THINGS YOU SHOULD KNOW MOVING DOWN THE SEMI-FINAL HOMESTRETCH
RANGERS: Suddenly being recognized as a legitimate Cup threat, the Blueshirts put a scare into the Tampa Bay crowd yesterday, jumping into a quick 2-0 lead. Thanks to Igor Shesterkin’s 49 saves, they hung tough almost to the end and demonstrated they are quite capable of toppling the Champs in Game Four. They’re still playing with house money and could end the series at the Garden in Game 5.
LIGHTNING: Game Three of the series yesterday at Amalie Arena was make or break for The Champs and everyone in the hometown crowd knew it. Coach Jon Cooper’s club proved their worth with a stirring comeback from an 0-2 deficit coupled with Ondrej Palat’s late winner. The Sleeping Giant has been awakened. The question now is whether that Giant has the vim, vigor and vitality to make it two wins in a row.
AVALANCHE: What happens when ace center Nazem Kadri is lost with a first-period injury? Fourth-stringer J.T. Compher scores the late game-winner in Game 3, on Saturday night. That gave the Illinois native five goals in four games. Meanwhile, back-up Pavel Francouz keeps out-goaling hard-trying Mike Smith while the alleged “World’s Greatest Player,” Superman McDavid, has yet to take over. He did set the table for his team with an early goal. But if Leon Draisaitl doesn’t wake up and deliver, the sweep will end tonight in Edmonton.
OILERS: McDavid and Draisaitl have won four of the last five Art Ross Trophies but their combined production against Colorado has left their team down, 0-3. Even worse was D-man Evan Bouchard’s cardboard effort to stop Compher’s solo thrust when J.T. could have been board-crushed. Mike Smith, who played strong goal in Game 3, has to steal tonight’s game. But that won’t happen if he gives up 5-hole winners as he did with Compher’s shot. Another way for the Oilers to prevail is for King Connor to do more in 59 minutes after he tallied the opener on Saturday night.
A PLAYOFF RECORD THAT NEVER-EVER WILL BE BROKEN
If, by some miraculous event the Lightning make the final round and win The Stanley Cup, it will mark a total of twelve consecutive playoff series won by the Bolts.
That’s a lot of success on the ice and off the pond where beating attrition becomes a major focus
But it also points out a fabulous fact that has too often been overlooked by historians; which is what the Islanders accomplished between 1980 and the final round in 1984.
During that span, the Al Arbour-coached team amassed 19 consecutive playoff series victories; good for four Cups plus three victorious rounds during the 1984 post-season.
It would be fair to say that that streak never will be equaled or broken.
I’M JUST SAYIN’
* There have been plenty of qualified candidates out there but I’m all for Darryl Sutter winning the Adams Award.
* Actually, I could see two coaches’ awards; The Adams for the regular season and one for the playoffs.
* Then again, the coach for the Cup-winner — I guess — is the automatic coach-of-the-post-season.
* If it seems as if there are more disputes — questionable calls — than ever. I chalk it up to the intense speed and hard-to-figure plays.
* The Blake Coleman goal-no-goal issue is Exhibit A.
* Bottom Line: In the end, the fan must accept the league decisions as the most objective view of all; win or lose.
* Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman raises a good question: Is this the greatest playoff run ever?
* We’ll have a better idea after The Final.
* If nothing else, Gerard Gallant is proving that his success in Florida and Vegas were no flukes.
* The flukie part is that the guys who fired him from the Panthers and Knights gigs, respectively, didn’t understand the master mentor they had under contract.
* The Athletic’s Pierre LeBrun reports that Guy Boucher — remember him? — is ready to return and talk to teams about another NHL coaching job. “He could be an intriguing candidate,” LeBrun concludes and I agree with Pierre.
* Compare; comparisons prove: The current Rangers = the 46-47 Leafs. Both picked to miss the playoffs; both loaded with hustling kids; and both with outstanding goalies. Toronto beat defending champ Habs to win Cup. Rangers should beat Champs as well.
GRETZKY VS. MESSIER — WHO’S BETTER ON THE AIR?
The biggest names on network tv are The Great One (TNT) and Moose (ESPN). I asked my fair-minded viewer, Glenn Dreyfuss how the competitors are doing.
“Wayne once said, ‘My strength was my mind.’ That same smooth, cerebral approach is scoring points on TNT’s pregame and postgame panels.
“For example, analyzed Pavel Francouz, Colorado’s left-handed goalie, poke-checking Edmonton’s Darnell Nurse. “As a player, you’re used to going at a right-handed goalie. Nurse was surprised by that.”
On ESPN, onetime Ranger, Messier, revealed a hidden reason for the Kid Line’s success — the trade deadline acquisitions. “Motte, Copp and Vatrano have taken the pressure away from the kids. Management didn’t throw them into the playoffs with too much responsibility.
Dreyfuss likes TNT’s irreverent Paul Bissonette: “He’s hockey’s answer to Bob Uecker, who overcame a mediocre baseball career to become a beloved broadcaster and hilarious talk show guest.”
GOOD NEWS ABOUT THE COYOTES FUTURE IN TEMPE
No question, the NHL wants to retain a franchise in Arizona. There are plenty of good reasons beyond the fact that Auston Matthews actually learned his hockey in the hot state.
That’s a given. What’s encouraging at this point is that the Coyotes’ dream of a new arena in fast-growing Tempe, down the block from Phoenix, has moved closer to reality. On Friday, the Tempe City Council, which held all the cards, gave the green light for moving the project forward.
That virtually guarantees that the Coyotes will remain in the Phoenix area and Tempe is the best possible site for Arizona’s next ice palace.
The Yotes will be just fine in their temporary Arizona State arena because the franchise has something very special in its future.
Good job Tempe! Congratulations to owner Xavier Gutierrez and “Mister Coyote,” Shane Doan, who lobbied hard for the victory.
WHO SAID IT? “When we’ve got the puck, they can’t score!”
THE CASE FOR JAY WOODCROFT
On Feb. 10, 2022, Edmonton’s NHL franchise was playing so poorly that you had to wonder whether they could make it in the American League.
GM Ken Holland was wondering the same thing and addressed the problem. He fired Dave Tippett and imported Jay Woodcroft who was well known to his family but not many others beyond the Supreme Insider, Lord Elliotte Friedman.
Now in the glorious province of Alberta, almost everyone knows and loves Joltin’ Jay, especially Holland. After all, not only did Jay save the Oilers season, he saved Kenny’s job.
So as soon as the Oilers pack their skates, Holland will pull out a head coach contract and reward Woodcroft with a three-year deal.
MUST READ FOR SERIOUS HOCKEY FANS
Every so often a book crosses my desk that, unfortunately, gets moved to the library and, naturally, I forget about it through no fault of the author nor the book.
My favorite example is Dick Irvin’s superb oral history, THE HABS, which I recently finished and consider one of the best of its kind any time, any sport.
A recent example of a book I missed the first time around is a biography of Lionel Hitchman, one of the finest defensemen who ever lived. It was penned by his Ottawa-based granddaughter, Pam Coburn.
The title is HITCH — HOCKEY’S UNSUNG HERO; THE STORY OF BOSTON BRUIN LIONEL HITCHMAN.
Guaranteed, that when you finish it, you’ll wonder why Lionel Hitchman is not in the Hockey Hall of Fame.
Among her many accomplishments, Coburn was for almost ten years the executive director and CEO of Skate Canada. She also taught skating and now runs her own digital company.
As a book author, I was fascinated by the subject so I contacted Pam and tossed a few questions at her. The subjects and her answers follow:
INSPIRATION FOR THE BOOK:
“In 1999 before my father’s passing he handed my brother and me some of Hitch’s prized hockey possessions. They included a carved statue of Hitch — given to him by the legendary Frank Patrick — and medals from Lionel’s amateur career. I got Hitch’s 1934 retirement plaque he received the night his No. 3 sweater was retired. In return, dad asked that we continue the family effort to get Hitch into the Hockey Hall of Fame.”
INSPIRATION FROM THE FAILED HALL QUEST:
“The unfulfilled quest to get him into the Hall inspired the writing of this book. It’s my way of capturing the untold story of an unheralded superstar who veteran Montreal columnist Elmer Ferguson called the ‘greatest defensive’ defenseman of his day.”
REVELATIONS ABOUT LIONEL HITCHMAN:
“From the family viewpoint, I start with Hitch’s family in England and their move to Toronto. Then it deals with his father’s deployment in World War I and the Spanish Flu that spread near the end of the war. Then, the family moved to Ottawa and I go to Hitch’s amateur sport and his hockey career. The biggest revelation was writing about how good he really was.”
STARDOM; “Hitch played a pivotal role in the Bruins development. Reporters called him the team’s “first money player.” He was at his best when the stakes were high and the chips were down; leading up to Boston’s first Stanley Cup win in 1929. During the following season, his Bruins had the best team percentage of all-time and Lionel was playing his best hockey.”
SPECIFIC TALENTS: “Some of the reporter’s quotes tell the story:
‘That long stick of his can break up any play.” Or one from the great Canadien player, Aurele Joliat: ‘I don’t go down his side if I can help it.” The New York Rangers president Colonel John Hammond said, ‘Hitchman is the hardest man to get around, the greatest checker and the greatest blocker in the game.” And in 1930 a reporter from the Toronto Telegram wrote, ‘Hitchman directed every play from his position and made what rushes he did execute count for goals or near-goals.'”
BEING OVERSHADOWED: ‘It wasn’t that he couldn’t score but he had a role to play and he played it well. Jerry Nason of the Boston Globe once wrote, ‘You could be carrying the puck in your teeth and Hitch would steal it from you.’ His defense partner was Eddie Shore, a big, shiny object who was the ultimate rusher. Talking about himself, Hitch said, ‘I don’t even know what my opponent’s goalie looks like on account of (coach) Art Ross doesn’t let me go to the other end of the rink.”
INJURIES: “I already knew about the many hits Hitch took to his head. My grandmother and parents spoke about them often and how they affected his later life. Even though I braced for these details, it still was hard reading the newspaper accounts and writing about them. Hitch was playing his best hockey before breaking his jaw. He never really recovered from it.”
EDITOR’S NOTE: Cooper Smeaton, former NHL referee, called Hitchman the NHL’s best defenseman of his time; even better than the legendary Eddie Shore. Bruins manager Art Ross said he would never sell Hitchman “at any price.” The rest of the book underlines a key point: Lionel Hitchman belongs in the Hockey Hall of Fame as much as Eddie Shore who is in puckdom’s Pantheon.
SO YOU WANT TO DRIVE A ZAMBONI (FINAL SEGMENT)
Prize-winning playwright, hockey reporter and erstwhile man-about Zamboni’s, Joltin’ Joe Dionisio, has completed his Z ice test. He now skims along Santa Barbara’s Ice in Paradise with the aplomb of a jet pilot. Looking backward he’d like to share some final thoughts with you, the reader:
“My prior Zamboni interactions earned when I toiled for the New York Islanders, were long forgotten when I moved from The Big Apple to Santa Barbara. So, as a writer with the engineering skills of your average Cro-Magnon, the Zamboni physics and its non-concentric geometric paths hardly came naturally to me.
“But that isn’t the case for Ice In Paradise hockey coach Neal Walsh, an astrophysics graduate of the University of Minnesota, who grew up playing with NHLers — and fellow Minnesotans Brock Boeser and Jake Oettinger.”
Walsh: “There’s a lot of science that goes into keeping a good sheet of ice, like temperature, water and the Zamboni’s turning radius.”
When Walsh’s puck pupils see a dirty, snowy surface transform into pristine, shimmering glass, it’s like magic to them. “For lots of young kids I coach,” chuckles Walsh, “their favorite part of the practice is when the Zamboni comes out. It’s an enigma because they don’t know how it works.”
Such magical allure is a gift to every Zamboni driver, whose popularity miraculously skyrockets ten-fold if they’re seen atop this mammoth, weird contraption.
Dionisio: “So, if Will Smith wishes to improve his likability after slapping Chris Rock, I invite him to come to Santa Barbara to earn his Zamboni license!”
HOCKEY IN THE MACCABIAH GAMES
The Maccabiah Games — alias The Jewish Olympics — have produced some notable names. Edmonton’s Zach Hyman was a participant in 2013.
Interestingly, the 2022 Maccabiah hockey tournament will be played in a Jerusalem basketball arena. The NHL has donated a portable rink — not the first time — so crowds of upward pf 7,000 can attend.
While Team Israel will be comprised of local stickhandlers, both Team USA and Team Canada will be a mix of collegians and recreational players.
Team Canada’s manager of the men’s team, Mitch Miller of Ottawa, is impressed with the diversity of talent across the board.
“On the women’s team we have a player who has a Jewish mom and her father is Algonquin,” Miller reports. “And we have a player whose grandfather competed for Canada at the first Maccabath in Israel after 1948.”
The games begin July 14th and conclude on the 25th. From here, it appears that the Canadians– no surprise — will be favorites. They include CHL draft picks Jake Sedeoff, Yotam Klein, Jeremy Hirsh, Jay Feldberg, Josh Cohen, David Brandeis, and Dylan Bly.
The WHL Portland Winterhawks’ Josh Mori has an interesting background. His father is Japanese and his mother a Russian Jew.
Although the majority of Team Canada’s roster hails from Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver, some smaller burghs will be represented.
They include Sudbury (Atley Gringorten), Halifax (Isaac Arnold) and Cambridge, Ontario (Jacob Steinman.)
ANSWER TO WHO SAID IT? Paul Coffey when he was a member of the 1984 Stanley Cup-winning Edmonton Oilers.
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