Friday, February 22, 2013

Jorgen Petterson

One of the most underrated European players of the 1980s, in my estimation anyway, was Jorgen Petterson of the St. Louis Blues. He also briefly played in Hartford and Washington.

The personable Vastra Frolunda star came over to the NHL in 1980 and was a very steady goal scorer. 37. Then 38. Then 35. He played really well on a line featuring fellow marksman Joe Mullen and playmaking wizard Blake Dunlop.

"The difference in the NHL, apart from the roughness of the play, is that there is more shooting. In Sweden we tend to look for the perfect opportunity whereas in the NHL you blast away and hope for a screened shot or a deflection or perhaps a rebound" Pettersen said. Clearly he adapted well.

When Dunlop was traded in 1983-84 Pettersson's offensive totals slowed down but he remained a a solid 25 goal threat. His game evolved, too. He was no longer just the stylish offensive player who relied on speed and agility but really became comfortable on the penalty kill. Defensively he was always conscientious. While the physical game was never his forte, he never shied away from taking a hit to make a play.

In 435 NHL games Jorgen Pettersson scored 174 goals, 192 assists for 366 points.


Friday, August 31, 2012

Perry Anderson

Perry was a great guy to have in the dressing room. He however wasn't exactly the greatest guy on the ice.

Anderson is best described as a role player. Anderson knew that role very well too. To fight. It seemed Anderson was looking for a fight every time he was on the ice, not that he got many minutes of playing time mind you. And he wasn't even that good of a fighter. He won a few, lost a few, but he showed up and stood up for the little guys on the team. He did his role to best of his ability.

Anderson was a poor skater and bad positional player. His lack of any speed or mobility lessened his contributions as he couldn't catch anyone to lay a thunderous hit with his 6'1" 225lb body.

Anderson started his career with the Salt Lake Golden Eagles of the CHL where for 2 seasons he put up good offensive numbers while playing aggressively. He was promoted to the NHL's St. Louis Blues full time in 1983-84 but he was there to fulfill the role of tough guy, a label that would stick with him for the rest of his career.

After two seasons playing for the Blue-Notes, Anderson was moved to New Jersey in exchange for defensive expert Rick Meagher. Anderson spent two years policing the Devils but spent the last two years of his tenure with the Devil's farm team in Utica.

The left winger who also was tried on defense had his NHL career lengthened by expansion. The San Jose Sharks signed him as a free agent for the 1991-92 season where he participated in 48 games. His last game in the NHL was his 400th career game. 400 NHL games is a magical number for pro hockey players as that means they will recieve a full pension at the conclusion of their playing days.

Anderson played a full season with the San Diego Gulls of the IHL before finishing his career with 2 games back in the city where his career began - Salt Lake - in 1993.

Anderson scored 50 career goals and 59 assists for 109 points in those 400 games. He added 1051 penalty minutes. He also played in 36 playoff games, netting 2 goals and 1 assist.


Sunday, July 29, 2012

Chuck Lefley

Nowadays, its tough to imagine Chuck Lefley was once a 43 goal scorer in the National Hockey League. His world revolves around farming.

Chuck returned home to Grosse Isle Manitoba once his NHL career was over and devoted his life to working on his fathers farm. While raising cattle and grain may sound like a very simple life, Lefley loves it.

Lefley has made the family farm a completely modern enterprise, complete with computerized machinery and diversified products. He quietly lives with his wife and daughter, and other than serving as the local rink caretaker in nearby Warren, Manitoba and the odd round of golf with Ab McDonald, he has little connection to his former hockey life.

At one time Chuck was a very cerebral player. Blessed with good speed and good anticipation, he was one of the best penalty killers during the late 1970s. Originally a Montreal Canadiens draft pick, The Habs moved Lefley to St. Louis late in 1974 after a couple of back to back 20 goal seasons. The fact that Lefley not only made the incredibly deep Habs teams of the early 1970s but was able to contribute nicely to them suggests that Chuck was a very good player indeed.

The Habs moved Chuck to St. Louis for veteran defenseman Don Awry partially because Chuck got off to such a slow start in the 1974-75 season - he scored just 1 goal in 18 games. He however was able to find his scoring touch once he arrived in the US Midwest, and scored 23 times in 57 games for the Bluenotes.

In St. Louis he continued to play a similar steady role before his erupting for 43 goals and 85 points in 1975-76. A rib injury really bothered him much of the 1976-77 season. He scored just 11 goals while adding 30 assists in 71 games. Many dismissed him as a one year wonder.

After that disappointing season, Chuck took a couple of years off from the NHL, claiming "I just needed some time off to think." He spent a year in Finland and a year in Germany, where he cherished the chance to play with his brother Bryan.

While Bryan stayed in Europe to play and coach until his death in 1997, Chuck returned to the St. Louis Blues for the 1979-80 and 1980-81 season. However he played sparingly and his career was clearly near its end.

All told, Chuck appeared in 407 NHL games. He scored 128 times while assisting on 164 others. That gave him 292 points.


Sunday, December 25, 2011

Jerry Melnyk

This is Jerry Melnyk, often referred to as Gerry Melnyk. He was a long time minor leaguer in the dying days of the Original Six. He played with the Detroit Red Wings for two seasons (1959-61) and Chicago Black Hawks for one season (1961-62) but spent much of his career in the minor leagues. He ended it in style though, returning to the NHL in his final season of play. That was the NHL's first year of expansion, and the veteran forward caught on with the St. Louis Blues in 1967-68.

Melnyk, described as a clever play-maker, totalled 269 NHL regular season games. He scored 39 goals, 117 assists and 116 points. He added another 6 goals and 12 points in 53 playoff contests. Interestingly, Melnyk played in six NHL post-seasons, challenging in the Stanley Cup final in five of them. Sadly, Gerry Melnyk never would win the Stanley Cup.

Prior to the 1968-69 season the Blues traded Melnyk to Philadelphia in exchange for Ab McDonald. However Melnyk would suffer a heart attack and ended up retiring before ever playing with the Flyers.

Instead he began scouting for the Philadelphia Flyers. He was the scout who was so adamant that Bobby Clarke was the best player in the 1969 draft. But Clarke was a diabetic, and that scared off all the teams. Melnyk was furious when the Flyers passed on Clarke at 6th overall, taking Bob Currier (who would never play a game in the NHL) instead. Melnyk must have seriously relieved to see Clarke still available in the second round of the draft. Melnyk had by then convinced the Flyers to take the man who would become the heart of the franchise. The rest, as they say, is history.

By the way, Melnyk was also instrumental in the Flyers going "off the board" to draft Peter Forsberg in 1991.

Jerry Melnyk passed away in June 2001, several months after being diagnosed with leukemia. He passed away in Edmonton, his life long home. He was born there, and was a junior and minor pro star with the Edmonton Flyers in the 1950s.


Friday, December 9, 2011

Floyd Thomson

This is Floyd Thomson's 1974 O Pee Chee hockey card.

Floyd Thomson, who inherited his father's nickname "White-Pine," played with the St. Louis Blues from 1971 though 1977. In that time he played in 411 games, scoring 56 goals and 97 assists for 153 points.

The 6'0" 190lb left winger took a most unusual route to the National Hockey League. In the summer of 1970 he travelled all the way to Johannesburg, South African of all places to play hockey in a summer league. When he returned to North America he impressed enough at the St. Louis Blues training camp to sign a minor league contract and played in Kansas City of the CHL.

Over the next five seasons Thomson was a regular player with the St. Louis Blues. He was a utility forward and penalty killer, applauded for giving 100% on every shift. Though his penalty minute totals do not suggest it, he was also not afraid to mix it up when necessary.

"He could muck the puck out of the corners. If there was any trouble he could look after that too," said teammate Gary Sabourin.

Thomson exited the NHL in 1977 but found a home with the Salt Lake Golden Eagles of the CHL for the next five seasons. He served as team captain for three seasons, and helped his team win two league championships.


Thursday, June 30, 2011

Dallas Drake

An aggressive forechecker, Dallas Drake was an abrasive player who was not a lot of fun to play against. A good open-ice hitter, Drake was stronger along the boards and in front of the net than his wiry frame suggested he would be.

He could credit his quick and powerful skating as the key to his game, as well as his never-ending hustle. He was a feisty pest who often made the highlight reels by running over opponents in sometimes spectacular fashion. By often leaving his feet targeting his opponents up high he garnered a reputation as a dirty player.

A grinder at heart who was sometimes shoe-horned into a top 6 role, Drake was better suited on a third line checking/energy unit. Most of his goals came by darting into traffic and battling for loose pucks near the crease.

Not that Drake contributed to the offense all that often, but 177 goals and 477 points in 1009 career games are very solid numbers. The Northern Michigan University star was drafted by Detroit by mostly split his 15 year NHL career with Winnipeg/Phoenix and St. Louis before returning to Michigan for one final season. What a final year it was, as it ended with Dallas Drake and the Detroit Red Wings hoisting the Stanley Cup!


Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Rick Meagher

Rick Meagher was a very unheralded player for 15 pro seasons, 11 of which were in the NHL on a full time basis. In fact many people didn't even know who he was until the 1989-90 season when he won the Frank J. Selke trophy as the NHL's premier defensive forward.

Meagher was definitely a worthy of recipient of the award. He made a career of covering the NHL's superstars.

"He puts a blanket on them" said Blues general manager Ron Caron. "He's got the speed and the tenacity."

Meagher had speed to burn. In an era dominated by speed, Meagher was probably in the top 5% of the NHL's best skaters. Meagher also was a smart hockey player. He had good anticipation skills which helped him excel defensively. Meagher wasn't totally without offensive skills. He scored a career high 24 goals in 1981-82, and 144 goals in his career. Meagher wasn't an offensive wizard by any stretch, but he was so valuable as a penalty killer, faceoff man and defensive specialist he just never really had the opportunity to take an offensive role on the team.

What Meagher really lacked was size. He was only 5'8" 175lbs though some publications list him as high as 195lbs. Because of his size he wasn't an overly physical player but as Caron described him he was tenacious though he took very few penalties.

Rick Meagher was never drafted by an NHL team. He played for 4 years at Boston University, which at the time wasn't considered to be a high level of hockey, at least in comparison to today's NCAA. He was an all star every year at BU and was named to the NCAA championship all tournament team in 1977.

The Montreal Canadiens signed the speedster as a free agent in 1977 but he only played for the Habs in 2 games, spending the rest of the next 3 years in the minor leagues. Montreal sent him to the Hartford Whalers in a swap of draft picks deal prior to the 1981 Entry Draft. He split the 1980-81 season with the Whalers and their minor league team, but by 1981-82 he became a full time NHLer. Rick found himself on the move again after just 4 games in Hartford in the 1982-83 season. The Whalers traded him and Garry Howatt for Merlin Malinowski and Scott Fusco. Rick enjoyed almost 3 full seasons in the swamp lands of Jersey.

On August 29, 1985, Meagher was traded to St. Louis for tough guy Perry Anderson. It was in St. Louis where Meagher really found his niche as a penalty killer and defensive force. He was even named captain for the 1989-90 season.

Meagher retired in the 1990-91 season. He retired with 144 goals, 165 assists and 309 points in 691 games.


Thursday, April 7, 2011

Steve Tuttle

Steve Tuttle is best remembered as the player whose skate sliced Clint Malarchuk's neck during a game.

"Tuts" went hard to the net on a routine play. Colliding with Sabres defenseman Uwe Krupp, Tuttle crashed into the crease, losing his balance. As he went face first into the ice, his leg kicked up and his skate blade hit Malarchuk in the neck, nearly cutting his jugular vein, nearly ending his life almost instantly.

Malarchuk would be fine, returning to the ice a couple of weeks later. Of course the injury was completely accidental, but in many ways the play described how Tuttle played. He wasn't physical by any means - he was a lean 6'1" 185lbs with little upper strength - but was an energetic skater, always buzzing around creating small bursts of havoc. He was best used as a penalty killer as he combined good spurts of speed with smart anticipation to pressure the pointment on the power play.

A product of the University of Wisconsin, Tuttle was at the very best average in almost every physical category by NHL standards. Although the Blues thought his skills were developable, he lacked any threat of an NHL shot or playmaking abilities. His skating was strong with the short bursts of speed but also good agility.

Tuttle played for 2 1/2 years in St. Louis directly out of university before being demoted to the minor leagues. In the end Tuttle was basically the victim of the Blues depth. A right winger, Tuttle was either best suited for the 2nd line (which Greg Paslawski was much better at) or as a regular scratch (5th right winger). Brett Hull obviously held down the top spot while Herb Raglan and Todd Ewen played strong physical roles on the third and fourth lines. However Tuttle's skills didn't develop as hoped by year 3, and Tuttle was sent to the minors.

Despite lighting up the minor leagues, Tuttle never returned to the NHL. Traded to Tampa Bay and later Quebec, Tuttle played for several years in the IHL, mostly with the Milwaukee Admirals.


Saturday, March 5, 2011

Gino Cavallini

Gino Cavallini was signed as a free agent by the Calgary Flames on May 16, 1984 after a storied career at Bowling Green University. He played there for 2 years, and led them to the NCAA championship in 1984. It was Gino that scored the championship winning goal in the 4th overtime of the final game!

Gino, brother of Paul - a fellow NHLer - was a rugged crasher and banger who loved to work the boards and the corners. He had great size to do this, and decent skating ability, although lacked good acceleration to become a true power forward. Despite his aggressive play he was a very disciplined player. His highest single season PIM total was just 81 minutes in 1990-91. Gino had a booming slap shot but lacked accuracy. Otherwise he head little puck skills and no creativity, and relied on banging loose pucks in front of the net to pad his goal scoring totals.

Gino spent a season and a half with the Flames organization before he was traded with Eddy Beers and Chalie Bourgeois for Joe Mullen, Terry Johnson and Rik Wilson. Gino was best known as a St. Louis Blue, playing with them from 1986 until 1992. Brother Paul joined him in St. Louis late in 1987.

Gino was exposed on waivers and claimed by a young Quebec Nordiques team on February 27, 1992. He added some veteran leadership and grit to the young team, helping to rebuild the once sorry franchise.

Gino left the NHL by 1993. He went on to play three seasons in Milwaukee of the IHL. He excelled in a prominent role there, scoring at least 43 goals each season, including 53 in his second season. Gino then left for Europe to finish his career.

Gino Cavallini played in 593 NHL contests, scoring 114 goals and 159 assists for 273 points. He added 14 goals and 19 assists for 33 points in 74 Stanley Cup contests.


Monday, February 28, 2011

Ed Kea

This defensive defenseman was born in Weesp, Holland, the only Dutch born player in the NHL to this date. He was the youngest of 14 children and moved to Canada with his parents when he was 4-years old. Ed is Jeff Beukeboom's uncle who is Joe Nieuwendyk's cousin.

Ed was a big (6'3" and 200 Ibs) defenseman who wasn't very fast but who played very well positionally. He played his junior hockey for the Collingwood Kings and was discovered by Fred Creighton who saw him play in the EHL. He then recommended the Atlanta Flames to take a look at Ed. Ed was signed as a free agent by Atlanta on October 6, 1972.

Ed didn't make the team in his first year and was sent down to Omaha Knights (CHL). He continued to play in the CHL the next season as well, although he had a three game stint with Atlanta. When the 1974-75 season began he was a regular with Atlanta. Ed played some steady hockey with the Flames until the 1978-79 season. At that time he was only one of two players on the Atlanta team who remained from the initial Flames training camp in 1972 (together with goalie Dan Bouchard).

Ed was traded to St.Louis together with Don Laurence and a draft pick for Garry Unger. He played four very steady but unspectacular seasons in St.Louis. During the 1982-83 season Ed had decided that he would retire after the season.He got sent down to Salt Lake of the CHL in the mid of the 1982-83 season.

Four weeks from retirement tragedy struck. During a CHL game with Salt Lake against Tulsa Oilers, Ed and two opponents, Mike Backman and George McPhee chased the puck along the boards and converged on the puck at the same time. McPhee threw a devastating, but clean,check on Ed. Ed banged his head into Backman's shoulder and flew backwards. As he went down, his head smashed into the top of the boards and he fell forward face-first onto the ice. By the time the trainer could reach Ed, the defenseman had blood coming out of his ears. He was carted off on a stretcher, hisplaying days had come to an end. Ed needed a life-saving operation and spend two months in the hospital. He eventually recovered after a very long time.

It was a sad ending to the career of this deeply religious man. His head injury caused a lot of debates around the pro hockey leagues when it came to helmets. Ed was not wearing one when the injury happened and a lot of people said that the injury would have been avoided if he had used one. In the end the main thing was that he survived this horrible accident.

Ed played a total of 583 NHL games plus 32 playoff games, scoring 175 points and 6 more in the playoffs.
On August 31, 1999, Ed died at his summer home in Ontario. He had drowned in an accident. He was survived by his wife Jennifer and 4 children.


Sunday, February 27, 2011

Nelson Emerson

Nelson Emerson was a crafty little player in St. Louis, Winnipeg and Hartford before bouncing around the league. He was a speedster with a real nice skill set perhaps best known for his uncanny harmonious play on the opposite wing of power forward Brendan Shanahan in both St. Louis and Hartford.

Emerson was a real speedster, darting in and out of traffic. His balance overcame his lack of size, as did playing with a brute like Shanny. But Emerson was very complimentary too, showing creativity with quick give and go passes and setting up behind the net. He was a master puck dangler.

That helped him become a power play specialist. He could operate on the point because of an excellent, low point shot, or down low where he lured defenders out of position with his patience.

Emerson's speed and intelligence made him a natural on the penalty kill as well.

As versatile and as creative as he was, Emerson was always a complimentary player, albeit an almost a perfect one at that.

The Blues drafted Emerson 44th overall in 1985. Their patience with him was rewarded. He moved on to play for Bowling Green for the next four seasons, being named as a Hobey Baker finalist an amazing three times. He became the school's all time leading scorer and was later named to the school's Hall of Fame.

After one monster season in the minor leagues, Emerson joined the Blues full time in 1991-92. In the next two seasons became a 25 goal and 70 point threat.

The Blues were impatient and hungry for their first Stanley Cup, and began trading away top young talent in return for veteran help. He was moved to Winnipeg in exchange for offensive defenseman Phil Housley.

Emerson put his best numbers of his career, scoring 33 goals and 74 points. But the Jets turned around and flipped Emerson to Hartford after just one season.

It was a great gamble for Hartford, as they had previously acquired Brendan Shanahan. Reuniting this dynamic duo did not garner as much offensive returns as was hoped, even though Emerson chipped in 29 goals.

Shanahan left Hartford the final season and Emerson's offensive numbers went into a tailspin. He would never return to the same offensive numbers even in stops with Carolina (where Hartford relocated), Chicago, Ottawa, Atlanta and Los Angeles.

In 771 NHL games Nelson Emerson tallied 195 goals, 293 assists and 488 points.


Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Bob Bassen

Hockey fans always have a soft spot for role players. And Bob Bassen was among the best of the best role players.

Bassen was a second generation NHLer. His father Hank was a goalie in the Original Six era. He was orn in Calgary and trained with the Medicine Hat Tigers. Though he was never drafted, Bassen went on to his own 15 year, 765 NHL game career in a much different era. Yet he played every game as if he was a throwback to hockey's glory days.

Bassen was a sweat and guts competitor, always delivering an honest effort as a most valuable role player. In doing so he was the ultimate role model and team player.

Bassen was a much better player than the sum of his parts. He was an average skater, though he had a fair degree of agility. Due to his strong understanding of smart positioning he appeared quicker than he was. He did not possess a great shot. In fact all of his finesse skills would be determined to be average.

Yet his work ethic would over come that make him a valuable competitor. He would play far bigger than his 5'10" 180lb frame suggested. He was not scrappy, but he played with a dogged determination to get loose pucks and shut down offensive attackers. He had a low center of gravity which really enabled him to battle against bigger and better forwards.

Bassen was the type of player coaches love. A bottom six forward who could inspire the entire team in under 15 minutes of action a night. He was highly intelligent on the ice and understood team dynamics off of it. He also endeared himself to the fans.

Because Bassen, unlike say a Bob Gainey, never played on a great team, and he only scored goals in double digits 3 times in 15 seasons, history is destined to forget just how good Bob Bassen was, yet he could play on just about any hockey team any day of the week.

Apparently Bassen returned to St. Louis after his playing days and became a mortgage broker.


Friday, February 18, 2011

Dick Lamby

Dick Lamby was a big, strong and aggressive defenseman with great mobility and strong on his skates.

He attended from Salem State University, the only NHL graduate ever produced at that school.  Dick had some very steady seasons at Salem State and was NCAA All-Star both in 1974 and 75. During the 1974-75 seasons Dick racked up 57 points (including 25 goals) in 26 games. He was then selected 135th overall by St.Louis in the 1975 draft. His impressive play gave him an invitation to play for USA during the 1975-76 season and an eventual shot at the 1976 Olympics. Dick was impressive during the 63 games he played for USA, scoring 47 points (12 goals, 35 assists).

He made the final cut and played in the 1976 Olympics. After that thrilling experience Dick went on to play two seasons for Boston University. He racked up a total of 104 points (24 goals and 80 assists) in only 54 games. In time for the 1978 World Championships in Prague, Dick was called into action to represent USA once again.

When Dick made his debut with St.Louis in the NHL he had more experience than most players his age. Although he spent most of the 1978-79 season playing for Salt Lake (CHL) he managed to play 9 games for St.Louis (4 assists).

Dick never won a regular job on the St.Louis defense and only played a total of 13 more games for the Blues the following two seasons. The rest of the time he played in Salt Lake. St.Louis lost their patience with Dick and traded the curly haired defenseman to Colorado with Joe Micheletti for Bill Baker on December 4, 1981. Baker ironically had also represented USA in the Olympics - but he won the Gold in 1980.

After the trade when Dick realized that he didn't figure in Colorado's plans either he decided to quit playing. He was tired of the travelling between various minor league teams. In a little bit over a year he played in Salt Lake, Fort Worth, Dallas and Muskegon.

What looked to be a bright future in the NHL never panned out and that was really a shame because Dick was pretty solid defenseman, especially offensively.


Sunday, January 9, 2011

Brett Hull

Brett Hull and Henri Richard share some things in common. They are both among the games greatest ever. And in terms of hockey's legendary status, they both had even greater relatives.

Henri had to live under the shadow of his brother "The Rocket," Maurice Richard. To make things even harder for him, he had to do in Montreal, where The Rocket is god.

Brett Hull had come from under the shadow of his dad, "The Golden Jet" Bobby Hull. Like Henri Richard, Hull's abilities lifted the shadow and he now ranks right up there with dear old dad, some say even ranks higher.

"The Golden Brett" was a happy-go-lucky kid who people said was too lazy to make the NHL. But Brett soon proved them wrong. He was a goal scorer. A pure sniper, perhaps the best sniper that ever lived. His all-round game really improved over his career as he learned to use his teammates more and no longer was a defensive liability.

But scoring goals was always what he loved to do.

Hull scored 105 goals in just 56 games in Penticton at the Junior B level as a teenager. He then moved on to the University of Minnesota-Duluth, a team and city he loved dearly, and recorded 84 goals and 144 points in a total of 90 games. There was no doubt this guy could score. Whether he could play at the NHL level was still a topic of debate by many scouts.

In the 1984 Entry Draft, the Calgary Flames took a chance on the chubby kid from Belleville Ontario. He was their 6th choice, 117th overall. He would be assigned to Moncton of the American League in his first season, where he scored 50 goals in 67 games as a rookie, but clashed with head coach Terry Crisp. It would not be the last time Hull would struggle to be understood by a head coach.

1987-88 marked Brett Hull's permanent arrival in the NHL. Also getting promoted to the NHL, much to Hull's dismay, was coach Crisp. He played 52 games with Calgary and recorded 26 goals and 52 points, impressive totals for a rookie on a talent rich team like the Flames of the late 1980s. Hull was buried behind fellow right wingers Lanny McDonald, Hakan Loob, Joey Mullen and Mark Hunter. As a result Hull struggled to find his confidence and ice time. Already established as Crisp's whipping boy, Hull was often a healthy scratch.

Despite the lack of ice time, the choppy skater was getting noticed around the league for his ability to score goals. So much so that rival GMs kept inquiring about Hull's availability on the trade market. At the trading deadline, the Flames moved the scoring sensation along with Steve Bozek to St. Louis for Rob Ramage and Rick Wamsley. Ramage and Wamsley played significant roles in Calgary's Cup win in 1989, but Hull went on to superstardom that he never even dreamed about.

After recording 41 goals in his first full year with the Blues, Hull exploded in 1989-90, tallying 72 goals to break Jari Kurri's record for goals by a right winger. He added 41 assists for 113 points and won the Lady Byng trophy and a First All Star Team placing. Hull, who would sign a whopping $7.1 million four year contract in the summer, was quick to credit center Peter Zezel for his success. Unfortunately for Hull Zezel was traded away about two weeks after Hull's contract signing.

The following year began with Hull very much feeling the pressure to at least come close to his success from the year before. Burdened with the massive contract and fear of playing without Zezel, Hull determinedly got off to a quick start. Soon he found a new center - Adam Oates, the best playmaking center of our era whose name was not Wayne Gretzky. With the help of Oates feathery passes, Hull blew away his own record and scored 86 goals in 78 games! Only Wayne Gretzky has scored more goals in a single season (87 and 92 goals). Hull finished with 131 points and won another First All Star Team berth, the Hart Trophy and the Lester B. Pearson Trophy.

In fact, it is scary to think that Oates missed 19 games that season due to injury. Had he stayed healthy, could Hull have toppled Gretzky's record of 92? Could Hull have approached the century mark?

During the 1990-91 season Hull became only the fifth player in NHL history to record 50 goals in 50 or fewer games. Hull did it in 49 games, tying Gretzky for the fourth-fastest 50 goals in history. Only Gretzky (39 games and 42 games) and Mario Lemieux (46 games) reached 50 faster than Hull. Other 50-goal scorers in 50 games were Maurice Richard and Mike Bossy, who both needed the full 50 games to hit 50 goals.

Just incase there was any doubt about his goal scoring dominance, Hull again tipped the 70 goal mark the following season. Again he scored 50 goals in exactly 50 games, joining Gretzky as the only players Gretzky to achieve the 50-50 mark twice in his career.

Unbelievably Hull had 228 goals in a span of 231 NHL games - absolutely mind boggling! There was no doubt about the sweet music of Hull and Oates in St. Louis.

Despite his success, his outspoken nature and his embracing of USA over Canada made if hard for Hull to get the same adoration as stars like Gretzky or Steve Yzerman. Hull was often criticized by Canadian fans for his betrayal of his birth country. Born in Ontario and raised in BC, Hull held dual citizenship as his mother was an American. When the time came for international tournaments, Hull opted to skate for Team USA instead of Team Canada.

Inexplicably, the Blues traded Oates after the 1991-92 season. Hull's goal totals declined to realistic yet still impressive numbers, but he openly admitted he was never quite the same player following Oates' departure.

Hull remained with the Blues until the end of the decade. Always known as a loose cannon with his comments, Hull carried on a well-reported and bitter feud with coach/GM Mike Keenan for several years and was one of the first players to criticize the defense-first style of hockey that rose in the mid-1990s. Hull was even once quoted suggesting golf was his true sporting passion and that he didn't even like hockey the way it had become in the late 1990s.

In 1998-99, Brett Hull's more than 10-year run as the face of the St. Louis Blues organization finally came to an end in a contract dispute. Although both sides were close on the salary issue, somewhere in the neighborhood of $5 million per season, the Blues refused to give Hull the no-trade clause he demanded and that they granted goaltender Grant Fuhr. When the team imposed contract deadline passed, Hull, a man of principle, left for Dallas.

Often considered to be the type of player who would put himself ahead of the team. He finally shook that label in 1999 after signing as a free agent with the Dallas Stars. Under coach Ken Hitchcock, Hull bought into the the coach's defensive game plan that saw Hull's offensive opportunities plummet, yet the team's success skyrocketed. Hull played great - hustling back to cover his man, digging hard for lose pucks, doing small intangibles that helps the team win.

And Hull was rewarded that spring as the Stars won the Stanley Cup. Finally Hull could be called a champion instead of chump. For good measure, it was Hull who scored the Cup winning goal, in dramatic fashion in overtime, nonetheless.

That goal of course was very controversial. In overtime of game 6 of the Finals against Buffalo, Hull lifted the puck over a sprawling Dominik Hasek. However the only problem was that Hull's skate was in the crease. At this point in history the NHL reviewed every goal on video to make sure crease violations were enforced. However this goal was allowed to stand, much to the dismay of Buffalo fans.

Three years later in Detroit, Hull recreated himself again, playing with youngsters Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk on a line Hull dubbed the "two kids and an old goat" line. The trio was instrumental in helping the Red Wings win the 2002 Cup.

Hull retired just 5 games into his 19th season, now with the Wayne Gretzky coached Phoenix Coyotes. After missing a full year due to the 2005 NHL lockout, Hull found he couldn't perform at the level he wanted.

Hull finished with 741 goals, the third highest in NHL history. Only Wayne Gretzky (894) and Gordie Howe (801) had more, while father Bobby ranks 12th with 610. Brett added 650 assists for 1391 points.

He finished with 103 playoff goals, fourth all-time behind Gretzky, Mark Messier and Jari Kurri. His 24 game-winning goals in the playoffs tie with Gretzky for the most all-time and reinforce his reputation as one of the greatest clutch scorers of all time.

So what is the secret to Brett Hull's success? Even Hull admits he doesn't really know. One piece of advice Brett took from his famous father, was the idea that when a player is most out of the play is when he's actually most dangerous. Brett Hull has always played the game with that in mind — sometimes skating away from the play to lose a defender and then doubling back to come into a prime scoring area with no one defending against him.


Brian Sutter

Hockey has a long history of great families achieving great things in the National Hockey League and in hockey in general. The Patricks, the Hulls, the Howes, the Espositos, the Mahovlichs.... - the list goes on and on - but no one can top the Sutter family of Viking Alberta. The hard working farming family of Grace and Louie Sutter sent 6 sons to the National Hockey League!

The Sutter brothers are of course known for their work ethic. Simply put, no one who ever skated a shift in the National Hockey League ever outworked a Sutter.

"That's the type of player I was. I wasn't very talented so I had to work hard. I wasn't a good skater, I wasn't good with the puck, so I had to work hard to make up for it" Brian said, although it could have been equally said about any of his family members

Brian is the oldest of the six brothers who made it to the NHL, but he isn't the oldest brother in the family. Gary Sutter (no, not Gary Suter) is two years older than Brian and is the only one of the seven Sutter brothers who didn't play in the NHL. A rushing defenseman who idolized Bobby Orr, Garry perhaps was the least "Sutter-like" of the Sutters, but all of the brothers will tell you that he was the most skilled of the 7. He was invited to major junior training camp at the same time as Brian, but he shocked the Red Deer Rustlers when he turned down the offer in order to stay home with his girlfriend and work on the farm.

That meant Brian had to go to Red Deer and later Lethbridge alone, which was not easy for the youngster. But Brian stuck with the team and became the heart and soul of the team. Budding superstar Bryan Trottier was the MVP, but Brian was every bit as important.

Being first of the brothers to go to junior, Brian did more fighting than any of the brothers, but by doing so he would set the tone for all of his brothers, all of whom followed Brian to Red Deer and Lethbridge when they were old enough to play junior. The others were able to come in and the Sutter folklore had already been around the league once. As long as they never backed down, and no Sutter has ever done that, they were assured of a slightly easier time in junior than Brian.

Brian was rewarded for every drop of blood and every bead of sweat when he was drafted in 20th overall by the St. Louis Blues in 1976. Not bad for a kid who openly admits he never expected to do anything other follow in his father's footsteps and work on the farm. It was a great move for the Blues too. Other than Bernie Federko, perhaps no player symbolizes the St. Louis Blues. He played 12 seasons in the NHL, all with the St. Louis Blues, 9 of them as a captain. When he retired he became the head coach.

It wasn't easy for Brian at first by any means. Brian rarely played in his first two years in the league. When he did play he mostly fought. He had some classic battles with Terry O'Reilly, Gordie Lane and especially Keith Magnuson. By fighting he again helped set the stage for his brothers who would follow him to the NHL. But he also impressed the Blues with his heart and his desire, plus his good defensive play. Soon the Blues were using him more and more.

By 1978-79, his third year in the league, he scored 41 goals and 80 points. And he did that without changing his physical game one bit. From that point forward he would be a consistent 35 goal, 70 point threat, as well as someone who would spend 200 minutes or so in the penalty box each season.

The 1982-83 and 1983-84 seasons were tough on Brian. He bled St. Louis blue, yet the season was a tumultuous one for Blues fans as the team owners - Ralston-Purina - allowed the Blues to go bankrupt and it was said the Blues were all but officially moving to Saskatoon, although the NHL never allowed any move. The Blues were in limbo until Harry Ornest stepped in as the new owner. His pockets weren't overly deep however. The Blues only kept 25 players under contract and took no frills travel and accommodations in order to meet their bills. Players such as Joey Mullen were traded away because of the financial situation. Brian, who by this time was team captain, somehow kept the team together during all this and playing their heart out. Brian led by example and had his two best seasons during this time - scoring a career high 46 goals in 1982-83 and a career high 83 points in 1983-84.

Things got better for the Blues franchise shortly, but by 1985-86 things hadn't gone as nicely for Brian. Years of rugged play finally caught up with the usually durable winger who stood just 5'11" and weight around 170 pounds. He had broken his scapula that season, a rare hockey injury. He hurried back to the game, and reinjured it, costing him about half the NHL season. He felt better the following season, but had little strength due to the recovery process. Doctors wouldn't let him play anymore than the 14 games he did dress for. Sitting out those games was probably the toughest thing Brian had ever gone through in hockey - not because of the pain he was in, just because he was forced to sit and watch his teammates and he wasn't able to help out at all.

Brian made a full recovery in 1987-88, but was placed on a checking line with Rick Meagher and Herb Raglan. Brian thrived in the reduced role. He didn't care that he wasn't on the top line. He was just glad to be back on the ice. And he gave it his usual 100%.

Brian had played out his option year in '87-88 in order to return to the game, which left his status somewhat in limbo come the offseason. Brian never expected his career to change the way it did that summer though. Head coach Jacques Demers also ran out his contract and signed a lucrative deal with Detroit. That left the Blues without a coach. The Blues reportedly were after Mike Keenan as coach, but things never worked out there. So they turned to their captain, and asked Brian to coach the team. After some careful consideration, Brian agreed to retire and become the Blues head coach.

Brian would coach the Blues until 1992, and achieved a higher level of success with Brian behind the bench than they did when he was on the ice. This was partly due to the superstar accomplishments of Brett Hull, who thrived under Sutter as coach. Brian even won the Jack Adams award in 1991 as the NHL's top coach.

All coaches get fired, usually sooner rather than later. Brian knew this would happen sooner or later, thus ending his long relationship with the Blues. That came in the summer of 1992, but Brian wasn't unemployed long. He went on to coach the Boston Bruins for 3 years. He also coached the Calgary Flames from 1997-2000 and was named head coach of the Chicago Blackhawks in 2001.

Brian had a great deal of influence on his younger brothers, so much so that you'd have to think things might have been different had Brian not been the first to junior and then the pros.

"He works so unbelievably hard in the summertime", Duane said, and continued. "I worked with him at a hockey school over the summer and I couldn't believe how hard he was working. It was because of him that I had such a good rookie camp and made the team (NY Islanders). He just works his ass off all the time. The harder he's worked, the more he's improved."

Brian retired with 303 goals, 333 assists and 636 points in 779 games plus 1786 well earned penalty minutes. The Blues retired his jersey number 11 back in 1988 and are forever grateful for Brian Sutter's contributions to their franchise. He is considered to be one of the top coaches in the game today, as is his brother Darryl. Perhaps all 6 Sutters will again be in the NHL at the same time, this time all as coaches? Not likely you say? We'd agree, except this is the Sutters that we are talking about.


Bernie Federko

Bernie Federko is one of the greatest players to play in the NHL, only not everyone knows it.

Federko recorded 11 straight 20-goal seasons and four 100-point seasons in his illustrious NHL career. He became the first player in National Hockey League history to record 50 assists in 10 consecutive seasons. 13 of his 14 NHL seasons were spent in St. Louis where he is considered to be arguably the greatest Blue ever. When he was traded to Detroit late in his career, he was the Blue's all time leader in seasons, games played, goals, assists and points.

Yet recognition was hard to come by for the native of Foam Lake Saskatchewan. Being over shadowed by some of the NHL's greatest offensive forces (Federko played in an era of 150 point scorers like Gretzky, Lemieux, Bossy, Kurri and Yzerman), Federko's skill was often overlooked in St. Louis. Another reason that Federko was overlooked was that his team never came close to accomplishing much in the playoffs like the Oilers or Islanders did. It didn't help that St. Louis was one of hockey's smallest markets either.

Federko was one of the game's best playmakers in the late 1970s and throughout the 1980s. His outstanding hockey sense and anticipation combined with his soft hands placed him among the league's elite playmakers. Unselfish is probably the best adjective to describe Bernie, although under-rated also comes to mind. Wayne Gretzky of course popularized using the area behind the net (better known as Gretzky's Office) as an area to set up plays, but Bernie was also adept in that area, and actually used that area to his advantage earlier than Gretzky did.

Bernie was an average skater, a step slow in comparison to the Gretzkys and Yzermans of the league. He however had great balanced which made him hard to knock off the puck, despite his average size. This also enabled him to excel in traffic. Federko was never a physical player, but was always willing to take or give a hit in order to make a play.

Bernie was an under-rated goal scorer as well. He was a consistent 30 goal threat during his prime. He peaked at 41 in 1983-84 and scored more than 20 in 11 consecutive seasons. His wrist shot was particularly deadly. .

Federko's career started by playing three spectacular years with the WHL's Saskatoon Blades. In his final season with the Blades, 1975-76, Bernie recorded 72 goals and 187 points in 72 games. In total Bernie scored 133 goals and 211 assists for 344 points in just 206 games. His incredible numbers earned Federko the 7th overall selection by the Blues in the 1976 Amateur Draft.

After starting the year with the Blue's farm team in Kansas City of the CHL, Bernie debuted with St. Louis in 1976-77 in 31 regular season games, notching 23 points.

Federko went on to play 12 full seasons with the Blues. He notched seven 30-goal seasons and he had nine seasons with at least 80 points, including a career best 107, also in 1983-84. He became Mr. St. Louis Blue, leading the team in all major career scoring statistics.

After 13 years in St. Louis, Bernie was traded to the Detroit Red Wings prior to the 1989-90 campaign. Federko and fellow veteran Tony McKegney in exchange for Paul MacLean and Adam Oates - a younger but very similar player to Federko. He played just one season in Detroit, scoring 17 goals and 57 points in 73 games. It was a tough year for Federko.

"It was kind of a different year for me after being in St. Louis for 13 years. It was really kind of a shock to be traded first of all. And to end up in Detroit and on a team that didn’t make the playoffs … we had made the playoffs the last 10, 11 years straight that I was in St. Louis and we didn’t make the playoffs in Detroit. It was almost a really kind of a rotten year."

One of the few highlights for Federko in Detroit was playing in his 1000th career NHL game, which also happened to be his final game in the NHL.

"It was the last game of the season and it happened to be 1,000. And I think when I look back now, if I hadn’t hit the 1,000 mark, if it would have been 999, I may have decided to play another year because I think it was important to get to 1,000. And I think when I look back on it, if I hadn’t have got it, I would have been very disappointed. So as it turned out, it was 1,000. I think maybe it was the writing on the wall that it was time to retire.”

Upon retiring from the NHL in 1990, Federko had recorded 369 goals, 761 assists and 1,130 points in 1,000 regular season games. He added 101 points in 91 playoff contests. Bernie also played in the 1980 and 1981 NHL All-Star Games.

After retiring, Federko returned to St. Louis where he has become a fixture on St. Louis Blues broadcasting programs. The Blues also retired Bernie's #24. It was a bittersweet moment for Bernie, as he told

“It was a special moment. There’s no question it was a special moment. But it was kind of … I still had that little boy in my heart that I wanted to finish my career in St. Louis. So I think that as I look back, even though the banner’s hanging there, it isn’t as special as it would have been if I would have played my whole career in St. Louis. But it was a really special moment when they asked me to do it. But it was something that was always missing and even today, it still is always missing, the fact that I played my 1,000th game in another uniform. Because it was a dream … especially after being here for 13 years, that I wanted to finish here. And everybody knew it but because of the nature of the business, it didn’t end that way. But I don’t think there’s anything greater, a more flattering incident, then when they do hang your jersey up. The St. Louis Blues were my life even though I played that one year in Detroit. The Blues were still my life. It’s almost something that was not there, like that year did not happen."


Al MacInnis

When you think of Al MacInnis you think of his booming slap shot. His overall effective game which ranked him as one of the most complete defenders of any era is totally overlooked by his 100 mile an hour blast from the point that puts the fear of god into goalies and anyone standing in the way.

He developed his shot by spending countless winter (and summer) hours firing a puck against a barn back home in the tiny community of Port Hood, Nova Scotia. Over the years he learned to make his shot doubly effective by keeping the shot low, rarely over a foot off the ice, so that it was perfect for tip-ins and rebounds. But how did he shoot so hard?

MacInnis maximizes his upper body strength by keeping his hands high on the stick and relatively close together compared to other shooters, thus creating a larger arc on the swing. He also has a bit of a golf "wedge" blade on his stick, which gives his shots extra lift. He also uses an extremely long stick, which again creates a large arc.

Perhaps even more amazing than the strength and velocity of his shot was his accuracy. It was pretty rare to see a player block a MacInnis shot of any kind, especially the big slapper. MacInnis knew how to get puck through traffic and on to the net. It was this uncanny skill that he would pass on to many defensive partners, most especially Chris Pronger.

His shot got him into the NHL. He was always known for his shot during his playing days, and will be forever remembered for his awesome blast. But if you look past that shot, you'll notice he was a complete defenseman with an incredible career.

MacInnis was a good skater in terms of lateral movement and agility, but he had average speed. He rarely rushed the puck, instead preferring to make crisp outlet passes. He played a very effective physical game, but was anything but a punishing physical presence. His game based on subtle intelligence, and if not observed closely, it can be taken for granted, even ignored.

At least until he winds up to shoot. Then everyone takes notice.

"It was a shot that gave me the opportunity," admits MacInnis. "I think most players unless you come into the league as a Gretzky or a Lindros or Lemieux or Jagr, there are a lot of us that come in the league where you shine in one area. A lot of guys, it might be their scoring touch. Might be their skating ability. Or it might be their shot. That has been with me my whole career."

And what a career it was. MacInnis, who always preferred the old wooden sticks, spent 13 years as a member of the Calgary Flames, leading the team to a Stanley Cup championship in 1989 and capturing the Conn Smythe Trophy for his efforts.

MacInnis won the MVP award by recording at least one point in the final 17 games, a playoff record for defensemen. He also became the first defenseman in history to win the playoff scoring race. In doing so, he became the first defenseman Larry Robinson in 1978 to be so honored.

Many believe that MacInnis' devastating slap shot rattled Montreal's Patrick Roy to the point of distraction in the Finals, turning the series in Calgary's favor. Whether true or not, it certainly adds to the legend.

By the time MacInnis was traded to St. Louis in July of 1994, he was Calgary's all-time leader in games played (803), assists (609), and points (822).

"Chopper" had several productive seasons with the St. Louis Blues, seemingly only getting better with age. In 1999, his 18th year in the league, he was named as the league's best blueliner, winning the Norris Trophy for the first time.

MacInnis, now an elder statesman and starting in 2003 the St. Louis team captain, had a tremendous effect on Chris Pronger's career, acting as a mentor and role model. But a two serious injuries to his left eye coupled with a long lay off due to the 2004-05 NHL lock out ended MacInnis' playing career.

There can be no doubting MacInnis' career will land him in the Hall of Fame career. Take a look at his career accomplishments. Stanley Cup, Canada Cup, Memorial Cup and an Olympic gold medal highlight his trophy cabinet. He also won the Conn Smythe Trophy, Norris Trophy, 10 All Star nods. He is one of only 4 defensemen to surpass 100 points in a season. He scored 340 career goals, 166 of them on the power play. He totaled 1274 points in 1416 NHL games.

But he will always be known for that big slap shot of his.


Sunday, December 19, 2010

Jack Egers

Jack Egers was once a promising prospect who unfortunately never fulfilled his potential due to a rash of injuries.

Egers quickly developed a reputation for his wicked slap shot. In fact, he was given the moniker "Smokey" because supposedly could "knock the sap out of the wood of his stick with his rocket of a slap shot."

"That boy can kill somebody," said Emile Francis, his coach with the Rangers.

GM Jake Milford even dared to compare his goal scoring prowess to that of Maurice Richard.

And Boston goaltender Gerry Cheevers even predicted Egers would be a 50 goal scorer. Cheevers made the prediction when Egers was just a rookie in his first NHL playoffs. Cheevers gloved down the Egers missile, but it left a welt on his hand.

But injuries really wreaked havoc on his hockey career. Early in his career he quite infamously smacked his head on the ice, resulting in a severe concussion that re-sparked the helmet debate. Egers even admitted he would have used a helmet if it was not for the unspoken peer pressure about not wearing a helmet. Egers also nearly ended up swallowing his tongue and went into convulsions.

Originally a draft pick of the New York Rangers, it wasn't until Egers joined the St. Louis Blues in the 1971-72 season that he began to blossom. Back to back 20 goal seasons earned him a spot in the National Hockey League.

Things started falling apart in 1973-74, Egers was traded back to the Rangers in exchange for Glen Sather. However in 34 injury plagued games, he scored just 1 goal. The true statistics to sum up his season were 1 surgery on his right leg, 1 surgery on his left knee and 1 injured shoulder. In a word - ouch!

After that disaster of a season, Egers was exposed in the expansion draft and was selected by the Washington Capitals.

"He's a tall rangy kid with a good shot," explained Caps GM of the time Milt Schmidt. "There's definitely an injury factor with him. But you know the potential is there."

Unfortunately, the potential was never realized. Egers, who was known to use excessive amounts of tape on his stick, played in just 26 games over the next two years before retiring from pro hockey. He scored 6 goals and 5 assists in his time with the Caps, but clearly he couldn't get past his assortment of serious injuries.

In 284 career NHL games, Jack Egers scored 64 goals and 69 assists for 133 points.

Egers joined the fire department after hockey, rising all the way to the title of captain of the Kitchener, Ontario fire department.


Sunday, December 12, 2010

Mark Hunter

Born in Petrolia, Ontario, Mark Hunter was the youngest of the three Hunter brothers to play in the NHL. Dave was the oldest and is best known for his role playing days with the great Edmonton Oilers. Dale was considered to be the best of the three. He was the heart and soul of the Quebec Nordiques and Washington Capitals before closing out his career with the Colorado Avalanche. By the way, Tim Hunter, who also played during the 1980's, was not related to the Petrolia Hunters.

The Hunter brothers were known for playing an abrasive, penalty filled game. They were all chippy and scrappy players, though none were by any stretch considered to be a heavy weight. But they were also all key players on their respective teams. They all were solid defensively and put up decent numbers offensively.

No one ever suggested any of the Hunters made it to the NHL based on their talent more than their aggressive style of crash and bang hockey. Mark was maybe the least talented of the three. He was strong on his feet but lacked agility and balance to be a good skater. His best talent was his shot. He had a booming shot from the slot and he loved to use it. He scored 42 more goals than assists in his career. He never handled the puck very well and didn't use his linemates effectively. His attitude was to shoot first and ask questions later.

Mark was as strong as horse and that helped him play in the NHL as long as he did. The biggest of the three brothers, Mark was at times a great corner man, creating havoc because of his hardnosed play. However he lacked consistency in that aspect of his game.

No one ever questioned the desire or work ethic of either Dave or Dale, but they often questioned Mark's. Maybe it was his plodding skating style or his inconsistent play, but Mark's stay in each NHL city he played in was always short. Also, due mostly to his hardnosed style of play, Mark was very injury prone. He never played a full season.

Mark was drafted in 1981 by the Montreal Canadiens 7th overall. He was selected directly ahead of Grant Fuhr. Al MacInnis and Chris Chelios were also chosen that year.

He had a decent rookie season in 1981-82 when he scored 18 goals and had 143 PIM in rather limited ice time. However the following two seasons would be disasters for Mark. Severe injuries caused him to play in only 53 of a possible 160 games in those two seasons. Missing so much ice time early on his career really set Hunter's development back, which partially explains why Hunter became somewhat one dimensional as a shooter/banger.

Mark had a healthy 4th season in Montreal in 1984-85. He scored 21 goals but just 33 points. The Habs gave up on Mark in the summer of 1985. Injuries had cost a once promising career to become quite limited in their opinion. They gave him to St. Louis in a deal which saw a ton of draft picks swapping.

The move to St. Louis proved to be a great move for Mark as he proved Montreal wrong. In 1985-86 Hunter scored a career high 44 goals and 74 points while adding 171 well-earned penalty minutes. He had a strong playoff that spring as well, scoring 7 goals and 14 assists as the St. Louis Blues were the surprise of the post season.

Hunter continued to score at a good clip the next two seasons. He scored 36 and then 32 goals before he was traded to the Calgary Flames in the summer of 1988. Hunter was packed with Doug Gilmour (and Steve Bozek and Michael Dark) in the big trade for Mike Bullard, Craig Coxe and Tim Corkery.

Hunter played more of a third line role in Calgary, thus affecting his offensive output. Playing behind names like Joe Mullen and Hakan Loob, Hunter potted 22 goals and just 8 assists in 1988-89. 1989 of course was the first time that the Calgary Flames captured the Stanley Cup. However by playoff time Mark was a scratch more often than not during the playoffs. He appeared in 10 of 22 games but was used sparingly even in those 10 games.

After being scratched for 12 playoff games it came as no surprise that Mark's days in Calgary were numbered. However serious knee surgery put any relocation plans and his career on hold. Mark appeared in just 10 games in 1989-90.

Mark came back to play regularly in 1990-91 with the Flames. But he clearly didn't have the same offensive zest and seemed to have lost a step after the knee surgery. Prior to the trading deadline Hunter was traded to Hartford in exchange for Carey Wilson, a former Flame.

Hunter played the next season in Hartford before being traded to Washington in exchange for Nick Kypreos. Hunter only played 7 games with the Caps and actually finished his career in the minor leagues.


Friday, July 9, 2010

Chris Evans

Not much was expected of Chris Evans once his junior career had ended 1968. Standing just 5'9" tall and weighing 180 pounds, the general consensus was Chris was far too small to play a defense position at the National Hockey League level.

Chris persevered however. Chris starred for two seasons in junior hockey with his hometown Toronto Marlies. His stay there was highlighted by the 1967 Memorial Cup championship.

Chris turned professional in 1968 when he played with the lowly Tulsa Oilers of the CHL. Aside from 2 games with the Toronto Maple Leafs in 1969-70, he bounced around the minor leagues for three years before getting a chance with the Buffalo Sabres

That chance occurred during the 1971-72 season. Chris used his puck moving game to impress the NHL with a 6 goal, 24 point season in 61 games with the Sabres. Ultimately he'd end the season as a member of the St. Louis Blues. The Sabres traded Chris to St. Louis for George Morrison and a second round draft pick in 1972 which was used to draft Larry Carriere.

Chris would play two solid seasons with the St. Louis Blues. He would depart St. Louis in 1974 for stops in Detroit and Kansas City before returning to St. Louis in 1975 to round out his NHL career with 19 goals and 61 points in 241 games.

That was not the end of Chris' hockey career however. He jumped to the WHA starting in the 1975-76 season, and would enjoy three seasons in the rival major league, scoring 11 goals and 62 points in 204 games. He also played in the little-known Pacific Hockey League in 1978-79 before heading to Germany for two seasons. In 1980-81 he returned for a brief stint in the league that gave him his professional start - the Central Hockey League. He played 6 games with the Wichita Wind upon completion of the German season, thus ending his hockey career.


Sunday, July 4, 2010

St. Louis Blues Greatest Players

Bruce Affleck
Wayne Babych
Red Berenson  
Jacques Caron
Norm Dennis
Blake Dunlop
Steve Durbano
Bernie Federko
Bob Gassoff
Mr Goalie" Glenn Hall
Bob Hess

Brett Hull
Craig Janney
Vitali Karamnov

Alexander Khavanov

Ralph Klassen

Mike Liut
Al MacInnis  
Connie Madigan
Greg Millen
Michel Mongeau

George Morrison
Adam Oates
Larry Patey

Noel Picard
Rob Ramage
Gary Sabourin
Larry Sacharuk
Frank St. Marseille
Brian Sutter
Pierre Turgeon
Tony Twist
Garry Unger
Rick Wamsley
Doug Wickenheiser
Scott Young


Friday, June 11, 2010

Vitali Karamnov

The St. Louis Blues were one of the last teams to explore Eastern Europe as a source of hockey talent. And when you get the best of the leftovers, you don't always get the best.

The Blues first tapped into Russia in the 1992 draft. The Blues looked at drafting some of the older, overlooked Russians, taking 5 in total.

Vitali Karamnov was the Blues' 2nd choice, 62nd overall in the 92 draft. Nicknamed "Big V" as the Blues drafted a smaller player also named Vitali (Prokhorov) who was known as "Little V", Karamnov (and for that matter Prokhorov) was brought over immediately at the age of 24 to join the Blues. Joined by center Igor Korolev, it was hoped that these older Russian players could step in and infuse some speed and offense into the Blues attack.

The initial Russian experiment never really worked though. Never a star with his old club Moscow Dynamo, Karamnov struggled through an injury plauged 1992-93 season which saw him play mostly in the minors.

Having adjusted to the North American game and culture somewhat by the 1993-94 season, Karamnov played most of the year with St. Louis, but only scored 9 goals and 21 points in 59 games. Although he was big (6'2" 185lbs) and able to handle the NHL's bigger players, he was hardly a good fit on the third or fourth line. With production like that, Karamnov's days were certainly numbered.

Karamnov played another poor season with the Blues in the lockout shortened 1995 season. He played in 26 games, scoring 3 goals and 10 points but finished the year in the minor leagues.

Karamnov was released as a free agent after 1995 and immediately went back to Europe. He first played in Finland and then Germany.

Karamnov played in 92 games, scoring 12 goals and 20 assists. Ask any Blues fan who remembers him and they'll tell you that the thing they remember most about him is how frequently he lost his helmet while on the ice. It became a source of amusement for the fans and the Blues broadcast team.


Monday, May 24, 2010

Michel Mongeau

Despite scoring 71 goals and 180 points in just 72 games in his last year of junior hockey, Michel Mongeau was never drafted by the National Hockey League.

Why? Well, he had a number of strikes. Offensively gifted without doubt, Mongeau, who was an overaged junior and hadn't show enough in his prior 2 junior seasons to impress NHL scouts, was puny at just 5'9". Also, many wrote off Mongeau's fine season on account of his more prolific teammates - Mario Lemieux early in his junior career, and later Vincent Damphousse.

Mongeau signed on as a free agent with the IHL's Saginaw Generals, and turned in a strong rookie year. He found the net 42 times while assisting on 53 other goals en route to winning the Garry F. Longman Memorial Trophy as the IHL's top rookie. Yet Mongeau was still disappointed as his fine season still translated into zero interest from the NHL.

Frustrated, Mongeau took an offer to play in France for a year in 1987-88, but returned to the IHL in 1988-89. This time he stepped up his play even higher. He led the league with 76 assists and was near the top with 117 points.

This time the NHL noticed, specifically the St. Louis Blues. The Blues signed the elusive skater to a contract, though Mongeau must have known that he would most likely be returned to the IHL for most of the year. And that's exactly what happened. Mongeau had a monster season in 1989-90, leading the IHL with 78 assists and 117 points. He was named to the First All Star Team and won the Leo Lamoureux Trophy as the top scorer and the James Gatschene Trophy as the league's Most Valuable Player! He will always be remembered as one of the greatest players in IHL history.

Mongeau also realized a dream, as he was recalled by the Blues late in the season. He responded well, scoring one goal and 5 assists in 7 games. He looked right at home on a power play unit that included Brett Hull. Mongeau even got into two NHL playoff contests, contributing 1 assists in 2 games.

Unfortunately Mongeau couldn't make the next leap. He played only 7 games for the Blues in 1990-91, instead returning to Peoria of the IHL. His stats slipped just slightly, falling to "just" 106 points. But Mongeau had a dominant IHL playoffs. In 19 games he scored 10 goals and a league leading 16 assists for 26 points en route to winning the IHL championship. For his efforts, Mongeau was rewarded with the Bud Poile Trophy as the IHL's playoff MVP.

Mongeau got his best shot in the NHL in 1991-92. After again tearing up the IHL in stints which accumulated to 32 games, Mongeau spent half a season in the NHL with the Blues. In 36 contests he tapped in 3 goals (2 on the power play) and 12 helpers for 15 points. He was used primarily as a power play specialist, as his size and lack of defensive play (he was okay defensively, but not great) really hindered him at the NHL level. Mongeau described his NHL stint as "too short" but had no regrets.

The Tampa Bay Lightning claimed Mongeau from St. Louis in the 1992 expansion draft. Many though that Mongeau would get a good shot with a lowly expansion team, but he only appeared in 4 contests with the Bolts, and spent most of the year in the minors. In February 1993 he was sent with fellow Francophone Martin Simard and Steve Tuttle to the Quebec Nordiques in exchange for big winger Herb Raglan. However Mongeau never appeared in a Nords jersey.

By 1993-94 Mongeau returned to Peoria, this time without an NHL affliation. He was tired of bouncing around and wanted to return to site of his best years. He would also move on to continue his career in Europe
In the mid 1990s, Mongeau was the victim of a terrible on-ice incident involving Chris Tamer, a future NHLer.

"I was skating toward the goal and I stopped to fake a shot on goal. That’s when Tamer caught up with me and cross-checked me from behind. I fell head first on the goal post and got 7 fractures to the face : upper-jaw, left cheek, nose and both eye sockets. I now have 3 metal plates in my face. The rehab was very difficult and painful. My jaw was wired for a month and my face was very sensitive. Eating with a straw is quite an adventure and a very good way to lose weight... It took 10 months before I could play again and it changed my style drastically." said Mongeau.

Mongeau sued Tamer for damages, but got no compensation.

"At the first trial, we got no result because a ‘strong woman’ in the jury made it turn into a mistrial. At the second trial, the jury side with me but also decided that it was an accident. Go figure. I didn’t get any compensation and my lawyer got $60,000 in debt."

Mongeau returned to Laval where he continued to play senior hockey until 2004. 

In May 2010 Mongeau succumbed to skin cancer. Survived by his wife and two children, he was just 45 years old. He will forever be remembered in hockey circles as a scoring machine.


Saturday, March 27, 2010

Norm Dennis

When the St. Louis Blues came to the NHL in the late 1960s, they looked to build a veteran team for instant success. It worked as they made it to the Stanley Cup finals the first three years of their existence.

Aurora, Ontario's Norm Dennis never figured prominently in any St. Louis success. He was acquired in 1968 after establishing a reputation as a solid minor league pro who was buried in the Montreal farm system for years.

Dennis was destined to be buried in the St. Louis farm system, too, as it turned out. He was called up for brief trials in four consecutive years, the best of which came in 1970. He scored three goals in five contests, the only three goals in his twelve game NHL career.

Dennis also participated in five Stanley Cup playoffs games, going pointless.

Dennis bounced around the minor leagues until 1975 when he moved to Trail, British Columbia. He continued to play hockey at a high level of senior competition with the legendary Trail Smoke Eaters. For a time he coached the Smokies, too.


Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Tony Twist

While he was never considered to be the undeniable toughest man in hockey like Bob Probert or John Feguson before him, Tony Twist was reputed to be the heaviest puncher of his time. However an offseason motorcycle accident in 1999 would mean that Twist would miss the following season and ended his career

The 31-year-old left wing was hurt Aug. 9, 1999 when his motorcycle rammed a car that cut him off. The other motorist was cited for failure to yield and driving with a revoked license. Twist suffered a broken and dislocated pelvis, broken toe and bruised left knee. The critical issue was internal bleeding that threatened his life and delayed pelvis surgery for nearly four days and pushed a detailed knee exam back a week.

Twist was flipped off the bike and landed several feet away, feet first. Police say that a normal human being would have been injured much more severely than Twist was, and credited Twist's incredible strength and tree-trunk-like legs with limiting the blow somewhat.

What made matters worse for the popular St. Louis player known as "Twister" is that just hours earlier the Blues management informed him that they would not be renewing his contract this summer. He was an unsigned unrestricted free agent at the time of the accident. The Blues graciously paid all of his medical bills.

Twists initially vowed to return to hockey, but that never happened.

The son of an RCMP officer, Twist was born in Sherwood Park Alberta but grew up in Prince George, British Columbia before leaving home to join the WHL's Saskatoon Blades. He played two years in the WHL, scoring just 1 goal but piling up 407 PIM which got him drafted by the Blues 177th overall in 1988.

It was as a youth he learned he actually enjoyed fighting, not a trait shared by all NHL tough guys. Twist prepared for each game (right through his NHL career) by punching a concrete floor for 15 minutes. He did this to condition his knuckles for what laid ahead.

Twist made an impression in his first NHL training camp in 1988. He and veteran NHL tough guy Todd Ewen seemed to really have a rivalry going. Tony also met Kelly Chase, who played pretty much the same role as Tony. Both wanted Ewen's job, and both of their careers would follow the other's. Despite the spirited camp Twist was sent to the minors to develop as a player.

"Chaser and I both knew we had to do something to establish ourselves, so I said that I was going to go out and fight in every game. In the first six exhibition games, I had three fights and our coach Wayne Thomas said "what are you doing?". I said "Wayne, new league, I've got to establish myself". I probably fought thirty-five or thirty-six times. It was a good year."

It certainly got Twist some notice, and after another fight filled training camp in 1989, the Blues gave Twist an opportunity to play. He split the year between the NHL and IHL, playing in 28 games with the Blues, and racking up 124 PIM, and no points, by the way.

Twist's first game was something he'll never forget.

"My first NHL game is extremely memorable because it was opening night at Chicago Stadium," Twist told "It was in my second pro year. Todd Ewen was suspended from the year before, so I got the call for Opening Night. Just to be in that arena when the national anthem was being played, if you've never experienced it, you can't understand the adrenaline rush. It was unbelievable. My first game, Chicago Stadium, I had tears in my eyes! Wayne Van Dorp was the resident heavyweight for Chicago at the time. Of course I didn't play much, although I did play long enough to fight Wayne! It was a good fight, and I think I got the best of him without a doubt. That game is definitely one of my most
memorable moments."

However Twist finished the year in the minors, and started the following year in the minors until a trade took him to Quebec. Oddly enough he was traded for Darin Kimble, an old sparring partner of Twist's from the WHL days.

Twist was happy about being moved to Quebec.

"I got a chance to play. It was a great move for me. It was a tremendous opportunity for me because Pierre Page gave me the chance to be something. I didn't play a lot, but whether I played or not, I was on the ice an hour before practice and an hour after practice. Like I said, I didn't play a lot, but I was on the ice for hours and hours and hours with the assistant coaches like Clement Jodoin, Don Jackson and Jaques Martin. Those guys made me a better hockey player and in the long run, I was able to extend my career because of the situation."

Twist especially enjoyed the Battle of Quebec games between the Nords and the Montreal Canadiens. Twist was their heavyweight, and lo-and-behold who ended up in Montreal as their heavyweight? Todd Ewen.

"I went after Todd, but he wouldn't fight me, and when I wasn't looking, he jumped me from behind. We started fighting and I gave it to him and I was happy to do it! I wasn't at all pleased with him suckering me from behind. It was a re-ignition of our rivalry and a great game to be a part of, the rivalry between the Nordiques and the Canadiens!"

Twist played three and 1/2 seasons with the Nordiques before becoming a free agent in the summer of 1994. Oddly enough there was interest through out the league for Twists services. Oddly enough because while he was one of the league's top enforcers, he had never scored a goal and only had 7 assists while playing sparingly in parts of 5 NHL seasons.

Twist elected to resign with his old team, the St. Louis Blues.

"First, I really enjoyed the city of St. Louis. It is a city that really showed me a lot of respect. Second, Mike Keenan. I knew he had a good relationship with his tough guys. I knew he'd give me a chance to play as well as do my job, and even reward me for doing my job. That's exactly what the case was."

Twist would remain with the Blues until his motorcycle accident 5 years later. He even scored 10 goals in that time, an average of 2 goals a season. His first NHL goal came against Vancouver and was during a Hockey Night In Canada telecast! It came in his 181st game, the longest stretch an NHLer had to wait from the start of his career at that point!

"Twister" became a very popular player in St. Louis. His charity and community work were the as much a passio for him as hockey or motorcycles, and helped to make him almost as popular a personality as superstar Brett Hull was in the Missouri city.


Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Bruce Affleck

Born and raised in British Columbia's Okanagan region, Bruce Affleck was a solid NHL defenseman for nearly 300 games, most notably with the St. Louis Blues.

Bruce was born in Salmon Arm and played junior hockey in Penticton. He played so well their that he was offered scholarships to play at American colleges. In 1972 he chose to attend the University of Denver largely because he so respected coach Murray Armstrong. He also used to opportunity to study business administration.

Attending the University of Denver was probably the best thing that ever happened to Affleck. Not only was he a standout all star with one of the strongest university teams in the country, but he caught the eyes of NHL scouts at a time when it was still very rare for college hockey players to make the jump to the NHL. The California Golden Seals drafted him 21st overall (The Hockey News rated him as the third best prospect and best defensive prospect) in 1974, although he was traded to St. Louis before he ever played a game in California.

The move to St. Louis was good as Affleck. Originally he had a tough time cracking the line-up, so tough his teammates nicknamed him "Scratch." But soon he had a chance to play regularly for three and half seasons. In 280 games (including later stints with Vancouver and NY Islanders) he scored 14 goals and 80 points. By 1979 he found himself buried in the minor leagues where he was twice named top defenseman in the CHL and once named league MVP.

After playing a couple of seasons in Switzerland Affleck retired in 1986 to spend more time with his family. Which brings me to the other reason why attending the University of Denver was such a great thing for Bruce. He met his future wife, a girl by the name of Cecily Quinn. Her father was the first governor of Hawaii. In 1976 he ran for the position of Senator with Affleck spending his summer off the ice working hard on the campaign trail.

Affleck returned to St. Louis after he hung up the skates. He worked in the corporate community before re-joining the Blues in a variety of capacities, including group sales, radio color commentator and president of the alumni association.


Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Alexander Khavanov

For reasons I am not completely certain of, ever since Alexander Khavanov broke into the NHL as a 28 year old rookie I was keenly interested in his underdog story.

He was a classic late bloomer if there ever was one. Coming out of junior back, no elite in Russia team was interested in him. He left the game completely for 2 years, turning to academic world. He was always a good student and idolized Albert Einstein as much as any hockey player. He chose study at the prestigious Moscow Civil Engineering School.

He probably should have been working in a Moscow office somewhere, but the university coach convinced him to return to the ice. He did, and before you know it he was captaining the Russian national team, playing at World Championships.

In 2000, thanks to keen eye of St. Louis scout Ted Hampson and assistant GM John Ferguson Jr., he came to St. Louis. He was a skilled rearguard, often forced to play his wrong side in St. Louis because of a lack of right handed defensemen. He handled it all with great poise, perhaps too much as some suggested he lacked a sense of urgency. He also lacked a physical game, which likely kept his NHL minutes lower than he wanted to play. Ferguson later brought Khavanov to Toronto for his final season, in 2005-06.

In total Khavanov played in 348 NHL games, scoring 27 goals and 102 points before returning to Europe for a final season.

As a civil engineer who once quit hockey and never expected to play beyond the recreational level ever again, Alexander Khavanov probably savoured every minute of his career more than most.


Sunday, November 15, 2009

Larry Patey

Larry Patey was a 12 year veteran of NHL wars. He played in 717 games and was a noted defensive specialist. In 1981 he was runner up to Bob Gainey and Craig Ramsay for the Selke Trophy as best defensive forward in the league. That year he scored a league leading 8 shorthanded goals.

Not bad for a late bloomer. Patey was never a top player on his youth teams, and never even played major junior hockey. Instead he accepted the opportunity to play for Boston University back when it was still rare for serious NHL prospects to play there.

He never did get a chance to suit up with the BU Terriers. Freshmen weren't allowed to play at the time. Patey found a little known team in Braintree to keep active while studying. It was during an exhibition game with the United States national team that NHL scouts first really noticed him.

Patey would be drafted 130th overall by the California Golden Seals in 1973. Patey would drop his studies and turn professional. He would played 98 games in the Bay Area, but was best known as a St. Louis Blue. Despite scoring 25 goals and 45 points in his first full NHL season, late in 1975 Patey was traded to St. Louis in exchange for Wayne Merrick, a similar type of player.

Patey emerged as a top defensive forward in St. Louis. He formed a suffocating defensive tandem with winger Mike Crombeen over the next 7 seasons.

A devastating back injury all but ended Patey's career in 1983. He would play in only 33 NHL games over the next three seasons, the last two of which were with the New York Rangers.

Patey retired 1985 having played 717 games. He scored 153 goals, 163 assists and 316 points.

Patey held a lot of interesting off ice interests, too. He held a pilot's license since the age of 15. He pursued his real estate license during his spare time, and became a successful St. Louis area realtor after retiring from hockey. He remained in the game by opening his own hockey school, giving back to youth in the community. He also was active in the Blues' alumni organization and played in charity games.


Thursday, September 24, 2009

Ralph Klassen

You look back now at the career of Ralph Klassen and you wonder what went wrong. He was an extremely high draft pick, 3rd overall in a weak class of 1975, selected ahead of names like Pierre Mondou, Tim Young, Bob Sauve and Doug Jarvis. Yet despite his lofty draft position, the center iceman from Saskatchewan only scored 52 goals in his 9 year career. Only once in those 9 seasons did he reach double digits in goals!

Despite his lack of offensive contributions, Klassen actually was a valuable member of some weak teams in California/Cleveland, Colorado and St. Louis. He was a jack of all trades utility player who would do the unnoticed deeds that help a team win. Klassen is the perfect example of a player who's contributions simply never could be quantified by any statistics.

An explosive skater, Klassen was a top shadow and premier penalty killer. He learned how to use his speed expertly, thus making him even more potent. Instead of going full throttle all the time, Ralph knew how to turn on the jets at just the right time.

Despite his less than daunting offensive statistics, Ralph wasn't lacking in offensive talent. He actually was a pretty good playmaker, though rarely played with elite scorers to put up big numbers himself.

Had Ralph Klassen played with some of the stronger teams in the NHL during the 1970s and 1980s, he could have been a higher profile player. He was a desired player, appearing in 497 career contests. He is also believed to be the only player who was property of 4 different NHL teams on the same day, thanks to a series of complicated trades


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