Saturday, May 21, 2016

The Atlanta Flames Are Extinguished

It was announced on this date in 1980 that the Atlanta Flames had been sold to a group of Canadian business men who announced that the franchise would relocate to Calgary, Alberta.

The Flames began play in 1972 as the NHL reacted quickly to occupy the new Nassau Coliseum on Long Island with the New York Islanders in order to prevent the upstart World Hockey Association from moving into the arena. Needing a second team to balance the schedule, Atlanta was also awarded a franchise to occupy The Omni, another brand new arena located in Atlanta, Georgia.

The team was named the "Flames", which originated from the famous burning of Atlanta during the American Civil War.

The Omni seated 15,278 for hockey and was a innovative architectural design with an unusual roof, which looked like an egg crate from the air. It's exterior panels which were designed to rust over to seal themselves shut(!), making a solid structure which would last for decades. The only problem was that the panels never stopped rusting, which eventually created holes in the outer wall so large people were able to sneak into the building for free!

The Omni
The Omni

The club began with a reasonable start for an expansion team, which included being over .500 as late as mid-January, but a late season swoon saw them finish out of the playoffs at 25-38-15.

Being the only club in the American southeast, the Flames were faced with a difficult travel schedule, as the NHL's divisional alignment at the time defied any geographic logic, as it was still based on the principal of having the Original 6 teams in the East, while the 1967 expansion clubs grouped in the "West".

The additions of Vancouver Canucks and Buffalo Sabres in 1970 and the Islanders and Flames in 1972 further muddied the picture, as Atlanta was grouped with Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Chicago, Minnesota, St. Louis (closest at 556 miles away), Los Angeles and Oakland, while the "East" division was home to... Vancouver!

The Flames qualified for the playoffs in their second season after a nine point improvement in the standings, although with a sub .500 record of 30-34-14. Highlights that season included the additions of Tom Lysiak who led the club in scoring as a rookie.

Tom Lysiak Flames
Tom Lysiak

While the club improved to a 34-31-15 mark, their 83 points were not enough to make the playoffs. Bright spots were the addition of Eric Vail, who set a club record with 39 goals on his way to the Calder Trophy, and conference realignment, which saw Atlanta now in the Patrick Division (with Philadelphia, the New York Rangers and New York Islanders) of the Campbell Conference (which also included St. Louis, Chicago, Minnesota, Kansas City and Vancouver).

Eric Vail
Eric Vail

While the club qualified for the playoffs in 1975-76 and posted their first winning record of 35-33-12, they remained winless in the playoffs, losing 2 games to none in an abbreviated best-of-three series after being swept in four straight by Philadelphia in 1974. The first signs of trouble on the financial front began to surface when their average attendance dropped from a high of 14,162 in 1973-74 to 13,444 then down to 11,963.

The following season of 1976-77 saw the Flames finally win their first playoff game, but were still eliminated in Round 1 by the Kings 2 games to 1. At one point the team was in danger of missing it's payroll in December, and in an emergency campaign, leading city businesses made $750,000 in advance ticket purchases to help the club avoid bankruptcy.

The now familiar pattern began to repeat, as the 1977-78 Flames once more saw a drop in attendance down to 10,501 as they again won 34 games and were eliminated in the opening round of the playoffs in two straight games, this time at the hands of the Red Wings.

A franchise record 90 points in 1978-79 saw a bump in average tickets sold, up to 11,441, but the Maple Leafs took their turn bouncing the Flames from the postseason in the now customary two straight games. While Lysiak was traded to Chicago, Guy Chouinard provided the thrills with the only 50 goal season in Atlanta history.

 photo ChouinardFlames.jpg
50 goal scorer Guy Chouinard

The 1979-80 season proved to be the Flames last in Atlanta, and yet again it was a predictable season for the club, as they won 35 games, the fifth time in 8 seasons with 34 or 35 wins. They then ended their eight year run in Atlanta with their fifth consecutive (and sixth overall) first round playoff loss, this time 3 games to 1 in the new best-of-five format to the New York Rangers, giving the Flames a combined playoff record of 2-15 in six tries.

With falling ticket sales combined with a rapid rise in player costs, due to the competition for players between the NHL and WHA, the Flames also suffered from the lack of a major television deal.

When an offer to purchase the club came from Nelson Skalbania, former owner of both the Edmonton Oilers and Indianapolis Racers of the WHA, the Atlanta ownership group accepted the deal and Skalbania immediately moved the club to Calgary, Alberta and chose to keep the name "Flames", feeling it reminiscent of the iconic "gas flares" of the oil production industry in Alberta.

The new ownership also retained the Flames jerseys as well, only the flaming "A" logo changing to a flaming "C" for their new home in Calgary.

Flames jerseys

History repeated itself in Atlanta one day short of 31 years later when the news broke that the troubled Atlanta Thrashers franchise was sold to a group who then moved the Thrashers over the border to Winnipeg, Manitoba as the long desired replacement for the beloved Jets, who relocated to Phoenix in 1996.

Today's featured jersey is a 1978-79 Atlanta Flames Eric Vail jersey. Vail played more games in Atlanta Flames history than any other player, 469, joining the club for it's second season of 1973-74 through their sale and relocation seven seasons later. Vail also led the Flames in all-time goals with 174 and ranked second in points with 383, behind only Lysiak.

The Flames used the same jersey for each of their eight seasons in Atlanta and it remained intact after the relocation to Calgary, allowing for the obvious change in crest from the flaming A to the flaming C, all the way through the 1994-95 season, a 15 year run for this classic hockey template.

The Calgary Flames pay tribute to their past by using the original Atlanta Flames logo as the A worn to designate their alternate captains.

This jersey was worn without names on the back until 1977-78 when they became mandatory for all NHL jerseys.

Atlanta Flames 74-75 jersey photo Flames74-75F.jpg
Atlanta Flames 74-75 jersey photo Flames74-75B.jpg

Today's video hunt finds us with nothing but brawls to pick from, as the Flames apparently never actually scored any goals if we are to believe youtube.

Note the Philadelphia Flyers reverse nameplates. They had one set made up for TV games and wore them on both the white and orange jerseys, a look they have recently revived.


This next collection of mayhem features the Flames and the Maple Leafs from 1979.

Friday, May 20, 2016

The Final Game in WHA History

Following the conclusion of the 1977-78 World Hockey Association season, the Houston Aeros, who were one of the strongest of the WHA franchises, folded in July of 1978 when it became apparent that no merger talks with the NHL would take place in time for the 1978-79 season. The Aeros were the only WHA champion that did not eventually join the NHL.

The loss of the Aeros meant the WHA would open the 1978-79 season with seven teams, down from a high of 14 just three seasons earlier, but after 25 games, the Indianapolis Racers would fold on December 15, 1978.

By the time the six surviving clubs had reached the playoffs, two more had received a death sentence, as a deal was struck on March 30, 1979 what would allow four of the WHA teams to join the NHL as expansion clubs, which in no way did the NHL consider to be a merger with the WHA.

WHA logo photo WHA_Logo.png

The playoff format called for the top five of the six teams to advance to the postseason. That left out the Birmingham Bulls, who finished with 70 points, just two out of a playoff spot in sixth place. Stat heads will also note that the final WHA standings include the 5-18-2 Racers with 12 points as well as entries from the Soviet All-Stars and Czechoslovakia, who both played one game against each of the six full season clubs which counted in the WHA standings. The Soviets went 4-1-1 while the Czechs were 1-4-1. With the Racers having played an odd number of games, a contest between the Edmonton Oilers and the Finnish National Team was arranged to give Edmonton an 80 game schedule like the others, which was won by the Oilers 8-4.

In the playoffs, the fourth place New England Whalers (83 points) faced the fifth place Cincinnati Stingers (72) in a best-of-three series, which was won by the Whalers 2 games to 1, bringing an end to the Stingers franchise.

The Whalers advanced to play the number one seeded Edmonton Oilers in a best-of-seven Semifinal series, while the second place Quebec Nordiques (87) faced the third place Winnipeg Jets (84) in the other.

While Edmonton required the full seven games to eliminate New England, the Jets made quick work of the Nordiques, sweeping them in four straight.

The AVCO World Cup Finals began on May 11th with a 3-1 Winnipeg victory in Edmonton. The Jets then grabbed the series by the throat with a second win on the road, 3-2. The Oilers returned the favor, dominating Game 3 in Winnipeg 8-3, but the Jets put the Oilers on the brink with a 3-2 win at home in Game 4.

As the series moved back to Edmonton for Game 5, the Oilers let everyone know they would not be leaving quietly, as they hammered the Jets 10-2 to extend not only their season, but their doomed league for at least one more game, which came on this date in 1979 as the series returned to Winnipeg for Game 6 with the Jets leading three games to two.

The Jets prevailed in front of their delirious home fans 7-3, as the astute fans in Winnipeg knew the Jets had not only just won the championship, but that they next time they arrived at the Winnipeg Arena later that fall, it would be to watch the Jets play as a part of the National Hockey League.

Winnipeg Jets Avco Cup 1979, Winnipeg Jets Avco Cup 1979
The Jets celebrate winning the final Avco Cup in 1979

With the arrival of the WHA refugees, the NHL would expand from 17 teams to 21 with the addition of Edmonton, New England, Quebec and Winnipeg, all of whom played in the WHA from 1972-73 until 1978-79. Combined, the four clubs won five of the seven Avco World Cup championships, with the defunct Aeros, led by Gordie Howe, having won the other two.

Before New England could become a member of the NHL, there was an additional stipulation placed upon their entry from their original landlords, the Boston Bruins, who demanded that the Whalers change their name from New England to Hartford.

When the WHA teams were allowed to enter the NHL, the old WHA teams were permitted to protect  two goaltenders and just a mere two skaters(!), as the NHL teams raided their rosters in the 1979 Expansion Draft, seeking a return of the players whose rights they once held.

The WHA teams were also each required to pay a $6 million expansion fee for the privilege of having their team decimated. This was a far different scenario than a "merger" between the leagues, in which case the incoming WHA teams would have been able to not only keep their rosters intact but also not pay an expansion fee. But this was no merger. This was not only an expansion, but also retribution for raiding rosters, sending player salaries sky high and signing underage players.

The Oilers thus stared life in the NHL with a roster consisting of goaltenders Dave Dryden and Eddie Mio, plus skaters Bengt Gustafsson and Wayne Gretzky. Although no NHL team held Gretzky's rights, and under existing rules he would have been removed from the Oilers and placed into the Entry Draft, the Oilers were allowed to keep him with the stipulation that they were required to pick dead last in each round of the 1979 NHL Entry Draft, behind even current Stanley Cup champions the Montreal Canadiens!

The WHA teams then selected unprotected players from the current NHL teams to fill out their rosters, but only after the NHL teams were allowed to protect two veteran goalies and seventeen skaters. Consider that for a second. In the best case scenario, a WHA team would get the 20th best player from any NHL team after only being allowed to protect their two best skaters and a pair of goaltenders.

The results were predictable, as the WHA teams all finished in the bottom eight of the standings. However, a ridiculous 16 of 21 teams made the playoffs back then, so Edmonton and Hartford did manage to qualify for the postseason, with the Oilers being swept in three games by Philadelphia.

Amazingly, within just three years, coach and GM Glen Sather had a team that not only included Gretzky, but also Mark Messier, Glenn Anderson, Jari Kurri, Paul Coffey, Kevin Lowe plus goaltenders Grant Fuhr and Andy Moog. Easily the most successful to make the transition to the NHL, the Oilers made it to the Stanley Cup Finals for the first time in 1983, losing to the New York Islanders before winning the Stanley Cup in 1984, which ended the Islanders dynasty and began one of their own.

Today's first feature jersey is a 1978-79 Edmonton Oilers Garnet "Ace" Bailey jersey from the Oilers final season in the WHA when the home white jerseys had the dreadfully low contrast combination of blue letters on an orange background while the road blues had a nearly equally bad orange letters on a white background.

For their first NHL season, the Oilers mercifully changed to a much higher contrast and much more pleasing combination of blue letters against a white background for both their home and road jerseys, which they continue to use to this day.

1978-79 Edmonton Oilers jersey
1978-79 Edmonton Oilers jersey

While Hartford qualified for the playoffs that first NHL season of 1979-80, it would flatter to deceive, as they would miss the playoffs for the next five seasons, including finishing with a league worst 45 points in 1982-83. They would win their only playoff series in 1985-86 with a three game opening round sweep of the Nordiques. They would follow that with an Adams Division championship, thanks to a franchise best 93 points, only to fail in the opening round of the playoffs to Quebec, who had finished fourth in the division 21 points behind the Whalers.

Five more consecutive first round exits were followed by five more seasons of failing to qualify for the postseason prior to the franchise relocating to North Carolina, where they would win the Stanley Cup in 2006 as the Carolina Hurricanes.

Today's second featured jersey is a 1974-75 New England Whalers Tom Webster jersey. Their final WHA jerseys sported a "W" bisected by a harpoon, which has been worn since their second WHA season of 1973-74.

Upon entering the NHL, the Whalers debuted their new "Whale Tail" logo, which obviously featured a "W" for Whalers, but also contained an "H" hidden in the negative space of the logo to represent their change in name to Hartford.

New England Whalers 73-74 F jersey, New England Whalers 73-74 F jersey
New England Whalers 73-74 jersey, New England Whalers 73-74 jersey

Following their success in the WHA, having won the final two championship titles, the Jets found the transition to the NHL the roughest, as they lost leading scorer Kent Nilsson to the Atlanta Flames, Terry Ruskowski and Rich Preston to the Chicago Black Hawks and Barry Long to the Detroit Red Wings.

After having scored 102 points in 1977-78 in the WHA, the Jets plummeted to last in the NHL in 1979-80 with just 51 points. Things got even worse in year 2 with a all-time franchise low of 32 points, which the club turned into first overall selection Dale Hawerchuk.

With the arrival of Hawerchuk, and then Thomas Steen, the club rose to respectability, making the playoffs the next seven seasons, but only winning two playoff rounds over that time. While the club added some remarkable talent in the early 1990's in the shape of Finns Teemu Selanne and Teppo Numminen, Russians Alexi Zhamnov and goaltender Nikoali Khabibulin plus American Keith Tkachuk, it was not enough to put Winnipeg over the top, as their final eight seasons in Winnipeg saw them miss the playoffs four times and eliminated immediately the other four seasons prior to their relocation to Phoenix, Arizona due to economic issues associated with being based in Canada while playing in one of the smallest cities in the league ata time when the Canadian dollar was at a weak point.

Today's third featured jersey is a 1977-78 Winnipeg Jets Lyle Moffat jersey which illustrates the final style worn in the WHA by the Jets with white shoulders as well as the lower contrast version of their logo, one with a blue background on a blue jersey, which was immediately changed to a white background inside the outer circle for their first season in the NHL for use on their new style of jerseys, which featured a full length arm stripe from cuff to cuff.

Like Edmonton and Hartford, the Jets ushered in their arrival to the NHL with brand new jerseys, adopting a design used by the New York Rangers for a brief period of time when they were under the control of then General Manager John Ferguson, who had taken the same position with the Jets in 1978.

The Jets began life in the WHA with a simple design that featured some unusual contrasting colored and rounded nameplates with an equally odd choice for a font for the names for their first season, but improved their look for 1973-74 by ditching the odd nameplates and font as well as using an improved main crest. This style would remain in use for the rest of their days in the WHA, with the only change being the addition of a white shoulder yoke for the blue jerseys in 1977-78 and 1978-79, as worn while the team captured back-to-back championships to end their time in the WHA on a high note.

Winnipeg Jets 77-78 jersey, Winnipeg Jets 77-78 jersey
Winnipeg Jets 77-78 jersey, Winnipeg Jets 77-78 jersey

The Nordiques were unable to qualify for the playoffs during their first NHL season, but quickly became relevant thanks to retaining WHA players Real Cloutier and Marc Tardif and adding in short order Michel Goulet and Peter, Anton and Marian Stastny, who defected from Czechoslovakia at the beginning of the 1980's and turned the Nordiques into a force to be reckoned with.

Their intense rivalry with the Montreal Canadiens led to some legendary battles and brawls, particularly in the postseason, as the Nordiques made the playoffs for seven consecutive seasons beginning in 1980-81, including two trips to the conference finals.

After three consecutive seasons of 90+ points, hard times arrived as the team would miss the playoffs six out of seven seasons, including a dreadful period of seasons with 61, 31, 46 and 52 points which allowed the team to select Mats Sundin, Adam Foote, Owen Nolan and Eric Lidros, who was later traded for Peter Forsberg, Mike Ricci, Steve Duchense and Ron Hextall in addition to having already selected future team captain Joe Sakic in 1987.

Unfortunately the same economics of playing in a small Canadian city during a low point for the Canadian dollar that plagued Winnipeg also led to the Nordiques relocation, as they were sold and moved to Denver, Colorado, where they would immediately capture the Stanley Cup their very first season away from Quebec.

Today's fourth featured jersey is a 1979-80 Quebec Nordiques Ron Chipperfield jersey. While the Nordiques were the only one of the four former WHA clubs to keep their same jerseys for their initial NHL season, this was the final season for this variation of the Nordiuqes blue jersey before Quebec would change the logo on their road blue jerseys from the white version used in the WHA since 1975-76 to a better looking red version, which matched the one worn on the home whites, leaving the home white Nordiques jersey the only one of the eight possible WHA sweaters to survive the entry into the NHL with any sort of longevity.

Quebec Nordiques 79-80 jersey, Quebec Nordiques 79-80 jersey
Quebec Nordiques 79-80 jersey, Quebec Nordiques 79-80 jersey

Bonus jersey: Today's bonus jersey is a 1980-81 Quebec Nordiques Peter Stastny jersey. The white Nordiques jersey was not only the single jersey to survive the move to the NHL by the four WHA clubs, the Nordqiues were also the final team to use heat sealed numbers on their jerseys before changing over to fully sewn on twill letters and numbers, which they did not adopt until 1991-92, the year they finally added a red outline to their numbers.

This particular jersey shows the wear and tear suffered by the less durable heat sealed material used for the name and numbers on the back. Over time, collectors have had issues with the material peeling off of the jerseys simply due to age, making conservation of these jerseys far more of a challenge than the contemporary jerseys worn by other clubs of the era, which had their names and numbers sewn on.

Quebec Nordiques 80-81 Peter Stastny jersey, Quebec Nordiques 80-81 Peter Stastny jersey
photo courtesy of Classic Auctions

Today's video in the final minute of the final game in WHA history, as the Jets wrap up their third championship with a win over the Oilers, who would soon win their fare share of championships in the NHL.

Remember the days when fans would come onto the ice after the championship was won? Modern say insurance agents and security personnel all over North America are aghast at the mere thought of it...


Thursday, May 19, 2016

1939-40 New York Rangers Alex Shibicky Jersey

Born on this date in 1915, Alex Shibicky was a member of his hometown Winnipeg Columbus Club for the 1932-33 season before joining the Selkirk Jr. Fishermen for 1933-34, where he scored 11 goals and 15 points in 12 games. He also played one game for the Selkirk senior Fishermen.

He was then signed by the New York Rangers, who assigned their new winger to the New York Crescents of the Eastern Amateur Hockey League for the 1934-35 season, where he teamed up with future teammates and brothers Mac Colville and Neil Colville. Shibicky racked up 16 goals and 25 points in 21 games as well as another 8 goals in 8 playoff games.

The following season Shibicky played in the Canadian-American Hockey League for the Philadelphia Ramblers, putting up similar numbers with 16 goals and 22 points in 28 games, which earned him his first call up by the Rangers, where he saw action in 18 games, scoring his first 4 NHL goals.

Shibicky Rangers photo Shibicky Rangers 2.jpg
Alex Shibicky

He became a full-time NHLer the following season of 1936-37 and finished sixth in scoring for the Rangers with 14 goals and 22 points in 47 games while playing with the Colville brothers in what would become known as "The Bread Line" after New York sportswriters said the young trio was the Rangers "bread and butter".

Mac_Colville,_Neil_Colville_Alex_Shibicky_1938 photo Mac_Colville_Neil_Colville_Alex_Shibicky_1938.jpg
Mac and Neil Colville and Alex Shibicky - The Bread Line

That season Shibicky would also introduce a new innovation, as he became the first player to be credited with using a slapshot in the NHL, which he attributed teammate Fred "Bun" Cook, who had been using it in practices.

He then scored another goal and 5 points as the Rangers defeated the Toronto Maple Leafs in two games before sweeping the Montreal Canadiens in two to make it to the Stanley Cup Finals, where they took the Detroit Red Wings to the full five games before coming up short.

The following season of 1937-38, Shibicky set a career high with 35 points from 17 goals and 18 points in 48 games, but the Rangers were defeated in the opening round of the playoffs by the rival New York Americans in a best-of-three, with every game decided by a goal and both wins by the Americans coming in overtime of the tight series.

Shibicky followed his career high in points the previous season by setting a career high in goals in 1938-39 with 24, which was second in the NHL that season, in what would be the final season behind the bench for long time head coach Lester Patrick, the only coach the team had known since it's inception in 1925-27. The Rangers finished second in the regular season that year and were immediately paired with the first place Boston Bruins in a best-of-seven for a direct entry into the Finals, which was won by Boston in overtime of Game 7. Similar to the previous year's playoffs, five of the seven games were decided by a goal, with four of those being in overtime.

Frank Boucher took over as head coach for the 1939-40 season for the first of his ten seasons behind the Rangers bench. While Shibicky's goal total dropped to less than half of his previous season with 11, his assists more than doubled to 21, and in the end his 32 points were one shy of his previous season's total.

The Rangers again finished second overall and again drew the Bruins in Round 1. This time, however, they defeated the Bruins 4 games to 2 to earn their place in the Finals. Their opponent was the Toronto Maple Leafs, who had finished third, 8 points behind New York.

Shibicky Rangers Bruins photo Shibicky Rangers Bruins.jpg
Shibicky tries to score against the Bruins

The Rangers won the first two games at home, 2-1 in overtime and then 6-2. Toronto held serve at Maple Leaf Gardens, 2-1 and 3-0. While the series normally would have returned to Madison Square Garden, the circus was in town and the series subsequently remained in Toronto. The Rangers won Game 5 after over a half hour of overtime 2-1 to put the Maple Leafs on the brink. Game 6 also went to overtime after the Rangers fought back from a 2-0 deficit at the start of the third.

Shibicky first assisted on Neil Colville's goal at 8:08 before Alf Pike faked out the Maple Leafs Turk Broda after a pass from Clint Smith to tie the game at 10:02. Making Shibicky's third period assist all the more remarkable was the fact he was playing on a broken ankle, which was fractured in three places earlier in the series. Rangers doctors then froze his leg up to the knee and he contunued to play!

Regulation finished without a winner and the game moved to overtime. It wouldn't take 30 minutes this time though, as Phil Watson fed the puck to Bryan Hextall, who buried the cup winning goal at 2:07 to give the Rangers their first championship since 1933 and their last for the next 54 years. Shibicky ended up with 2 goals and 7 assists in the 12 Rangers playoff games that season.

rangers-win-stanley-cup photo rangers-win-stanley-cup.jpg
The Rangers celebrate with Lester Patrick and the "Stovepipe" era Stanley Cup

After a down year in 1940-41 when he scored 10 goals and 24 assists, Shibicky rebounded with the second 20 goal season of his career in 1941-42 on his way to 34 points, one shy of his career best set in 1937-38.

Due to the outbreak of World War II, Shibicky then entered the Canadian military and was out of the NHL for the next three years. While in the military, Shibicky, along with the Colvilles, was still able to remain active in hockey, playing for the Ottawa Engineers of the OCHL for 9 games before joining the Ottawa Senators (who were known as the Ottawa Commandos during the years of the war) of the Quebec Senior Hockey League. Shibicky scored 15 goals and 22 points in 18 games and continued his run with 11 goals and 24 points in 11 playoff games as the Commandos won the Allan Cup as the senior champions of Canada in 1943.

Ottawa Commandos Allan Cup champions 1943 photo Ottawa Commandos Allan Cup champions 1943.png
The 1943 Allan Cup champion Ottawa Commandos

During the following season of 1943-44, Shibicky found time for 10 games with the Commandoes while in 1944-45 he was back with the Ottawa Engineers for a limited schedule of just four games.

Bread Line Ottawa photo Bread Line Ottawa.png
The Bread Line of Mac and Neil Colville and Alex Shibicky
while with the Ottawa Commandos during World War II

He returned to the Rangers for the 1945-46 season, but after 33 games with 10 goals and 15 points, Shibicky was sent down to the Providence Reds of the AHL. He averaged just over a point per game with 19 in 18 games. The Following season he was back in the AHL, only this time with the New Haven Ramblers. He scored exactly 20 goals and 32 points in 53 games in 1946-47.

Shibicky Rangers photo Shibicky Rangers 1.jpg
After serving in the military, Shibicky returned to the Rangers

His final NHL totals were 324 games played with 110 goals and 91 assists for 201 points and a Stanley Cup championship as well as credit for introducing the slapshot into the arsenal of the NHL.

Today's featured jersey is a 1939-40 New York Rangers Alex Shibicky jersey. The Rangers came into being for the 1926-27 season with medium blue jerseys with their trademark diagonally lettered jerseys done in white. The next year the lettering changed to red and for their third season red outlined in white. For the 1929-30 season the jerseys became their familiar darker shade of blue. This style would remain in use through the 1940-41 season until the font would change to that still in use today with the shorter, italicized and serifed lettering.

New York Rangers 1939-40 jersey photo New York Rangers 1939-40 F jersey.jpg
New York Rangers 1939-40 jersey photo New York Rangers 1939-40 B jersey.jpg
photo courtesy of Classic Auctions
 
Today's video section is an educational film showing what goes into a game between the Rangers and Maple Leafs from back in 1939.


Wednesday, May 18, 2016

1970-71 Montreal Canadiens Ken Dryden Jersey

For the first time in 23 years, the 1969-70 Montreal Canadiens missed out on the playoffs, despite a 38-22-16 record for 92 points. They finished with an identical record to the New York Rangers, but lost out on the final day of the season when the second tiebreaker, after number of wins, total goals scored, went to the Rangers 246-244 when the Rangers outscored Montreal 9-2 on the final day of the season.

So dominant was the East Division, which was comprised of the Original 6 teams, over the West Division's 1967 expansion clubs, that fifth place Montreal's 92 points were 6 more than the West Division winning St. Louis Blues 86 and 28 more than the second place Pittsburgh Penguins.

Changes were made for the 1970-71 season when the Buffalo Sabres and Vancouver Canucks were added to the league and placed in the East Division, while the Chicago Black Hawks were moved to the West.

Montreal started their campaign with 4 wins and 8 of their first 12. By the end of December they were 16-11-8, having lost just once in their last 10. After an indifferent January, where the Canadiens were 6-5-3, Montreal found their game in February, finishing the month 10-1-1.

The Canadiens cooled off a bit the rest of the way, which saw the quiet debut of a rookie goaltender named Ken Dryden on March 14th.

Dryden Montreal, Dryden Montreal

Dryden, an unusual case, having been drafted back in 1964, had elected to attend Cornell University in the United States rather than immediately devote himself full time to hockey. After having won 76 of 81 starts, including an NCAA national championship in 1967 at Cornell, Dryden had been playing for the Montreal Voyageurs of the AHL that season while working toward his law degree from McGill University by day.

Dryden Cornell, Dryden Cornell

He won his first game over the Pittsburgh Penguins, allowing just one goal and making 35 saves. Phil Myre would start the next game, allowing 6 goals in a loss to St. Louis. Dryden got the next stars, defeating the rival Toronto Maple Leafs after holding them to just one goal on March 18th.

March 20th saw history made, as Rogie Vachon started the game for Montreal, but was inured during the second period and replaced by Dryden. Once he entered the game, Punch Imlauch of the Buffalo Sabres, with a sense of history, inserted Ken's brother Dave Dryden into the Sabres lineup, the first time two brothers had faced each other in goal during an NHL game. Ken was the eventual winner among the four goalies who saw the ice that night, despite the two brothers having an identical 12 saves on 15 shots!

Ken and Dave Dryden, Ken and Dave Dryden
Ken and Dave meet at center ice following a game where
they faced each other, as was their custom

Dryden then defeated the Rangers the following day 6-2. Vachon got the win on March 24th followed by Myre winning on the 27th. Dryden's turn came next on the 28th and he out dueled the Chicago Black Hawks Tony Esposito 2-1. March 31st saw the Bruins shell Vachon for 6 goals in a loss prior to Dryden winning 7-2 against the Rangers on April 3rd before it was Myre's turn to get hammered by the Bruins, 7-2 on the final day of the season.

After going 10-6-1 to finish the season, the Canadiens final record of 42-23-13 gave them 97 points in the standings (fourth overall) and returned the Canadiens to their familiar place in the playoffs, but it left Montreal coach Al MacNeil with a decision to make, as the rookie Dryden clearly had the hot hand, going 6-0-0 with a 1.65 goals against average entering the playoffs after just having watched their first round opponent Boston tear apart his two veterans.

Dryden lost Game 1 by a score of 3-1, and gave up 5 in Game 2, only Montreal scored 7 of their own to even the series. Back in Montreal for Game 3, Dryden held the Bruins to just 1 for the win. Boston again came back strong to win Game 4 by a score of 5-2. The Bruins were even strong back in Boston for Game 5, a dominant 7-3 win. Still, MacNeil stuck with Dryden for Game 6 back at home, where 8 goals by the Canadiens were more than enough to stay alive for a Game 7 back in Boston. Dryden responded to the pressure like an established veteran, not a rookie playing in only his 13th game, as he made 46 saves to out duel Gerry Cheevers 4-2 and eliminate the first overall Bruins in a seventh game on the road.

Dryden Montreal, Dryden Montreal
Dryden, still wearing his "pretzel style" mask early in his career

After eliminating the Minnesota North Stars in six games, including two wins on the road, Montreal advanced to the Stanley Cup Finals to take on the West Division winning Chicago Black Hawks, who finished 10 points ahead of the Canadiens in the regular season standings.

Dryden vs Minnesota, Dryden vs Minnesota
Montreal versus Minnesota in the second round

Game 1 of the finals in Chicago went to overtime tied at 1-1 before Chicago won a minute into the second overtime. The Black Hawks won Game 2 at home 5-3 but Dryden held Chicago to 2 goals in Games 3 and 4 as Montreal evened the series 2-2.

Esposito shut out the Canadiens back in Chicago to put Montreal on the brink. A dramatic Game 6 saw the Canadiens trailing 3-2 when Frank Mahovlich tied the game at 5:10 from captain Jean Béliveau and Peter Mahovlich saved the day with a shorthanded game winner from brother Frank at 8:55. Dryden made 27 saves on 30 shots while Esposito only faced 16 shots from Montreal.

Once again, the rookie Dryden was facing a Game 7 on the road against a higher seeded team, only now in a winner-take-all 60 minutes with the Stanley Cup going to the survivor on this date in 1971. Dennis Hull scored a power play with 48 seconds remaining in the first period from his brother Bobby Hull and Cliff Koroll. Chicago's lead was extended to two with Danny O'Shea's goal from Pit Martin at 7:33 of the second.

Jacques Lemaire got Montreal on the board at 14:18 from Jacques Laperrière followed by Henri Richard tying the game at 18:20 from Lemaire, sending the game into it's final 20 minutes even.

At 2:34 of the third period, Richard put Montreal ahead for the first time in the game with an even strength goal from Réjean Houle and Guy Lapointe. Dryden would hold Chicago off the board for the entire second half of the game, making 31 saves in all to lead Montreal to the Stanley Cup championship despite only having six regular season games of experience.

Dryden vs Chicago, Dryden vs Chicago

The win for Montreal on the road was the only game in the series not won by the home team.

It was quite a turnaround for Montreal, who had failed to even qualify for the playoffs the previous season and even more of a surprise considering their unsettled goaltending situation heading into the playoffs. Also of note, winning the championship was a fine way to go out in style for the Canadiens captain Béliveau, who had just played in the final game of his career, going out as a champion with the Stanley Cup in his arms, the 10th of his career.

Jean Beliveau Stanley Cup 1971, Jean Beliveau Stanley Cup 1971
Béliveau accepts the 1971 Stanley Cup following the final game of his career

The 23-year-old rookie Dryden would be named the winner of the Conn Smythe Trophy as the most valuable player in the playoffs. He played all 20 of Montreal's postseason games, finishing with a 12-8 record and a 3.00 goals against average, with five of those wins coming on the road and two of those being in Game 7's.

Remarkably, Dryden would go on to win the Calder Trophy the following season as Rookie of the Year, despite already having won the Conn Smythe Trophy and a Stanley Cup, something no player had ever done before or since.

Today's featured jersey is a 1970-71 Montreal Canadiens Ken Dryden jersey from the season in which the Canadiens would capture their 17th Stanley Cup championship during Dryden's first season with the club and Béliveau's 20th and last.

This style jersey dates back to 1941 and, aside from a version with a blue stripe around the chest for three years in the late 40's, has remained essentially unchanged ever since.


Today's video section starts with highlights of Game 7 of the Canadiens first round series against Boston. Two pad stack!


Next, the 1971 Stanley Cup Finals, scored with the always funky 1970's background music. Be sure to note the old Chicago Stadium scoreboard with it's clock dials!


Here is fellow goaltender John Davidson narrating a look at the career of Dryden, highlighting the incredible beginning of Dryden's career before summarizing the remainder of his career.



Here is Dryden, telling about his career from his point of view, as part of the Legend of Hockey series.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

2016 IIHF World Championship Report

Today is the final day of the Preliminary Round of the 2016 IIHF World Championships. For the most part, there have not been any major upsets at this year's tournament, which sees most of the favorites at the top of their respective groups.

2016 IIHF World Championship logo photo 2016 IIHF World Championship logo horizontal.jpg

In Group A, the Czechs lead with a record of 4 wins with one overtime win and one overtime loss for 15 points, the key win being their surprising 3-0 win over Russia on the tournament's opening day.

Russia is next, also with 15 points from five wins and that loss to the Czechs. Sweden will finish no worse than third, as they have 13 points from 3 regulation wins, 2 overtime wins and one loss, that also to the Czechs.

Denmark played their seventh and final game of the round yesterday, an essential 4-1 win over Kazakhstan. This elevated the Danes to 11 points and fourth place in the group, with only the top four advancing to the Quarterfinals on Thursday. They are the authors of perhaps the biggest upset of this year, having defeated the Czechs 2-1 in a shootout. They are a team on a roll, as following their 10-1 shellacking by Russia, they have earned consecutive wins over Latvia (3-2 in a shootout), the Czechs and the Kazakhs for 7 points in three games.

Sebastian Dahm #32 photo Sebastian Dahm 32.jpg
Denmark's Sebastian Dahm in their shootout win over the Czech Republic

Denmark must now await the result of fifth place Switzerland's final game against the Czechs. Anything less than a regulation win for the Swiss will advance the Danes into the Quarterfinals for only the second time in their history and first since 2010.

The Swiss hold the head-to-head tiebreaker with Denmark should they prevail in 60 minutes, having defeated the Danes 3-2 in overtime. They find themselves in this must-win situation due to a slow start, having dropped points with a shootout loss to Kazakhstan in their first game, followed by a 4-3 overtime loss to Latvia. They then required overtime to beat Denmark, leaving a total of 5 points on the table from games against teams they were favored to win. They then earned the full three points versus Latvia thanks to a winning goal with just 1:29 remaining in regulation. They were then defeated by Russia and went to a shootout against Sweden before losing, letting a valuable point, if not two, slip away. With the Czechs having secured their place in the next round, will a desperate Swiss team be able to take advantage of a possibly complacent Czech Republic squad?

Latvia is currently sixth with 6 points and, while no longer eligible to advance to the playoffs, their spot in the 2017 World Championships is secure thanks to taking a point off Sweden in their first game and the Czechs in their second. They also split the points with Denmark and took care of business with a regulation win over Kazakhstan.

Norway is seventh with 5 points from an overtime win over the off-form Swiss and their win over the Kazahks.

While Kazakhstan had a dream start to their tournament, defeating Switzerland in a shootout for 2 points, six consecutive regulation losses failed to add another point to their total, dooming them to relegation to Division I Group A for next year. That said, they did give a good accounting of themselves while losing 6-4 to Russia, 4-2 to Norway, 3-1 to the Czechs and 2-1 to Latvia.

Over in Group B, Canada and Finland are undefeated with 6 regulation wins each and a head to head showdown for the Group A win in today's marquee game. On the line is the right to face either Denmark or Switzerland on Thursday rather than Sweden or Russia, so both sides will be sufficiently motivated to push for the victory.

Germany has been the surprise of the tournament, much to the delight of the Italians. Germany completed their Preliminary Round schedule yesterday and has 13 points and will finish third in Group B. After losing to France in a shootout between next year's co-hosts of the World Championships, they then lost to Finland 5-1. They responded with a 5-1 hammering of Slovakia prior to a 5-2 loss to Canada. They again rebounded with their own 5-2 win over Belarus before defenseman Korbinian Holzer's game winning goal with just 33 seconds remaining took the full three points from the United States. They then punched their ticket to the Quarterfinals with a 4-2 win over Hungary.

Thomas Greiss Germany photo Greiss Germany.jpg
Thomas Greiss of Germany and the New York Islanders,
holds off the United States in their key victory

But why are the Italians so happy with Germany's success? Italy finished second in this year's Division I Group A tournament and earned a conditional promotion to next year's World Championships, providing Germany and France did not finish 7th and 8th in Group B this year. With those two nations being co-hosts next year, their places in the 2017 edition are secure no matter what their record this year, and had they been in a relegation situation, it would have come at the expense of Italy, who would have then remained in Division I Group A for next year, but are now secure to join the Top Division for 2017.

The next key game has likely already begun, if not ended by the time you read this, as the fourth and final playoff spot in Group B is on the line at 5 AM eastern time on the NBC Sports Network, as the United States takes on Slovakia. The US has 9 points from 3 wins and 3 losses, while the somewhat disappointing Slovaks have 2 wins and 4 losses for 6 points. If Slovakia can win in regulation, they will tie the Americans at 3-4 records for 9 points and hold the head-to-head tiebreaker. All the US needs is to get to overtime and the final playoff spot will be theirs, win or lose.

The US finds itself in a precarious position thanks to one single game, their heartbreaking 3-2 loss to Germany. Other than that, they have defeated the teams they should have and struggled against Finland and Canada, earning no points from those two games.

Slovakia finds themselves in even more desperate straights, having not only lost to Germany by a resounding 5-1 score, but also having been upset by Belarus 4-2 in regulation. After winning their first two against Hungary and France, they have since lost four in a row without earning a single point and were shut out in the last two games against Canada and the Finns.

Meanwhile, France has 5 points from a regulation and an overtime win, which is enough to ensure their survival on merit with one game left to play, having beaten Germany in overtime and Hungary in regulation.

Down in seventh place in Group B is where you will find one of the best stories of the 2016 edition of the World Championships in the form of Hungary. They last participated in the Top Division the World Championships in 2008 after being absent for 69 years, but they went 0-6 and were relegated back down again for the next six years, returning this year after finishing second last year in Division I Group A.

The Hungarians opened with a 4-1 loss to Slovakia followed by defeats at the hands of Canada, France, Finland and the United States before facing Belarus on Saturday. They scored the first two goals of the game by the midpoint of the first period, but then the Belarussians fought back to tie it before the seven minute mark of the second. Hungary then rallied for a pair of goals within 3:17 with seven minutes of the tying Belarus goal and sealed the victory with an empty net goal with three seconds remaining to secure their first win at the World Championships since 1939, a span of 77 years since the Hungarian anthem has played at the World Championships in an emotional celebration to rival any other you will see at this year's worlds.



Hungary's final game was a 4-2 loss to Germany, which leaves them with 3 points from their victory. Belarus also sits at 3 points with their final game against France to play. The French are secure in their place for next year, while Belarus' survival is on the line. Tied with Hungary at 3 points, Belarus has to win or at the very least reach overtime to secure a single point in order to climb over the Hungarians to safety for 2017 while all Hungary can do is cross their fingers, watch and hope.

With six games on the schedule today, nine of the 12 teams have something on the line today, particularly Switzerland, the United States, Slovakia, who have playoff spots on the line, and Belarus who have their survival to fight for. Meanwhile, the Czech Republic, Russia, Sweden, Canada and Finland will be looking to put themselves in the most advantageous playoff position for Thursday.

Today's featured jersey is a 2009 Hungarian National Team Gábor Ocskay jersey that he would have worn in Switzerland had he been alive to do so.

Gábor Ocskay Jr. first gained recognition outside of his native Hungary at the age of 16 when he was the top scorer at the 1992 European Junior Championships C Pool with 10 points in just 3 games as he led the Hungarians to promotion to the B Pool.

He would go on to play for Hungary at the European U18 juniors twice, the U20 World Juniors twice, the World Championships 16 times in the B, C and D Pool and later at the Division I level and a round of Olympic qualifying, scoring 76 goals and 91 assists for 167 points in 122 games. He also played his hometown Alba Volán Székesfehérvár of the Hungarian Nationwide Championship League for 16 seasons, eventually scoring 307 goals and 446 assists for 753 points in 488 games.

He was a three time Hungarian Player of the Year, a two time Hungarian champion and won two bronze, two silver and a gold medal as he helped guide Hungary up the IIHF ladder, all the way to the Top Divsion by winning the Division I Group B championship in 2008, only without Ocskay, as he unexpectedly died on March 24th, 2008 of a heart attack at the age of only 33, just two days after winning the 2008 Hungarian championship. His passing hit the hockey fans in Hungary hard, and they remembered him by lighting candles at every ice rink in the country.

Hungary 2009 jersey photo Hungary2009F.jpg
Hungary 2009 jersey photo Hungary2009B.jpg

Today's video section begins with highlights of Ocskay displaying his speed and offensive skills as he terrorized goaltenders from all over the world.



This next clip is a musical tribute to Ocskay and shows not only his hockey playing skills, but more about his life off the ice and the family man that he was.



Next, the last goal Ocskay ever scored for Hungary at the World Championships in 2008, an awesome dangle on a breakaway followed by a cool as an assassin backhander to finish the play.



Finally, the last two goals Ocskay ever scored, coming in Game 4 of the Hungarian League Finals for Alba Volán, both assisted by his linemate and lifetime friend #24 Palkovics.


 

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