Young but getting older (she’s 25 now) – Ms. Gretzky on the cover of Golf Digest.
The best ever? It’s been written and talked about forever.
I don’t care. I want to talk about it too. It’s cold and I don’t want to go out.
There’s no real definitive answer I think, but it can be broken down in stages.
Howie Morenz in the 20s and 30s. Maurice Richard’s name was added in the 40s. Gordie Howe and the Rocket in the 50s.
It was all Howe in the 1960s, although Bobby Hull’s name was tossed around by some, and Bobby Orr showed up in the latter part of the 1960s and into the 70s.
Then Mario Lemieux and Wayne Gretzky came along and ruled the 80s and 90s.
Gretzky’s name comes up much more than Mario’s, but Mario, before he got sick, would take a back seat to no one and ended with 1723 points in 915 regular season games, including an 85-goal season in ’88-89.
Maybe Mario is underrated when it comes time to talk about the best ever. He was big and smart with hands of gold.
Sidney Crosby is great of course, but he’s not in this stratosphere. Not yet at least. I wonder if some would disagree about that.
Usually, it boils down to three guys when this topic comes up – Howe, Orr, and Gretzky.
My choice is Bobby Orr.
Although I would see Gordie Howe play a number of times over the years on television (once live at Maple Leaf Gardens in the mid-’60s), he never seemed to completely control the flow of the game the way Orr did, although I know Howe was in a league of his own in almost every department.
Orr’s two years older than me and comes from the same area of Ontario. We were worlds apart as players of course, but at least I can say I played in many of the same barns as him, maybe against some of the same guys he played against in town like Midland and Huntsville and Gravenhurst. I feel some sort of Central/Northern Ontario connection in a way.
Bobby Orr was a minor league phenom and we were talking about him with envy when we were kids. We knew about him. We heard about his exploits. Parry Sound kids my age came down to Orillia to play and I think our teams played there too. And we watched his brother Ron when his Junior C Parry Sound team played in Orillia.
I saw Orr a few times in Orillia over the years, including a night at the Atherley Arms Hotel when he was at a table with friends and a guy with a few too many drinks in his belly came up to Bobby and was rude and vulgar, which wasn’t cool.
I also by chance walked by him and his wife Peggy in the Orillia park one day and said hi, and they both smiled and said hi back.
I saw him play when he was 16 in an exhibition game in Bracebridge. He was with the Oshawa Generals at the time, but on this night he suited up with the Orillia Terriors senior team against a Muskoka all-star senior team. Orr had the puck all night, and we could see other players – talented, grown men – laughing and shaking their heads at how good this teenager was.
Orr skated like no other defenceman, he had different bursts of speed, he charged the net and racked up points like no other defenceman, and he controlled the play like no other player on the ice. He was also strong and smart, and when it came time to drop the gloves, he could be nasty.
That’s a complete player to me. He did it all and cruelly it didn’t last long because of his bad knees (10 seasons in Boston and a short stint in Chicago). But what a player he was before his knees did him in.
Orr himself says Gordie Howe was the best ever. He played against Howe and watched Gretzky throughout 99′s career. But it’s Howe he chooses, as do many.
Howe wasn’t flashy like the Rocket, Orr and Gretzky, but every pass from him was on the tape, his shot was as hard or harder than any player in the league, he was as good or better a goal scorer as there was, and he was a mean hombre, the toughest player in the league. Punches that crushed noses.
No one dared fight him. He struck fear into the hearts of others, but they respected him. To go into the corners with him was never a good thing. His elbows were legendary.
And of course Wayne Gretzky. You need a fancy calculator and about an hour to tally his records. There’s a legion of players and fans who insist he’s the greatest ever. It’s been said often that in the heat of battle, he thought two or three plays ahead. It was ridiculous how he could rack up the points.
But I go with Bobby Orr. Orr had it figured out ahead of time like Gretzky did. It’s some sort of miraculous instinct. He was a better skater than Gretzky, there’s no comparison in toughness, and he collected reams of points even though he was a defenceman.
He also comes from my neck of the woods and from the same era, which is important to me.
The only Boston Bruin I was ever a fan of.
Canada didn’t do well in Nagano ’98, finishing fourth behind the Czech Republic, Russia, and Finland, while in women’s hockey, the U.S. took gold and Canada silver.
But all I’m doing here is showing Gretzky, Roy, Yzerman and the Team Canada gang in action against the U.S. early on in the tournament, when Canada won 4-1, and which I thought you might enjoy because of seeing these guys again.
The little boy you see in these two videos scoring all these goals is Leo, the son of a co-worker of mine.
Every time I ask how Leo did in any of his games, it’s always that he scored seven or ten etc.
Leo only just recently turned 5, and in the first video, you see him get twelve points in a game, and in the second, he notches his 100th goal of the season. He reached 103 that game.
This kid is going to be the new Gretzky or Lafleur or Crosby.
Keep the video and check it out again in about fifteen years, when Leo Brodeur is in the NHL
The new catalogue is out, and our Winter 2014 auction at Classic Auctions goes online Tuesday, January 27.
Below is a small sampling of the nearly 1400 pieces up for bids, including game-worn jerseys from Butch Bouchard, Bert Olmstead, Henri Richard, Terry Sawchuk, Vladislav Tretiak, the Hanson brothers, and Sidney Crosby.
This is the kind of stuff I handle and write about every day.
Interesting piece in the Toronto Star that my boss sent me, regarding the costs of playing midget hockey in Toronto, the small percentage of kids who go anywhere, concussions suffered, the effect of global warming on rinks, and a whole whack of stuff.
Here’s the link – Is minor hockey worth it?
And here’s an excerpt:
The annual cost for a (midget) AAA player is between $10,000 and $15,000, not much less than the tuition for the University of Toronto medical school ($19,546).
The parents of Patrick Kane, the Chicago Blackhawks star, estimated their investment in his minor-league career, which he spent in the U.S., to be $250,000. Given his current salary of $6.3 million per year, it was a good investment. But the cost is high for all elite minor league players, while the odds of playing four seasons in the NHL are roughly 1 in 6,000.
It is the lament of one Triple-A coach — the players are all skilled, he says, but they lacked creativity. Unlike Guy Lafleur or Wayne Gretzky, they hadn’t logged thousands of hours playing shinny. Instead they log thousands of hours in minivans; a game can be a three-hour commitment when factoring in commute times and dressing time, but it only yields 10-17 minutes of ice time for the player.
In 1972 we accused the Soviets of being skilled but mechanical. The Canadians, by contrast, had flair, we had heart. Now we are in danger of losing both.
My friend Brandy Saturley, a world class artist living in Victoria, has sent me her new Gretzky piece, along with info on her upcoming show in Edmonton.
So if you’re in the Edmonton area on Dec. 5th, stop in and see her incredible work. Lots of hockey images. Lots of Canadiana. She’s awesome.
Goalie’s Mask: Red, White, and Dryden. This piece is displayed, along side one of Ken Dryden’s masks, in Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame, with prints available at Goalie’s Mask. Proceeds go to The Hall.
Death of a Rookie (Rise of a Hero)
Keep On Dreamin’ In The Free World
Poppies For Louise
The Number 9ine
The “EH” Team
Canada Is Sweet And Salty
New Canadian Rodeo
When Warhol Came To Canada
He came to Powell River in 1997 when the Allan Cup was on, and I asked him if I could buy him breakfast the next day. He said sure, we did, we talked hockey, and then I gave him a tour of the area in my little Hyundai Excel.
A real nice fellow, this Western Canadian farmer dubbed “Mr. Goalie”. When I asked him who the greatest ever was, he didn’t even have to think about it. Gordie Howe could do everything better than anybody else, he said, including Gretzky, whom he never played against of course, and Bobby Orr.
Glenn Hall, elected to the Hall of Fame in 1975, was the goalie in nets for the St. Louis Blues when Bobby Orr scored his famous “flying through the air” Stanley Cup winner in the spring of 1970.
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.
In going through some papers last night in the basement, I found something I’d written in 1992. I’m not sure why I’d written it, but anyway…
The first page talks about how I grew up to be a Montreal Canadiens fan living in Orillia, a city thick with Leafs fans, but I won’t bother with that part here.
After that I went into being in Russia in 1991 and spending an evening with members of the Russian Montreal Canadiens Fan Club, where no one spoke English except for one guy, Konstantin Krylov, who presently is a scout for the Anaheim Ducks.
At that time it was during the fall of the Soviet Union, and up until then, Russians had had very little contact with foreigners from the west. It was almost unheard of that westerners would spend any time at all in a Russian’s home, so it was all new, for both sides.
But I was lucky. I lived with a Russian family in St. Petersburg several times over the years, for short periods, and I still feel very fortunate for the experience.
I’m beginning halfway through my piece, when I went to a meeting at the apartment of the president of the fan club, Alexander Varnovsky
“Anatoly brought me by streetcar to Alexander’s apartment building in the heart of Leningrad. As we approached the old six-story building nestled beside a children’s playground off a main downtown street, Anatoly pointed upwards to the president’s place. There, in the window, thousands of miles from home, in such a mysterious country, was a giant Montreal Canadiens crest. And beside it, Alexander and several of his friends waved and smiled and motioned to us to come up.
Hockey Night in Leningrad, without the television.
That evening at the Fan Club was without doubt one of the most enjoyable and interesting few hours I’ve ever spent. I could sense a feeling that I was truly welcome, and they seemed happy that they were able to get some Canadian impressions of the NHL, and of course their beloved Montreal Canadiens.
Alexander’s apartment looked like many hockey fans’ apartments, although it was very small. The walls were alive with Habs’ team photos from different years, and photos of Lafleur and Cournoyer and Beliveau and Carbonneau, among others, smiled down. Sasha had written many times to Habs public relations director Claude Mouton, and Mr. Mouton had graciously answered many of his letters and sent hats and pennants etc. All of Mouton’s letters were proudly displayed.
Even as I was taking off my coat, the questions started rolling off their tongues. The big one, the one brought up the most, was how I felt about the ’91-’92 team, and did I think they had the talent to go all the way. Of course they did, I answered. I’ve been answering that question the very same way all my life. So in Russia, it was no different.
As tea and pastry were served, I tried to explain why I thought the team would be successful. And I was grilled constantly about all aspects of the Habs, and the N.H.L. in general. What really stood out, what truly impressed me, was the amount of knowledge and insights my new friends had about North American hockey. They had only seen international competition for the most part – Canada Cups, World Championships, Olympics and such. Until then, a Montreal-Boston clash, for example, rarely or never graced the screens of Russian T.Vs.
But they were all hockey scholars in the truest sense. They all had their own ideas on who should win the Hart Trophy, or who the best goalie was, or what GM was the craftiest, or what skater was the most innovative.
They appreciated the aggressiveness of Shane Corson and Mike Keane, and loved the style and grace of Denis Savard. They expressed concern over the youthful defence of the Habs, and were all in agreement when Wayne Gretzky’s name came up as the greatest in the game today.
Throughout the evening we talked about league president John Ziegler, Serge Savard, Russian and Canadian fans, Hall of Famers, and famous games. They said that the classic Super Series ’76 featuring the Canadiens and Red Army 3-3 game was the turning point for them all, when they saw for the first time the beauty of Montreal’s game. They had heard many stories before that, but this was their first look, and it left a lasting impression.
The evening went by far too quickly, and after several hours it was time to go back to Anatoly’s. The entire fan club walked us the few blocks to the streetcar.
I made some great friends that night. We all share a deep love for the Montreal Canadiens, and I feel so fortunate to have met and spent such a memorable evening with them.
Several months later, back in Calgary, I received a letter from Leningrad, which had now become St. Petersburg once again after the system had collapsed and they were starting anew. There was one page in Russian and another translated into English, and it stated that I had been unanimously voted into the St. Petersburg Montreal Canadiens Fan Club.
I was the first and only member of the club from outside Russia, and I am very proud.