Doug Wickenheiser was going to be the next big centreman for the Montreal Canadiens. Sort of like Jean Beliveau in a way, but of course that was an unfair expectation. There was only one Beliveau.
But Wickenheiser was going to be a beauty, that’s for sure. In his three years with the WHL Regina Pats, the big guy had tallied 37 goals, then 32, and finally, in his final year, a whopping 89 goals and 81 assists. The Montreal Canadiens were rubbing their hands with glee.
The Habs could’ve gone with the slick Quebecois fan favourite Denis Savard, but he was small, and the sight of 6’1″, 196 pound Wickenheiser erased any other ideas from the Habs brass. It was going to be Wickenheiser, they said. And thoughts of a new Jean Beliveau swirled around their heads.
But for some reason, Wickenheiser struggled in Montreal. Not only wasn’t he the new Jean Beliveau, but he was also just another struggling player, totalling just 7, 12, 25, and then 5 goals in his four years in Montreal before being dealt to the St. Louis Blues. Fans longed for Denis Savard and couldn’t believe the massive mistake made by the Canadiens brass, especially head scout Ron Caron, who was promptly fired for this poor choice of a draft pick.
In the meantime, Savard, picked third by the Chicago Blackhawks, (flashy defenceman Dave Babych went second) lit it up nightly, and in his brilliant ten years in Chicago, averaged 31 goals a year, including three years where he popped 47, 40, and 44 goals. It was no contest. Everyon agreed Montreal should have chosen Savard, a fire-wagon sparkplug from Pointe-Gatineau, Quebec.
Wickenheiser moved on to St. Louis, and never lit it up there either. It was obvious he was one of many players who were big stars in junior, but found the NHL a completely different story. The player everyone thought was going to make it big eventually bounced around after leaving the Blues, from Vancouver to the Canadian National team to the minors, Europe, and a ten other stops in between. It was just another story in along list of hockey player stories. Most have short careers in too many different cities. The stars are the ones we hear about, the ones who are good enough and fortunate enough to have more than a half-dozen years or so in the bigs.
In retirement, everything was going great. Wickenheiser had opened a nursery and frozen custard business in St. Louis, and his wife Dianne was expecting. But then, only eight days from Dianne delivering twins, a cyst on Wickenheiser’s wrist proved to be cancerous. There was talk of amputation. But the tumor was successfully removed and he was able to hold his new twin girls.
For three years, all was well for Doug Wickenheiser. All he had to was wait out that magic five-year period to be proclaimed cancer-free. It wasn’t to be. Doctors found he had a rare form of lung cancer, but Wickenheiser, showing true greatness, and kept his head held high. “I know I’ve got it,” he said. “I know I’ve got to deal with it. It’s part of life. People get sick. People get disease. I really just try to stay positive and pray everything goes well. I think it’s really harder on my wife.”
“I don’t think they (the twins) really know what’s wrong,” he said. “But they have their own prayer every night. They say, “Baby Jesus, please help Daddy’s boo-boo get better.”
Doug Wickenheiser passed away on January 12, 1999. He was only 37.
An arena in his home town of Regina bears his name.
This is absolutely reasonable. Gretzky deserves this honour. He was Gretzky, for goodness sakes.
But there’s another number out there that deserves the same royal treatment. Number nine.
Number nine was the number of Gordie Howe, Bobby Hull, and of course, Maurice Richard.
How can you argue with that? Number nine shouldn’t be worn by Steve Downie or Oscar Moller. Number nine was worn by Mr. Hockey, the Golden Jet, and the Rocket, three of the greatest ever, right up there at the top of the mountain. It’s a sacred number.
Currently there are 15 teams of the 30 with a player wearing number nine. It doesn’t seem right.
I think all but two of these players should surrender their number nine, choose another one, and carry on. The two players, Mike Modano in Dallas and Paul Kariya in St. Louis, have had too good a career to not wear these sweaters. But when they retire, so goes the number.
Here are the other 13 players currently wearing number nine.
Eric Christensen – Atlanta
Derek Roy – Buffalo
Steven Weiss – Florida
Oscar Moller – LA
Mikko Koivu – Minnesota
Zach Parise – New Jersey
Brendan Bell – Ottawa
Scottie Upshall – Philadelphia
Pascal Dupuis – Pittsburgh
Milan Michalek – San Jose
Steve Downie – Tampa Bay
Niklas Hagman – Toronto
Taylor Pyatt – Vancouver
Oh, were you thinking you were going to read about the Canadiens loss to the Washington Capitals tonight? Forget it. I’m not going to bother. It’s too disappointing after their big win in Detroit. So I’m moving on.
This post is about a puck instead.
I never caught a foul ball or home run at a ball game, or grabbed a flying puck in the stands. Although a ball did hit my seat at Shea Stadium when I was out getting a beer and hot dog (seriously), and I did take a puck in the mouth which broke a tooth when I was kid up at the arena in Orillia.
I did manage to get this though, some time ago. It’s an official goal puck scored by Yvan Cournoyer in 1972. The NHL issued a few goal pucks for about a year, then the idea fizzled out.
This one reads:
of the Montreal Canadiens
Scored an official National Hockey League goal
With the puck mounted above.
This goal, his 5th of the season,
was scored against the
ST. LOUIS BLUES
Date – Oct. 26, 1972
Period – 2nd
Time – 3.38
The goods news is, Montreal has played less games than most, only 15.
The bad news is, they’re in tenth place overall, with Buffalo, Vancouver, Minnesota, Washington, Boston, Pittsburgh, Detroit, the Rangers, and the Sharks all above them, with the Sharks leading the pack.
The really bad news is the Toronto Maple Leafs are only two points behind them, although the Torontonians have played three more games.
Regardless, the Leafs shouldn’t be in the same air space as Montreal. Vancouver shouldn’t be ahead of them. And I hate it when Boston’s ahead of them.
Start turning this around tonight, boys, when you play St. Louis. Otherwise, me and a handful of other bloggers are going to have to take the team over and do the coaching.
It’s draft day in the NHL, in about three hours from now, and this post will carry on right through the day. I feel there’s no sense trying to predict who will go where because it’s always just a big guess. Lots of first rounders over the years have proved mediocre at best, and others, like Henrik Zetterberg, end up getting picked up in the hundreds.
So I’m just going to wait and see how it plays out. Gary Lupul told me once when he was scouting for the Canucks that this is the one day of the year when scouts get a chance to be stars.
The best thing about the draft is the general managers come relaxed, the stress on most of their faces is gone, and it’s always possible a really good swap could occur. I’m a bit mystified at this rumour of Pittsburgh moving Evgeny Malkin. Because unless the guy’s a major prick in the dressing room, why would the Penguins do this?
He turned it up last season when Sidney Crosby was out for a lengthy time injured. The team and the media have been raving about him all season. He just signed, or is about to sign, a contract worth more than Crosby’s.
It’s a mystery to me. All I can think of is that Malkin stunk in the playoffs. Or that it’s a completely false rumour.
It would be great if the Habs grabbed some kind of major star, even Marion Hossa. It showed in the playoffs that Montreal was missing a couple of final pieces of the puzzle, and maybe Bob Gainey can pull something off. If they would’ve made it to the Stanley Cup finals, there wasn’t a chance in hell that they would’ve beat Detroit. A top-notch power forward would be nice.
Montreal has been given permission by the Toronto Maple Leafs to speak to Mats Sundin. I don’t mind this at all. Sundin’s a tad old but he’d help the Habs.
This is something else that we’ll wait and see about.
Ottawa goalie Ray Emery cut loose. It’s going to be tough for him to land a job elsewhere, so he might want to think about applying at Scott Paper across the river in Gatineau. It pays a little over 20 bucks an hour.
A Russian team in the Continental League may or may not have offered Evgeny Malkin 12.5 million a year tax free to come and play. You see how oil can make some people over there very rich and can afford to make offers like this? If only these tycoons would throw some money to the old pensioners in Russia who are making about $50 a month and often sleeping in the streets, many of them old widows whose husbands died in the war. And over here, we’re paying a buck and a half a litre to help make people very rich.
That’s twice the money Malkin would make here. What will he do?
AN HOUR TO DRAFT TIME:
Sarnia’s Steven Stamkos goes first to the Tampa Bay Lightening.
AND! Montreal trades their 25th pick and a 2009 second round pick to Calgary for 28 year old Quebec boy Alex Tanguay. Tanguay’s a left winger, is 6’1, and also spent five years with the Colorado Avalanche before his two years in Calgary.
He’s a good, solid big leaguer (177 goals, 362 assists), and should be a big plus for the Habs. This is exciting. And Sundin’s a possibility too but may take a few days before we know.
Tanguay coming to Montreal has been a rumour for awhile now, long before the playoffs started, and now it’s happened.
The top ten picks went like this:
1. Tampa Bay – Steven Stamkos – forward
2. LA – Drew Daughty – Defence
3. Atlanta – Zach Bogosian – Defence
4. St. Louis – Alex Pieterangelo – Defence
5. Toronto – Luke Schenn – Defence
6. Columbus – Nikita Filatov – Forward
7. Nashville – Colin Wilson – Forward
8. Phoenix – Mikkel Boedker – Forward
9. Islanders – Josh Bailey – Forward
10. Vancouver – Cody Hodgson – Forward
And Chicago, with the eleventh pick, chose forward Kyle Beach who may or may not be a great pick. This guy has the potential to be an impact player, but has a history of being a major pain in the ass, especially off the ice. Will he be the next Sean Avery?
Wayne Gretzky got a nice standing ovasion from the Ottawa crowd when he got up to announce the Coyotes’ pick. (Mikkel Boedker)
Now it’s time to wait out the Mats Sundin, Montreal rumour. I’m hoping this happens.
Although the players will be saying their goodbyes and heading back to the cottages in Sainte Leonard and Sault Ste. Marie, or the dachas in Novopolotsk and Togliatti, I, however, will be continuing my workouts and strict discipline in preparation for when I’m called up as flag guy next season at the Bell Centre.
One thing I don’t need is an injury, so I’ve decided to sit when I’m drinking beer, and also to do as little as possible at work. Can you imagine when they call me to be flag guy and I have to tell them I pulled a muscle while dancing at the Moose Hall, or I’m too exhausted from doing too much for the Man at work?
Also, the photo above isn’t really me. But it kind of gives you an idea of what I’ll look like in my Habs uniform on flag night. In real life, I have legs and a neck.
IN OTHER NEWS:
Sean Avery spent his last playoff chances of the year in the hospital, and missed his team’s (New York Rangers) elimination.
There’s no truth to the rumour that the reason he was hospitalized was for the removal of his ego, which was growing at a dangerous rate. There might be, however, some truth to the rumour that Avery was the least popular patient in the New York hospital.
TEAMS I HATE THE MOST IN THE NHL:
That would be the Flyers, Bruins, Devils, Leafs, Senators, Panthers, Hurricane, Lightening, Islanders, Rangers, Avalanche, Canucks, Wild, Stars, Sharks, Kings, Blues, Blue Jackets, Red Wings, Blackhawks, Oilers, Thrashers, Capitals, Penguins, Flames, Ducks, Predators, and Coyotes.
I like the rest, though.
WHO WILL WIN THE STANLEY CUP?
Oh, is hockey still going on?
For two and a half periods tonight, the Montreal Canadiens would have had a hard time beating Byer’s Bulldozers Orillia Midgets circa 1965. (with a smallish but speedy Ralph Backstrom-type right winger).
And it the end, it bit them hard as the lowly St. Louis Blues, full of Canadians and Americans, waltzed into Montreal, full of nothing, and came away with a 4-3 shoot-out win.
I knew the sleeping with the wives, the paying of bills, the shoveling of the sidewalk, the washing of dishes, the visits from the in-laws, the catching up on phone calls, the diaper changing, the grocery shopping, the praise from strangers on the street, was gonna effect the play of the team. I had a feeling Montreal might suck tonight.
And in general, they did.
Their passes were off, their shots missed the net, they fell down often, they ran into each other, they looked confused, they were out of sync. And sadly, Halak was mediocre. It was just a bad night. And most of all, it was two important points slip, slidin’ away.
It’s no wonder the Soviet National teams of the ’60’s, ’70’s and ’80’s were so good. Everything was in sync because when they weren’t playing house, they were holed up in camps living together, eating together, playing soccer, working in gyms, and practising on the ice.
Of course they hated it and wanted to lynch coaches Bobrov and later, and especially, Tikhonov, but the results were there. No wives, no snow shoveling, no phone calls, no mother-in-laws. Just hockey.
But of course that won’t work nowadays. Not in the NHL, anyway. But I want to know why teams come out flat like the Habs did tonight. Why was everything out of whack? What causes this? Should the Habs hire Viktor Tikhonov?
You could say they took the Blues lightly because St. Louis has twenty points less than Montreal. But every game now, as I’ve said before, is a huge game for Montreal. So taking a team lightly doesn’t cut it. It has to be the wives.
Next up, Thursday in Boston. Out of the house, on a plane, into a hotel, eat group meals. Price is probably back in goal.
They’d better win this one. It’s important.
And one last thing. I have a photo of Bobby Rousseau in the early 1960’s scoring on a penalty shot by blasting a slapshot from just inside the blueline. Everyone now tries the fancy stuff. Why don’t they just move in and fire away. Goalies are human.
I love the Blues. Always have.
No, not the hockey team, for goodness sakes. Are you kidding? I’m talking about Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker, and early Clapton! Jeez, what were you thinking?
The really curious thing about the St. Louis Blues, who meet the Habs at the Bell Centre tonight (March 18th) is this: aside from Martin Rucinsky from the Czech Republic, and goalie Hannu Toivonen from Finland, the entire roster is made up of Canadians and Americans. How rare is that?
The team includes 16 Canadians and 6 Americans, along with Rucinsky and Toivonen. And not only that, coach Andy Murray and his four coaches are all Canadian, and the video coach is American.
Don Cherry must chuckle with glee when he pores over the Blues roster in his program.
So my question is this: Was this done purposely, or did it simply just happen this way? And is the reason the Blues sit in 14th place out of 15 teams in the west because they don’t have more Europeans on their roster?
Tonight’s game, on paper at least, should be no contest. The Blues, like I said, are in 14th place with 69 points. The Habs, with 10 Europeans on the roster, are second in the east with a lofty 89 points. The Blues are a no-name team, with only Paul Kariya, Eric Brewer, Martin Rucinsky, and Keith Tkachuk adding some sort of familiarity.
The Habs sometimes forget to show up. This is what worries me.
Jaroslav Halak starts in net tonight for Montreal. Coach Guy Carbonneau said he was delighted with his game against the Islanders, a 3-0 shutout.
So the young fellow earns another start.
Ken Reardon was a rough, tough, hard-rock customer for the Montreal Canadiens in the 1940’s, a rugged, aggressive and often fiery defenceman who after retirement became a high level executive for the Habs.
From the time Reardon joined Montreal in 1940, his life could be told in three chapters. His rugged, all-star play on the ice; his enlisting in the Canadian Army during World War 11 after only two years with the Habs, and being a main cog on the army hockey team; and his tenure as executive with the Habs, where he worked as assistant to Frank Selke and others, and was both a teammate, friend, and ultimately the boss of Maurice Richard and Toe Blake.
A story I like about Reardon occurred when Reardon was still a young player with Montreal, and he had this thing about looking good. One day he was getting a haircut prior to a practice, and was late getting to the Forum. He told the barber to be quick so the barber charged him only thirty-five cents instead of the regular fifty cents because it was a quick job. At the Forum, the door to the dressing room was locked so he had to knock, and coach Dick Irvin answered. The young defenceman knew he was busted so he tried to make light of it. “I just got a haircut for thirty-five cents,” said Reardon. “No you didn’t,” replied Irvin. “You just got a haircut for twenty-five dollars and thirty-five cents.”
Tonight, Montreal, in another big game, (for about 15 teams, every game’s a big game), shut out the Islanders 3-0, with Jaroslav Halak in goal. In a week, the Habs have gone from first place to second to fifth, and now back to second again.
Next up, the St. Louis Blues come to town, then Montreal goes to Boston on Thursday. Both are big games. Naturally.