Monday, November 30, 2009
Dennis Hull-Keeps 'em in Stitches
Many of you have had the opportunity of hearing Dennis Hull as a guest speaker at a convention, a golf tournament, or some such gathering.
Dennis recently spoke to a group of cheese makers in Belleville, a group with whom he shares a common interest. He is a cattle farmer, although his chosen field yields little cheese. He raises Polled Herefords, the brown cows with white faces. He also spends a fair amount of time on the rubber chicken circuit, sharing his message. He recently hosted a comedy festival in Winnipeg.
Dennis has captured the essence of hockey humour in his addresses. He pokes fun at his teammates, himself, his family, and, naturally at his older brother Bobby. (I once asked Brent Gretzky what he thought of his older brother Wayne. He answered my question with a question: “What was your older brother like?” I mumbled a few unkind words. He then stated: “My brother was no different.”) In Dennis’s case, he now has the microphone. He can send along a few shots in Bobby’s direction, without repercussion!
Dennis has a good time at the podium. He also has a word or two about the money involved in the game today. His salary for his entire career might not equal the minimum salary for a rookie in his first year today. He did say this: “In the prime of my career, I once signed a salary contract for ten million dollars.” At this point there was a hush in the room. In his own particular style, Dennis could barely wait to share the rest of his thought. “I just couldn’t get the team to sign it.”
Dennis knows his stuff is funny, and it is well rehearsed. He has a hard time delivering the punch lines because he is laughing all the time that he is delivering the goods. And it works. There was barely a dry eye in the house.
He adds current material as well. He prefaces his jokes with the line: “I am always saying the wrong thing.” He was staying on the tenth floor of the Royal York Hotel in Toronto. He caught the elevator to go down for breakfast in the morning. It stopped at the ninth floor. Brian Burke, the head honcho for the Maple Leafs got on. Hull was shocked. But he managed to ask, “Where are you going, to the basement?” Those Leafs, they do take a beating on the humour circuit these days!
Dennis Hull, the hockey player.
Rod Turner is a mutual friend who grew up in the heart of Belleville. One Saturday afternoon, more than fifty years ago, we were sprawled out on his living room floor watching the Chicago Black Hawks play on an American Television network. Dennis pointed at the set and shouted, “That’s my brother!” Little did he know, at that time, that he would soon follow those skatemarks to the NHL.
Dennis grew up in Point Anne, played on the Bay of Quinte, and at the Memorial in Belleville. He attended Moira and Quinte before going to St. Catharines to play for the Teepees in 1960. He was fifteen years old. Bobby had also played a couple of years in St. Catharines, five years previously.
Perhaps the greatest single attribute of the Hulls was that they could really shoot the puck. At that time, the slap shot was coming into vogue, and no one could do it better than Bobby, Dennis, and then years later, Bobby’s son Brett. They were all prolific scorers. In the early days, goaltenders were intimidated by their shots. The main difference between Bobby and Dennis was that Bobby had some idea where the puck was supposed to go. Dennis commented: “Coach Billy Reay once said that Bobby could shoot a puck through a car wash without getting it wet. He added that I couldn’t even hit the car wash.” Yet another reason why many goalies feared Dennis’s shot more than Bobby’s.
The book on Dennis Hull’s career is entitled: “The Third Best Hull. I would have been fourth but they wouldn’t let my sister Maxine play.” Maxine lived in Demorestville, in Prince Edward County, and passed away two days before Dennis spoke to the gathering in Belleville.
Twenty years ago, Dennis was inducted, along with Bobby, into the Belleville Sports Hall of Fame. I took the opportunity to get Dennis to sign the guest book. I also presented him with his induction pin. He was most grateful.
Do not pass up an opportunity to catch Dennis on the circuit. The game itself is a brutal, violent physical conflict. Hull brings a natural levity to the sport. And it is refreshingly hilarious.
Go Hawks Go!
Monday, November 23, 2009
Entering the Hall 2009
Recently, four hockey players and a manager were inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame. They spent the weekend in front of microphones, cameras, and prodding journalists. Brett Hull, Luc Robitaille, Steve Yzerman, and Brian Leetch were the players. Lou Lamoreillo was the manager. It will be difficult to find a more deserving group.
The day of induction begins with the presentation of the Hall of Fame Rings. That takes place in the Great Hall, where all of the induction pictures are located. Players receive their rings and spend an hour chatting with media. Also on hand are a few friends and associates of the inductees.
It was my pleasure to chat with former Belleville Bull Darren Pang. Pang followed his National Hockey League career with an extensive ride in broadcasting. He has been everywhere, talking about hockey. He currently works in St. Louis, covering the Blues.
Pang grew up in Ottawa, and spent several minor hockey seasons with Steve Yzerman. Bulls’ fans first got to see Pang when he played for the Gloucester Rangers. That was the Bulls second season in the Tier II Junior Division. They had advanced through the Provincial Playoffs, then cruised through a series against Onaping Falls and Thunder Bay.
The Bulls faced Gloucester for the Ontario Championship, and a berth in the Centennial Cup Championship in Halifax, Nova Scotia. In game seven, the Bulls “battled back from two goal deficits four times” to win 10-8 in overtime. In his book 25 years With the Belleville Bulls, Aaron Bell quoted coach Mavety after the victory: “I just can’t believe it. What can you say about a game like that?”
Mavety chose Pang to be his goalie in the Bulls first year at the OHL level. Pang shared the netminding duties with Ken Porteous. The Meaford, Ontario native carried the load for the Bulls that year, starting 47 games, winning fifteen. He started 12 games for the Bulls the following season, then was traded to the Ottawa 67’s.
Pang starred for the 67’s in the 83-84 season, was the top goalie in the Memorial Cup, winning the Hap Emms Memorial Trophy. Undrafted, he signed with the Chicago Black Hawks and played 81 games over three seasons with the Hawks.
Darren Pang was at the Hockey Hall of Fame because he is Steve Yzerman’s best friend. They began playing together in Nepean, and he remembers those days vividly. He told me that he believed that Yzerman was a “natural born leader”. As a young player, Yzerman was a true student of the game. “If you didn’t do it the right way, he let you know about it. He was so determined. He would tell his teammates, if they were having difficulty to “put your head down and you will get through it.’”
Pang and Yzerman played Midget together in Nepean. He remembers Yzerman winning the Bobby Orr Trophy at the Loblaws Cup as a youngster. Even as a fourteen year old, he caught the eye of the scouts. Pang remembers giving up an “awful goal” and having Yzerman skate back to him, tap his pads and state: “We’ll get it back”. And he did, in short order. Pang said that Steve was “always understated, always serious”. “He was a great defensive player on our Nepean team.”
Yzerman spent his entire career as a Red Wing, and is currently employed by the Wings as Vice-President, Hockey. He is also the General Manager of Team Canada for the 2010 Winter Olympic Games.
When I asked Yzerman for a piece of advice for young hockey players, he smiled and replied, “Keep your head up.” He added, “If you drop the puck to one of your teammates behind you, you had better be aware that it won’t be stolen”.
When asked about his Cup-winning days in Detroit, he replied, “We had a lot of fun. (Fellow Inductee) Brett Hull was a real spark in the dressing room”.
Understandably, Yzerman was in his office in Detroit when he received the call that he had been selected to the Hall of Fame. He has a lot on his plate right now with the approaching Olympics. He will be second guessed to Kingdom Come for the choices he ultimately approves for the team; however, he will make them, and stand by them in his always understated, serious fashion. A most welcome member to the Hall.
Monday, November 16, 2009
Gaels March On! 2009
In a brilliant display of offensive football, the Queen’s Gaels outlasted the University of Western Ontario Mustangs 43-39 to win the Yates Cup last Saturday.
The Yates Cup is the oldest football trophy in the history of the sport. The Gaels will keep possession of the trophy this year, relieving the Mustangs of the burden. It rested in London for the past two years.
Dr. Henry Brydges Yates first presented the Cup in 1893, as a McGill medical graduate. He later served as a lieutenant-colonel in the Canadian Army Medical Corps during the First World War. While overseas, he fell ill with bronchitis, and died in Europe in 1915.
In the victory presentation, it was announced that it has been thirty-one years since Queen’s had won the trophy. That year, 1978, the Gaels went on to win the National Championship and the Vanier Cup by defeating the University of British Columbia Thunderbirds at Varsity Stadium 16-11.
Belleville’ Jimmy Allin was ecstatic after the game. “I can’t even begin to describe the feeling,” he told me. He acknowledged that Western quarterback Michael Faulds had played a great game. “We will savour this win tonight, but we will be back to work tomorrow.” The Gaels will host the Laval Rouge et Or in the Mitchell Bowl next Saturday, for the right to play in the Vanier Cup on November 28.
Somewhat disappointed, Allin elaborated: “I don’t think we played well defensively. The offense was great.” Smiling, he added, “Maybe we can pay them back for their efforts next week”. Allin is also the premier kick returner on the team, and was well contained by a swarming group of Mustangs on every return. He was chosen as a First Team OUA All star this year as a defensive cornerback.
Under a slight drizzle in the first half, Queen’s quarterback Danny Brannagan moved the offense well, completing important passes when necessary. The teams combined for an incredible 1 209 yards of offense in the game. Brannagan threw for 515 yards, Faulds for 509 yards. Faulds was the MVP for the league this year, while Brannagan copped the honour in the Yates Cup game.
The Queen’s victory was somewhat disappointing for Stangs’ coach Greg Marshall. He went into the game with an eighteen game winning streak in OUA playoffs this decade.
The Gaels had lost three post season games in a row. Coach Pat Sheahan spoke to Sun Media after the game: “This year was resolve right from the beginning. It was going to be Yates Cup or bust. (The Players) would not have looked at this season as a success if we didn’t win the Yates Cup.”
After the game, Brannagan spoke to me about the contribution of the home town crowd, announced at 7 253. “They were unbelievable. At the end of the game, they were so loud that they forced Western to take an offside penalty on their last drive. It made a difference”.
Injured during the last drive, Michael Faulds limped on to the field for the last Western play of the game. His desperation pass fell just short of receiver Zach Bull on the Queen’s three yard line with less than a minute left on the clock.
Game. Set. Match.
The stands will be packed for the game next Saturday. Queen’s will have the benefit of the “Thirteenth Man”. They will need it. Laval has a potent offense, and will be trying to hang on to the Vanier Cup for the third consecutive year.
Bonne chance, tout le monde!
Sunday, November 08, 2009
2009 Yates Cup : Western at Queen's
John Boultbee and his father Bill enjoying the game!
Under a brilliant November sun, the Queen’s Golden Gaels defeated the McMaster Marauders 32-6 last Saturday in Kingston. The Gaels dominated all aspects of the game from the opening kick off.
A strong westerly wind had a deciding influence on the outcome of the game. The Gaels went with the wind in the first quarter, and hemmed the Marauders into their end of the field on several occasions. Rather than chance a punt on third down, McMaster conceded safety touches on three occasions, adding six points to the Gaels’ scoreboard.
Queen’s added a touchdown by converting a turnover in the first quarter. Matt Vickers picked off an errant throw at the Mac 35 yard line, and Marty Gordon rambled in from the one to place the Gaels in front 13-0.
Queen’s running backs Jimmy Therrien and Gordon ran at will throughout the game. Despite the wind, Gaels’ quarterback Danny Brannagan threw for 161 yards on twelve completions.
The Queen’s offensive line proved to be the difference in the game. They blasted holes for the running backs, and held the Mustang defenders at bay, giving Brannagan time to read the defense.
There was constant pressure on the McMaster quarterback Kyle Quinlan the entire four quarters. Rush ends Osie Ukwuoma and Shomari Williams combined for twelve tackles and two sacks. Matt Vickers and Belleville’s Jimmy Allin combed the secondary, allowing Quinlan only 12 completions on 36 attempts.
Belleville Sports Hall of Fame inductees Gord Smith and Rick Locke were on hand for the Gaels’ triumph. Smith, a retired official, kept his eye on things from the press box. Locke was an outstanding running back for the Marauders. He went on to coach thousands of athletes at Quinte Secondary School in Belleville.
Next Saturday, the Gaels will meet the University of Western Ontario Mustangs for the Yates Cup in Kingston. The Cup will be awarded for the 102nd time. Game time is 1:00pm at Richardson Field.
The Mustangs knocked off the Wilfrid Laurier Golden Hawks 26-16 in Waterloo on Saturday to earn the right to play in their third consecutive Yates Cup. Nathan Riva ran for 279 yards on 42 carries to lead the Stangs.
Western quarterback Michael Faulds completed 14 passes on 29 attempts. He is the CIS all-time passing yardage leader with 10 811 yards, just 97 yards ahead of the total that Brannagan racked up at Queen’s.
Note: Jimmy Allin elected to remain at Queen’s this year following four outstanding seasons with the Gaels. In 2007 and 2008 he was awarded the Bob Howes award as the Most Outstanding Special Teams Player. Laurier fullback Peter Quinney also hails from Belleville. Both got their careers started in the Belleville Minor Football League.
8 November 2009
Monday, November 02, 2009
Celebrating Hockey History at Lunch
Once a month, during the hockey season, several former National Hockey League players get together for lunch just north of Toronto.
It is truly a fine collection of players from many decades. There are a few who played in the Sixties and Seventies. And there are a few who have been away from the game for some time.
Wally Stanowski received an ovation from the crowd because he had passed his driver’s test---again. Wally has had several tests because he recently celebrated his ninetieth birthday.
Wally was also singled out because he was one of many NHL hockey players who left the game in the Second World War to serve the country. A most fitting tribute as we approach Remembrance Day.
Stanowski, nicknamed “Wally the Hat”, came east in 1938 to play for the Memorial Cup as a junior. The Leafs liked what they saw in the speedy defenceman, and moved him into their system. After winning the Cup in 1942, he joined the army for two years.
The First World War had finally ended when the NHL’s second season began in 1918. A player from the old National Hockey Association, Scotty Davidson, was among the first to enlist in 1914. He had won the Stanley Cup in 1914 with the Toronto Blueshirts. He was killed in Belgium on June 6, 1915.
Conn Smythe, the man who forged the Toronto franchise into the Leafs, and also built Maple Leaf Gardens, emerged from the First World War as an officer. He formed a Sportsmen’s Battery twenty years later at the outbreak of the Second World War.
Danny Lewicki began his hockey career in an impressive fashion. He won the Memorial Cup as a junior when he was 17, the Allan Cup when he was 19, and his first Stanley Cup when he was 20. He spent nine seasons in the NHL. His grandson Aaron was an outstanding player with the Wellington Dukes a couple of years ago. Danny
Jim Morrison shared a few stories from his early days in the NHL. He played only fourteen games with the Boston Bruins before being traded to the Leafs. He was sent to Pittsburgh for a month, because the Leafs wanted to convert him from defence to centre.
In his first game as a Leaf, he was told by his coach, Joe Primeau, to get ready to jump on the ice after “Teeder” Kennedy won the face-off. Kennedy cruised over to the bench and Morrison leapt over the boards onto the ice. He took one stride and fell flat on his face. Three times. He then realized that the old trick had been played on him. There was a thin strip of hockey tape on the blade on the bottom of his skate.
It was great to share a story with two former Whitby Dunlops-Bobby Attersley and Sandy Air. Both have great memories of the ice wars against the Belleville McFarlands at the Memorial Arena.
The great Harry Howell enjoyed his lunch at the Rangers table. Bob Baun, Bob Nevin, Ivan Irwin, and other former NHL players appreciated the opportunity to meet with friends. It was also a pleasure to chat with former Belleville McFarland “Pete” Conacher, a most congenial host.
Canadian singing legend Michael Burgess showed up a little late for the lunch after his game of shinny. The group sang Happy Birthday to Herb Carnegie, celebrating his Ninetieth at the luncheon.
“Reverend” Ron Hurst closed out the festivities with a few anecdotes. With his quick wit, sharp lines and dead-pan face, he left the group rolling in the aisles, until the next time.