Happy holidays to zoo and yours, courtesy of Mario Lemieux and the 2002 Pittsburgh Penguins.
Born in Montreal on a Tuesday of this same date in 1965, Mario Lemieux is 56 today, so all due hullabaloo to him. He was a callow 19 in the photograph here, which dates to September of 1985, when La Presse photographer Paul-Henri Talbot caught his departure from his family’s home in Ville-Émard, in the west end of Montreal. “It was this morning at the crack of 7 a.m. that Mario Lemieux took the road to Pittsburgh, where training camp will begin in a few days,” a caption reported. He was driving, so the way would be long: 17 hours, according to La Presse.
That fall, Lemieux already had an NHL season under his belt. As a rookie centreman for the Penguins, he’d finished the 1984-85 campaign with 43 goals and 100 points to his credit, along with a Calder Trophy as the league’s top rookie to show for it. When Pittsburgh opened its camp a few days later on the ice of the Mount Lebanon, Pennsylvania, Recreation Centre, the local Post-Gazette noted that for all his offensive fireworks, Lemieux had work to do on his defensive skills.
“I’ll try to work more this season on playing both ways,” Lemieux said, “but my job here is to score goals and get as many points as I can for the team.” He did his duty, piling up 48 goals by the time that season was over, and 141 points, second only to a 25-year-old Wayne Gretzky and his record-breaking heap of 215 points.
(Image: Paul-Henri Talbot, La Presse)
A birthday today for Fred Taylor, who was born (probably; there’s some blurriness to the record) on a Monday of this date in 1884 in Tara, over towards Owen Sound, in southwestern Ontario. Taylor grew up a little to the south, in Listowel, northwest of Kitchener, and that’s where he honed his hockey. Cyclone he came to called, in his heyday, which was back in the first few decades of the 20th century, when Taylor was far and away one of the fastest and most skilled players to don skates and step out on the ice and, thereby, one of the game’s best-paid practitioners. Playing at rover and cover-point (defence), he starred in the IHL for Portage Lakes and for the NHA’s Renfrew Creamery Kings before finding a home, for nine seasons, with the Vancouver Millionaires of the PCHA. Five times he led the league in scoring on the west coast, and in 1915 he helped the Millionaires beat the Ottawa Senators to win the Stanley Cup. It was Taylor’s second championship: he’d been with the Senators in 1909 when they played in the old ECHA and surpassed Art Ross’ Montreal Wanderers to take the Cup.
Taylor hung up his skates in 1922, at the age of 38. He was elected to the Hall of hockey Fame in 1947. Cyclone Taylor was 94 when he died in 1979.
Did Taylor score a goal for Renfrew in 1910 after having skated backwards through some or possibly all of the Ottawa line-up? Many paragraphs have been written on the subject, including in the Ottawa Citizen at the time … but while some reports (including in the Ottawa Citizen at the time) would seem to confirm the feat, Taylor himself told Stan Fischler that it never happened.
Not so well documented is another bit of lore relating to that 1909 championship. Insofar as I haven’t seen it mentioned anywhere else in the 112 years that have intervened since then, it may even qualify as breaking news. Eric Whitehead’s 1977 biography Cyclone Taylor: A Hockey Legend doesn’t mention it, and nor do any of the authoritative histories of hockey’s most vaunted trophy, but Taylor may well have been the first player to take the Stanley Cup home with him to share with and show off to his kith and kin, a whole eight decades before it became standard practice.
The Stanley Cup’s annual summer tour is a rite of hockey’s post-season, and a charming one at that: each year, Cupkeeper Phil Pritchard escorts the venerable trophy to the hometowns of players, coaches, and staff across the globe so that those who’ve won the Cup can spend a day in its company, sharing the glory around with friends and family, eating from its silvery bowl, maybe feeding their horses.
Pandemics permitting, of course: while in 2019, the Cup travelled to eight Canadian provinces, seven U.S. states, as well as Sweden, Finland, and Russia on visits to happy members of the St. Louis Blues, COVID-19 meant that last year’s champions, the Tampa Bay Lightning, could only celebrate with the Cup in Florida.
The Hockey Hall of Fame keeps an online catalogue documenting the Cup’s off-season travels that goes back to 2003, when the New Jersey Devils were champions: that’s here. These summer peregrinations were established as a routine in 1995, says the Hall. (The Devils reigned that year, too.)
The Cup did some house calls before that, too: in 1989, when the Calgary Flames prevailed, Pritchard himself took the Cup to visit Flames forward Colin Patterson at his home in Rexdale, Ontario. That same summer, the Cup was packed up and shipped — unaccompanied — to Saskatoon, where Calgary defenceman Brad McCrimmon’s dad, Byron, collected it at the airport and took it for a sojourn in McCrimmon’s hometown of Plenty, Saskatchewan.
Turns out Cyclone Taylor had a like-minded plan a full 80 years earlier.
In 1909, there was no Stanley Cup final, as such. Having finished atop the standing of the four-team Eastern Canada Hockey Association, Taylor’s Ottawa Senators inherited the Cup from the holders, Montreal’s Wanderers. A challenge did come in from the Winnipeg Shamrocks, and was accepted by Cup trustee William Foran, but by then it was mid-March, too late in the season for the series to be arranged.
The Senators and Wanderers did take a quick trip to New York in March, to play a two-game exhibition series, but that was on artificial ice. Ottawa prevailed, for anyone keeping score, winning the first game 6-4 and settling in for a tie, 8-8, in the second.
Back in Canada’s capital, the Senators were wined and dined at a banquet at the Russell House Hotel. The Cup, which looked like this in those years —
— had been absent from Ottawa since 1906, when the mighty Ottawa Silver Seven were ending a run of four consecutive championships. The line-up of the new champions featured five future Hall-of-Famers, including goaltender Percy LeSueur and forwards Bruce Stuart and Marty Walsh.
Reports of the 1909 celebration include an account of the Cup being filled (of course) with champagne and shared around the room. When it reached Taylor, he demurred. “I will drink only after the greatest hockey general in the game has done so,” he said, passing the Cup to Stuart, his captain.
Trustee Foran spoke a piece, too. He was positively giddy in his praise of the teams in the ECHA, declaring that their brand of hockey was the “greatest, fastest, and cleanest” ever seen anywhere. Ottawa’s team, he felt, further, was “the best team Canada or the world had ever produced.
He was confident, too, that the Stanley Cup, now in the 16th year of its youth, was here to stay: “Cups might come and cups might go,” paraphrased the Ottawa Journal, “but the Stanley Cup would always remain the true emblem of hockey supremacy.”
News of Cyclone Taylor’s initiative was carried in another dispatch from the banquet room. His request, which was deemed “unusual” by the correspondent writing about it, was this: Taylor asked “that he be allowed to take the Stanley Cup home to Listowell [sic] when he goes on his Easter holidays, guaranteeing to return it in safe order. Taylor remarked that it was his one ambition to be on a Stanley Cup team, and wished to take the famous mug to his native town so that the Listowell people could have a look at it. His wish may be gratified, providing the trustees do not object.”
Did William Foran give Taylor the go-ahead? That I can’t confirm. The Cup may well have been handed over to his care in April of 1909, and made the journey west to Listowel for a spell. If so, none of the major daily newspapers seem to have registered the event. I haven’t yet consulted local papers to see what they might have to report, but I’ll get to them and report back. Did the Stanley Cup parade down Listowel’s Main Street as Cyclone Taylor’s friends, familiars, and neighbours cheered? Possibly. Was it, anticipating the 1991 scene in Mario Lemieux’s Pittsburgh backyard, sunken to the bottom of the Taylors’ swimming pool? Not likely. Did anyone, including local livestock, feed from the Cup? To be determined.
In the meantime, if anyone has further intelligence on this, let me know.
Jimmy Orlando played six seasons on defence for the Detroit Red Wings, helping them win a Stanley Cup in 1943. Born in Montreal in 1915, Orlando died on a Saturday of this date in 1992 at the age of 77. His wife noted that week that he’d watched hockey right up the end of his life. “He thought they were all overpaid, I’ll tell you that,” Doris Orlando said. “His favourite was Mario Lemieux.”
Uncompromising might be one word for Orlando’s approach to the game when he played, excessively violent two more. He led the NHL penalty minutes the last three seasons of his career. In Chicago in 1941, after he punched a fan and knocked him unconscious, he went unpunished by league or law. A year later, at Maple Leaf Gardens, he infamously swung his stick at Toronto rookie Gaye Stewart’s head, who swung his back at Orlando’s. Photographer Nat Turofsky was on hand to document the bloody aftermath. Both players were assessed match penalties, and each was summarily fined $50 by referee King Clancy.
Globe and Mail columnist Jim Coleman called for NHL president Frank Calder to ban Orlando outright. “If the president and directors of the league fail to act swiftly and firmly, they might as well close up shop.” Calder waited almost a week to come to his decision: Orlando and Stewart were each ordered to pay $100 to the Red Cross or any other war charity, and Orlando was barred from playing games in Toronto while Stewart was forbidden to represent the Leafs in Detroit — “until further notice.” Those sentences lasted not quite four months — Red Dutton rescinded them when he stepped in as interim NHL president after Calder’s death in February of ’43.
The building was in a bedlam the moment the red light flashed. The crowd stood up, clapping hands and roaring acclaim. Programs were showered don on the ice. The Rocket’s teammates on the bench dropped sticks and gloves and stood up an applauded. The organ played “Il A Gagne Ses Epaulettes.” The Rocket himself leaped high in the air and landed on Jean Béliveau, who had fed him the pass that set up the goal.
* Dink Carroll, The Gazette, October 21, 1957
It was on a Saturday of this date in 1957 that Maurice Richard became the first player in NHL history to score 500 goals. The Chicago Black Hawks were in at the Montreal Forum that night, and the rink was packed with 14, 405 fans, as the biggest — and most expectant — crowd of the young season awaited the Rocket’s record-breaking goal.
Fifteen minutes and 52 seconds into the first period was when Dickie Moore passed to Béliveau’s at the side of the Chicago net and he found Richard in the slot, about 15 feet out. The Rocket beat Chicago goaltender Glenn Hall with a slapshot; Carroll said it whizzed. Once the bedlam subsided, Montreal went on to beat Chicago 3-1.
“That mark of 500 threatens to stand up as long as the Babe’s record of 60 home runs in a single season,” Carroll would venture in his Gazettedispatch. Ruth’s monument was, by then, 30 years old, and had another four years to run before Roger Maris got around to hitting his 61. Carroll was just a little off: Gordie Howe scored his 500th NHL in March of 1962, just over six months after Maris did his record-breaking deed.
Still, Richard was first, and for that — and because he was the Rocket, and this was Montreal — one of his rewards was to be immortalized in wax. This was later, 1965, when Tussaud’s Ville Marie Wax Museum opened at the downtown corner of Ste. Catherine West and Drummond, 12 blocks or so from the Forum. Glenn Hall was rewarded, too, as a supporting actor, though for him it may have felt more like penance, all the more so if he ever saw the display, above, as it would later appear to paying customers.
Richard himself dropped by the Museum before it opened to check himself out. He’d donated the uniform and skates his doppelganger; I don’t know where Hall’s gear came from. Fashioned in London from photographs by Josephine Tussaud, a descendant of the original Madame, waxy Richard got some final adjustments before meeting the public. Joining him and Hall in the museum were scenes featuring an array of the faux and famous, including Abraham Lincoln (at his assassination), Jesus (partaking of the Last Supper), Joan of Arc (at the stake), and Brigitte Bardot (just out of the shower).
Winnipeg beat the Nashville Predators last night to advance to the Western Conference finals where they’ll meet the Vegas Golden Knights to see which of them of them will play for the Stanley Cup. That seems reason enough to visit with a former (WHA) Jet, Anders Hedberg, seen here in February of 1977. He had reason to revel: having just scored three goals in Winnipeg’s 6-4 win over the long-lost Calgary Cowboys, Hedberg now had 50 in the 49 games his team had played that season. (He’d missed two games, injured). That put him into the annals of hockey history, ahead of Maurice Richard, whose first, famous 50-in-50 came in 1945, as well as own linemate, Bobby Hull, who’d repeated that feat over the course of the 1974-75 WHA season.
There doesn’t seem to have been much disputing Hedberg’s achievement at the time, though it can’t exactly have pleased the rivalrous governors of the NHL. Mike Bossy of the New York Islanders would notch 50 of his own in 50 games in 1980-81, and the very next year after that, Wayne Gretzky would, playful as ever, score 50 in 39. With the demise of the WHA, Hedberg’s feat has been shuffled, along with Bobby Hull’s, into the footnotes: in hockey’s NHL-dominated universe, those goals you scored in that other league only count as a novelty next to an asterisk. The way the NHL sees it, you have to score 50 in your team’s first 50 games. Five different players have done that, including Mario Lemieux and Brett Hull, twice. Gretzky did it three times in his career.
“I can’t explain how it feels,” Hedberg told reporters after the game in ’77. The Swedish Express, they were calling him back then, noting that he did his scoring with one of hockey’s hardest wrist shots and what had to be the best backhand in the business. “I don’t think Anders has taken a slapshot this year,” said his other linemate, Ulf Nilsson.
It wasn’t all good news for Hedberg that night: playing Calgary that record-setting night also strained some of his ligaments, which put him out of the line-up for ten days. He made up for lost time when he got back, finishing the year with 70 goals. As for the Jets, they were the defending Avco Cup champions that year, and did indeed make it to the finals again, only to fall to the Quebec Nordiques. They did roar back to win two further championships in 1978 and 1979, in the WHA’s last two seasons.
(Image: University of Manitoba Archives & Special Collections, PC 18, A 84-49, Box 5)
“Eric Lindros To Be Immortalized By Flyers On Thursday” might be, but isn’t, a headline on a story filed yesterday by The Philadelphia Inquirer’s cryonics bureau; in fact, what they want you to know is that the local hockey team will tonight be retiring the number 88 that the 44-year-old former centreman wore when he led the Flyers for eight seasons in the 1990s. “He was probably the most dominant player during his time in the NHL,” said an old teammate, Rod Brind’Amour, when Lindros was elevated, and properly so, into the Hockey Hall of Fame last fall. Back in 1997 at this time, when Saturday Night put Lindros’ gaze on the cover, you might have had your doubts that it would ever come to this. Brian Hutchinson, who profiled Lindros in the magazine’s pages, seems to have been all doubt, all the scathing way through. Lindros was 23, then. It was a year-and-a-half since he’d won a Hart Trophy as the league’s MVP, six months since he’d notched 47 goals and 115 points, wrapping up what would end up being the most bountiful scoring season of his 13-year NHL career. Hutchinson’s profile isn’t what you’d call kindly, wandering through the whole sorry history of the Lindros’ refusal to report to the Quebec Nordiques and on into the story of all the Stanley Cups he’d failed to win as captain of the Flyers. “He has come close to fulfilling his destiny,” Hutchinson writes in the course of detailing the injuries and immaturities, the failures of Flyers management that had kept Lindros from it. “He may be the most well-rounded, physically imposing player in hockey history,” he writes. “Surprisingly quick for his size, with a tremendous reach that lets him gobble up loose pucks, he also, according to Flyers goalie Ron Hextall, has one of the hardest shots in hockey, a snap shot that comes out of nowhere, untelegraphed and accurate. But he’s no innovator. Unlike Orr and Gretzky, he doesn’t change the way the game is played, nor does he have a singular talent — like Mario Lemieux’s stickhandling or Guy Lafleur’s skating — that sets him apart.” Ouch.
Bad news today from the NHL: former defenceman Zarley Zalapski has died at the age of 49. Born in Edmonton, he played 12 NHL seasons, mostly for the Calgary Flames, though he also skated for Pittsburgh, Hartford, Montreal, and Philadelphia. “I played defence,” he once recalled, “’cause we were short defenceman.” His father disagreed: as Zarley’s earliest coach, Len Zalapski said he’d consigned his son to the blueline. “I always had a theory that defencemen get more ice time.”
Long before Ken Hitchcock found his way to the Stars’ bench in Dallas, he cut a 15-year-old Zalapski from his team in Sherwood Park, Alberta. (The coach confessed his regret, later.) In 1984 the Penguins drafted Mario Lemieux first overall, and they followed that up in ’85 by claiming Craig Simpson. Zalapski was next: Pittsburgh made him their first-rounder in ’86, fourth overall. He also wore the maple leaf, patrolling bluelines for several Team Canadas. At the 1986 Izvestia tournament in Moscow, he was voted top defenceman ahead of Vyacheslav Fetisov and Alexei Kasatonov. At the 1998 Winter Olympics in Calgary (Canada finished fourth), he joined a defensive corps that also counted Randy Gregg and Trent Yawney. “I’ve never really expected anything out of hockey,” Zalapski said in those years. “It really didn’t matter as long as I kept at it, kept enjoying it.”
The name? His father borrowed that from his favourite golfer, Kermit Zarley. “It’s always worthwhile if you have a unique name,” Len Zalapski said.
Sidney Crosby was home in Nova Scotia today, his 30th birthday. He spent the day showing the Stanley Cup around, joining a parade through Halifax first before travelling up to Rimouski, in Quebec, where he played his junior hockey, for a quick how-do. Asked this week about the ageing he’s undergoing, Crosby dutifully answered that 30 is “just a number.” Facing the inevitable follow-up — does he have any grey hairs? — the erstwhile Kid is said to have smiled.
Playing the numbers game isn’t hard with Crosby. After 12 exceptional NHL seasons, the man has plenty to recommend him, even if you agree to a birthday exemption on playing up the troubling tally of four confirmed concussions. Totted up his first 1,000 points in 757 games! Won three Stanley Cups! Two Conn Smythes! Collected manifold Art Rosses, Rocket Richards, Lionel Conachers, Lester B. Pearsons, Baz Bastiens! Not to mention Olympics and World Cups! The full list of notable statistics, trophies, and accolades runs much longer, of course. And for those who’d rather advance into the thickets of hockey analytics, help yourself.
If Crosby’s dominance of the moment isn’t in doubt, this latest Stanley Cup has fuelled an increase in discussions of the longer-term and more subjective question of where Crosby fits into the pantheon of all-time greats.
Can Crosby be considered one of the top five players of all time? I think we can all agree that if you posed the question to Crosby himself, he’d let it expire in small talk if not outright silence. And why not? Debates about the best of the best across the eras are all in good fun, causing no harm, I guess, but that doesn’t mean they’re not more or less ridiculous, given how short our memories are. Where once there were those who could (at least in theory) be counted on to judge the whole spectrum of NHL hockey talent because they’d personally witnessed the league’s entire history, there’s no-one, today, who has the personal experience to argue the merits of Howie Morenz over Mario Lemieux’s. It’s nobody’s fault, but it does help explain why, earlier this year, when the NHL paraded its list of 100 Greatest, the absence of players like Frank Nighbor, Sprague Cleghorn, Frank Boucher, and Aurèle Joliat (among many antique others) was barely noted let alone pilloried.
That doesn’t mean the top-five debate won’t go on, of course. In June, Rick Carpiniello got in on it at MSG Networks by declaring his leading men (in order): Wayne Gretzky, Bobby Orr, Mario Lemieux, and Gordie Howe.
And number 87? Whereas (Carpiniello wrote) “Crosby is the best player of his generation, without a doubt, a slam-dunk future Hall-of-Famer, and he will be among the short list of all-timers when he’s done playing, if not sooner,” he wasn’t ready yet to add his name to the uppermost echelon. Crosby is going to have to work for it, he says, over a number of years if he wants to supplant Mark Messier, the subject of a 1999 biography of Carpiniello’s called Steel On Ice.
Over at Sports Illustrated, Colin Fleming declared that Crosby has now “stormed the citadel of the top ten.”
We all know the top four: Gretzky, Orr, Howe, Lemieux. Put them in what order you wish, but have Gretzky first. After that, in no particular order, I’d stick in Bourque, Sawchuk, Béliveau, Harvey, Roy, and now Crosby. What’s more, I’m not sure that Crosby isn’t fifth. He’s the best player since Lemieux, truly generational. He’s not merely the best player since Super Mario: it’s not even close.
“I’d put Sidney Crosby right there at number five,” Brian Boucher was saying in June as the Penguins wrapped up their second straight Cup. “We’re watching greatness,” said the former NHL goaltender, now an NBC analyst. “For people to hate on it, I get it, because maybe you’re not a fan of the Pittsburgh Penguins. But if you’re a fan of watching true greatness, to me, that’s it.”
Back in January, during the festivities leading up to the All-Star Game in Los Angeles, the NHL put together a press conference where Gretzky, Orr, and Lemieux shared a stage where they were lightly questioned by a parcel of reporters. As The Toronto Sun’s Mike Zeisberger reported part of that went like this:
“Is the greatest hockey player of all time at this podium?” we wanted to know.
“No,” said Gretzky.
The consensus of all three: Mr. Hockey, Gordie Howe.
You can debate their answer. They weren’t about to.
Heck, if these three weren’t qualified to answer this, who then?
“Listen, we talk about this all the time,” Gretzky said. “That’s what makes sports great, and that’s what makes hockey wonderful. I think we’re all in pretty much agreement that Gordie was pretty special. These two guys here were pretty special, also. We all had so much respect for what Gordie did and what he accomplished that it’s not a bad thing to be named in the Top 100 behind a guy like Gordie Howe. I think we all feel the same way.”
“Absolutely,” added Orr. “Gordie is in my mind the best that ever played the game. I’m not sure if we’ll ever see another one. I sometimes sit and look at his numbers. As I sit sometimes and look at the numbers that these two guys put up, I think, how in the world did they do it.
“But no, Gordie was a special player and a special man in my mind, and I think the three of us agree that he was the best player ever.”
Over to you, Mario.
“Absolutely,” Lemieux said. “I agree with these guys that he was a special player. He could play any way that you wanted out there and a great goal scorer; tough, as we all know, and always taking care of business. But he was truly a great ambassador for the game. He loved the game. He played until he was 51 years old, and that’s pretty rare these days except for Jagr, my buddy.”
Asked for an opinion on the best player still on skates, all three men agreed that it’s Crosby.
“I think his work ethic, first of all,” said Lemieux, the owner of the Pittsburgh Penguins and Crosby’s one-time landlord. “He’s the hardest — just like Wayne was when he played, he’s the hardest working guy out there, whether it’s at practice or a three-on-three game at practice, he wants to win, he wants to be the best.”
Added Gretzky: “I agree with Mario, everything he said. He’s the best player in the game. He’s earned that mantle, and his work ethic is as good or better than anybody in hockey.
“We encourage, and I know Bobby is very close to Connor (McDavid), that that’s the guy that he’s chasing, and Connor sees him in his vision, and that’s what makes the game wonderful is that you want to be as good as the best player.
“Right now Crosby is the best player, and you have to earn your stripes.”
(Image courtesy of Gypsy Oak, whose luminous work you can find here. Follow him on Twitter @gyspyoak)
Canada Post launched its newest line of hockey stamps this week with six sticky-backed forwards. “The 2016 NHL® Great Canadian Forwards stamps highlight some of the greatest goal-scorers ever to play in the NHL,” the press release touts, and yes, it is an impressive cadre: Phil Esposito, Guy Lafleur, Darryl Sittler, Mark Messier, Steve Yzerman, and Sidney Crosby.
Hard to fathom how the crown corporation came up with this particular group. Crosby, of course, is a natural — who wouldn’t want Canada’s own captain on their lettermail? But if it is indeed meant to reflect distinguished goal-getters, then why no Wayne Gretzky, best of them all? He already got on a stamp, of course, in 2000, so maybe that’s all he gets. Same with Gordie Howe and Marcel Dionne, the next ones down the all-time list of high-scoring Canadians. If that’s how the choosing was done, statistically, then, yes, Phil Esposito is deserving. But what about Mike Gartner, who outscored both Messier and Yzerman? Nothing against Lafleur, but he’s way down the list, well below Mario Lemieux and Luc Robitaille. Is that really fair? And what about Dave Andreychuk? How do you think Andreychuk feels knowing that Sittler got in ahead of him having scored 170 fewer career goals? How would you feel, philatelically speaking?
Montreal Canadiens goaltender Carey Price was named winner yesterday of the 2015 Lou Marsh Trophy as Canada’s topmost athlete. He’s the ninth hockey player to be so recognized since the award was first given in 1936, and the only goaltender. Those who’ve gone before: Sidney Crosby (twice), Wayne Gretzky (four times), Mario Lemieux, Guy Lafleur, Bobby Clarke, Phil Esposito, Bobby Orr, and Maurice Richard. When he wasn’t whistling at hockey games, Lou Marsh was a beloved Toronto Star sports columnist and editor who also made his mark on the football field, as a sprinter, and as an arbiter of boxers and wrestlers.