Friday, March 28, 2014

Hnat Domenichelli

Hnat Domenichelli is a clever little player with fantastic hockey sense. The unfortunate part of that statement is the fact that he is little.

Hnat was a scoring sensation in junior with the Kamloops Blazers. The Edmonton native was part of 4 great Blazers teams that won three Memorial Cup championships.He was a key performer on that team, especially in his last two season when he often played with Jarome Iginla.

Hnat was drafted 83rd overall by the Hartford Whalers. Despite putting up 48 points in 39 minor league games and 3 points in 13 games with the Whale, Hnat was traded at the trading deadline to the Calgary Flames in a large package of mostly lesser known players and draft picks. Veteran defenseman Steve Chaisson was the key player going to Hartford.

The Flames acquired Hnat to reunite him with Iginla. The two formed a dynamic scoring tandem and junior and the cash-strapped Flames were hoping that the two buddies would recapture some of that old Kamloops magic.

Hnat finished the 1996-97 season with the Flames but was unimpressive if not disappointing. The rookies scored 3 points in 10 games but it was apparant he wasn't quite ready for the NHL just yet.

In 1997-98 the Flames sent Hnat to their farm team where he lit up the AHL in scoring. He had 33 goals and 46 points in 48 games before getting called up on a more permanent basis with the Flames. And this time Hnat impressed the Flames with his offensive creativity. However his right winger was not Jarome Iginla, instead it was the Flames best player, Theoren Fleury.

Despite a good showing in the late going of the 1997-98 season, Hnat again found himself back playing more games in the minors than the NHL in the 1998-99 season. The reason was simple. He was very slender and easy to knock off the puck. He stands at 6' tall but only weighs around 170lbs.

Hnat, as said earlier, had tremendous hockey sense. A scorer at every level except the NHL, Hnat was a good skater though he lacked that extra gear. He did not shy away from physical contact but because of his body build he wass very ineffective in that aspect of the NHL game.

Domenichelli played 267 games in the NHL but has been in Switzerland since 2003. In 491 Swiss league games he scored 528 points including 240 goals. He also represented Switzerland at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Steve Carlson

Steve Carlson is of course most well known for his role as one of the wild Hanson brothers in the cult movie "Slapshot" from 1977, starring Paul Newman.

Steve was born and raised in Virginia, Minnesota, a town approximately 60 miles northeast of Duluth. After finishing high school Steve moved to Marquette, a prison town on Lake Superior. There he played for the Marquette Rangers (USHL) in 1973-74.

The city rink was built in 1932. In 1973 it had no Plexiglas around the boards. It had a furnace below the stands to keep people warm and a balcony around the rink for spectators. It was like going 40 years back in time.

When Steve was asked about his time in Marquette years later, he had a smile on his face.

"I got to share an apartment with three other guys", recalled Steve. "There was one bedroom. I got the couch, because I was the youngest. The ceiling was so low, you had to crouch all the time."

Steve also remembered when his team played against a state prison team that was full of the worst sort of criminals.

"The convicts weren't as rough as I thought they'd be. I was only 18 at the time, but I remember the guys watching from the stands. They made a lot of noise." said Steve.

Steve earned first All-Star team honors with the Marquette Rangers (79 pts in 42 games). Shortly thereafter he signed with the Johnston Jets (out of Pennsylvania) in the tough NAHL league. There he played 1½ years before he signed a two-year contract (worth $ 12,000 per year) early in 1976 with the Minnesota Fighting Saints of the WHA.

Not long after this Steve was approached about a role in a hockey movie called "Slapshot". Steve accepted. Together with his brother Jeff and Dave Hanson they were to portray the "Hanson brothers". Little did they know that they would become the most popular characters of the movie. Steve was on the set for three months. It was about 15 hours work a day, most of it was spent sitting around though. But Steve didn't complain since he got slightly more for the movie than he got in hockey.

Steve was actually not all that thrilled over the finished product when he saw it.

"I was embarrassed by it...when I saw myself on the screen. I was shocked, that we'd done some of those things." said Steve shortly after the release of the movie.

Back in the WHA he was signed by the New England Whalers when the Fighting Saints folded. He was then traded and claimed back and forth between several teams before coming to the Edmonton Oilers (still WHA). During one pre-season game prior to the 1978-79 season, Steve thought he was back on the movie set when he in a game against Vancouver got his head banged against the ice by tough guy Randy Holt. Luckily Steve had a helmet and escaped any injuries, but it was like a scene from Slapshot.

Steve was one of the final cuts during that 1978-79 training camp and was assigned to Springfield. But before he headed to Springfield he got a call from Oilers coach Glen Sather who told him that he was on the team again. Steve was so anxious to get back to the WHA that he refused to go to bed in case he would miss the 5 AM airline wake-up call. He played in the league opener later that day and earned an assist on a Claire Alexander goal.

The lanky center went on to score a respectable 40 points that season for the Oilers and played very well. Another center on that Oilers team was a barely 18-year old sensation named Wayne Gretzky.

Steve's only NHL action came during the 1979-80 season when he played in 52 games for the Los Angeles Kings. Although he later on signed as a free agent with Minnesota as well as Pittsburgh, he never made the last cuts in training camp. Instead he played in the CHL and AHL for many years. Steve retired in 1987 after having spent the last four years playing for the Baltimore Skipjacks in the AHL (Pittsburgh's farm team).

Although Steve didn't appear in many NHL games he will always be remembered as one of the crazy "Hanson brothers". All these years after the movie had been released Steve and the other two "Hanson's" are more popular than ever.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Torrie Robertson

Torrie Robertson was born in Victoria British Columbia on August 2, 1961. He went on to play 3 seasons with the hometown Victoria Cougars of the WHL. He played welll there, combining his rough style of play with some decent offensive capabilities. He impressed the Washington Capitals enough to take him with their 3rd choice, 55th overall in the 1980 Entry Draft.

Robertson had trouble sticking with the Caps in his 2 years in that organization. He had the ability to fight and do the rough stuff, but his skating and puck abilities were below average for an NHL player. The Caps decided to trade him away to Hartford in the summer of 1983. The caps got Greg C. Adams in return.

It was a good move for Robertson as he became a regular in Hartford for the next 5 1/2 seasons. He was primarily the team's goon, but showed a little promise in 1984-85 (11 goals, 30 assists, 337 PIM) and 1985-86 (13 goals, 24 assists, 358 PIM). However injuries limited him to just 20 games in 1986-87. By the time he returned to the lineup full time in 1987-88, his only role was as 4th line tough guy.

Robertson was traded to Detroit in exchange for Jim Pavese. In Detroit he joined names like Bob Probert and Joey Kocur, who were cult figures in Hockeytown, USA. Robertson's days were pretty much numbered since day one in Michigan. He did play in 54 games in 1 1/2 seasons before being sent to the minor leagues where he finished his career.

Robertson played in 442 NHL games before he hung up his skates. Had he been able to stick in the NHL a little while longer I have no doubt he would have become a 50 goal scorer - as it turned out he retired with 49 career goals. He also had 99 assists for 148 points to go with his 1751 PIM.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Ron Francis

Very quietly Ron Francis was one of the best centers in the history of the National Hockey League history. He finished his career with 549 goals, 1249 assists (2nd best of all time) and 1798 points (4th best). He won two Stanley Cups, three Lady Byng trophies, a Selke trophy and a Clancy trophy.

Yet somehow he was always hockey's best kept secret. He was never named to an All Star team, never played for Team Canada, and never mentioned in the same breathe as the game's top centers of his era such as Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux, Steve Yzerman, Mark Messier or Joe Sakic.

Picked fourth overall by Hartford in the 1981 Entry Draft, Ron excelled for years in relative obscurity with the Hartford Whalers. For almost a decade Francis was the Hartford Whalers. He was their leading offensive threat while also being their top checker. He was their specialty teams specialist, face-off specialist and most importantly he was their leader.

Francis, like Gretzky, thought the game better than most. He somehow exceeded the sum of his parts. He was a choppy skater, deceptively quick but not pretty to watch. He had good size and used it effective, but was anything but imposing. He was never a dazzling or charismatic player, just a greatly efficient one.

Francis, a cousin of Whalers goalie Mike Liut, played 10 seasons in Hartford, receiving the team's MVP honors four times and leading the team in scoring five times and in assists seven times. He is the Whalers all-time NHL leader in goals (264), assists (557), points (821) and games played (714).

Even though the Whalers never found much playoff success and relations were crumbling, it was still a surprise when later in his career Francis was traded in a blockbuster deal to the Pittsburgh Penguins. Negotiations over a new contract were at a stalemate, and relations between the franchise and its key player were fragmenting. The Whalers even went as low as to strip Francis, universally hailed as one of the greatest leaders in the game, of the team captaincy.

Ron immediately had an impact in Pittsburgh. Francis played a huge part in helping the Penguins win back-to-back Stanley Cup championships, in 1991 and 1992. While continuing to be a top defensive center man, Ron enjoyed his finest scoring season in Pittsburgh. In 1995-96 he was often moved on to left wing with Mario Lemieux and Jaromir Jagr. Francis would score 27 goals and lead the league with 92 assists for 119 points.

Francis became the glue of a very talented Pittsburgh Penguins team. Playing in the huge shadows of scoring sensations Mario Lemieux and Jaromir Jagr, it was Francis' defensive contributions and quiet offensive genius that was the missing ingredient in Pittsburgh. The Pens' two Stanley Cup victories were largely, but typically quietly, due to Ron Francis.

In 1998-99 Ron Francis returned to his roots, sort of. He rejoined the Whalers franchise, long since moved to Carolina where it was known as the Hurricanes. He was a big part of the growth of the NHL in a hockey-sparse locale. His best season came in 2002 when he scored 77 points and led the surprising WhalerCanes to the Eastern Conference championships.

After a brief stop in Toronto, Francis announced his retirement in the summer of 2005. He expanded his WhalerCanes franchise marks to 16 seasons, 1,186 games, 382 goals, 793 assists and 1,185 points. His career marks were 549 goals, 1249 assists (2nd best of all time) and 1798 points (4th best of all time).

Pat Verbeek

Would you believe me if I told you there was a hockey player who scored 522 career goals, scored nearly 1,100 career points, earned 2,905 penalty minutes, hoisted the Stanley Cup, and has one of the coolest nicknames of all time, but he's not likely to make it to the Hockey Hall of Fame any time soon.

Well that's exactly the situation Pat Verbeek, known to Rangers fans as "The Little Ball of Hate," finds himself in.

No one ever considers Verbeek in the Hall of Fame debates even though he achieved lofty career goal and point scoring levels in a 19 year career. That's partly because he played with a lot of bad teams and partly because the 500 goal plateau has been devalued in recent years.

It is also because never was Verbeek an all star, a trophy winner, or an elite player in any season. What he was was a very durable and consistent performer who always gave his all.

At just 5'9" and 195lbs, Verbeek was a stocky sparkplug who never let his lack of size effect his play in the NHL. In fact, he was one of most ornery and most effective physical players in his era. He was a kamikaze hitter and a real irritant, often drawing many penalties. Though he was rugged and strong, he always played the game on the edge and was prone to taking bad penalties himself.

There was no big secret to Verbeek's finesse game. His shot was the key to his attack, as it was both deadly accurate and quickly released. Almost all of his goals came somewhere near the goal crease. A miniature version of Phil Esposito or Tim Kerr, the pint sized Verbeek was always crashing the crease with great zeal, picking up garbage goal after garbage goal.

Though he had to rely on others to get the puck to him, he was a consistent and reliable scoring threat. Eight times he scored over 30 goals, including 46, 44, 43 and 41 goal seasons.

He was never elegant, but it all adds up to a 522 goal career. But amazingly, Verbeek's career almost ended before it took off.

In the summer of 1985, Verbeek was looking forward to his third NHL season but still had yet to establish himself as a goal scoring threat. His destiny as such seemed almost certainly ruined in a bizarre farming accident. While working a corn-planting machine on his Ontario farm, Verbeek sliced off his thumb and badly lacerated three other fingers. With his brother's help, Verbeek was rushed to the nearest hospital some 20 miles away in Sarnia, but they did not bring the severed portion of the thumb with them. They had to rely on their father to find the thumb and bring it in time for successful 6 hour reattachment surgery. All of this happened in mid May, and through intensive rehabilitation Verbeek was fully recovered by August. He never experienced any detriment to his hockey career.

Kevin Dineen

Kevin Dineen has lived in virtually every corner of North America living hockey.

Born in Quebec City during the years when his father was playing for the local AHL team, his only childhood home was the local rink in whatever minor league city his father was located to coach, though he spent much of his childhood in Seattle. After a junior stop in Toronto, a college stop in Denver, barnstorming tours with the Canadian Olympic team and finally the NHL where he is best remembered as the heart of the Hartford Whalers, Dineen is now following his father's footsteps and coaching in the minor leagues.

Not surprisingly, Dineen has had great success, and one would have to think a spot behind a NHL bench isn't far behind. What is his secret to his success? He expects and demands from his players exactly what he brought to the ice when he played - 100% effort.

Dineen was a special player. He thoroughly understood the game of hockey, an obvious coach's son. He was extremely rugged despite average size. He was as fearless as he was tough, working the wall and rolling out of corners with tenacity. He battled NHL warriors much bigger than he, even though he suffered from Crohn's Disease.

But he combined guts and desire with underrated skill. His skating was excellent. His strong legs gave him great acceleration and speed. But he also was blessed with incredible balance and agility on his skates. That talent aided him in the physical game because he would rarely be knocked off the puck, but also in the offensive game with his surprising ability to get open.

Once he was open, usually from a soft pass from the great Ron Francis, he had strong shooting instincts. He practiced religiously to get his shot off quickly. With his shoot first mentality, Dineen scored 355 goals in his career, including a career best 45 in 1988-89.

Best remembered as a Whaler, Dineen scored the last goal in Whaler history and the first goal in Carolina Hurricanes history. But most Whaler/Canes fans will remember his overtime goal in game 6 of the Adams Division Final in 1986 that forced game 7 in a memorable playoff series that was eventually won by Montreal.

Dineen also played a number of years in Ottawa and Columbus, but his favorite non-Hartford/Carolina memories must have come in Philadelphia where he had the opportunity to work under his father, the newly hired coach of the Flyers. He would later captain the team.

Because of his skating and disciplined physical play, Dineen was also a regular with Team Canada. Throughout his career Dineen represented Canada at the 1984 Olympic Winter Games in Sarjevo and again in 1985 at the World Championships where the team won a silver medal. He was also a member of that magical Team Canada that beat the Soviets in the 1987 Canada Cup tournament.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Dave Tippett

A collegiate champion, Olympic silver medalist, and NHL coach of the year, Dave Tippett is a man used to leadership and coaching success.
A native of Moosomin, Saskatchewan, the left wing played for the Prince Albert Raiders before heading south to play collegiate hockey. Between 1979 and 1981, Tippett was an offensive standout helping the Raiders win the Century Cup in 1981.
Tippett then notched 28 goals, 59 assists and 87 points in his two years at the University of North Dakota. As captain, he helped lead a squad full of future NHLers to both the MacNaughton Cup (regular season championship) and the NCAA championship in 1982.
Despite his record, Tippett was overlooked in the NHL draft.  Instead, he played a full season with Dave King's national team and was chosen as Team Canada's captain at the 1984 Winter Olympics in Sarajevo. While the team did not win a medal that year, Tippett was finally able to catch the attention of the NHL, signing with the Hartford Whalers. He immediately played the last 17 games of the 1983-84 season.
While unable to become an offensive leader at the NHL level, over the next six years in Hartford Tippett built a reputation as a solid defensive winger who could contribute a handful of goals and assists. His efforts did not go unnoticed by the team, as he was named alternate captain, and earned Community Service, Unsung Hero, Mr. Hustle, and Best Defensive Forward awards.
In 1990, he was traded to the Washington Capitals, where he spent another two years as a steady third and fourth line wing.
Chosen to represent Canada again at the 1994 Albertville Olympics, he came home with a silver medal. Tippett then spent just two more years in the NHL, signing one-year deals with first the Penguins, then the Flyers.  In 1994, he moved to the IHL Houston Aeros, first as a player/coach, and then as head coach.
Taking a cue from his old UND coach Gino Gasparini, from 1995-1999, Tippett built a reputation as a coach with tremendous work ethic. He coached the Aeros to two 50 win seasons, and in 1999 he coached the team to the Turner Cup Championship.  That year he was also awarded IHL Coach of the Year.
Tippett's next stop was LA, where he became an assistant coach for the LA Kings. During his time in LA, the Kings make postseason appearances all three seasons. Prior to this, they made the postseason only once in the previous six years.
On May 16, 2002, Tippett was named head coach of the Dallas Stars.  In his first season in Dallas, the team posted the best record in the Western Division and second-best record in the league on their way to capturing the division title.  Tippett also earned the fourth highest point total for a rookie coach with 111 points.
In six years of coaching the Stars, his teams won two Pacific Division titles (2002-03 and 2005-06), made five postseason appearances and one Western Conference final appearance (2008).
On September 24, 2009, Tippet was named head coach of the Phoenix Coyotes just hours after Wayne Gretzky stepped down.  Under his guidance, the team finally earned their first 50 win season (in Jets/Coyotes history) en route to their first playoff berth since 20002. After a hard-fought series, the Coyotes were eliminated in seven games by the Detroit Red Wings. For his efforts in turning the Coyotes into a successful team, Tippett was named Jack Adams coach of the year.
Despite the uncertain circumstances in Phoenix Tippett remains one of the most highly regarded coaches in the game.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Bobby Crawford

Belleville, Ontario's Crawford family is quite the success story. Father Floyd, a former minor league player and coach, raised four sons to play professional hockey. Marc you probably know about, but more for his NHL coaching career than his 176 NHL game playing career. Lou was a long time minor league player who got a couple stints in the big leagues, totaling 26 games. Pete never made it to the big leagues.

And then there is Bobby Crawford, who exploded for a 36 goal NHL season in 1983-84 with the Hartford Whalers, but otherwise, like his brothers and father, was a minor league sensation, too.

Like younger brother Marc, Bobby starred with the Cornwall Royals in junior hockey. The two played together in Bobby's last junior season, 1978-79. By that time Bobby set a high standard with a storied junior career that included 121 and 132 point seasons.

The St. Louis blues drafted the small but fiesty forward 65th overall in 1979, but aside from 30 sporadic games over the next 4 seasons he was buried in the minor leagues. Crawford made the best of those days on the bus. He was an all star forward and helped the Salt Lake Golden Eagles capture two Central Hockey League championships.

The Blues left Crawford unprotected in the waiver draft just prior to the start of the 1983-84 season. The Whalers were quick to pick up three St. Louis players in that draft - Mike Crombeen, Mike Zuke and Crawford.

Crawford found a home on the right side of center Greg Malone and left winger Torrie Robertson. Crawford was a shooter, and Malone a playmaker, so it was a good fit. Crawford scored 36 goals and 61 points. Sylvain Turgeon was the only Whaler to score more goals, with 40.

Crawford's success was short lived. His offense dried up some the following season, scoring 14 goals in 45 games before a bad knee injury ended his season. He returned in 1985-86 to score another 14 goals, this time in 57 games, but his role as an offensive marksman with the Whalers was lost.

Crawford tried hanging on to a NHL role as a 4th liner, first in Hartford and with the New York Rangers and Washington Capitals. He played with zest and speed, but did not have the strength to excel in the plugger role. He also was not particularly solid defensively.  It was a fairly short experiment. Crawford would finish his career playing in Germany.

In 246 NHL games Bobby Crawford scored 71 goals and 71 assists for 142 points. He added one lone assist in 11 playoff games.

In retirement Crawford returned to Connecticut and founded the Connecticut Clippers Jr. B team.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Adam Burt

Adam Burt was one of those many defensemen who were quietly reliable - but never spectacular - night in and night out during his 737 NHL game career. As a result, history is likely to all but forget about him.

Born in Detroit, Michigan. He grew up as a rink rat as his father worked at the Olympia Arena. Burt learned to skate on the same ice his idol skated on for so many years - Gordie Howe.

Burt crossed the border into Ontario to play junior hockey for the North Bay Centennials of the OHL. In 1987 he was drafted 39th overall by the Hartford Whalers in the NHL Entry Draft.

Big Burt would become a mainstay with the organization, following the team to Carolina as part of the franchise's location. As he matured into a NHL regular he became a coach's favorite because he was always consistent and enthusiastic. As a veteran coaches would often pair Burt with the newcomers.

Despite his size he was not a notably strong or aggressive player. Instead he was a heady defender, using his smarts as an excellent one-on-one defender. He had a very active stick, often poking away the puck from the attacker. He made smart, safe outlet passes but rarely rushed the puck out of the zone as his foot speed was only average.

Offensively Burt offered little, though he was shoe-horned into a second power play unit role due to a lack of depth in Hartford. He more or less was there to hold the blue line and fire from the point, although once in a while he would surprise everyone with a sneak into slot for a one timer.

Also briefly playing with Philadelphia and Atlanta late in his career, Adam Burt scored 37 goals, 115 assists and 152 points while accumulating 961 PIMs in 737 career games. He added a lonely assist in 21 playoff contests.

According to Wikipedia, in his post-hockey life Burt became a noted born-again Christian, serveing on the pastoral staff of Morning Star New York in Manhattan, New York.  He also work with a sports ministry out of Austin, Texas called Champions for Christ.

His journey with God began as an 11 year old, although it was not until he was drafted in 1987 that he fully committed to the Lord. And he fully believes the Lord helped him become a NHL player.

"[God] taught me how to practice," explained Burt to Living Light News Online. He quotes Colossians 3:23 - "'Whatever you do, do it heartily as unto the Lord and not unto man.' Even when my coach wasn't looking at me I was busting hard and not just going through the motions, because God was watching me."

God may have helped him achieve his dream of playing in the NHL, but Burt believes God has bigger plans for him.

"I really feel like my whole life has been gearing up to this point," says Burt. "I want people to know that Jesus is alive and well. He's got a great plan for their life, a destiny, a calling."

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Rick Ley

Rick Ley might be best known as Pat Quinn's assistant coach during the 1994 Stanley Cup run and then the man who replaced Quinn the following season where he remained as Canucks bench boss until game 73 of the 1996 season. A great friend of Quinn's, Ley was hired later by Quinn to join his coaching staff when he joined the Toronto Maple Leafs

Ley also had been a successful coach at the minor league level prior to joining the Canucks, and before that he was a star defenseman with the World Hockey Association's New England Whalers. How good was he in those wild and crazy days of the WHA? Ley's number 2 hangs high in the rafters of the old Hartford Civic Center right beside Gordie Howe's #9. He was a solid NHL defenseman for 310 games, but was a WHA standout for almost 500 contests!

Born in Orillia, Ontario, Ley was a star with the OHA junior team - the Niagara Falls Flyers. In 4 years at Niagara Falls, Ley twice lifted the Memorial Cup. His first championship (1965) came in his rookie year but he soon became the team's best player and leader. He was captain of the 1968 championship team. That was quite a feat considering some of his teammates included the likes of Bernie Parent, Bill Goldsworthy, Gilles Marotte, Derek Sanderson and Don Marcotte!

Ley was drafted 16th overall by the Toronto Maple Leafs in 1966, and aside from 19 games in the minors in his rookie season was a regular on the Leafs defense starting in 1969. However he was never able to quite establish himself as the star defenseman like he did in junior.

After 4 years with the Leafs, Ley jumped ship to the rival league - the WHA. He signed on with the New England Whalers. He would stay with the organization throughout the entire history of the team in the WHA, and joined the team once they merged with the NHL.

Ley was a star in the WHA. As in his junior days, Ley's statistics were not as impressive as many, but his play was. He was a constant threat to win the WHA's trophy for best defenseman (Dennis A. Murphy Trophy), though he would only capture that title once - the WHA's last season of 1978-79.

"If every coach could instill Rick Ley's desire in all of his players he would fill arenas everywhere and acquire a taste for champagne in the spring" wrote famed hockey writer Zander Hollander of Ley.

Every once in a while Ley's exuberance would get him into trouble. Once such incident unfortunately scars Ley's career and one of the top international hockey events ever - the 1974 WHA-Soviet Summit Series.
Following the conclusion of the 1972 Summit Series, there was a definite yearning for another showdown between the Soviet's best and Canada's best. The NHL wasn't prepared to undergo such an undertaking. The WHA, ever the opportunist and desperate for the marketing exposure, was.

Another September, another 8 game series between the Red Army and the best Canadian born WHAers. Standing beside the grand old names of hockey like Gordie Howe and Bobby Hull, was Rick Ley. Ley's job was simple. To maximize his aggressive style of defense in order to intimidate the great Valeri Kharlamov, arguably the greatest of the Soviet forwards.

The first 5 games featured many smaller clashes and confrontations between the mean-tempered Ley and the slick skating Kharlamov, who also had a bit of a mean streak. However by game 6 the Soviets had a commanding lead in the series, and Canada had become frustrated and lost its composure. No one more so than Rick Ley.

Game 6 will forever be remembered for Ley's cheap and dirty play. The game was played in Moscow's Luzhniki Ice Palace, as in the 1972 Summit Series. The Soviets had the game decided long before the final whistle as they took advantage of many power play opportunities to score a 5-2 victory. With less than a minute to play in the third period, the animosity between Ley and Kharlamov intensified. Kharlamov reportedly poked at Ley and mockingly looked at him. This triggered Ley's temper. Ley dropped the gloves and immediately started pounding on the Soviet's star player. Kharlamov had never likely been in a fight before, as it simply wasn't part of Soviet hockey.

With Ley's 40 pound weight advantage, Kharlamov was left laying on ice that was redder than his jersey.

Fan reaction was outrage, in both the Soviet Union and Canada. Canadians were ashamed of Ley's lack of sportsmanship. The Soviets threatened to pull out of the tournament because of this, and even worse, called for Ley to be jailed. Remember, this game was played in Moscow during the height of the cold war.

The next day Ley came to his senses and tracked down Valeri Kharlamov and apologized to him in person. Kharlamov reportedly responded by saying "Its okay, these things happen between hockey players."

The Soviets would go on to win the series against the oldtimers of the WHA. The seventh and clinching game for the Russians was marred with controversy of a completely different sort. With the game tied at 4, Bobby Hull, the Golden Jet, scored at the buzzer. The referee did not count the goal, and replays would prove his call to be the right one.

All told, Ley played in 310 NHL games, scoring 12 goals and 84 points. He had more success in the WHA, where he played in 478 showdowns, scoring 35 goals, 210 assists and 245 points.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Stew Gavin

Stew Gavin was an aggressive checking utility forward who could play either wing. An unsung - and often unnoticed - hero, Stew was a valuable member of 3 NHL teams over his career. His biggest asset was his skating ability. His superior speed combined with good anticipation earned him a 13 years as a valuable checker, penalty killer and playoff warrior.

Stew was drafted 75th overall by the Toronto Maple Leafs in the 1980 Entry Draft after three seasons with the Toronto Marlboros.

Gavin split his first pro season in 1980-81 between the Maple Leafs and New Brunswick of the American Hockey League. That season he went all the way to the AHL playoff championship with New Brunswick. Stew graduated to the NHL club on a full-time basis in 1981-82 and he played five seasons with the Leafs organization. Those 5 seasons were pretty bad times for the Leafs, who struggled immensly.

Prior to the 1985-86 campaign Stew was traded to the Hartford Whalers in exchange for Chris Kotsopoulos. It was in his first season with the Whalers that Gavin produced his best offensive season with 26 goals, 29 assists and 55 points. He spent three seasons in Hartford recording a second 20-goal campaign in 1986-87 while also being awarded Hartford's Unsung Hero Trophy in 1986.

In 1988, Gavin became a member of the Minnesota North Stars. He spent five years in Minnesota where he was named the North Stars 1988-89 Choice Player of the Year, voted by team management and media. He was also played a big role in helping the Stars reach the Stanley Cup Finals in 1991.

Stew finished his career in 1993 with Minnesota with career totals of 130 goals, 155 assists and 285 points in 768 regular season games while adding 34 points in 66 playoff contests.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Corrie D'Alessio

Cornwall Ontario's Corrie D'Alessio took advantage of a full US Scholarship to play for Cornell University, a school not known for its hockey but had produced NHLers Ken Dryden and Brian Hayward. While the next coming of Ken Dryden he was not, he impressed the Vancouver Canucks' Brian Burke enough to convince Pat Quinn to select him with the 107th overall pick in the 1988 Entry Draft. Burke was in charge of player development and scouting at the time.

D'Alessio would graduate in 1991. His collegiate hockey career included 48 wins, 36 losses and 6 ties in a school record 94 games. D'Alessio went to the Canucks training camp but knew he would start the year with their affiliate team in Milwaukee. He struggled to a 9-14-2 record with a 4.01 GAA.

The off season saw Brian Burke leave his post as the Canucks director of player development to become the General Manager with the Hartford Whalers. One of the first moves Burke had to make was to move unhappy backup goalie Kay Whitmore. He sent him to his old team, the Canucks, in exchange for D'Alessio and future considerations. Burke described D'Alessio as "a really good kid."

While D'Alessio spent most of his season with the Whalers' AHL affiliate, he did get his only taste of NHL action when he replaced starter Sean Burke. D'Alessio played 11 minutes, making 3 saves while not letting in a single goal.

D'Alessio struggles in the minor leagues led to an early retirment for Corrie. He hung them up in 1994 and turned to the corporate world.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Greg Carroll

Playing on a line with Morris Lukowich and Don Murdoch, Greg Carroll had a spectacular junior career with the Medicine Hat Tigers where he scored a fine 171 points (60 goals and 111 assists) in just 71 games during his sophmore season in 1975-76. That great junior season convinced the Washington Capitals to select him in the 1st round, 15th overall in 1976, ahead of players like Brian Sutter, Reed Larson and Randy Carlyle.

The Cincinnati Stingers of the rival WHA also selected him in their amateur draft, and that's where he signed. His pro rookie season for the Stingers was pretty good as he collected a fine 54 points (15 goals and 39 assists) in 77 games. Then his WHA career turned into a game of ping pong, bouncing between the Stingers and the New England Whalers until his release in September, 1978.

The Washington Capitals, one of the 1970s most dreadful hockey teams, signed Carroll, desperate for help. He would compete half a season in the American capital before being traded to Detroit. The next year he returned to the Whalers, now known as Hartford and as part of the NHL. He scored 13 goals and 32 points, but remained a disappointing player given his promise.

It turned out Greg Carroll had some serious off ice concerns that must have hampered his dedication to the game.

In the summer of 1980 Greg was arrested together with 20 other persons in a series of raids by drug squad detectives who had been attempting to break up cocaine rings in Edmonton. The police netted more than $500,000 worth of cocaine. Greg was released on bail but had to do time in jail on a charge of possessing narcotics for the purpose of trafficking.

Because of this stupid act Greg's career was all over at only 23. He may have had plenty of solid NHL seasons ahead of him that he just wasted.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Geoff Sanderson

Geoff Sanderson was a bit of a funny case. He was blessed with amazing speed and had a nose for the net. Six times in he scored over 30 goals in a season, topping out at 46 goals in 1992-93. At the top of his game Sanderson could be compared to a poor man's Mike Gartner.

The problem was Sanderson was not always on the top of his game.

He relied on full-out speed to drive wide on  a defenseman, either driving straight to the net or backing the defenseman enough to fire away. Sanderson liked to shoot as often as possible, and he had an excellent release. On the power play he liked to set up on his off wing for one-timers.

For all his years in the NHL, Sanderson never seemed to learn how to make better use of his speed. He went full out, but rarely used various gears to really throw off defenses. As a result he was a bit predictable. Especially in tight checking games where his speed was neutralized. The wiry Sanderson was not nearly as effective in such games, as he did not have the muscle or the temperament to battle through.

In fairness, Sanderson, much like Tony Tanti in his prime, never really had a lot of help from his teammates. He had few elite teammates to help him achieve more. With his speed and shot he should he could have been a 50 goal scorer on stronger teams.

Sanderson, one of the rare NHL players born in the Northwest Territories, was drafted 36th overall by the Hartford Whalers in the 1990 NHL draft. Playing alongside playmaker Andrew Cassels he became a very good goal scorer in six seasons in Hartford before he and the whole franchise transfered to Carolina.

Sanderson only lasted half a season in Carolina before being traded to the Vancouver Canucks. Mike Keenan, known as a tyrant of a coach by many players, did not take to Sanderson well and after just nine scoreless games he was moved to Buffalo.

Sanderson struggled through a couple of seasons in Buffalo and his career seemed all but over. The Columbus Blue Jackets picked up the veteran speedster in the 2000 Expansion Draft, reviving his career. Twice more Sanderson would top 30 goals.

After 4 seasons in Columbus Sanderson returned to his vagabond ways to end his career, playing short stints in Vancouver, Phoenix, Philadelphia and Edmonton.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Warren Miller

Warren Miller was one of hundreds - even thousands - of unheralded role players in National Hockey League history. He went about his job with a great deal of effort but little fanfare.

"I know what my job is" said Miller. "I'm not known as a scorer, but if I get the ice time, I'll get 20 goals or so. Plus I'll do the other things."

Those other things were what Miller did most. A honest NHL laborer, Miller was best known for checking the opposition, either by shadowing his man or by applying a determined forecheck. He worked doggedly to get the puck away from the opposition, only to fire into the opposition's zone and then quickly change on the fly, so that a more offensive player could retrieve it and hopefully create a scoring opportunity.

Miller was selected by the New York Rangers in the 1974 NHL entry draft. He wasn't much of a prospect at that time, as suggested by his 21st round, 241st overall selection. Miller opted to stay at the University of Minnesota rather than take his chances at the pro level. That turned out to be the best thing Warren Miller ever did for his hockey career, as he blossomed over the next three years, as he aided his squad to 2 NCAA championships, and one runner up!

In the spring of 1976 he opted to join the Calgary Cowboys of the WHA rather than the Rangers. He spent three seasons in the rebel league, bouncing around with Calgary, Edmonton, and Quebec before finally finding his niche with the New England Whalers.

Unfortunately for Miller, the WHA collapsed following that 1978-79 season. The Whalers joined the NHL but most of their players were dispersed back to teams that originally owned their NHL rights. Miller finally moved to New York City.

His stay in New York was not a good one.

"(It) was really a wasted year for me," he said. "I was disappointed in my ice time. I'd get the odd shift here and there, but that was about it. When you're used like that, people become skeptical."

In the off season the Whalers, led by coach Don Blackburn, inquired about his services. They came to an agreement that saw an undisclosed amount of cash go to the Big Apple in exchange for Miller.

"Warren Miller is golden," exclaimed an elated Blackburn at the time. "He can play for me any day. We can always find a spot for a player like him."

Despite not being used much in New York, Miller made a good impression on his coach, the legendary Fred Shero.

"I was talking to Freddie Shero one time about Miller," continued Blackburn. "He said that there were days that he didn't feel like going to practice. That the team was down and so was he. But there was one guy he could count on, one guy who would always be going, even in practice. Miller, Freddie said. Just watching him work made Shero's whole day!"

Miller was equally happy to return to Hartford, and be reunited with Blackburn.

"Blackie has always shown a lot of confidence in me. That helps quite a bit. I think that management wanted me to get at least 20 goals. I knew I could if got to play." Miller said.

And that's exactly what happened. Miller got to play regularly on the Whalers third line, which was generally a checking line. He also was a regular on the penalty killer unit. With the extra ice time Miller scored 22 goals and a like number of assists in 77 games. 3 of Miller's goals came in one game against the Philadelphia Flyers.
Miller gave a lot credit for his success to coach Blackburn, but also to his hockey gloves.

"I found an old pair of gloves at the practice rink. They're torn and loose, but they feel great. I think that I'm handling the puck better, I mean, I can feel the stick in my hands."

Miller finished that 1980-81 season with a strong performance at the World Championships, as his Whalers missed the playoffs. Miller scored 3 goals and 5 points, as he utilized his speed on the bigger ice surface to perfection.

The 1981-82 season started off with great promise for Miller. He was named to Team USA at the second Canada Cup tournament. He continued his great work ethic, and was rewarded with 2 goals there.

But back in Hartford, things were not looking as bright. Coach Blackburn was fired late in the previous season. How would a new coach alter Miller's ice time? Larry Pleau answered that question by reducing it unfortunately, and Miller's production slipped. He still played in 74 games and was a regular, but he scored only 10 goals and 22 points.

That was a tough year for Miller, but nowhere near as tough as 1982-83 would prove to be. He struggle with his confidence all year long. He was in and out of the lineup, and ended up scoring just 1 goal and 10 assists in 56 contests. That proved to be Miller's last season in the National Hockey League.

While the flashy players always get the headlines, its the hard working skaters who do the "other things" that are the soul of hockey. Skaters like Warren Miller.

Tom Martin

Tom Martin appeared in 92 NHL contests and played pro hockey for 7 years. But his biggest claim to fame occurred in junior hockey. In January of 1983 the Seattle Breakers of the Western Hockey League traded the young left winger to the Victoria Cougars in exchange for a used bus.

"It might have been the best deal I ever made" joked Seattle's owner, John Hamilton.

"I heard the bus was a really nice one" said Martin, a couple of years later.

Martin was playing in his hometown of Kelowna, British Columbia when the Winnipeg Jets took him 74th overall in the 1982 entry draft. The following season the 6'2" 200lb tough guy actually joined the University of Denver but dropped out to focus strictly on hockey and jumping to the Western Hockey League. He joined Victoria in 1983 and went on to score 30 goals and 75 points as an over-aged junior. He also added 261 penalty minutes.

The following three seasons Martin spent primarily in the American Hockey League. He appeared in 24 games with the Jets in those three years, scoring twice and accumulating 91 penalty minutes But Martin's third pro season was cut short by injuries. The injuries were a big enough concern for the Jets to allow Martin to walk away as a free agent to Hartford.

Despite scoring 1 goal and 2 assists in just 5 games with the Whalers in 1987-88, he was quickly sent back down to the American league where he had his best season as a pro. He accumulated 28 goals and 61 assists for 89 points along with 344 penalty minutes. Martin was named an AHL First All Star.

Martin's season impressed the Minnesota North Stars enough to claim him on waivers early in the 1988-89 season. However Hartford quickly claimed him back on waivers when Minnesota tried to demote the winger to the minors. Martin finished the season in Hartford for his only full season in the NHL. Martin scored a career high 7 goals and 13 points in 38 games.

Martin split the following season with the Hartford Whalers and their AHL affiliate in Binghamton. However Martin was unable to rediscover his all star form of a couple of years ago and struggled.

Martin signed with the LA Kings in 1990 but only played 22 games with their AHL affiliate before suffering a career ending injury.

In all, Martin played 92 NHL games while scoring 12 times and assisting on 11 others for 23 points. He also added 249 penalty minutes. He was held pointless in 4 playoff games.

But he will always be remembered as the player who was traded for a used bus.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Steve Chiasson

On May 2nd, 1999 the Boston Bruins scored a 2-0 win to knock out the Carolina Hurricanes from the Stanley Cup playoffs. Just hours later, 'Canes defenseman Steve Chiasson was killed when he was thrown from his pickup truck in a one-vehicle accident. He was just 32 years old. Chiasson is survived by wife Susan, sons Michael and Ryan and daughter Stephanie.

The Hurricanes had just arrived in Raleigh on their charter flight from Boston. A number of players went to directly to a party hosted by teammate Gary Roberts. After a couple of hours there, Chiasson decided to go home. Since he just lived nearby, he thought he'd get into his truck and drive home early in the morning. A couple of teammates attempted to stop him, including Kevin Dineen. Chiasson wouldn't share a cab with his close friend, or wait to catch a ride with Ron Francis who lived on the same block as Chiasson.

Chiasson's 1996 Chevrolet pickup truck went off the right side of the road and then veered back over the left and flipped, ejecting him from the vehicle. The ejection was an indication Chiasson was not wearing a seat belt. Preliminary investigations, based on evidence at the scene and interviews with those who earlier had been with Chiasson, indicated alcohol and speed were factors in the fatal accident.

''This is a terrible tragedy,'' NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said. ''When a young life ends prematurely, when a young family loses a husband and father, words cannot begin to express our sorrow. Our thoughts and our prayers are with Steve's wife, Susan, and their three children.''

'Canes GM Jimmy Rutherford said ''He was not the designated captain, but was understood as being an honorary captain. He was the kind of guy everybody wanted to be around, certainly a big member with his teammates and a real ordinary guy that loved the game of hockey and loved the people around him.''

A native of Barrie Ontario, Chiasson was a solid defenseman who was good at everything though did nothing spectacularly, although he had a booming shot.. He was a good skater who over came a choppy stride. He was positionally solid who was calm under fire. A competitive warrior, he often played hurt. A top four d-man on just about any team in the league, Chiasson was at his best when he was cast as the #3 or #4 blueliner.

Steve was drafted by the Detroit Red Wings 50th overall in the 1985 Entry Draft. The following year Steve was returned to his junior team - the Guelph Platers. It was a season to remember for Chiasson, as he guided the Platers to the Memorial Cup championships where he was named the Stafford Smythe Memorial Trophy as the tournament's most valuable player.

In 1986-87, Chiasson made the Red Wings but was used sparingly. He appeared in limited ice time in 45 games, scoring 1 goal and 4 assists. For Chiasson it was an apprenticeship more than anything. His apprenticeship continued the following season, when he appeared in 29 games. He also saw 23 games in the minors as the Wings sent him down to get some playing experience. Part of the reason of Steve's failure to play more in his first two years was a lack of maturity, both physical and emotional. He also lacked the conditioning to be a big time NHLer.

By 1988-89 Chiasson's apprenticeship had been completed, and he showed that he learned his many lessons. He excelled in 65 games, scoring 12 goals and 35 points for 47 points.

That was just the beginning for Steve. For the next 5 seasons he was arguably Detroit's best defenseman. Here's a quick rundown on the 5 seasons.

1989-90 - scored a career-high 14 goals leading all Detroit defensemen in scoring with 42 points (14g, 28a)

1990-91 - an injury plagued season saw Steve play in just 42 games and scoring 3 goals, 20 points.

1991-92 - rebounded from serious injuries to post a strong season - 10 goals, 34 points and a career high +22.

1992-93 - Steve's best offensive season with 12 goals and 50 assists for 62 points. Steve's great play was rewarded with his only All Star game appearance.

After that incredible 1992-93, Steve came back to reality a bit in 1993-94. He scored 13 goals and 46 points while continuing his strong two way play.

While the Red Wings were developing into a strong Cup contender, they felt they lacked a proven goaltender. On June 29, 1994, the Wings got their veteran in Mike Vernon from Calgary. Unfortunately for Steve, it was him who was sacrificed in order to get Vernon. While the Wings would go on to be the class of the NHL in the late 1990s, Chiasson played in relative obscurity in Calgary for 2 years, and later with Hartford/Carolina.

Chiasson's offensive exploits all but dwindled since his days with the Red Wings. But don't think that Chiasson wasn't a valuable member on the blueline. He was a rock steady performer that any team in the league would have liked to have had on their side.

The Hartford Whalers traded for Chiasson, on March 5, 1997, a deal that brought immediate dividends to the club. In his very first game as a Whaler, Chiasson scored a goal was voted the game's number one star. He finished the year as an integral part in Team Canada's gold medal-winning performance at the 1997 World Championships in Finland, contributing three assists at the tournament.

In 1997-98, Chiasson produced another solid season, notching 34 points in 66 games with the Carolina Hurricanes. He led all 'Canes defenseman in scoring.

Chiasson was limited to 28 games due to a shoulder injury in 1998-99, managing to produce nine points and a plus-seven mark. He was also one of Carolina's most productive players in their very first post-season action, contributing three points in six playoff games.

In 751 career games, Chiasson scored 93 goals and added 305 assists.

''This morning we lost one of our teammates, but more importantly, a friend,'' teammate Glen Wesley said. ''We'll all miss him.''

Friday, December 10, 2010

Brian Glynn

Brian was one of the few NHLers born in Germany, though he grew up in Western Canada. The gigantic defenseman spent three years in Saskatoon in the WHL where he impressed scouts with his stay-at-home defensive play and decent mobility for such a gigantic player.

Drafted 37th overall by the Calgary Flames in 1986, Glynn turned pro in 1987-88. He played well while being spotted in and out of the lineup as he apprenticed in the NHL.

Glynn took a step backwards the next two years. He spent most of his time in the minors. In 1989-90 he was named as the IHL's best defenseman as he scored 17 goals and 61 points and accumulated 164 penalty minutes!

The Flames moved Glynn to Minnesota early in the 1990-91 season in exchange for cagey veteran Frank Musil. It was a good move for Glynn, who would immediately get a chance to play. However he was never able to show what he showed in the minors, and soon fell out of favor in Minnesota.

The Edmonton Oilers picked up the journeyman partway through the 1991-92 season but lost him to Ottawa in the 1994 expansion draft. Glynn's confidence reached an all time low in Ottawa as the team struggled and Glynn was placed on the waiver wire to be demoted to the minors. However Pat Quinn took a chance on Glynn and picked him up on the waiver wire for the remainder of the 1994 season. Glynn played very well in a defensive role as the Canucks reached the Stanley Cup final!

The Canucks lost to the New York Rangers in 1994, and later that summer they lost Glynn. Due to a deep blue line, Glynn was again left exposed on the waiver wire at the beginning of the 1994-95 season. The Hartford Whalers were quick to snatch up Glynn.

Glynn played sparingly over the next two years in Hartford, and ended his North American career in the minor leagues in 1996-97. After that he headed over to Germany where they paid him big money to play, partly because he was German by birth.

Glynn was one of those guys that always left coaches and fans frustrated. He was so huge, and very mobile. He was solid defensively and made sharp, accurate breakout passes. But he lacked a mean streak. He always played his best when he was aggressive, but he was reluctant to do so.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Randy MacGregor

Randy MacGregor was a diminutive but feisty right winger out of southern Ontario. He carved out a decent minor league career.

After being passed over by both the NHL and WHA because of his size, MacGregor joined the Broome Dusters (no joke) of the lowly NAHL in 1973-74. He transferred with the franchise to Binghamton in 1974-75. Binghamton would become home for Randy, as he played there for the next 9 seasons. The team soon merged with the American Hockey League and MacGregor showed he could play at the higher level, consistently scoring 20 goals and over 100 penalty minutes in a year.

When the Hartford Whalers signed an affiliation agreement with the Binghamton franchise in 1981, they signed MacGregor, too, with the sole purpose of keeping the popular spark plug in that city. In fact, his #11 jersey would be retired by the organization, although the number returned to circulation when the New York Rangers formed an affiliation with the team in 1991.

"Goldy" MacGregor was having a fine season with the baby Whalers in 1981-82 - 23 goals and 50 assists in 71 games, plus 115 PIMs. The NHL Whalers, suffering through a less than memorable season, were giving their prospects a look-see by the end of the year and that included MacGregor. He got his only NHL call-up and responded well. He scored on his only shot on goal - at the time of this writing is the only player since 1967 expansion to score on his only shot on goal - and added an assist and a minor penalty, in two games.

Randy slumped through a bad 1982-83 season though, scoring just 13 goals in 62 AHL games. He was released at the end of the year and signed on with Adirondack of the AHL for one final season of professional hockey.

In 1998 MacGregor, Ken Holland and Dusters team founder Jim Matthews were the first people inducted into the Binghamton Hockey Hall of Fame.

Friday, September 3, 2010

John Cullen

John Cullen's courageous come-back attempt ended November 27, 1998. John announced his retirement as a player and accepted an offer to become an assistant coach with the Tampa Bay Lightning.

John missed the entire 1997-98 campaign due to non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.

John was diagnosed with cancer in March 1997 after a grapefruit-sized tumor was discovered in his chest. He underwent lengthy chemotherapy and was deemed cancer-free by doctors 13 months later.

Six months into the treatment, John learned the chemotherapy had not completely eradicated the cancer, forcing a bone marrow transplant and radical chemotherapy in Boston.

The Fort Erie, Ontario native played college hockey at Boston University where he was a perennial all star. Because of his lack of size, he wasn't drafted in the NHL Entry Draft, but Buffalo did make him the 10th selection of the 1986 supplemental draft.

John never played with Buffalo. After finishing his college, he turned pro with the IHL's Flint Spirits. In his first professional season, John scored 48 goals, 109 assists and 157 points in 81 games!! He added 26 more points in 16 playoff games. Needless to say, John cleaned up at the post season awards dinner. He was named a First Team All Star, league MVP, top scorer and top rookie (shared with Ed Belfour). Not a bad first impression!

During the 10 pre-season games in 1988 John impressed the Pittsburgh Penguins enough to offer him a contract. The Pens already had Mario Lemieux but were looking for a second line pivot-man. They found him in John.

"I had been dreaming about playing in the NHL probably since I was about 10 years old. Both my father Barry and uncle Brian had played in the NHL and I wanted to make it there as well," John said.

In his first ever NHL game John was paired with Phil Bourque and Kevin Stevens on the third line.

"I remember getting my first ever NHL point in my debut. I got an assist on a goal that Coffey scored. Because he was such an amazing player and had done so much for the game, I'll never forget that first point. It was late in the third period and I was carrying the puck in the Washington zone. Then I passed it over to Coffey. He just took a slapshot and it went into the net, beating Clint Malarchuk, who was playing goal for the Capitals. I didn't keep the puck though. I never was big on things like that," John said.

John's first NHL season was 1988-89. He scored 12 goals and assisted on 37 others. The following season he exploded with 32 goals and 60 assists for 92 points.

John took his game to the next level in 1990-91. In his first 65 games with Pittsburgh he scored 31 goals and 63 assists. But then the hockey world was shocked by one of the biggest trades in NHL history. John was sent to Hartford with Zarley Zalapski for long time Whalers Ron Francis, Ulf Samuelsson and Grant Jennings. That trade had deep implications on both franchises. With the leadership and defensive abilities of Francis and Samuelsson, Pittsburgh turned into Stanley Cup dynasty, winning two consecutive Stanley Cups. Meanwhile, John struggled with less talented linemates in Hartford. Francis and Samuelsson were the heart and soul of the Whalers and many say the franchise was never the same since that trade. Hartford eventually relocated to become the Carolina Hurricanes.

After only 96 games in Hartford, John was sent to Toronto for future considerations. With the Leafs, John was wearing the same number (19) as his father had donned in the original six days.

"It was exciting to play in Toronto," said John, who grew up in Guelph,Ontario, located an hour's drive northwest of Toronto. "I idolized the Maple Leafs when I was growing up. And I it was neat that my dad played for the Leafs and that we wore the same number."

By this time the fiesty center's confidence had been totally shot, due to serious neck and back problems. After a decent start in Toronto, John had a disastrous 1993-94 campaign and found himself without an NHL team by season's end.

The Pittsburgh Penguins came calling once again, signing him as a free agent for the second time in his career. He responded well with 37 points in a third line role during the lockout-shortened 48 game schedule. Still, he was but a mere shadow of the player who was emerging when he first left the Steel City.

John moved on to Tampa Bay for the following two years. He was an important cog in the Lightning's anemic offense for two seasons before it was discovered he had cancer.

In 621 NHL games over parts of 10 seasons for Pittsburgh, Hartford, Toronto and Tampa Bay, John has 187 goals and 363 assists. He enjoyed his finest season in 1990-91, when he established career highs with 39 goals and 71 assists for the Penguins and Whalers. John participated in two NHL all star games .

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Thommy Abrahamsson

Long before the Sedin twins, Sweden offered hockey fans the Abrahamsson twins.

Thommy was one of Sweden's greatest players of the 1970s. North American fans had a chance to witness that for themselves when he and twin brother Christer signed with the WHA's New England Whalers for the 1975-75 season.

Christer was plagued by injuries and never really amounted to much in the WHA and never made it to the NHL. Thommy's subtle brilliance was on display for New England area fans, starring on defense for three seasons in the WHA (scoring 28 goals and 95 points in 203 WHA games) before returning home to Leksands for three more years. He returned to the Whalers in 1980-81, who of course by now had joined the NHL. Injuries limited him to 32 NHL games where he scored 6 goals and 17 points.

Thommy would return to Sweden to continue playing while also scouting for the Whalers and operating his sporting goods store he and Christer had opened up some years earlier.

I mentioned that Thommy was a star player in Sweden before coming to North America. He represented Sweden at five world championships as well as the 1972 Olympics. He was the Swedish Player of the Year in 1973. A small furor erupted when the Swedish Ice Hockey Federation purposely left Thommy off of the 1976 Canada Cup squad. Other players threatened to boycott the team unless he was included, but he diffused the situation by encouraging his teammates to go without him.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Mikael Andersson

Mikael Andersson was a tremendously gifted skater. His speed was the key to his game. He had a great wrist shot but didn't utilize it nearly enough, especially early on in his career. And he tended to over-handle the puck. Though he lacked the strength to be a physical presence in the NHL, Andersson became an effective checker by using his quickness to pounce on loose pucks.

The Sabres selected Mikael in the first round of the 1984 NHL entry draft, making him the first Swedish player to be picked by the Sabres that highly. Although he would attend the Sabres training camp in 1984, he returned to Sweden for another year before coming to North America in the 1985-86 season.

Mikael struggled throughout his career as a Sabre. In his rookie season he played in 32 games, but scored just once. After that uninspiring debut, Mikael spent most of the 1986-87 season in the minor leagues. He appeared in 16 games with the Sabres that year and registered just 3 assists. Sabres fans quickly were becoming impatient with the young Swede, who was another in a list of what appeared to be bad draft choices by general manager Scotty Bowman.

Andersson split the 1987-88 season between the Sabres and the minors. His 3 goals and 20 assists in 37 games proved to be his best season in Buffalo. However in 1988-89 he appeared in just 14 contests, picking up just 1 point That proved to be Mikael’s final year in Buffalo, although a lengthy NHL and hockey career remained ahead of him.

Mikael was picked up by the Hartford Whalers in the pre-season NHL waiver draft prior to the beginning of the 1989-90 season. The move proved to be a good one for Mikael, who played the majority of his season in the NHL with the Whalers. By 1991-92 he was able to register his best year as an NHLer - scoring 18 times while collecting 47 points and totalling an impressive plus-18.

The timing for Mikael's breakout year couldn't have been better as he gained free agency status that summer. He exercised his right to shop his services around the league and signed on with the expansion Tampa Bay Lightning. He would enjoy 8 seasons in the Florida sunshine.

A late season trade to Philadelphia in 1999 followed by a short stint with the New York Islanders in 2000 rounded out his NHL career. However he did return to his native Sweden to continue playing.

While most Sabres fans will remember Andersson as one of Bowman's draft busts, his career stats suggest otherwise, particularly hi 761 NHL games played. In that time he collected 95 goals and 264 points and just 134 minutes in penalties. He also enjoyed a storied international career including 3 world junior championships, 3 world championships, 1 Canada Cup and 1 World Cup, plus the 1998 Olympic games.

Not a bad career at all.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

John Garrett

John Garrett has enjoyed a very successful career as a popular hockey television analyst. But today's generation might not realize that he also enjoyed a lengthy career as a professional goalie.

John was drafted by the St. Louis Blues in 1971 but as a rookie he got caught in a numbers game. John recalled that 13 goalies were at the Blues camp in his rookie season. Needless to say it was quite a glut for goalies, especially since the Blues knew ahead of time that they would go with Ernie Wakely and Jacques Caron as their tandem. (Glenn Hall and Jacques Plante retired in the summer of 1971). John was sent to Kansas City to play his first season of pro hockey. He put up an impressive effort as a rookie in the CHL, including posting a league high 3 shutouts.

The following summer the Blues looked to lighten their load of goalies and shipped John to the Chicago Blackhawks organization in exchange for Christian Bordeleau. Obviously the news wasn't great for John's career as Chicago had Tony Esposito just embarking upon his incredible career and Gary "Suitcase" Smith was a more than capable back up. John was eventually sent to the Richmond Robins of the AHL where again he played solidly before his team was beaten badly in the playoffs.

With his shot at the NHL all but non-existent in the Hawks organization, Garrett signed with the WHA's Minnesota Fighting Saints. It was a great move for John. He not only got a hefty pay increase but also became a workhorse goalie in a league of higher caliber than the usual minor leagues.

"The WHA was good for me. They didn't pay much attention to defence. The good defencemen were well paid to stay in the NHL, so you had the John Arbors and Rick Smiths, guys who would the 5th or 6th defencemen in the NHL, and they were first or second on WHA teams."

Despite the weak defense, Garrett gained respect as a strong goaltender who would often play the bulk of the games. In the WHA he played in 323 career games, playing almost .500 hockey with a record of 148-151-15. He had 14 shutouts (including a league high 4 in 1976-77) and a career 3.52 GAA.

Garrett played 6 strong years in the WHA - almost three full seasons with Minnesota before a stint with the Toronto Toros, 2 years with the Birmingham Bulls and one final season with the New England Whalers. The Whalers claimed Garrett as a priority selection when the team merged with the NHL in 1979.

Garrett went on to help the Whalers for 2 and 1/2 seasons in the NHL. Though his stats are less than impressive, they aren't indicative of his play. Garrett played strongly, especially in the Whalers first NHL season when they made the playoffs.

Garrett was traded to Quebec in 1982. Larry Pleau had taken over the GM's role on the team and wanted to get rid of the Whaler's "old guard" and replace them with Pleau's handpicked men.

Garrett played parts of two seasons in Quebec but was happy to leave as it was tough for his wife and kids to be living in the mostly French town. He was traded to Vancouver which was better from a personal standpoint, but not necessarily a professional one.

"When I got there (Vancouver), I was the back up to Richard Brodeur and played in 50 games in two years. That was tough."

But as John goes on to explain, not as tough as the following years.

"The next year Harry's (GM Harry Neale) contract wasn't renewed. Jack Gordon took over and Tom Watt became the coach. Brodeur was getting to the end of the line and they wanted a younger goalie to be his back up. They didn't want two 33 year olds sharing the job. They had Frank Caprice and Wendel Young coming up."

John was eventually asked to go play in the American Hockey League, which he did for 3 games before he made up his mind to retire.

John retired with 207 NHL games under his belt. 68 of those games resulted in wins, with 91 losses and 37 ties. He had a bloated 4.27 GAA and just one shutout (with Vancouver)

Wayne Gretzky Stole Garrett's Car

One of the most famous stories involving John Garrett came during the 1983 All Star Game. Garrett was acquired by the Canucks less than a week prior to the game. However Richard Brodeur, the Canucks number one goalie and all star representative, suffered a broken eardrum courtesy of a Dan Daoust wild shot. As a last minute replacement, Garrett was asked to fill in for the Campbell Conference All Stars despite playing the whole first half in the Wales Conference.

Garrett had a great game too, and was the favorite to win game MVP honors, which of course earns you a brand new car, except a guy named Gretzky put on a goal scoring clinic in the third period. Gretzky's 4 goals in one period instantly became all star legend.

"I had about 15 saves total up to about the six minute mark of the third period" recalls John in Dick Irvin's great book In The Crease. "I knew Lanny McDonald from playing with him at the World Championships one year and he kept talking to me after I'd make a save: 'Hey Cheech, you got the tires....the glove compartment.....hey, great stop. Now you've got the steering wheel.' Then about the six minute mark Gretz scores and makes 4-2. On his next shift he scores again. 5-2. Lanny comes back to me after each goal, 'Oh oh, There go the tires...Oh oh, there goes the steering wheel.' The very next shift 99 scores again. Now he's got the hat trick. And then he gets another goal on his next shift. I mean, he takes four shifts and scores four goals. Guess what. I didn't win the car."

Surrendering to Mr. Hockey

Garrett is also the answer to a great trivia question as he was the goalie that gave up Gordie Howe's 1000th professional goal.

"We played them in Birmingham and Gordie was standing in front of the net and the pass came to him, a one hopper, and he picked it off about three inches above the ice and nailed it. I got a picture of the play with the puck in the net behind me, and Gordie signed it, 'Thanks for all the help!'"

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Interview With Chris Kotsopoulos

This is Chris Kotsopoulos. He was a no-nonsense defenseman in the 1980s. He did not have a lot of skill, but he had lots of heart, desire and physicality. He played hard and had that mean streak that GMs wish every defenseman had. As a result, he was a sought after commodity, holding down a NHL job for 9 seasons.

We recently had the opportunity to interview Chris Kotsopoulos. Here's our conversation:

GHL - As a kid, what team did you cheer for, and who were your idols?

- Growing up I cheered for the Boston Bruins. Tough to do while living in Toronto. Bobby Orr was my main hockey idol.

GHL - Did you always play defense? Were you always a physical player?

- I started out playing hockey as a forward and then switched over to defense around 11 or 12 years old. Yes, I was always a physical player - and I enjoy it.

GHL - You took a bit of an unconventional route to the NHL, especially for the 1970s. You only played on season of major junior, before enrolling in Canadian university, Acadia.

GHL - What made you decide to go this route?

- I had a run in with the head coach the next season in Windsor, Wayne Maxner. I expected to be traded, but it never happened. I played a little bit with Collingwood tier 2 Junior A. I quit hockey for a while. Then, the only option that I had to get back into hockey was to go to Acadia University.

GHL - Was schooling always important to you? What did you study? Did you ever complete your studies?

- I think, back in the 70s, getting your High School degree was the most important thing. At Acadia, I was basically in the general arts program. I wasn't sure if I was going to continue or not. I always had the dream of just getting back and playing in the NHL. I did not complete my studies.

GHL - You left school to turn pro in the minor leagues, playing in Toledo with no affiliation to a NHL team. What made you decide to go this route?

- I was playing hockey in a Summer league with Carl Brewer's Koho International. A coach from the Streetsville Junior B League named Tom Barrett asked me if I wanted an opportunity to try out for a pro hockey team and I said sure. He then got me a tryout with the Toledo Gold Diggers. I saw peers of mine that I grew up and played with getting drafted in the NHL that I knew I was at least as good as or better then them, in my mind. It gave me the inspiration to give it a shot.

GHL - The following season you signed with the New York Rangers organization. Who discovered you? Did you have interest from other NHL teams? Why did you pick New York?

- Through the head coach in Toledo, Ted Garven. He asked me to step into the office one day. In the office was Dan Summers. He was a scout for the New York Rangers. He offered me a chance to go to camp the next season in Richmond, VA with the New York Rangers. From there, I made the New Haven Nighthawks, which was the top farm club of the Rangers. I was only signed to an AHL contract. At the end of the season there was interest from Vancouver, Philadelphia, and the New York Rangers. I picked New York because I was most familiar with it and familiar with the organization.

GHL - When did you realized making the NHL was not an impossible dream?

- When I was around 16 years old. Playing in Windsor. I knew that I had the ability, I just needed the chance.

GHL - Who helped you the most in your development as a (pre-NHL) hockey player?

- My parents, obviously. They drove me everywhere. Tom Barrett was also very helpful. Ted Garven, the coach of Toledo. Lastly, Parker McDonald the head coach of the New Haven Nighthawks. All these people were helpful in my development as a hockey player. They all encouraged me and gave me a chance.

GHL - You are off to your first NHL training camp. What was that like? Who took you under their wing, so to speak?

- I was excited but a little nervous at the same time. Obviously, I was unknown at the time. No one really took me under their wing.

GHL - A year later you made the Rangers. Tell us about that team and your teammates. Who was your partner and what was your role?

- It was the toughest team that I ever had played on. Fred Shero started the season as the head coach and then Craig Patrick took over. We struggled through most of the year and basically limped our way into the playoffs. But we were able to beat the Kings and the Blues. Unfortunately we were defeated by the Islanders in the playoffs. I never really had a partner, we all sort of played with everybody. We had a rotation there because of the injuries the team had. We all learned how to play with each other. My role was just to be a tough stay at home defensemen.

GHL - Phil Esposito and Ron Duguay were on that team. There must have been some crazy times off the ice?

- It's a secret and it's gonna stay a secret. Sorry!

GHL - Tell us about your first NHL goal.

- I remember following up the play and it was Barry Beck that made a drop pass to me and I one timed it past Don Beaupre in Minnesota.

GHL - Describe the Islanders/Rangers rivalry back then. Was that the best rivalry of all time?

- The rivalry was pretty intense and tough. All of the games were very physical. I remember the national anthem in MSG and they were throwing fish on the ice trying to hit Denis Potvin with it. It was kind of shocking, but it happened. I would say it was one of the best rivalry's the NHL had at the time.

GHL - You only played one year with the Rangers, but they are the team you still consider your heart to be with. Why is that?

- There's no other place to play, in my mind. The fans and the city appreciates hard working players. The memories were great there for me.

GHL - You were a tough, no-nonsense defenseman, who would drop the gloves without thinking twice. According to your first fight was against none other than Terry O'Reilly. What do you remember about that one?

- I honestly don't recall the fight. I do remember my first game against the Bruins was an exhibition game in New Haven where I had played the previous year. The Bruins were just loaded with tough and physical players: Wensink, Jonathan, Secord, Cashman, and O'Reilly. I do remember getting into a couple of scraps that night.

GHL - You also fought the likes of Joey Kocur, Bob Probert and Willi Plett. Who was the toughest guy you fought? Who was the most overrated?

- The toughest guy that I fought would have to be Bob Probert. But I'd also put Larry Playfair in that category. There's also many more! I'll leave it at that.

GHL - What do you think about fighting in today's NHL? Is it on its way out of hockey? What do you think about the instigator rule?

- I think that they are trying to deter the fighting in today's NHL, but I think that it's a mistake. Whether people want to hear it or not, fans still enjoy it. The instigator rule sucks. It's almost like people are trying to trick you into dropping your gloves now. Sorry, but that's the way I feel.

GHL - We've heard this a lot lately - there is not as much respect on the ice as there used to be. Do you think this is true?

- Absolutely. There's no respect left. Clean hit gets retaliated on now. why? I don't understand it. Hitting always has and always will be part of hockey. If you keep your head down, you deserve to get hit.

GHL - As a defenseman who was the toughest forward to stop? Gretzky? Lemieux?

- Individually, I would go with Lemieux. He was big, strong, and had the moves.

GHL - What advice would you give to young defensemen today? What should they work on most?

- The game is faster in this day and age. Your decision making has to be quick. Move the puck fast to get it going up the ice. As long as the puck isn't in your end of the ice, they can't score against you. It's all about speed now a days. I do feel sorry for the stay at home defensemen that can't touch the men in front of the net, that's ridiculous.

GHL - Would you recommend young players go to the Canadian junior leagues or US College?

- Not everybody makes it to the NHL. It's a tough call. If you're a really good player, your best way to the NHL would be through the Canadian Juniors. If you're looking to get an education and have preparation for the event that you may not make it to the NHL, I would recommend the college route.

GHL - After one season in the NHL you were traded to Hartford, from New York, the city you truly loved. How hard was that to deal with?

- At first it was very hard to deal with. Hartford was a struggling franchise in the NHL. I had a tough time coming from, what I consider a first class organization in New York. Things were just a bit different in Hartford and I'll leave it at that.

GHL - You spent 4 pretty good years in Hartford. What was your favorite memory of the Whalers?

- Winning the Budweiser Cup for the best defenseman in my first year, thanks to Mark Howe. Howe was my partner and he made it pretty easy.

GHL - You played with some pretty good players there. Could you briefly comment on a few:

- Ron Francis. You could just tell that he had the knowledge of the game. He was just a smart hockey player. Just a solid and steady center. His Hall of Fame induction proves that.

- Mark Howe. Very, very underrated and fantastic player. He could skate and shoot. Like I said earlier, without Mark Howe I do not win that Budweiser Cup.

- Mark Johnson. A very talented and gritty player. He wasn't very big. We had some run ins early on, but we learned to appreciate each other.

- Greg Millen. Very athletic and a bit of a showman as a goaltender. Very good goaltender but I just wish he would have stayed in his crease more, haha.

GHL - You were moved to Toronto where you put in 4 more years with the Leafs. As a boy growing up in Southern Ontario, how special was it to pull on that Leafs jersey?

- It was great. I grew up in the city of Toronto. Although I was a Boston fan, I did watch the Leafs growing up. It was an honor to play for my home city.

GHL - What was your impression of Harold Ballard?

- He was a great businessman. I'm probably one of the only ones that will say this, but I liked Harold Ballard. I was one of the only players who could call Harold Ballard by his first name. Did he know much about hockey? Probably not. But he knew how to make money. He was a character.

GHL - What was it like to play with Wendel Clark?

- I had just gotten traded to Leafs and Wendel was drafted the same year. He was just a fireball his first season. Hitting, fighting, and scoring. Just a tough kid from Western Canada. He didn't have the size but he had the stones to take on anyone. Sometimes I look back and wonder had he not taken on everyone, would his back be OK? I warned him in his first year that he can't keep going after all the tough guys all the time. He had to pick and choose his spots better. Unfortunately, as time went on, his back started to give out on him, as we all know. It was great to play with him.

GHL - Your time in Toronto was a bit mixed, with you struggling for ice time at times. What happened in Toronto?

- I have to disagree with you about struggling for the ice time. When I was healthy, I played a regular shift - and more. I believe that my injuries, and I had a few, kept me out of a lot of games. Ice time was never a problem there when I was healthy.

GHL - What was the worst injury you ever had?

- I tore my groin and part of the muscle came off the pelvis bone. It took the Leaf doctors over a season to finally figure out what was wrong. I believe it was the beginning of the end of my career once I got that injury. I was never the same after that.

GHL - After a brief stint in Detroit, you retired. How tough was the transition from hockey to retirement?

- It's tough. For all these stars of the game, there are more people like me that played the game. I wasn't particularly happy about the NHL when I retired. I think a lot of guys feel that way when it's finally done.

GHL - You enrolled in a NHL/NHLPA program to help ease the transition to "real" life, learning broadcasting. Do many players take advantage of this program?

- Not as many as there should be. I think it's a great experience. We, as hockey players, felt in control when we were on the ice. When you're in a studio though, you feel like a rookie again. It was tough, but worth it.

GHL - You work on broadcasts at Quinnipiac. How did you get involved in that? Are you hoping to move up the ranks, perhaps all the way back to the NHL?

- I got involved with it through the Life After Hockey Program. One of the teachers there was Bill Schweizer, who has covered the NFL, NHL, MLB, and NCAAMB. He asked me if I would like to try it and I said "sure". It's been a great experience. It depends on "moving up in the ranks". I don't want to say never.

GHL - You also have taken up new media, writing for The Fourth Period and now you have your own blog, Kotsy's Korner. What made you decided to write online? What is the best thing about blogging?

- The Life After Hockey Program, doing the radio at Quinnipiac, and being encouraged by many people gave me the motivation to give blogging a try. I get to see every Rangers game as well either in person at MSG or on TV. The Rangers are my first love, so I chose to focus my blog primarily around them. The best thing about blogging is getting to speak my mind and getting to hear the responses from the fans. I really enjoy interacting with the fellow Rangers and NHL fans that come onto my blog.

GHL - Have you always been a writer?

- No, I have not. It's not that easy!

GHL - You have one son, Cody. Does he play hockey?

- No, he never played hockey. He was a great High School Football Player though and he is the designer of Kotsy's Korner. I owe a lot to him.

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