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.”