Tuesday, June 28, 2016


Hockey Hall of Fame 2016 Inductees

The 2016 Hockey Hall of Fame Inductees were announced yesterday in Toronto. There are four players to be inducted; however, due to the fact that Pat Quinn spent more time behind the bench than he did on the ice, it was deemed that he should enter in the “Builder Category”.

The players entering the Hall this year are: Sergei Makarov, Eric Lindros, and Rogatien “Rogie” Vachon. As is always the case, there is some discussion about who will walk through as a member of the Hall, and those who are remaining at the threshold.

There are decent goaltenders who will likely get an invitation some day-Curtis Joseph, Chris Osgood, and Tom Barasso. Some skaters overlooked this time: Rod Brind’Amour, Keith Tkachuk, Vincent Damphousse, Mark Recchi, Alexander Mogilny, and Dave Andreychuck. All in good time, girls and boys.

The selection committee is composed of individuals from all walks of the game. They put their heads together, likely trying to avoid all of the lobbying that takes place prior to the selections. They know their choices are never popular.  They have broad shoulders, and can take the heat.


Rogie Vachon joined the Montreal Canadiens in 1966 and won three Stanley Cups in his first six NHL seasons. “My first shot on net was a breakaway by Gordie Howe. I stopped it, and it kept me in the league for 16 more seasons,” he reported to the committee following the announcement. Vachon was traded to the Los Angeles Kings in 1971, stayed in the game for 11 more years, then became a coach and executive. In Andrew Podnieks’ wonderful book, the Ultimate A-Z Guide to Everyone who has ever played in the NHL, it is written: “The simple truth of the matter is that Vachon is likely the finest goalie (certainly of the modern era) not in the Hockey Hall of Fame.” Scratch that sentence, Harold.


Eric Lindros. At times, he brought a lot of controversy on himself. Most of the time, it seemed to follow him. As an Oshawa General, he towered over the smaller Belleville Bulls at the Quinte Sports Centre. He bullied around the little guys, and became “Public Enemy Number One” while in the OHL. Once he started in the NHL, it was made quite clear to him that those tactics would not work well. Most fans will not forget the hit from Scott Stevens that left Lindros gasping for air. Even the big guys learn to keep their heads up.

That was the beginning of the “Concussion Era” in the NHL, for better or for worse. Even his towering brother had his career shortened as a result of hits to the head. It is a good thing that more care is taken in that regard in the game today. All pro sports monitor those situations much more carefully nowadays. The days are gone when they trainer said, “What day is it? Count my fingers. He’s good to go, coach.”


Sergei Makarov began his NHL career at the age of 31, in 1989. It was the year after the Flames had won the Cup. He had experienced great success on the International stage, and managed to average 25 goals per season in his first five years in the NHL. He had 86 points in 80 games in his first NHL season, and won the Calder Trophy as the rookie of the year. That did not go over well with many hockey purists, as he had not come up through the normal ranks. He had spent 13 years in the Soviet Union at the professional level. He was involved in a big trade with San Jose, through Hartford, and the Whalers obtained Chris Pronger. After two years with the Sharks, he signed with Dallas, playing but four games with the Stars.

The 2016 Ceremony takes place in Toronto at the Hall of Fame on Monday, November 14th. Always a great time to be in the city!

James Hurst


Tuesday, June 21, 2016


Gordie and Red Kelly

From the pen of Roy McGregor, related in The Globe and Mail.

When Red Kelly left the Wings to play in Toronto, it did not sit well with Howe, nor with any of the other Wings’ players. They snubbed him in the hallway, they ignored him on the ice in the pre-game warmup.

Early in the game, a puck was dumped into the Leafs end. Kelly took off after it. As he neared the corner, he felt someone closing in on him fast. He slowed. It was Howe.

“He slipped an arm around my waist, like a lover,” Kelly recalled, beautifully.

Howe leaned in – and here Kelly leaned in as well, to demonstrate the intimacy of the gesture – and whispered, “Hey, Red. How’s the wife?”

Kelly turned to answer …

“And that’s when Gordie knocked me out.”

Kelly told this story in the living room of his Forest Hill home 40 years after the fact. It was his favourite Maple Leaf Gardens tale, and one of his favourites about the man who’d introduced him to his wife.

Kelly shone throughout the telling of it. He was trying to convey something elemental about Howe – his duality, and a great part of what made him special.

Off the ice, he was a gentle soul. On it, he was on a seek-and-destroy mission. His targeting apparatus did not recognize faces, only enemy colours.

Howe typified a brand of hockey that’s long since disappeared – brutal, but not vicious; vengeful, and never contrived.

He was the last great link with what most of us still romanticize as the authentic game. A game played by farmers, factory workers and car salesmen, back when hockey was a job, and not yet a vocation.

It was a game in which civic borders were more than a liminal space. They were absolute, uncrossable boundaries. You did not just play against men from Chicago, Montreal and New York. You hated and suspected them.

Back in the 1950s and 1960s, clubs travelled together via train between a home-and-home. One team would have to walk through the other to get to the dining car. Those were genuinely fraught moments. A cross word here could ignite a years-long vendetta.

They were hard men, and none harder than Howe. He wasn’t especially big – six-feet tall, a little over 200 pounds. But his hands hung at the end of his arms like wrecking balls. His torso was cantilevered forward like some sort of industrial machine. He was built to ruin.

Despite his reputation as one of the top pugilists in the history of the game, he averaged less than a fight a year during his career.

The legend was based largely on one bloodbath in 1959 with Rangers enforcer Lou Fontinato. The Rangers goaded Howe into high dudgeon. He needed to be shown the cape before the red mist would descend. Sometimes Howe’s personal Iago, Ted Lindsay, supplied it on the bench; sometimes an opponent was foolish enough to bait him on the ice.

Fontinato landed the first few blows. Howe shrugged them off. Then he took hold of Fontinato and collapsed his face, breaking his cheekbone, his nose, splitting both lips. The day-after pictures remain some of the most gruesome in sport.

Howe fought even more rarely after that. Everyone had seen the photos. He didn’t need to fight any more. And since Howe took no particular pleasure in beating people up, he stopped.

He continued abusing people with the rest of his body, and at speed. Which was probably worse. He continued to pile up points with such marvelous dependability, it tended to obscure his excellence.

If Howe hadn’t been quite so metronomic over so many years, we’d probably talk more about his skill. Quiet efficiency doesn’t rate on the heat scale.

Fifty years on, what we remember about Howe is his soft sense of menace. He was a ruthless player. Dirty, even. But never thought of with malice.

That would be impossible now. We’re too binary – people are good or bad, never nuanced. We have slo-mo replays. We’d be going over the Fontinato fight trying to pick out the moment when Howe should have stopped swinging.

Imagine all the shots Howe delivered with those swinging elbows. He would occasionally pin a man against the boards with his hip and ride him the length of the ice, knocking his head back and forth like a flesh piñata. He was a terror.

But thankfully, there is no video. So instead, we get to remember Howe gauzily. Like the time in which he played.

                                             Red Kelly, 2015 Christmas, going over his list.
Maybe he didn’t always do what we’d consider the right thing, but he damn well did it for the right reasons. He stuck up for himself and his teammates. He gave no quarter. He waited until you asked for it, and then he gave you a lot more than you’d anticipated.

He’s gone now, but he’d long ago become a feature of our imaginations. Howe’s name summons up a game we’d no longer recognize and an idyllic, illusory vision of the sea-to-sea-to-sea.

What he represents now is Canada’s frontier spirit. We don’t have movie stars or galloping politicians to anchor our national mythology. We have hockey players, and none greater than Howe. He’s our John Wayne, our Theodore Roosevelt.

He is an idealized vision of ourselves – tough, decent and uncompromising.

Gordie Howe didn’t enjoy fighting, but he’d happily go to war at the right time.

On some very basic level, that’s how we’d all like to define ourselves


Monday, June 20, 2016


Mr. Howe-Mr. Hockey

Amongst other things, Gordie Howe was perhaps the greatest ambassador for the game of hockey. On the ice, and off the ice, he was Hockey.

As is the case with so many other fans, I have had a couple of opportunities to chat with the late Mr. Howe. Always genial, always most affable, he paved the way for young players in the game. He taught them how to relate to the public. Simply put, he said that if someone was going to wait for him to sign an autograph, then he would take the time to sign it. As you know, that is not always the case today.

Bobby Hull was the same way. There are countless tales told about buses having to wait while Bobby signed the last few autographs.

Only a couple of years ago, I was chatting with a seated Bobby Orr at a Panthers’ game in Sunrise, Florida. I saw Gordie getting off the elevator. I mentioned that to Bobby. He literally jumped out of the chair to go and meet Mr. Howe. You could feel the respect.

Later that evening, Gordie asked me where I was from. I told him I was from the Belleville area. “I fished the Bay of Quinte several times, on occasion with Bobby Hull.”

Last weekend I had one of my “catching up chats” with my oldest and best friend, Peter Carver. I owe a great deal of my sports enthusiasm and knowledge to Peter, and to his dad, George, who was the sports editor at the Intelligencer in Belleville. Peter reminded me that we had met Gordie Howe, Len Lunde, “Red” Kelly, and Metro Prystai “Across the Bay” from Belleville, on the Rednersville Road.

They often visited with a scrap medal dealer from Detroit who cottaged in the area, a certain Mr. Leggate. Peter also remembered that the boys ventured over to Tobe’s County Gardens for the fine ice cream. That would be another story.

Almost twenty-five years ago, son Arty and I attended a card show in Toronto. Gordie had just finished an autograph session when we arrived. Arty asked Mr. Howe as he was leaving the area, “Gordie , would you sign this for me?” He was ignored. Again he asked, “Mr. Howe, would you sign this for me?”

Howe turned around and stated, rather curtly, “Young man, until you are polite about it, with a ‘Please’ or ‘Thank you’, I won’t sign anything.” Arty apologized, and rephrased his request. Gordie signed a blowup of the 1954-55 topps card for him. Lesson learned.

Over the past week or so, I have heard many different stories about encounters with “Mr. Hockey”. Many local fans met Gordie and Rocket Richard at the Quite Mall. That would be a combination of two of the greatest players of all time, from both of Canada’s language communities.

When the photo was taken at the Hockey Hall of Fame with his son Mark, Gordie elbowed me as I was trying to look pretty for the camera. I asked, “What did you do that for?” He replied: “I’m famous for that!”

Meet me at the Quinte Sports Centre this Thursday at 11:00am, for the unveiling of the historic plaque recognizing the efforts of Jack Laviolette, one of the founders of the Montreal Canadiens! 

James Hurst

June 20, 2016.

Monday, June 13, 2016


A Tribute to Jack Laviolette

Jean-Baptiste Laviolette was born in Belleville in 1879. His father was in the lumber business. At that time, lumbering was important in the city. Logs were floated down the Moira, to be processed in one of the mills located near the area at the mouth of the river.

The family moved to Valleyfield, Quebec when Jack was ten years old. He excelled at hockey and lacrosse, and was also right at home on the motorcycle track. He played his amateur hockey in Montreal, then departed to play in the International League for the American Soo. Four years later, he returned to Montreal to play hockey for the Shamrocks, and lacrosse for the Nationales. Two other stars on his lacrosse club were Newsy Lalonde and Didier Pitre.

In 1909, Laviolette was given the responsibility of establishing a team in Montreal in the newly-formed National Hockey Association. In a book written about members of the Canadian Sports Hall of Fame, it states: “He was responsible, more than any other man, for the formation of the Canadiens.” He was hired to be the playing manager and the coach. Known at that time as “The Speed Merchant”, he moved up to forward to play with Pitre and Lalonde, the greatest line at that time. They won the Stanley Cup in 1916.

He played with the Habs in their first year in the NHL in 1917. In the summer of 1918, Laviolette was involved in a serious accident at a track while tuning a car. He lost his right foot, ending his hockey career. In 1921, Leo Dandurand arranged a benefit hockey game for Laviolette. The former Habs star had a special artificial foot designed, laced up his skates, and refereed the game! Those who watched him said he could skate better than most men with two legs!

He was inducted into the Canadian Sports Hall of Fame for his prowess as a lacrosse player, and in 1962 into the Hockey Hall of Fame as one of the great early players.

On June 23rd, at 11:00 am, the Ontario Heritage Trust is honouring Laviolette. One of their historic plaques will be unveiled in Belleville at the Sports and Wellness Centre. For history buffs, and sports fans, this will be an event you will not want to miss.

                                              Lalonde          Laviolette              Pitre

“Newsy” Lalonde was born in Cornwall. Didier “Cannonball” Pitre was born in Valleyfield, and spent 13 years with the Canadiens. All three are to be recognized for their contributions to hockey.

The statement from the Heritage Trust: “In honour of their contribution to the early history of the Montreal Canadiens hockey franchise, Laviolette is one of four players born in Ontario being recognized this year in various locations throughout Ontario by the Ontario Heritage Trust.”

Laviolette was inducted into the Belleville Sports Hall of Fame in 1988. He died in Montreal on January 10, 1960.

James Hurst

June 13, 2016   

Tuesday, June 07, 2016


Ali Has Left the Building

Muhammad Ali passed away this week and is mourned by people he touched throughout the world. No matter where he went, he was surrounded by fans who adored him.

Born in 1942 in Louisville Kentucky, he was named after his father Cassius Marcellus Clay. They were both named after a staunch Republican abolitionist from the 19th century. His father painted billboards and signs, and his mother was a household domestic. He descended from slaves in the American south, and grew up in an area of racial segregation. He was once denied a drink of water at a store. That irked him greatly.

Occasionally, his temper flared. When his bike was stolen, he was furious. Fortunately, a Louisville police officer and boxing coach, Joe Martin, directed him to a gym in the basement of a school. That is where he learned the trade.

Although it is seldom noted, Ali had great physical gifts which suited him to the ring. He had height, and a rock solid physique. He had quick hands, and quicker feet. He could take a punch, and show patience. To all competitors, he was the most infuriating opponent they ever faced.

Before a fight takes place, there are occasions when fighters just happen to be in the same room. It might be for a weigh-in, or simply an opportunity for the media to grab a note or two to hype the fight. Ali relished those opportunities, and always dominated those occasions.

He would announce that he was going to “Float like a butterfly, and sting like a bee”. He often denounced opponents as being ugly, and that the champ had to be beautiful. “Ain’t I pretty?” he would ask.

He was branded with many names throughout his career, one being “The Louisville Lip”. As a prize fighter, he just would not quit taunting opponents, increasing the popularity of a fight. He acknowledged that he had watched “Gorgeous George”, a popular wrestler from The Fifties, and adopted some of his shtick. George, with his beautiful blond flowing locks, wrestled for years around the world. George atomized the ring with perfume, and often gave orchids to the ladies.


                                                    Gorgeous George

Prior to his professional career, Ali won a gold medal at the Rome Olympics in the Light Heavyweight division. Francesco de Piccoli was the Heavyweight champ, never to be heard from again. As a pro, Ali’s record was 56 wins, 5 losses. His final loss to Canadian Trevor Berbick was not pretty, nor were his losses to Larry Holmes and Leon Spinks near the end of his career.

In 1966, Ali refused to be conscripted into the American military, at that time involved in Vietnam. He was stripped of his titles, and found guilty of draft evasion. The conviction was overturned in 1971.

There are many wonderful movies and documentaries about Ali. He even has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. It was placed vertically, not horizontally, according to his directions. He did not want people walking on his name.


The question always arises as to whether or not he was the greatest of all time. Very difficult to answer, Certainly, Rocky Marciano comes to mind as a great heavyweight champion. He won all 49 of his fights, and his career was tragically cut short when he was killed in a car accident.


Joe Louis, “The Brown Bomber”, knocked out James Braddock to win the title. He then defended the title 25 times successfully over a 12 year period. Louis later earned a few extra dollars in the wrestling ring as a referee, even at the Memorial Arena in Belleville.


Another former Heavyweight champ also worked the wrestling ring in the small towns. Jack Dempsey fought 64 times, winning 49 by knockout. His most memorable bouts were against Gene Tunney and Jack Sharkey.

James Hurst

June 7, 2016.

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