May 202010

In Florida, we’ve been blessed to have a talented former NHLer join us for the past couple of weeks. Bob Murdoch played over 700 games in the NHL with Montreal and Los Angeles and Calgary. He coached the Chicago Blackhawks and the Winnipeg Jets. He’s still got great moves and it never seems to bother him when we fumble his pinpoint passes or fail to get the puck back to him at the point.

“It doesn’t matter what level you play at,” he tells me. “In the NHL or here, players are always chatting on the bench. If only I’d done this or you’d done that, we’d have had a goal. Things like that.”

With his brother Doug, one of our regulars, we retire to a nearby pub for grilled cheese sandwiches and beer.

I put my tape recorder in front of Bob and ask him to tell me about a long ago skirmish he had with John Ferguson.

First, let me tell you about my first training camp with the Montreal Canadiens. This would be in 1970, after I’d played with Canada’s National team and the Nova Scotia Voyageurs in the American League.

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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.’ “

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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 »

Mar 032010

The other day Peter Puck and I were talking and I asked him who was his all time favorite player.  He started thinking so hard I could almost smell rubber burning but then he smiled and he said; “Brian, I don’t know which great hockey player I would choose as my favorite, there are so many great ones, but I can tell you who inspires me the most right now and who, when I’m feeling too small, gives me courage.  It’s  Marty St. Louis from Laval, Quebec.

See, Marty is a small guy, he tells everyone he is 5’9” but I think that may be with his skates on because when I see him, he sure is a lot closer to me than anyone else on the ice.  Anyway, he played college hockey at the University of Vermont and holds the record for most career points there. He also was an All American and a three  time Hobey Baker award finalist.  Not only that but he came within 4 points of breaking the ECAC all time scoring record.

Despite all this, he was not drafted into the NHL and was overlooked – and I use the pun on purpose Brian – by every NHL team.

Finally, he managed to get the Calgary Flames to notice him and they signed him as a free agent.  But they must not have had much faith in Marty and gave up on him without even seeing what they were losing.

Luckily, the Tampa Bay Lightening, who must judge their hockey players on skill not size, recognized Marty for the exceptional player he is.    They signed him right up and got themselves a real star player.   In 2003-04, Marty won the Hart Trophy (MVP), the Art Ross Trophy (scoring leader) the Pearson Trophy (players choice as MVP) and the Stanley Cup.  That’s a lot of trophies!  And, in 2005, Tampa bay signed him  for six more years for more money that I know how to count!   Not bad for a little fellow from Laval, Quebec, who ignored the people who judged him “too small for the NHL”.

So whenever I get feeling like everyone is out to get me (which in my case they are!) I think of Marty St. Louis and realize that having faith in myself can help me get noticed when no one is willing to look in my direction… which, for me, would be down.