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Saturday, April 22, 2017

1987 United States National Team Bob Mason Jersey

Born on this date in International Falls, Minnesota, goaltender Bob Mason first played for the Green Bay Bobcats of the United States Hockey League in American junior hockey for two seasons prior to playing his college hockey for the University of Minnesota Duluth Bulldogs in the highly competitive Western Collegiate Hockey Association.

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After a tough first year when he was 9-15-3 with a 4.45 goals against average, Mason showed his potential with a turnaround 1982-83 season when he was 26-16-1 with a 3.49 goals against which earned him the WCHA Player of the Year award.

That performance caught the attention of USA Hockey, which named him to the United States National Team for the 1983-84 season. Mason was 17-10-5 in preparation for the 1984 Olympics in Sarajevo, Yugoslavia. He played in 3 games during the Games, with a 1-0-1 record and a 3.75 goals against.

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After the conclusion of the Olympics, Mason, an undrafted free agent, signed with the Washington Capitals. He then played in 5 games with their American Hockey League affiliate, the Hershey Bears. With Hershey, he was a less than impressive 1-4 with a goals against over 5.50. Still, he was called up to the NHL and played a pair of games with the Capitals, winning both while only allowing 3 total goals.

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For the 1984-85 season, Mason played the majority of this games with the Binghamton Whalers of the AHL, putting up a fine 10-6-1 record with a 3.31 GAA. When recalled by Washington, he again impressed with a 8-2-1 record in 12 appearances with a 2.81 GAA.

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Despite his success when playing in the NHL, the young Mason was third on the Capitals depth chart behind the duo of Pat Riggin and Al Jensen, who combined to win the Jennings Trophy for Washington for allowing the least number of goals in 1983-84 and then behind Jensen and Pete Peeters in 1985-86.

So, for the 1985-86 season, Mason was with Binghamton in the AHL once again, playing in 34 games with a 20-11-2 record and a slightly higher 3.90 GAA. His lone appearance with the Capitals saw him get a win in 16 minutes of playing time while facing 5 shots without allowing a goal.

Finally, for the 1986-87 season, Mason was finally cracked the Capitals lineup, where he split time with Peeters, who played in 37 games to Mason's 45 while Jensen was in the net for just 6. Mason led the team in wins with 20, while taking 18 losses to go with 5 ties. In the interests of completeness, Mason did play in a pair of games in Binghamton, going 1-1 with a goals against of 2.02.

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Mason's final game with the Capitals was a memorable one, as the Capitals and the New York Islanders playoff series stretched to a Game 7. The game began on Saturday, April 18th, and the teams alternated goals until the Islanders tied the game at 2-2 with 5:23 to play in regulation. The game went to overtime and neither team could score after each taking 11 shots on goal. The Capitals pressed hard in the second overtime, outshooting the Islanders 17-9, but Mason and Kelly Hrudey refused to crack. The third overtime saw New York hold a narrow 11-10 margin in shots as the game stretched into the night. Midnight arrived as the game now extended into Easter Sunday. Finally, at 8:47 of the fourth overtime, Pat Lafontaine wheeled and fired a shot past Mason to win the fifth longest game in Stanley Cup history, the longest playoff game in 36 years and the longest Game 7 ever, 3-2 in what has become known as the Easter Epic.

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Later that fall, Mason was chosen to be on the roster for the United States at the 1987 Canada Cup tournament.

Mason left Washington before the next season began and signed with the Chicago Blackhawks as a free agent for the 1987-88 season. He would play in 41 games with Chicago, splitting time with Darren Pang in goal. Mason would finish with a 13-18-8 record, but as Pang got more and more playing time in the second half of the season, and the crease in Chicago about to get very crowded (Pang (35 games), Alain Chevrier (27), new arrival Ed Belfour (23) and Jimmy Waite (11) would all compete for playing time), Mason was traded to the Quebec Nordiques for the 1988-89 season.

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Unfortunately for all involved, the Nordiques would finish last in the NHL and Mason would bear the brunt of their poor performance, as he would finish the forgettable season with a 5-14-1 record and a demotion to the Halifax Citadels of the AHL. Playing a 23 games with Halifax, Mason showed his worth with an 11-7-1 record and a goals against a full 1.30 lower than his 4.73 NHL rating.

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Mason was traded back to Washington for the 1989-90 season and split time between the Capitals (16 games, 4-9-1) and the Baltimore Skipjacks of the AHL (13, 9-2-2). Washington released Mason at the end of the year and he signed with the Vancouver Canucks organization to add depth to their roster.

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He would play the majority of the 1990-91 season with the Milwaukee Admirals of the International Hockey League, playing in 22 games, winning 8. He would also go 2-4 during his 6 games played with Vancouver, which would prove to be his final games in the NHL.

Mason would not play in the NHL in 1991-92, which allowed him to see action in 51 games for the Admirals that season, winning 27 while losing 18 with 4 ties and a 3.39 GAA. For the 1992-93 season, Mason would be the number one goaltender for the Hamilton Canucks in the AHL, finishing with 44 games played and lead the team with a 20-19-3 record and a 3.67 goals against average.

He would return to Milwaukee and the IHL for the 193-94 season, where he had an excellent season, ending with a 21-9-8 record for the Admirals. He would play one final season, playing in 13 games for Milwaukee with a 7-4-1 record and a single game for the Fort Wayne Komets, also of the IHL.

His final NHL totals were 145 games played with 55 wins, 65 losses and 16 ties and a career goals against average of 3.75.

Following his playing career, he was a goaltending coach at the University of Minnesota for three years until being hired by the Atlanta Thrashers as a goaltending consultant for three seasons, Then in 2002-03, he took the same position with the Minnesota Wild and is now in his 15th season as their goaltending coach, which included guiding Niklas Backstrom and Manny Fernandez to the Jennings Trophy in 2007.

Today's featured jersey is a 1987 United States Bob Mason jersey from the 1987 Canada Cup tournament, the predecessor to the current World Cup of Hockey. Canada was frustrated with the state of international hockey, as the Canadian professionals were not allowed to participate in amateur-only events like the Olympics, while the World Championships were always held while the NHL playoffs were in progress, which combined to keep the best Canadian players shut out of the highest profile international tournaments.

Meanwhile, the best players from the communist European nations, the Soviet Union and Czechoslovakia in particular, established a system where their players were considered to be members of their military whose assigned duties were to play hockey, a technicality which allowed them to maintain their amatuer status for their entire career, while countries like the United States and Canada were limited to young, non-professional players. Later agreements allowed professionals, but the timing of the Olympics taking place during the NHL season still kept the best Canadian and American players out of the Games.

1972 saw the Summit Series, an eight game exhibition series of games between the top Canadian professionals and the best the Soviets had to offer, which was an emotionally charged event that captivated the hockey world as the styles and cultures clashed for the first time. Two years later they tried to catch lightning in a bottle once again, with the Soviets now facing a team of pros from the World Hockey Association, such as Gordie Howe and Bobby Hull, who was locked out of the 1972 event due to having jumped to the WHA, angering the powers that be in the NHL who kept him out of the original Summit Series despite is undisputed qualifications.

Seeking to capitalize on the two team Summit Series, the Canada Cup was born in 1976, which took place in the fall prior to the NHL season, which allowed the best players to all compete in a tournament format, as now the United States, Sweden, Czechoslovakia, Finland and West Germany were added to the competition in addition to the Soviets and Canadians.

The Canada Cup was held five times, 1976, 1981, 1984, 1987 and 1991, with Canada winning all but the 1981 edition, which went to the Soviets.

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photo courtesy of Classic Auctions

Bonus jersey: Today's bonus jersey is a 1985-86 Washington Capitals Bob Mason jersey .

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In today's video section, highlights of the Easter Epic, the four overtime game between the Capitals and Islanders with Mason making 54 saves in goal for Washington.

Next, Mason is flattened by Shane Corson during one of his limited appearances for Vancouver.

Finally, Mason discusses his career as a goaltending coach and his current work for the Wild with their current top goaltender Devan Dubnyk.

Friday, April 21, 2017

The 1938 Detroit Red Wings - Montreal Canadiens European Tour

On this date in 1938, the Detroit Red Wings and Montreal Canadiens played their first game of a nine game exhibition tour of Europe, the first time in the history of the NHL that teams played games in Europe.

The idea of NHL teams playing games in Europe had been floated before, as far back as 1924 and again in 1932, but those plans failed to happen, mainly due to a lack of suitable hockey rinks. Other plans were hatched in 1935 and 1936, but never came to be.

Finally, in 1938, the British Ice Hockey Association and the French Ice Hockey Federation were able to come to an agreement for a series of nine games to be held in England and France. Preliminary plans for additional games in Belgium, Germany and Scotland did not materialize.

While the Red Wings had won the Stanley Cup in 1936 and 1937, they finished last in the American Division with a 12-25-11 record for 35 points, second worst in the NHL during the 1937-38 season.

Montreal, meanwhile, went 18-17-13 in the 48 game schedule, and their 49 points were good for third in the Canadian Division and a playoff spot. Montreal was paired with the Chicago Black Hawks, who squeaked into the playoffs, just two points ahead of the Red Wings. In their best-of-three series, Toe Blake had a hat trick to win Game 1 for Montreal, but Mike Karakas shut the Canadiens out in Game 2 to even the series. Despite a late Montreal goal in Game 3, Earl Seibert tied the game for Chicago who then won the series after 11:49 of overtime on March 26, 1938.

Ten days later, Detroit traveled to Montreal and then both teams made the trip to Sydney, Nova Scotia, where they played an exhibition game on April 7th, won by Montreal 3-2. On the next two nights, the teams played in Halifax in front of 5,000 fans, with the Canadiens taking the first game 6-5 in overtime on April 8 followed by the Red Wings dominating on April 9th by a score of 7-2.

The teams then boarded the RMS Ausonia for their trip to England, arriving on April 19th, where they were met with a high level of interest and news of heavy ticket sales.

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The Red Wings pose for a photo during their Atlantic crossing

The first game, on this date in 1938, took place in the London suburb of Earls Court in front of 8,000 interested spectators. At times during the game, Detroit head coach Jack Adams spoke to the crowd to explain the differences in the NHL rules and those of the English amateur league. Montreal goaltender Wilf Cude, a native of Wales, was singled out with a presentation of a wreath and an ovation. Regulation ended tied at 4-4 and then Blake scored the winning goal in overtime.

Two days later, on April 23rd, the teams met again in Brighton, 60 miles to the south. Montreal's Johnny Gagnon had a hat trick for the Canadiens, but Detroit came from behind twice in the third to force an overtime, which passed without a winner for an eventual 5-5 tie. During the first game in Brighton, two fights took place, the first between Marty Barry and Red Goupille and then Blake and Peter Bessone staged round two.

The teams then made the trip to France for three games in Paris, the first of which took place on April 25th. A fast and exciting game, the first professional hockey game in France, saw both Detroit's Hec Kilrea and Gagnon for Montreal each score a hat trick in a 10-8 win for Montreal.

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The 1937-38 Montreal Canadiens

There was excitement of a different kind of April 27th for the second game in France, when the Red Wings rallied with three goals in the third period to come from being down 3-1 to take their first win of the series 4-3.

The final game in Paris was on April 29th, a 7-5 win for the French Canadiens.

“The professional ice hockey players of the two teams in Paris are a fine lot of players. Next week the two teams are scheduled to play in London and the hockey enthusiasts of the big city will see the fastest competition game played by humans as it should be played. It is really thrilling to witness ice hockey such as we have seen played in Paris by the Montreal Canadiens and Detroit Red Wings.” wrote sportswriter Sparrow Robertson of New York Herald Tribune.

Following their game on the 29th, the teams took their time for some sightseeing, as they were not scheduled for another game until May 5th, six days later for a return engagement at Earls Court in England. That contest proved to be the fourth win for Montreal in six games when they won the game by a three goal margin, 6-3, thanks to two goals by Paul Haynes with a crowd of 8,500 in attendance.

On May 8th back in Brighton, Detroit won their second game of the tour, a 10-5 victory powered by a pair of goals by Don Young, Carl Liscombe and Mud Bruneteau, again with 8,500 on hand to witness the most lopsided game of the tour.

Oddly, it was back to Earls Court two days later on May 10th, rather than travel to a different, larger city in England, such as Birmingham, Manchester or Liverpool. Blake starred with a hat trick, including the game winner in a 5-4 Canadiens win, as the swept all three games in London.

The final game of the nine was held on May 14th back in Brighton for the third time. Bruneteau and Barry each had a pair of goals for Detroit, who won 5-2 to finish unbeaten in Brighton with two wins and a tie. Overall, Montreal won 5, with Detroit taking 3 and one tie game.

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The 1937-38 Detroit Red Wings

After the game, Montreal head coach Cecil Hart said, "We've had a successful and enjoyable trip. The boys played wonderful hockey and I'm sure they've sold the professional game in a big way to the British and the French fans."

The teams made their way to Southampton and sailed home on the RMS Aurania. The head coaches both agreed the tour was a success and some players declared it the greatest experience of their lives. For their efforts, the players each received the princely sum of $250.

Hart later observed, "It was wonderful, simply marvelous. I can't get over it. Yes, I believe pro hockey is still five years off over there. They haven't got the rinks yet. But think of the opportunities with no traveling expenses and such thickly populated areas. We packed them in everywhere. The last game we played over there, we turned away between 3,000 and 4,000 fans. And that with very little publicity."

Despite the rave reviews for the tour, it would take until 1959 for the Boston Bruins and New York Rangers to make the second tour a reality, that being a 23 game marathon of games in England, Switzerland, France, Belgium, West Germany and finally Austria.

It would take another 17 years for two NHL teams to meet outside of North America, this time in Japan, and the league would not return to Europe for 21 years.

Today's featured jersey is a 1937-38 Montreal Canadiens Toe Blake jersey as worn when Blake scored the game winning goal in overtime of the first game between NHL teams outside of North America on this date in 1959.

This jersey predated the arrival of sleeve numbers on their sweaters, which did not arrive until 1958 with the advent of television.

Montreal Canadiens 37-38 jersey

Today's video is the from the return of the NHL to England for the 2007-08 season, the first ever regular season games held in Europe.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

1984-85 Chicago Blackhawks Steve Larmer Jersey

Beginning his junior career with his hometown Peterborough Petes in 1977-78, Steve Larmer then became a member of the Niagara Falls Flyers for the 1978-79 season. He more than doubled his 41 points from the previous season with 84. That total jumped to 114 in 1979-80 after which Larmer was drafted in the 6th round by the Chicago Black Hawks. He returned for one final season with Niagara Falls during which he scored 55 goals and 133 points.

At the conclusion of the Flyers season, Larmer made his NHL debut with the Black Hawks for four games at the end of the season, scoring his first NHL point with an assist. Chicago assigned him to the New Brunswick Hawks of the AHL where he averaged more than a point per game with 82 in 74 games, good for second on the club. New Brunswick would not only win their division, but defeat Adirondack, Nova Scotia and Binghamton on their way to the Calder Cup championship. Additionally, Chicago called him up for three NHL games during the season.

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Larmer broke into the NHL with Chicago in 1980-81

For the 1982-83 season, Larmer made the Black Hawks roster out of training camp and immediately established himself as an NHL regular, playing in all 80 of Chicago's games on a line with Denis Savard and Al Secord, which led to him scoring an impressive 43 goals and 90 points on his way to being named the recipient of that season's Calder Trophy.

The following season Larmer again played in all 80 games for Chicago, a feat he duplicated again and again and again over the course of five seasons as his consecutive games streak reached 400, all the while producing an amazingly consistent offensive output, as his point totals were always between 75 and 90 points each of those seasons.

His games played streak continued to march on unabated as well as his offensive production. Now named one of Chicago's assistant captains, he narrowly missed equaling his career best of 90 points with 89 in 1987-88, and after scoring 87 the next season reached 90 once more in 1989-90 thanks in part to a career best 59 assists as his consecutive games streak now reached 640. During the playoffs, his eight consecutive postseason in a row, Larmer tied for the team lead in scoring with 22 in 20 games as the Blackhawks reached the conference finals. (Of note, Chicago formally changed their name from "Black Hawks" to "Blackhawks" with the start of the 1986-87 season.)

Showing no signs of slowing down, Larmer set a career high with 101 points in 1990-91 to lead Chicago in scoring for the third consecutive season as he registered second highest goal total of his career with 44, just two back of the 46 he tallied in 1984-85, as well as 57 assists.

Following Chicago's early exit from the playoffs, Larmer skated for Team Canada at the 1991 World Championships, scoring 8 points in 19 games. Later that same year, he competed for Canada again at the 1991 Canada Cup tournament in August prior to the start of the NHL season where he led all players in goals scored with 6, including the game winner in the decisive final game, and finished second in points with 11 in eight games.

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Larmer at the 1991 Canada Cup

Over the course of the next two years, Larmer extended his games played streak by playing in all 80 of Chicago's games in 1991-92 despite losing 16 pounds due to an ulcer, and then 84 in 1992-93 thanks to a newly expanded schedule which included the short-lived experiment of teams playing a pair of regular season neutral site games. It was the highest scoring regular season in NHL history at the time, but the Blackhawks were one of only two teams to allow less than three goals per game, thanks in part to Larmer's noteworthy defensive contributions.

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The Blackhawks wore throwback jerseys
for the NHL's 75th Anniversary season

After 13 seasons with Chicago, including playing in every game for 11 consecutive seasons, 884 games in a row, Larmer sat out training camp in 1993, demanding a trade from Chicago, citing a need for a "change of scenery", and threatened to retire if a trade was not worked out.

Eventually, after missing the first month of the season and ending his streak 30 games behind second place Gary Unger and 80 behind record holder Doug Jarvis, Larmer was traded to the New York Rangers in early Novemer. At the time of his departure from Chicago, Larmer ranked #3 all time in goals, #5 in assists and #4 in points.

Playing in his first game the day after the trade, Larmer scored his first goal as a Ranger. In early January, Larmer missed the first games of his career due to injury, sitting out three games with a broken hand. In all, he competed in 68 games for the Rangers and contributed 60 points. During the playoffs, his 12th of 13 consecutive years in the playoffs, he was a solid contributor to the Rangers eventual Stanley Cup championship, the first of his career and the Rangers first in 54 years.

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The 1994 Stanley Cup champion New York Rangers

In the lockout shortened 1994-95 season, milestones arrived in the form of his 1,000th NHL point on March 8 and his 1,000th NHL game on this date in 1995. He would finish the season with 1,006 games played, 441 goals and 571 assists for 1,012 points prior to retiring due to chronic back pain.

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Larmer finished his career with the Rangers

Today's featured jersey is a 1984-85 Chicago Black Hawks Steve Larmer jersey as worn when Larmer set a career high of 46 goals that season.

The Blackhawks wore a white jersey for their first season of 1926-27 but then reversed the jerseys colors to black with white stripes for 1927-28. They did not wear another white jersey until the 1940-41 season and their now familiar style featured today did not arrive until the 1955-56 season. Since then there have been changes, such as the original one color black numbers becoming two color numbers in 1973 and the lace-up collar changing to a v-neck in 1965.

Sleeve numbers arrived in 1957-58, and the secondary logo changed size and location a number of times until 1959-60 when it found its permanent location. Names on the back were mandated in 1977-78 and the jersey has remained unchanged ever since, including surviving the introduction of the new Reebok Edge jerseys for 2007-08.

Chicago Blackhawks 1984-85 F jersey

Chicago Blackhawks 1984-85 B jersey

Bonus jersey: Today's bonus jersey is a 1991 Team Canada Steve Larmer jersey as worn during the 1991 Canada Cup, one of only two appearances for Larmer for Team Canada during his career, both of which came during a four month span in 1991, which resulted in a silver followed by a gold medal.

The half maple leaf design of the jersey mimics the shape of the Canada Cup trophy, which clearly was not a "cup" in the traditional sense like the NHL's Stanley Cup.

Canada 1991 jersey
photo courtesy of Classic Auctions

Extra bonus Jersey: Today's extra bonus jersey is a 1981-82 New Brunswick Hawks Steve Larmer jersey from the only minor league season of Larmer's entire career during which his club captured the league championship.

The jersey follows the design of the Toronto Maple Leafs jerseys of the time period, down to the Maple Leaf logos on the shoulder, as the Hawks shared their affiliation with both the Maple Leafs, who inspired their look, and the Black Hawks, who provided the inspiration for their name in a unique combined identity.

The franchise existed from 1978 to 1987, which included two name changes.

New Brunswick Hawks 81-82 jersey
photo courtesy of Classic Auctions

Today's videos begin with the conclusion of the 1991 Canada Cup. Larmer scored the game winning goal and was MVP of the game.

Another highlight of Larmer's career was Larmer's Stanley Cup championship in 1994 with the Rangers.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

2017 World Junior U18 Tournament Update

The 2017 World Junior U18 Tournament is taking place in Poprad and Spisska Nova Ves, Slovakia.

There are ten teams competing in two groups, with Group A consisting of Canada, Finland, Latvia, hosts Slovakia and Latvia, with all games taking place at the Poprad Ice Stadium.

Group B has Belarus, the Czech Republic, Russia, Sweden and the United States all playing at the Spis Arena in Spisska Nova Ves.

2017 U18 logo

Action in Group A saw Canada and Finland win on opening day, with Canada winning 4-1 over Latvia and Slovakia, energized by their home crowd, giving Finland all it could handle. Finland led 1-0 after one, but the second period was a wild affair. Finland scored twice to take a 3-0 lead only to have the Slovaks erupt for four consecutive goals in a span of 7:39 to take a 4-3 lead! Finland was able to stop the bleeding and tie the score before the second period ended and then win with the only goal of the third period for a 5-4 final in a wild opening day game.

Switzerland shutout Latvia 4-0 on April 14th and then lost to the Finns 5-1 on the 15th. The Slovaks were at it again later the same day, as, after being down 3-1 to Canada after one, they scored once in the second and once in the third to send the game to overtime tied at 3-3. It would take 2:38 for Stylianos Mattheos to win the game for the Canadians 4-3, but relinquish a point in the standings to Finland.

Finland had an easy time of it against overmatched Latvia, winning 7-2 on the 16th. On the 17th, Canada stayed unbeaten with a 7-3 drubbing of Switzerland while Slovakia got a vital 3 points from their 4-0 win over the Latvians.

Yesterday, the Finns won the group thanks to a 6-3 win over Canada and Slovakia delighted their fans with a tight 2-1 win over the Swiss thanks to a goal early in the third. The win gave the Slovakians third place behind Canada, while Switzerland moves on to the Playoff Round thanks to their win over Latvia, who must now play in the Relegation Round after going winless and being outscored 19-3 in their four group games.

In Group B, the United States opened with an easy 7-0 win over Belarus on opening day, followed by Russia defeating Sweden once they got their offense going with 3 goals in the third period after trailing 1-0 after two.

The only game on the 14th saw the Czech Republic open with a 7-4 over Belarus. On the 15th, the vital matchup between the United States and Russia saw the Russians up 1-0 after one, but the Americans scored 3 second period goals plus the first goal of the third to take a 4-1 lead. The teams then traded goals to make it 5-2, but Russia made things uncomfortable for the US when they scored twice within 36 seconds to make it 5-4, which created a tense final three minutes, but the Americans held on to win.

In the second game on the 15th, Sweden defeated the Czechs 3-2 in regulation for the full three points. On the 16th, Sweden won again in dramatic fashion thanks to a power play goal with just 12 seconds remaining, robbing Belarus of a point in the standings for making it to overtime.

On the 17th, the United States won 5-2 over the Czechs to remain undefeated while Russia took care of business with a 4-1 win over Belarus.

The US completed their group stage undefeated with an easy 5-1 win over Sweden, while Russia took second place in Group B after a 5-4 overtime win over the Czech Republic. Sweden finished third in the group and the Czechs fourth to advance to the Playoff Round, while winless Belarus enters the Relegation Round against Latvia.

To date, the top three leading scorers are all from Finland, led by Kristian Vesalainen, who had 6 goals and 5 assists in 4 games, the only player in double digit scoring.

After a day off today, relegation play begins on Thursday the 20th with Game 2 in the best-of-three Friday and the deciding Game 3, if necessary, will be on Sunday the 23rd with all games in Spisska Nova Ves.

Also on Thursday, all four Quarterfinals will take place, with Finland versus the Czech Republic in Poprad, followed two hours later with Canada against Sweden at the Spis Arena.

Russia will try to spoil the party when they take on the host Slovakians in the second game in Poprad, while the final game of the day sees Switzerland looking for a way to upset the United States in Spisska Nova Ves.

The Semifinals are both on Saturday the 22nd with the losing sides meeting for the bronze medal in Sunday's first game followed by the gold medal final, will the final four games all taking place in Poprad.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Valeri Kamensky - The First Russian Triple Gold Club Member

After beginning his career with three seasons with Khmik Voskresensk in the Soviet Championship League beginning with the 1982-83 season, Valeri Kamensky, like so many other top Soviet players, found himself drafted by the military and assigned duty as a hockey player for the dominant Central Sports Club of the Army, CSKA Moscow beginning with the 1985-86 season.

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A young Kamensky with CSKA Moscow

During his first season with Red Army, Kamensky would immediately see his point total double from his best and final season with Khimik, as he scored 15 goals and 24 points in 40 games. Two seasons later he set a Soviet career highs with 26 goals and 46 points. Three seasons later he matched his 46 points from 20 goals and 26 assists. Kamensky's time with CSKA was the twilight of their incredible dynasty, and the club won the final four championships of their period of complete domination in 1986, 1987, 1988 and 1989. He was named the Soviet MVP following the 1990-91 season.

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Kamensky was the Soviet MVP in 1991

Kamensky's final two seasons with Red Army saw the club begin to be depleted, as their players were now being allowed to leave the Soviet Union to play in the NHL. Having been drafted by the Quebec Nordiques back in 1988, he now made the jump to North America for the 1991-92 season.

His first two seasons with Quebec were limited to just 23 and 32 games, but his potential was on display as he averaged over a point per game in those 55 contests. Finally playing a full season in 1993-94, Kamensky scored 28 goals and 65 points in 76 games.

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Kamensky wore #17 as an NHL rookie in 1991-92

With the start of the 1994-95 NHL season delayed due to labor issues, Kamensky played in a dozen games with HC Ambri-Piotta in the Swiss National League A, scoring 13 goals and 19 points. When the NHL season finally began, Kamensky returned to the Nordiques, where he scored 10 goals and was credited with 20 assists for 30 points in 40 games.

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After two seasons as #31, Kamensky finally got to wear his preferred #13 in 1994-95

The financial situation for the Nordiques was a dire one, having to do business in weaker Canadian dollars yet pay their players in American dollars while also having difficulties getting free agents to sign in French speaking Quebec City, which was also the smallest market in the NHL. All of this, plus their aging arena, Le Colisee, proved too much to overcome and the team was sold to new owners, who moved the team to Denver, where they were renamed the Colorado Avalanche.

Kamensky moved with the club to Denver and the change of scenery suited him well, as he had a career year with 38 goals and 47 assists for 85 points. Before the move, the Nordiques were a team on the rise, thanks to their many high draft picks due to how dismal the team and been for so long. With stars like Joe Sakic and Peter Forsberg and a solid supporting cast, things were looking bright for the Avalanche. That outlook grew even brighter two months into the season when, after a falling out with the Montreal Canadiens, Colorado was able to obtain the final key piece of the puzzle in goaltender Patrick Roy.

The team won the Pacific Division with the second most points in the regular season. In the playoffs, they defeated the Vancouver Canucks in six, eliminated the Chicago Blackhawks in six and advance to the Finals by beating the Detroit Red Wings in six. They then swept the overmatched Florida Panthers in four to win the 1996 Stanley Cup. Kamensky, after finishing third during the regular season behind only Sakic and Forsberg, was second in Avalanche playoff scoring with 10 goals and 12 assists for 22 points in 22 games played.

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Kamensky and Sandis Ozolinsh celebrate with the Stanley Cup

Kamensky equaled his second highest goal total in 1996-97 when he scored 28 for the second time on his was to 66 points, also the second highest of his career while playing in only 68 games. He had a fine playoff season that year with another 22 points, this time in 17 games. He matched his point total from the previous season with 66 again in 1997-98 from 26 goals and 40 assists. He would play one more season in Colorado in 1998-99 with 44 points in 65 games.

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Kamensky at the 1998 NHL All-Star SuperSkills Competition
Note the Russian flag patch on his right chest, worn only during the event

Despite the success he enjoyed with Colorado, Kamensky signed as a free agent with the New York Rangers for the 1999-00 season. Once again, his season was affected by injuries and he only played in 58 games for New York that season, which limited him to 13 goals and 32 points. His second season with the Rangers was a similar story, as Kamensky played in only 65 games with a similar scoreline of 14 goals and 34 points.

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Kamensky played two seasons with the Rangers

For the 2001-02 season, Kamensky signed as a free agent with the Dallas Stars, but after just 24 games and only 9 points, he was traded to the New Jersey Devils in January where he played the final 30 games of his NHL career with 4 goals and 12 points.

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Kamensky Devils 1
Kamensky played for both Dallas and New Jersey in 2001-02

After not playing during the 2002-03 season, Kamensky took to the ice once again for Khimik Voskresensk in the Russian Superleague. He played in 23 games that first season, with 5 goals and 14 points. He was back with Khimik for the 2003-04 season, where he closed out his career with a fine season, scoring 17 goals and 36 points in 57 games before announcing his retirement.

His final NHL totals were 637 games played with exactly 200 goals and 301 assists for 501 points. Thanks to his two great playoff seasons with the Avalanche, he also had 25 goals and 60 points in his playoff career.

Internationally, Kamensky made annual appearances for the Soviet Union during his time with CSKA Moscow. He first played in the World Junior Championships in 1985, earning a bronze medal. He had a memorable 1986 winning gold at the World Juniors, scoring 7 goals and 13 points in 7 games, and gold again at his first World Championships at the senior level four months later as he turned 20 during the tournament.

Kamensky Soviet Union 1
Kamensky wore the "double triangle" style early in his international career

Kamensky won silver at the 1987 Worlds and came in second at the 1987 Canada Cup later that fall. He won a gold medal at his first Olympics in 1988 in Calgary with 4 goals and 6 points in 8 games. His career for the Soviet Union concluded with gold medals at the 1989 and 1990 World Championships and a bronze in 1991.

Kamensky Soviet Union 2
Kamensky was a member of the Soviet team at Rendez-vous '87,
the two game series held in place of the NHL All-Star Game

After the break up of the Soviet Union, he would not return to the international stage until the 1994 World Championships, where he suited up for Russia for the first time. He participated in his second Olympics in 1998 in Nagano, Japan, winning a silver medal. His international career concluded with the 2000 World Championships.

Kamensky Russia 1
Kamensky now playing for Russia at the 1998 Olympics

In all, Kamensky won five gold medals (1 World Junior, 3 World Championship and 1 Olympic), two silver, (1 at the Worlds and 1 Olympic) and two bronze (1 World Junior and 1 at the Worlds). His Stanley Cup championship in 1996 made him just the fourth member of the exclusive Triple Gold Club to go with his World Championship and Olympic gold medals. To date, only 27 men are members of the Triple Gold Club and just six from Russia. In recognition of his outstanding international hockey career, Kamensky was inducted into the IIHF Hall of Fame in 2016.

Today's first featured jersey is a 1990 Soviet Union Valeri Kamensky jersey as worn during the 1990 World Championships. Kamensky won his first World Championship gold medal in his first try in 1986 as a 20 year old, his first step on his way to becoming the first Russian to become a member of the Triple Gold Club. He would win additional gold medals with the Soviet Union in 1989 and 1990.

The Soviets wore this style from 1988 through the end of the Soviet Union in 1991 and beyond. This style was worn one last time at the 1992 Olympics when many of the former Soviet states competed as the Unified Team, only with the CCCP cresting removed from the jerseys.

Soviet Union 1990 F jersey
Soviet Union 1990 B jersey

Today's second featured jersey is a 1988 Soviet Union Valeri Kamensky jersey as worn during the 1988 Olympics when Kamensky won a gold medal, his second step on the way to the Triple Gold Club. He would later win an Olympic silver medal with Russia in 1998.

This style of Tackla jersey was worn only during the 1988 Olympics, as evidenced by the tiny Tackla logo on the chest and the lack of colored shoulders. A similar style was worn during World and European Junior tournaments with contrasting colored shoulders adorned with the Tackla diamond logo from 1987 to 1989.

Soviet Union 1988 jersey
photo courtesy of Classic Auctions

Today's third featured jersey is a 1995-96 Colorado Avalanche Valeri Kamensky jersey as worn during the club's first season in Denver when they completed their Cinderella season by winning the Stanley Cup in their first year in their new home, a championship which made Kamensky the first Russian, along with teammate Alexei Gusarov, to become a member of the Triple Gold Club, which requires a World Championship gold medal, an Olympic gold medal and a Stanley Cup.

After their amazing first season in their new jerseys, they remain unchanged until the 2007-08 season when the new Reebok Edge jerseys signal the end of the Avalanche cup winning jerseys.

Colorado Avalanche 1995-96 F jersey
Colorado Avalanche 1995-96 B jersey

Bonus jersey: Today's bonus jersey is a 1988-89 Soviet Central Red Army Valeri Kamensky jersey as worn during the final season of CSKA's run of dominance over the Soviet Championship League when they won 13 consecutive Soviet championships from 1977 to 1989 and 13 European Champions Cups from 1978 to 1990 and the 1991 Spengler Cup.

CSKA 1988-89 F jersey
CSKA 1988-89 B jersey

Extra bonus jersey: Today's extra bonus jersey is a 1992-93 Quebec Nordiques Valeri Kamensky jersey as worn during Kamensky's second season with the Nordiques when he wore #31.

During his first season with the club, Kamensky wore #17 as Mats Sundin was already wearing his preferred #13. In 1992-93, he changed to the reverse of #13, #31 as goaltender Stephane Fiset had changed from #31 worn the previous season to now #35. For 1994-95, Sundin had been traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs, finally freeing up #13 for Kamensky in his fourth season with the Nordiques.

Quebec wore this style dating back to 1975-76 when they were still members of the WHA. For the 1980-81 season they changed from a white version of their crest on the blue jerseys to the same red one worn on the home white jerseys. The final change came in 1991-92, Kamensky's first season in the NHL, when the one color numbers became two color, as they were now trimmed in red. They also became the last team to sew the names and numbers on their jerseys in tackle twill fabric, as up to that point they had been heat sealed numbers, which have shown to crack and peel with age, putting a premium on any game worn jersey worn before 1991-92 that has the names and numbers in good physical condition.

This jersey also features the Stanley Cup Centennial patch worn on all players jerseys for the 1992-93 season, with those worn by the Nordiques and Canadiens being a French variation, that read "Coupe Stanley" instead of the standard "Stanley Cup" worn by every other club.

Quebec Nordiques 1992-93 F jersey
Quebec Nordiques 1992-93 B jersey

Today's video section is a terrific collection of highlights of Kamensky from both the Soviet Union and the NHL.

Next, Kamensky scores the first goal in Colorado Avalanche history.

Here's a little bit of insanity for you. The Soviet Union versus the United States at the 1990 World Championships with the commentary in Japanese. We kid you not.

In this next highlight, Kamensky scores a goal which must be seen to be believed.

Here, Kamensky shows that despite being a European, you don't want to mess with him in this very brief but worthwhile highlight.

If you don't watch any of the above videos, you have to see this one. We've seen still photos of this, but we were thrilled to find video of it. Kamensky gets into a fight with New Jersey's Scott Niedermayer and manages to wrap Niedermayer's head up in the sleeve of his Rangers jersey! Niedermayer's reaction to the absurd fight is also something you've never seen before in this awesome highlight.

Monday, April 17, 2017

SKA Saint Petersburg 2017 Gagarin Cup Champions - Ilya Kovalchuk is Alive and Well and Living in Saint Petersburg

SKA Saint Petersburg captured the 2017 Gagarin Cup yesterday with a come from behind 5-3 over Metallurg Magnitogorsk yesterday to take the finals by 4 games to 1.

Kovalchuk 2017 Gagarin Cup
SKA captain Ilya Kovalchuk happily accepting the Gagarin Cup

Metallurg defeated the first year club Kunlun Red Star out of Beijing, China 4-1 and then cruised by both Barys Astana of Kazakhstan and the Russian club Ak Bars Kazan with back-to-back sweeps to advance to the finals as the Eastern Conference representative.

SKA had a similar route, defeating HC Vityaz of the Moscow region in four straight, advancing past Dynamo Moscow 4-1 and then sweeping Lokomotiv Yaroslavl 4-0, who had eliminated top seed CSKA Moscow, making SKA's route to the final just that much easier.

SKA Saint Petersburg logo

Game 1 of the finals went the way of SKA 5-4 after a back and forth affair which saw both teams leading at times. The game was tied at 2-2 after 2 periods and SKA took a 4-3 lead with a power play goal from Patrik Hersley with 5 minutes to play. Evgeny Dadonov extended the SKA lead to two at 16:59 and Tomas Filippi's goal for Metallurg with just 11 seconds remaining was too little too late for the home side Magnitogorsk.

Game 2 in Magnitogorsk was tied at 1-1 following the first period and Vladilsav Kaletnik scored the game winning goal in the second period and Tommi Santala's goal with 1:11 remaining in the game made the final score 3-1 as Vasily Koshechkin stopped 43 of 44 SKA shots in goal for Metallurg.

Game 3 at the Ice Palace in Saint Petersburg was all about the goaltenders. After a scoreless first period where SKA held an 18-3 advantage in shots, each team had a goal in the second period, as Andrei Zubarev opened the scoring at 2:54 for SKA. Agonizingly for the home fans, Denis Kazionov tied the game with just 6 seconds left in the period for Metallurg, who had a 12-6 lead in shots during period two. Neither team scored in the third period, as SKA held the edge in shots 12-5. After a scoreless first overtime, Dadonov won the game for SKA with a goal at 12:45 of the second overtime period. Mikko Koskinen got the win in goal for Saint Petersburg after making 27 saves, while Koshechkin was the hard luck loser for Magnitogorsk after making 58 saves, 24 in the two overtimes, as his offense managed only 8.

Game 4 at the Ice Palace was 1-0 for the visitors and Magnitogorsk held their one goal leading heading into the third period as the teams traded goals in the second for a 2-1 advantage. Just 1:28 into the third it was game on when Zubarev tied the game at 2-2 and Dinar Khafizullin won it for SKA when he beat Koshechkin at the 12:05 mark. Koskinen got the win in goal for SKA as they outshout Metallurg by a wide margin once again, 50-24. The win gave Saint Petersburg a 3-1 lead in games, putting them on the brink of the championship.

Yesterday's Game 5 was back in Magnitogorsk, and what a game it was. Metallurg scored first at 8:49 on a goal by Oskar Osala. Viktor Antipin extended the Magnitogorsk lead to 2-0 at 3:56 of the second period and it appeared as if it were their night.

Then three minutes later, Nikita Gusev started the SKA comeback at 7:00. Alexander Barabanov leveled the game just 2:23 later near the game's halfway mark. Dadonov scored his 9th goal of the playoffs at 14:29 to give SKA their first lead of the night at 3-2, which was the score at the end of the second period.

Koshechkin Dadonov
SKA's Dadonov attacking Koshechkin in the Metallurg goal

SKA kept rolling in the third, as Ilya Kovalchuk scored what appeared to be a back breaker at just nine seconds for a 4-2 lead for Saint Petersburg. However, Metallurg was not going to go away easy, especially at home, and Yaroslav Kosov responded to  a mere 46 seconds later to narrow the gap to 4-3 with essentially an entire period remaining to play.

Koskinen stood tall for SKA though, making 19 saves in the period while SKA managed a mere 3 shots, one of which was an empty net goal by Sergei Plotnikov with 1:06 to play to secure the championship for Saint Petersburg 4 games to 1. Despite being on the losing side, goaltender Koshechkin was named the playoff MVP.

When the start of the 2012-13 NHL season was delayed by a lockout, Kovalchuk signed with SKA and was also named team captain. He returned to the New Jersey Devils for the shortened NHL season was the labor issues were resolved, scoring 31 points in 37 games. Then, in July of 2013, he shocked the hockey world when he retired from the NHL, walking away from the $77 million and 12 years he had remaining on his contract.

While he said his reasoning was a desire to return home to Russia with his family, many accused him of following the money, as the far lower tax rate in Russia would have resulted in an even greater total salary in his pocket.

Less than a week after his "retirement", Kovalchuk signed a four year contract with Saint Petersburg. He immediately led the team to a division championship with the third best record in the league and tied Artemi Panarin for the team lead with 40 points having played 6 less games. SKA won a playoff series but were ousted in round two.

Kovalchuk was again second to Panarin in scoring in 2014-15, with 55 points in 54 games. During the playoffs, SKA defeated Torpedo Nizhny Novgorod, Dynamo Moscow, top seed CSKA and Ak Bars to capture the historic first championship for the club that was founded back in 1946, a drought of 69 seasons! Kovalchuk was third in team playoff scoring and fourth overall. He was named the playoff MVP, but refused to accept it and passed it to teammate Dadonov.

SKA 2015 Gagarin Cup team
The 2015 Gagarin Cup champions SKA Saint Petersburg

For the 2015-16 season, Kovalchuk was once again second in scoring, only this time behind Vadim Shipachev. He had 49 points in 50 games during the regular season. While SKA advanced to the semifinals before being eliminated, Kovalchuk was limited to just four games of SKA's 15 playoff games.

This season, Kovalchuk finally led SKA in scoring. He was the only member of the roster to play in all 60 of the team's games and led the club in goals with 32 and points with 78, which was second overall in the KHL.

Saint Petersburg won the Bobrov Division and finished tied with CSKA for the most overall points during the regular season. As we documented above, SKA marched through the playoffs to win their second Gagarin Cup championship in three seasons by defeating the defending champions Magnitogorsk by playing only two games over the minimum of 16 needed to win.

SKA 2017 Gagarin Cup team
The 2016-17 Gagarin Cup champions SKA Saint Petersburg

Since leaving the NHL, Kovalchuk has played in the KHL All-Star Game all four seasons, won two Gagarin Cups and one Playoff MVP award while scoring 89 goals and 222 points in 209 games.

KHL Playoffs 2016/17

Today's featured jersey is a 2016-17 SKA Saint Petersburg Pavel Datsyuk jersey. Datsyuk played in 44 of SKA's 60 games this season, scoring 12 goals and 34 points. He was injured off and on throughout the season and was injured once more during the second round of the playoffs against Dynamo which caused him to miss the Gagarin Cup finals.

SKA Saint Petersburg 2016-17 F jersey
SKA Saint Petersburg 2016-17 B jersey

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