Monday, January 4, 2010
On this date in 1992, Bobby Smith of the Minnesota North Stars played in his 1,000th career game in a 4-3 win over Vancouver.
Smith had an outstanding junior career with the Ottawa 67's, including scoring 135 points in 64 games in 1976-77 and following that with 192 points in 61 games the next season - over a three point per game average! His 123 assists and 192 points still stand as OHL league records.
Smith was subsequently drafted first overall by the last place Minnesota North Stars in the 1978 Amateur Draft and went on to capture the Calder Trophy following a rookie campaign in which he scored 30 goals and 74 points in 80 games.
Interestingly, the North Stars used their second round pick in 1978 to draft Smith's Ottawa 67's linemate Steve Payne. Further picks that year would net 1980 USA Olympic team member Steve Christoff and eventual team captain Curt Giles.
Prior to Smith's rookie season, the NHL allowed a deal where the Cleveland Barons owners George and Gordon Gund were allowed to merge their franchise with the North Stars franchise under the Gund's ownership and would play as the North Stars in the Baron's place in the Adams division. This allowed the North Stars to add players such as Mike Fidler, Al MacAdam, Greg Smith and reacquire fan favorite J. P. Parise and goaltender Gilles Meloche.
The North Stars were able to show a 25 point improvement in the standings, but failed to qualify for the playoffs in the rugged Wales Conference despite having 5 more points than the Vancouver Canucks of the Campbell Conference.
Further additions in the 1979 Entry Draft would net the North Stars Craig Hartsburg, Tom McCarthy, Minnesota native and 1980 USA Olympic team member Neal Broten, who would join the team the following season.
This influx of talent over the course of two seasons paid off in 1979-80, as MacAdam, Payne and Smith all topped 80 points during the regular season and the North Stars qualified for the playoffs after a 23 point improvement in the standings. The North Stars would eliminate the Toronto Maple Leafs in three straight, gain invaluable confidence and experience by defeating the Montreal Canadiens in seven games before losing to the Philadelphia Flyers in round 3.
Smith would increase his regular season point total to 83 games that season and add another 14 points in 15 playoff games.
Growing in confidence and experience, Smith would once more improve his point total with 93 points in 1980-81 and, coming off the playoff run of the previous season, the North Stars would make a run through the playoffs, aided by the additions of Gordie Roberts, Dino Ciccarelli and the late season arrival of Broten just in time for the playoffs.
The North Stars would sweep their previous nemesis the Boston Bruins, easily dispatch the Buffalo Sabres in five games, eliminate the Calgary Flames in six before running into the midst of the New York Islanders dynasty in the finals to complete their unusual journey from last place to the Stanley Cup Finals in just three seasons.
Smith's finest season as a professional would come in 1981-82 with 43 goals and 71 assists for 114 points, the fourth consecutive increase in points during his four seasons in the league. The following season would see his point total drop to 77 and the North Stars would be bounced out of the playoffs despite a club record 96 points in the second round by arch-rivals the Chicago Black Hawks.
A falling out with new North Stars coach Bill Mahoney led to Smith being dealt to the Montreal Canadiens, where he would play for the next seven seasons, scoring as many as 93 points in 1987-88 and winning the only Stanley Cup of his career in 1986 when he finished second in Canadiens regular season scoring and contributed 15 points in 20 playoff games. The Canadiens would make the finals again in 1989 and Smith would contribute 19 points in 21 games that year.
Smith was dealt back to Minnesota in time for the 1990-91 season and help the North Stars on an improbable run through the playoffs, as they defeated the President's Trophy winning Chicago Blackhawks (who finished 38 points ahead of them in the standings) in the first round, the St. Louis Blues (37 points ahead) and Edmonton Oilers (12 points better) before falling to the Mario Lemieux-led Pittsburgh Penguins in the finals.
Smith would play two more seasons in the NHL, which included his 1,000th NHL point in November of 1991, only the 32nd player in league history to reach that mark, and his 1,000th game on this date in 1992. He would retire with 1,077 games played, 357 goals and 679 assists for 1036 points and 160 points in 184 career playoff games and one Stanley Cup.
Internationally, Smith would play in the 1978 World Junior Championship as a teammate to Wayne Gretzky, the year Canada wore blue jerseys, and win a bronze medal and then again in the World Championships in 1979 and in 1982 when he would earn a bronze medal.
Today's featured jersey is a CCM 1991-92 Minnesota North Stars Bobby Smith jersey from the season Smith played in his 1,000th game. This jersey is from the Norm Green ownership era after the club changed their traditional green jerseys to black, along with a more generic team logo, which de-emphasized the "North" part of the club's name, perhaps foreshadowing the club's move to Dallas in time for the 1993-94 season. The entire transition from the green uniforms to the black, including the North Stars first choice for the font for the names on the back, has been documented in great detail by Cole Jones here.
This jersey features both the NHL 75th Anniversary patch and the Minnesota North Stars 25th Anniversary patch. The club actually started out the season with just the NHL 75th patch before later adding the North Stars 25th Anniversary patch.
When on his game, Smith could dominate a game and was famous for his wraparound goals made possible by his long reach.
Here is footage from the night the North Stars finally stood their ground against the Boston Bruins in 1981 at the Boston Garden, an arena they had never won a game in - ever - dating back 14 seasons to the North Stars inception in 1967. While they lost this game, they made a statement that they were not going to be intimidated any longer, having recently had John Wensink challenge the Minnesota bench during a game. This stand was a turning point for the franchise and they proceeded to knock the Bruins out of the playoffs later that season, which included two victories in Boston, and were on their way to the Stanley Cup Finals for the first time ever.
Bobby Smith helped kick off the mayhem seven seconds into the game with a fight against the Bruins Steve Kasper while linemate Steve Payne fought Keith Crowder.
There were further fights at 3:35, 8:06 and a bench clearing brawl at 8:58 of the first period which involved fights in the runway back to the dressing rooms and the police trying to intervene. There were three more fights in the second period and two more in the third as the teams set a then NHL record with 406 penalty minutes.
Dasherboard: In the World Junior Tournament, Canada took care of business against underdogs Switzerland on Sunday to reach the finals once more, while the USA surprised Sweden 5-2 to gain a rematch with Canada, who they lost to in a shootout on New Year's Eve during group play.
Going into the game, Sweden was having a very strong tournament, having won their group with ease, having defeated the Czech Republic 10-1, Austria 7-3, Russia 4-1 and rivals Finland 7-1.
The United States led 1-0 after one period, only to see Sweden take the lead in the second period with two goals, but in less than three minutes the Americans responded with a goal by Jerry D'Amigo who made a nice play by passing the puck to himself off the boards to get around the Swedish defender and tie the game at 2-2 after two.
John Carlson put the USA ahead to stay with 7:26 remaining with a shot from the point that skipped under Sweden's Jacob Markstrom, who had not given up more than one goal in any of this three previous games in the tournament.
While shorthanded, Team USA captain Derek Stepan pressured the point man on the Sweden power play into a turnover and broke up the ice before making a centering pass to D'Amigo, who expertly moved the puck out of his skates and up to a shooting position before picking his spot and firing the puck past Markstrom for a 4-2 lead just three minutes after Carlson's goal.
The Americans added an empty net goal for the final margin and now look forward to what should be an outstanding championship final on Tuesday evening, which will be broadcast on the NHL Network in the United States and on TSN in Canada.
To see highlights of the USA vs. Sweden game, click here.