shark tale

How it started: Marc Tardif won a pair of Stanley Cup championships with the NHL’s mighty Montreal Canadiens in the early 1970s.

How it ended up: Tardif dominated the WHA as captain and goalgetter-in-chief of the Quebec Nordiques, twice winning league scoring titles along with the Gordie Howe Trophy (a pair of) as WHA MVP. In 1977, he powered Quebec to its lone Avco Cup championship. In the annals of WHA stats, Tardif stands first in goals got, second in points piled up, third in assists accreted.

In between? In the summer of 1973, not long after having helped Canadiens secure another Stanley Cup, Tardif was on the move to the WHA. After three-and-a-half seasons in Montreal, the 23-year-old left winger signed with the Los Angeles Sharks. He may look wistful in the portrait reproduced here, but he had reasons to celebrate his move to California. With Montreal, it was duly reported, Tardif had been making $40,000 a year; in Los Angeles, his annual salary was said to be close to $120,000. (He also got the no-trade clause that Canadiens’ GM Sam Pollock wasn’t willing to offer.)

Canadiens were shedding left wingers at an alarming rate that summer: in July, Réjean Houle would make his break for the WHA Nordiques. Not that the NHL champions didn’t still have options on the port side: for the 1973-74 season ahead, Montreal’s stable still featured a veteran Frank Mahovlich along with up-and-comers Murray Wilson and Yvon Lambert as well as a pair of still-to-be-tested youngsters by the names of Steve Shutt and Bob Gainey.

Marc Tardif led his Sharks in scoring through the ’73-74 season, though that wasn’t enough to buoy the team out of last place in the overall WHA standings. The team moved the following year to Detroit, where they became the Michigan Stags. They only lasted half-a-season there before staggering out of town in January of 1975 to become the Baltimore Blades.

Tardif was gone by then, having joined his old Canadiens’ teammates Houle and J.C. Tremblay in Quebec in December of ’74 in a trade that sent Alain Caron, Pierre Guite, and Michel Rouleau to the Stags.

this friday

Icy Crisis: The Philadelphia Blazers were set to make their debut this week in 1972 as the WHA kicked off its inaugural season, and they were oh so close to hosting the New England Whalers at the local Civic Center. But the Zamboni arrived late, and when it ventured out to do its work, the ice buckled. After officials conferred with referee Bill Friday (that’s him, above, on the cover a 1977 Houston Aeros program), the game was postposed, to the chagrin of 6,000 expectant fans, who tossed back the red WHA pucks they’d been given as they arrived. Blazers’ captain Derek Sanderson took to the PA to explain. “It would be very dangerous for the players,” he said. “Please come back, we need your support after they get this bloody ice fixed.” Not an auspicious start for the Blazers, who continued to falter. Sanderson departed after eight games, returning to the NHL Bruins. The Blazers themselves lasted just a single season in Philadelphia before upping stakes and relocating to Vancouver.

cleveland’s dr. no

Stitch Up: Crusader goaltender Gerry Cheevers looks out from the cover of an Edmonton Oilers program from November of 1975. “Cleveland’s Dr. No” the accompanying story was headlined. On the ice, the Oilers won the game, 4-1.

A judge in district court in Boston was considering whether Gerry Cheevers still ought to be a Boston Bruin on a Wednesday of this same date in 1972, but that didn’t keep the 31-year-old goaltender from strapping on his pads for the Cleveland Crusaders as the upstart WHA dropped the puck, 50 years ago tonight, for the first games of its seven-year history.

Cheevers had won a pair of Stanley Cup championships with Boston, including one in the spring of ’72, but when Cleveland came calling that summer, he’d signed a seven-year, $1.4-million contract and headed west. His was one of several WHA getaways that the Bruins attempted to block in court: as hockey season rolled around, they were also doing their best to reel back Derek Sanderson and Johnny Mackenzie from the Philadelphia Blazers.

Cheevers, for one, had judicial permission to play on, and so was able to open his WHA account with a 2-0 home win over the Maurice Richard-coached Quebec Nordiques, stopping 21 shots to record the new league’s first shutout. “I’ve played seven years with the best club in hockey,” Cheevers said after it was all over, “but this was the easiest shutout I’ve ever had.”

Boston’s lawsuit failed to bring Cheevers back; he went on to win 32 of the 52 games he played for Cleveland, securing the Ben Hatskin Award as the league’s best goaltender. His WHA adventure lasted not quite four seasons as he made his return to the Bruins in 1976, playing a further five NHL seasons before he retired at the end of the 1979-80 campaign.

Pictured here in 1975, his famous mask was designed and built by a former plumbing superintendent in Boston, Ernie Higgins, though it was Bruins trainer Frosty Forristall who gets the credit for its famous decoration. Here’s Cheevers telling the tale in Unmasked, the 2011 memoir he wrote with an assist from Marc Zappulla:

The protection the mask afforded me gave me more time on the ice and less time in the locker room getting stitched up, which was nice. However, I hated the color of that thing. It was white. I hated white. I seldom even wore white socks. And if I happened to look down when I did, I felt a fright as if I was exposed to something with ill consequences. Call it what you want: a phobia, or outright disdain for this wholesome shade. The sight of this glimmering, shiny, white mold engaged to my facial pores drove me nuts. The color itself is a sign of purity and that wasn’t me. I was quite the opposite. In fact, I was driven by an unconventional thought process and a wayward nature my whole life; the white had to go.

And so?

One morning I tried to get out of practice, which, again, was the norm for me, not the exception. I was in net when a puck flipped up and grazed mask. The puck’s force was so softly propelled, that, had I not been wearing the mask I seriously doubt I’d have so much as a scratch on my face. It was weak, but I faked like it wasn’t. I winced in pain, came off the ice, and headed into the dressing room. I sat down and sparked up a cigarette when [Bruin coach] Harry Sinden came in and said, “Get your ass out there, you’re not hurt!”

So, before I collected myself and got back on the ice, Frosty the trainer said, “Here, hold it.”

Frosty broke out a sharpie and drew in four or five stitches where I had undoubtedly been hit, right above the eye, I believe it was. Everyone got a kick out of it, so I told Frosty, “Fros, every time I get hit with a puck, or the stick comes up, take care of it.” He did, and all the marks were legit.

 

dave dryden, 1941—2022

Bro Show: Dave Dryden, right, congratulates younger brother Ken at the Montreal Forum on the night of April 5, 1973, the first time in NHL history that two brothers tended goal against each other. (Image: Fonds La Presse, BAnQ Vieux-Montréal)

Very sorry to be seeing the news that Dave Dryden died this past Tuesday at the age of 81. He was a goaltender, because that’s what the boys in that family did: his younger brother, of course, Hall-of-Famer Ken, followed him into puckstopping. Born in Hamilton in 1941, Dave played 205 games in the NHL, working the nets in his time for the New York Rangers, Chicago Black Hawks, Buffalo Sabres, and Edmonton Oilers. He played 260 WHA games, too, starting with the Chicago Cougars before joining the Oilers; in 1979, he won both the Ben Hatskin Trophy as the WHA’s top goaltender and the Gordie How Trophy as league MVP.

“I don’t know where we went wrong,” Murray Dryden wrote, wryly, in a 1972 account of his hockey-playing sons, Playing The Shots At Both Ends. “The two boys both graduated from university, but they ended up as goaltenders.”

Murray himself never played hockey, though he could boast some NHL pedigree (and did) insofar as he counted former Leafs Syl Apps and Andy Blair as well as New York Rangers’ ironman Murray Murdoch as cousins.

The family moved from Hamilton to Islington, a suburb of Toronto, in 1949. It was there that young Dave found his future, his father recalled:

One Saturday morning, when he was ten years old, we went to a lumber yard and bought some two-by-fours. Then we got some chicken wire at a hardware store and brought it home, and made a hockey net. It was the first and last thing I ever constructed in my life. The total cost was $6.60.

We set it up in the driveway in front of the garage door and the boys peppered a tennis ball at it for hours on end. And from that moment there didn’t seem much doubt that Dave was going to play hockey and he was going to be a goaltender.

When the two Drydens famously skated out on Forum ice in Montreal on March 20, 1971, it was the first time in NHL history that brothers had faced one another as goaltenders. Ken’s Canadiens prevailed that night over Dave’s Sabres by a score of 5-2.

When the two met again at the Forum the following season, the Canadiens fired 54 shots at the Buffalo net on their way to a 9-3 win. Writing in the Montreal Star, Red Fisher nominated Dave Dryden as “a candidate for the first Purple Heart of the 1971-72 season. Never has one man stopped so much for a team which deserved less. Dryden, who shook hands at game’s end with his only friend in the rink — his brother, Ken — was brilliant on many, many occasions.”

All told, the brothers met eight times in the NHL, with Ken’s Canadiens prevailing on five occasions. Dave’s only win came in December 10, 1972, when the Sabres beat Montreal 4-2 at the Forum. Two other games ended in ties.

The photograph here dates to another brotherly meeting, this one on April 4, 1973, as the Sabres opened their first-round series of the Stanley Cup playoffs against Canadiens at the Forum. Montreal won that one by a score of 2-1, with Ken taking honours as the game’s first star, Dave as the second. The brothers faced off again the following night, with Montreal winning that one 7-3. That was all the goaltending Dave Dryden did that year, with Roger Crozier taking over the Buffalo net as Montreal went on to take the series in six games.

Future Sealed: A young Dave Dryden guards the net his dad Murray built for the princely sum of $6. 60.

 

 

 

don’t look back

Gone But Not Forgotten: Toronto Toros’ goaltender Gilles Gratton gets out to cut the angle — no, sorry, I guess that train has left the station. Andre Hinse is the shooter here, and with this well-placed puck he put his Houston Aeros ahead in the first period of this WHA game on February 5, 1975. Houston ran up a 5-0 lead before the visiting Toros responded with a goal by winger Jeff Jacques, seen here in futile pursuit. Final score: Houston 5, Toronto 2. (Image: Bela Ugrin)

in it to bin it

One-On-One: Born in Nynäshamn, Sweden, on a Thursday of this same date in 1950, Ulf Nilsson is 72 today, so a tip of the Jofa to him. Here he is in February of 1977, when his WHA Winnipeg Jets beat the visiting Calgary Cowboys 6-4; Gary Bromley is the goaltender here. This was a big night for Nilsson’s linemate, right winger Anders Hedberg, who scored a hat trick and made some history: his final goal (assisted by Nilsson) was his 51st of the season. This was Winnipeg’s 49th game that year, which meant that Hedberg had outdone Maurice Richard’s 1945 fest of 50 goals in 50 games. Hedberg had actually only played 47 of this games, having missed a pair of games with a cracked rib. He finished the 1976-77 season with 70 goals in 68 games to lead the Jets in scoring with 131 points. Nilsson wasn’t far behind: he finished with 39 goals and 124 points. After four seasons with the Jets, Hedberg and Nilsson made a move the NHL, joining the New York Rangers in 1978.  (Image: University of Manitoba Archives, Winnipeg Tribune fonds)

as de québec

On the Saturday that the Quebec Nordiques originally drafted Guy Lafleur, Thurso’s own 21-year-old Turbo scored the 22nd goal of his rookie season, the winning one in a 6-5 Montreal Canadiens victory over the Los Angeles Kings. The Nordiques were only dreaming, of course, that day in February of 1972, when 12 teams from the upstart WHA laid wishful claim to more than 1000 players from other leagues in North America and around the world. The Los Angeles Sharks took Montreal’s Ken Dryden while the team from Ohio, the Dayton Aeros, tabbed Bobby Orr. Along with Lafleur, the Nordiques’ fantasy team included his Canadiens’ teammates Jacques Lemaire and Pierre Bouchard, along with Toronto’s Paul Henderson.

By the time Lafleur did finally join the Nordiques, signing as a free agent in the summer of 1989, he was 37 and Quebec had migrated to the NHL. Having unretired the previous year to play for the New York Rangers, Lafleur turned down a lucrative offer from the Los Angeles Kings in favour of Quebec, where he’d played for the QJHML Remparts in his pre-NHL days, from 1969 through 1971.

Lafleur played two seasons for the Nordiques before he stowed his skates for a second time in 1991, playing against the Canadiens on ten occasions, registering two goals and three assists. The photograph here dates to Saturday, January 5, 1991, when Patrick Roy shut out Quebec 3-0 as Montreal got goals from Stephan Lebeau, Stephane Richer, and Russ Courtnall.

(Top image: Bernard Brault, La Presse, BAnQ Vieux-Montréal)

aeros dynamic

Houston, We Have A Dynasty: Born in Floral, Saskatchewan, on a Saturday of this date in 1928, Gordie Howe was 45 in 1973 when he decided to become a Houston Aeros legend. He’d played a bit over the years with the NHL’s Detroit Red Wings, retiring in 1971 to take a job in the Red Wings’ front office. When that didn’t take, he went to the WHA to play win sons Marty (who was 20) and Mark (18). Howe Sr. finished the year with 31 goals and 100 points, good enough for third in league scoring. He led the Aeros to an Avco World Trophy championship that year, as well, and the Aeros repeated as champions in 1975. For good measure, Howe also collected the Gary L. Davidson Award as regular-season MVP in his first WHA season. Two years later, the WHA saw fit to re-name that same prize: in 1975-76, it became the Gordie Howe Trophy.

rush hour

Gare du Nords: Quebec Nordiques goaltender Richard Brodeur fends off a pair of Calgary Cowboys in WHA action from the 1975-76 season. Number four is defenceman Chris Evans. His teammate, passing the far post? Harder to identify: Danny Lawson, maybe, or Butch Deadmarsh? Calgary dispatched Quebec in the first round of the playoffs that year, but then fell in the second to the eventual Avco Trophy champions, the Winnipeg Jets.

slap happy

Shot and Chaser: Cincinnati Stingers’ Claude Larose unleashes a shot on goaltender Christer Abrahamsson of the New England Whalers in 1976. Larose, a left winger, went on to play a handful of games with the New York Rangers in the NHL, but he’s not to be confused with the other, elder Claude Larose, a right winger, who won six Stanley Cups with the Montreal Canadiens in the 1960s and early ’70s. This Larose scored 28 goals for the Stingers in his WHA rookie season, 1975-76, and 30 the following year. (Image: Mark Treitel)

old bonesy

“He always looked like he had no chance to stop the puck,” was Tony Gallagher’s (sort of unkind) appraisal a couple of years ago, writing in the Vancouver Province. “Virtually every save he made looked like a fluke — or in some cases, a miracle — and yet he won championships in every league save the NHL.”

Goaltender Gary Bromley, born in Edmonton on a Thursday of this very date in 1950, is 72 today, so maybe an apology is in order for floating Gallagher’s faint praise to the fore. Sorry. Maybe can we focus on the championships? Bromley played on an Eastern League-winner with the Charlotte Checkers in the early 1970s, won a Calder Cup with the Cincinnati Swords in the AHL, and (in 1978) shared the Winnipeg Jets’ net with Joe Daley and Markus Mattson on the way (alongside Bobby Hull, Ulf Nilsson, and Anders Hedberg) to a WHA World Trophy.

It was in Charlotte that he picked up the nickname that stuck with him, Bones or Bonesy: his perceptive teammates noticed that he was lean. About his style of stopping the pucks that came his way? “I just kind of was nonchalant,” Bromley told Gallagher, “and tried to stop the puck that way.”

Bromley’s NHL career started with the Buffalo Sabres, then took a pause while he detoured to the WHA. In the spring of 1978, he signed as a free agent with the Vancouver Canucks. The mask up above was the one he wore to begin with on the west coast. Over the course of the three years he spent in Vancouver, he was the starter for just the first year, backing up Glen Hanlon and Richard Brodeur after that.

His famous skull-mask, below, dates to 1980. “I think that mask has been way more important than me,” Bromley told Tony Gallagher in 2015.

Embed from Getty Images

 

(Top image, from 1978: Derik Murray)

total prose, that’s what I’m here for

Crease Crouch: Born in Toronto on a Saturday of this date in 1945, Al Smith tended goals in the NHL for Leafs, Penguins, Red Wings, Sabres, Whalers, and Rockies in the 1960s, ’70s, and into the ’80s. Pictured here in the fall of 1978, he was also a star in the WHA with New England, and thereby an inaugural member of the league’s Hall of Fame. A busy writer, too, in his later years. Al Smith died at the age of 56 in 2002.