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Hockey Night Fever

Hockey Night Fever

Mullets, Mayhem and the Game's Coming of Age in the 1970s
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Toe Blake

Toe Blake

Winning Is Everything
tagged : hockey, sports, history
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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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The Down Goes Brown History of the NHL

The Down Goes Brown History of the NHL

The World's Most Beautiful Sport, the World's Most Ridiculous League
also available: Hardcover
tagged : hockey, history, sports
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101 Fascinating Hockey Facts


Hockey has a fascinating history. And although Canada is the birthplace of the game, over the past century the sport has been adopted by countries all over the world. As a founding member of the Society for International Hockey Research, I’m one of many who diligently dig into hockey’s past, and I am constantly surprised by the stories we uncover: Tales of triumph and tragedy, victory and defeat, camaraderie and conflict, and lots of crazy shenanigans, both on and off the ice.

Read on to hear more about the player who stole the Stanley Cup and took it home for the day. The teenage goal-tender who travelled more than 4,000 miles to play for the Stanley Cup. And the player who led his NHL team in scoring — with a mere 13 points. And then there’s the female netminder who once told me how she secretly kept her goals-against average down: “It was the long-skirt era and I wore a skirt that was extra long. I put buckshot in the hem … When I bent over in goal, I’d spread my skirt out. That hem stopped a lot of pucks!”


25-year-old Montrealer saw his name and photo splashed across the sports pages of North America. Was it because he won the Cup? No, it was because he stole it!

Ironically, the event happened on April Fool’s Day. But it was no joke. At the Chicago Stadium, with the Black Hawks almost certain to win the semi final series and the Cup, one diehard Canadiens fan named Ken Kilander sprang into action. Here is how he described what happened:

“In the ’60s, I’d follow the Habs around all the time. I’d finance my road trips by playing piano in bars. I knew the Stanley Cup was locked up in a showcase in the lobby of the Chicago Stadium. So I said to some reporters, ‘What would you fellows do if I went and got the Cup?
“One of them laughed and said, ‘Well, it is April Fool’s Day. If you go and steal the Cup, I guarantee I’ll put your picture in the paper.’
“So, when I saw my beloved Habs getting clobbered that night, I couldn’t take any more of that. I ran down to the lobby and I pushed in on this glass showcase and the lock gave way.
“I grabbed the Cup and walked away fast … an usher spotted me and started yelling, ‘Stop him! Help! Some guy’s stealing the Cup!’ His screams brought some policemen running and they arrested me. It’s hard to run fast when you’re lugging the Stanley Cup.
“The next morning I appeared before a judge, who took pity on me. He said, ‘You can go back to the Stadium tomorrow night and cheer for your Canadiens. But the Cup stays here unless the Black Hawks lose, which they will not.’ Then he smiled at me and let me go.
“The judge was right. Chicago won the series, but lost to Toronto in the Cup finals. And I was lucky not to be fined or thrown in jail.”


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The Last Good Year

The Last Good Year

Seven Games That Ended an Era
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A quarter century ago, the NHL was chaotic and lively. A beautiful mess. An absence of order defined the league, combined with a charming informality. It was a gold mine for a newspaper reporter with ambition and curiosity. For me, it was my fourth year covering the NHL and the Toronto Maple Leafs as a beat reporter for Canada’s largest newspaper, the Toronto Star. At that time, being with the Leafs on a daily basis was to be in the middle of an intensely competitive newspaper battle for stories and scoops, and the Leafs were never far from controversy and headlines. Some editors insisted it was the most important beat at the paper. It was old-style, kick-the-other-guy’s butt journalism. You woke up every day wondering what the competition had, and you went to sleep every night hoping against hope you had something they didn’t. News wasn’t tightly managed or controlled. It could come from any angle and a multitude of sources. Everybody was willing to talk, and there were no repercussions for talking out of turn. Reporters and media members mingled with players and coaches at airports, taxi stands, bars and hotels. We flew on the same flights they did, sometimes sitting beside them. We had their home phone numbers. We met their families. The Leafs hadn’t been very good for a long time, but they were wonder­fully rich copy and they were still at the epicentre of the hockey world, despite years of losing. The self-destructive Harold Ballard era was over, and the arrival of Cliff Fletcher, Pat Burns and Doug Gilmour created excitement and intrigue around the team. There were a lot of people involved with the team that were easy to like and interesting to cover. The ’92–93 Leafs were, in many ways, an open book.
They were a reflection of a league that was in many ways anything but sophisticated. Or even well managed. Some teams were rich in history and success, others were disorganized and poorly run. There was an unevenness to the NHL’s structure, and sometimes there was no structure at all. The players, once almost exclusively Canadian, were coming from the US and Europe in steadily increasing numbers, bringing new ideas and sensibilities about how the game should be played, coached and organized. At the same time, traditional forces dominated, insisting that certain elements of the game, particularly the most violent, needed to be retained at all costs. This produced a clashing and blending of hockey styles, and a variety of dif­ferent competitive approaches by different teams.
No two players skated the same. Arenas smelled different from one another, and felt different. The lights might go out in the middle of the Stanley Cup final. The league president might go AWOL in the middle of the playoffs, sparking a wildcat offi­cials strike. Teams went broke, owners transgressed unwritten rules (and written ones). Players were exploited, important prob­lems were swept under the rug in infuriating fashion. The game was filled with secret deals and hush-hush agreements. The owners lied about the size of their profits, unwilling to see the players as anything more than employees. Or pawns.
Wide-open offensive hockey ruled and goalies were normal-sized men wearing normal-sized gear. The 1992–93 season was the last NHL campaign with an average of more than seven goals per game. News filtered slowly from outpost to outpost in the last days before the World Wide Web. The barriers between players and reporters were paper-thin. A player like Al Iafrate would chat while working on his sticks, lighting cigarettes with a blowtorch as he sought the perfect curve. You didn’t need an appointment for an interview, or to go through public relations staff. Just pull up a chair, and hope you don’t mind the smoke. The biggest name in the game, Wayne Gretzky, would conduct interviews in his car outside his team’s practice facility. The game oozed characters, and those characters were easily accessible.
The NHL was a confusing and compelling cornucopia of stars, goons, goals, fights, corruption, rumours, egos, tradition, scoundrels, fierce competition, raw ambition, intrigue, blood, brilliance and greed.
Was the 1992–93 NHL better than the NHL of today? It was a better story, for damn sure.
For fourteen days in May, 1993, the Toronto Maple Leafs and Los Angeles Kings, two teams oozing personality and style, captivated the hockey world. The memories of that playoff series remain vivid and lasting. It still breathes, almost as if there is something more to give, answers yet to be unearthed.
Filled with colourful characters, superb athletes, rugged competitors and controversial incidents, the series serves as a snapshot of a certain time and place in NHL history. It pro­duced indelible moments, some that can still cause arguments over exactly what transpired. The memories of that series can still bring grown men to tears a quarter century later. Some can’t even bring themselves to talk about it at all. Others can’t watch the final games, still frustrated by the mistakes they made. One game is remembered mostly for the identity of the referee, and the infamous decision he made.
The competition literally pitted blood against blood, cousin against cousin. Players received death threats in their hotel rooms. Accusations still fly across the benches over some of the uglier moments. “It was intense, man,” recalls Barry Melrose, coach of the ’93 Kings. “There was a lot of stuff said and done that probably a lot of people wish hadn’t happened.”
Seven games in fourteen days in two very different North American cities. The Leafs were a famous hockey club that had forgotten what winning even felt like. They had started the ’93 postseason as though, as usual, they wouldn’t be around long, losing two one-sided games to a high-octane Detroit team that had scored more goals than any other NHL club that season and shredded the Toronto defence in the first two games. This wasn’t a surprise. The Leafs, after all, had only won two playoff series in a decade, and they hadn’t made the playoffs at all the previous two seasons. But this team somehow absorbed the early set­backs and ultimately outlasted the favoured Red Wings in seven games, winning the series in Motown on Nikolai Borschevsky’s thrilling tip-in goal in Game 7. The city of Toronto reacted with an impromptu combination of excitement and delight. In a city where there hadn’t been a Stanley Cup parade in twenty-six years, fans took to the streets to register their enthusiastic approval. It was only a first-round playoff victory, but fans danced in the streets, chanting “Go Leafs Go” as if a champion­ship had been won. Cars drove up and down Yonge Street, the city’s main thoroughfare, honking horns. They’d seen Blue Jays fans celebrate a World Series triumph months earlier, and if this party appeared a little over-the-top for a relatively moderate accomplishment, if it caused hockey fans in other towns to mock Toronto, Leafs fans didn’t mind looking a little silly. Instead of throwing team jerseys on the ice in disgust, they were wearing them proudly for the first time in years.
When the Leafs then defeated St. Louis in another tough seven-game series, with Wendel Clark’s thundering slapshot off the mask of Blues goalie Curtis Joseph as the punctuation point, fans celebrated again. More fans. This was gaining momentum. It was all so unexpected, and fans of the team were thrust into an unfamiliar state of being.
Was this really happening? Could the Stanley Cup, a memory in black-and-white, really be a possibility?
The next opponent hailed from Hollywood, long a desti­nation for Canadians with big dreams of fame and riches. The Kings, the most expensive team money could buy at that time, arrived on their luxurious private jet with one of Canada’s greatest hockey heroes, Gretzky, as their leader. They were a hardnosed band of veterans and ruffians, big-money stars and rookies, a team that loved to score and fight and was just as determined to end their franchise’s reputation as a loser as the Leafs were determined to stop being a punchline to every hockey joke.
The clash between the Leafs and Kings turned into a rivet­ing, unforgettable hockey play told in seven acts, and it came down to the final minutes of the third period of the seventh act before anything was decided. Even then, only a winner was decided. Many other things were left unresolved.
When it was over, it seemed as if the two teams had taken the history of the NHL, packed all the traditions, contradictions and gut appeal of the sport into seven raucous, unforgettable games, and then moved on to a new era.
It was in that playoff series, with one foot in the past and a toe moving into an uncertain future, that the NHL seemed to hit its sweet spot.

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Don Cherry's Hockey Greats and More

Scotty Bowman is the winningest coach of all time. He has over 1,200 wins in the NHL, he’s won nine Stanley Cups as a coach and a total of 14 Stanley Cups as a coach and executive. He’s the only coach to win the Cup with three different teams, and he won the Jack Adams Award for NHL coach of the year twice.

Of course, I was coaching the Bruins and Scotty was coaching the Canadiens when we met in the Stanley Cup final in 1977 and ’78. In 1977, we lost to them four games straight. In ’78, we lost in six games. We met again in the ’79 semifinals, and we were ready this time. Both teams knew whoever won this series was a shoo-in to win the Cup because they would meet the winner of the New York Rangers–New York Islanders series. Neither the Bruins nor Montreal had had a problem with either of those teams in the regular season.
Just before the series, one of our defencemen, Mike Milbury, who now does a great job on the NBC telecasts, was asked what he thought about playing Montreal for the third time in a row. Mike said, “Well, the first time we played them in the finals, we were maybe a little happy just to be in the finals and gave them too much respect. The next year, we were a little more familiar with them and now we knew this guy is a little bit of a backstabber and this guy a little shy in the corner. Now, this time we can’t stand the SOBs.”

After our morning skate in the Forum, Mike was on the bench, looking up at all of the Canadiens’ Stanley Cup banners. One of the Montreal press corps asked Mike if he was in awe of all the historical banners hanging from the rafters. Mike said, “No, I was just thinking how chintzy they looked.”

That was our mentality during this series.

During that series, Scotty and I were going at it in the newspa­per. I remember saying, “I can’t believe I’m getting beaten by a guy who wears brown Wallabees with a blue suit.”

Before we taped the Grapevine show with Scotty, I was wearing a really loud suit. Executive producer Ralph Mellanby said maybe I should wear something a little tamer. For the show, I wore a really sharp maroon jacket with a great polka dot tie. When Scotty came out for the show, he was wearing a tux and a bow tie.

Don: Where are your brown Wallabees?

Scotty: Well, I’m the best-dressed coached now. No, those shoes were from Finland—they weren’t those Hush Puppies.

Don: Remember the 1979 semifinals when I put too many men on the ice?

Scotty: Oh, yes, I think I remember. That was in the playoffs, wasn’t it?
Don: No, seriously, did you see right off the bat there were too many? Truthfully, did you notice it?

Scotty: I was so excited I couldn’t even count to six myself. One of the players yelled there were seven guys on the ice. So we started yelling at the linesman, and of course, I think it was John D’Amico called the penalty. I felt bad about it. But I was hoping we’d score, though, and I wanted to tie the game up.

Don: Sure, you felt sorry for, what, five seconds?

Like I said, Scotty and I were at war in the press. The day after the games, Scotty would call the press into his office and show videos of all the penalties (or what he thought were penalties) that the refs didn’t call. Then the press came running over to me to tell me what Scotty said. I was saying the refs and NHL wanted a Montreal–New York final for TV ratings.

We went back and forth like that the entire series. The NHL was not too happy, but the press and the fans loved it. Back then, during the playoffs, Hockey Night in Canada broadcast the games and WSBK TV38 in Boston picked up the feed. I started saying that Hockey Night in Canada was biased and was pro-Montreal. I wasn’t kidding. When Stan Jonathan and Pierre Bouchard went at it, they didn’t show a replay. I knew that Hockey Night in Canada didn’t show replays of fights, but I said the reason they didn’t show that replay was because it was a Bruin beating up on a Canadien.

The Boston press and fans went nuts protesting Hockey Night in Canada’s treatment of the Bruins on their broadcast. A few games later, Mario Tremblay and Bobby Schmautz got into a fight and Mario cut Schmautzy. I left the bench in the middle of the game and ran into the control room where executive producer Ralph Mellanby was and said, “You didn’t show a replay of the Jonathan fight—you better not show this one.”
I think Ralph thought I was crazy.

I also noticed something else that seemed to have Hockey Night in Canada on Montreal’s side.

Don: In Montreal, you were always looking for an edge. I know for a fact that you went to Hockey Night in Canada when we were playing you and said, “Look, when Guy Lafleur is tired and wants a rest, I’ll adjust my tie and you go to commercial.” Why is it that you want the edge over everybody?

Scotty: We had it figured out that every time we got a power play or a penalty situation, we wanted a rest. We didn’t tell them when to call for a commercial. We just said, “When the other team gets a penalty, we’d like to get a rested power play.” I guess the guy was a good hockey fan and maybe a Canadiens fan . . .

Don: You and I had a thing going in the papers that series. After the series, John Ziegler (the president of the NHL at the time) sent me a letter and it said, “Don, I want to congratu­late you, the Bruins and the Montreal Canadiens on a stir­ring and unforgettable series. So it’s with deep regret that I’m fining you $1,000.” Did you get that letter?

Scotty: For us going back and forth in the press? Yes, I got one, but it was “Congratulations on a great series, I’m fining you $1,000.”

After that series, both Scotty and I left our teams. I always joke that I was fired because of the penalty for too many men and stuff like that, but the truth is that Harry Sinden and the Bruins did offer me a contract. But if I took it, I’d have to be more like man­agement—not be as friendly with the players and be less friendly with the press. I knew I couldn’t agree to that. I think Harry knew that as well, and I said no.
So, after five years in Boston with four straight first-place fin­ishes, two trips to the finals, two trips to the semifinals and a winning percentage of .636, I left and went to Colorado. Scotty had been with Montreal for eight years, and with six first-place finishes, four Stanley Cups and a winning percentage of .661, he went to Buffalo.
Don: Four Stanley Cups and you leave Montreal. Why?

Scotty: Like anything else, I think it was time to move on. What it came down to was I was going to have to report to Irving Grundman. Irving and I never had a problem—he never bothered me and I never bothered him and I respected him as a businessman. I would have reported to Jean Béliveau. Jean Béliveau was a hockey man. He was not high-profile with the team at the time, but I couldn’t get involved with someone who I didn’t respect as a hockey man. Like I said, I respected him as a businessman. It was time to move on. You had already gone to Colorado; I wasn’t going to have any more fun in Montreal, so time to go.

Don: Why didn’t you go two years earlier? I would have had two Cup rings.

Scotty is right when he said it was time to go. Coaches, no matter how good they are or how much they win, know there is a time to leave. I feel a coach starts to lose it when he’s with a club for five years. After that, I think the players start to tune him out. They know all his tricks, they’ve heard all the speeches, it starts to get a little tired. I had been with the Bruins for five years, I loved Boston and the players, but deep down I knew it was time to go, just like Scotty knew it was time to leave Montreal.
We taped this show in 1982, and it’s hard to believe that Scotty went on to win four more Stanley Cups.

I was an assistant coach to Scotty in the 1976 Canada Cup. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: this was the greatest team that was ever put together. We had six centres on the team: the Flyers’ Bobby Clarke, the Kings’ Marcel Dionne, Montreal’s Peter Mahovlich, the Sabres’ Gilbert Perreault, the Leafs’ Darryl Sittler, and Phil Esposito, who was in New York. Just those cen­tremen alone had combined for 614 points the year before. It was going to be hard for Scotty to keep everyone happy, and even though I interviewed Phil eight years after that series, he was still not happy.

Don: All right, Phil, let’s talk about ’76. I think that was one of the best teams ever put together, but I got to ask, what was the deal with you and Scotty?

Phil: Well, at the time I didn’t like Scotty Bowman and he didn’t like me. I don’t think he wanted me on the team, number one. I believe he was forced by either you or Alan Eagleson to have me on the team because of what I’d done in ’72, and I didn’t want any part of that. I wanted to make it on my own laurels and I thought I did. Playing with Bobby Hull was a natural because I played with Bobby for three years in Chicago and we fit together. Mr. Bowman wanted Marcel Dionne, he wanted speed demons.

The next year, when I interviewed Scotty, I asked about Phil.

Don: Scotty and I coached in the ’76 series, and when we were in Montreal, you told me that if you Don: It’s the Grapevine, go ahead.

Scotty: We were playing the Russians in Toronto, and we all decided that we wanted a little more speed on the team. Unfortunately, the trainer, through some error during a morning skate, gave Phil a black sweater. Phil went up to you and asked what the deal was and you said, “Better ask Scotty.”

Don: Yes, I can remember like yesterday, we were at the Toronto airport and Phil asked me what was going on. I told him, “Well, there’s Scotty. Ask him.” So Scotty comes walking down the hall and Phil goes up to him and gives it to Scotty pretty good.

Scotty and I had a laugh during the interview about that, but it wasn’t funny at the time. Scotty and Phil went at it pretty good. Phil was upset because a black sweater made him a “Black Ace,” which means you’re not playing. The Black Aces started with Eddie Shore in Springfield. When you were in the doghouse or weren’t playing, you practised in the black sweater. The reason it was black was that it hid the dirt better and Shore didn’t have to wash it as often. I was one of Shore’s Black Aces, and soon through­out hockey the black practice sweater was like a scarlet letter.
Scotty: There was Keith Allen, Don Cherry, Bobby Kromm, Al MacNeil, Sam Pollock, but if something went wrong, I was the guy that had to deal with it. The audience must know the famous goal that beat Czechoslovakia.

Don: I’m sure they [do,] but tell them again.

Scotty: Well, Don would come up to me before the game and say, “What do you want me to do tonight?” I’d say, “Go up to the box with Sam [Pollock] and keep Sam calm. If you got any messages, pass them down.” We got into overtime against Czechoslovakia in the finals and Al MacNeil was with you and Bobby Kromm was with me, and we get a message from Don that Czechoslovakia’s goalie, [Vladimír] Dzurilla, was really starting to come out. He was gambling. Don said, “If we get a chance, tell the guys to not just shoot, because they are not going to score. Just hold it and go wide.” Darryl Sittler came down the ice and the Czechoslovakia players came running out at him, Darryl went wide, and as soon as he put it in, we all looked at Don from the bench and started waving.

Don: Go figure. Harry fired me in Boston two years later.

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