zarley zalapski, 1968—2017

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.

 

air show, 1948: goldbound, via slushy ice and snowballs

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“When the decisions went against the Swiss in the vital game with Canada, a chorus of shrill whistles echoed through the Alps and a barrage of snowballs came down from the hillside.”

• Jack Sullivan reporting for Canadian Press, February 9, 1948

It wasn’t easy, but they did it: on this day 69 years ago, the RCAF Flyers won gold in St. Moritz at the V Winter Olympics Games. That’s them above, flanked by the silvery Czechs and bronze-winning Swiss. Capping off a tournament that didn’t lack for drama — it was very nearly downgraded to an exhibition event — the Canadians beat the host Swiss on the final day in what seems to have been a decidedly bad-tempered contest.

The Canadian view: the plucky Canadians overcame terrible ice and biased refereeing to win 3-0. “We played eight men —“the Swiss players and the referees — and still beat ’em,” Corporal George McFaul, RCAF trainer, crowed after the game.

Here’s Jack Sullivan again:

The ice conditions and the refereeing were so bad that at times the game threatened to develop into a farce. The officials, Eric De Marcwicz of Britain and Van Reyshoot of Belgium, were pointedly in favour of Switzerland, some of the latter’s decisions being almost unbelievable.

[Wally] Halder tried to check a Swiss player at one point but fell flat. The Swiss player also went down. Halder was thumbed off for five minutes by Van Reyshoot — “for tripping and interference.”

Later, Heinrich Boller, Swiss defenceman, cross-checked Thomas (Red) Hibbard, who fell heavily to the ice. Both players were sent to the penalty box. Near the end of the game during a scramble in front of the Canadian goal Boller punched [goaltender Murray] Dowey in the face but was given only a two-minte penalty.

During the second and third periods, the partisan Swiss crowd, taking exception to some of the referee’s decisions, hurled snowballs at the Flyers.

(Image: Library and Archives Canada, R15559-22-2-E)

air show, 1948: sticks flew, tempers flared

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Force Majeure: The RCAF Flyers began their pursuit of hockey gold in 1948 with a victory on January 30 over Sweden. Hard to say just where the Swedish players were when this photograph was taken — strung out across centre ice, awaiting the Canadian onslaught? The Swedes’ Lindstrom opened the scoring in the first period of a game that The Ottawa Journal described as tough and bruising. George Mara tied the score before the intermission, and Wally Halder got the winner in the second. Both those players were civilian reinforcements; Flying Officer Reg Schroeter added an insurance goal in the final period. “Sticks flew and tempers flared in the final minutes of the game,” advised The Journal, “with a free-for-all threatening.” Didn’t happen, though the Canadian goaltender did end up taking a penalty for throwing his stick. Under Olympic rules, Aircraftman 2nd Class Murray Dowey went to serve the punishment himself with eight seconds remaining. No worries:

Defenceman Andre Laperriere took Dowey’s spot in the nets, without goaltending equipment, and a stout Canadian defence prevented a shot on goal before the final whistle.

(Image: Library and Archives Canada, R15559-22-2-E)

air show, 1948

st moritz

It was on this day in 1948 that the RCAF Flyers wrapped up the hockey gold medal for Canada at the V Olympic Winter Games in St. Moritz, Switzerland. Twelve years and a world war had passed since Canada’s awkward loss at the previous hibernal Olympics in 1936 and, this time, the Canadians made no mistake.

Well, next to none.

Okay, so maybe it wasn’t as straightforward as Canadians hoped it would be.

Having overcome the Swedes (3-1) and Britons (3-0), the airmen shellacked the Poles (15-0), lacquered the Italians (21-1), and enamelled the Americans (12-3). On February 6, the varnishing stopped: Canada could only muster a 0-0 tie against Czechoslovakia. “Real playoff hockey,” said Mike Buckna, the Czech’s Canadian coach. Canada was able, subsequently, to glaze both the Austrians (12-0) and Swiss (3-0) and thereby outrun the Czechs on goal average. The hosts from Switzerland secured the bronze.

Congratulations poured in from Canada. By the following day, the team had received more than 200 cables from home, including greetings (above) from Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King. There were salutations as well from the Chiefs of Army and Naval Staff and from RCAF Headquarters. Colin Gibson, Minister of National Defence For Air, sent his cheers to the team for lived up to the RCAF motto, Per Ardua Ad Astra (Through adversity to the stars).

Hockey’s Hall of Fame — the original one, in Kingston, Ontario — sent a telegram, and so did (very sporting) members of 1936 British Olympic team, who wired, “Congratulations to the new champions from the Ex-.”

The cable that the players liked best came from the father of Pete Leichnitz, a 21-year-old spare forward on the Canadian team. “Congratulations,” Mr. Leichnitz wrote from Ottawa, “and what if it did cost me 10 bucks? Paw.”

The coach of the Flyers was RCAF Sergeant Frank Boucher, son of George (Buck) Boucher and nephew of his namesake uncle, the legendary New York Rangers centreman, coach, and (later) GM. The Flyers would not be able to reply individually to all the telegrams, Frank the younger said, but he asked the newspapermen to convey to Canada the team’s “warmest thanks.”

(Image: Library and Archives Canada, R15559-17-9-E)

calling time

Stick Tap: Hayley Wickenheiser announced her hockey retirement today at the age of 38. A five-time Olympic medallist (four golds and a silver), the Shaunavon, Saskatchewan, native is the all-time leading scorer in Canadian women’s hockey. CBC has an overview of her outstanding opening career here. As Wickenheiser said today in bidding her farewell, she’s focussed now on the one that comes next, which has her heading to medical school.

(Top Image: Dave Holland, 2014, Simon Fraser University Communications)

canada’s cup 1976: the greatest aggregation of hockey talent ever assembled

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The Olympics go out, as they tend to do, in a salvo of light and colour and national pride. The stadium, one observer writes, is filled with the overwhelming goodwill of youth. A streaker who takes the field cavorts near dancing girls. spectacle and the striving Was it worth all that money? The questions float up and flutter among the flags. One flame goes out, a new one flickers its fingers. Leave it, maybe, to the novelist Morley Callaghan to pronounce: the Olympics are madness, he says, “and madness is beautiful regardless of price.”

Time, when it’s all over, for the hockey players to stand to the fore.

This year, it was Rio’s Olympics that’s giving way to the end of summer and a hockey World Cup pitting nation against nation against — well, of course, there’s a pair of continental teams, too, one of which is U23, so it’s a strangely asymmetrical tournament, a format that we’re still getting used to. Maybe we’ll even learn to love it.

Forty years ago, it was the Montreal Olympics that a great Canadian novelist lauded as they ended in August. The hockey players in question that year were participants in a more traditional international tournament spread among six old-fashioned national teams in the inaugural Canada Cup.

With all due respect to this year’s edition, Canada ’76 was loaded with talent and savvy and experience — and that’s just the braintrust. Montreal’s genius GM Sam Pollock was in charge of the whole operation, with Keith Allen as a principal aide and Toe Blake standing by as counsel. Then there was Pollock’s advisory committee of wise men: Jean Béliveau, Gordie Howe, and Syl Apps. Scotty Bowman was the first choice to coach, but he said no, at first: his Montreal Canadiens had just completed a successful Stanley Cup campaign, and his wife was pregnant with twins.

There was a rumour that Fred Shero had agreed to the step up, but Pollock said he hadn’t, in fact, spoken to the coach of the Philadelphia Flyers.

In the end, Pollock decided four heads were better than one. Bowman was back in, joining with Boston’s Don Cherry, Bobby Kromm of the Winnipeg Jets, Al MacNeil, coach of Montreal’s AHL farm team, the Nova Scotia Voyageurs. There was so much enthusiasm to generate, Bowman said. “I used up much of my adrenalin during the past season and have another season ahead. Having four coaches spreads it around a little and eases the pressure.”

“This will be the coaching style of the future,” was Cherry’s take on it. “Each of us will contribute something. We’ll work in harmony. There won’t be any friction. We all want to win. We’re going to be the favourites and there’s going to be nothing but pressure on us. It would be too much for one man.”

Picking a preliminary 31-man roster in June, Pollock selected 29 players from the NHL with three more drawn from WHA clubs. The coaches would trim the squad in August to 25, 20 of whom would dress for each tournament game. Injuries ruled out several significant players, including goaltenders Ken Dryden and Bernie Parent and defencemen Brad Park and Jim Schoenfeld.

There was uncertainty about Bobby Orr, too, coming off two 1975 surgeries on that troublesome left knee of his. He’d gone in for an arthroscopic exam in June, and his lawyer, at least, was hopeful. “Bobby is in A-1 condition,” reported Alan Eagleson, who also happened to be running the tournament as director, “and he’ll probably play in the Canada Cup.”

Even without the poorly, it was hard to see the Canadian roster as diminished, exactly.

Gerry Cheevers, Glenn Resch, and Rogie Vachon were among the goaltenders summoned to report to a 23-day training camp in Montreal in August. Defencemen included Larry Robinson, Serge Savard, Denis Potvin, and Guy Lapointe. Guy Lafleur, Bob Gainey, and Reggie Leach were competing were jobs on the right wing, with Bill Barber, Bobby Hull, Bob Gainey, and Steve Shutt over on the left. At centre: Bobby Clarke, Darryl Sittler, Phil Esposito, Gil Perreault, Marcel Dionne, and Pete Mahovlich.

In Montreal, the players moved into the Bonaventure Hotel. August 10 they headed for the ice for the first time at the Forum. Morning drills led to an afternoon scrimmage. In the evening, the team headed to Jarry Park to watch the Montreal Expos play ball with the San Francisco Giants. The next day, and for the rest of the camp, they started the morning with a three-mile run up Mount Royal.

“It was easily the toughest training camp I’ve ever attended,” Dionne was saying by the time it was over.

Bobby Orr stayed at his summer place, in Orillia, Ontario, working on his own — and making progress. “Two months ago there was no way I thought I could play but in the last month the knee has felt just super,” he updated. “I will skating hard and if there isn’t a bad reaction I will be going to Montreal.”

Bobby Hull was 37. Shut out of the Summit Series in 1972, he was thrilled to be aboard this time out. He was pleased, too, to be playing in a tournament where the hockey had evolved beyond the intimidation inherent in his home and native WHA. “It will be a pleasure to play without the worry about being stabbed in the back. Everyone will be back to hockey’s basics, the way hockey should be played and was played before the goons took over.”

Phil Esposito was feeling renewed after the shock of the trade that had taken him from Boston to New York the previous November. “It affected me mentally,” he was saying, “and because of it I couldn’t function properly. It just devastated me.” But: he was ready now, he said. Don Cherry, for one, thought it showed. “Espo was showing the snap I hadn’t seen for a couple of years,” his former coach said after the team’s first workout.

He was one of the vets from ’72, Espo. Savard, Lapointe, Clarke, and Mahovlich had played in the Summit Series, . That epic series was even fresher in the national mind, of course, than it is today, with coaches and players vowing that they wouldn’t be making the same mistakes they’d made back then. Arrogance wasn’t a word they were using: mostly what they mentioned were matters of conditioning and team unity.

They wasn’t much joy, looking back. There was wariness, weariness , grim memories tinged at the edges by the unshakeable sense of just how near run a thing it had been. Even as he and his team readied this new challenge, Serge Savard talked to Montreal Gazette columnist Tim Burke about how very, very exhausted the Canadians were, four years earlier, how disarrayed, how downspirited, who knows what might have happened if they’d hadn’t left the country after the first four games.

Lessons had been learned. Exhibition games would help, this time around. “Mental preparation is also important,” said Harry Sinden, the coach in ’72. “We went into that series saying to ourselves we couldn’t lose. We now know what we’re up against and that’s in our favour.”

Not that we weren’t still having problems imagining anything other than victory. What else was there? Our game, our tournament. “If ever a team appeared to be invincible,” Tim Burke effused in that same Savard-quoting column, “I’d put my dough on this lot.” What we had here, he’d decided, no doubts, was “the greatest aggregation of hockey talent ever assembled.”

The Soviets, if they showed up, would be lacking in their line-up. Valeri Kharlamov was recovering for a summer car accident, Alexander Yakushev had a bad knee. Veteran Vladimirs, Petrov and Shadrin, weren’t coming, and nor was Boris Mikhailov. Goaltender Vladislav Tretiak was supposed to be staying home, too — to study for military exams, the word was.

Esposito, for one, wasn’t fooled. “A psyche job,” he warned in August.

“The Russians are clever. They’re leaking these stories in hopes it will throw us off our game. When they arrive, they will be tough.”

Team Canada sent Tom Watt, coach of the University of Toronto, across the Atlantic to scout the Soviets and Swedes. “Objectively,” he said on his return, “I think Team Canada has the talent to win. But sometimes you find a kid with a high IQ doesn’t do very well in math. Performance and talent are always two different things.

But maybe the Russians wouldn’t come at all — that was a possibility, for a while. As the Olympics drew to a close in early August, the Soviet Olympic Committee was threatening both to pull out of the Game’s remaining events, and there was talk that the hockey team would stay home, too. A 17-year-old diver, Sergei Nemtsanov, had asked for and been granted asylum in Canada — defected — and the Soviets were livid.

He’d been abducted, they said, maybe drugged, certainly brainwashed. There was a meeting involving the diver, his lawyers, and Soviet and Canadian officials that proved, to the Soviets, that he was not in his right mind. Why was his face so pale, his look so absent? Why did he repeat, “like a parrot,” “I want freedom, I want freedom.”

A Russian official charged that “a group of terrorists” had been roaming the Olympic Village, preying on Soviet athletes.

Other press reports noted that young Sergei had an American diver as his girlfriend, and that this was all about her, though the girlfriend’s family released a statement to say firmly that she wasn’t Sergei’s girlfriend.

Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau weighed in: he said it was up to the diver to decide what he wanted to do. Which he did: after a week or two in Toronto, concerned for his “aged and ailing grandmother,” he elected to go home. Continue reading

new order

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Medal Count: Cassie Campbell-Pascall was one of 113 new appointments to the Order of Canada this Thursday past. The former left winger who captained Canada’s national women’s team to Olympic gold medals in 2002 and 2006 also skated to six World Championships with the team. Now 43, she works as a reporter for Sportsnet and Hockey Night in Canada. In 2012, Campbell-Pascall was named to the Order of Hockey in Canada. (Photo: Bryan Adams, Library and Archives Canada, R11443-84, e010752920)