Sunday, May 28, 2017

The 2017 Memorial Cup Final

Tonight at 7 Eastern time is the final game of the 2017 Memorial Cup, awarded to the champion of the Canadian Hockey League, the organization that encompasses the three Canadian major junior hockey leagues, the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, the Ontario Hockey League and the Western Hockey League, for players between 16 and 20 years old.

 photo 2017_memorial_cup.png

The format of the Memorial Cup is unique in that the playoff champions of the WHL, OHL and  QMJHL all compete, with the addition of the host team, in a round robin schedule of games against all three of the other clubs. Once each team has played three games, the fourth place team is eliminated from further competition. The second and third place teams then meet in a single Semifinal game with the winner advancing to face the top team from the round robin standings in a one game final two days later.

Sixty teams are eligible to compete for the Memorial Cup, which represent nine Canadian provinces and four American states. The trophy dates back to an idea in 1918 by Captain James T. Sutherland, president of the Ontario Hockey Association, wanted to create a trophy as a memorial to OHA players who died during World War I.

Memorial Cup photo MemorialCup.jpg
The Memorial Cup

The original format was an East vs. West showdown with a two game, total goals format from 1919 to 1928. Starting in 1929, it was changed to a best-of-three final. In 1937, the final was expanded to a best-of-five and a best-of-seven in 1943, which remained in effect through 1971.

With the creation of the Major Junior tier in 1970, which was divided into three leagues, the new format for 1972 called for a double round robin between the three league champions. After each team had played four games, there would now be a single championship game between the top two teams of the round robin phase.

After 11 tournaments of this format through 1982, a fourth team was added as a predetermined neutral site host, the first of which was the Portland Winterhawks, which led to the first time Memorial Cup games were held outside of Canada. The Winterhawks would go on to win the 1983 tournament, making them the first American team to win the Memorial Cup.

Should the host team, which rotates evenly between the three leagues, become the champion of its league, the responsibility of hosting the Memorial Cup then transfers to that league's runner up, ensuring a quality addition to the field.

Since the current format began in 1983, the WHL has produced 16 champions, with 11 for the OHL and 7 for the QMJHL. 6 times the original host team has won their league championship, necessitating a change in venue, and the host team has won the Memorial Cup 9 times.

With the difficulty in winning back to back titles, due to the sheer number of teams competing and the amount of roster turnover dictated by the age limit, since 1983 only the Medicine Hat Tigers in 1987 and 1988, the Kamloops Blazers in 1994 and 1995, and the Windsor Spitfires in 2009 and 2010 have managed to repeat as champions.

Windsor Spitfires 2009 Memorial Cup
Windsor celebrates with the Memorial Cup in 2009

Among the current CHL teams, the Oshawa Generals of the OHL have the most championship titles as they stand alone with 5. The Regina Pats are next with 4 followed by fellow WHL members Kamloops with 3, earned in a span of four years. Eight other teams have won twice with 14 other clubs with one to their credit.

With the majority of NHL players coming out of Canada, combined with the NHL Draft on the horizon, the Memorial Cup is a great opportunity to see not only tomorrow's stars today, but a chance to scout the upcoming draft on your own.

This year's competition is being hosted by Windsor. They were joined by Pennsylvania's Erie Otters of the OHL, the Saint John Sea Dogs of the QMJHL and the WHL champion Seattle Thunderbirds , meaning half the field was from the United States.

Play began on May 19 with the host Spitfires defeating Saint John 3-2. Erie then beat Seattle 4-2 on the second day. Windsor hammered Seattle 7-1 the next day before Erie dominated the Sea Dogs 12-5.

With both teams needing a win to avoid a last place finish and elimination, Saint John left no doubt as they blanked Seattle 7-0 on May 23rd.

Windsor and Erie, both 2-0, met in the final game to see who would avoid having to play in the Semifinal with the winner earning three days off and a spot in the championship game. Windsor led by 3 after two periods and went on to win the round robin with an eventual 4-2 victory.

The Semifinal between Erie and Saint John was a tale of two games, as the teams traded goals over the first two periods and entered the final 20 minutes tied at 2-2. Erie then earned a rematch with Windsor after scoring twice in the first four minutes of the third period with goals by Dylan Strome and German Poddubnyi. At 12:31 Taylor Raddysh got his second of the game to give the Otters a 5-2 lead. The Sea Dogs scored at 16:28 but it was not enough and Erie added an empty net goal to claim their place in tonight's championship game with a 6-3 win.

Taylor Raddysh currently leads all scorers with 5 goals and 11 points in 4 games, while Erie teammate Strome has the most goals with 6 and is second in points with 9. Alex DeBrincat also has 9 point from 2 goals and 7 assists as Otters hold down the top five places in scoring. Heading into tonight's game, Windor's Michael DiPietro is the lone undefeated goaltender at 3-0, while his opponent tonight, Erie's Tory Timpano is 3-1, but has a goals against average that is more than twice as much as DiPietro's 1.67.

 photo Darren Taylor Raddysh.jpg
Taylor Raddysh, #17, with his brother Darren

Of note, Erie won the OHL playoff by defeating the Sarnia Sting in 4, the London Knights in 7, the Owen Sound Attack in 6 and the Mississauga Steelheads in 5, while Windsor was eliminated in the first round in 7 games by London.

Tonight's final will be on Sportsnet and TVA in Canada and the NHL Network in the United States.

Today's featured jersey is a 2008-09 Windsor Spitfires Adam Henrique jersey from the year they won their first Memorial Cup after 33 years of trying.

The Spitfires, founded in 1971 in Tier II and promoted to Tier I in 1975-76, played in their first Memorial Cup Final in 1988, but were defeated by the Medicine Hat Tigers.

In 2008-09, they finished with a 57-10-1 record while playing their final season undefeated at the Windsor Arena, which dated back to 1924. They moved to their new home, the WFCU Centre mid-season and hosted the All-Star Game. Later in the season, goaltender Andrew Engelage broke the OHL record for most wins with 46. Taylor Hall led the team in scoring with 38 goals and 90 points.

After surviving an OHL semifinal against London, in which every game went to overtime, the Spitfires defeated the Brampton Battalion in five games to return to the Memorial Cup.

They did not do themselves any favors when they lost their first game to the Drummondville Voltigeurs 3-2 in overtime and then dropped a 5-4 decision to Rimouski Oceanic. In an absolute must win situation, the Spitfires got up off the mat and defeated the Kelowna Rockets 2-1 to earn a place in the tie-breaker game between the two bottom placed clubs to see who would earn a place in the Semifinal game and who would be eliminated from further play.

They defeated Rimouski 6-4 thanks to a third period natural hat trick by Dale Mitchell. In the Semifinal, they led 2-0 over Drummondville, but required a goal by Adam Henrique in overtime to advance to the Final, where they met Kelowna. Windsor scored on their first three shots and went on to win 4-1, becoming the first team to ever lose their first two games and then win the Memorial Cup and the first team to ever win the tie-breaker game and then win the championship, meaning they had to play six games compared to their opponent's four.

Of note, the original Windsor Spitfires team was formed in 1946 and played in Windsor until 1953. Then then moved to Hamilton, Ontario for 24 seasons before spending six in Brantford prior to moving back to Hamilton for four more. They were on the move yet again when they relocated to Niagara Falls for 8 season before moving yet again in 1996 when they became the Erie Otters, the current Spitfires opponent tonight!

Henrique played four seasons for Windsor from 2006-07 to 2009-10, which included two Memorial Cup championships. He spent his first three professional seasons divided between the Albany Devils of the AHL and the New Jersey Devils of the NHL, who drafted Henrique back in 2008. His last four seasons have been exclusively in the NHL, with his best being 2015-16 when he had 30 goals and 50 points.

This jersey has a number of stories to tell, as it has a commemorative patch on the shoulder in recognition of their last days at the Windsor Arena, another patch promoting the 2009 World Junior Championship being held in Ottawa, Ontario and most importantly, the "C-18" patch in honor of their team captain Mickey Renaud, who died of an undetected heart condition, shocking the Spitfires to the point that team General Manager Warren Rychel called it "the biggest tragedy in Spitfire history". Renaud's #18 was retired by the franchise and a road leading to their new stadium was named in his honor.

 photo Windsor Spitfires 2008-09 F jersey.jpeg
 photo Windsor Spitfires 2008-09 B jersey.jpeg

Bonus jersey: Today's bonus jersey is a 2009-10 Windsor Spitfires Taylor Hall jersey from the second of their back-to-back Memorial Cup winning seasons.

After winning the Memorial Cup in 2009, the Spitfires introduced a new, modernized logo to go along with their new Reebok Edge jerseys.

Hall led the team in scoring again in 2009-10 with 40 goals and 106 points. After winning his second consecutive Memorial Cup, he was selected first overall in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft by the Edmonton Oilers, the second Spitfires player ever taken first overall.

 photo Windsor Spitfires 2009-10 F jersey.jpeg
 photo Windsor Spitfires 2009-10 B jersey.jpeg

Extra bonus jersey: Today's extra bonus jersey is a 1993-94 Windsor Spitfires Ed Jovanovski jersey. This jersey, from the year Jovanovski was drafted first overall by the Florida Panthers, features the logo used by the Spitfires from 1989 to 2009. Jovanovski was the first Windsor Spitfire ever taken first overall, and the only one until Hall in 2010.

Windsor Spitfires jersey
Windsor Spitfires jersey

Today's video section begins with the drafting of Ed Jovanovski first overall by the Florida Panthers in 1994, which includes footage of him wearing today's bonus Spitfires jersey.

Next, a video documenting the Spitfires remarkable comeback to win the 2009 Memorial Cup after losing their first two games.

Next, a tribute to Mickey Renaud, the late captain of the Spitfires.

Finally, in a moment that will live in infamy, the Spokane Chiefs had the Memorial Cup break in half during the celebration shortly after the trophy presentation in 2008, much to the embarrassment of the Chiefs and disapproval of those in attendance. You know they were either looking for a hole in the ice to crawl into or wishing they could hide in their playoff beards!

Saturday, May 27, 2017

The Rocky History of the Colorado Rockies - 1980-81 Colorado Rockies Lanny McDonald Jersey

The NHL had planned to expand in 1976-77 and had awarded "conditional" franchises to both Denver and Seattle. However, several franchises were having financial difficulties at the time, the California Golden Seals, Kansas City Scouts and Pittsburgh Penguins in particular.

Due to the number of existing clubs having enough troubles of their own, the proposed expansion was called off and the Seals relocated to Cleveland to become the Barons while the Scouts moved to Denver after selling only 2,000 season tickets for the upcoming season while finding themselves nearly $1 million in debt after playing just two seasons in Kansas City.

While in Denver, the Colorado Rockies continued the Scouts tradition of struggling to make the playoffs. Their first season record in Denver of 20-46-14 was a 13 point improvement over anything achieved in Kansas City, but they still failed to qualify for the playoffs. The club was led in scoring by Wilf Paiement, who set a franchise record that would never be topped with 41 goals on his way to 81 total points.

1976-77 Colorado Rockies team photo 1976-77 Colorado Rockies team.jpg
The inaugural 1976-77 Colorado Rockies

Doug Favell arrived from the Toronto Maple Leafs to split time in goal with Scouts holdover Michel Plasse, who led the team in games played with 54 and had 12 of their 20 wins.

In 1977-78, thanks to an increase in their number of ties from 14 to 21, over 25% of the team's games and finishing with more ties than wins, they set a Rockies record with 59 points after going 19-40-21 and actually finished second in the horrid Smythe Division, which also had league doormats Vancouver (57 points), St. Louis (53) and Minnesota (45). Luckily for the Rockies, they resided in the Campbell Conference, as the Penguins failed to make the top six in the Wales Conference despite having 68 points in the standings! Paiement again led the team in scoring with 87 points, establishing the club record. Favell took over as the number one goaltender, playing in 47 games with 13 wins, while Plasse had 3 wins in 25 games and Bill McKenzie added 3 more in 12 games.

Favell Rockies photo FavellRockies.jpg
Doug Favell in his bold Rockies mask

The one and only Rockies playoff experience was desperately brief, as the format of the opening round of the playoffs was a best-of-three format and Colorado lost 3-2 at Philadelphia in Game 1 and followed that with a 3-1 loss in the only home playoff game in Rockies history as the Flyers swept them out of the playoffs two games to none.

The Rockies actually requested to relocate the team to New Jersey in 1978, but were turned down as their proposed home, the Byrne Arena had yet to be completed and no suitable temporary rink was available at the time. The Rockies point total dropped to 42 after a 15 win season in 1978-79 under two head coaches, Pat Kelly and Bep Guidolin. Paiement once more led the team in scoring, although his total shrank to just 60 points.

Wilf Paiement Rockies photo Wilf Paiement Rockies.jpg
Wilf Paiement led the Rockies in scoring their first three seasons

Several new arrivals in 1979-80 attempted to infuse some hope in the fans, as Rene Robert came from the Buffalo Sabres to lead the team in scoring with 63 points and be named team captain. Additionally, the club traded for veteran Lanny McDonald and Don Cherry took over behind the bench as head coach. At one point the outspoken Cherry even nicknamed his own goalie Hardy Astrom "The Swedish Sieve"!

McDonald Rockies photo McDonaldRockies.jpg
Lanny McDonald

Despite their attempts at improvement, the league did the Rockies no favors by expanding in 1979-80 by allowing four WHA teams to join the NHL, with the Edmonton Oilers and Winnipeg Jets being added to the Smythe Division, putting two more obstacles between the Rockies and the playoffs despite the increase in playoff teams from 12 to 16. Even with having their rosters purged by the terms of the expansion, Edmonton would qualify for the playoffs with 18 more points than Colorado and Winnipeg was able to tie the Rockies in points with 51.

McDonald took over the scoring lead with 81 points in 1980-81 and defenseman Rob Ramage made his presence known with 62 points while goaltender Chico Resch also arrived from the New York Islanders. The team scored a franchise high of 258 goals and improved to 57 points, but well short of the 74 needed to make the playoffs.

Resch Rockies
Chico Resch

Their final season of 1981-82 in Denver was more of the same, with an 18-49-13 record for 49 points and the Rockies gave up 121 more goals than they scored, an average deficit of 1.5 per game. Brent Ashton edged Steve Tambellini 60 to 59 for the club scoring lead and Resch anchored the goaltending, seeing action in 61 games and setting the franchise high with 16 wins.

The Rockies were not helped by having major stability issues during their time in Colorado. In six seasons they had three owners, seven head coaches and seven different team captains.

Finally on this date in 1982, the Colorado Rockies franchise was sold to Dr. John McMullen, who relocated the franchise to New Jersey and renamed the club the New Jersey Devils, ending the Rockies six year run in Denver.

Today's featured jersey is a 1980-81 Colorado Rockies Lanny McDonald jerseyWhen the team moved to Colorado from Kansas City, they retained the team's blue, red and gold colors, which conveniently matched those of the Colorado state flag. A striking new logo, which borrowed heavily from the Colorado state flag, was created, incorporating the imagery of the Rocky Mountains. The Rockies blue road jerseys were particularly attractive when compared to the home whites.

Aside from the addition of the player's names on the back in 1977, the Rockies jerseys remained unchanged during their time in Denver.

Colorado Rockies Jersey
photo courtesy of Classic Auctions

Bonus jersey: Today's bonus jersey is a 1976-77 Colorado Rockies Nelson Pyatt jersey. This lightweight mesh jersey was from the Rockies first set of jerseys, worn early in their first season until their main jersey set arrived.

This jersey stands out due to it's smaller crest made of a white mountain, while the club's main jerseys had a much larger crest which consisted of a blue mountain outlined with a bold white outline as shown in today's extra bonus jersey below.

 photo Colorado Rockies 1976-77 road jersey.jpg
photo courtesy of Classic Auctions

Extra bonus jersey: Today's extra bonus jersey is a 1981-82 Colorado Rockies Joe Micheletti jersey as worn during Micheletti's final NHL season. The Rockies main set of jerseys featured a much more professional logo, with a blue mountain outlined in white with a bolder C. Additonally, the numbers were now two colors instead of the single color of their early first season placeholder jerseys.

When the player names arrived on the back, they were single color letters on both the home and road jerseys.

 photo ColoradoRockies1981-82F.jpg
Colorado Rockies 1981-82 jersey photo ColoradoRockies1981-82B-1.jpg

Extra extra bonus jersey: Today's extra extra bonus jersey is a 1977-78 Colorado Rockies Doug Favell jersey as worn during Favell's second season in Colorado when he played in 47 games as the club's main goaltender. Following the season the name was removed from the back of the jersey to prepare the jersey for possible reuse of the jersey.

Notice the shine on the back numbers from the plasticized, heat sealed material used for the numbers rather than the modern sewn on twill material.

Colorado Rockies 77-78 jersey, Colorado Rockies 77-78 jersey
Colorado Rockies 77-78 jersey, Colorado Rockies 77-78 jersey

Today's video segment begins the Legends of Hockey profile on Lanny McDonald and discusses his departure from Toronto to Colorado and what he meant to the Maple Leafs before moving to to focus on his time in Calgary.

You knew it had to happen sooner or later, the video for "Rock and Roll, Part 2", first used as an arena anthem by the Colorado Rockies and then adopted by nearly every other professional sports team for over twenty years.

Just in case you were ever curious, here's the nearly forgotten "Rock and Roll, Part 1".

Friday, May 26, 2017

Going Out in Style - The Orlando Solar Bears

Founded in 1994 as a member of the International Hockey League, the Orlando Solar Bears began play during the 1995-96 season, which, along with the expansion San Francisco Spiders, boosted the IHL from 17 teams to a high of 19, up from 9 just six seasons earlier.

Orlando Solar Bears logo photo Orlando_Solar_Bears.png

In addition to the arrival of the Solar Bears, other changes in league membership saw the Denver Grizzlies relocate to Salt Lake City as the Utah Grizzlies, having been displaced by the arrival to Denver of the Colorado Avalanche of the NHL. Additionally, the San Diego Gulls moved north to become the Long Beach Ice Dogs.

The Solar Bears were an immediate success on the ice, as they won the Central Division with 110 points, third best in the league thanks to a 52-24-6 record. They were led in scoring by Craig Fisher, who had a league leading 74 goals, 18 more than anyone other player, and 130 points, which was second in the IHL scoring race. Mark Beaufait was second on the club with 109 points, good for fifth in the league, while Dave Barr was ninth with 100. Former Toronto Maple Leafs goaltender Allan Bester was a workhorse in goal, playing in 51 games with a 32-16-2 record while also finding the time to play in 10 games with the Dallas Stars of the NHL.

Fisher Solar Bears photo Fisher Solar Bears.jpg
Craig Fisher, the inaugural season leading scorer

During the playoffs, the Solar Bears defeated the Fort Wayne Komets 3-1, the Detroit Vipers in seven and the Cincinnati Cyclones 4-2 to advance to the Turner Cup Finals during just their first season before unfortunately being swept by the Grizzlies.

For the 1996-97 season, while the league remained at 19 teams, the Spiders folded after just one season. The Atlanta Knights relocated to become the Quebec Rafales, the Grand Rapids Griffins were formed, the Minnesota Moose relocated to become the Manitoba Moose, and the Peoria Rivermen moved to become the San Antonio Dragons.

The Solar Bears were moved out of the Central Division and moved to the equally inappropriate North Division! They exceeded their point total by one with 111 and again had the third best record in the league. For 1996-97, they were led in points by Beaufait's 91 points, seventh in the IHL, while Hubic McDonough's 30 goals were tops for Orlando. Bester raised his games played to 61 with a 37-13-3 record. While the Solar Bears defeated the Griffins 3-2, they were upset by the Cleveland Lumberjacks 4-2 in the second round of the playoffs.

Bester Solar Bears photo Bester Solar Bears.jpg
Allan Bester

Entering the 1997-98 season, the IHL league lost the Phoenix Roadrunners and dropped to 18 clubs. While Orlando remained grouped with Detroit, Grand Rapids and Quebec, the North Division was now renamed the Northeast Division. While still a successful club on the ice with a 42-30-10 record, the Solar Bears dipped to 94 points, which was seventh overall in the IHL.

Beaufait was again their leading offensive threat with a team leading 85 points while McDonough was tops in goals with 32. Their goaltending was divided between David Littman (44 games - 21-13-6), Bester (26) and Scott LaGrand (23).

The Solar Bears began their march into the playoffs with a 3-1 win over the Indianapolis Ice, the eliminated the Cleveland Lumberjacks 4-1 before falling to the Detroit Vipers 4-3 in the Semifinals.

The 1998-99 season saw the IHL shrink by two teams as Quebec and San Antonio folded, bringing the league down to 16 clubs.

Orlando posted the same 94 points as the season prior, which was again the seventh best record. Beaufait again led the team in scoring with a team highs in goals (28), assists (43) and points (71). Latvian Grigori Panteleev was just behind with 25 goals. Littman was the goaltender of choice, playing in 55 games with a 32-17-1 record, while none of the other four goaltenders had more than 17.

The Solar Bears received a bye in Round 1 of the playoffs before sweeping the Michigan K-Wings 3 games to none. They got their revenge on the Vipers from losing in last season's Semifinals by becoming the only team in the 56 year history of the IHL to come back from a 3 games to none deficit to win a playoff series when they reeled off four straight wins, 3-2, 2-1, 4-1 and finally 5-4 in Game 7 on a goal by Todd Krygier just 25 seconds into overtime to return to the Turner Cup Finals for the third time in six seasons.

There, they met the Houston Aeros. After the teams split the first two games in Houston, the Aeros put the Solar Bears on the brink by winning the first two games back in Orlando. The Solar Bears fought back with an overtime win at home in Game 5 and forced a Game 7 with a 3-2 victory back in Houston, but fell short 5-3 in the deciding Game 7.

For the 1999-00 season, the IHL got smaller for the third straight season. Now reduced to 13 teams, the league lost the Fort Wayne Komets, who left to join the United Hockey League. Also leaving the IHL was Indianapolis, who transferred to the Central Hockey League, and the Las Vegas Thunder, who lost their lease at their home rink and subsequently folded.

The Solar Bears 47-23-12 record was good for fourth in the league with 106 points in the Eastern Division. Once again, Beaufait was the team leader in all three offensive statistical categories with 28 goals and 50 assists for 78 points. Another Latvian, Herbert Vasiljevs was second with 25 goals and 60 points.

The goaltending was a literal revolving door, as no less than eight different players donned the pads for the Solar Bears! Scott Langkow saw the most action, but that was with just 27 games. Rick Tabaracci was the only other player over 20 with 21, while Corey Schwab had 16. While none of the other five goalies reached 10 games, each one played at least twice and none of the eight had a losing record. The "big three" were a combined 34-18-8 and the remaining five contributed to an excellent 13-5-4 mark as a group.

Their playoff season was an abbreviated one, as they fell in six games to the Cyclones.

By now the IHL was reeling, and two more clubs fell by the wayside for the 2000-01 season, bringing the league down to now 11 teams. Long Beach left for the West Coast Hockey League while the Michigan K-Wings (formerly the Kalamazoo Wings) folded due to the loss of their affiliation with the NHL's Dallas Stars and concerns over larger market teams entering the league.

For the sixth consecutive season, the Solar Bears finished the season with a winning record. They won 47 games, lost 28 and had 7 shootout losses for 101 points, second overall in "The I".

It should come as no surprise that Beaufait lead Orlando in scoring for the sixth consecutive season, as he was tops in goals (23), assists (42) and points with 65. J. P. Vigier equaled Beaufait's 23 goals. While six goaltenders suited up for the Solar Bears, Norm Maracle was the clear number one with 51 games played and a 33-13-3 record.

Beaufait Solar Bears photo Beaufait Solar Bears.jpg
The main cog in the Orlando offense, Mark Beaufait

Cincinnati was the first to fall in the playoffs to Orlando, 4 games to 1. The Solar Bears got out to a 3-0 lead over Grand Rapids before eventually winning in six games to advance to the Turner Cup Finals against the Chicago Wolves. Orlando dominated at home, winning the first two games 7-2 and 5-1. The Wolves took Game 3 in Chicago 3-1 before Orlando took charge with a 2-1 win in overtime of Game 4. Back in Orlando, the Solar Bears won the Turner Cup with a 5-1 victory in front of their home fans one final time in what would be the last IHL game ever played.

Turner Cup Solar Bears photo Solar Bears Turner Cup.jpg
The 2001 Turner Cup champion Orlando Solar Bears

The IHL had been moving into major markets, including those which already had NHL teams, such as Chicago, Detroit and Long Beach, near Los Angeles. In response, many NHL teams switched their affiliations to teams in the American Hockey League, reducing the number of affiliated IHL teams to just four in 1997-98. The loss of subsidized player salaries, high expansion costs and greatly increased travel costs were too much for the IHL, which ceased operations after the 2000-01 season.

Six teams, the Chicago, Grand Rapids, Houston, Utah, the Milwaukee Admirals and Manitoba were granted admittance into the AHL, while Cincinnati joined the ECHL. Unfortunately for the fans of the Solar Bears and the Kansas City Blades, owner Rich DeVos owned three clubs, Orlando, Kansas City and Grand Rapids. Rules would only allow DeVos to own one club in the AHL, which was was chosen to be Grand Rapids. In addition to the Solar Bears and the Blades, Cleveland and Detroit also ceased operations when the IHL folded.

Despite their success on the ice, Orlando never drew very well and trended downward each and every season. They averaged 10,460 in 1995-96 and two seasons later they were down to 7,219. The Solar Bears dropped into the 6,000's for 1998-99 and 1999-00 before a plummet in 2000-01 to 5,156, which was less than half of their inaugural season average. By comparison, after a peak of 7,285 in 1991-92, the DeVos' Blades were down to 5,235 in 2000-01 while his surviving Griffins averaged 8,022 and were just two seasons removed from three consecutive at over 10,000.

It should come as no surprise that Beaufait was the Solar Bears all-time leading scorer with 159 goals and 340 assists for 499 points, far outdistancing Todd Richards' 260 and McDonough at 231, the only three players over 200 while with Orlando.

Richards Turner Cup photo Richards Turner Cup.jpg
Team captain Richards accepting the Turner Cup
following the Solar Bears last game

When the Solar Bears folded after the 2000-01 season, Beaufait played one year in the AHL before moving to Germany to play seven seasons with the Berlin Polar Bears, which seemed entirely appropriate for someone who had played six seasons with the Solar Bears.

Fisher retained his records for Most Goals in a Season (74) and Most Points in a Season (130), while Beaufait was tops in single season assists with 79. Barry Dreger set the team record for Most Penalty Minutes in a Season with 387 while Bester set the goaltending mark for Most Wins in a Season with 37 in 1996-97.

Orlando finished with a 286-162-44 franchise record, with at least 42 victories in each of their seven winning seasons.

Today's featured jersey is a 1995-96 Orlando Solar Bears Allan Bester jersey as worn during the Solar Bears inaugural season by the team's original number one goaltender. With it's purple, black and teal color scheme, this jersey could not be more representative of the trendy colors of the 1990's which look terribly dated today.

Not only is the name on the back italicized, but be sure to note a rare feature of names on the back of pro or college sports jerseys - seldom seen lower case letters!

Orlando Solar Bears 1995-96 jersey photo Orlando Solar Bears jersey.jpg
photo courtesy of Classic Auctions

Bonus jersey: Today's bonus jersey is a 1995-96 Orlando Solar Bears Craig Fisher jersey as worn on the road during the Solar Bears inaugural season by the team's original leading scorer. Note the Turner Cup Finals patch on the upper right chest.

Orlando Solar Bears 1995-96 jersey photo Orlando Solar Bears 1995-96 R F jersey.jpg
Orlando Solar Bears 1995-96 jersey photo Orlando Solar Bears 1995-96 R B jersey.jpg

Bonus jersey: Today's bonus jersey is a 1997-98 Orlando Solar Bears Todd Richards jersey. This black jersey was an alternate style worn by the team. Note the different treatment for the names on the back when compared to the home and road jerseys. While the letters are no longer italicized, they are retain the Solar Bears trademark lowercase letters which are now not only three color letters, but vertically arched as well!

 Orlando Solar Bears 1997-98 jersey photo Orlando Solar Bears 1997-98 A F jersey.jpg
Orlando Solar Bears 1997-98 jersey photo Orlando Solar Bears 1997-98 A B jersey.jpg

Today's video looks back at the 2001 Turner Cup champions, the Orlando Solar Bears, who went out in style, winning the title in their final game ever.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

1990-91 Pittsburgh Penguins Mario Lemieux Jersey

The Pittsburgh Penguins started the 1990-91 season without Mario Lemieux, who missed the first half of the season recovering from a back injury suffered in February of the previous season.

Still, the team had a deep lineup featuring Joe Mullen, Mark RecchiKevin Stevens, rookie Jaromir JagrLarry MurphyPaul Coffey and goaltender Tom Barrasso. As if that roster weren't strong enough on it's own, the Penguins also added Bryan Trottier, a veteran of the New York Islanders 1980s dynasty to provide veteran leadership. Coaching this deep lineup of talent was "Badger" Bob Johnson in his first year behind the Penguins bench.

The team got off to a slow start, but with the return of Lemieux on January 26th, with three assists against the Quebec Nordiques right out of the gate, the Penguins fortunes improved to the point that they were in playoff contention in 3rd place in their division when March rolled around.

Then on March 4th, they pulled off a big trade that would put them over the top, acquiring Ron Francis, Ulf Samuelsson and Grant Jennings from the Hartford Whalers while letting go John Cullen, Jeff Parker and Zarley Zalapski in return. With the addition of Francis, the Penguins finished the season 9-3-2 and won their first Division Championship.

In the playoffs they would defeat the New Jersey Devils in 7 games after being down 3 games to 2. They next defeated the Washington Capitals  in four straight after dropping Game 1 and then advanced to the Stanley Cup Finals by beating the Boston Bruins in 6, after falling behind 2-0 to start the series.

Awaiting the Penguins was the surprising Minnesota North Stars, who actually finished the regular season with a dismal 27-39-14 record but came out of nowhere in the playoffs to defeat the President's Trophy winning Chicago Blackhawks in a huge upset, followed by an equally shocking upset of the St. Louis Blues, as Chicago had finished 38 points ahead of the North Stars with St. Louis 37 up on Minnesota. Everyone figured the clock would strike midnight when Minnesota's next opponent was the defending champion Edmonton Oilers. After the teams split the first two games in Edmonton, the North Stars got on a roll, winning Games 3 and 4 at home in dominating fashion 7-3 and 5-1. They then closed out the Oilers 3-2 in Edmonton to punch their ticket to the finals.

In the finals, Minnesota continued their hot streak and won Game 1 on the road 5-4, but the Penguins came back to win Game 2 handily 4-1.

 photo Penguins North Stars SCF.png
Mario Lemieux attacking Minnesota's Jon Casey

The series shifted to Minnesota where the North Stars won Game 3 by a score of 3-1. Penguins earned a split, tying the series at 2-2 by shocking Minnesota with 3 goals in the first three minutes and held on to win 5-3 after the North Stars closed to within 4-3.

Pittsburgh then won Game 5 at home after again blitzing Minnesota with 4 goals in the first 14 minutes of the first period. Still, the North Stars fought back, scoring 4 of the next 5 goals to narrow the lead to 5-4 before the Penguins sealed the victory with a goal with less than two minutes to play to take a 3-2 series lead.

Game 6 at the Met Center in Bloomington, Minnesota, on this date in 1991, saw Barrasso facing Jon Casey in goal for the North Stars.

With Neal Broten off for interference after just 9 seconds from the opening faceoff, Samuelsson scored on the power play at exactly 2:00 from Trottier and Peter Taglianetti. Minnesota hung on for the next ten minutes before Lemieux scored shorthanded at 12:19 from defenseman Murphy. Mullen then put Minnesota on the ropes with a goal from Taglianetti and Stevens just 55 seconds later for a 3-0 lead after the first period.

The North Stars kept the Penguins off the scoreboard for the first half of the second period with Bryan Hayward now in goal, but could not solve Barrasso. Bob Erry then scored from Jagr and Lemieux at 13:15 before Francis made it 5-0 1:13 later from Mullen. If Minnesota had any hope remaining of coming back, those thoughts were crushed with Mullen scored from Stevens and Samuelsson at 18:44 to put Pittsburgh up by 6 at the end of the second period.

Jim Paek then scored at 1:29 of the third period from Lemieux, chasing Hayward from the nets as Casey returned to the crease. Finally, the slaughter was complete with Murphy converted a power play from Lemieux at 13:45 to make the final score 8-0 and secure the Penguins first Stanley Cup.

1990-91 Pittsburgh Penguins
The Penguins celebrate their 1991 Stanley Cup victory

Lemieux was awarded the Conn Smythe Trophy as a much deserving playoff MVP after leading Pittsburgh in scoring with 16 goals and 28 assists for 44 points in 23 games after playing in just 26 regular season games after returning to the ice in January.

Lemieux 1991 Cup

Today's jersey is a 1990-91 Pittsburgh Penguins Mario Lemieux jersey featuring the 1991 Stanley Cup Finals patch, worn only during that season's Finals.

When the Penguins arrived on the scene in 1967, they wore powder blue jerseys for their first six years. The shade of blue darkened somewhat in 1973 and lasted until 1977 when an even darker navy blue became the club's primary color.

Then, quite unusually, the Penguins changed to their new color scheme of black and yellow during the middle of the season! The change in colors was an effort to win the goodwill of the fans of Pittsburgh, as both the Pittsburgh Steelers of the NFL and baseball's Pittsburgh Pirates won world championships in both the Super Bowl and World Series in 1979 while wearing black and gold, the colors of the flag of the City of Pittsburgh.

These jerseys would remain in use through the 1991-92 season, which included the Penguins second Stanley Cup championship in a row, before a change to a new set the following year.

Finally, after 22 years away, the Penguins brought back their Stanley Cup winning jersey as an alternate jersey for the 2014-15 season. After two seasons as their third jersey, the Penguins promoted their throwback to once again be their primary jersey for the 2016-17 season, which also saw a return of the white version as their new road jersey.

Pittsburgh Penguins 1990-91 SCF jersey photo PittsburghPenguins1990-91SCFRF.jpg
Pittsburgh Penguins 1990-91 SCF jersey photo PittsburghPenguins1990-91SCFRB.jpg
Pittsburgh Penguins 1990-91 SCF jersey photo PittsburghPenguins1990-91SCFRP.jpg

Today's video is all the goals from the deciding Game 6 as Pittsburgh dominated the contest to win the cup in as convincing a fashion as has ever happened.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

1925-26 Pittsburgh Pirates Lionel Conacher Jersey

Pull up a chair and settle in, as today we have the story of a life less ordinary, for on this date in 1902, Lionel Conacher came into this world. Nicknamed "The Big Train", he quit school after the eighth grade to help support his nine younger siblings. While in school, he quickly discovered that he was among the better players in any of the many sports he tried. He eventually won 11 championships with the 14 different teams he played for as a teenager.

At the age of 16 he won an Ontario wrestling championship and at 20 won a Canadian amateur boxing championship. In one memorable day, he hit a triple to help his team win the Toronto city baseball championship before rushing across town to find his lacrosse team losing by a score of 3-0 in the Ontario provincial final. He donned his gear, joined the fray and proceeded to score four goals and an assist to lead his team to victory for his second championship in a matter of a few hours!

He was an accomplished football player, winning city and provincial championships as a teenager before moving up to the senior level, where he led the league in scoring in 1921 while leading his team to not only the league championship, but also the Grey Cup as Canadian champions.

The cost of hockey kept him from taking up the game until he was 16, but by 1920, he had added a Memorial Cup championship to his ever growing trophy case. NHL teams had begun to take notice of Conacher's prodigious abilities and the Toronto St. Patricks offered him $3,000 a season, while the Montreal Canadiens came in with an offer of $5,000, well above the current average of $1,000 a year. They were both rebuffed, as Conacher was not ready to give up his amateur status.

He accepted an offer to play for the Pittsburgh Yellow Jackets of the United States Amateur Hockey Association, an arrangement which included a job and paid university tuition, first at Bellefonte Academy and then Duquesne University. Ever the prolific athlete, Conacher played football for both schools in the fall before serving as captain for the Yellow Jackets over the winter, winning championships in 1924 and 1925. His summers were spent back home in Toronto, where he continued to purse baseball and lacrosse.

Pittsburgh Yellow Jackets, Pittsburgh Yellow Jackets

For the 1925-26 season, the Yellow Jackets turned professional, changed their name to the Pittsburgh Pirates and gained entry into the National Hockey League. Conacher surprised many in Toronto when he elected to remain with the club, which would mean an end to his football playing days, his acknowledged favorite sport.

1925-26 Pittsburgh Pirates, 1925-26 Pittsburgh Pirates
The 1925-26 Pittsburgh Pirates

Conacher would score the first goal in Pirates history on his way to a total of 9 in 33 games. He returned to Toronto in the summer to play baseball professionally for a team named the Toronto Maple Leafs, who would win the International League championship followed by the Little World Series, the championship of minor league baseball in North America.

He returned to the Pirates for the 1926-27 season, only to be traded after ten games to the New York Americans. His second season with the Americans saw him set a career high of 11 goals. He would play two further seasons with the Americans, but having a bootlegger for a team owner led to his heavy drinking, which would take it's toll on Conacher's performance and health.

Conacher Americans, Conacher Americans

Finally in the offseason of 1930, he would quit drinking when his first child was born and his rights would be sold to the Montreal Maroons.

After his first season of play for the Maroons, the owners of the Canadian NHL franchises launched a plan to fill their arenas during the summer months by developing the indoor version of lacrosse. Playiing for the Maroons entry in the International Professional Lacrosse League, Conacher led the league in scoring, nearly doubling the point total of the next highest scorer, including scoring ten goals in a single game.

Conacher Maroons, Conacher Maroons

His first season with Montreal would start with Conacher, a defenseman, scoring 7 points, but he more than doubled that to 16 in 1931-32.

Following the season, he declined to return to the lacrosse league, choosing instead to wrestle professionally in the off season, eventually finishing his career undefeated at 27-0.

When the hockey season resumed, he showed no ill effects of his seemingly constant participation in sports by setting career high with 28 points for the Maroons in 1932-33.

That fall he was part of an effort to organize a new, professional football league. While the league did not get off the ground, he was able to filed a team of other former amateur players who had given up football by turning professional in other sports. The team played a series of exhibition games over the course of the next two falls, but the now 34 year old was beginning to feel his age and the team did not return for a third season.

Conacher Football, Conacher Football

The Maroons would then trade Conacher to the Chicago Black Hawks for the 1933-34 season, where he scored 23 points and double digit goals for one of only two times in his career with 10. He added two more goals in the playoffs as Chicago won the first Stanley Cup in franchise history and Conacher was named a First Team All-Star for the season.

Conacher Blackhawks, Conacher Blackhawks

Just prior to the following season, Conacher was traded to the Montreal Canadiens with two other players for package that included the legendary Howie Morenz, goaltender Lorne Chabot and on other player. That was not the end of the wheeling and dealing, however, as the Canadiens then sent Conacher back to the Maroons in another trade.

The Maroons would go on to defeat the defending champion Black Hawks and then outlast the New York Rangers to earn a place in the finals, where they swept the Toronto Maple Leafs three games to none, giving Conacher back to back Stanley Cups, only with two different clubs.

1934-35 Montreal Maroons team, 1934-35 Montreal Maroons team

He would play to more seasons for the Maroons, during which his point total rose from 8 to 14 to 25, the second highest of his career, which came in his final season in the NHL.

Following his athletic career, Conacher went into politics, becoming a member of the Ontario provincial parliament from 1937 to 1943. From 1949 he won a seat in the Canadian House of Commons, serving until 1954 when he died of a heart attack after hitting a triple during the annual softball game between the Members of Parliament and the press.

Concacher's long and successful sporting career was recognized in many ways, as he was named Canada's Greatest Male Athlete of the Half-Century in 1950, having won the Little World Series, a Memorial Cup, a Grey Cup and two Stanley Cups!

Following his passing, he was inducted into the Canadian Sports Hall of Fame (1955), the Canadian Football Hall of Fame (1963), the Canadian Lacrosse Hall of Fame (1966) and the Hockey Hall of Fame (1994). Additionally, the annual award by the Canadian Press for Male Athlete of the Year is named the Lionel Conacher Award.

Conacher autograph, Conacher autograph

In addition to Lionel's exploits, his brothers Charlie Conacher and Roy Conacher also played in the NHL and were inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame, while his son Brian Conacher played in the 1964 Olympics for Canada and won a Stanley Cup in 1967 while with the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Today's featured jersey is a 1925-26 Pittsburgh Pirates Lionel Conacher jersey from Conacher's first NHL season. The Pirates chose black and gold based on the colors of the City of Pittsburgh flag, and were the first team from the city to adopt those colors, as the Pirates baseball club was still wearing red, white and blue and would not change to black and gold until 1948 and the Pittsburgh entry of the National Football League would not arrive on the scene until 1933.

Pittsburgh Pirates 25-26 jersey, Pittsburgh Pirates 25-26 jersey
Pittsburgh Pirates 25-26 jersey, Pittsburgh Pirates 25-26 jersey
Our video section today is a brief overview of Conacher's achievements in sports and life.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

1991-92 Calgary Flames Gary Roberts Jersey

Gary Roberts, born on this date in 1966, began his road to the NHL with the Ottawa 67's of the OHL in 1982-83. After his second season, in which he scored 57 points in 48 games and impressed with his toughness, acquiring 144 penalty minutes, Roberts was drafted 12th overall in the 1984 NHL Entry Draft. Additionally, Ottawa won the OHL playoff championship and advanced to the Memorial Cup, which they were able to win following a 7-2 dismantling of the Kitchener Rangers in the final.

Now full of confidence after having been drafted as well as winning the championship the previous year, Roberts elevated his game to the next level in 1984-85 when he scored 44 goals and 106 points while amassing 186 penalty minutes in 59 games, establishing himself as an elite NHL prospect.

Roberts began the 1985-86 season with Ottawa bit was traded to the Guelph Platers for the second half of the season. Roberts was the missing piece for Guelph, as he racked up 31 points in 20 playoff games to lead the Paters to the second Memorial Cup title of his career.

Roberts turned professional the next season with the Moncton Golden Flames of the AHL. He was called up to the Calgary Flames, which included scoring a goal in his game. He bounced up and down between the AHL and NHL in 1986-87, eventually totaling 15 points in 32 games with Calgary.

During his second full season with the Flames in 1988-89, Roberts and the Flames went on a run through the playoffs which cumulated in their winning the only Stanley Cup championship in Flames history. In 22 games, Roberts contributed 12 points.

Roberts Stanley Cup

Roberts game took a big leap forward the following season, as he nearly doubled his previous season's offensive totals with 39 goals and 72 points, while his toughness was not affected, as he finished with over 200 penalty minutes for the third of five consecutive seasons.

In 1991-92 Roberts reached the pinnacle of his offensive production with the only 50 goal season of his career with 53 on his way to totaling a career best 90 points to lead the Flames in scoring, no easy feat on a roster with Al MacInnis, Theo Fleury, Sergei Makarov and Joe Nieuwendyk. Thanks to his 207 penalty minutes, Roberts became the first player in NHL history to ever score 50 goals and have over 200 penalty minutes in one season, essentially creating the concept of the modern "power forward" singlehandedly.

Roberts Flames

In the 1993-94 season Roberts nearly equalled his career high when he hit 84 points in 73 games. During the season he blocked a slapshot while killing a penalty, which broke his thumb in seven places, but in a testament to his ongoing toughness, he missed just one game and scored two goals in his return.

Injuries did get the better of Roberts when he suffered severe nerve damage in his neck, which limited him to just 8 games of the 1994-95 season. His recovery time continued into the 1995-96 season as he require multiple surgeries to address his condition. Finally, he returned in January of 1996 and scored a goal in his first game back. He would play in the Flames next 35 games, changing from center to wing to avoid additional contact for his fragile neck, and score 22 goals and 42 points before once again injuring his neck and missing the remainder of the season as well as the 1996 playoffs.

With the risk of paralysis from any further injury a very real possiblity, Roberts announced his retirement from the NHL in June of 1996, just two days before receiving the Masterton Trophy for his comeback to hockey after nearly a year away earlier in the season.

Roberts Masterton

Roberts never actually signed his retirement papers however, and continued to work out and rehabilitate his neck while missing the 1996-97 season. He announced himself fit and pain free in January of 1997 and was offered a contract by the Flames for the 1997-98 season. Roberts let the Flames know that while he was interested in returning to the NHL, it would be only if he were traded to an Eastern Conference club.

A deal was struck with the Carolina Hurricanes in August and Roberts was able to successfully pass his physical and return to action for the 1997-98 season. He would play three seasons with the Hurricanes, playing 61, 77 and 69 games. He would not return to his previous offensive totals, as his game, as well as the overall style of play in the NHL had changed from the wide open style of his 90 point season eight seasons earlier, but he was still and effective two-way player who consistently scored between 42 and 53 points during the second phase of his career.

Roberts Hurricanes

Following his three seasons with the Hurricanes, Roberts signed as a free agent with the Toronto Maple Leafs, where his 53 points in 2000-01 were good for second on the club behind perennial leader Mats Sundin while leading the team in hits with 206.

Roberts Maple Leafs

During the 2001-02 playoffs, Roberts led the Maple Leafs with 19 points in 19 games as Toronto made it to the conference finals.

He missed the first four months of the 2002-03 season following shoulder surgeries during the offseason. After playing for a month, he missed another month with a groin injury before returning for the playoffs.

He bounced back with 72 games in 2003-04, which included the 1,000th game of his career on January 13, 2004. That season he was also reunited with former Flames teammate Nieuwendyk.

Roberts Maple Leafs

After sitting out the 2004-05 season due to the NHL lockout rather than playing in Europe like many other NHLers, Roberts, along with Nieuwendyk, signed with the Florida Panthers for the resumption of play for the 2005-06 campaign. His season was limited to 58 games, during which he scored 40 points or more for the 13th time in his career.

Roberts Panthers

During his second season in Florida, Roberts, now 40, was traded to the Pittsburgh Penguins for the remainder of the 2006-07 season.

Roberts Penguins

He returned to Pittsburgh for 2007-08, but suffered a broken leg in December. Known league-wide for his toughness and conditioning, Roberts was said to be listed as "questionable" for the next Penguins game by some fans in jest after hearing the news, along the lines of other such Gary Roberts Facts as;
  • Gary Roberts sleeps with a pillow under his hockey stick
  • Gary Roberts goes grocery shopping at Lowe's
  • That's not a chin under Gary Roberts playoff beard, it's another fist
Roberts season was not finished however, and he returned in time to join the Penguins run to the Stanley Cup Finals.

Following the season, Roberts was traded to the Tampa Bay Lightning where he played in 30 games before retiring for good in March of 2009 after 21 seasons, 438 goals, 910 points, 2,560 penalty minutes and one Stanley Cup and a well earned reputation for toughness, perseverance, fitness and longevity.

Today's featured jersey is a 1991-92 Calgary Flames Gary Roberts jersey worn during the season in which Roberts had his only 50 goal season while setting a career record with 90 points.

The Flames wore this jersey from their first season in Calgary through the 1993-94 season, which included the first nine of Robert's ten seasons with the Flames before changing to a new, more modern style for his final season in Calgary prior to his first retirement following the season due to a serious neck condition.

Calgary Flames 91-92 jersey
Calgary Flames 91-92 jersey

Bonus Jersey: Today's bonus jersey is a 1999-00 Carolina Hurricanes Gary Roberts jersey as worn during his return to the NHL following his first retirement after returning to action after needing 11 months to recover from serious nerve damage to his neck.

This is a rare "triple patch" jersey, which features both the NHL 2000 patch, worn by all teams in honor of the new millennium, as well as the Raleigh Arena Inaugural Season patch on the front of the jersey. When the Whalers moved out of Hartford, the franchise's new arena would take two years to construct, forcing the team to play their first two seasons as the Hurricanes in Greensboro, an hour and a half from their eventual home in Raleigh.

Completed for the 1999-00 season, the club would now move into their new, permanent home and celebrated the move with a celebratory patch.

Also appearing on this jersey, but obscured from view on the left arm in between the sleeve number and secondary shoulder logo, is the Steve Chaisson Memorial patch, worn in memory of former Hurricane Chaisson who died in an automobile accident just after the conclusion of the previous season.

The Hurricanes have worn this jersey since relocating from Hartford in 1997, even maintaining the essentially the same jersey during the switch to the Reebok Edge jerseys in 2007-08.

Carolina Hurricanes 99-00 jersey

In today's video section, the 41-year-old Roberts teaches 23 -year-old Ben Eager a lesson about respect.

In this highlight, Roberts scores in triple overtime to win a playoff game for the Maple Leaf in 2002.

Finally, Roberts wreaking havoc for Pittsburgh during the 2007-08 season. And don't you forget it.


hit counter for blogger