“McDavid looks like he’s different than everybody else. Last time I saw somebody go faster than the whole league was Bobby Orr. I was nine years old. And this guy’s faster than the whole league, and it’s incredible to watch.”
• Toronto Maple Leafs coach Mike Babcock, November 2016
Last Wednesday, when it mattered, Connor McDavid flew down the ice at Edmonton’s Rogers Place to score the overtime goal that beat the Florida Panthers. Earlier that night, McDavid had notched the 100th point of his burgeoning NHL career in what was his 92nd game in the league. While it wasn’t Wayne Gretzky-good — he did it in just 61 games — it’s a feat that puts McDavid fourth among active players, behind Alex Ovechkin (77 games), Sidney Crosby (80 games), and Evgeni Malkin (89 games).
Last Sunday, mostly for fun, McDavid took part in the Oilers’ annual Skills Competition. Matthew Benning was the quickest of Edmonton’s backwards-skaters on the day; Milan Lucic showed the hardest shot. When it came to racing face-forward ’round the ice at Rogers Place, Benoit Pouliot (13.895 seconds) and J.J. Khaira (13.941) were fast. McDavid, by no real surprise to anyone, proved faster, make it around the rink in a time of 13.382 seconds.
That got Joe Pack of Sportsnet wondering: how does McDavid’s speed compare to NHLers of this age and others?
He duly noted that Detroit’s Dylan Larkin took a turn of the ice at the 2016 all-star game in a time of 13.172 seconds, outdoing Mike Gartner’s 1996 mark of 13.386. But? Overlooked, Pack submits, is the fact that
Larkin, and last year’s crop of contestants, got an advantage no other skaters before had: they began from the far blue-line, only to have the clock start once they hit the red line. Gartner, and every other skater at the competition over the years, started from the red line.
So Larkin’s record, I’m suggesting, should have an asterisk attached. Gartner’s record has apparently been broken by McDavid.
The real test, of course, will come in next week’s all-star game. “Still,” Pack writes, “the conversation around McDavid’s speed has begun in earnest. Is he the fastest in the game now? Is he the fastest ever?”
While we wait to find out, maybe is a look back in order? Beyond 1996, even?
The annals of speedy hockey-player skating are incomplete. The documentation, shall we say, isn’t superb. And while hockey players have tested themselves to see how fast they go for almost as long as the NHL’s, the conditions (as Pack points out) haven’t exactly been standardized. Some have stood still on their start line, others have skated to it at full fling. Some have carried pucks as they careened against the clock — not McDavid or Larkin or most of the recent racers. Technology has changed: hand-held stopwatches have been replaced by precision timers with electronic eyes. All of which makes it hard to line up McDavid’s feat (if that’s something you felt like doing) in order to compare it with those of, say, a Howie Morenz or a Hec Kilrea.
Still, back we go.
In 1945, Montreal Canadiens’ centre Buddy O’Connor won a one-lap, flying-start, puck-carrying race around Ottawa’s Auditorium in a time of 14.8 seconds. Teammates Elmer Lach (15.0) and Maurice Richard (15.2) came in after him; defenceman Leo Lamoureux was disqualified when he lost the puck.
Maple Leaf Gardens hosted what the papers called a speed test at the end of January, 1942. The Leafs had played Thursday and would be back on the ice in earnest Saturday, but on this Friday night the occasion was charitable, with 13,563 fans showing up in support of a memorial fun for the late Toronto sportsman Robert Ecclestone.
The evening’s entertainment featured a 20-minute scrimmage of (mostly) oldtimer Leafs.
The racing involved a puck-carrying contest with players flying to the start. There were seven of them, active NHLers from each team: Syl Apps (Toronto); Flash Hollett (Boston); Sid Abel (Detroit); Tommy Anderson (Brooklyn Americans); Lynn Patrick (New York); Max Bentley (Chicago); Jack Portland (Montreal).
They wore their uniforms but not all of their regular padding. The former Ottawa Senators’ star who presided at the finish-line did so under his current title: RCAF Squadron-Leader Punch Broadbent held the stopwatch.
Each man skated twice, initially. None of them broke 15 seconds in the first round, which also saw Hollett momentarily lose control of his puck and a fall by Abel. In the second heat, Apps and Patrick both blazed around at 14.8 seconds. In the tie-breaker, Patrick slowed to 15 seconds while Apps stuck to 14.8.
So that pleased the local fans. The ovation, The Globe and Mail testified, “has seldom been matched at any time.”
(Not everyone was so impressed. When The New York Post chimed in, it was to say that the event could hardly be considered “the last word” in speedsters, given that Chicago’s Doug Bentley and Milt Schmidt of Boston weren’t involved.)
Paul Henderson was there last night in Toronto on the eve of the World Cup, and that was meet and right, probably, because it’s September and as the temperatures starts to drop and hockey fires up, Canadian self-regard hits its peak.
That’s what happened, of course, this month in 1972, and while we’ve never before been quite as filled with hockey hubris as we were that famous year, we have been Septemberly sure of ourselves ahead of the 1976 and 1987 Canada Cups, and going into 1996’s inaugural World Cup. The United States won that last one, of course, but that doesn’t really change a thing: before it all started, we were pretty sure that there was no way anyone could beat us.
This year’s World Cup, which begins today, pits six of the world’s top hockey nations against one another and — well, there are those two “concept teams,” too, Europe and the U-23 North Americas, all battling for the title of the world’s best hockey nation, and/or continent and/or age group.
Is Canada favoured to win? Canada is. Not that there aren’t those who believe that the youth and speed of Connor McDavid’s North Americans might surprise everyone. And not that the Canadian team is proclaiming its superiority — not for public consumption, anyway. “I didn’t know we were the favourite,” defenceman Shea Weber told Ken Campbell from The Hockey News this week. “I think we all think we’re going to win,” coach Mike Babcock was saying, which sounds kind of cocky without the context — he was talking about all the teams in the tournament rather than all the players in his dressing room.
The headline atop another Mirtle story in the morning’s Globe and Mail is one they store in a drawer in the newspaper’s composing room, ready for times like these, ahead of international hockey tournaments:
Canada full of confidence
It’s not just that we’re playing at home, although that is, of course, to Canada’s advantage. No, this is mostly a question of our ongoing dominance on the ice, not least at successive Olympics. “This is a roster of Canadian players that, as a group,” Mirtle writes, “have become this country’s golden generation, and they largely only know winning at best-on-best events.”
Ken Campbell cites the “ridiculous” success that the 23 players on Canada’s roster bring to the table: between them, they’ve won 14 Stanley Cups, 21 Olympic gold medals, 15 World Championship gold medals, and 17 World Junior Championship gold medals. “It should come as no surprise,” Campbell writes, “that Canada is the overwhelming favorite to win the tournament … It would be a major shock to see anyone other than the Canadians holding up the ugliest trophy in the history of sports once the tournament ends.
“How exactly does Team Canada not win the World Cup of Hockey?” Steve Simmons wonders in The Toronto Sun.
“Only two things can really beat Canada in this tournament. One, is Canada. The other is a red-hot opposing goalie. And the belief here is that neither of those are likely to happen.”
The European coach is Ralph Krueger who, born in Winnipeg, isn’t actually European. Nevertheless, he’s on a similar page. “It’ll take a magical day,” he said this week. “It’ll take a world-class goaltending performance.”
There are other pages, of course.
The Finns are said to be … well, they’re also confident. “We know that we can beat anybody if we manage to do our own things and play as best as we can,” a bright young forward, Patrik Laine, told the Canadian Press. “I think we can even win this tournament. I’m not afraid to say that.”
Some Americans feel the same way. Montreal captain Max Pacioretty’s idea that Team USA can win is based on teammate Patrick Kane: “I feels he’s the best player in the game,” he told Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston.
Kane himself? “We know that, hey, it’s time right now to get the job done,” he said. “Who knows how many opportunities there will be for a lot of us in the future to play for Team USA. This group is probably at its peak right now, this group that has been together for the last six years. We want to make sure it’s our time to get it done.”
The Czech Republic plays the home team in tonight’s opening game. Frank Seravalli talked to forward Jakub Voracek about the game this morning and heard him scoff “at the notion that his underdog team was taking on an unbeatable juggernaut.”
“We’re not going to war 10 guys against 100,” Voracek said. “We’re going to play a hockey game, start at 0-0.”
Any other factors that might play into Canada’s chances over the next ten days? I wrote in 2010 that, historically, Canadian teams going abroad to seek hockey dominance did best when (1) they travelled by ship; (2) at least one player on the roster was, in name or spirit, a Bobby; (3) the maple leaf they wore upon their sweaters was depicted with its stalk — its petiole, to use the botanical term — intact.
I didn’t invent this formula, I just looked at the facts. It was the maple leaf that was my biggest concern for our team’s chances going into the Vancouver Olympics due to a change in the look of the maple leaf adorning Canadian sweaters that year. I was worried because (a) an anatomically messed-up maple leaf doesn’t look right and is (b) possibly unpatriotic not to mention (c) why was it necessary to be fiddling with the maple leaf as well as (d) was there a risk that its very redesigned ugliness might somehow jinx our team and jeopardize our chances and (e) why would anyone think that it was worth risking years of Canadian hockey glory for this?
Leaf enthusiasts will say that the petiole has no bearing on a hockey team’s performance on the ice. Botanists, I mean there — although Maple Leaf enthusiasts in Toronto could argue the very same thing.
Another thing, too: we won in 2010, stalkless leaves and all, and in 2014 it happened again, at the Sochi Olympics, with a new Canadian logo featuring a newly designed incomplete new maple leaf.
Is too late to love those Sochi sweaters and wish we had them back? Because the World Cup is, of course, a merchandising opportunity as much as it’s anything else (and maybe more), there were always going to be new sweaters to sell. This year’s maple leaf lacks both stalk and charm. It’s too angular, looks out-of-true. The Globe and Mail’s Roy MacGregor thinks it looks like “a bleached marijuana plant,” but I don’t know. That would suggest that it once had some life in it.
It could be worse. The sweaters that the players from Team Europe and Team North America are wearing are each, in their own way, hideously bland — worse than anything I’ve seen in my laser-tag rec league, to borrow someone’s quip from Twitter. It’s not just that they’re generic, it looks like whoever designed them didn’t care how they turned out because it didn’t matter, so long as Connor McDavid would be putting one on, mobilizing shoppers across his home and native continent and beyond.
P.K. Subban was dining on liver in Paris, Adam Vingan of The Tennessean reports, when he got the word last Wednesday that the Montreal Canadiens had traded him to Nashville’s Predators.
“Quoi?” tweeted Montreal’s mayor, Denis Coderre, when he heard the news. The online shock was matched only by the outrage: “La twittosphère s’enflamme à propos de l’échange de P.K. Subban” was a Journal de Montreal headline from the following day.
“So that Subban trade really happened, eh?” wrote Gerald Butts, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Principal Secretary and a prominent Habs fan. “Call me old fashioned,” groused another, actor and director Jay Baruchel, “but it’s more fun to watch PK Subban play hockey than it is to watch Michel Therrien coach hockey. #fuckingHabs”
Also, in other news, the Toronto Maple Leafs convened a camp for their brightest prospects this week, in Niagara Falls. Mitch Marner was there, and William Nylander, along with, of course, Auston Matthews, drafted first overall in June’s draft. Reported the Associated Press: Leafs skating coach Barb Underhill “quickly noticed a flaw in Matthews’ stride: his left shoulder wasn’t coming across enough.”
Subban’s personality was too big for Montreal, said The Toronto Star’s Bruce Arthur.
Andrew Berkshire, a writer for Sportsnet who also commands editorial content for the analytics firm Sportlogiq: “The Montreal Canadiens have made possibly the worst trade in the history of their franchise, for no reason at all.”
“Unbelievable,” Subban told Adam Vingan, regarding his foie de Paris. About the trade, he said he felt closer to winning the Stanley Cup than he had to before. “I’m just happy to be in a situation where I can excel and feel good about myself coming to the rink every day.”
“I don’t want to take anything away from P.K.,” Montreal GM Marc Bergevin said when he stepped up to face the media in Montreal. “He’s made the way he is and he’s a good person.”
“This is the Roy debacle all over again,” declared Brendan Kelly in The Montreal Gazette. “It’s the worst move by the Habs since Réjean Houle dealt Patrick Roy to the Colorado Avalanche for a bag of pucks in 1995. It took the franchise years to recover from that horrible trade.”
David Poile disagreed — but then he was the guy on the other end, Nashville’s GM. “I’m a general manager,” he said of Subban on the day, “but someday I’d like to be a fan, and he is a guy that I would pay money to see.”
“We never had a problem with P.K.,” was something else Marc Bergevin said. “You have 23 players on your roster and they’re all different. They all bring different things. One of the most important things for me is punctuality. We never had a problem with P.K. with that.”
At NHL.com, Adam Kimelman wrote about an 18-year-old draft prospect. His lede:
After surviving a meteor strike, moving to Canada became a bit easier for right wing Vitaly Abramov of Gatineau of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.
Abramov led Gatineau and indeed all QMJHL rookies in goals, assists, and points (93) last season. Columbus ended up drafting him. Kimelman:
Abramov was at school in his hometown of Chelyabinsk, Russia on Feb. 15, 2013 when a meteor exploded over the city. The meteor was between 49 and 55 feet in size, with an estimated mass of 7,000 to 10,000 tons, according to CNN.
The estimated energy released by the meteor’s explosion was 300-500 kilotons, or about 20 times the estimated amount released by the nuclear bomb dropped on Hiroshima, Japan in 1945.
“I was in school and all the windows in my class crashed,” Abramov said. “All windows in the city was gone. … It was like big panic because it was something none of us had ever seen. But after that it was fine when everyone said it was a meteorite and we’re still alive.
“Normal school day and a meteor came down.”
“I will not go into detail why we think we are a better team,” Marc Bergevin told that press conference, “but we feel we are a better team.”
In China, during an official visit by President of Russia Vladimir Putin, the Kontinental Hockey League announced that it would add a Beijing franchise to the league, HC Kunlun Red Star, for the 2016-17 season.
Other news from Montreal: the Canadiens acquired winger Andrew Shaw from the Chicago Black Hawks for a pair of draft picks. Known for his energy and a talent for annoyance, Shaw is also remembered for having been suspended in this year’s playoffs for uttering an anti-gay slur. He talked to reporters on a conference call soon afterwards, including Mark Lazerus of The Chicago Sun-Times, who heard him say that Bergevin had been in on drafting him, Shaw, as an assistant GM in Chicago. “He likes the rat in me,” Shaw said.
One new teammate Shaw mentioned was Brendan Gallagher.
“Me and Gallagher have had some fun battles,” he said. “Now I’m excited to be on his side to annoy people together, I guess. It’ll be a fun team to play with. I’m pretty excited about it. Can’t wait for September.”
The Calgary Flames, meantime, drafted 18-year-old Matthew Tkachuk, a.k.a. son of a Keith. “He’s a pain in the ass,” said Brian Burke, chief of Flames hockey operations. “We don’t have enough guys who are pains in the ass… I like guys who are pains in the ass.”
For his part, Tkachuk fils mentioned to a Calgary Herald reporter that he models his game on Corey Perry’s. Wes Gilbertson:
And if he can, indeed, blossom into a Perry sort, he might not have to pay for a meal in Cowtown for his entire life.
After all, Perry is a guy who seems to routinely score 30-plus goals each season, never shies away from a collision and, thanks to his aggravating style, has probably been called four-letter words that most of us don’t even know.
The Hockey Hall of Fame announced its 2016 class last week: Eric Lindros, Rogie Vachon, Pat Quinn, and Sergei Makarov. Here’s Katie Baker, at The Ringer, on the erstwhile Number 88:
Lindros was named to the Hockey Hall of Fame, after six years of mostly silly rejection, and it’s about damn time. Ever since he was a teenager, the center was an unceasing, and worthy, obsession of the hockey world. He was huge (6-foot-4, 240) and hugely skilled, capable of playing a style of hockey that seemed more of an abstract ideal than an actual bodily possibility. (Instead of using the 20/80 scale to evaluate prospects, hockey scouts ought to just rate them from 1 to Eric Lindros.) He was, for a time, hockey’s avatar. In the biopic he’d be played by Channing Tatum, and you’d spoil the viewing experience for your kids because you’d keep pestering them: No, you don’t understand, there was no one like him in his prime.
What should a Hall of Fame be? This is a question that all sports face; baseball has a whole steroid-fueled generation that it may never decide how to properly judge. Should the place feel like an encyclopedic compendium of a sport’s most successful players as defined by known, unassailable metrics — career length and Cup wins included — or should it have more laid-back shrine-to-the-glory-of-hockey, this-is-what-things-were-like-back-then vibes? I’m an extremist, but my ideal Hall of Fame would be the best kind of museum, the type that immerses you in the context, ugly and beautiful, of all of hockey’s eras. Hell, put an interactive NHL on Fox glowing-puck exhibit next to Lindros’s bust. Few things are so specifically, disgustingly mid-’90s.
“I’m not P.K. Subban,” Shea Weber said when the media in Canada turned its attention to him, “I’m not going to try to be. I’m going to bring my hard work and attitude and try to bring this team some wins. The biggest thing I want to do is win. I know that they’ve got a good base there, obviously one of the best goaltenders in the world, some top-end forwards, and I’m just excited to be joining that group.”
“I don’t mind seeing pucks,” Minnesota Wild goalstopper Devan Dubnyk said this month. “That’s what I’m here to do.”
Frank Seravalli of TSN.ca got talking to 43-year-old Jaromir Jagr of the Florida Panthers.
Q: You said a couple years ago that you’d like to play until you’re 50. Is that still realistic?
A: I know I’m going to play to 50. I know that — if I don’t get injured. I never said I’m going to play here (in the NHL) until I’m 50. That’s a different story. You can always play ’til 50. There’s a lot of guys that play until 60, you know, just beer hockey.
Q: But what about the NHL?
A: I don’t think I could go until 50. It’s very tough.
Sidney Crosby is at war with Mario Lemieux, according to reports emerging from Pittsburgh, or at least they’re feuding or … mutually miffed? We don’t have a lot of details, so let’s try to get it right, the what-we-know. They’ve fallen out. There’s been a falling out.
Former player Matthew Barnaby is the source for this, at SiriusXM. Could be because they disagree about who’s coaching in Pittsburgh, or else … maybe it’s the 2014 playoffs that soured the relationship. Does this mean Crosby will be traded? “That,” says Barnaby, “I don’t know.”
Someone asked Mario Lemieux about all. “It’s absolutely not true,” he said. “It’s silly.”
Jagr is the cover story in the new issue of Sportsnet magazine, where his age/agelessness is again front and centre. “The time between when I quit hockey and I die,” he tells Kristina Rutherford, measuring air with his hands, “I want it to be the shortest.”
Jagr goes on:
“If I can play til I die, that’s what I will do. What else are you gonna do? Even if you retire, you still will have to go work out, and maybe harder than you do when you play hockey because you don’t wanna look ugly and fat. At least I don’t want to.”
Fans in Toronto are selling blue-and-white striped socks with Mike Babcock’s head at the ankle. They’re called Babsocks, obviously. One of the principals, Jake Mednick, explained the rationale to Sportsnet.ca. “There’s been a lot of negativity, especially last season, around the team, around the organization — and it wasn’t as fun to be a fan anymore,” he said. “We want everyone in the city to have fun and feel good to be Leafs fans.”
No word so far on what the coach himself thinks. He did have a thought, in recent weeks, to add to the flaring debate around how to fertilize scoring in the NHL: bigger nets. Others advocated for slimming down the gear that goaltenders are permitted to pack on.
Said Mike McKenna, sometime NHLer now netminding for the AHL’s Portland Pirates:
“I’ve become completely numb to any pending goalie equipment regulation changes. I’ll play in whatever as long as I’m not getting hurt.”
ECW announced a pair of memoirs they’ll be publishing down the road, in September of 2017: Greg Oliver is assisting Gilles Gratton on Gratoony The Loony, while Sportsnet’s Ken Reid is sidekicking Dennis Maruk: The Unforgettable Story of Hockey’s Forgotten 60-Goal Man.
Also in the works from ECW for 2016: David Dupuis and Waxy Gregoire have been working with Hall of Fame defenceman and erstwhile coach Red Kelly to tell his story.
Stu Cowan from Montreal’s Gazette reported that the Canadiens’ new captain, who’s taking lessons in French this fall, has been greeting reporters with a confident “Bon midi.”
The Toronto Maple Leafs and their goaltenders are working with the man who revamped/rescued Devan Dubnyk’s aforementioned game. The National Post’s David Alter reported that in September, the Leafs officially enlisted the services of “puck-tracking guru” Lyle Mast.
His specialty is something called head trajectory, which is … well, keeping an eye on the puck that’s trying to get by you. It sounds much more interesting when Mast describes it, though, at his Optimum Reaction website:
“Head trajectory impacts the ability to efficiently execute every aspect of your training, development and game play, based on your setup. It empowers the athlete to train on the values of efficiency versus just speed and seeing the puck versus just looking at it. It exposes the difference between being able versus unable to execute your save and post-save responses, eliminating delays.”
Saving and/or post-responding, Montreal puck-seer Carey Price hurt his lower body in some way that required a week’s rest and recovery away from the ice. “It’s always nice to come home,” he said before that. “I always miss the smell of the mountains.”
Price disclosed his injury, which is to say Montreal did, announcing that he’d been hurt in an end-of-October game against Edmonton. Or, sorry: he sustained the injury. He didn’t disclose his injury, which is also to say that Montreal didn’t, to the extent there was no press release describing where and how it hurt, when and wherefore. Because — of course not. Why would you pinpoint your own weaknesses for other teams? Carey Price’s ailments are proprietary information.
“Pricey est fait fort,” tweeted P.K. Subban. “Tout ce qu’on sait pour l’instant, c’est qu’il est évalué.”
Also in Minnesota, Jason Pominville hasn’t been scoring goals. “You have to dig deep and find a way,” he advised The St. Paul Pioneer Press. “Right now I’m kind of in that boat where pucks aren’t finding me, and when they are, they’re bouncing. I’ve just got to find a find a way to put one in.”
“Blessé au bas du corps,” said La Presse Canadienne.
“The thing is,” confided Montreal coach Michel Therrien a couple of days later, “it’s nothing major. He had some treatment and said Friday morning that he had a certain amount of pain, so the medical staff didn’t take any chances and kept him off the ice. He went to see the doctor when we returned and our medical team recommended that he take a week off.”
The week turned into three. The diagnosis continued undisclosed, non-divulged, irrevealed. Mike Condon, Montreal’s back-up, was asked to fill in. “I’m not going to try and be Carey,” he said. “I don’t think anyone can.”
He was, nevertheless, pretty good, going 5-1-2 in the eight games Price missed in November. Price went to New York with his father, Jerry, to get a second opinion, which very well could have cheered him, or confirmed what he already knew, or even, possibly, surprised everyone. For most of us it was nothing new insofar it was (of course) kept secret.
“We’re not the Russian Red Army team,” Leafs’ winger Brad Boyes mentioned a week or two back, or several, in hearing of Stephen Whyno from The Canadian Press, “so we’ve got to make sure that we’re out there playing our style, our game.”
“We’ve had some shots and chances,” said Taylor Hall, regretting an Edmonton Oiler loss to St. Louis, “but not enough to create momentum for our team. It’s disappointing.”
When Price returned to the Montreal net last week, he helped the Canadiens beat the New York Islanders. “Carey Price was Carey Price,” Therrien said afterwards.
He beat them again over the weekend, and then he beat the Rangers, mostly — in that game, a 5-1, he gave way to Condon after two periods.
So everybody wondered, as Sportsnet.ca did:
“The reason it’s all so hush-hush,” Renaud Lavoie from TVA Sports told TSN, “is nobody knows what’s going on.”
Which makes sense.
Someone from Montreal’s Gazette spotted Price limping through the lobby of the team hotel Thursday morning.
All Therrien would say was that, yes, it was that previous injury nobody really wanted to talk about in the first place. “He tweaked it.”
Lavoie said that it was pretty definitely the right leg, the right knee is what people who knew these things knew, though Lavoie was also thinking there was more to it than that, could be a combination of things, a hip, a groin. “If you look at him right now, there’s a lot of question marks.” Continue reading
Jimmy Murphy was supposed to coach Toronto’s first NHL team that winter long ago, before he was felled by a mishap so patently Canadian that it probably deserves to be commemorated on a stamp: he slipped on an icy December sidewalk.
This was 1917. I’ll refer you to Deceptions And Doublecross: How The NHL Conquered Hockey, Morey Holzman’s and Joseph Nieforth’s fine book, for background on the league’s difficult birth that year — for the moment, let’s stay with Murphy, the man tabbed to steer the brand-new temporary Toronto team that would play out the Arena Gardens on Mutual Street, though its owners were in Montreal. Murphy sounds like he was the right man for the job: St. Michael’s College had won senior OHA championships under his guidance, as well as an Allan Cup.
I don’t know what he battered or broke on that cold sidewalk, but he was sufficiently injured to ask to be relieved of his duties. That’s when Charlie Querrie got the call. He was a well-known personality in Toronto circles, a former lacrosse star who also managed Tecumsehs of the National Lacrosse Union. He was also, conveniently, manger of the arena on Mutual.
He didn’t waste any time getting to work. First thing, he appointed Dick Carroll as assistant manager and trainer. Next, he put his team on the ice for practice, at 5 p.m. on December 6, the day after he took the job.
This was a team that featured Harry Cameron, Jack Adams, Cor Denneny, and Reg Noble. Toronto ended the season by winning the Stanley Cup, of course. But the season opened, on December 19, with a 9-10 road loss to the Montreal Wanderers.
Before that game, Querrie posted a notice in the team’s dressing room laying out his no-nonsense philosophy for the players in his charge. It seemed familiar, when I first came across this 15-point communiqué, the tone and the pithy candor. I don’t know that Mike Babcock would recognize the name Charlie Querrie let alone have come across his hockey creed, but it does, I have to say, read like a chapter of the latest Leaf coach’s forceful 2012 book Leave No Doubt: A Credo For Chasing Your Dreams.
As published ahead of the 1917-18 season, Charlie Querrie’s memo to his players went like this:
First and foremost do not forget that I am running this club. It won’t do you any good to tell your troubles to the public and the other players. If you have a grievance, tell it to me.
When practice is called at a certain hour, be there. If you are late we want to know why and, and even then the “why” isn’t an excuse.
You are paid to give your best services to the club. Condition depends a lot on how you behave off the ice.
Remember that it does not require bravery to hit another man over the head with a stick. If you want to fight, go over to France.
Time spent in the penalty box is time wasted. You are not expected to take all abuse without going back at your opponent, but do not be foolish.
Remember that there are generally five other players on a team with you. You are not expected to play the whole game.
You are not out on the ice to score all the goals. Combination with the rest of the players will probably result in more goals than individual play.
You will not be fined for doing the best you can. You will be punished for indifferent work or carelessness. If you are anxious to win all the time you will be a good player. Indifference or lack of pepper is one thing we never did like.
Remember it means as much to you to win the championship as it does to me. If you do not play as well as you can, you are not only hurting yourself, but the rest of the team and your supporters.
Do not think that you are putting something over on the manager when you do anything you should not. You are getting paid to play hockey, not to be a good fellow.
If playing hockey is going to be your business in the winter, remember that the wise man attends to his business and generally gets better results. You future in the game depends on how you play the game.
It is the public who pay your salary. Show them the best you can and your chances of better financial results in the future will be good.
Don’t always imagine you are getting the worst of it from the officials. Play hockey and they will see you secure an even break.
Don’t knock your fellow players. Remember they might also have a hammer concealed somewhere and might be tempted to use it.
Play hockey, attend practices regularly, take care of your condition, and you will not suffer any penalties. Remember the first paragraph and be sure to tell your troubles to me: I am an easy boss if you do your share. If you do not want to be on the square and play the hockey you are capable of, turn your uniform into Dick Carroll and go at some other work.
“Very proud,” Brendan Shanahan was telling the media at the Air Canada Centre, “very happy today. Happy to introduce Mike as the 30th coach in Toronto Maple Leafs’ history. Thank you, Mike. Welcome.”
Except, of course, that Babcock is the 31st man to coach the Leafs. Dick Duff is the odd man out, relegated to a footnote in the team’s media-guide list of head coaches, untallied in the overall count that runs, now, from Alex Romeril to the pride of Manitouwadge, Ontario (Babcock’s hometown) by way of Saskatoon (where he grew up).
The Leafs, of course, are free to count their coaches in any way they so choose. But the case for leaving Duff out is cloudy, at best; the logic for including him in is at least persuasive as that associated with several other names who are on the list.
Duff’s tenure was brief, just two came in March of 1980, as detailed here. It came on suddenly, overnight, when the incumbent Floyd Smith was injured in a car accident on a Friday night. Smith had a couple of assistants that year, Duff and Johnny Bower, and on the Saturday morning ahead of an evening game, GM Punch Imlach put Duff in charge. “I told the players that Duff had absolute control of the team,” Imlach told reporters, “and I wanted them to do exactly what he told them.”
Still, it was a stopgap measure, no question about that, an emergency measure, a battlefield commission. Much like (minus the highway accident) the situation that the San Jose Sharks found themselves in December of 2002. In that case, GM Dean Lombardi had fired his head coach, Darryl Sutter, and a pair of assistants, named a Shark scout, Cap Raeder, as a temporary replacement. He did the job for precisely one game, a 3-2 overtime win over Phoenix, before Lombardi got a new coach, Ron Wilson, into place. According to the Sharks’ media guide, he was the seventh coach in team history, just as the man who succeeds the eighth (Todd McLellan) will be the ninth — i.e. no bumping about in the footnotes for Cap Raeder.
Brevity shouldn’t sink Duff’s cause. Maybe, then, Leaf management and asterisk lobbyists would argue that everybody knew that Duff wasn’t going to last, he was no more than a placeholder, a bookmark, filling a space behind the Leaf bench until the new, real coach showed up.
On that basis, Alex Romeril shouldn’t count, either — he was only doing the job in the latter days of the 1927 season until Conn Smythe finished up his coaching commitment with the University of Toronto Grads. And what about Peter Horachek, this year? Like Duff, he was an assistant who found himself appointed interim coach when, in his case, GM Dave Nonis fired Randy Carlyle this past January. Nobody expected him be in the job beyond the end of the season. He was, but only for a day or so: Brendan Shanahan fired him and Nonis on the Sunday after the Leafs played their final game.
Ah-ha (as the Leafs might say, and do, in this imaginary debate I’m having with them, whether they know it or not) — ha-ha, but Punch Imlach never spoke the magic word, whatever the GM might have mentioned about absolute control, Dick Duff was never officially anointed with those three all-important syllables: interim.
Is that true, though? On Monday, March 17, 1980, the day Duff coached his second and last game in the NHL, newspapers across the continent published a brief Associated Press notice that included the words Dick and Duff and named and interim coach. The AP would have got their information from some reputable source — maybe the PR people at the NHL? Likewise The Toronto Star, wherein readers of the small print in the sports pages might have seen this:
Is that enough to pluck Duff out of the margins and get him properly numbered as the fifteenth coach in Leaf history? I don’t know. Maybe Mike Babcock could put a word in for him. Continue reading