Tag Archives: Punch Imlach

Orr and Gretzky Could’ve Been……..

Bob Davidson may have been Chief Scout for the Toronto Maple Leafs, and no doubt was responsible for guiding many great players to the Leafs, particularly in the 1960s when Toronto was winning four Stanley Cups, but he made the odd big error in judgement in his scouting career, and I mean big.

One 1972 Davidson faux pas is well-documented. It occurred when he and John McClellan travelled to Russia prior to the 1972 Summit Series to scout the Soviet squad, and came back with the report that the Soviets weren’t great shooters and their weakest spot was in goal. Of course, the squad turned out to be a powerhouse and the goalie’s name happened to be Vladislav Tretiak, who wasn’t a weak spot by any stretch of the imagination. In fact, he stood on his head in that historical series and continued to stand on his head for the next decade or so.

The other big Davidson boo boo happened much earlier than 1972 and if he’d followed up on a simple letter, the course of Leafs, Bruins, and NHL history as a whole would have been drastically altered.

In 1960, a minor hockey organizer in Parry Sound wrote to Leafs coach and GM Punch Imlach about a 12-year old player named Bobby Orr and how good the little guy was, but Imlach thought little or nothing about it and simply passed the message on to Davidson. But Davidson, without checking the kid out, decided that young Bobby was indeed too young and maybe in a few more years they’d have a look again and see how he was progressing at that time.

The Orr family was disappointed. Bobby’s father Doug and grandpa Robert were both big Leafs fans and loved the idea of Bobby eventually playing in Toronto, but it wasn’t to be because Imlach and Davidson couldn’t be bothered.

Shortly after the Leafs passed on the kid, Boston brass saw the young fellow play in a tournament in Gananogue, Ontario, began making trip after trip to Parry Sound to wine and dine the Orr clan, and the rest goes without saying.

And while we’re talking about the Leafs, Wayne Gretzky almost played in Toronto following his brief St. Louis stint in 1995-96.

Leafs GM Cliff Fletcher was on the verge of having the deal sealed. Gretzky wanted badly to play in Toronto, it was his dream to finish his career there, and he was ready to sign for around two or three million. He’d even passed on an eight million dollar offer from Vancouver because he was so eager to play for the Leafs. Gretzky told Fletcher he’d do whatever it took to get it done, but Fletcher’s bosses decided they wanted to cut back on payroll and use any extra money for the building of the Air Canada Centre.

So Gretzky signed with the Rangers instead.

(The Gretzky and Orr information comes from the Damien Cox/Gord Stellick book – ’67 The Maple Leafs, Their Sensational Victory, and the End of an Empire. The wording in this post is mine).

Kane’s Bar

In the late 1990s a buddy and I owned a sports bar in Powell River called Kane’s Sports Bistro. It was a nice little place and I was able to have my treasures all over the walls, just like I’d always wanted.

But it was way too much work and not much money, we were fairly clueless about running a place like this, and we ended up selling it.

The new owners kept the name and carried on for several more years.

When we had the pub, the NHL Oldtimers came to town to play one of their many charity games and dazzle us with their playmaking, the skill that never seems to leave retired players.

On the day of the game, in the early afternoon, my partner and I were the only ones in the place when a couple of legends, Red Storey and  Frank Mahovlich, walked in. They strolled around, looked at all the stuff on the walls, and then sat down.

Naturally we were very polite, offered them a nice spaghetti dinner (on the house), and started asking questions about hockey which they both seemed more than happy to go on about. We talked about the 1972 Canada-Russia series, modern day hockey, and Red told me how hard it was to handle the Rocket sometimes when he (Red) was refereeing.

And of course, we had a big talk about the Habs in general.

From that conversation, the thing that most stands out is Mahovlich saying what a class outfit the Canadiens were. He said it was by far the best team in the league to play for. He explained that he didn’t get along with Punch Imlach in Toronto and wasn’t happy there, and when he was playing in Detroit and heard the news that he was traded to Montreal, he knew it was perfect for him.

He said the Canadiens treated the players first-class, and he considered himself an ex-Hab, not a Leaf or Red Wing.

That night at the game, Red Storey carried a microphone with him as he mc’d, and told the sold-out crowd of about 2500 that everyone should go to Kane’s because the spaghetti was so good.

Training Camp Blues

With training camp fever in the air, I just thought I’d add another training camp story after posting one the other day about a bunch of the ’66-’67 Leaf players not quite ready to report after suffering from aches and pains during the summer Training Camp

This next story is from the article below, about Doug Harvey returning for another season in New York and injuring himself before training camp started. The print’s a bit small so I’ll just copy it for you:

“Meanwhile, Harvey was conditioning himself for the start of training camp but ran into an unexpected obstacle when he broke a knuckle on his left hand while instructing a bunch of kids on how to play – football.

Harvey, it seems, was making a point with a piece of chalk on a blackboard when he stubbed his finger. A cast was placed on the hand but the hockey star said he was certain he would be all right by the opening of training camp.”

And hey, why not bring out the old Punch Imlach letter to Jim Pappin about reporting to camp ready for some push ups, sit ups, and golf – Training Camp Invitation

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Dad, What The…?

My father was a Habs fan as far back as I can remember, but from reading his journal he once wrote about his childhood, it turns out he was a Leafs fan when he was a kid. He changed later on, and I wish he was alive so I could ask him about it.

All I know is, he used to complain about all things Leafs, including Foster and Bill Hewitt and of course Punch Imlach and Conn Smythe, and he’d go on about the sports section of the paper which was all Leafs, all the time, which, except for him, is understandable considering it was a Toronto paper.

But thankfully somewhere along the way, he became a Habs fan. If I had grown up a Leafs fan, I might have had to shoot myself.

Here’s a section of his journal:

“The Toronto Star used to come up on the train the day after it was published and as a rule, we could usually come up with the three cents it cost. We didn’t have a radio but I became a Toronto Maple Leafs fan through reading the sports pages of this paper. Almost every day of the hockey season, the sports section would carry a drawing of a player and these I would cut and paste in a scrapbook.

It was around 1932 when one of the Leaf players, Ace Bailey, was injured in a game against the Boston Bruins. While he was in hospital, I wrote him a letter and in due time received an answer from his wife along with an autographed picture of him. I dare say, I must have been the proudest kid in Trout Creek and I like to think I was the envy of all the other boys in town.”

 

 

And The Answer Is (Was)….

clocks 1

Not long ago a couple of folks here wondered how teams are able to keep track of all the players’ ice-time during a game. I wasn’t clear either, so I began looking around my stacks of magazines and through old boxes, and I came up with an answer.

Of course, the answer comes from 1959 so things have changed slightly. But hey, it’s still sort of an answer.

This example is from Maple Leaf Gardens, but I’m sure it was the same at the Forum and the other four rinks back then.

Thirty-six clocks were originally installed at the Gardens in 1950, with two panels of switches, and from their vantage point, two men kept track of the players on the ice for both teams. There was one panel for the Leafs, and one for the visitors. Each panel had 18 on-off switches.

Beneath each switch was a player’s name inked on white tape, and the names were arranged so that the switches for players playing together were side by side. The two guys then quickly flipped the switches as players changed.

The 36 clocks were in a small room up high in the Gardens, and under each one was the name of the player whose switch in the booth was connected to his clock. The giant Sportimer over centre ice was also wired into the clocks, so when the timekeeper at ice level started and stopped the Sportimer, he automatically controlled the clocks for each man on the ice.

After each period, an employee recorded each player’s time in minutes and seconds, and when the game was over, the times went to the coaches of each team. Sometimes the employee would get a call for the times at the end of each period or even during a period if Punch Imlach or Toe Blake or one of those other guys wearing a nice fedora needed to check on a particular player.

Time in the penalty box wasn’t counted. When one of the Leafs once got into a game to sit out a teammate’s penalty, his total playing time was logged at four seconds – the time it took to get back to the bench after the penalty expired.  “Too slow,” said Leafs coach Hap Day. “It shouldn’t have taken him so long.”

After the game, the coach wants as many statistics as he can get. Along with playing times, he wants to know which players were on the ice for different situations. In 1959 at least, these extra things were done by a couple of guys up in the press box scribbing like mad.

So there you have it. A couple of guys asked, and I, with the help of my old trunk, delivered. Even though the information comes from 54 years ago.

clocks 2

Guyle Was At Home In The Minors

Last year I was in contact with a fellow named Gyle Konotopetz, who at one time was a terrific and ultra-creative sports columnist with the Calgary Herald before moving to the states, and now, I think, is up in Victoria. Gyle had done a piece in the Herald about Danny Gallivan, and when I wrote about Danny later on, I mentioned Gyle’s article. Lo and behold, Gyle emailed me just to say hi, which was really nice, and which also blew me away considering how talented the guy is and how I had admired him when I lived in Calgary.

Gyle told me he was working on a book about a legendary minor-league player named Guyle Fielder, whom everyone thought should have been a star in the NHL, but for some reason, stayed in the minors. Why would someone shun the limelight? Why would someone not want to play in the NHL and be a huge star? I wondered for years, as many, I’m sure, have.

So who better to ask than Gyle Konotopetz.

“Detroit didn’t want to release Fielder but he asked for his release anyway. In his six games on Howe’s line, the line didn’t have a single point. They both needed the puck to be effective and didn’t click together. Fielder thought he’d have been better off on another line. The year he was there, he was being touted as a rookie of the year candidate (he’s had 122 points in the Western League the previous year).

“He was an all-round athlete, scratch golfer, and pool shark. In Seattle, he had a better salary, he made a lot of money playing pool, and he was able to golf the year round. A couple of years after going back to Seattle, Punch Imlach flew to Seattle to offer him a contract with the Leafs and he wouldn’t take it because he was enjoying his lifestyle in Seattle. A lot of Western Leaguers in those days refused contracts from the NHL.

“Fielder should be in the Hockey Hall of Fame. Some players would go on his line and double or triple their goal scoring. He lives down in Mesa. Guyle’s uncle, Al Fielder, was president of the Western Hockey League and although Guyle hasn’t said so, I think his uncle used his influence to keep him in the WHL where he was a big draw everywhere.”

Guyle says his book is stalled at the moment, but if he ever gets it finished, be sure to check it out. This guy is a superstar journalist, and Guyle Fielder is a fascinating subject for sure.

And if you want to know more about Guyle Fielder while we wait for Gyle’s book, a couple of nice pieces can be found here at Greatest Hockey Legends and also Sportspress Northwest.

A Few ’72 Tidbits

Team Canada had a six-hour stopover in Paris on the way to Stockholm, and goalie Ed Johnston said this about the beautiful old city: “What’s wrong is the same thing you find with all these European cities. Too many old buildings.”

While in Stockholm, a Swedish fellow at the press conference mentioned that maybe Bobby Orr, who was injured and didn’t play in the series, wasn’t as good as Russian Valeri Kharlamov. “He’s good in the NHL,” said the guy, “but in Europe he’d be only average.” A Canadian who overheard this said, “Put this down. Bobby Orr-healthy-would eat any Czech or Russian alive. And he’d spit out any Swede.”

In Moscow, the Canadians were seen coming back to their hotel at all hours of the night. While some of the boys were sitting around the lobby of the Grand Hotel, someone mentioned hearing that the Russians had put street crews with jackhammers outside the Canadian team’s windows in the early morning. “No problem,” said one player. “We won’t be in anyway.”

Coach Harry Sinden celebrated his 40th birthday while overseas. “Ten days ago I was 29,” he said.

Some Canadian fans who arrived in Moscow found out there were no tickets available for them. These included Maurice Richard, Punch Imlach, former referee-in-chief Carl Voss, and legendary wrestler Whipper Billy Watson. Those left out were given three options: they could take an all-expenses paid 10-day tour of Copenhagen; they could fly home and be refunded; or they could stay and take their chances on finding tickets. Most chose the third option.

Dennis Hull, after a tour of Moscow, gushed, “I really like the place. It reminds me of Buffalo.”

The Russian players who didn’t dress for the games in Moscow had to buy their own tickets to get into the rink.

Talkin’ Bout A Few Of The Guys

Yes, indeed, P.K.Subban picked up the puck in glorious fashion in his end, whirled and dashed to the oohs and awes of me and many others, and promptly lost it to the enemy, who then took off and scored on Carey Price. It was a young man’s mistake, learned from years ago when he most certainly had his way with other teams in small buildings.

It’s a tough thing. Do you harness his energy, or do you let him be P.K? This is a young fellow still learning his craft, and with this free-wheeler, this sort of thing is bound to happen from time to time. You just hope the goalie is there to back him up.

You can be sure there were times when even Bobby Orr and Flower and Howie Morenz all lost the puck on a big exciting rush. P.K. may even do it again and I’m fine with it.  I just don’t want to see him play tentative and with less enthusiasm. He wouldn’t be P.K. if he did that. 

Carey Price was quite mediocre at best in this Avalanche game, but he’ll get his game together very soon. He’s showed many signs so far, but still hasn’t played like the Carey Price we know and love. The consistently great Carey Price. A lot of blame, though, goes to the players in front of him. Lots of opposing players are getting way too many good chances.

Price ‘ll be fine though. Look at Ken Dryden. He was far from great in the 1972 Summit Series but he was a great goalie. It’s the same with Carey. We see some brutal nights.

Erik Cole says he and Jacques Martin don’t talk and I don’t care if they do or not. Cole’s a big boy making millions, and coaches can be difficult and complex creatures. Toe Blake’s favourite whipping boy was Ralph Backstrom, who was a sensational third-line centre for the Habs. And he was only third-line because Jean Beliveau and Henri Richard were the centres on the first and second lines. Toe was hard on him, and Ralph got so mad at his coach one day he threw a skate and it stuck in the door. Ask Frank Mahovlich about Punch Imlach. And Scotty Bowman was miserable and didn’t talk to anybody.

C’mon Cole, don’t let it get to you. And one assist in four games doesn’t cut it.

Scott Gomez – ditto. One assist in four games doesn’t cut it either. I know we’ve accepted that you’re not a goal scorer, you’re a playmaker, but you’re on track for another lousy season. You’d shown so much in preseason. What happened?

Sadly, I’ve just heard that Ottawa columnist Earl McCrae has passed away. I loved reading his stuff when I lived back east, and after I had moved to the west coast, and before the internet came along, a friend would send me ten or twenty of Earl’s columns at a time because I missed him. Earl could be outrageous, funny, deadly serious, really smart, and simply a wonderful writer who entertained me and countless others. He was also a member of the Elvis Presley Society in which he swore, tongue-in-cheek, that Elvis was alive and well in Tweed, Ontario.  

So long, Earl. Thanks.

 

Habbing Hot Fun In The Summer

Early 1960’s article in Hockey Pictorial, asking members of the Montreal Canadiens how they planned on spending their summer.

Terry Harper was going on a western tour for Molsons and the Canadiens, and bringing along the wife and kids. Terry was born and raised in Regina, so a western tour would have been right up his alley. Kind of a way of getting home and having Molsons pay the shot, I suppose.

John Ferguson was going to work in a Boys’ Detention Home in Nanaimo, BC, and if I was one of those boys in the home, I’d be very polite around the Mr. Ferguson. The last thing I’d want to do was make him upset. Fergie also plannned on playing some lacrosse while on Vancouver Island, and by all accounts, he was a great lacrosse player.

Ralph Backstrom was going to hang out at the resort he bought near Buckingham, Quebec, a nice little town not far from Ottawa and full of Irish, English, and French townsfolk, and Dave Balon thought he’d sell a little real estate and play golf. The way salaries are today, I’m pretty sure Balon wouldn’t have to worry about selling real estate if he was lacing them up now.

JC Tremblay and his wife were expecting a baby, as were the Claude Provosts. What, these guys had sex with their wives? If they played in Toronto, Punch Imlach would’ve been pissed because they weren’t concentrating on hockey.

Orr And Gretzky Were Almost Leafs

Bob Davidson may have been Chief Scout for the Toronto Maple Leafs, and no doubt was responsible for guiding many great players to the Leafs, particularly in the 1960’s when Toronto was winning four Stanley Cups, but he made the odd big error in judgement in his scouting career, and I mean big.

A 1972 Davidson faux pas is well-documented. It occurred when he and John McClellan travelled to Russia prior to the 1972 Summit Series to scout the Soviet squad, and came back with the report that the Soviets weren’t great shooters and their weakest spot was in goal. Of course, the squad turned out to be a powerhouse and the goalie’s name happened to be Vladislav Tretiak, who wasn’t a weak spot by any stretch of the imagination. In fact, he stood on his head in that historical series and continued to stand on his head for the next decade or so.

The other big Davidson boo boo happened much earlier than 1972 and if he’d followed up on a simple letter, the course of Leafs, Bruins, and NHL history as a whole would have been drastically altered.

In 1960, a minor hockey organizer in Parry Sound wrote to Leafs coach and GM Punch Imlach about a 12 year old player named Bobby Orr and how good the little guy was, but Imlach thought little or nothing about it and simply passed the message on to Davidson. But Davidson, without checking the kid out, decided that young Bobby was indeed too young and maybe in a few more years they’d have a look again and see how he was progressing at that time.

The Orr family was disappointed. Bobby’s father Doug and grandpa Robert were both big Leafs fans and loved the idea of Bobby eventually playing in Toronto, but it wasn’t to be because Imlach and Davidson couldn’t be bothered.

Shortly after the Leafs passed on the kid, Boston brass saw the young fellow play in a tournament in Gananogue, Ontario, began making trip after trip to Parry Sound to wine and dine the Orr clan, and the rest goes without saying.

And while we’re talking about the Leafs, Wayne Gretzky almost played in Toronto following his brief St. Louis stint in 1995-96.

Leafs GM Cliff Fletcher was on the verge of having the deal sealed. Gretzky wanted badly to play in Toronto, it was his dream to finish his career there, and he was ready to sign for around two or three million. He’d even passed on an eight million dollar offer from Vancouver because he was so eager to play for the Leafs. Gretzky told Fletcher he’d do whatever it took to get it done, but Fletcher’s bosses decided they wanted to cut back on payroll and use any extra money to the building of the Air Canada Centre.

So Gretzky signed with the Rangers instead.

(The Gretzky and Orr information comes from the Damien Cox/Gord Stellick book – ’67 The Maple Leafs, Their Sensational Victory, and the End of an Empire. The wording in this post is mine).