50 Or More; And That Curved Stick

003

Up until this December 1964 Hockey Pictorial question was posed, just three players had ever scored 50 goals in a season – Maurice Richard in 1944-45, Bernie Geoffrion in 1960-61, and Bobby Hull during the 1961-62 season.

Who would finally score more than 50 in a season?

As you can see, five of the six players polled thought it would be Bobby Hull, while Jacques Laperriere figured Jean Beliveau would be the man.

The answer would come the following year, when yes indeed, it was Bobby Hull, who scored 54 in 65 games.

Hull would also bulge the twine 52 times in ’66-’67 and 58 in ”68-’69.

And how did the Golden Jet explain his talent for scoring? He mostly credited the introduction of the curved stick, which allowed him to blast howitzers at panic-stricken goaltenders. And although that’s a very credible explanation, it doesn’t do Hull complete justice. He was a beautiful skater, strong as an ox, and one of the greatest ever. The curved stick only added another huge element to Hull’s game.

Not long after Hull’s feats, the numbers would get out of hand. Phil Esposito would light the lamp 76 times in 1970-71, and during the 1980-81 campaign, eight players would score 50 or more, including Mike Bossy with 68 markers.

But it would be the 1981-82 season when goal scoring really blossomed, led by Wayne Gretzky, of course. Ten players cracked the 50-goal mark that year, with Gretzky notching an amazing 92 goals.

And back to the curved stick –

Andy Bathgate says it was he who was the first to use it, but it was Hull’s teammate Stan Mikita who is generally regarded as the inventor, although it came accidentally.

As explained in Bruce Dowbiggin’s book “The Stick,” Mikita’s stick cracked during practice, and he tried to break it and throw it away, but it wouldn’t snap completely. Mikita then jammed the stick into the door at the bench and it ended up looking like a boomerang.

While he waited for his trainer to get him another stick in the dressing room, which was several minutes away down the steps at the old Chicago Stadium, Mikita, out of anger, slapped a puck with the broken stick and the puck took off. He slapped another and it was the same thing. He was amazed, even at the new sound the puck made hitting the boards.

Back in the dressing room, Mikita started bending all his sticks, but they were breaking, until someone suggested making them wet first, which he did. He then left his new, curved sticks overnight, and the next day at practice he started shooting. The first shot was like a knuckler in baseball. It dropped and veered, and the next shot did all sorts of weird things too.

Bobby Hull was watching all this, and began bending his too.

Coach Billy Reay wasn’t impressed. He figured they wouldn’t be able to control their shots, and he was right. In Hull’s first game using this new banana blade, his first shot went right over the glass. In another game, Hull hit Ranger goalie Gump Worsley in the head, and when asked if he feared the curved blade, Worsley replied that he thought fans behind him were in more danger than him.

And about Andy Bathgate saying he was the first.

Bobby Hull said he always remembered Bathgate as having a bit of a curve to his sticks, even in the late ’50s, but it was Mikita who pioneered the whole idea of it. Bathgate has said that when Chicago was playing his Rangers one night, his trainer had lent Mikita one of Bathgate’s sticks (which is unusual to say the least), after the Hawk had run out of his own, and Mikita had liked the curved stick.

Mikita disagrees and talked to Bathgate about this, and in Dowbiggin’s book is quoted as saying, “I told Andy to his face that he’s – well, let’s say I talked to him about it. I might have borrowed some sticks, but I sure don’t remember any curve.”

And one final note: It was a Bathgate shot that smashed into Jacques Plante’s face, causing Plante to come back out wearing his mask for the first time during a game.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

13 thoughts on “50 Or More; And That Curved Stick”

  1. Bathgate always said the reason that he hit Plante in the face was that earlier in the game Plante tripped AB & he fell hard into the backboards & fortunately he was not seriously hurt. So he came back (upset/pissed off) with a face/head shot that usually misses the goalie’ head but not this time. AB I believed talked about this incident on TSN “Legends of Hockey” or on The Montreal Canadiens Centennial DVD Collection…..

  2. Concerning the big curves on Hull & Mikita’s sticks growing up in Montreal/Lachine during that time there was a Quebec hockey stick manufacturer (Sherbrooke Sticks) who produced & sold banana blade curves that would match & succeed any curve that Northland Pro put out for those two Hawk players. And if one could not get a wooden stick with a big curve they could purchase the plastic/rubber replacement blade “SuperBlades” and make a curve as big as they wanted……

  3. Martin, I played with Sherbrooke sticks back and don’t recall any curves. And if they were making them curved at the same time as Hull and Mikita, no one was using them. Players back then used straight sticks, regardless of the manufacturer. Most Montreal and Toronto players used C.C.M, while American teams used Northland. But curved sticks were unheard of until Mikita and Hull, and yes, Bathgate, began experimenting with them. Habs players began using Sherbrooke in the 1970s. I have ads with them promoting them. And when I was playing minor hockey back then, to go into a store a buy a stick, no matter what the brand, none were curved.

  4. Dennis – I definitely remember Sherbrooke (And not Sher-Wood) making sticks with big curves & seeing a handful of people using them at outdoor rinks (after Hull/Mikita came out with their big curved sticks) since I believe large curves on sticks was not allowed in minor hockey leagues (safety concerns ? so straight sticks or sticks with slight/small curves remained the norm) at the time at least in the leagues in the area & surrounding areas I played my minor hockey.

    Also seen at the indoor/outdoor rinks on occasion was The Power Puck which measured the speed of one’s shot but did not work very well – Then Fox 40 (Whistles) came out with a new version of the puck that measures the speed of shot & once again did not work that well and that happened in the early 90s…..

  5. Martin, yes, I’m thinking of Sher-Wood. Did Hull and Mikita (and Bathgate) get this going for Sherbrooke? It’s very interesting, and thanks for telling me about this. Once we saw pros bend their blades, we started too. But we were never able to buy a curved stick until a few years later.

  6. Now that I think about it abit more Dennis I now recall at least two stores where I lived carried the big curve Sherbrooke Stick (must have been a special order for the store) so it was a high priced stick for the time maybe five or six bucks ??? Which made for nice Christmas or Birthday Gifts for some hockey players. Myself my sticks (when starting out) went from $1.25 SSW Stick straight blade & no fibre glass tape on it. Later if it snowed a lot (had a snow shoveling contract) I could afford a more expensive stick with fibre glass tape & a bit of a curve for maybe three bucks or so (hard remember actual stick costs) but went through a lot of sticks as I was a rink rat on the outdoor rinks as well as playing usually in two leagues in doors not to mention road(ball) hockey games as well.

    Do not think Hull/Mikita/Bathgate had anything to do with Sherbrooke Sticks with the company making the big curve sticks on their own as a business plan as those players were popular with the big curved sticks especially The Hawk Players. I remember Bathgate more for how he laced his skates rather than his sticks as AB had a way of tightening his skates by lacing his skates over by 3 or 4 rows then under 3 or 4 rows so (hard to describe but it worked) instead of single rows but could tighten several rows at once. Saw it in a hockey book he put out & used his system for a few years till I went back to the way most people tied their skates….

  7. Martin, you never know, maybe those guys were involved with Sherbrooke and the curved sticks for sale. And speaking of tying laces, other than the normal way, I sometimes would do one across all the way up, with the other going straight from top to bottom. People said it was easier to cut the laces if your foot was broken. Or something like that.
    My stick of choice was the Hespeler Green Flash. And sometimes C.C.M. Orillia stores never stocked Northland, and I always wondered what they were like. And something else that was rare to see back then – the Canadiens white sweater. I remember when one came out when I was a kid and I got it right away. I don’t think I ever saw another. They were always red. I have a collection of kids Montreal sweaters from the ’40s and ’50s and I have a white one, which I just love. I’ve always had a soft spot for the white sweater.

  8. Funny how Vic Hadfield ended scoring 50 one year for the Rangers, highly under rated but amazing all round player.

  9. Remember Team Canada 1972 team trainer Frosty Freitzel ? something who was the trainer of The Bruins at the time & when Hadfield left the team he said that’s why Boston beats New York all the time their captain is a quitter or words to that effect….

  10. Dennis – Never saw any Northland Sticks in any stores I frequented but my stick of choice was SSW (Quebec Company ?) – Sher-Wood & later The Kohos from Europe when I got older (more money in my pocket) as they had a nice curve on them with a full fibre glass blade. Also used The Montreal Stick from Finland or Sweden on occasion….

  11. Martin, yes, Frosty Forristall. The four players leaving was very unfortunate and I’ll bet there are regrets on their part. Jocelyn Guevremont’s wife had got sick and they had to go. Rick Martin and Gilbert Perreault were pressured by their Buffalo coach Punch Imlach to get to Sabres training camp and get ready for the season because they weren’t getting ice time in Moscow. And Hadfield just wasn’t happy. But it’s been Hadfield all along who didn’t avoid the questions and criticism that went with that. He’s always joined his ’72 teammates for golf tournaments and affairs, and he’s never backed away. Perreault on the other hand hasn’t always been so forthcoming.

  12. Joe, I remember that GAG line (goal a game) with Hadfield, Gilbert, and Ratelle. All three were truly dangerous. And you’re right, Hadfield was indeed a dangerous dude.

  13. Vic Hadfield as a young player with The Rangers avoided a heavy body check by The Habs defenceman Lou Foutinanou (sp) (part of The Doug Harvey Trade to NY) who ended up going head first into the back boards & effectively ending his NHL & hockey career on the spot with a serious neck injury ?…..

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>