Monday, November 27, 2006


Duff and Roy Enter Hockey Hall of Fame

They rolled out the red carpet recently at the corner of Yonge and Front in Toronto. Four new members of the Hockey Hall of Fame were about to be inducted, and the hockey world takes a back seat to no one when it comes to “puttin’ on the Ritz”.

Dick Duff and Patrick Roy entered as retired players, and the late Herb Brooks and Harley Hotchkiss entered in the builders’ category.

This was “Saint” Patrick’s first year of eligibility, and there was never any doubt about his selection. Simply put, he is the best goaltender ever. Now some of you older codgers may disagree with me, but the facts are there for your perusal.

He had a long and distinguished career, and continues to succeed in the hockey world as a coach. In 2006, he mentored the Quebec Remparts to victory in the Memorial Cup. Not a bad start to his coaching career.

When you consider the categories that Roy heads, as far as goalies are concerned, there is little doubt that he retired as the best ever. He played more games, won more games, and leads in goals against for a career. ( I will also concede, for all you nay sayers, that he also leads goaltenders in losses as well. In that same vein, Cy Young leads all major league pitchers in wins and losses. He is well down on the list for earned run average, another testament to Patrick’s prowess.)

He is the only goaltender to win 200 games for two different teams, and chalked up two Stanley Cups with the Habs and the Avalanche.

He credits the input from Rogie Vachon, Daniel Bouchard, and Francois Allaire in making him the goalie he was. But he wasn’t always a tender.

I asked him during the media session before the Hall ceremonies about his early career. “I played out at first,” he told me. “I wanted to play goal, but I was too small. Then the next year in Quebec, my Mom signed me up as a goalie.”

In the early and mid 1980s, many NHL teams sent representatives to Niagara Falls, Ontario for a slow pitch softball tournament. An annual affair, it gave players a chance to get together socially following every hectic season. We often attended the event with Belleville’s Rick Meagher, who was with New Jersey at the time. I remember a young and rather slight third baseman for the Canadiens team. He had amazingly quick hands, snaring line drives that should have been “doubles down the line”. The same Patrick Roy.

Terrance Richard “Dick” Duff, now seventy years old, was born in Kirkland Lake. He is generously listed as being five feet, nine inches. Size was never a problem for the left winger who began his NHL career at the age of 19 with the Leafs. He is yet another northern boy who made good on the iced surfaces of the NHL.

There is a long list of players who were raised in Northern Ontario, and north- western Quebec who were scouted in their home towns, and coerced into moving south. Hockey barons from Montreal and Toronto scoured the rinks in Timmins, Sudbury, Kapuskasing, Kirkland, Noranda, Chapleau, and other northern bergs to find their future stars. Mostly mining towns. Young bucks relished the opportunity to head south to play the game they loved, far from the smelters and the piercing whistles signalling the end of shift. The brass ring, to be sure.

Duff won Cups with the Leafs in ’62 and ’63, then was traded to the Rangers. Following that season, he found himself with the Canadiens. He added four more Cups with the Habs, and played in seven All Star Games.

Duff is a wonderful raconteur, and captivates with his yarns of early hockey memories. He cherished his days playing with the greats---Rocket Richard, Beliveau, and Henri Richard---“who had the heart of a lion”.

His room mate with the Leafs was Dave Keon, a Noranda boy. He told me that it was a special day for him to be there with Duff. Keon does not go to Leafs games, has never been to the Air Canada Centre, and did not participate in the closing ceremonies at the Gardens. He was brushed aside by Harold Ballard and the Leaf brass in 1975, when he was not offered a contract to continue with the Leafs.

Keon had spent his entire career with the Leafs up to that point. He was the Rookie of the Year in his initial season in 1960, and led the Leafs to several Stanley Cups. In 1967, he also won the Conn Smythe Trophy as the MVP of the playoffs. David Michael Keon was inducted into the Hall in 1986.

I spotted Keon just before he entered the hallowed area of the Hall, and was dismayed to find him being badgered by a group of younger Leafs supporters. “Come back to the Leafs,” they bellowed. “We need you here. You are part of us.”

It was painful. Keon smiled, and turned away.

I quietly asked him if he followed the game from his home in Florida. He answered to the negative, to the point that he did not even watch the game on television. “I don’t get that channel,” he told me. He added that he does follow college football, and college basketball. His son, David Jr. has worked with the NHL for years.

A phalanx of hockey’s best amassed to pay homage to the four inductees. The list is almost endless, but I did spot: Coffey, Gartner, Bower, Pulford and Ron Ellis. Pat Quinn, Scotty Morrison, Tom Watt, and Ron Hogarth. Glen Anderson, Goring, Hawerchuk, Billy Smith, Dionne, Howell, Gadsby, The Fergusons, some Sutters, Al Arbour, Pilote, Damphousse, Bathgate and Red Kelly.

Amongst others.

Other players, and managers, and friends and fans of the game.

In homage to great players, great builders. At the Hall.

James Hurst

Tuesday, November 07, 2006


The Buffalo Shuffle-Year II

For the second year in a row, I recently took the opportunity to catch a Bills’ game in Buffalo.

The Franklin Coach picked up part of our sorried lot in Belleville between 5:30am and 6:00am, and the rest of us in Trenton. (The Sting fans had dibs on the front seats, Dukes nation were escorted to the rear of the bus.)

From there, it is smooth sailing to the Canadian border. Hamilton Tiger Cat fans were requested to remove their hats, and to place their right hand over their hearts as we passed by Steel Town). At the Peace Bridge in Fort Erie, there is a bottleneck at that point which stretches the limits of credibility.

The first time I travelled with the hoard, I assumed, before reaching the border, that we would follow the somewhat nebulous guidelines of the international import-export business. Unless you are out of the country for 48 hours, don’t even consider the purchase of any goods, especially that demon rum.

Wrong again, Charlie. Our group poured into the Duty Free Emporium, and headed directly to the stacks of beer cans, and to the shelves of Corby’s finest. Half an hour later, all were back on the bus, well stocked for the ten minute drive to Orchard Park, and the game against the Green Bay Packers.

Not your average Duty Free, mind you. The Tim Horton’s and the McDonald’s are at the very back of the shop, as are the washrooms. Head there first, don’t mind the lineups. There were thirty other buses from Canada in the parking lot---as well as countless limos and private vehicles. Be patient. Think football.

That drive might be ten minutes when the Bills are in Cleveland on a December afternoon. When they are at home, expect an hour of stop and stop and stop and go traffic until you reach the parking lot. It is an interesting trip---across middle class America to the Stadium. Most private homes have parking on their yards, for about $15 a pop, to augment the mortgage payments. Evangelical churches waive you in to park, and to eat---dogs and burgers and such to support their missions.

Finally, you arrive to witness the “Tail Gate Adventure”. Fifty thousand revellers psyching up for the game. Truly an event. Wafts of smoke of all description---mainly from barbecue charcoal and from firewood permeating the grounds. Mass consumption of Labatt’s and Coors. Footballs flying everywhere. Red and white and blue of the Buffalo Bills and yellow and green on the Packer supported. Game Day.

Once the game began, the spectacle unfolded. More than seventy thousand human beings plopped into a bowl in the pursuit of happiness on a Sunday afternoon. A beautiful November day, perhaps 65 degrees in the sun.

The fans rise as one every time security guards, in bright yellow jackets hustle out unruly patrons. Several of those removed were shirtless, painted in bright team colours.

“Borat” would really have enjoyed the trip!

After the game, I overheard one Buffalo supporter chortle to his companion: “I can’t believe there is a team worse than we are!” On that day, it was fact.

The Bills were woefully inept, the Packers worse. Turnovers, bad decisions, poor execution. They will kill you on the gridiron. And so it was for Green Bay.
Perennial super star, and Hall of fame shoe-in Brett Favre was at the helm for the Packers all day long. There were moments of genius, and hours of despair.

He had one interception returned for a touchdown. He had another returned for a long distance. He fumbled one snap, and lost the ball. Another snap hit him in the facemask while he was in shotgun formation. Yet another turnover.

Losman’s pass to Lee Evans iced the cake for the Bills. That gave them a 17-10 lead with less than eight minutes remaining. They finished off the Packers with another TD. The game ended when the official told us that he had initiated the forty second rule---some kind of “Mercy Rule”. When a team commits a penalty on defence, with less than forty seconds remaining, the game is over. No gun. No cheers. Just meander off to the dressing room victorious. Only if you are wearing the red, white, and blue.

Another hour journey to the border, and a quick trip through customs. (Our trip escorts rehearsed the drill---keep our yaps shut, no back talk, and have our passports and birth certificates ready.)

More than thirty percent of the fans at the game cross the border. They return home laden with Bills’ memorabilia and souvenirs. We waited in line at the Field House after the game to get in to buy Bills’ items. The loyal Canadian fan would drop a least a hundred bucks on the American side. Do the Math. Good business.

There is a movement afoot to capture that magic, and those dollars, in Toronto, with the establishment of an NFL team in Canada. Horrible idea. Equally as bad as putting CFL teams in Shreveport or in Las Vegas. Truly dumb.

Late November is the time to enjoy the Canadian Football League. The Grey Cup is less than two weeks away. As always, it is up for grabs.

The NFL will soldier on into the New Year. With a few breaks, the Bills could move into playoff contention. Perhaps to another Super Bowl. Someday.

By the way, Monday mornings can be difficult following those excursions. I overheard one of the hoard: “I’m starting a new job next week. The boss told me to be in bright and early Monday morning. I told him I’d start on Tuesday.” Great decision.

I’ll meet you at the bus.

James Hurst

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