was 34 when he started in St. Louis. For 16 years he tended the Blues, who vied their way (in vain) during that tenure through three Stanley Cup Finals. The times, they were simpler, back then, as Woodcock recalled for NHL.com in 2008: “The players did a lot. They carried their own bags. We never washed the underwear, we just hung it up to dry.”

Woodcock’s other duties, in his day, ran the regular gamut. He sharpened skates, maintained and modified equipment, stitched wounds, ministered to aches, pains, scuffs, concussings. He wielded tape — a lot of tape. For a cheerful newspaper profile in 1970, Woodcock estimated that the Blues’ annual roll-out of tape was some 212,000 yards for socks-securing and another 3,300 yards for sticks.

In 1973, Woodcock organized his expertise into a book.

In 1979, around the occasion of his 1,000th NHL game, Woodcock testified that Bernie Federko was the most talented player he’d had under his care, while original Blues’ captain Al Arbour rated the highest pain tolerance of any of his charges. Garry Unger, meanwhile, had “the best set of muscle structure” in Blues’ history. “That’s why,” Woodcock said, “he never has any pulled or strained muscles.”

“Arbour was typical of some of the old-timers,” Woodcock waxed in ’79, “he was totally dedicated to the game.” The biggest change he’d seen in his time in big-league hockey? “The young guys coming into the league now aren’t dedicated. They aren’t willing to work to improve themselves. If they’re not doing well, they’ll blame their stick or a part of their equipment — but never blame themselves or try to work harder.”

One then-current Blue was excused from this indictment: Brian Sutter. “He’s the last of the real dedicated hockey players,” Woodcock said.

In 1983, Woodcock followed former Blues’ GM Emile Francis to the Hartford Whalers. In 1991, GM Jack Ferreira hired him to be the first trainer for the expansion San Jose Sharks. He would continue to work as a consultant with the Sharks well into his 70s and in so doing, in 2008 attended his 40th NHL training camp. All told, he presided over more than 3,000 NHL games, regular-season and playoff.

In 1973, Woodcock became the first NHL trainer to organize his experience and expertise into a book when he published Hockey From The Ice Up, a helpful how-to aimed at aspiring young players, their parents, and coaches. It counselled on equipment and pregame meals, ran down conditioning best practices, delineated hockey injuries (from butterflies to tongue-swallowing), and identified some key dos and don’ts for those hoping to succeed in hockey (stay away from alcohol and solvent-sniffing).

In 2003, Woodcock was inducted into the Hall of Fame that the Professional Hockey Athletic Trainers Society curates under the auspices of the Hockey Hall of Fame, joining the likes of Lefty Wilson, Skip Thayer, and Eddy Palchak in the pantheon.

 

great whale

Minus Nine: It was six years ago today that Gordie Howe died, on another Friday, in 2016: he was 88. Howe was in his last real season when this photo was taken, at the Montreal Forum, during Howe’s return to the NHL with the Hartford Whalers during the 1979-80 season. The man they called Mr. Hockey played 83 games that year, registering 16 goals and 43 points (along with 42 penalty minutes). He was 52 by the time it was over. (Image: Fonds La Presse, BAnQ Vieux-Montréal)

won’t you come back, dave keon

Legend of A Leaf: Born in Noranda, Quebec, on a Friday of this date in 1940, Dave Keon is 81 today. Does it seem wrong to frame him as anything but a Maple Leaf? A little bit, yea, but it is true that he ended his 18-year NHL career with three seasons, circa 1980, as a Whaler in Hartford, and had stints, too, in the WHA with the Minnesota Fighting Saints, Indianapolis Racers, and New England Whalers. In his 15 years in Toronto, Keon won Calder and Conn Smythe trophies and a pair of Lady Byngs, while helping the Leafs win four Stanley Cup championships. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1986. In 2016, the Maple Leafs recognized Keon as the best player in club history.