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Hockey Night Fever

Hockey Night Fever

Mullets, Mayhem and the Game's Coming of Age in the 1970s
edition:Paperback
also available: Hardcover
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NBA 75

NBA 75

The Definitive History
edition:Hardcover
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One to Remember

One to Remember

Stories from 39 Members of the NHL’s One Goal Club
edition:Paperback
also available: eBook
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The first man to walk on the moon?  An easy question, no? The answer of course is Neil Armstrong. Now name the second. I bet you had to guess for a second, if you got the answer right at all. When you’re the first man or woman to accomplish a significant feat, your name will live on forever. And that brings us to Billy Smith, the first goaltender to ever score a goal in the National Hockey League, “It’s in the record books,” says the Hockey Hall of Famer. “So even with Hexxy (Ron Hextall) scoring the second one, it’s kind of forgotten. It’s always who scored the first. So in that way, the goal means something.”

 

Billy Smith didn’t try to score a goal against the Colorado Rockies on November 28th, 1979. His very own perfect storm came 4:50 into the third period. The Islanders were trailing the lowly Colorado Rockies 4-3. Smith didn’t even get the start that night. He took over for Chico Resch after he gave up 17 goals on 21 shots.  There was a delayed penalty call on the Islanders Mike Kaszycki. The Rockies, however, had possession of the puck. Their tender Bill McKenzie headed to the bench for an extra attacker. The puck worked its way to Rob Ramage, who let a shot go from the right side. Smith made the save. The puck quickly made its way back to Ramage in the right corner: “He grabbed it and fired the puck back to the point but there was nobody there. It went all the way down the ice and into the net.”

 

Right away Billy Smith knew he scored. “I knew I was the last guy to touch the puck but they gave the goal to one of my teammates.”  Smith didn’t make a big deal out of it because…frankly, it didn’t seem like much of a big deal at the time.

 

“It’s more of a big deal now. I mean, it was pretty neat. Back then it was like, well, we played the game, we lost, so really I wasn’t that interested.” 

 

After the game the goal was eventually rewarded to Smith. When you watch the video of the goal it is blatantly obvious that he was the last Islander to touch the puck. So give the NHL credit, they were quick to right their wrong. But it is kind of strange that none of Billy’s teammates picked up on the fact that the goal was his. The 7112 fans in attendance didn’t seem to notice either. And like Billy said, he didn’t really seem to care either, it’s not like he made a bee line to grab the puck.  He was the first goalie in the NHL to score a goal, but hey, no big deal. “They kept playing the game with the puck. It ended up going out of the rink. I guess the guy who got the puck ended up sending it to the Hall of Fame.”

 

At least one person in attendance at the McNichols Sports Arena seemed to care that history had just taken place. Over the next few seasons, Billy Smith didn’t care about scoring goals. He just cared about winning Cups. He won his first of four straight Stanley Cups with the Islanders that spring. As his playing days went on, Smith saw his position evolve. Goalies got better and better at handling the puck. He knew the day was coming. He knew another goaltender would find the back of the net: “You knew just by being in the league and how well the guys could shoot the puck (that it would happen). In my day nobody wanted the goalie to handle the puck. It was ‘Set it up at the side of the net and get out of the way, play your position and we’ll take care of the rest.’  But then you got guys like Hexxy who could really shoot the puck and it became, ‘Ok, if the puck is dumped in, we’ll hold the guys back and you grab the puck and fire it out.’”

 

That’s exactly what happened on December 8, 1987, in a Flyers/Bruins game. With the Boston goalie pulled, the Bruins dumped the puck into the Philly zone just to the left of Hextall. The Philly players held the Bruins’ forecheck back, Hextall picked up the puck, wristed it about 200 feet and into the empty cage. Voila. Ron Hextall joined Billy Smith as the only goalies in NHL history to score an NHL goal. Unlike when Smith scored, everyone in the arena that night, and everyone in the hockey world that night, knew Ron Hextall scored. The crowd went nuts. The Flyers bench emptied and everyone mobbed Hextall. It was a BIG deal. That just wasn’t the case for Billy Smith in 1979: “You know what? Nobody really said anything. We lost when we shouldn’t have lost. To be honest, nobody cared. Nobody ever said anything about it. It kind of rolled off our shoulders.”

 

For those of you wondering, Hextall is not in this book because he scored another goal, on April 11, 1989. That one came in Billy Smith’s final NHL season. Again, it was a big deal. “It was funny because when Hexxy scored the second one he got a car and I just looked at our guys. I mean, I didn’t get diddly.”

 

Eventually Smith did get something, but it was still pretty much diddly. But at least it came right from the president of the Islanders: “Bill Torrey bought a miniature (toy) car for me.”

 

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Too Sweet

Too Sweet

Inside the Indie Wrestling Revolution
edition:Paperback
also available: eBook
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Excerpt

 

I first subscribed to Dave Meltzer's Wrestling Observer newsletter in the 1980s, after I began writing for WWF Magazine, before the lawsuit with the World Wildlife Fund that forced the World Wrestling Federation to become WWE. Although the Wrestling Observer has a significant online presence, I still look forward to the paper edition each week, an exhaustive collection of wrestling history, match results, business analysis and gossip in single-spaced seven-point type. Meltzer, who has lectured at Stanford University's Graduate School of Business, also popularized a star rating system for major matches, one that even the performers who claim to hate him take extremely seriously. While working on this book, Meltzer and I were guests on a public access show in which he was asked about his taste in movies and bands. He paused and fumbled for words. A movie?  But when it comes to professional wrestling, not to mention MMA and old-school Roller Derby, nobody knows more – or ever will.

 

In May, 2017, Meltzer was asked on Twitter about whether Ring of Honor, the primary, American indie league during that period, could draw more than 10,000 fans. “Not any time soon,” he responded. Cody – the youngest son of the “American Dream” Dusty Rhodes, and an indie prince since he parted ways with WWE the year before– then Tweeted, “I'll take that bet, Dave.”

 

For the next 16 months, Cody and the Young Bucks, brothers Nick and Matt Jackson, began working to both prove that Dave Meltzer could be wrong, as well as create All-In.

 

The effort became “a worldwide movement for professional wrestling (and) everyone that wants an alternative,” Kenny Omega, who went into All-In wearing the vaunted IWGP Heavyweight Championship for the New Japan Pro-Wrestling promotion, told the group's website. “Especially in America because in America, you're kind of forced to believe that WWE is the best.”  All-In, he continued, became “a rally to show support for people who have a different vision.”

 

Initially, the group rejected outside efforts to fund the experiment, and relied on their families and friends. Cody's sister, Teil, created the name “All-In,” the Bucks' father, Matt Massie, Sr., the musical score. Alabama mortgage broker Conrad Thompson, a wrestling podcaster who married the legendary Ric Flair's oldest daughter, Megan, coordinated Starcast, the fan convention surrounding the event. Both Cody's wife, Brandi – a WWE-trained wrestler herself –  and Matt Jackson's spouse, Dana, were deeply involved in organizational decisions.

 

Like Cody, WWE Hall of Famer Jeff Jarrett had grown up in the wrestling business, learning promotion from his father, Jerry Jarrett, and step-grandfather, Eddie Marlin, in the old Memphis wrestling territory. “I love to see guys take risks,” he observed. “Sometimes, that gets you into big trouble. Sometimes, it pays off. Reward is always measured by your level of risk. But when I saw All-In lining up, I felt they had a pretty good chance. The concept was good. The independent wrestling revolution started quite a few years ago. Now, we were on the cusp of a wrestling boom.”

 

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Toe Blake

Toe Blake

Winning Is Everything
edition:Paperback
tagged : hockey, sports, history
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Excerpt

 

Fittingly, it was the Rocket who ended up with the Stanley Cup clincher in the 3-1 Game 5 victory that kicked off the first of a record five straight Stanley Cup triumphs for the Canadiens. Fans, who had paid $1.75 for tickets, began flooding the ice after the players had shook hands, while Blake was lifted onto the shoulders of Butch Bouchard and Jack Leclair for a lap of honor. Blake waived his fedora and saluted the crowd before his grin grew even larger when Bouchard brought him in for a sip of champagne from the Cup. Bouchard had only played Game 5 because Blake sensed the club would close out the series and he wanted his captain – a man who had postponed retirement for one season at Blake’s request – to accept the trophy on behalf of the team.

 

Inside the dressing room, Toe quietly made the rounds shaking hands and thanking each of his players as champagne corks popped all around him. Mayor Jean Drapeau, accompanied by two policemen, arrived in the dressing room handing out cigars and announcing the team would be welcomed at the Helene de Champlain on St. Helen’s Island for a special banquet following the victory parade in a few days. That forced a number of players looking to leave for Florida to stretch their plans. Selke lauded Blake’s work in keeping the club focused all season, and Blake admitted afterward few changes to the roster would be needed the following season.

 

"Those newspaper men really put a lot of great pressure on the club when they called us to finish in first place--after all, I thought Detroit had won the league last year. They not only picked us to finish first place but to win the Cup,” Blake said in his distinct voice, which was high in accentuation but not in pitch, akin to a man with a fresh lozenge lodged in his throat. “I thought it put a lot of pressure on the boys, but they came through whenever they had to win an important game. They played well under pressure.

 

Toe marveled as 250,000 fans packed the city streets for what turned out to be a 6-1/2-hour parade celebration. It was a season Toe would never forget. The Canadiens felt Blake’s mastery had shaped the beginning of what was certain to be a prolonged period of success.

 

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Contested Fields

Contested Fields

A Global History of Modern Football
edition:Hardcover
also available: eBook
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