Posts Tagged ‘bruins’

Dean Prentice - 1964-65 Topps Tall Boys

Whoever was responsible for cropping out the background of Dean Prentice’s photo got a little overzealous and left a rather large hole under his right arm, presumably where there was a shadow.  It takes a minute to notice at first, but now it’s the first thing I see when I look at this card.

Dean Prentice is one of a number of players in this set who appear with teams they are not normally associated with.  Dean, to my mind, is a Ranger first and foremost.  He broke in with them in 1952 and was a regular until being traded to the Bruins in mid ’62-63.

Prentice was a very good winger who spent most of his career on weak teams and is thus less well-known than he should be.  The Rangers scuffled through most of the fifties, the Bruins were horrid in the early sixties, there was a brief moment with a decent Wings squad in mid-decade and then it was expansion teams for the rest of his career.  Through it all, Prentice was a reliable twenty-plus goal-scorer (ten different seasons) who played 22 NHL seasons and almost 1400 games.  He was reputed as a good two-way player and spent most of his Ranger days as the defensive conscience of the top line.  He peaked at 32 goals in 1959-60 and was a Second-Team All-Star.

His teams, unfortunately, only made the playoffs eight times and got out of the first round just twice.  He only appeared in 54 playoff games, scoring 13 goals and 17 assists.

Dean’s 1964-65 season (the season this card was released) ended early and dramatically.  He was off to a good start with 13 goals in his first 30 games, giving him a decent shot at his second 30-goal season.  Game 31 was in Chicago on Dec. 27.

Early in the second period, Prentice blocked a Stan Mikita shot at his own blue line and took off on a breakaway.  The rest unfolded as follows:

 While speeding toward the goal Prentice was tripped from behind by Mikita and crashed into the end boards. Referee Frank Udvari ruled that Mikita tripped the Bruin winger on a clear breakaway and awarded a penalty shot. However, Prentice was sprawled on the ice, unconscious. Through the fog of pain and only slightly revived as a result of his trainer’s cracking an ammonia sniffer under his nose, Prentice heard the taunts of his fierce Blackhawk opponent, Bobby Hull: “Come on Dean, you are not going to let one of your dummy teammates take the penalty shot for you are you? ”

The piercing words hit a nerve. The wounded Bruin pushed aside the pain, took up the challenge, jumped to his feet, grabbed the puck at centre ice, sped in on the goal, pulled a nifty move and tucked the puck behind Blackhawk goalie, Denis DeJordy.  Back on the bench…the unexpected. As the penalty shot champion tried to answer the call for his next shift he was frozen to the bench; his back and legs wouldn’t budge. Dean was carried off on a stretcher and x-rays later revealed that he had a broken back. The tenacious hockey legend had pulled off an unparalleled feat in NHL history in scoring with a broken back. His reward: a goal and a body cast.

(story quoted from hockeyministries.org)

The goal tied the game at two, but with Prentice out, the Bruins would give up the next four and lose 6-2.  Prentice would see no more action until the following season.  He wouldn’t miss significant time again.

Dean Prentice retired in 1973-74, never having played a game in the minor leagues.  He is also my uncle’s cousin, though there was a big age gap and I don’t know how well they knew each other, if at all.

Dean Prentice - 1964-65 Topps Tall Boys back

Eric Prentice played 5 games with the Leafs in 1943-44.

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Orland Kurtenbach - 1964-65 Topps Tall BoysNo matter how many teams there are in the league at a given moment, there will always be players who seem to get buried – guys who could score at every level, but get stuck behind other players or get slotted into roles that never really let them develop.  If they never get that chance to shine, they get labeled as yet another guy who never panned out.  If that chance does appear, though, it can be pretty special.

Marty St. Louis might be the most famous current example of this.  A waiver-wire pickup by Tampa years ago, the smallish bit-player from the Flames became one of the best scorers of our era and became the oldest Art Ross winner a year ago at age 37.  In this set, Ab McDonald fits that description and Phil Goyette will, as well.  A third player who enjoyed a brief period in the sun late in his career when finally given an offensive role was Orland Kurtenbach.

Orland was a big guy with the reputation of being one of the best fighters in the game.  He was never near the league penalty-minute leaders, so presumably the rep was enough to ensure he didn’t have to do it all that often.  I do know he had some famous battles with Terry Harper.

A Saskatchewan kid, Orland played his junior in the SJHL and turned pro with the Vancouver Canucks of the WHL in 1957-58.  In three seasons with them, he put up solid numbers and was generally near a point-per-game player.  (One year with the AHL’s Buffalo Bisons didn’t go so well.)  It was enough to get him a 10-game call-up from the Rangers in 1960-61, where as a 24-year-old rookie he put up six assists in ten games.

Boston acquired him in the 1961 Intra-League draft, though he’d spend most of the next two seasons in the minors.  An 87-point season with the WHL’s San Francisco Seals in 1962-63 punched his ticket back to the NHL, where he’d stay for the balance of his career.

In the NHL, though, Orland always was stuck behind other centres.  His role seemed to be fixed as third-line centre and tough guy.  Through several seasons in Boston, one in Toronto and a handful with the Rangers, this was always the case.  It wasn’t that he played badly – he put up double digits in goals three times and twenty-plus assists four times between 1963-64 and 1967-68 and was always a contributor – it was just a limited role.

A serious back injury limited him to just two games in 1968-69 and required spinal fusion to correct.  He’d only play sparingly in 1969-70 and posted the worst offensive totals of his career.  Pushing 34 years of age and apparently in decline, he was exposed in the 1970 expansion draft and was chosen by the Vancouver Canucks.

Orland was named the Canucks’ first captain and the return to the site of his WHL success was a tonic for him.  The chance to finally play a scoring role and see real power-play time didn’t hurt, either.  For the first time in his NHL career, he scored better than a point per game, scoing 20 goals and 53 points in 52 games.  He followed this with his second 20-goal effort in 1971-72, scoring 61 points in 78 games.  Age and injury caught him after that, and after two shortened seasons, he’d call it a career after 1973-74.  He would serve a season and a half as head coach of the Canucks, from mid-1976-77 through 1977-78.

Orland Kurtenbach - 1964-65 Topps Tall Boys back

I always love the cards that describe the players’ off-season jobs.

Ab McDonald - 1964-65 Topps Tall BoysLooking at the smile on Ab McDonald’s face, it’s hard not to like him. It’s also hard not to feel for him a bit because 1964-65 was going to prove to be a lousy season and the next two were arguably worse.  Better things were to come, but they would take some time.

Ab was a new Bruin.  He’d spent the last four seasons holding down the left wing on the extremely-potent Pony Line in Chicago.  With Stan Mikita at centre and Kenny Wharram on the right, ab brought solid two-way play and scored as many as 61 points.  Chicago won a Stanley Cup during his first season there (1960-61) and were just coming off a .600 season and second-place finish.  That said, they had exited the playoffs in the first round two years running and some changes were afoot.

Boston, on the other hand, had been last four seasons in a row and was about to make it five.  They couldn’t score and were worse at defending. Ab was seen as a guy who could help with both.  He and Reggie Fleming arrived in Boston in exchange for long-time Bruin defender Doug Mohns.

Mohns, upon arrival in Chicago, switched from defense to Left Wing, took McDonald’s place on the Pony Line and looked like he’d been a forward all his life.  Ab McDonald’s 1964-65 Boston number, conversely, look like he spent the spent the season on the blue line.  He fell from 46 points to 18 and from 14 goals (which itself was a bit low for a guy like Ab) to just 9.

Usually, when a forward’s production falls off that badly, it points to either an injury or a significant change in usage (meaning ice time, linemates, assignments or a combination of all of the above).  Looking at Boston’s lineup, they had Johnny Bucyk, Reggie Fleming (who had a really good ’64-65) and Dean Prentice (who missed half the season) on the left side.  Ab, based on his numbers, probably saw third-line duty at best.  He basically lost his job to Fleming.

McDonald had actually been in this kind of spot early in his career.  He broke in with the Habs in 1958 and was expected to fill the shoes of Bert Olmstead, the great winger who had been moved to Toronto.  It was a tall order for a 22-year-old and it didn’t work out that well.  He played mainly a checking role and was more than happy to go to Chicago in 1960.  He got a new role and new linemates and blossomed.

1965-66 seemed to offer that same kind of opportunity. Ab was sent to Detroit and in the early going, his touch seemed to return.  A thigh injury then hampered him and he spent part of the season in the minors trying to work through it.  He’d spend most of 1966-67 there, as well.

Like so many others, expansion saved what might have been the balance of his career being spent outside the NHL.  Ab was claimed by the new team in Pittsburgh.  He’d score 22 goals for them, then move on to St. Louis and score 21 and then 25.  After an injury-shortened 1970-71 and an up-and-down 1971-72 (spent with Detroit), Ab would become a charter member of the WHA’s Winnipeg Jets, retiring for good after the 1973-74 season.

Between the NHL and WHA, Ab McDonald scored 211 goals and 500 points in 909 games.  He won three Stanley Cups – two in Montreal and one in Chicago.

Ab McDonald - 1964-65 Topps Tall Boys back

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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