Archive for February, 2014

Glenn Hall - 1964-65 Topps Tall Boys

I’ve had this card for years and this is the first time I’ve ever noticed that Glenn Hall is holding a mask in his left hand.  This makes this card the first mainline card to picture a goalie together with his mask.  The first card to actually show a goalie wearing said mask wouldn’t appear until 1971-72 when the Ken Dryden RC used a cropped game-action shot for his card.  Jacques Plante appears on a Bee Hive photo wearing a mask, but not on a card.  There’s probably a York Peanut Butter card from 1968-69 with a goalie in mask, and maybe a Toronto Star photo from 1965, but this is the oldest hockey card.

What’s particularly odd about it is that from what I can gather (and find online), Hall didn’t actually wear a mask in 1964.  The first time he wore one in a game, he was a St. Louis Blue and it was 1968.  So what is it doing here?  There were netminders who would have a mask for practice (why take stitches when it wasn’t necessary) and ditch it for games. Presumably this is his practice mask and it may tell us something about how or when the photo was taken.

by 1964, the goalie mask was no longer a sign of weakness.  Jacques Plante’s intestinal fortitude had been questioned when he began wearing his mask in games back in 1959, but the sheer number of games he won silenced his critics.  Don Simmons adopted one shortly thereafter and by this time, Terry Sawchuk wore one as well.  Momentum was building and the only odd thing was how long the full conversion took.  Andy Brown was still going bare-faced in 1974.

I don’t know when exactly Glenn Hall picked up the name “Mr. Goalie,” but he was certainly known that way by the time he retired.  He was such a good prospect for Detroit that he was able to push Terry Sawchuk out of the way, but just two years later he took the fall (rather unfairly, I think) for an early Red Wings playoff exit and was sent off to Chicago, with whom he’d win a Stanley Cup in 1961.  Coming off the 1963-64 season, he was the reigning First-Team All-Star goaltender.  His seven First Team selections are still an NHL record for goalies.

1964-65 was the only season between 1955-56 and 1965-66 that Hall wouldn’t play at least 64 games.  His iron-man streak of 502 straight games in goal (all maskless) will stand for an extremely long time.

By 1966-67, Glenn Hall was 35 and Chicago had Denis DeJordy waiting to take over.  Glenn was left unprotected in the Expansion Draft and became a Blue.  He gave them far and away the best netminding of any expansion team (particularly playing alongside Jacques Plante starting in 1968) and St. Louis represented the West in each Stanley Cup Final between 1967 and 1970.  It’s Hall in net for the famous Bobby Orr flying goal of 1970.  He won the 1968 Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP despite the Blues getting swept in the Final by Montreal.

Glenn Hall retired in 1971 but remained connected to the game, most recently as a goalie coach and consultant for the Calgary Flames.

Glenn Hall - 1964-65 Topps Tall Boys back


Parker MacDonald - 1964-65 Topps Tall BoysWith the old six-team league being as small as it was, it gets real easy to play “six degrees of separation” with the players of the era.  Within approximately a year of the release of this card, Parker MacDonald would be traded twice – both times for players already featured in the first ten cards of this set.

Parker MacDonald (who, just for the record, is the only player ever to play in the NHL with the given name Parker) was born on Cape Breton Island (Sydney) in 1933.  That must have been Leaf terriitory during the post-war years, since Maritime-born players were rare, but the ones who did appear typically showed up in Toronto.  Parker was no different, coming to Toronto to play for the Marlies in 1950 and making his first NHL appearance with the Leafs in 1952-53.

A good scorer in junior and in the minors, Parker had a tough time filling the net at the NHL level.  Two things happened to change this for him.  One was getting an opportunity to play on the left side of a line that just happened to include Gordie Howe and Alex Delvecchio.  The other was the discovery and subsequent removal of a broken piece of drill bit from his shoulder – the remnant of a much earlier surgery that surprisingly hadn’t been all that successful.

All factors combined to allow Parker to become an overnight sensation at 29 after three full NHL seasons and parts of four others.  Never having scored more than 14 goals in an NHL season (and that was the only time he’d hit for double digits), he exploded for 33 – fifth overall in the NHL and only five off the pace set by linemate Howe.

Thirty-three goals proved to be a high-water mark as he slipped to 21 the following year and 13 the year after that.  He did manage 46 points both seasons, which was a perfectly-acceptable total for the era.  His 33 assists in 1964-65 would be a career high and good for tenth overall.

1965, as mentioned above, would see him traded twice.  He was sent to Boston in May as part of a seven-player deal.  Bob McCord (card #10) was one of the players coming back the other way.  In December, Detroit brought him back again, this time in a one-for-one deal involving Pit Martin (card #1).

Now safely into his 30s, MacDonald’s role was reduced and his stats went with them.  He spent most of 1966-67 in the minors before getting one last full season with the expansion North Stars in 1967-68.  He scored 19 goals and 42 points.  After one last season split between Minnesota and their farm club in Memphis.

He’d move into coaching in 1969 and twice had NHL head-coaching stints – 61 games with the North Stars in 1973-74 and another 42 with the Kings in 1981-82.  In both cases. he resigned, finding the positions too stressful.  He had great success with the AHL’s New Haven Nighthawks.

Parker MadDonald - 1964-65 Topps Tall Boys back

Moving from a bit role to left wing on a line with Howe and Delvecchio does wonders for one’s offense.

Bob McCord - 1964-65 Topps Tall Boys

It’s always fun to see Boston defensemen wearing number 4.

There’s a scene in Monty Python and the Holy Grail in which a bunch of villagers announce to their local knight that they’ve caught a witch and would like to burn her.  The question is immediately posed to them, “How do you know she is a witch?”

“She looks like one!”

The scene then careens off into some wonderful scientific analysis (“If she weighs the same as a duck, she’s made of wood”), but it’s that initial line that best represents something I’d believed for years: Bob McCord was a minor-league goon defenseman.

How did I know he was a goon?

Well, he looked like one, at least to me.

I will admit that it’s not really apparent in the card because he is smiling and appears to have hair that has been combed into something mostly photogenic.  On all of his other cards, McCord just looks like a classic face-puncher: he has the short, short hair, the flattened-looking features of someone who been through a ton of scraps and taken a good share of blows to the face, the stern glare.  It’s all stereotypical 1960s tough-guy fare.  I never even questioned it.

When I wrote up the 1963-64 Topps set, I covered the McCord RC with a dismissive one-liner about him being a tough guy who would see more action post-expansion.  I never questioned the tough part.  It was that obvious.

This was his RC.  Can you see where I got the idea?

Bob McCord - 1963-64 Topps

Career tough-guy Bob McCord, right?

Of course, as someone who likes to think of himself as something of a historian and loves vintage because of all the neat little factoids one learns from the back, one might think I’d turn the card over and see what it said:

Bob McCord - 1963-64 Topps back

Oh – it’s actually skilled All-Star defender Bob McCord, my mistake

Bob McCord was actually a very good defender – a multiple All-Star and two-time defenseman of the year (Eddie Shore Trophy) who in today’s league would have played in the NHL for 15 years or more. He had the misfortune (perhaps) early in his career to be dealt to the place Don Cherry called “the Siberia of hockey” – Eddie Shore’s Springfield Indians. This was an unaffiliated AHL team and it made NHL callups basically non-existent. The only way out was to be traded out. Bob McCord was good and the Indians were often good and this meant he was staying put. Bob played in Springfield (with a couple stops in Trois Rivieres – another Shore-linked team) from 1954 through 1963. There would never be a sniff of NHL action.

At age 29, his opportunity finally came. Boston, sliding badly and desperate for help anywhere they could find it, dealt four players to Springfield for Bob’s rights.  He joined a Bruin team that would only win 18 games and couldn’t score.  As such, he didn’t put a lot of points on the board.  He’d play part of 1964-65 with Boston and the rest with Hershey.  There would be the occasional game with Detroit over the next couple of seasons, but nothing of significane until 1967-68, when he became a regular with the expansion Minnesota North Stars.  He put in two full seasons for them and actually led all their defensemen in scoring in 1968-69, but he’d be farmed out to Phoenix for 1969-70.  Save for 42 games with the Blues in 1972-73, the remainder of Bob’s career was spent in the minors – primarily with the Denver Spurs.

Bob retired in 1975, aged 40.  He was an assitant coach of the very short-lived Denver Spurs of the WHA.

Over 22 pro seasons, he played 1340 games, scoring 137 goals and 599 points.  Only 1086 penalty minutes.  Not much of a goon.

Bob McCord - 1964-65 Topps Tall Boys back

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Doug Barkley - 1964-65 Topps Tall Boys On of the biggest reasons I was always drawn to old cards is that I liked reading contemporary views of players that either I never saw or that I only remembered as being really, really old.  In a sense, this blog offers the same opportunity.  I learn a lot about these guys as I try to figure out what to say.

Doug Barkley is a case in point.  I knew he had played for a little while, since I have the cards that came out during his career.  I knew he was briefly a Wings coach and didn’t have a ton of luck, but really very little else.

It turns out that Barkley is one of those cases of a promising career cut short by injury – and it really makes me wonder why we put up with this sort of thing.  Equipment is better than it once was, but the number of careers that are derailed by completely-preventable accidents remains mind-boggling.  (I still get bent out of shape over the loss of Bryan Berard and the long-term effects that had on a team that was very close to contention.)

Like Gary Bergman in card #8, Barkley was an old rookie.  He’d had cups of coffee in Chicago in the late 1950s, but didn’t register a point and really didn’t score a lot in the minors either.

Starting in 1959-60, Doug began to find his offensive game, putting up seasons of 25 and 37 points before exploding for 25 goals and 74 points in 1961-62 for the Calgary Stampeders of the WHL.  This got the attention of the Detroit Red Wings, who traded for him in June, 1962.

As a Red Wing, Doug played a robust game with offensive upside.   Stan Fischler compared his play to that of Larry Robinson, who would come a decade later.  He put up 27 points as a rookie, narrowly missing out on the Calder to fellow defenseman Kent Douglas.  He would lead all defensemen in 1963-64 with 11 goals before slipping back to 5 in 1964-65.  

His 1965-66 campaign was shaping up to be of potential all-star calibre.  By late January, he’d already matched his previous season’s goal total and was heading for a career high in points.  His season ended abruptly when he was clipped in the eye by an accidental high stick of Doug Mohns.  Mohns was attempting to lift Barkley’s stick, missed, and the blade instead came up and struck Barkley’s face.  Surgery was unable to restore his sight, and Barkley never played another game.

Barkley’s career was done before it really ever began. The loss cost the Red Wings greatly, who certainly could have used a top-end defender in the 1966 Stanley Cup Final, and who would slip into mediocrity in the later 1960s and 70s and could definitely have used the help on the back end.

Barkley stayed with the team and coached the team for three short-lived stints.  He was later known back in Calgary as the long-time radio colour commentator of the Calgary Flames.

H/T again to Joe Pelletier for so much of the backstory.

Doug Barkley - 1964-65 Topps Tall Boys back

Gary Bergman - 1964-65 Topps Tall BoysOne of the joys of collecting Tall Boys in hockey is that one of every five cards is a short print.  Unlike today, where short-printing is basically a marketing ploy designed to drive value, this was just an effect of the sheet design.  The set was released in two 55-card series.  The sheets were printed eleven cards across, nine rows deep.  A full series was printed on rows one through five, then the first four rows would repeat as rows six through nine.  The centre row of cards thus was printed at only half the rate of the rest of the set.  I have no idea why they chose to do this, other than it probably had to do with the sheets of card that were either available of would conveniently fit in the cutting machines.

The second-series short-prints have been long-known to collectors and they are annoyingly expensive.  Relatively nondescript RCs can run $250 if they’re short-printed.  The existence of first-series short-prints was long suspected, but only proven a few years back when an uncut sheet of 1964-65 Topps was unveiled at the Toronto Expo.  Experienced collectors could guess at the contents of row number five, but it was cool to see it proven.

Interestingly, the prices of the first-series short-prints saw about a two-month bump, but this never really held because Beckett, for whatever reason, never updated the designations in their guides. While the information on the short-prints is out there, the guides don’t have it.

The first of the first-series shorties (in terms of numerical order) is the Gary Bergman RC.

Like Bill Hay, Gary Bergman was comparatively old to be a rookie.  He was 26 in 1964-65, a veteran of a number of minor-league seasons.  He’d belonged to both Chicago and Montreal since leaving junior but hadn’t had an NHL look with either.  In the summer of 1964, Detroit picked him up in the intra-league draft.

Detroit had been a fourth-place team in ’62-63 and ’63-64 and had struggled to keep the puck out of their own net.  In 1964-65, they finished first overall and cut their goals against by 29, finishing two off the league lead.  Bergman can’t be credited for all of that, but this was the first of nine straight seasons where he’d give the Wings solid two-way play.  He never made an All-Star team or won an award, but he was good enough to be chosen for Team Canada in 1972 and was an absolute rock on defense.  Guys like Park, Savard and Lapointe made the rushes, but Bergman stayed back and did the heavy lifting.  It was Bergman whose shin guard was kicked through by Mikhailov in Game Seven.

Bergman’s character was one of the standouts in the made-for-TV series about the 1972 Summit.  The team was hurt by players grousing about ice time and a number of high-profile players bailed and went home as their respective training camps were getting underway.  Coach Harry Sinden called the team together so everyone could air their grievances.  Bergman’s character quipped, “Well, what about me? I was promised a vacation and I can’t get off the (bleeping) ice!”

Bergman continued his solid play for the Red Wings as the team began to slide in the early 1970s.  He found himself dealt to Minnesota early in 1973-74, required for 1974-75, then deal again to the woeful Kansas City Scouts for his last season.

Gary Bergman’s play in 1972 garnered new attention when the team reached it’s 25th anniversary in 1997 and the games were re-released on VHS and DVD.  Sadly, he died of cancer in December, 2000.  He was 62.

Gary Bergman - 1964-65 Topps Tall Boys

Topps clearly didn’t love him, either, as Gary wasn’t a goalie.

Bill Hay - 1964-65 Topps Tall Boys

Bill was a rather lanky individual

As a kid, looking at the iconic players of the 1960s Black Hawks, it always was a no-brainer for me that Bobby Hull and Stan Mikita played together.  It just made too much sense – one of the best centres in league history was a teammate of one of the best wingers ever to play the game.  Between them, they combined for seven scoring titles and four MVPs.  Mikita was one of the great setup men of his era while Hull was the premier goal scorer. How could they not have been linemates?

Except they weren’t.  As I clued in later, Mikita spent the majority of the 1960s on the Scooter line with Mohns and Wharram, while Hull was part of the Million Dollar line with Murray Balfour and Red Hay.  The guy feeding that Bobby Hull slapshot and setting up all those goals wasn’t Mikita, it was Hay.

Hay is an interesting person to look at in the context of the “typical” NHL player of the 1960s.  His story is far better suited to today.  Coming out of junior, he opted for US college hockey, finishing a degree in geology at Colorado College.  He was also a two-time All-American. Upon graduating, Montreal (who owned his rights) loaned him out to Chicago’s WHL affliliate in Calgary.  After a year of watching him, Chicago swung a deal for his services.

Hay joined a Hawks team that was on the rise in 1959 and won the ’59-60 Calder as a 24-year-old rookie.  At 6’3″, he was a really big player.  Never a huge goal-scorer, he put up very good assist totals (being Bobby Hull’s centre helped), peaking at 52 in just 60 games in 1961-62.  He retired at 30 to go into business, was talked back into a half-season, then called it quits again when his rights were picked up by St. Louis in the 1967 Expansion Draft.

In total, Hay would score 113 goals and 386 points in 506 NHL games.

He would later become a part owner of the Calgary Flames and the long-time president/CEO of the Hockey Hall of Fame.

H/T to Joe Pelletier for a lot of the backstory.

Bill Hay - 1964-65 Topps Tall Boys back

Hay’s father played senior hockey at a time when that really mattered.

Terry Sawchuk - 1964-65 Topps Tall Boys

As a young player, Terry Sawchuk was hefty and happy-go-lucky. Jack Adams then put him on a diet from which he never recovered. His nerves and temperment went with it.

(originally published January 8, 2013)

It’s not really surprising that the chatter in Toronto would move seamlessly from lockout talk to goalie talk.  In Toronto, at least to some extent, it is always about the goalies.  Even in those brief, shining moments where we’re all happy(ish) with the netminding, it’s only a matter of time before the basic, fundamental Toronto question of “who is going to play goal for this team?” arises again.  Somebody leaves, somebody gets hurt.  It never lasts.

It must have been a shock to the system of most hockey fans to see this card in 1964.  It’s not that Toronto wasn’t used to two goaltenders – the Leafs had run some form of Bower-plus-a-backup ever since they’d decided Ed Chadwick couldn’t carry the load by himself in 1958.  It’s just that two goalies of this stature on the same team at the same time was basically unheard of.

It worked, though.  Even though Toronto’s tandem was 75 years old between them (older even than Gordie Howe), they managed to work Sawchuk’s wonky back and Bower’s random wonky age-related bits all the way to the 1964-65 Vezina.  They split the games and shared the trophy.

After that, though, it was murder to hold it all together.  Toronto actually used five goalies in both 1965-66 and 1966-67, with Boston escapee Bruce Gamble picking up most of the balance of the starts.  In 1966-67, he played almost as many games as either Sawchuk or Bower did.

Sawchuk was gone after just three seasons in Toronto, lost in the expansion draft to LA.  For all his playoff brilliance in 1967, only once did he appear in more than 30 regular season games as a Leaf.

This carousel or netminders dates back to 1949.  Turk Broda, Leaf starter since 1936, was still great but aging.  The Leafs had an heir apparent in Pittsburgh named Aldege “Baz” Bastien.  He’d been waiting in the wings for years just in case Broda faltered and was a really solid candidate, despite the fact that he was now pushing 30.  He’d been the first team AHL All-Star three years running and had led the league in GAA the past two.

In the Leafs’ 1949 Leafs training camp, though, he was struck in the eye with a puck.  He lost the eye and his career was finished.  The Leafs were now left with a 35-year-old Broda and no plan.  (Howie Harvey, brother of Doug, was the Leafs’ top amateur goalie, but he had to retire with a skin condition.)

They quickly traded for a young Al Rollins, who put in a very good pair of seasons, but never seemed able to convince Conn Smythe of his abilities come playoff time.  The Leafs went so far as to coax Broda out of retirement in 1952 when the Rollins-backed Leafs dropped a pair of playoff games.

Smythe fixed this with a fairly expensive deal for Harry Lumley, who was very, very good, but also almost inexplicably moved out after just four seasons.  Ed Chadwick, who had looked good in a brief trial, held the reins for two years before taking the fall for a lousy team in front of him.  This ushered in the Bower era.

What’s really remarkable about the Leaf goaltenders since Broda is how short all their tenures were, even if we liked them.  After Bower’s run as number one, Gamble had about three and a half years.  Plante was in for three, Parent just a season and a half.  It was then the cast of thousands until Palmateer landed, but he too was gone in just four years (a very banged-up version would return a while later).  Allan Bester played parts of eight seasons but was only a regular in five of them, while Wregget played parts of six and was the real starter for only three.

Even the good run the Leafs had between 1991 and 2003 involved four distinct good goalies.  Fuhr was here a year and a half.  Potvin, who has played the most games by a homegrown goalie since Broda and is third overall in wins, had five and a half years as a starter.  Joseph gave us four, Belfour three of which only two were good.  And even during that time, think of the plethora of moderately frightening backups (not counting Potvin’s brief stint, there were 12 of them).  The last backup goalie that really inspired confidence (other than maybe Reimer/Giguere) was Damian Rhodes, and he left in 1996.

Since the end of the last lockout, the Leafs have used no less than 15 goaltenders and we still aren’t dead sure we have one we like.

So it’s no surprise that we’re back into goalie talk.  It’s what we do around here.

Terry Sawchuk - 1964-65 Topps Tall Boys back

Despite all those seasons, Topps was never above randomly misspelling Terry’s surname.

Elmer Vasko - 1964-65 Topps Tall Boys

A nickname like “Moose” really isn’t flattering, even when meant to be so.

(originally published Feb 8, 2012)

Elmer Vasko was a coveted prospect – a big defenseman with good mobility and hands. During Chicago’s peak years in the 1960s, he played on the top pairing with Pierre Pilote and was the defensive consicence of the unit. Despite never putting up huge offensive numbers, he was twice a second-team NHL All-Star (1963 and 1964).

He came up through the Hawks’ junior team in St. Catharines in the early 1950s and joined the big club as a 20-year-old in 1956. He stood out because of his size and the Chicago fans took to him, dubbing him “Moose” and cheering it loudly when he’d rush the puck (almost every card he has in the early years mentions the Chicago crowds and their “Mooooooooooose” calls).

A lot is made of the sheer difference in size between players of the past and players of today. While there were always a number of skaters in the 6’1″, 200-lb category, they were offset by a bunch of others who were 5’7″, 150. Elmer Vasko had good size by anybody’s standards. At 6’3″ and 210 lbs, he could skate on any modern blue line (though he’d probably play about 15 pounds heavier). When you see him in old clips, particularly with the thinner equipment, he looks like a mountain out there.

I get the feeling, just by reading between the lines a bit, that the thing that kept Vasko from achieving a Chara-like status was that he didn’t really show a big mean streak. He fought rarely, topped 100 penalty minutes just once in his career and generally had fewer minutes in the box than games played. If a player of that size had had a bit of Gordie Howe in him, he might have been a legend. As it was, he was a highly-respected defenseman for a lot of years.

He walked away from the game after 1965-66, saying the thrill had gone. He was enticed back by the expansion Minnesota North Stars, who were not one of the better teams. They finished dead last in 1968-69 and Vasko was singled out at one point by GM John Muckler for not being physical enough. He still represented them in the 1969 All-Star game.

Elmer Vasko died of cancer in 1998.

His rookie card from 1957-58 is one of my favourites, rating up there with Wendel Clark’sfor sheer attitude displayed. Look at this expression. Who wouldn’t want a player like this on their blue line?

Elmer Vasko - 1964-65 Topps Tall Boys back

(originally published January 12, 2012)

John Ferguson - 1964-65 Topps Tall Boys

This was a bad, bad man…

With the demotion of Colton Orr a week or so ago, Brian Burke held a press conference in which he expressed his sorrow at the fact that the current direction of the game is one that has no room for enforcers.  Fighters like Colton Orr have no place in a modern lineup, so he was going to go to the AHL to see whether he could reinvent himself, and the NHL would be left to the “rats,” dirty players would could take liberties with stars without fear of retribution.

I don’t really agree that the modern NHL has no room for enforcers.  To me, what we’re seeing the demise of is not the fighter but rather the specialist – the player who really only has a single skill – fighting – and if he’s not fighting, a player who really can’t be used at all.

This particular evolution of the enforcer (or tough, guy, goon, what have you – it kind of depends on your perspective) isn’t really all that old.  While “goon hockey” is generally associated with teams like the Philadelphia Flyers of the 1970s (even though the Bruins and Blues played this way before the Flyers did, Philly made it into an art form), the players they employed weren’t modern goons.  Guys like Schultz, Saleski, Dupont and Kelly would take a regular shift.  Saleski and Schultz both scored 20 goals at different points in their career.  The reason they were so frightening to play against was that at least one of them was on the ice all the time.  In Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final, if you played Philly, you played against Dave Schultz and everyone else they had.  This was their team.

I was talking it over with some other “veteran” hockey fans (that’s a pleasant euphemism) and we all basically agreed that the modern goon (plays five minutes or less, never scores, only fights) is really a product of the late 1980s and early 90s.  This is when teams were looking for an answer to the likes of Bob Probert.  You’d see guys like Troy Crowder and Tie Domi appear and if they could go toe-to-toe with Bob and live, they became instant celebrities and were rewarded with large contracts even if they didn’t show any other real skill.  Tie eventually developed enough of a game that he took a regular shift and became a legitimate player.  Crowder eventually disappeared.  With expansion, there was some talent dilution and designated fighters tended to become more of a presence.  In the dead puck era, so little scoring was happening anyway that it didn’t really matter if your goon only gave you three goals per season – or even less.

Once the lockout ended, the emphasis became skating and speed and if your tough guy couldn’t keep up, he became a major liability on the ice.  A guy who might have once got 8-9 minutes when obstruction was permitted might now just get three or four.  Increased parity and the fight for once-plentiful playoff spots made the regular season crucial.  Again, this did not bode well for players without everyday skills.

As with most things, there’s no real clear dividing line where you can say “this is where it started.”  While there was more of a tendency to keep single-purpose fighters after the latest round of expansion, sluggers from the minor leagues have always been brought up to see whether they can contribute at the NHL level.  The difference in days gone by was that if they didn’t show they could take a regular shift, or even semi-regular, they disappeared.  The Leafs once had a guy named Paul Higgins.  A tenth-round pick in 1980, Paul played just 25 games over a two-season NHL career.  His totals read zero goals, zero assists, zero points – and 152 penalty minutes.  Now that’s a goon.

I think the future of the enforcer really lies in its past.  Before there were enforcers, there were “policemen.”  This type of player has been around forever.  Red Horner was a policeman for the Leafs 80 years ago.  The king of policemen, though, was probably John Ferguson.

The difference between policeman and goon is really one of talent.  The policeman was the toughest player on his team (or at least one of them) but was skilled enough to take a regular shift.  John Ferguson was as tough as anyone who played the game and as feared a fighter as there was, yet he skated on the top lines.  When he broke in, he made room for Beliveau and Geoffrion because he skated out there with them.

John was never going to be confused with a finesse player, but he’d hit 15 goals with regularity and 20+ on occasion.  He fought all comers – tough guys, pests, rookies looking to make a name for themselves – and helped Montreal win a bunch of Stanley Cups.  He finally retired not because he was tired of the fighting, but because he was afraid he’d seriously maim or even kill someone in a fight.

There used to be a lot of people in this vein.  A lot of the tough guys of the 70s could score.  Tiger Williams was usually good for 20 goals alongside Sittler and McDonald and hit 38 in Vancouver.  Willi Plett scored 33 as a rookie in Atlanta and another 38 skating with Kent Nilsson in Calgary.  Even Semenko scored 20, though it took Gretzky to make it happen.

That, to me, is the future of the fighter.  Teams will look for guys who can play a bit as well as fight.  I also see teams looking to have a couple of guys who can go so that they’re not reliant on a single heavyweight when a couple of cruiserweights will do the trick.  I don’t necessarily see a lot of 25 goal scorers fighting, but even if Colton Orr could reinvent himself as a third/fourth liner who could play ten minutes, kill some penalties and come up with a stat line like 7-8-15 while being defensively plausible, he’d be enormously valuable.

So I don’t see an end to the fighter.  I see an end of the specialist. But we’ll probably get better hockey out of it.  And fewer rats.

John Ferguson - 1964-65 Topps Tall Boys back

Many hockey players were also top lacrosse players.

Terry Harper - 1964-65 Topps Tall Boys

I have no idea what the dark splotches are on the right side. Must be from the scanner.

(originally published October 14, 2011)

I’ve been up to my eyeballs this week and am still no further on the project that has been written in my head for about a month.  I haven’t done a Tall Boys card in ages, though, so that’s worth doing today.

If ever a Hab deserved a Christmas card from Leafs fans everywhere, it’s Terry Harper.

Terry was actually a very good player.  A stay-at-home defenseman who contributed toughness and leadership, he broke in with Montreal in 1963-64 (so he has two rookie cards in ’63-64 Parkhurst, which is annoying) and spent parts of 17 seasons in the bigs, retiring in ’80-81.  He won a bunch of Cups with Montreal, helped an average LA team become a very good LA team and was once considered significant enough to be packaged for Marcel Dionne.

This was all done with him contributing relatively little offense.  It was nothing unusual for him to have a plus rating well beyond the total number of points he put on the board.  A lot of that is a team stat, but it’s still interesting.

Terry also happened, for one brief instant, to be in precisely the wrong place at the wrong time.

That instant came during Game 6 of the 1967 Stanley Cup Final.  The Leafs were leading 1-0 late in the second period as Jim Pappin and Pete Stemkowski led a rush into the Montreal zone.  Stemkowski dished to Pappin, who carried the puck down the left wing boards towards the corner, mostly out of harm’s way.  Stemkowski, a big forward having a wonderful playoff, stormed towards the front of the net.  Harper did precisely what he was supposed to do and took Stemkowski, tying him up and generally keeping him out of harm’s way.  Pappin lobbed a pass toward the front of the net and it hit Harper in the skate, deflecting past a surprised Gump Worsley.  2-0 Toronto.

The goal was significant because in the third, ex-Leaf Dick Duff would dart past Tim Horton and wrist one past Terry Sawchuk.  Instead of tying the game, this goal only got the Habs within one, and that’s all they would get on Terry that day.  Armstrong scored in the empty net to clinch.  The goal scored off Terry Harper’s foot won the Stanley Cup.

Without the Pappin goal, the game is tied in the third and there’s no telling how it would have played out.  Leaf coach Punch Imlach was none to keen to play a Game 7 in Montreal.

Without Terry’s skate, instead of hearing about 1967 all these years, it could well have been 1964.

That’s worth recognizing, I think.

Terry Harper - 1964-65 Topps Tall Boys back

The burns apparently required 7 years of skin grafts. Wonder why he was tough?


And just for those who say we’ve never seen this in colour….