Posts Tagged ‘canadiens’

Charlie Hodge - 1964-65 Topps Tall Boys

There are a lot of things that have changed about hockey in the past 50-odd years and while many are inarguably for the better, one thing that I do miss is the small goaltender.  Modern goaltenders are incredibly efficient and there is a certain technical beauty to the way they play.  Older, smaller goalies were just a lot more fun.  In order to cover the same amount of net, they had to play a lot further out and this demanded a lot more movement and action.  It was really exciting to see a great save and there were lots of them.  I went into this in more depth a number of years ago.  I don’t think it’s any less true today.

Now, even by the old standards, Charlie Hodge was a small goalie.  At 5’6″ and 150 pounds, he’s about 7-8 inches shorter and 50-60 pounds lighter than a modern goaltender and he’s over a foot shorter than Tampa’s Ben Bishop.  I never got to see him play, but he must have been a hoot.  To play as long as he did and as well as he did, he had to have been agile, lightning-quick and aggressive.  Any short goalie who didn’t play that way usually added the adjective “former” to their description.

Charlie spent most of the 1950s as the #2 goalie in the Habs system.  Given that the starter was Jacques Plante and most teams tended to run their goalies for full 70-game seasons, this meant that he spent all his time in the minors save for the occasional injury to Plante.  When he did get to play – 14 games in 1954-55, 12 in 1957-58, 30 in 1960-61, he always gave a good account of himself.  His 2.47 GAA in 1960-61 actually led the NHL.  Inevitably, though, Plante would return and Hodge would go back to the AHL.

In 1962-63, Plante was injured and missed 14 games and rather than bring up Hodge , the Habs went with youngsters Cesare Maniago and Ernie Wakely.  For Charlie, the writing must have seemed to be on the wall.

Funny things happen, though.

After the ’62-63 season ended, Plante was traded to the Rangers in a swap of starting goaltenders (amongst a bunch of other players).  Gump Worsley came over in the deal and was expected to be the 1963-64 starter, but he was injured early on.  The call went out for Hodge, now 30, to fill in.

He was brilliant.

He led the league with 8 shutouts, posted a 2.26 GAA, won the Vezina Trophy (goalie for team with fewest goals against) and was voted to the second All-Star team.  It was Worsley who would have to fight his way back into the lineup.

As the 1960s progressed, the goalie tandem became more common and Hodge began to split time with the Gumper.  They combined to win the 1965-66 Vezina along with Stanley Cups in 1965 and 1966.  The arrival of expansion and the emergence of a young Rogie Vachon (also a rather short netminder) finally pushed Hodge out the door.  He became an Oakland Seal for three seasons and then an original Vancouver Canuck in 1970-71.  He retired following a contract dispute prior to the start of the 1971-72 season.


Charlie Hodge - 1964-65 Topps Tall Boys

Charlie wasn’t really that wide.


(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….

Gilles Tremblay - 1964-65 Topps Tall Boys

This card appears signficantly less bashy in real life.

(originally posted June 15, 2011)

The end of the season is nigh.  Tonight will mark the end of a lengthy Stanley Cup drought for someone, either Boston (who haven’t won since ’72) or Vancouver (joined in ’70-71 and haven’t won one at all).  This follows on the heels of Chicago ending their drought last year.  This sort of trend could bode well for my Leafs if they could break with past form do something bizarre like make the playoffs.  Stranger things have happened.

The second card in the long-neglected 1964-65 Tall Boys set is Gilles Tremblay of Montreal.  The Habs of ’64-65 would end their longest Cup drought of their 24-year romp through the NHL.  Between 1956 and 1979, Montreal would win 15 of 24 possible championships.  The longest time without a Cup in that span was the four seasons between 1960-61 and 1963-64.  During this time, they underwent a remarkable retooling that left them poised to win four of the next five, all while finishing first three times and third once.

The key to Montreal’s success was the farm system put together by Frank Selke, a pipeline that churned out player after player and let Montreal deal off any part that wasn’t working.  They were able to lose players like the Rocket, Doug Harvey, Jacques Plante and Tom Johnson and not miss a beat.

One of the players brought in during this mini-drought was Gilles Tremblay.  He made his first appearance in 1960-61 and though he wouldn’t be part of the 1964-65 Cup win (his season ended in December 1964 with a leg injury), he’d be a big part of the wins in ’66 and ’68.

Gilles was one of those rare players that championship teams need to have around.  He was one of the fastest skaters in the game, could check the best opposition forwards and kill penalties all while popping 25 goals per season.  If there had been a Selke Trophy in those days, Gilles and Bob Pulford would have fought over it every single year.  (There were other great checkers, to be sure, but none who put up that sort of offensive numbers.)

The thing that did in Gilles was injuries.  Only twice did he play a full season (though he was close on one other occasion).  He missed 10 games in ’62-63, 9 in ’63-64, 44 in ’64-65 and another 8 in ’66-67.  He had a mostly-healthy ’67-68, then had his career ended half-way through ’68-69 due to complications from asthma.  He was finished at age 33.  Given how expansion had stretched the careers of many of his contemporaries, this probably cost him 5 seasons.

Gilles became a fixture on “La Soirée du Hockey” (Hockey Night in Canada on French CBC), being part of the broadcast team for 27 seasons.  He won the Foster Hewitt Award for broadcasting in 2002.

Gilles Tremblay - 1964-65 Topps Tall Boys back

Getting married in skates could have been interesting, particularly if people threw rice.