100 games a season: Gare Joyce's puck blog

Just like being in the scouts' & press' lounge, without the bad coffee and day-old Timbits

Location: Toronto

I've written for ESPN The Magazine and espn.com the last five years. My work has made the "notable" list of the Best American Sports Writing seven times and won four Canadian National Magazine Awards. My most recent book is Future Greats and Heartbreaks: A Year Undercover in the Secret World of NHL Scouts. I've written three other sports books: When the Lights Went Out: How One Brawl Ended Hockey's Cold War and Changed the Game; Sidney Crosby: Taking the Game by Storm; and The Only Ticket Off the Island: Baseball in the Dominican Republic.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Sidney Crosby & the All-Star Game: Both Pointless

Add this to the many virtues of No. 87: He didn't try (too hard) to make the All-Star Game his personal showcase in his debut.

As bad as the game might be, let me say that it could worse. To borrow from other sports:

1. Crosby didn't register a point but at least he wasn't frozen out by his All-Star team-mates like MJ was in his NBA first all-star game back in '85. Just more proof of the character of the freeze-out's envy-drenched mastermind, Isiah Thomas.

2. Crosby didn't suffer a career-threatening injury like Robert Edwards did at the Pro Bowl years back.


Come to think of it, is the NHL all-star game no better than flag football? A good case to be made.

I was listening to Bill Berg on Sportsnet a few minutes ago talk about a fight at an All-Star game in days of yore--a scrap between Gordie Howe and Gus Mortson (playing for the Leafs when the game pitted the Stanley Cup champs vs the stars). Bill, a good friend, had it right when he said that a junior prospects game, might bring more intensity to the table than the Young Stars game (an unmitigated joke this year).

I've seen two intense moments at exhibitions like this. One of them was celebrated in junior hockey circles. The other, I've come to believe, was missed by practically everybody (and I've always wanted to ask the principals about.

The first was a fight, a great scrap, at the CHL All-Star Game in Kitchener back in the '94-95 season. Bryan Berard, then with the Detroit Jr Red Wings, and Terry Ryan of the Tri-City Americans. Terry Ryan is remembered for two things: being one of Montreal's least memorable first-round draft picks and instigating this scrap with the kid who was going to be selected first overall the next June. It was an absolute panic--and all the more so because Mike Barnett, then of IMG, was sitting between the fathers of the two combatants.

The second occurred at an oldtimers' exhibition. Yes, you've got it right. Old-timers. Back in the 80s. In fact, it was a game between an alumni team made up of Team Canada '72 players and a pick-up team of retired NHL players. God, this sticks in my mind. Rene Robert went into the corner carrying his stick a tad high. He ran into Serge Savard, who took exception. I saw a spear, but the ref called a high-stick on Savard (the charitable call, I guess, in a charity game). They both got minors but I sensed there was a backstory I was missing. Savard is not media-friendly, no hope of getting him on this. I once heard Robert was a beer rep--maybe he tells the story bar-side. I've never heard anything about any hard feelings between the two. If anyone has a clue, let me know.

This is the set up from the game.

Team Canada relives glory of 1972 tonight
Canadian Press
25 January 1985

Paul Henderson works for Christ, Stan Mikita is a golf pro, Ron Ellis is an insurance broker, Gary Bergman is a contractor and Dennis Hull is an athletic director.
Times change for everyone, including those who played for Team Canada during hockey's 1972 Summit Series.
The eight-game showdown was the one of the most memorable events in Canadian sports history.
Tonight, the 1972 team is being reunited for the first time in an exhibition contest at Maple Leaf Gardens against a team of former NHL stars, with proceeds going to the Phil Esposito Foundation, which aids former NHL players who have seen better times.
Henderson scored three game-winning goals in the 1972 series, including the winner in the decisive eighth game, which gave Canada the series, 4-3 with one game tied.
Yesterday, he and other 1972 team members worked out the kinks in a 60- minute scrimmage. Now he is an employee of Campus Crusade for Christ and recently resettled in Mississauga.
After finishing his hockey career in Birmingham, he entered a seminary and devoted his life to Christian pursuits.
''It didn't come easily,'' Henderson says of his commitment to Christ. ''The Lord has given me a platform."
In 1975, he says, ''I gave my life to the Lord and it changed everything.''
Henderson retired from pro hockey in 1975 after a 17-year career that included time with the National Hockey League's Detroit Red Wings, Toronto Maple Leafs and Atlanta Flames and the World Hockey Associaton's Birmingham Bulls.
With Campus Crusade for Christ, he now splits his time between Athletes in Action and Here's Life, working as a consultant to churches.
''The camaradarie we developed as a team will always stick in my mind,'' Henderson said. ''Just the opportunity to play with some of the best players in the world was a thrill.
''Getting it all together and coming from behind to win is something I'll never forget.''
Mikita, who retired in 1978 after a 20- year career with Chicago Black Hawks, is a golf pro at the Kemper Lakes course just outside Chicago.
''The guys that were asked to play on that team were all fighting against one another (in the NHL) to make a living but to get together for three or four weeks and to show the kind of emotion . . . we all felt, 'This is for our country,' that's what I remember,'' Mikita said.
Ellis retired in 1980 after 11 years with the Maple Leafs. Today, he's an insurance broker in Orangeville. In the 1972 series, he played on a line with Henderson and the Philadelphia Flyers' Bobby Clarke.
He recalls the dressing room scene prior to the third period in the decisive eighth game, with Team Canada trailing 5-3.
''You might think there would be a lot of panic,'' he said. ''But it was quiet in the dressing room.
''Nobody was berating anybody. It was very calm. There was a feeling in the room that we were going to go out and win the game.
''As soon as we got the first goal in the third period, we really felt as if we'd win.''
Canada scored three unanswered third- period goals to win the series.
''When it was all over, there was a subdued feeling,'' he said. ''We were an emotionally drained bunch.
''I remember sitting there at my cubicle for at least a half an hour. It was unbelievable.''
Bergman, who spent most of his NHL career with the Red Wings before retiring shortly after the 1972 triumph, showed up at the Maple Leaf Gardens workout without having seen most of his teammates in the 12-year interim.
''It's great to get back and reminisce with the guys,'' Bergman said. ''The whole experience was so big that you can't really pin it down to one particular thing.
''It was one of the greatest sporting events this country has ever seen. I'm glad I was a part of it.''
Dennis Hull retired in 1978. The former Chicago Black Hawk now is athletic director at Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago.
''Like everyone else, my greatest remembrance from 1972 is the winning goal in the final game by Paul,'' Hull said. ''The team had been through a lot and had grown very close.
''We all wanted to win so badly. We didn't want to come back to Canada as losers. This game (tonight) wouldn't be happening if we hadn't won that final game.''
A sellout crowd of 16,182 will be in attendance tonight to provide a fitting tribute, 12 1/2 years after the fact, to Team Canada 1972. - CP

And this was one report that appeared.

GORDIE HOWE STILL knows how to win hockey games.
Howe, the National Hockey League's leading career goal scorer, showed some of the old magic last night at Maple Leaf Gardens when he scored with just 54 seconds remaining to lead Team All-Star to a 6-5 victory over Team Canada '72.
The game raised about $130,000 for the Phil Esposito Foundation - a charity organization that aids former NHL players in need.
However, there was nothing charitable about Howe's attitude last night toward his Team Canada '72 opponents - a group composed of members of the club that faced the Soviets in the famous 1972 series. Whenever he plays a game, Howe said, he wants to win.
"I was a little weary out there, but I work out with the (Hartford) Whalers once in a while," Howe said. "And I just finished a three- game swing out in Western Canada.
"I think I'm playing more hockey now than the year I quit."
Howe, who scored many winning goals during his professional career, converted a pass from Henri Richard for the clincher last night. He said he thought about holding onto the puck after getting it from Richard, but saw daylight and instead decided to put it in the net.
When he scored the winner, Howe may have received the biggest ovation of the night from the enthusiastic capacity Gardens crowd.
And that's really saying something, because it was a night full of cheering and, perhaps, a record number of standing ovations. All- Star coach Bobby Orr, whose team was composed of former NHL standouts, received the first standing reception of the night - then Howe, then Henri Richard. Eddie (The Entertainer) Shack, a former Toronto Maple Leaf who came onto the ice with a hop, skip and jump, got a huge ovation from the sellout crowd of 16,183 fans.
The standing ovations for Team Canada went to Frank Mahovlich, Paul Henderson and Esposito.
Orr said he enjoyed his time behind the All-Star bench, but added that he was glad it was a one-shot affair. He had hoped to play in the game, but the gimpy knees that ended his NHL career just wouldn't co-operate.
"It was great fun and I think the guys really put on a good show," Orr said. "It was a great night.
"Wasn't Gordie's goal great, wasn't it fantastic? I don't know how old Howe is - he won't tell us - but he still moves around pretty well."
Howe was just one of the All- Stars who showed he still had it. Sure, the old pros are a little older, showing a little more grey and moving a bit slower, but they still want to win and still know how to set up a goal and take a wrist shot.
Jim McKenny, Walt Tkaczuk, Dick Duff, John McKenzie and Bobby Lalonde scored the other All- Star goals.
Scoring for Team Canada were Dennis Hull, Paul Henderson, J.P. Parise, Ron Ellis and Stan Mikita.
However, the game was a lot more a goal-scoring exhibition for the fans. It was a night of fun and oddities. There were three Team All-Star players wearing No. 9 on their jerseys - Howe, Duff and Andy Bathgate. And the game featured two 15-minute periods along with a single typical 20- minute stanza.
However, other than that, the players still wanted to show what they had.
Team Canada goaltender Tony Esposito, who has only been out of pro hockey for one season, said he has always been a competitive person.
"When I go out there, I want to win," Esposito said. "I want to give a good effort. Naturally, the skating isn't as good as it once was, but I think it was entertaining.
"I thought it was exciting. I'm afraid I want to win and the few distractions at the start of the game bothered me. I don't know if that's a good trait or not, but when I get out there, man, I turn it on.
"I haven't skated since last year, but the adrenalin got flowing."

Sounds a lot better than the game in Dallas, that's for sure. Maybe a Prospects Game and an Old-timers Classic is the way to go.

Re: Old-timers.

1. The Pittsburgh Steelers can't consider an Old-Timers Game. Check out the Black Curtain.

By Sam Farmer Los Angeles Times
25 July 2006
One was lifting weights at home. Another was training for a triathlon. A third was watching a game at a friend's house.
Regular guys doing regular things.
Then there were the others.
One drank antifreeze. Another was in a high-speed chase.
Two things in common among them all: They were Pittsburgh Steelers; and they died in the past six years.
Fresh off their first Super Bowl victory in 26 years, the Steelers have experienced the emotional gamut. The franchise has lost 18 former players -- ages 35 to 58 -- since 2000, including seven in the past 16 months.
"There is no explanation," said Joe Gordon, a Steelers executive from 1969-98. "We just shake our heads and ask why."
The numbers are startling. Of the NFL players from the 1970s and '80s who have died since 2000, more than one in five -- 16 of 77 -- were Steelers.

2. In hoops, it's an orthopedic surgeon's delight: Who'll be the first to limp off with an Achilles tendon torn, like Rick Barry did years back?

Hockey works for Old-Timers--just think of the Oilers-Habs old-timers outdoors in Edmonton. It's a way the NHL should go for All-Star Weekend. Celebrate the former greats while they're still with us. Mine history for all its worth (especially when the present often looks bleak).

Baseball is the only other game where it might work. The all-time greatest old-timer moment:

July 19, 1982: In the first annual Cracker Jack Oldtimers Classic at Washington's Robert F. Kennedy Stadium, 75-year-old Luke Appling hits a 250-foot homer off Warren Spahn to help the AL to a 7–2 win over the NL in a 5-inning battle.

H ow can a 75-year-old man hit a home run in a major league stadium? And hit it 320 feet, over a fence, with Warren Spahn pitching?
The only one who has done it is Luke Appling, and he explains with flawless logic: ''It was a good pitch, it was right there, and I just swung away.''
It was a neat trick, though, and not just because of Appling's age. After all, Spahn is 61. But during his 20 years as a shortstop with the Chicago White Sox between 1930 and 1950, Appling was known as a singles hitter. He had 2,749 hits in his career, and only 45 were home runs. He also was known as a hypochondriac, or maybe a sly pretender. His nickname was ''Old Aches and Pains.''
But ''Old Luke'' made the Hall of Fame in 1964. And, 11 years later, so did Warren Spahn, who had won 363 games as one of the best left-handers in baseball history.
They were reunited Monday night in Robert F. Kennedy Stadium, once the home of the Washington Senators. Appling was the leadoff batter for the American League in the Cracker Jack Old-Timers Baseball Classic, and Spahn was the starting pitcher for the National League. In the stands, despite the rain, sat 29,196 sentimentalists who had paid as much as $12 each for the memory.
Nobody doubted that Appling knew more about the art of batting than most people. Even now, 32 years after he retired, he is working as the traveling minor league hitting instructor for the Atlanta Braves. His boss is Henry Aaron, vice president of the Braves, who hit 755 home runs. But, even for an old-timers' game, 75 years old is exceptional.
''I had a game plan,'' Spahn said. ''I was going to pitch around the young guys and work on the old guys. I could see guys like Al Kaline and Bobby Richardson hitting one out, but not an old man like Appling. I didn't figure he could even hit a ball that far.
''The first pitch of the game was a ball, outside. I was just trying to get the ball over the plate, no great stuff on it, you know. My second pitch was a hummer, but a low-keyed hummer, right across the plate.''
Appling, a right-handed batter, stood at the plate and waited. The stadium, which has not been used for major league baseball for 11 years, was laid out for football, with the left-field bleachers only 320 feet from the plate. Later in the five-inning game, Jim Fregosi and Bill Mazeroski hit authentic home runs, and Willie McCovey hit a 440-footer foul off the mezzanine. But this was ''Old Aches and Pains.''
''I think Spahn took pity on me,'' Appling said. ''I swung, and the ball happened to be there. I just took my Luke Appling swing. Most of my career, I hit to right field, but somehow I pulled this one to left. I hit it, but I didn't even look at it. I just started to run around the bases. Slowly.''
The ball kept rising, cleared the railing and fell into the bleachers. On the mound, Spahn rubbed his eyes. ''It just proves,'' he said, ''that I still throw hard. He's too weak to hit it out by himself. Luke will be talking about that one for years. Someday he'll be telling people he hit it 420 feet, and they'll mark the seat where it fell.''
''You know,'' Joe DiMaggio said, ''that guy's really remarkable.'' ''Baseball,'' Luke Appling said, ''is a game to keep old people young.''

There are a lot of Luke Applings for the NHL to tap for an old-timer classic. And if the NHLPA got its act together it could tap a lot of names who are still better known than most on the ice in Dallas. Sponsors? Cracker Jack might not do it. Cold FX? How about Viagra? Anybody but Steelhead or Cheetah.