Mar 302012

Hockey’s Most Incredible Comeback

Old-time Leafs fans will never forget the Stanley Cup final series in 1942. It matched the Leafs, coached by Hap Day, against Jack Adams’ Detroit Red Wings. There has never been a series quite like it.

For starters, the Leafs were fortunate to be in the finals. In the first round of the playoffs against New York, the NHL’s top team, it took a goal by Nick Metz with seven seconds left in the deciding game to propel the Leafs into the final series.

Playing for the Cup against the Detroit Red Wings, the Leafs were odds-on favorites. Hadn’t they finished the regular season with eight more wins and 15 more points? But the Leafs stumbled through the first two games on home ice and lost them both. Then they dropped the third game back in Detroit. Leafs fans were frustrated and furious, sneering at Day’s name and saying he was no coach. The Toronto sportswriters were similarly merciless in their criticism of the coach and the players. Andy Lytle of the Toronto Star wrote, “Except for the gate receipts and the records, there is little apparent use in prolonging this series.”

Hap Day told the Maple Leafs directors that Detroit’s style had his team buffaloed. It marked the first time a team had consistently shot the puck into the Leafs zone and flooded in after it. In those days there was no center-ice red line. The Wings simply worked the puck over their blue line and then fired it into the Toronto zone. Day told the directors that defenseman Bucko McDonald was worn out and that Gordon Drillon’s talents weren’t suited to the Wings’ shoot-and-chase style.

“Are there any other players available?” he was asked.

“Well, yes, there’s Ernie Dickens and Don Metz,” he replied. “They’re green, but I’ll work them in and drop McDonald and Drillon. We’ll also change our style and play the same way the Red Wings are playing. Maybe we can beat them at their own game.”

Don Metz was an unlikely replacement for Drillon, the team’s leading scorer. Metz had scored only two goals all season while Drillon finished eighth in the NHL scoring race with 23 goals and 41 points. Ernie Dickens was another two-goal man; a lad who’d played only 10 NHL games in his brief career.

In game four at Detroit’s Olympia, Nick Metz, the brother of Don, got the winner in a 4–3 victory, forcing the Red Wings to put the champagne back in the cooler. Their coach and manager, Jack Adams, also required some cooling down. He was suspended for the rest of the series after he leaped onto the ice after the game and attacked referee Mel Harwood. The official was badly mauled in a free-for-all triggered by Eddie Wares and Don Grosso of the Wings.

In game five, Don Metz scored a hat trick, Syl Apps picked up a pair of goals and the Leafs romped to a 9–3 triumph. Andy Lytle wrote: “This series gets curiouser and curiouser. Only Alice in Wonderland would believe it from beginning to end.”

It was back to Detroit for game six, in which Toronto goalie Turk Broda had a hot night and blanked the Red Wings 3–0. For game seven, the fans almost broke down the doors at Maple Leaf Gardens in their frantic efforts to see the game. A record crowd of almost 17,000 witnessed the culmination of the most incredible comeback in playoff history. It ended when the Leafs’ Sweeney Schriner scored two third-period goals and Pete Langelle added a bit of insurance in a 3–1 Toronto triumph. Hap Day and his weary men, blistered for their incompetence a few days earlier, were now the toast of the nation. Day had captured his first Stanley Cup as Maple Leafs coach. Many more would follow.

Read More: The Leafs

May 232011

Pat Stapleton talks with Brian McFarlane

I don’t have any bad memories of Team Canada in 72. There were a lot of things that you could go over  and decide that they were learning curves, but I could honestly say there was not a bad memory. I mean it was certainly a learning experience for all of us.

They say I was one of the guys who pulled off a lot of gags in Moscow. Well, that’s always important to a team, keeping things  light. There was enough stress and enough pressure being placed on us  by outside sources. I wouldn’t say from inside, but certainly from outside. The expectations were so high and having a little fun breaks the tension. Actually,  now that I think back on it, I have to blame Bill White for those gags I mentioned.  I had very little to do with them. And somebody has to take the  blame. The deal I think that was funniest, was when everybody got on the bus that was booked to go to the Chinese restaurant. Bill White and I were standing around and somebody  said, “Where have you guys been?” We said. “Oh, we just got back from a  great Chinese restaurant. I think we even had a name for it–the Pe King if I remember right. There was a game the next day and then after that everybody wanted to go for Chinese food because everybody was fed up with the food that they were getting. They thought that a nice Chinese dinner would be great. So they all agreed to go  and Bill and I  helped out by ordering  a bus.  Everybody showed up and got on the bus.  But Bill and I didn’t show. Continue reading »

Sep 202010

A Wild and Wacky Season Finish

Can you believe the Montreal Canadiens once considered starting a game without a goaltender?

Impossible, you say? Well, listen to this.

On the final day of the 1969-70 NHL season, the Canadiens faced the Chicago Blackhawks at the Chicago Stadium. That season finale has often been called “the wildest game in NHL history.”

It was farcical but fun to watch.

On the final day of the 1969-70 season, the battle to win a playoff berth was so close that any one of four teams–Chicago, Boston, Detroit or Montreal–could finish as high as first place or as low as fifth.

The duel for first place was between the Hawks and the Bruins. Detroit finished third after losing to the Rangers in an afternoon game. Now fourth place would go to either New York or Montreal, depending on how Montreal fared against the Hawks.

The Hawks badly wanted first place because they had finished deep in the league basement in the previous season.  Never before had a team roared from last place to first in one year.

When they took the ice against the Habs, the Hawks kept glancing up at the out-of-town scoreboard. If Boston should beat Toronto in another matchup, the Hawks would be in a must-win situation against Montreal.

But there was much more pressure on the Habs that night. The Habs found themselves in desperate straits after they learned the Rangers had walloped Detroit 8-3 a few hours earlier. Because the Rangers finished their season tied in points with Montreal, it meant the Habs must win or tie the Black Hawks. And if they lost to Chicago, Montreal would have to score at least five goals to surpass the Rangers’ goal total. In that era, when two teams wound up tied in points, then the team with the most goals over the season would earn the playoff berth. Get it?

Prior to Montreal’s crucial game with Chicago, Habs’ coach Claude Ruel, a chubby little guy who was blind in one eye, actually considered starting the game at the Chicago Stadium–without a netminder! He figured the Hawks would open up a big lead shooting into the Habs’ empty net. Then Chicago’s top players would be given a rest and Ruel’s Habs would go on to score at least five goals against rookie goaltender Tony Esposito.

Ruel came close to making a travesty of the game. I’m sure Toe Blake, Jean Beliveau and others told him to forget about the cock-eyed strategy. The media and the fans would be all over him.

As game time approached, Ruel came to his senses and nixed the bizarre move. He realized keeping goalie Rogie Vachon on the bench would be handing the Hawks first place on a platter. He also realized it would cost the Bruins a chance to finish on top and Boston fans would be ready to lynch him.

Ruel was in a tough position. To ask his players to score five times against Tony Esposito—a goalie Montreal had owned and let go—was asking a lot. But the margin might have been more. In the afternoon contest, New York had pulled goalie Ed Giacomin when leading 8-3 in an effort to score two or three more goals.

When the Chicago-Montreal game got underway, the out-of-town scoreboard indicated that Boston, playing in an earlier time zone, would defeat the Leafs. Now the situation was clearer. The Hawks knew that first place was theirs — if they could defeat the Habs.

In the third period, Chicago was leading Montreal 3-2 on goals by Jim Pappin, Pit Martin and Bobby Hull. Suddenly, Martin scored two more goals and the game was virtually out of Montreal’s reach.

Ruel’s priority then became goals, not points. His Habs needed three more scores–and in a big hurry. There were nine minutes left on the clock when Ruel stunned the crowd by yanking Rogie Vachon. He was conceding first place to the Hawks. He didn’t care how many goals the Hawks scored. His players must score three or they were done like dinner.

Despite the extra attacker, the Habs displayed hands of stone. They failed to get one decent shot on Esposito in almost half a period of hockey.

Meanwhile, the Hawks gleefully pumped goal after goal into Montreal’s empty net . The fans whooped it up when Eric Nesterenko, Cliff Koroll, Bobby Hull. Dennis Hull and Gerry Pinder all found the inviting target. At the buzzer, the score was 10-2. The Canadiens skated off in a daze, their playoff hopes squashed.

It was a bizarre moment in NHL history. In the off-season, the rules were changed to make team goal scoring irrelevant to the order of finish in the NHL standings.

The game is well-remembered for other reasons. The incredible finish saw a team score five empty net goals in a nine minute span–a hockey first. For the first time in history a team had soared from last place to first. Also for the first time, no Canadian team was part of the Stanley Cup playoffs.

You may wonder how the Blackhawks, with 99 points, fared in the 1970 playoffs. In the first round, they ousted Detroit in four straight games and by the same score each time–4-2. Then they ran into real grief against the Bruins and were swept in four straight. The Bruins went on to meet St. Louis in the finals and eliminated the expansion team in four games. The Bruins of Orr, Esposito and Cheevers captured the Stanley Cup with Orr providing the winning goal in overtime as he was pitchforked into the air by the Blues’ Noel Picard.

Everybody remembers Orr’s famous goal and the remarkable photo of it. But few will recall the bizarre series of circumstances leading up to it.

May 192010

I like to imagine that this hockey poem could have been written by Albert Forrest, the youngest goalie ever to play in a Stanley Cup series (in 1905, for Dawson City, versus Ottawa. Forrest lost the second game by a 23–2 score).

The Night I Faced One-eyed Frank McGee

Yes, I’m the boy who stood in goal,
Facing pucks he hurled at me.
Yes, I’m the lad whose job it was
To stop the Great McGee.

I tried my best but failed the test,
For the record shows that he
Scored 14 goals in a single game,
And all of them on me.

Oh dear, oh my, it was a catastrophe!

They cheered him loud, they cheered him long.
It was quite a sight to see.
Each time he scored, the more they roared,
“You’re our hero, Frank McGee.”

I stood there shaken, looking on,
The victim of his spree.
Oh yes, he scored those 14 goals,
It was easy as could be.

I wish he’d done it somewhere else,
And on someone else—not me!
When he tired, his mates took up the slack
Till the score reached 23.

Oh dear, oh my, it was a catastrophe!

Someday, when I’m old and grey
With my grandson on my knee,
I’ll tell him of the night I faced
The mighty Frank McGee.

I’ll tell him of his blazing shot
And his boundless energy
And how he played with one bad eye—
Why, the man could hardly see!

But his scoring touch was a gift from God,
At least, that’s my philosophy.
I’ll talk about Lord Stanley’s Cup
And how it slipped away from me

Because of hockey’s greatest star,
Old one-eyed Frank McGee.

Oh dear, oh my, it was such a catastrophe!

To read more about Albert Forrest look for my book, The Youngest Goalie at your local library or try finding it :

In Canada at this link:The Youngest Goalie

In the US at this link: Youngest Goalie

Apr 082010

What Hockey has Meant to Vladislav Tretiak

IPicture of Vladislav Tretiak was never so happy in my life as I was the first time I was a member of a world championship team. That was in 1970 when I was  18, serving as backup goaltender to Victor Konovalenko, a wonderful goalie with fantastic intuition. I don’t know of any Soviet player of that era who commanded more respect than Victor. He was respected for his sense of fair play, his devotion to hockey and for his valour and steadfastness.Often it seemed the pucks flew into his glove by themselves. He was twice my age but there was a bond between us. He patiently revealed to me the secrets of the goaltender’s art and he knew them all. Hadn’t he played on seven world championship teams? Hadn’t he been an Olympic gold medallist? At that young age, more than anything else, I wanted to be the kind of man, the  cool competitor, that Konovalenko was. I was also helped to the top by such world-renowned players as the brilliant forward Anatoli Firsov and  the reliable defenseman  Alexander Ragulin.

Later on, prior to the famous Soviet-Canada series in 1972, I would meet the fabulous Canadian goaltender Jacques Plante, who was kind enough to give me some tips on how to play the top NHL forwards prior to the Summit Series. Had it not been for that unique tournament, perhaps I would not have had an opportunity to have my own puck stopping abilities compared to future Hall of Fame goalies like Ken Dryden and Tony Esposito. More than any other hockey event, the 1972 tournament made it shockingly clear that there was very little difference between the Soviet national team players and the top NHLers.  Suddenly there was renewed interest in  world and Olympic hockey tournaments, and beginning in 1976, in the establishment of the popular Canada Cup competitions.  Today, as a fitting finale to hockey’s first century, we have the best of professional players competing at the Winter Olympics in Japan with a world-wide audience anticipating a thrilling race for the  gold medals and the coveted title “Olympic Champions.”

If you want to hear more about what the hockey experience was like from his Russian persepctive, you may want to take a look at Vladislav’s book Tretiak : The Legend.  At Amazon, Brian E. Erland says it “…provides an illuminating glimpse of those years… and examines the volatile games that took place when the ‘Eastern Block’ collided with the ‘Powers of the West.’ “

Continue reading »

Mar 182010


Thank you, Lord Stanley, for your whimsical gift to hockey. Thanks too, to your sons Algernon and Arthur, and your daughter, Lady Isobel Stanley, for their involvement in the game as players. Women’s hockey owes a great debt to Lady Stanley.  All of you hockey-playing Stanleys were true pioneers of the game. You experienced the joy of playing the game on your own little outdoor rink in Ottawa. You learned the skills of skating and stickhandling and the thrill of scoring goals. Without you Stanleys–without your passion and your influence—well, there never would have been a trophy named the Stanley Cup.

When you reached the end of your term as Governor General of Canada (1888-1893) it was kind of you, Lord Stanley, after heeding the pleas of your children and others, to donate a small silver bowl to “the amateur hockey champions of Canada.” Too bad you couldn’t have lived another hundred years or more. You would have been amazed at all the commotion your gift has caused, the passion and excitement it has created, not to mention the controversies.  In time, the Cup trustees permitted professional teams—and American teams—to compete for your trophy. You could never have predicted that your small silver bowl, purchased from Collis and Co. in London for approximately $50, would become one of the most avidly sought trophies in the world of sport. Nor could you have conceived that teams would travel thousands of miles, and spend millions of dollars in desperate efforts to claim it.  How proud you would be, Lord Stanley, if…

Continue reading »

Mar 142010

I enjoyed a bit of reunion with Hall of Famer Ted Lindsay the other night here in Naples. Ted is 84 now. He was about 50 when we worked together  for three seasons on the NBC telecasts back in the early fifties. He can look back on a career in hockey filled with fabulous memories of Stanley Cups and scoring accomplishments.  But he still retains a bitter memory of a juvenile championship that eluded him—and it shouldn’t have.

In the early 1940s, Ted played left wing on an outstanding juvenile team in Kirkland Lake, Ontario—Holy Name.

“We were said to be the best juvenile team in Canada,” he says convincingly. “But we got robbed in the playoffs.

“We played for the Ontario title and handled a team from Sudbury rather easily, carrying a two-goal lead into the second game of a two game series–total goals to count.

At the end of two periods in game two, we still maintained our two goal lead.

Then came the second intermission which stretched on for a good hour. None of us could understand the reason for the long delay. Turns out Maxie Silverman, a shrewd hockey owner who ruled the game in Sudbury, used the delay to hustle in four or five  of the top junior players in the area. Continue reading »

Feb 032010

A soft spoken, articulate young man named Ken Dryden was drafted by the Boston Bruins in 1964 but his pro rights were traded to Montreal for a couple of young players who never played a shift in the NHL. But Dryden opted for a college education and played for Cornell University. He returned to professional hockey in 1970-71 with the Canadiens’ farm team in Halifax.

When the Canadiens opened the playoffs, they were pitted against the powerful Boston Bruins, led by superstars Bobby Orr and Phil Esposito. The Bruins had smashed a fistful of records on their way to a first place finish. They had won 15 more games than the Canadiens and finished with 24 more points.

The Bruins were stunned to see Ken Dryden—a raw rookie—start in goal for Montreal. Had Scotty Bowman lost his mind? They’d show his rookie netminder what playoff pressure was all about.

Continue reading »

Jun 042009

As a Team Canada member, Bill Goldsworthy is remembered for taking two costly first period penalties in game four in Vancouver. The penalties led to a pair of Soviet power play goals and brought on  a chorus of boos and jeers  directed at Team Canada throughout the game, a 5-3 loss. Goldsworthy said after the game. “I couldn’t believe how the fans turned on us. I’m ashamed to be a Canadian.”

Goldy ShuffleHe scored his only goal of the series during that game.

Goldsworthy, when coaching for Central League’s San Antonio Iguanas, discovered he had AIDS while on a road trip to Memphis. Concerned that news of his illness would become the subject of rumors, he announced he was suffering from the illness in February, 1995.

Bill Goldsworthy was unquestionably the first big North Star talent as well as one of the league’s emerging stars of the expansion era.

In his first season with Minnesota he led all NHL scorers in points in the 1967 playoffs. He later became the first player to record 200 goals with a post ’67 team.

He played 14 seasons in the NHL, with the North Stars, the Bruins and the Rangers. He scored 283 career goals and had his jersey No. 8 retired by the North Stars.

His fans  never got tired of watching Bill’s post goal celebration, known as the “Goldy shuffle”.

Bill Goldsworthy, the first star of the Minnesota North Stars and a Team Canada ’72 member, died on March 29, 1996 of complications from AIDS.

“Our dad made many wonderful friends in Minnesota and throughout hockey, Many of them stayed with him throughout his fight,” said Tammy and Sean Goldsworthy, his children. “And he always spoke fondly of the players who were his teammates on Team Canada 1972. Playing on that team was the highlight of his career.

May 262009
The Stanley Cup at the Hockey Hall of Fame

The Stanley Cup at the Hockey Hall of Fame

Stories of the Stanley Cup  have long fascinated me, not just because they are an integral part of the game’s heritage but many of the stories are all the more incredible because they are true.

For instance, in 1905, the trophy was a small silver bowl and it was captured by the renowned Ottawa Silver Seven.  After  their victory party at a local hotel, and no doubt many drinks, the team , made their noisy way homeward along the Rideau Canal with the precious cup tucked under one of the players arms.  A player wondered aloud if he could drop kick the cup all the way into the canal.  Of course, his teammates dared him to try.  High in the air flew the Stanley Cup, landing somewhere in the snow and ice covering the surface of the canal.  The players cheered their companion and eventually they all  staggered home to bed, forgetting the cup and leaving it resting perilously close to the watery blackness below.

The next day, club officials inquired about the cup’s whereabouts.    The players recalled their prank the night before and rushed back to the canal.  One of them, star forward Harry Smith, made his way onto the ice and retrieved the cup and took it home for safekeeping. Continue reading »