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Saturday, February 1, 2014

2014 Olympic Hockey Preview - Austria

The Austria National Hockey Team is currently ranked 15th in the IIHF World Rankings. Based on their status outside the top nine ranked countries, Austria was obligated to participate in the Olympic Qualification process, a series of tournaments that date back to September of 2012. Austria entered the qualification process in the third and final round of qualification, being placed in Group D along with the Netherlands (ranked 24th), Italy (18th) and hosts Germany, who were the highest ranked team in the entire qualification process at 10th, one place out of an automatic spot in the Olympics thanks to their poor showing at the 2012 World Championships, where they finished 12th, dropping from 7th to 10th in the 2012 IIHF World Ranking and forcing them into the qualification process.

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In Group D, Austria defeated Italy 3-2 in their opening game and took the top spot in the group with a 6-1 romp over the Netherlands while Germany lost to Italy 2-1 in overtime. In the deciding final game of the group, Austria clinched their place in Sochi by scoring a tying goal in regulation with 7:38 remaining to make the score 3-3. By reaching overtime, Austria now had 7 points in the standings, clear of Germany's 5. While Germany did win the game in overtime, the additional point was not enough to equal the underdog Austrians, who knocked the rival Germans out of the Olympics for the first time in 65 years.

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The Austrians have participated in the Olympics in ice hockey 12 times since 1928, with their best result being an 7th place in 1936 and a 8th place in 1948 and again in 1976. 2014 will be the first time Austria has qualified for the Olympic tournament since 2002.

Austria has participated in the World Championships dating as far back as 1930, with regular participation since 1959. Austria has won bronze medals at the World Championships in both 1931 and 1947. Since 1951, Austria was either in Pool B or Pool C nearly exclusively from 1951 to 1992, before a run of 12 out of 13 years in the Top Division before beginning the roller coaster of promotions (2006, 2008, 2010 and 2012) and relegations (2005, 2007, 2009, 2011 and 2013), including a bitter relegation in 2009 only because 15th place Germany were saved from their rightful demotion by being scheduled as hosts for the 2010 tournament, which granted them an exemption from relegation for 2009, which sent the 14th place Austrians down to Division I for 2010 instead.

Austria enters the 2014 Olympics with three NHLers on it's roster, Michael Grabner and Thomas Vanek of the New York Islanders and Michael Raffl of the Philadelphia Flyers. 

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Thomas Vanek

Of the remaining members of the Austrian roster, two play in Swedish Elite League, three in Switzerland and 17 in the Austrian Erste Bank Eishockey Liga, including 37 year old defenseman Gerhard Unterluggauer, who has been playing for the Austria National Team since 1993. Unterluggauer's resume includes two previous Olympic Games (1998 and 2002) and 18 World Championships.

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Gerhard Unterluggauer

With the format for this year's Olympics calling for the top four teams after the Preliminary Round to receive byes into the quarterfinals, the key for Austria will be trying to keep their games as close as possible in Group B and hopefully reaching overtime against either Austria or Canada to earn a point or two in the standings before their showdown on February 16th against Norway, where a win over Norway would surely raise them up the rankings to avoid a Qualification Playoff matchup with top six nation.

Unfortunately, the format of the tournament goes against the smaller countries like Austria, as the top teams will be looking to pour it on in the preliminary round since the short schedule puts a great emphasis on goal differential to determine who gets the coveted bye into the quarterfinals, or at least the most favorable matchup in the secondary round on February 18th for a berth in the quarterfinals.

Today's featured jersey is a 2005 Austria National Team Gerhard Unterluggauer jersey as worn during the 2005 World Championships, which were held in Austria. This was a short lived style, as all the teams received attractive new jerseys for 2005, only to see them all replaced with the new Nike Swift styles for the 2006 Olympics.

Unterluggauer began his pro career back in the 1992-93 season, playing his entire career in Austria save for a three year stint in the German DEL in the early 2000's. He has won the Austrian championship twice, in 1993 and 1999 and is frequently the captain of the national team.

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Austria 2005 jersey photo Austria2005B.jpg

Here is a look at the jerseys that Austria will be wearing in the 2014 Olympics in Sochi. These jerseys are one of the more classic and attractive of the 2014 sets, as Nike has taken a rather unconventional approach with many of the other nations, with decidedly mixed results. 

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Today's video section are highlights of the final day of Olympic qualifying, highlighted by Austria's vital game against Germany, which sent the Austrians to Sochi.

Next, showing Austria is not to be taken lightly, they dominate Latvia 6-3 at the most recent World Championships.

Friday, January 31, 2014

2014 Olympic Hockey Preview - Slovenia

Today begins our previews of the teams that will compete at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. Each day we will take feature a different team in the order of their current placing in the IIHF World Ranking.

The Slovenia National Hockey Team is currently ranked 17th in the IIHF World Rankings. It it certainly a surprise that Slovenia qualified for the tournament, as there are no less than five teams currently ranked higher than Slovenia who did not qualify for Sochi, those being Germany (10th), Denmark (12), France (13), Belarus (14) and Kazakhstan (16).

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Based on their status outside of the top nine ranked countries, Slovenia was required to earn their place in The Games through the qualification process for teams outside the top nine. Slovenia was placed in Final Qualification Group F along with Ukraine (ranked 20th), Belarus and hosts Denmark. In their opening game Slovenia defeated Belarus by breaking a tie with two third period goals for a 4-2 win. They then upset the Danes with a 2-1 win thanks to a pair of goals from David Rodman. They then secured their place in Sochi with a dominant 6-1 victory over Ukraine for their first ever Olympic hockey tournament since becoming an independent nation in 1992.

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David Rodman

Slovenia was not invited to participate in the qualifying process for the 1994 Olympics and did not qualify for the 1998, 2002, 2006 and 2010 Games.

Since gaining their independence following the breakup of Yugoslavia, Slovenia have been regular participants in the World Championships, first being assigned to Pool C as a new country, the lowest rung of the ladder system. After finishing second in 1997, they earned promotion to Pool B in 1998. After finishing a lowly 0-5-2 in Pool B in 2000, the IIHF changed to a new format, placing Slovenia in Division I Group B. As hosts, Slovenia needed to win by 12 goals to win the goal differential tie breaker over Great Britain and came through with a sound 16-0 thrashing of last place Estonia to earn the promotion to the Top Division of the IIHF World Championships.

They were relegated back to Division I Group B in 2003 but won an immediate promotion back to the Top Division in 2004. Two years later they repeated the process with a relegation in 2006 and an immediate return to the top in 2007, only to face the drop once again in 2008. They currently find themselves stuck in the position of being unable to defend their place among the world's elite, but strong enough to handle Division I, as the have alternated promotion and relegation every year since 2010. With their relegation in 2013, they will once again be looking to win Division I Group A in the spring of 2014.

Slovenia 2012 IIHF Division I Group A photo Slovenia2012IIHFDivisionIGroupA.jpg
Slovenia celebrating after winning the 2012
Division I Group A World Championship tournament

Of the four times Slovenia has been demoted, they earned immediate promotion three times by winning their group in Division 1 and were promoted after just two tries the other occasion. To date, Slovenia's best finish in the World Championships has been a 13 place, those coming in 2002 and 2005 where they finished ahead of Denmark, Germany and Austria.

Slovenia enters the 2014 Olympics with one lone NHLer on it's roster, Anže Kopitar of the Los Angeles Kings, who will be coached in Sochi by his father, the national team coach Matjaž Kopitar.

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Anže Kopitar

The remainder of the Slovenian roster draws heavily from teams that play throughout Europe, including Jan Muršak of CSKA Moscow of the KHL. The remainder of the roster currently plays in the Germany DEL (7 players), Austria (5), France (4), the Swedish second division (3) and one each in Slovakia, the Czech Republic, the Russian second division and the Czech second division.

With the format for this year's Olympics calling for the top four teams after the Preliminary Round to receive byes into the quarterfinals, the key for Slovenia will be defeating Slovakia in their game on February 15th in order to place in the top three in Group A, along with hoping to steal a point against either Russia or the United States to avoid finishing last in order to draw a lesser ranked opponent for the knockout games for teams ranked 5-12 at the conclusion of the preliminary round, which will determine which four nations will advance to the quarterfinals.

In plain English, due to this year's format, two of the top six countries, SwedenFinland, Russia, the Czech Republic, Canada and the United States will be in the knockout round, and beating Slovakia is key to avoiding one of those two top six nations in order to advance. 

Sometimes just competing in the Olympic tournament is it's own reward, and Slovenia should take it all in and enjoy the atmosphere of participating in their first Olympics. Who knows? Belarus knocked Sweden out of the tournament in 2002 and every now and then, miracles can happen...

Today's featured jersey is a 2006 Slovenia National Team Anže Kopitar jersey as worn during the 2006 World Championships.

Koptiar was originally drafted 11th overall by the Los Angeles Kings in 2005 while he was playing for Södertälje SK in the Swedish Elitserien (having competed for their U18, junior and senior level teams all in the same season!).

After one more season in with Södertälje, Kopitar is now in his eighth season with Los Angeles, which includes leading the team in scoring five times, being named their most popular player twice and their best defensive player in 2011 - during the same season he also led the club in scoring!

He also became the first Slovenian to win the Stanley Cup in 2012 and is easily the most accomplished Slovenian player of all time. He is now approaching 200 NHL goals, currently at 186 and has appeared in two NHL All-Star Games.

Internationally, Kopitar has skated for Slovenia three times each at the U18 World Championships, the U20 World Championships and the IIHF World Championships. Obviously, with Slovenia qualifying for the Olympics for the first time, this will be Kopitar's first Olympic participation.

Slovenia 2006 jersey photo Slovenia2006F.jpg
Slovenia 2006 jersey photo Slovenia2006B.jpg

Here is a look at the jerseys that the Slovenia will be wearing during the 2014 Olympics. These jerseys are a major departure from the traditional Slovenian flag based red, white and blue colors as seen above. While the green color is not a part of the Slovenian flag, it has been used on their national soccer team jerseys for some time now. As a new nation to the Olympic hockey competition, foregoing their previous colors and wearing blue and green will make certain even casual fans will not mistake Slovenia for anyone else, as 5 of 12 other countries in the tournament will be wearing red, white and blue.

Once they hit the ice, the jerseys will most assuredly be a talking point as to why the green color. A clue for the reason for the green can be found in the jersey's waist striping, as it represents the mountains of Slovenia as well as the leaves of the lime tree, which is prevalent throughout the country. Additionally, the coat of arms of Ljubljana, the capital of Slovenia, features a green dragon and their national soccer team is known as the Green Dragons. We wonder if anyone will be wearing a Kopitar version at the Staples Center for a Kings game later this season?

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Here are highlights of Slovenia defeating Belarus during 2014 Olympic qualifications, followed by their upset victory over Denmark.

Finally, the happy reaction from the team after securing their place in Sochi.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

2014 Olympic Preview - Qualification Tournaments Review

With the top nine teams in the 2012  IIHF World Rankings (Russia, Finland, the Czech Republic, Sweden, Canada, Slovakia, the United States, Norway and Switzerland) earning automatic spots in the 2014 Winter Olympic hockey tournament, the final places in the competition were determined by a series of Olympic Qualification Tournaments, which began all the way back in September of 2012.

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The first phase was the Olympic Preliminary Qualification, which took place in Zagreb, Croatia, where the host Croatians won all three of their games to advance over Mexico, Serbia and Israel.

Croatia moved on to the Olympic Pre-Qualification round, held in November of 2012, and was placed in Group G with Lithuania, Hungary and the Netherlands, who pulled off an upset by defeating the host Hungarians in Budapest in a tournament deciding shootout following a thrilling 6-6 game.

In Kiev, Ukraine delighted the home fans by advancing with a stellar effort, scoring 22 and giving up a mere one goal to defeat Poland, Spain and Estonia in Group H.

Group J took place in Japan and was en eclectic mix of nations, which eventually saw Great Britain win the group with 2 wins and an overtime loss to outlast South Korea, Japan and Romania.

For the Final Olympic Qualification tournaments, the Netherlands was placed in Group D with Italy, Austria and Germany, which came down to rivals Germany and Austria with Germany needing a regulation win and Austria needing only to reach overtime to move on to Sochi.

Germany took until 18:41 to claim the lead, but Austria was the next to score, tying the game with a goal by Andre Lakos at 11:46 of the second period. Michael Wolf gave the home fans hope with a power play goal at 6:54 of the third period, only to have Markus Peintner respond at 12:22 with the key goal for Austria.

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Clearly the Olympic ban on commercialism does NOT apply to the qualification stages!

10th ranked Germany pressed for the game winner, out shooting Austria 11-5 for the period, but goaltender Bernhard Starkbaum denied the Germans at every turn to secure the 15th ranked Austrians an upset place in Sochi, ending a streak of Olympic participation for Germany that dates back to 1928!

Of little consolation was the fact that Germany would actually go on to win the game in overtime when Patrick Reimer scored a power play goal at 2:34 of overtime, leaving the Germans to regret not just their overtime loss to Italy, but their dismal performance at the 2012 World Championships, where their 2-5 record (which included losses to Latvia and Norway) left them with a 12th place finish that dropped them from 8th in the World Rankings to 10th, costing them an automatic berth in Sochi for those in the top 9.

Austria (15) will find Finland (2), Canada (5) and Norway (9) awaiting them in Group B in Sochi.

Group E in Riga saw France needing a regulation win over Latvia to send the group into tiebreakers, as a 60 minute win by France would have left Kazakhstan, 6-0 winners over Great Britain, Latvia and France all tied at 6 points each, with France needing to win by 2 goals to claim the invitation to Sochi.

France took a giant step toward that goal by taking a surprising 2-0 lead after one period, only to see goaltender Edgars Masalskis knuckle down as his teammates began to generate some much needed offense. Lauris Darzins got the home team on the board with a goal that took until 14:59 of the second period to arrive to cut the French lead to 2-1 after two periods.

Martins Karsums delighted the home supporters with the equalizer a mere 12 seconds into the third period to give Latvia the appearance of being on their way to Sochi. However, despite the shot of energy by the early goal, a third one was not in the cards for Latvia.

Unable to take the lead and breathe easy, it then became a matter of survival for Latvia as time wore down, as merely getting to overtime and earning a point in the standings was all Latvia required to win the group, but two French goals could steal it all away.

Things got interesting late when each team took a penalty at 17:10 for roughing and then France pulled goaltender Christobal Huet for a late man advantage at 18:06, only to have Kevin Hecquefeuille get called for cross-checking at 19:17.

In the end, Latvia was able to hold on through the end of regulation to claim the point needed to win the group and secure their place in Sochi, which should delight those responsible for ticket sales in Russia as well as their bar owners near the arena as the Latvians fans are known to travel in droves and support their team like no others. The game was not over, however, and Pierre Edouard Bellemare won the game with a goal at 4:20 of overtime, but it came too late for France.

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Latvia had much reason to celebrate, winning the war despite losing the battle

Latvia (11) will now join the Czech Republic (4), Sweden (1) and Switzerland (7) in Group C in Sochi, which appears to be the most difficult of the groups.

Finally, in Group F, where Slovenia clinched an upset berth in Sochi by going 3-0 with wins over Belarus, host Denmark and Ukraine to claim their first Olympic berth as the only team in the round to go undefeated.

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Slovenia completed their memorable weekend in fine form

Group A will consist of Russia (3) , Slovakia (8), the United States (6) and Slovenia (17).

With teams ranked 10th (Germany), 11th (Latvia) and 12th (Denmark) having home ice advantage as the host nation for their group, it certainly was a surprising round of tournaments, as the teams to advance were Latvia in 11th, Austria in 15th and 18th ranked Slovenia as only one host advanced to Sochi.

Be sure to come back over the next 12 days as we preview each of the teams competing in Sochi for the gold medal in the 2014 Winter Olympic men's hockey tournament and feature some terrific jerseys along the way.

Today's featured jersey is a 2008 Croatia Ivan Brencun jersey worn in the 2008 U18 Division II Group A world championships held in France. Both Croatia and Slovenia declared their independence from Yugoslavia on June 25, 1991, which led to a war that lasted until November of 1995 as Serbian forces attempted to keep Croatia as a part of Yugoslavia, or at least reduce the size of Croatia by more than 25% in an effort to keep some Croatian territories as a part of Serbian controlled Yugoslavia.

As a result of the conflicts, the Croatia National Hockey Team did not make its first international appearance until November of 1993 when it debuted in the Group C2 Qualifying Round, where they utterly demolished Turkey by scores of 34-1 and 24-0!

Their win over Turkey advanced them to the main C2 tournament held in Spain. They concluded that tournament ranked 31st in the world, but have since been raked as high as 24th and currently play in Division I Group B, an impressive feat for a country with less than 100 senior level men's players and only two indoor rinks.

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Croatia 2008 jersey photo Croatia2008B.jpg

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

2001-02 Carolina Hurricanes Ron Francis Jersey

After a junior hockey career with the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds, Ron Francis joined the Hartford Whalers, who drafted him fourth overall in the 1981 NHL Entry Draft.

His offensive production was immediate, as in 59 games of the 1981-82 season he tallied 25 goals and 68 points as a rookie. The following season Francis led the Whalers in scoring after raising his goals to 31 and his points to 90 while being named to his first NHL All-Star Game in 1983. After scoring 83 points in 1983-84, Francis again led Hartford in scoring with 81 points and being named to his second all-star game. After 77 points in 1985-86 as well as being named team captain at the age of just 22, Francis led the Whalers in scoring for the third time in six seasons with a new career high of 93 points while hitting 30 goals for the second time.

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Francis while wearing long pants while with the Whalers

A drop back to 75 points in 1987-88 was still enough to lead the Whalers in scoring once again, followed by 77 points the following season. His finest season in Hartford came during the 1989-90 campaign with a career high 32 goals as well as 69 assists for 101 points which earned him a third all-star appearance. His 69 assists were 7th in the league that season.

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Francis now as the Whalers captain

After 67 games of the 1990-91 season, Francis stood at 76 points but was then involved in a blockbuster trade, which sent him, Ulf Samuelsson and Grant Jennings to the Pittsburgh Penguins for Jeff Parker, Zarley Zalapski and John Cullen. Centering the Penguins second line, Francis added another 11 regular season points plus 17 playoff points in 24 games as the Penguins captured the Stanley Cup over the Minnesota North Stars.

Francis Stanley Cup, Francis Stanley Cup
Francis celebrates the Penguins Stanley Cup championship

Missing ten games of the 1991-92 season was partly responsible for a decline in his scoring, as the finished the season with a career low 54 points, but kept intact his streak of scoring at least 50 points for the 11th consecutive season. Francis stepped upon the postseason though, scoring 27 points in 21 games, ably leading the team while team captain Mario Lemieux missed six games due to injury as the Penguins swept their final two series to capture their second consecutive Stanley Cup.

Francis reached the 100 point mark for the second time in 1992-93 with 24 goals and 76 assists which included his 1,000th career point. He followed that up with another 93 points the following season.

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Francis with the puck from his 1,000th NHL point

His streak of consecutive 50 point seasons was put in jeopardy by the abbreviated 48 game 1994-95 season, of which Francis only skated in 44 games. Still, he netted 11 goals and 48 assists to comfortably keep his streak intact with 59 points as well as being named team captain during Lemieux's absence due to injury. In addition to his offensive streak, Francis valuable two-way play was rewarded with his being named the winner of the Selke Trophy as the as the league's best defensive forward and his style of play earned him a second award that season, the first of three Lady Byng Trophies for gentlemanly play.

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Francis with the Lady Byng Trophy

The return of Lemieux from missing the previous season shifted the Penguins offense into a higher gear in 1995-96, with Francis racking up 92 assists to tie Lemieux for the league lead and a career high 119 points for fourth overall in the NHL scoring race despite coming in third on his own team! His efforts were recognized with his fourth NHL All-Star appearance.

His final two seasons with Pittsburgh saw Francis once again named team captain following the retirement of Lemieux as he would score 90 points in 1996-97 season and then 87 points in 1997-98, which included Francis scoring the 1,400th point of his career on this date in 1998 in a 4-2 win over the Boston Bruins (just the 11th player in NHL history to reach 1,400 points) as he wrapped up 8 seasons with the Penguins by being named the recipient of his second Lady Byng Trophy in 1998.

For the 1998-99 season, Francis signed as a free agent with the Carolina Hurricanes, who were the original Hartford Whalers franchise, now relocated to North Carolina. Naturally, his offensive production took a hit moving away from the prolific Penguins, and his 52 points were a career low up to that point, but his 50 point streak remained in effect, now at 18 seasons and counting. Francis was also installed as captain of the Hurricanes immediately upon his arrival.

Francis Hurricanes, Francis Hurricanes

Anyone who thought Francis career was in decline was sorely mistaken, as he rebounded with 73 points to lead the club in scoring. During the 2000-01 season, Francis registered three assists on this date to become just the 5th player in NHL history to score 1,600 career points in a 5-2 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning. Francis would finish the season with a total of 65 points.

Francis Hurricanes, Francis Hurricanes
Francis wearing the Hockey Fights Cancer patch worn by only each club's captain

The 2001-02 season saw Francis score 77 points thanks to his third consecutive season with exactly 50 assists. He also joined the exclusive ranks of 500 goal scorers, just the 29th player to reach that plateau, as well as becoming only the second player in NHL history to score 50 points 21 times in a career with an assist in a 2-2 tie against the Buffalo Sabres, again on this date in 2002. The Hurricanes would go on the best playoff run of the franchise's time in the NHL, reaching the Stanley Cup Finals for the first time thanks in part to Francis' team leading 16 playoff points in 23 games.

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Francis with the Prince of Wales Trophy as Eastern Conference champions

He equalled Howe's streak of 50 point seasons in 2002-03 with 57 points, his 22nd consecutive season with 50 points or more.

His final NHL season saw him play 68 games with Carolina before a late season trade to the Toronto Maple Leafs, where he played 12 regular season games and an additional 12 playoff games as Toronto was eliminated in the second round. That final season, between the two clubs combined, Francis scored 13 goals and 27 assists for 40 points, bringing to an end his 50 point streak, as well as his career, as he retired following the season, but not before winning his third Lady Byng Trophy as well as the King Clancy Memorial Trophy in recognition of his leadership on and off the ice.

Francis Maple Leafs, Francis Maple Leafs
Francis during his brief time in Toronto

His final career totals are 1,731 games played (third in NHL history), 549 goals scored (26th all-time) and 1,249 assists (2nd only behind Wayne Gretzky) for 1,798 points (4th all-time behind only Gretzky, Mark Messier and Howe).

Francis was honored by having his #10 raised to the rafters at the Hartford Civic Center, being named to the Penguins Ring of Honor and having his #10 formally retired by the Carolina Hurricanes in 2007.

Francis Hurricanes Banner, Francis Hurricanes Banner

Today's featured jersey is a 2001-02 Carolina Hurricanes Ron Francis jersey as worn the season Francis extended his 50 point streak to 21 seasons, only the second player to accomplish that level of productive longevity.

The Hurricanes adopted this jersey style for their very first season in North Carolina of 1997-98, the best feature of which is the clever hurricane warning flags repeated as the waist stripe. They added a black outline to their one color names after three seasons, but other than that minor tweak to the customizing, the jerseys remained unchanged until the introduction of the new Reebok Edge jerseys in 2007-08. The design remained as true to the original as possible, with really only white piping around the shoulders worth noting.

Carolina Hurricanes 00-01 jersey, Carolina Hurricanes 00-01 jersey
Carolina Hurricanes 00-01 jersey, Carolina Hurricanes 00-01 jersey

Bonus jersey: Today's bonus jersey is a 1989-90 Hartford Whalers Ron Francis jersey. Francis best season in Hartford was the 1989-90 season during which he had the first 100 point season of his career.

The Whalers adopted their new jerseys on the occasion of entering the NHL in 1979-80 following the demise of the WHA, their original home. At the time of the Whalers entering the NHL, they changed their color scheme from green and gold to green and blue, as well as changing their name from the New England Whalers to the Hartford Whalers on the insistence of the Boston Bruins.

The W-tail logo was a clever piece of graphic design creating the "H" out of the negative space between the "W" and the tail. This jersey was worn with the controversial long pants during only the 1982-83 season, and one of only two teams to ever sport the long pants look in the NHL.

There were some minor changes to this style over it's lifespan through 1991-92, including the bottom hem below the stripes changing from green to white and the stripes on the arms changing from angled to straight and back again, only to become straight once more. The most unfortunate change in style though, was the elimination of the Pucky the Whale shoulder patches in 1985-86.

Hartford Whalers 89-90 jersey, Hartford Whalers 89-90 jersey
Hartford Whalers 89-90 jersey, Hartford Whalers 89-90 jersey

Francis Today's featured video is a tribute to Francis and his long and productive career.

Here is an interview with Francis during which he looks back on his career.

Finally, here is Francis speech on the occasion of being inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

1974-75 Toronto Toros Paul Henderson Jersey

Born on this date in 1943, Paul Henderson is best known for scoring the deciding goal in the 1972 Summit Series.

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"Henderson scores for Canada!"

By 1972, Henderson was already a ten year NHL veteran, having started out his career with the Detroit Red Wings before being sent to the Toronto Maple Leafs in a blockbuster trade that also sent Norm Ullman and Floyd Smith, along with Doug Barrie to Toronto in exchange for Frank Mahovlich, Garry Unger, Pete Stemkowski and the rights to Carl Brewer.

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In the season prior to the Summit Series, Henderson achieved his career high with 38 goals and came close to equalling his NHL high in points of 60 from the 1970-71 season.

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After the Summit Series, which made him a household name in Canada, Henderson played just two more seasons with the Maple Leafs before signing with Toronto's WHA franchise, the Toros.

While with the Toros, Henderson would see a continuation of his offensive output, with seasons of 63 and 55 points before the club relocated, as was often happened with WHA clubs. This time though was one of the most unusual, as they team found itself in the deep south of the United States in Birmingham, Alabama! It was there that Henderson would set a career high with 66 points from 37 goals and 29 assists in 1977-78.

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The Bulls owner John Bassett would help lead the charge of the WHA signing underage players in order to lock up the best young talent before the NHL could get players under contract due to league rules at the time prohibiting players under the age of 20 from playing in the NHL. The Bulls would sign so many youngsters that they were dubbed the "Baby Bulls".

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Henderson would return to the NHL for one final season in 1979-80 with the Atlanta Flames.

After having reached the Stanley Cup Finals twice early in his career with Detroit, in 1964 and 1966, it must have come as a disappointment for Henderson to only qualify for the playoffs four times with Toronto, which all resulted in first round exits, none of which even reached seven games. Things were even worse in the WHA, as the Toros did not make the playoffs with Henderson while the renamed Bulls managed but one first round exit in three seasons.
While Henderson never got to raise the Stanley Cup, he will always be remembered as a winner for his exploits in the 1972 Summit Series, where he not only scored the famous decisive Game 8 goal, but also totaled seven goals in the eight game series.

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Henderson's final professional record shows 1067 games played, 376 goals and 384 assists for 760 points combined between both the NHL and the WHA.

Today's featured jersey is a 1974-75 Toronto Toros Paul Henderson jersey from Henderson's first season in the World Hockey Association. WHA jerseys are very desirable among collectors and many did not survive the policies of their often cash-strapped organizations, with many being recycled from season to season until wearing out, having names stripped off and used as training camp jerseys, being handed down to minor league teams or even given to local high schools who shared the same color scheme on occasion.

The Toros used the same jersey style for each of their three seasons in Toronto.

We naturally start with Henderson's famous goal in Game 8 of the 1972 Summit Series.

Here, Henderson's recalls his experiences in the 1972 Summit Series and what led up to his famous goal.

Finally, a bit of the Birmingham Bulls in action against the Houston Aeros from the 1977-78 season.

Monday, January 27, 2014

1964-65 New York Rangers Ulf Sterner Jersey

Ulf Sterner played in a mere four NHL games during his career, but in the process, became a hockey pioneer, as his debut for the New York Rangers in 1965 made him the first European to play in the NHL.

Sterner played for Sweden in the 1960 Olympics at age 18 and won a gold medal at the 1962 World Championships, followed by a silver medal in 1963, the same year he was named Sweden's Player of the Year. He then led all scorers at the 1964 Olympics in Austria with 11 points in seven games.

He came to the Rangers training camp in 1964 and began the year with the St. Paul Rangers of the Central Hockey League with 12 goals and 21 points in 16 games.

Once adjusted more to the North American style of play, Sterner was promoted to the Baltimore Clippers of the American Hockey League. With bodychecking not allowed in the offensive zone in international hockey, the heavy hitting all over the ice was not something Sterner was accustomed to.

Still, he played well, earning himself a call-up by the Rangers, making his NHL debut on this date in 1965, becoming the first European-trained player to do so. After four games, it became clear that the physical play employed in the NHL was not something Sterner was comfortable with and was not going to sufficiently adapt to and he was returned to Baltimore, where his undeniable offensive skills allowed him to finish with 44 points in 52 games.

Back in Sweden the following season, Sterner would go on to play another 13 seasons, which included being named the Best Forward at the 1969 World Championships. In all, he would play in nine World Championships, earning a gold medal, five silvers an a bronze. He would also compete in two Olympics, earning silver in 1964 and was inducted into the IIHF Hall of Fame in 2001.

In 1969, the IIHF amended it's rules to allow body checking everywhere, and having been trained under those rules, a better prepared Borje Salming became a regular member of the Toronto Maple Leafs in 1973 and went on to have a 17 year NHL career. Once Salming showed a European was capable of competing in the NHL, more players began to arrive from primarily Sweden and Czechoslovakia at first, accelerated by the arrival of the WHA and the need for even more players.

Today's featured jersey is a 1964-65 New York Rangers Ulf Sterner jersey. The Rangers first adopted the font still in use for their main logo in 1941 and added the drop shadow the following season. The tie-neck collar arrived in 1951, bringing us to the style worn by Sterner in 1965. This style remained in use through 1976, but returned again in 1987, with the tie-neck collar reappearing in 1997.

Today's first video highlight is Ulf Sterner scoring Sweden's third goal as the Tre Kroner won the gold medal at the 1962 World Championships.

Next, we advance to 1970, as Sweden, with team captain Sterner wearing #14, defeats the Soviet Union for the first time in seven years 4-1 in a game where Vladisalv Tretiak coincidentally makes his NHL debut as an injury replacement. The video continues with the Soviets winning Game 2 by a score of 3-1 to win the World Championship.


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