Tuesday, May 02, 2017
The Stanley Cup Playoffs 2017
On the first Monday of each month, several friends gather together at a Shopsy's on Woodbine Avenue, just north of the 401 in Toronto. The group includes former NHL players, officials, managers, coaches, and others who take a couple of hours to reminisce about the game.
I thought it would be a perfect opportunity to throw out that favourite question, at this time of year, “Who is going to win the Stanley Cup this year?”. I threw that out to half a dozen of the guests. Most of them had a standard answer, almost instantly. The answer involves goaltending.
Brian McFarlane has never been far from the game. Born in 1931, he grew up in Ontario, and went to St. Lawrence University in Canton, New York, on a hockey scholarship. After several radio and television gigs, he landed work with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, and began an extensive career as an interviewer and host for NHL games. Many of us looked forward to seeing Brian between the periods on the weekly “Hockey Night in Canada” telecasts. His smooth, relaxed manner set the players at ease, and they responded well to his questions.
I buttonholed Brian at the lunch with the all-important question. Now in his mid-eighties, he is still a keen observer of the game. Until quite recently, he played weekly in Fort Myers at the Skatium, located beside The City of Palms Park, the former Boston Red Sox Spring Training facility. “This is great hockey to watch,” he told me. “The speed of the game, and the skill of the players is amazing.” He refrained from picking a winner.
Ron Hurst played many years for the Leafs. Also in his eighties, he rarely misses a trick. “At this point in time,” he told me, “I have to give the nod to the Penguins. I saw Crosby lying on the ice in front of the goal, and he shot the puck over the goalie into the top corner of the net with one hand on the stick! I also like the way that big Russian guy shoots the puck for the Capitals. He just sets up and “Blam!”, the puck is in the net.”
Each month, a player is recognized for his contributions to the game. On Monday, former Leaf Gary Collins got the nod. He won the Memorial Cup twice with the Marlies to begin his career. He was also an outstanding baseball prospect, and was heavily scouted. He told the crowd he pitched one game, came out of the bullpen to help in the second game of a double-header, and blew out his arm. “That was that for my baseball career. There was no 'Tommy John' surgery in those days.”
Jim Morrison played and coached hockey for more than 50 years. He played for five NHL teams, over a dozen years in the NHL. He deferred on the Stanley Cup question, but paid homage to this year's Leaf team, particularly Auston Matthews. “They will be a force in the years to come.”
“Pete” Conacher is impressed with the play of the Oilers, and Connor McDavid. “Sure he is a fine player, but the amazing thing is that he is so far ahead of the other guys on the ice. He is a great skater, and he passes the puck so well.”
Sandy Air enjoys the get-together with his friends at the luncheon. He won the World Championship with the Whitby Dunlops, and has memories, some fond, of his games at the Memorial Arena in Belleville, “You tell me who the best goalie is, and I will tell you who will win the Stanley Cup,” he told me. “Pittsburgh is fortunate to have two great goalies. When Murray got hurt, they brought back Marc-Andre Fleury, and he has played really well. On the other hand, Holtby has been a little shaky for the Capitals.”
Former referee Bruce Hood was on hand, and introduced a couple of linesmen who toiled with him for many years Will Norris was one of those lads. Will was my brother Dick's roommate when they attended Guelph University in 1963!
Another aspect of the game that has become important in recent years is shot blocking. Most of the veterans indicated that the style of the equipment has resulted in those changes. “Every once in a while a shot gets through that armour, however. Nasty stuff,” Ron Hurst added.
So many of these games have been decide in overtime, increasing the excitement for the fans. With all of the games from the west, and the overtime segments, you may miss a bit of sleep. That is why the afternoon nap was created.
May 2, 2017