Hockey’s Golden Age Is When?

Isn’t it funny that no matter what decade we’re in, many retired players and older fans always insist that the game isn’t as good as it used to be, when they played or watched.

It’s only natural that they feel this way. The present game, of any decade, just doesn’t have the romance it did for them. And hockey always changes, whether it’s the way players shoot, or pass, or even their size.

Ken Dryden, when asked when he thought the golden age of hockey was, answered that it’s whenever we were young.  It is for me. The 1950s and 1960s were my golden hockey years. They were magical years, with road hockey, collecting cards, digging pucks out of snowbanks, outdoor rinks and frozen toes,  and a six-team NHL. And I had the Rocket, Beliveau, Howe, Hull, Plante, and Sawchuk to watch.

But for men who played in the 1930s and ’40s, those 1950s and ’60s years sucked. And for those who played in the 1910s and ’20s, the next few decades after them simply didn’t cut it.

It’ll always be like this. Ken Dryden was right. It all depends on when you were born.

Here’s some examples.

Cyclone Taylor, one of hockey earliest stars, talking about the game in 1968:

“I don’t think I’d like to play the game now. I was used to going on at the start of the game and playing to the finish. I think any man between the ages of 18 and 35 who can’t play 60 minutes of hockey – well, he just doesn’t want to play, that’s all.”

Newsy Lalonde, who signed with the Montreal Canadiens in 1910, talking hockey in 1970.

“Never did I use the slapshot the way you see it used in the NHL now, with the curved sticks and all. With us there was no other shot to use but the wrist shot. When a man makes a slapshot today it’s more powerful than a wrist shot, but you can’t place it in the same way. The modern player just shoots the puck in the general direction of the net and that’s it. We knew where the puck was going and didn’t have to look twice.

And if you think hockey is a tough game nowadays, you have no idea what toughness is all about.”

Bill Durnan, star goalie for the Habs from 1943 to 1950, talking about the NHL in 1969.

“It’s a changed game, no doubt about it. Now it’s congested and half the time you don’t know how the puck went into the net. Thy just don’t have the plays we had; they simply shove the puck in the corner, then there’s a wild scramble, with three or four guys behind the bloody net. The puck comes out and somebody bangs it in. At that point, even the announcers who are supposed to know what happened start guessing.

And the players have changed, especially their attitudes, though at least until recently there were a few honest skaters left. John Ferguson, who played for the Canadiens, is an example. I was at a party with him a few years ago and somebody asked him why he was such a stinker on the ice and a nice guy off it. Ferguson replied. “When I’m on the ice, I’m at work!”

Now that’s the kind of answer we oldtimers would give.”

Cooper Smeaton, NHL referee before and after World War 1, interviewed in the 1970’s.

“Those were the golden days of hockey when you had fellows like Howie Morenz, Nels Stewart, and Georges Vezina. They talk about Bobby Hull’s speed, but Morenz would whip around his net like a flash and be up the ice before you could blink your eyes.

Take a goal scorer like Stewart. In today’s game he’d score 100 goals. And in the old days if a team was a man short it would stickhandle the puck until time expired. Now they just heave it down the ice. You don’t have to pay a guy $400,000 to do that.

We had a more appealing game game with lots of stickhandling and nice passing. Now it’s all speed. But one thing remains the same though – the referees never seem to please the coaches or managers or owners. To this day, nobody is perfect.”

9 thoughts on “Hockey’s Golden Age Is When?”

  1. $400,000 to heave a puck down the ice….a bargain in today’s NHL…fortunately i was there in the 60’s to the 90’s and witnessed that “golden” era…now if i could only find the keys to my time machine!
    Thanks for the post.

  2. You have explained it quite well, Dennis. In old age – something like puberty, there is no exact date – we tend to see the past through rose-coloured glasses at times. And, we can lament that things will never be what once was, but that’s life. I handed in my resignation today and it was a very difficult task., but there comes a time … , and time marches on . And, I recall the words of Wordsworth at the moment: “The paths of glory lead but to the grave”. No matter how good I was, it’s o-o-ver.

  3. DK, this is off subject, but it was a perfect way to explain how we live this thing we call life. The off topic part is I wanted to ask Orville if he has a relative named Mike, he’s a good friend of mine in the elevator trade in Toronto and an avid Habs fan(how can you not have a Habs fan as a friend) :<) his last name is Amyotte.

  4. Mike, the only relative in Ontario that I am aware of is Reg Amyot in Sudbury. My Father was an orphan at the age of six in 1906 and was adopted by a family (Paquette) who migrated to this part of Saskatchewan in the same year. So, he never saw any of his relatives for 36 years, when he could afford to go visit them.
    Thanks for the enquiry. Orville here in Prince Albert, Sask.

  5. Orville, thanks for your reply the way Reg spells his last name is the same as my friend, He was from North Bay but not sure were he was born, thanks again, Mike.

  6. I look at it differently. Nostalgia has its place I guess but it is very rose coloured. I was born in 1951 and I started watching hockey at the start of the 1960-61 season. (Missed the 5 Stanley cups and never saw the Rocket play a live game). (I lived in St Jean (Richelieu) Quebec 58-63, Cold Lake, Alberta 63-65, St Bruno Quebec 65-66, St. Hubert, Quebec 66-71). Montreal’s best era, (when I was watching) was the 60’s and 70’s. My best era of hockey was 70, 80 and 90’s. It’s when hockey opened up and there was a lot of scoring. Since New Jersey employed a defence first hockey changed. It worked for winning games not for excitement. The insane comment that defence creates offence. Yes that is true in a defensive system. But if that statement were true (given the game is so defensive now) scores should be 15-12 every night.
    I don’t think I would enjoy 50’s and 60’s hockey where it was slow and the scores were low. Speaking of today’s game Gretzky said the players are better and faster but it is totally a systems game where in his time they were free to use the skills. Gretzky would not be putting up the points today that he did back then.
    Look at hockey today. It is even hard for teams to score five on three. The only time it opens up is when it is three on three. Then you’re always on edge with pure excitement.
    I think defensive hockey is here to stay. Gone are the days of 150 + points. It is hard to get 100 points these days.
    In my opinion the three players that transcended the game were Bobby Orr, Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux.

  7. Hi Frank. Great comment. I agree about the 1970s but I’m not so sure the 80s and 90s were much faster than the 50s and early ’60s for example. Back then it was branded as ‘The World’s Fastest Game’ and it was for sure. Speedsters like Pocket and Backstrom and Keon. I know old film makes it seem really slow but I think it’s an illusion. In the early 60s my buddy and I went to an exhibition game in Barrie to see the AHL Buffalo Bisons and Rochester Americans, and the Bisons let us stay on the bench and act as stickboys. But what I’m getting at was the speed of the game. It was amazing. And the hitting was hard and often.The scores weren’t always low back in the 50s either. I’ve been to NHL games in every decade, and in every decade there were games that were like watching paint dry.
    On another note, I lived in St. Hubert a few years ago when I was working for Classic Auctions in Delson.

  8. My dad was in the armed forces. We did not live in the town of St Hubert but on the St Hubert base. Whether it was fast or not something changed when Bobby Orr came into the league. The game opened up. The scores went up. The highest amount of points was 97 in the late 60’s. Phil Esposito notched 156 points in 70-71and the scoring continued up till about the mid 90’s . For me anyway it was more entertaining. If i were to choose two teams to play a 7 game series it would be the Montreal team from 76-79 and the Edmonton team from 84-88

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