Sunday, July 29, 2012

Steve Maltais

There is a fine line between a great minor league player and decent NHL player.

Case in point: Steve Maltais.

During the late 1990s, NHL scoring fell dramatically, reaching the lowest average production since the early 1950s. Teams were desperate to find goal scorers, yet Steve Maltais never got a sniff.

Maltais was a goal scoring machine with the IHL's Chicago Wolves. The big left winger lit up the International Hockey League with 219 goals in four seasons with the Wolves, an average of 55 goals a year!

Think anyone could use a guy who averages 55 goals a year in the minors? "You'd like to think so," said the Arvida, Quebec native. "You put up numbers like that, you'd think you could chip in with 15 or 20 at this level (the NHL)."

Maltais wasn't a stranger to the NHL. The Washington Capitals drafted him in the second round back in 1987 after he scored 114 goals in 124 junior games. Since then, he has played 94 games in the NHL, 610 in the minors. His longest NHL stint was 63 games with Tampa Bay in the 1992-93 season. He had seven goals and 13 assists. He's been traded three times.

Despite Maltais' prodigious minor-league numbers, Maltais could never find a NHL home. He had the size, a bit of grit, maybe his skating and defensive play were below NHL standards but he knew how to find the back of the net.

Maltais thinks he is the victim of bad rap. "Once you put up numbers in the minors, I think you maybe get labeled as a one-way player," Maltais said. "I don't think that's fair. There's so much pressure having to score, night in, night out."

Bob Rouse

March 7th, 1989. One of the bigger trades in NHL history sees the Washington Capitals trade Mike Gartner and Larry Murphy to the Minnesota North Stars in exchange for Dino Ciccarelli and Bob Rouse.

What a trade! In essence it broke down as Gartner for Ciccarelli, the two goal scoring faces of each organization now swapping teams. Both were destined for the Hockey Hall of Fame, as was the defenseman Larry Murphy. But Bob Rouse? Who was he?

Well, make no mistake, Bob Rouse was not a Hall of Fame defender like Larry Murphy. In fact, he was not like Murphy in most respects. He had little offensive upside, with not much of a finesse game to speak of. He was a rock solid physical defender. He kept the front of his net neat and tidy, using his size and strength to his advantage. He lasted a long time in the NHL (well over 1,000 NHL games) as a very tough and honest defenseman.

Rouse, who was often paired with Craig Hartsburg in Minnesota, was perhaps best described as the prototypical stay at home defender in the modern game. He wasn't a great skate, but he excelled when playing within his limitations. He handled the puck nicely and had enough vision to calmly make a strong play to get the puck out of his zone. But he never made much of an offensive contribution.

Rouse would play 3 seasons in Washington before joining the Toronto Maple Leafs (with Peter Zezel) for another dynamic offensive defenseman in Al Iafrate. Rouse would play a nice role with a strong Leafs team, though he may be best remembered for a nasty stick fight with Detroit's Bob Probert.

Rouse joined the Red Wings in 1995 and was part of the Wings back-to-back Stanley Cup championships in 1997 and 1998. He later finished his career in San Jose.

All told, Bob Rouse played in 1061 NHL games, scoring 37 goals and 181 assists for 218 points. He added  1559 penalty minutes, and administered probably just as many bruises.

In the playoffs Rouse added 7 goals, 28 points, and 198 PIMs in 136 Stanley Cup contests.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Bob Babcock

There was no mistaking Bashing Bobby Babcock's role on the ice. After all, he went from 1987 to 1993 without scoring a goal in the OHL, AHL or in his only two career games in the NHL. In that same 225-plus game span Babcock picked up over 800 minutes in penalties, most of them very aggressive in nature.

As a member of the Washington Capitals Babcock played in one game in each of the 1990-91 and 1992-93 season. The Agincourt, Ontario native picked up no points and just a single minor penalty in that time.

A broken leg in 1993 was the beginning of the end for Babcock's career on the ice.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Michel Belhumeur

October 23rd, 1974. Washington goaltender Michel Belhumeur stops not one but two(!) penalty shots in the same game. He stopped both of Chicago's Jim Pappin and Stan Mikita. Yet despite the two big saves, somehow the Capitals lost that game 3-2 to Chicago.

Washington lost a lot of games that year. 67 of them in total. They won just 8, and tied 5. They were one of the worst teams in NHL history. They were so bad that when the season mercifully ended the players celebrated by hoisting an aluminum garbage can as if it was the Stanley Cup.

Washington, an expansion franchise, had hope Belhumeur could be their go-to goalie in their inaugural season. He had previously wallowed in the Philadelphia Flyers organization, buried in the minor leagues while Bernie Parent was leading the Broad Street Bullies to the Stanley Cup. Belhumeur toiled in the minor leagues mostly, playing for the Quebec Aces and Richmond Robins.

The Caps grabbed Belhumeur for the 1974-75 season, but let's just say it did not work out too well. Belhumeur's personal record was 0-24-3 in 35 games - a NHL record for most games played in season without a victory. He had a GAA of bloated 5.36. Ron Low, the other Washington goalie, won all 8 games for the Caps, but his record of 8-36-2 is nearly as horrific. But don't blame the puck stoppers. The goalies had no chance with that poor Washington team in front of them.

Belhumeur returned the next season for 7 more games (0-5-1) before disappearing to the minor leagues until he retired in 1979.

By the way, Belhumeur did get to taste victory in the National Hockey League. He did pick up 9 wins in 23 games with the Flyers in 1972-73.

Interestingly, before Belhumeur left Philadelphia he actually sued the Flyers. He was a minor league call up for the 1974 playoffs. His role was a practice/emergency goalie, but he never dressed for a game even as back up. Still, Belhumeur felt he deserved to get paid for his contributions. The issue was settled out of court.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Sylvain Cote

How good of a prospect was Sylvain Cote? In his last year of junior he was named as an all star and the top defenseman in the entire QMJHL even though he played in only 26 games!

Drafted 11th overall in 1984, Cote was a naturally gifted skater right from an early age. To this day many will argue he put on the best showing of any player at Quebec's famous pee-wee international tournament, with none other than Guy Lafleur also getting a lot of support.

Cote grew up playing minor hockey in the same neighborhoods as Mario Lemieux. The two were clearly the best prospects in Quebec by their draft day. Of course everyone knows all about what Mario Lemieux accomplished in the NHL. But not many people remember Sylvain Cote, which is somehow par for the course as he inexplicably flew under the radar much of his NHL career.

Though he started his career with 6 seasons with the Whalers, he blossomed in Washington where he played in two stints for over 9 seasons. The Caps were deep on the blue line back then, with the likes of  Kevin Hatcher, Calle Johansson and Al Iafrate stealing much of the spotlight. Cote settled in nicely behind Hatcher as the 2nd pairing right defender, quietly providing solid play at both ends of the ice.

Offensively he was highly underrated, except in 1992-93 when he tallied 21 goals. The Capitals set a NHL record that season with three defensemen topping the 20 goal mark with Hatcher and Iafrate also reaching the mark.

Cote had a strong and accurate shot, making him a perfect candidate to take a lot of power play minutes. At regular strength he was a strong skater and carried the puck well under pressure. He was also a confident breakout passer. But after his big breakout campaign in 1992-93, Cote took more of a two-way role, allowing others to concentrate more on the offensive side of the ice.

Defensively Cote improved over the course of his career into a very solid and capable defender, although he was always best suited on the 2nd pairing. Not unlike most defensemen it took him a few years to really be able to process the offensive attack heading his way. The league's best superstars, namely Lemieux, could exploit Cote from time to time.

He was not very big (5'11" and 185lbs) but was a solid hitter who finished his checks, though with no malice.

All in all Sylvain Cote was a solid NHL citizen for 1171 NHL games. He scored 122 goals and 313 assists for 435 points. He added another 11 goals and 33 points in 102 playoff games, but he never did get a chance to sip champagne from Lord Stanley's Mug.

A passionate fisherman, Sylvain Cote later opened his own fishing charter business in Maryland.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Lou Franceschetti

Lou Franceschetti made himself a good living as a hard working third or fourth line player His game was based on total heart and dedication, not necessarily skill.

"I was somebody that was going to go out and create a little bit of energy for your teammates, create a little bit of havoc and just want to keep the other guys on the other team honest at all times knowing that when I was out there I was there to make things happen and the game could get a little physical," he said.

Franceschetti was drafted 71st overall in the 1978 Amateur Draft by the Washington Capitals, the team he spent the majority of his career with. More accurately he split most of his career between the American capital and the American league. In fact he spent 3 full seasons in the minor league level before finally getting a shot at a taste of NHL life in 1981-82, when he appeared in 30 games. But Lou would spend most of his season in the minors. The next three seasons were almost carbon copies of 1981-82. Solid minor league season hi-lighted with a peppering of NHL action.

Lou finally made the Caps on a full time basis in 1984-85 when the 6' 200lb right winger participated in 76 NHL games. He would be a mainstay on Washington's right wing for the next three seasons with the exception of 16 minor league games. He was never much of a goal scorer or playmaker, but he was a fan favorite as they loved to chant his name. He was a valued fourth line plumber, which is quite fitting considering he supplemented his minor league income by working as a plumber during the off-seasons.

In the summer of 1989 the Caps traded Franceschetti to Toronto in exchange for a draft pick. Lou surprisingly exploded in his first season with the Leafs, scoring 21 goals and 36 points, both career highs, in 80 games.

Lou would be traded to Buffalo 16 games into the 1990-91 season, but he struggled terribly with the Sabres, scoring just once in 35 games. To make matters worse, Lou faced the pressure of knowing the Sabres traded Mike Foligno - one of the all-time favourites in Buffalo in order to get him and defenseman Brian Curran.

Aside from 1 game during the 1991-92 season with Buffalo, Lou would played 5 years of minor league hockey before retiring in 1996. He would later become involved in Roller Hockey International, including competing for the Buffalo Stampede and Buffalo Wings.

Lou played hard and with good speed. His determination and willingness to sacrifice impressed all. He used his body effectively as he hit purposefully rather than recklessly. A good and willing fighter, Lou left the NHL with career totals of 59 goals and 141 points in 459 regular season games.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Pete Laframbois

This is Pete Laframboise. Check out those, umm...colorful California Golden Seals sweaters.

Laframboise spent a couple of seasons in Oakland, remembered best  for a 4 goal outburst in an 11-3 whitewashing of the Vancouver Canucks on January 3rd, 1973. He was described as a talented player who did not apply himself often enough. A likeable teammate known for his constant joking around, he was known to enjoy himself a bit too much off the ice, undoubtedly affecting his play on more than a few nights.

As a result he bounced around the league after leaving Oakland. He briefly appeared in Washington, Pittsburgh and, in the WHA, Edmonton.

In 227 NHL games Pete Laframboise scored 33 goals, 55 assists and 88 points.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Dave Kryskow

How is this for hockey's worst hair cut?

That's Dave Kryskow. He bounced around the NHL and WHA in the 1970s, playing with Chicago, Washington, Atlanta, and Detroit in the NHL and Calgary and Winnipeg in the WHA. When all was said and done, Dave nicely competed in 231 NHL games and 116 WHA contests.

Dave was actually a pretty high draft pick, 26th overall in 1971, selected ahead of players such as Bill Hajt and John Garrett. But for whatever reason he never panned out in Chicago, even though as a rookie in 1973 he scored goals in two different games of the Stanley Cup finals. The Blackhawks left him unprotected in the 1974 NHL expansion draft.

The Washington Capitals made Kryskow their first forward selected in the expansion draft. He played just one season in Washington. His claim to fame is a good trivia question. He was the first Washington Capital player to score a shorthanded goal in franchise history. 

That wasn't enough, as three-quarters of the way through the season he was traded to Detroit. He must have lived out of a suitcase because he never stayed in one place very long.

Kryskow, a junior scoring star, survived in big league hockey in a defensive role. And he had to try doing that on a series of poor defensive teams.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Joe Reekie

Always underrated in my books, Joe Reekie was one of the best kept secrets in the National Hockey League.

Originally Drafted 128th overall in the 1983 Entry Draft by Hartford, Reekie re-entered the Draft in 1985 and was taken 119th overall by Buffalo. The big, aggressive Reekie would appear in 104 games over 4 years with the Sabres. He was already developing a reputation for an uncanny sense of perfect defensive position that was usually reserved for veterans. However a serious knee injury really slowed his progress, as it cost him most of the 1987-88 and 1988-89 seasons.

The Sabres traded Reekie to the New York Islanders prior to the 1989-90 season where he would play 3 seasons mostly in the National Hockey League. In that time he quietly impressed as a penalty kill regular. His combined +45 rating over three years convinced the Tampa Bay Lightning to select him in the 1993 expansion draft.

Reekie would spend almost two seasons in the Florida sunshine before finding a home in Washington. From 1994 to 2002 Reekie served as a top four defender. He was often used against the other team's top players because of his strength and seemingly flawless defensive positioning. He was smart and tough, although that brought inevitable injuries that slowed him. Regardless, he always played with a subtle savvy that I always admired, as well as with a tough and physical, yet clean, presence.

The highlight of Reekie's career came in 1998 when he was a big part of the Capitals march into the Stanley Cup finals. Unfortunately the Detroit Red Wings handled the Capitals to deny Reekie a Stanley Cup championship

Reekie was traded on January 17th, 2002 to Chicago for Petr Dvorak, and would finish his 17 year career following the 2001-02 season.

When all was said and done Joe Reekie had participated in 902 NHL matches, scoring 25 goals and 139 assists for 164 career points. He added 3 more goals and 7 more points in 54 Stanley Cup contests. Impressive numbers? No. But every coach in the league wish they had a dependable defender like Joe Reekie on their blue line.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Rolf Edberg

Rolf :The Rat" Edberg came to the NHL with terrific credentials. He was a standout with AIK Solna 8 years in the Swedish Elite League. He also starred in two World Championships.

After being named as the best player in all of Sweden following the 1977-78 season, the Washington Capitals won the Rolf Edberg free agent sweepstakes. never drafted by a NHL team, Edberg received several offers from the NHL, WHA and Sweden.

Edberg's first season was good, though not great. He chipped in 14 goals and 41 points and was solid in his own zone. He also played extremely cleanly, picking up just 3 minor penalties.

In 1979-80 Rolf took a positive step forward, upping his numbers up to 23 goals and 46 points. But in 1980-81, Rolf had a season he'd like to forget.

It started out with Rolf being demoted to almost nothing but penalty killing duty. Then he severely hurt his back. Upon his return he was placed on a top line with Bengt Gustafsson and Dennis Ververgaert. The line clicked immediately, but the excitement was short lived. Edberg suffered his second serious injury of the season - a broken jaw courtesy of Phil Russell.

Edberg's contract ran out at the completion of the 1980-81 season, and he apparantly had had enough. Edberg returned to Sweden where he finished his career.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Darren Veitch

Paul Coffey, one of the greatest offensive defensemen in NHL history was selected 6th overall in the 1980 NHL Entry Draft. He was the 4th defenseman taken. Ahead of him were long time NHL battlers Dave Babych and Larry Murphy and some guy named Darren Veitch.

Darren who?

Veitch's journey through the NHL and the minor leagues began in the Montreal Forum at the '80 draft.

The Montreal Canadiens had just drafted centre Doug Wickenheiser from the Western Hockey League's Regina Pats. Veitch, Wickenheiser's teammate in Regina, was an all-star defenceman also waiting to go high.

The Winnipeg Jets next picked Babych from Portland of the WHL. Third up was a little centre from the Quebec League's Montreal Jr. Canadiens named Denis Savard. Chicago drafted him.

Drafting fourth overall, Los Angeles chose Murphy from the Ontario Hockey League's Peterborough Petes.

Finally, with the fifth overall pick, the Capitals chose Veitch, who led the WHL in assists with 93 in 71 games, and a total of 122 points. The Oilers then selected Paul Coffey directly after after Veitch.

Coffey, Murphy and Savard appear destined for the Hall of Fame. Dave Babych also had a splendid career. Veitch had a steady if unspectacular career, posting 48 goals, 209 assists, 296 penalty minutes in 511 career games with Washington, Detroit and Toronto from 1980 to '91. But needless to say, aside from that one draft day in Montreal, he was never in the same class of player as those stars.

The Washington Capitals, starting in the 1980s anyways, have long be known as a franchise with a fetish for standout defensemen, although they demand their defensemen be very solid in their own zone and durable. They had acquired the likes of Rod Langway, Brian Engblom, Larry Murphy, Scott Stevens and Kevin Hatcher to a name a few.

It was hoped Veitch would be a big part of of the Capitals, and it started out promising. He had a heavy right handed shot from the point and became a fixture on the powerplay  In his second season he scored 9 goals and 53 points.

His career would be forever changed following an early season game in 1982 against the Vancouver Canucks. Veitch missed the rest of the season and part of the following season recovering from a serious collarbone injury.

With Veitch injured and slow to return to form when he did come back, the Capitals took measures to acquire a top offensive rearguard fearing that Veitch would never be the same. They went out and acquired one of the best d-men in the game in Larry Murphy.

Veitch struggled to regain his status in Washington once he did return. He did fully recover from the collarbone injury, and did improve his defensive game, but he fell down the depth chart. At the very best he was the 4th but often was on the 3rd pairing and received less ice time.

Because of these circumstances, it would be wrong to say Veitch was a first round draft pick bust. He was actually quite serviceable even if he never reached the high expectations placed upon him.

Veitch was moved to Detroit in exchange for a couple of more typical 5th and 6th defensemen in John Barrett and Greg Smith. In Detroit Veitch had a chance to return to his offensive game, and he did not disappoint as he posted career highs in 1986-87 with 13 goals and 58 points, while being a respectable +14. He was solid but never a bonafide true offensive leader.

Veitch played with the Wings until 1988 when he was sent to Toronto for the erratic Mirko Frycer. Veitch however played sparingly for the Leafs and actually spent more time in the minor leagues than in the NHL.
Veitch's last NHL appearance came in 1990-91, but he continued to play hockey until 1999. He appeared in the AHL, IHL and WCHL and briefly in Germany.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Rod Langway

Rod Langway was the prototypical defensive blueliner - a hard hitter who more often than not cleared the puck from danger. In other words he was a goaltender’s best friend, and the perfect team player.

Craig Laughlin described his former teammate in awe.

“Rod’s presence made a statement to all the other teams. Nobody wanted to play against him when he was in his prime. The statement that I heard most from opponents was that he was like playing against an octopus. He had the size, the reach and the strength.”

Few were better than Langway. He was so good that he won the James Norris Trophy twice, in 1983 and 1984 as the league’s top defenceman. This is an amazing accomplishment when you consider how rare it is for a defensive d-man to win the award since the arrival of Bobby Orr in the late 1960s. Since Orr revolutionized the role of a defenseman from defender to attacker, the trophy almost always went to the best offensive defenseman. For Langway to capture the Norris trophy twice based on his defensive excellence and not his offensive elements is the best tribute to how good he was. And to make it even more impressive, Langway beat out superstars Ray Bourque, Denis Potvin and Paul Coffey. Coffey in particular dared to come close to Orr's offensive exploits, yet the NHL recognized Langway's great play over that. Langway was also the first American player to win the award.

The Montreal Canadiens drafted Langway 37th overall in 1977 after his final year of college. Langway attended the University of New Hampshire where he was on a football scholarship. But hockey soon took over as his love and scouts were noticing him. Rod left school after his sophomore year as he felt he was ready for the professional ranks. The Habs actually urged him to stay in school and develop more as the Habs were in the midst of a dynasty and already boasted a blueline that included Larry Robinson, Serge Savard and Guy Lapointe.

Langway spent some time in the American Hockey League and with Birmingham of the World Hockey Association before joining Montreal for the 1978-79 season. In his first year in the NHL, he recorded seven points in 45 games and was a member of the Canadiens’ Stanley Cup championship squad.

In his first full season in the NHL with Montreal, 1979-80, Langway scored seven goals and 36 points in 77 games. The following year he set career-highs in goals (11), assists (34) and points (45) and in 1981-82 he notched 39 points.

After four years with the Habs, Langway was part of a blockbuster deal prior to the 1982-83 season that sent the veteran defenceman along with Craig Laughlin, Doug Jarvis and Brian Engblom to the Caps for Ryan Walter and Rick Green. The deal is often considered to be one of the worst trades in Montreal history, mainly because of the level of greatness Langway would achieve in a Washington uniform. Laughlin, Jarvis and Engblom all went to lengthy careers as well. Walter and Green proved to be valuable players and helped the Habs win the 1986 Stanley Cup, but couldn't match the career that Langway had.

Rod made a huge impact on hockey in the US Capital. He won the Norris trophy in each of his first two seasons there, and played with heart and desire that few others could ever match. When Langway arrived in Washington, the Capitals had never made the playoffs. In his 11 seasons with the organization, the club never missed them.Rod was a great leader and a greater teacher. He learned from some of the best while in Montreal - Larry Robinson, Serge Savard and Guy Lapointe - and he taught some of the best - Scott Stevens, Kevin Hatcher and Larry Murphy.

There was little doubt that Rod Langway was not only the leader of the Capitals, but many believed he was the most valuable player to his team. In 1984, Langway finished second to Wayne Gretzky in Hart trophy balloting. The Hart trophy goes to the league's MVP. Imagine that - in an era dominated by mindboggling offense and The Great One, a defensive d-man was considered by many to be the league's most valuable player.

For Rod it was his single greatest personal achievement.

"People don't remember the guy who came in second but to be considered one plateau below Gretzky that year was a great honor for me, more than the Norris Trophy."

But Langway wasn't worried about personal honors, rather he wanted team success. While Langway was part of a Stanley Cup team in his rookie season in Montreal, Langway never again got his name on the Cup. That would be is his only real regret in hockey.

"I was probably more disappointed every year I didn't win the Cup." he said. "I have my ring and myname on the Stanley Cup. To this day I feel we should have won a couple more in Montreal and truly believe we should have won a couple in Washington."

When Langway left the NHL in 1993, he had career totals of 51 goals, 278 assists and 329 points in 994 regular season games.

Later, the Caps retired Langways jersey to honor him.

"I'd like to be remembered as a player who came to play every night," said Langway. "I remember when the trade happened. I remember 8,000 people who made noise like 18,000."

Langway once again referred to the failed attempts to bring the Cup to Washington.

"The only honor for a player that means more than having his number retired is winning the Stanley Cup. We didn't do that here, and that's a black cloud over my head," Langway said.

Rod remained in hockey after he finished playing in the NHL. In fact he even laced up the skates again, in both the ECHL and IHL. Langway was an assistant coach in both places and actually came out of retirement to be a playing coach. Langway wants to be an assistant coach at the NHL level but doesn't want to be a head coach. He prefers to teach and to be "one of the guys" than to be the head man who has to play mind games with his players in order to get them to work harder.

Peter Bondra

Who is the greatest player in the history of the Washington Capitals?

As always there will be much controversy with such a question, followed by what is hopefully healthy debate. One could argue Rod Langway, the classic defenseman who was the team's heart and soul. One could argue Mike Gartner, the team's consistent offensive threat for so many years. Goalie Olaf Kolzig is a popular choice. But, of course, Alexander Ovechkin will likely the runaway winner of this poll.

But one player who I think should get more attention as the greatest Washington Capitals player of all time is Peter Bondra. The Slovakian bullet rewrote much of the Capitals record book.

Bondra was spotted by long time Caps scout Jack Button, who convinced GM David Poile to take use the 156th overall draft selection of the 1990 draft on the 22 year old late bloomer who somehow slipped through previous drafts.

Bondra joined the team immediately, playing in 54 games in the 1990-91 season. It was a tough year of transition for Bondra, who was actually born in Ukraine. Fortunately he had fellow Slovak Michal Pivonka to help him adjust both on and off the ice.

Bondra showed glimpses of greatness that season, but only had 12 goals to show for it. But over 14 seasons fans knew him as one of the NHL's greatest goal scorers.

The key to Bondra's game was always his skating and shooting.

Bondra was an explosive skater with a wide skating stance that gave him impenetrable balance. With a loose puck up for grabs he was like a sprinter out of the starting blocks. He could handle the puck too at top speed, often cutting in on his off wing and shooting in stride. Though his season totals were consistently high, he was a bit of a streaky player, scoring goals in bunches.

Bondra always had a goal scorer's mentality, firing shots on net whenever and from wherever possible. He had a lethal arsenal of shots, notably his wrist and backhand shots. Twice he led the league in goal scoring, 1994-95 and 1997-98. He finished his career in Washington holding Capitals team records in goals (472), points (825), power-play goals (137), game-winning goals (73), short-handed goals (32) and hat tricks (19).

Despite his offensive wizardry, "Bonzai" was a pretty anonymous player all things considered. Playing in Washington did not help him get into the spotlight, but Bondra also shunned the spotlight as well. He was simply not interested in such media and fanfare.

On his best days Peter Bondra was comparable to Pavel Bure or Alexander Ovechkin. He was that good, and scored goals with the same infectious exuberance. Though he was not a noted playmaker, Bondra was a very committed team player. He did not neglect his defensive duties, and was a regular on the PK unit. Though he was 6'1" and over 200lbs, he was not an overly strong player in terms of muscling out players along the boards. But he would get his nose dirty.

For all his efforts, team success was tough to come by in Washington during the 1990s. Only twice did the team make it past the first round of the playoffs. In 1998 the Capitals made a surprise visit to the Stanley Cup finals, though the team fell just short to the Detroit Red Wings.

Washington has traditionally been a very loyal organization, keeping players in town for long periods of time. If there was ever a player who deserved to finish his career as a Washington Capital, it was Bondra who truly loved being a Cap, even though there was a couple of public rough spots.

Unfortunately it was not meant to be. The struggling Caps moved Bondra to Ottawa, starting a rebuilding phase and allowing the tearful Bondra to play with a contender. Unfortunately Ottawa didn't make it past the first round.

Bondra bounced around after that, playing with Atlanta and Chicago and with HK SKP Poprad during the lost lockout season. The aging veteran was never the same goal scorer once he left Washington.

He would finish out his career with a quiet 503 goals, 892 points in 1071 career games

In the fall of 2007, Bondra announced his retirement from playing hockey. He had been hoping for a one year contract offer from the Capitals so that he could finish out his career where his heart had always been. But the offer never came.

A different offer did come, and it was close to Bondra's heart too. The powers that be in Slovakia offered Bondra the job as the national team's general manager. The proud Slovak was eager to accept the challenge.

Bondra represented in seven international competitions during his playing career, including the 1994 Winter Olympics qualifying tournament, the 1998 Winter Olympics, the 2006 Winter Olympics, the 1996 World Cup of Hockey and the Ice Hockey World Championships in 2002 and 2003. Perhaps his greatest career highlight was in 2002 when he led the Worlds with 7 goals en route to a Slovakian gold medal. He scored the tournament clinching goal with just 100 seconds left in the game Overall, he played 47 games and scored 35 goals on international level for Slovakia.

In both Washington and Slovakia, Bondra truly is Peter The Great. I see no reason why he should not be a Hall of Fame enshrinee

Dale Hunter

Some people called Dale Hunter the NHL's ultimate warrior. Others considered the loathsome character to be hockey's most hated villain since Bobby Clarke. Love him or hate him, you have to admit he was a vitally integral player.

Hunter retired as the first and only man in NHL history to collect 300 goals, 1,000 points and 3,000 penalty minutes. But while he was a superior defensive player, face-off specialist and offensive sparkplug, it was Hunter's mean-spirited, sometimes dirty play that summed up Hunter best. He was the ultimate team player and leader; a player who played with every last ounce of heart and soul he had; a player who would and did just about anything to win.

The NHL's Lord of Darkness wreaked havoc at any given opportunity.

"I assumed he picked his spots to play the way he does because nobody can play that way all the time," goalie Bill Ranford, both an opponent and teammate, said. "Then I found out he plays that way every game, every rink, against everybody."

In a career of wrong-doings, one incident sticks out more than any other. A frustrated Hunter blindsided NY Islanders captain Pierre Turgeon several moments after Turgeon scored a decisive goal that all but eliminated Hunter's Capitals from the playoffs. The attack came a good 5-7 seconds after the goal as Turgeon was celebrating the goal. Hunter was suspended for the first 21 games, exactly 1/4 of the schedule, in the following season. With fines and lost salary, Hunter lost $150,000.

"Some wondered whether the new NHL commissioner Gary Bettman singled me out to send everyone a message, but to me, that's just part of hockey," said Hunter almost unapologetically.

Dale was the middle brother of 3 brothers who all played in the NHL. Older brother Dave was a third line grinder with the great Edmonton Oilers teams, while younger brother Mark was a solid player for a long time span as well.

"Having older brothers who play Junior A (oldest brother Ron played Jr A but not pro) and professional hockey before I did made my progression easier. Dave let Mark and me know what to expect. His most helpful advice was 'Be noticed.' To make a team, you have to do something to draw attention to yourself," remembers Dale.

Dale took that advice to heart, and it helped to mold his career.

"I'm a smaller guy, so I've always needed to play the same energetic and aggressive style to show that I can compete against the bigger players. Unless he's super talented, a small man doesn't play in the NHL. I remembered Dave's advice and I guess I racked up a few penalty minutes as a result. I almost went out of my way to knock heads with the toughest guys on the other teams just to prove that I wasn't afraid to play in the league. I got beat up quite a few times, too many to count!"

Dale was selected 41st overall by the Quebec Nordiques in 1979. A year later he was knocking heads in the NHL. In his rookie season he gained instant respect for his all out play that earned him 226 PIM. But he also added 19 goals and 44 assists for 63 very respectable points.

That first year Dale met another NHL classic villain in Moose Dupont, who was finishing his NHL career with the Nords. Moose left a lasting impression on Hunter.

"Moose Dupont was captain of the Nordiques when I first broke in. He helped me a lot. He had been one of the main guys from the Cup winning Philadelphia Flyers and brought his love of the game to the rink every day. He laughed, had fun, and played hard. He didn't let it get to him if things didn't go the way he wanted. I loved his attitude."

With the emergence of Hunter, high scoring Frenchmen Michel Goulet and the three Stastny brother, the Nordiques became one of the league's more exciting teams. Goulet was a terrific goal scorer, scoring 50 goals several times. Many think that Goulet was Stastny's left winger, but more often than not it was Hunter to who centered the Hall of Fame left winger. (Stastny and Goulet were a dynamic power play combination however). That in itself speaks volumes of Hunter's finesse game. A fine passer with superior vision of the ice and a great understanding of the game, Hunter's only finesse-game weakness was his skating. A choppy stride gave him only acceptable speed in his prime and hindered somewhat in his latter years, but he always found a way of getting the job done.

The Nords were unfortunate not to have better playoff luck. For much of the early 1980s they were a high scoring team that seemed to lack an elite goalie and dominant defenseman to get them over the hump. While Stastny and Goulet got much of the credit due to their incredible scoring exploits, it was Hunter who was considered to be the team's heart and soul. When the retooling Nords traded Hunter in 1987, it was said that the franchise was never the same. They missed the playoffs for the next 5 years and eventually Quebec City even lost the team to Denver, Colorado.

Hunter was traded to the Washington Capitals on June 13, 1987. With Clint Malarchuk also going to the US capital, the Nords got Gaetan Duchesne and Alan Haworth in return. The traded wasn't all bad from a Nords standpoint though as they also got Washington's first round pick which was used to select Joe Sakic.

Hunter quickly became the heart and soul of the Capitals, and later was officially named as the team's captain. He helped the team to become a strong team during his tenure. However playoff success, much like in Quebec, was hard to come by as the Caps ran into the might Pittsburgh Penguins in the early 1990s. Late in the decade, 1998 to be exact, the Caps made a surprise Cinderella run to the Stanley Cup finals. It marked the first time in 18 years that Hunter had made it to the finals, but the clock struck 12 on the Caps as the Detroit Red Wings won their 2nd straight Cup.

Much speculation in the media suggested Hunter would retire that summer, but he came back for one more chance at the Cup. However the Caps had a injury plagued season and were destined to miss the playoffs by the time of the trading deadline. It was at that point that the classy Caps organization traded Hunter to the Colorado Avalanche in an attempt to give him one last shot at the Cup.

It was ironic that Hunter was traded to Avs of all teams. For so many years he poured so much sweat and heart into that franchise. The Avs of course were previously known as the Quebec Nordiques.

Despite a Colorado upset over defending champs Detroit, Colorado was unable to get past the eventual champion Dallas Stars. Hunter had to decide if he wanted to come back again to try to get that elusive Cup, but he opted not to.

"It's a tough thing to retire, but the body's not as good as it used to be," Hunter said during his retirement speech

Hunter finished with 323 goals and 1,020 points in 1,407 games in his career. He ranked second all-time with 3,565 regular-season penalty minutes, trailing only Dave "Tiger" Williams. Hunter tops the all-time list for post-season penalty minutes with 729 in 186 games.

Bengt-Ake Gustafsson

One of the most underrated players of the 1980s was Washington's Swedish center Bengt-Ake Gustafsson.

Gustafsson was a quiet, unassuming player. Part of that was because he was a European pioneer. Much of it was because he starred with the Washington Capitals. In the days before every game was on television, nationally broadcasted Washington Capital games were rare.

In The 6'0" 185lb native of Kariskoga, Sweden reminded was very similar to Vancouver's Swedish standout Thomas Gradin. Both were incredibly skilled players on teams without a lot of gunslingers. They were very solid in most facets of the game, even excellent in some. But outside of local fan memories, history has all but forgotten both of them.

Bengt-Ake Gustafsson was a superb skater and puck handler. The lanky Swede had a long, fluid stride combined with great balance, making him surprisingly tough to knock off of the puck. He had breakaway speed, capable of reaching full speed in less than three steps.

"Gus" had the stick skills to match his skating gifts. He was capable of doing everything within his arsenal of puck tricks while at top speed, making him a natural threat on both specialty teams. He had excellent vision and anticipation, which he combined with his one-step quickness to create passing lanes.

Though not a noted physical player, Gustafsson was definitely not intimidated by the rough going. He was never afraid to do the dirty work in the corners or in the front of the net, though he was smart enough to dart in and out of these work zones. He wasn't afraid to initiate contact either. Some will remember one devastating hit in particular when "Gus" knocked New York Ranger Rob Ftorek out of a game with a thunderous check in retaliation for an earlier Ftorek spear.

A conscientious two way player, it there was one true fault to Gustafsson's game was his desire to pass rather than shoot, a trait extremely common of European trained players in the 1980s. Gustafsson had a good shot, particularly his snap shot that he released quickly and accurately. He was deadly within 10 feet of the net, particularly in his favorite power play perch at the base of the left face-off circle.

In the 1978 NHL Amateur Draft, the Washington Capitals selected Gustafsson 55th overall. After helping Sweden capture a silver medal at the 1978 World Championships, Gustafsson headed to North America, but joining the WHA's Edmonton Oilers instead. Gustafsson would play just two playoff games in the Alberta capital. After scoring 1 goal and 3 points, he was ruled ineligible to play by the WHA since teams could not add European free agents so late in the season.

The following season saw the Oilers and other remaining WHA teams merge with the NHL. Gustafsson was initially one of four players protected by the Oilers in the merger, along with goaltenders Ed Mio, Dave Dryden and a teenage forward named Wayne Gretzky. Gustafsson was on record as wanting to stay in Edmonton.

The Capitals weren't going to let Gustafsson slip out of their hands that easily, and argued that Gustafsson was their property. On June 9th, 1979 the Caps further strengthened their claim by selecting Gustafsson in a special reclaim draft. The matter would eventually be sorted out by NHL president John Ziegler.

Gustafsson would move to the American capital, and enjoy a fine 9 year career which ranks him among the best players in franchise history. He would score 196 goals, and 555 points in 629 career games.

His best season came in 1983-84 when he scored a career high 32 goals and 75 points while playing with linemates Dave Christian and Mike Gartner. Gustafsson had a particularly memorable game on January 8, 1984 in Philadelphia. He tied a club record for most goals in a game with 5! Gus scored on every shot he took that game.

A pulled left hamstring plagued Gustafsson the following season, but he would rebound nicely in 1985-86 by leading the team in assists and equaling his career high of 75 points. Late in the season, however, disaster struck. Gustafsson's right leg was broken in a spectacular spill involving New York Islander defenseman Denis Potvin. Not only did Gustafsson miss the rest of the season and the playoffs, but he would not play in the NHL the following year either.

Feeling he lost a significant step of speed, Gustafsson returned home for the 1986-87 season, playing for Bofors, essentially a development team in his hometown. Gustafsson used the season to reinvent his game after breaking the leg. By the end of the year he was back to top condition, leading Sweden in the world championships to a gold medal, the first for the country in 25 years. He also led the Swedes in the Canada Cup that September.

Gustafsson returned to Washington in 1987 and picked up where he left off. His scoring totals were off slightly, but his playmaking abilities were a definite shot in the arm of the Washington power play.

Gustafsson returned to Sweden for good in 1989-90. He would play in his hometown until 1993, and continued playing for the national team, including in 1991 when the Swedes recaptured gold at the world championships, and in 1992 at the Olympic games.

He would later find a home in Feldkirch, Austria. Unbeknown to most North American fans, he continued to play until the conclusion of the 1998 season. In his final season, at the age of 40, he led Feldkirch to a stunning European League victory.

Gustafsson would turn to coaching following his playing days, manning benches in Austria and Switzerland before returning home to Sweden. He would lead his Farjestads to victory in his first season.

In 2003 he would be elected into the International Ice Hockey Hall of Fame, though his contributions were far from over. In 2006, he was head coach of the Swedish national team that finally won Olympic gold.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Bruce Cowick

Bruce Cowick made his NHL debut during the 1974 Stanley Cup playoffs. Cowick, who was acquired that season after two years of physical play in the old WHL, had never played a single NHL game until the playoffs.

The Flyers felt they needed to add some extra muscle up front as some of their regular bangers were banged up themselves with nagging injuries. Cowick got the call, not because he could score (he had 14 goals and 21 points in the AHL that year) but because he could handle himself in the corners and when the gloves were dropped. He was also fairly solid defensively.

Cowick played in 8 games that spring. He didn't get a lot of ice time but did get on the ice long enough to earn 9 penalty minutes, including a 5 minute major for scuffling with the Boston Bruins Rich Leduc. But while he had never played in the NHL before and only played in 8 playoff games, Cowick got his name on the Stanley Cup as the Philadelphia Flyers won their first NHL championship. For Cowick, it was partly a case of being at the right place at the right time.

Prior to Cowick's debut, most people had never head of the Victoria BC native. He earned a reputation as a tough as nails winger with the BCJHL Victoria Cougars, but was never picked up by an NHL team. Instead he signed with the WHL's San Diego Gulls for 2 seasons where he showed he could do more than just fight. The Flyers acquired him in exchange for Fred Stanfield, Tom Trevalyn, Bob Currier and Bob Hurlbury in July of 1973.

With Cowick's name on the Cup and his play at the minor league level, the Washington Capitals claimed him in the 1974 NHL Expansion Draft. It was a good move for Cowick in some ways, but not others. Cowick played the entire 1974-75 season with the expansion Caps. He appeared in 65 games and scored 5 goals and 11 points plus 41 PIM. He was also a bad -42. But for Cowick his dream had come true, he made the NHL. However the Caps were a pretty sorry team that first year. He had to endure a season of 67 losses in 80 games.

Cowick was exposed on waivers in May of 1975 and was picked up by the St. Louis Blues. Cowick appeared in 5 games for the Bluenotes but spent most of what proved to be his final professional season back in the American Hockey League with the Providence Reds.

While he spent much of his hockey career as a "policeman," he spends all of his current career as a policeman literally. He is an RCMP officer in Esquimalt, British Columbia. He is part of the Community Police Unit which is responsible for all matters relating to community policing, crime prevention, Block Watch and Block Parents programs, and school liaison programs.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Brian Engblom

Brian Engblom was a wonderfully classic defenseman. He dominated by using skillful defense in an era of high scoring offensive rearguards.

Brian, a native of Winnipeg, Manitoba, starred in just two seasons at the University of Wisconsin in the mid 1970s. The Montreal Canadiens, known for their great collection of blue liners, thought enough of Brian to use their 3rd draft selection, 22nd overall in the 1975 entry draft.

Brian turned professional immediately, but was used at the minor league level in his first two pro seasons because of the great depth the Habs possessed in the NHL with the likes of Larry Robinson, Guy Lapointe and Serge Savard.

It wouldn't be long before Brian would prove he was too good for the American Hockey League. While playing in Nova Scotia in 1976-77 Brian dominated the entire league. He scored 8 goals and 50 points, but his brainy play without the puck really set him apart. He was named as the AHL's best defenseman.

Engblom actually finished that season in Montreal. After Nova Scotia was knocked out of their playoffs, a few of the key prospects were brought up to Montreal to experience the playoff run towards their 1977 championship. Engblom was the luckiest of prospects, earning the right to play in 2 playoff games - his first two games of his soon to be brilliant NHL career.

Engblom would sip champagne from the Stanley Cup in his first three seasons in Montreal. He would learn a lot from the stars of the dynasty era like Robinson and Lapointe.

"I think coming up to the Canadiens when I did was excellent preparation," said Brian. "That was in 1978 and they had guys who were terrific at carrying the puck. I learned to stay at home and protect our zone and that was tremendous discipline, which is paying off now."

Brian said that in 1981, and while the Canadiens were beginning a rebuilding phase after their 4 consecutive Stanley Cups to finish off the 1970s, he was definitely benefiting from his upbringing in the end of that dynasty. Brian emerged as Montreal's best defenseman in 1980 through 1982. Not only was he Montreal's best defenseman, but he emerged as one of the league's elite defenders. He was named to Team Canada 1981 for the Canada Cup tournament. And in 1982 Brian led all NHLers with a plus-78, good enough to earn a spot on the post season Second All Star Team.

The 1982 post season started much too early for Brian and the Canadiens in 1982. In 1981 upstart Edmonton Oilers, led by a young kid named Wayne Gretzky, upset the heavily favoured Canadiens in 3 straight games. The same thing happened to the Habs in 1982, this time at the hands of their new hated rivals - the Quebec Nordiques. Despite posting the league's 3rd best regular season record and the league's best defense, there was a strong sense that Montreal had to shake up their team to avenge such losses to these new upstarts, and to regain the Stanley Cup.

The Canadiens would go about a massive changeover to attempt to accomplish that. The biggest trade saw Montreal trade away Brian, along with future superstar Rod Langway and solid players Craig Laughlin and Doug Jarvis, head to Washington in exchange for solid rearguard Rick Green and the much-coveted Ryan Walter.

Walter, one of the most complete and underrated players in NHL history, would return the Habs to Stanley Cup glory in 1986, but the trade is considered to be victory for the Capitals. Laughlin would go on to become a 30 goal scorer, while Jarvis cemented his reputation as a great defensive center. Rod Langway would inspire a passion in his play that would turn the struggling Caps franchise around into one of the strongest of the 1980s.

Brian would continue to play incredible hockey, but in a city with not much of a hockey spotlight he found it hard to get recognition playing in the immense shadow of Langway. Brian never cared about personal success however. Langway would win two Norris trophies, a regular all star and nearly usurped Wayne Gretzky from the Hart trophy mantle, but the Capitals great turn around was also in great part due to the similarly effective Engblom's play.

Engblom actually only played parts of two seasons in Washington. He was then moved to Los Angeles in exchange for another young defenseman named Larry Murphy. Murphy, already a proven scoring star in LA, would go onto a spectacular career, highlighted by his years in Washington. Brian would perform valiantly with a weak team in Los Angeles.

On January 30, 1986, Brian became a member of the Buffalo Sabres. Again Brian was involved in a big trade, as Brian and Doug Smith were sent to New York state in exchange for Larry Playfair, Sean McKenna and Ken Baumgartner.

Brian only had the opportunity to apply his trade for 30 games in Buffalo before he was traded in the summer of '86. He was sent to Calgary in exchange for a bruiser named Jim Korn. Brian's stay in Calgary was also brief. He got into only 32 games before he was forced to retired due to a severe neck injury. He retired with 659 games on his resume. He scored just 29 goals to go along with 177 assists for 206 points in his stellar career.

Brian was quickly emerging as a star defenseman when he broke into the league, but he left rather quietly after non-descript stops in places like L.A., Buffalo and Calgary. It is truly a shame, as he could have been remembered as a star defenseman that he seemed destined to be.B

A whole new generation of fans know Brian as a different kind of star - broadcasting star. He began his career as a color analyst on Los Angeles Kings telecasts, but by 1995 moved onto become the much respected hockey reporter for ESPN.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Greg Joly


It was the early 1970s. Bobby Orr had transformed the game. The best hockey player in the world was a defenseman and every team wanted the next Bobby Orr.

The Washington Capitals, with their very first draft pick in franchise history, thought they had landed him with the 1st overall pick in the 1974 NHL Amateur draft. They were so sure they even went "off the board" to get him.

Greg Joly was a standout with the Regina Caps in the early 1970s, earning Memorial Cup MVP honours in the spring of 1974. He was so good that 25 years later when Regina's all century team was named Joly was named as one of the defensemen.

Despite the strong finish to the season, Joly was not a clear cut top choice by any means. The Hockey News had him rated #7. History would prove this draft to be weak in terms of top end talent. Clark Gillies, Doug Risebrough, Pierre Larouche, Mario Tremblay and Lee Fogolin would be judged best of the 1st round years later, although later rounds unearthed legendary names like Bryan Trottier, Mark Howe and Dave "Tiger" Williams.

So you can hardly blame the eager young Caps for taking the defenseman Joly. But rushing a young defenseman in under the most ideal conditions is rarely successful, let alone the blunderous conditions the Capitals franchise would endure. The pressure and the follies along with Joly's own immaturity probably contributed to his failing. Joly was rushed in to become the face of a new franchise, a franchise that for years would be a laughing stock. There is no rookie in history that would not have wilted under those circumstances.

Let's be fair. He did play in 365 NHL games over 10 different seasons. He was not a complete bust. But after just two years with the Caps, where he posted ridiculous +/- totals of -68 (in just 44 games!) and -46, he was on the move to Detroit. The next Bobby Orr he was not. Instead, he goes down in history as arguably the worst 1st overall draft selection in draft history.

The Caps did not do enough to help out Joly. Instead of landing him a veteran defenseman or two to guide them, the pretty much threw Joly to the wolves and hoped he'd come out smelling like roses. When he struggled early (thanks in part to hamstring and knee injuries), they did nothing positive for his confidence by taking him off his familiar blue line and playing him as a left winger and as a center for stretches of time. Ironically, the veteran leadership he needed came in the form of Bugsy Watson - the wily veteran for whom Joly was traded to Detroit for.

In Detroit he spent three full seasons with the Red Wings before becoming a regular on the shuttle to and from the minor leagues. Injuries really hampered his development. Knees, shoulder, ankle and an especially bad wrist injury really held him back.

It's too bad. Joly appeared to be a good kid who deserved better. I especially like how every summer he would return home to work on the family farm near Calgary.

His best seasons as a professional came in Glens Falls, NY with the Adirondack Wings of the AHL. He twice was part of Calder Cup championship teams and twice was named as a league all-star. I'm guessing here, but I think Joly re-found his joy for the game in Adirondack. By that stage he did not care if it was the minor leagues nor if the pay was not very good. He prolonged his career to enjoy the game again.

Joly did retire in 1986. Nowadays he works in the insurance business in Glens Falls.

It is unfortunate but the name Greg Joly will always be equated with those horrible 1970s Washington Capitals teams and with draft infamy. To this day people wonder what would have happened had the Caps drafted Regina teammate Clark Gillies over Joly and Bryan Trottier over Mike Marson in round two.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Steve Konowalchuk

Steve Konowalchuk was one of those rare elite role players that was impossible for any hockey fan not to admire.

Konowalchuk was equal parts of heart and intelligence. He was a courageous digger and mucker, working hard for every goal and every win, using every ounce energy on every shift. Yet his understanding of the game made him a brilliant player in his own right. He was a defensive genius, a regular on the PK especially when 2 men down.

He was an impact player, knowing when to change the pace of a game with an energy shift or a big hit. Simply put, he was a coach's dream - great character, great work ethic and a complete team player. His offensive game was anything but fancy and his totals never grand, but there was not a coach in the league who would not take Steve Konowalchuk exactly as he was.

Best known as a long time Washington Capital, Konowalchuk finished his career with the Colorado Avalanche. His career ended in a bitter form of irony. This heart and soul player was forced off the ice by doctors after a rare heart disorder named QT syndrome was discovered.

The Salt Lake City-born Konowalchuk totaled 171 goals and 225 assists in 790 NHL games. He also played for the U.S.A in two World Cups and two World Championships.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Gary Inness

Gary Inness took the unusual route to the National Hockey League. He played collegiate hockey at McMaster University and at the University of Toronto, both of the Ontario University Athletic Association. In total he spent 5 years in the two Ontario colleges. Very few Canadian university students ever make it to the NHL.

Following his graduation in 1973, he jumped at an opportunity to take his chances with the pros when the Pittsburgh Penguins offered him a a contract. Inness impressed immediately. It was widely expected he'd be a minor league net keeper but he spent equal time in the big leagues. By 1974-75 he was the Pens starting goalie, with a 24-18-10 record with a 3.09 GAA and 2 shutouts.

The 1975-76 season saw Inness traded away after playing in 23 games with Pittsburgh. He went up state to Philadelphia where the Flyers were looking to shore up their goaltending depth with an injured Bernie Parent questionable at best.

Parent would become healthy soon enough and Inness would be the odd man out. He only got into two games the rest of that season, and in 1976-77 he saw action in only 210 minutes spread over 6 games.

Wanting a chance to play regularly, Gary signed on with the Indianapolis Racers of the World Hockey Association for the 1977-78 season. He spent a season and a half with the poor Racers team before signing with the NHL Washington Capitals. Only a few years earlier the Capitals had been the worst team in league history, but Inness helped to make them respectable, playing 37 games with a 14-14-8 record and a respectable 3.70 GAA.

Inness found himself as the odd man out in both 1979-80 and 1980-81, playing only 17 games in the league over that time span. He spent more time in the minors rather than the NHL.

Inness retired after the 1980-81 season. In total he appeared in 162 career NHL games with a record of 58-61-27 while posting two shutouts and a career goals-against average of 3.40. He also posted a record of 17-36-4 in 63 career WHA games with a 4.35 goals-against average

Inness later worked as a high school teacher at Barrie North Collegiate in Barrie, Ontario.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Pat Peake

Drafted by the Washington Capitals in the first round (14th overall) in 1991, Peake was destined to be a star. Two years later he would even be named the Canadian junior player of the year, scoring 136 points (58 goals) in just 46 games.

He was quickly on his way to NHL stardom. In his first year with Washington, he scored 29 points in 49 games. Two years later he had 36 points in 62 games.

But as quickly as the accolades came, so did the bad luck. Peake endured a variety of injuries to his ankles, shoulders, kidney and knees. He even suffered a concussion in a car accident, had mononucleosis and broke cartilage in his thyroid.

He figured the thyroid injury would go down as the NHL's strangest injury. Then, in a playoff game against Pittsburgh in 1996, Peake was chasing a puck trying to prevent a routine icing call. He crashed against the boards, shattering his right heel.

It was the beginning of the end for Peake, who spent most of the rest of his career trying to rehabilitate the injury. After 5 operations and two years, Peake finally tried to make a comeback attempt. He was sent to the Capitals' minor league team in Portland, Maine, on a conditioning stint. He was back in good enough form to play in a home game on Nov. 8, but his foot hurt immensely afterward. A few days later, an MRI exam showed dangerously torn ligaments. His season was ended just like that.

When the season ended with a four-game sweep of the Capitals by Detroit in the Stanley Cup Finals, Peake's contract ended, too. In August he met with the Capitals' doctors, and he was not surprised when they told him there was little to be done. His career was over.

"He endured a lot of pain; it's the dark side of our sport that people don't see," Capitals General Manager George McPhee said. "There aren't players that have the gift he had that come along that often. He was one of those natural players that had instincts and hands you can't develop."

Obviously it was difficult for Peake to accept that he could no longer play hockey.

"That’s the hardest part, at least mentally. It was taken from me. I didn’t go out on my own terms and that’s very hard."

But at least Peake has always been able to laugh about it.

"If I had kept playing I could have made a lot, lot, lot more money obviously, but I have to thank the Caps, because they could have bought me out two years ago," he said "I made $500,000 the last two years, and I played five games – I'm the highest-paid player per game in the league!"

Peake continues to deal with injury to this day. He recently had his 16th operation on the heel, and said "I'm trapped in a 93 year old body. Now you limp and your back hurts and this and that."

Peake remained in the game, first trying his hand at coaching, then scouting, first for agents and then for NHL Central Scouting.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Doug Patey

Doug Patey was drafted 73rd overall in the 1976 Entry Draft after playing 2 seasons with the OHL's Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds. Doug began his professional career the following season in 1976-77 as he played in 37 games with the Capitals while playing the rest of the season in the IHL with the Dayton Gems. He scored three goals in his first NHL season with Washington, including his first NHL goal against Cesare Maniago of the Vancouver Canucks.

Patey split the next two years between Washington and their AHL farm team in Hershey, scoring more than 20 goals in each of those two seasons in Hershey. However his combined time in Washington during those two years consisted of just 8 games.

Doug was selected by the Edmonton Oilers in the 1979 Expansion Draft. The Oilers were looking for a sleeper in the draft and thought they had got one in Doug. They believed that he never got a fair chance in Washington and that he had a lot more to give. Doug, the brother of 12 year veteran Larry Patey, admitted that his statistics hadn't been impressive.

"I've been up and down. Up is better and that's where I hope I'll finish," he said.

Doug had an impressive training camp with the Oilers. He was in very good shape and showed a good shot, good skating ability and a sense of how to get open for a pass. At the training camp Doug was completely focused on taking a spot on the Oilers roster.

"I want to play in the NHL. I don't mean a few games or part of a season but for a long time. I know it will take hard work and I'm prepared to do that. The object is to play and win. You have to do whatever it takes."

Doug was picked by Edmonton after a recommendation by Oilers assistant coach and ex-NHL'er Bryan Watson.

"We'll never be sorry," Watson predicted. "He's young and he wants to play in the biggest league. He's really got something. For one thing, he's a good guy. He's never had a chance in some ways and he's got a real chance to get better."

Even Oilers coach Glenn Sather was optimistic about Doug. "Maybe he won't have to go (to the minors)," said Sather. "It's up to Doug. If he plays all season the way he played in training camp,he'll be around."

Unfortunately Doug didn't live up to the expectations that the Oilers had for him. He was sent down to the minors where he scored 14 points in 14 games for Cincinnati Stingers (CHL) and 30 points in 33 games for Houston Apollos (CHL).

That 1979-80 season was Doug's last. He retired only 23 years old when his hockey career was about to start. Who know's, he might very well had been one of the guys to lift the Cup with his Oilers teammates if he had continued.

Doug described his playing style as follows:

"I guess my strong points were at that point was as a winger, pretty good skating with a fairly quick shot. That was my asset, that I got the puck away quickly and usually put the puck in the net and set up plays."

Following his hockey career Patey got into the insurance business for many years. For Patey it has been a rewarding experience.

"Well, it worked out pretty well for me and I know it's not always that way. I started with London Life back in '81 and the training was very good and I was very fortunate to have been able to do that. From then on, it was really quite smooth for me. It was the sales area and I was very comfortable with people and I just continually learned over the years, a little bit every year and it's worked out just fine."

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Don Beaupre

Don Beaupre entered the NHL with a bang.

In his first season, Don was an All-Star, helped the North Stars win the Norris Division and advance to the Stanley Cup finals where they fell just short against the New York Islanders. It was the start of a pro career that young goalies usually only dream of.

None of the teams Don played for ever reached that lofty status again. But Don said that the first NHL season was a blessing in disguise.

"When I got drafted, before I went to training camp my parents had a party for me and a bunch of friends came over and stuff like that," Don said. "It was kind of a good luck party, and I really shouldn’t have made it that year. I wasn’t thinking I should or shouldn’t make it, it was just the next step and you go and see what happens. If I was thinking, 'Boy, I really have to go and make it,' I probably wouldn’t have. The pressure would have probably got to me. Being naive probably helped my chances then."

Don enjoyed a pretty good junior career with the Sudbury Wolves and made the First All-Star Team in 1980. His fine play prompted Minnesota North Stars to pick him 37th overall that year.

Don's rookie season in the NHL was sensational and he played like a seasoned veteran. As mentioned previously, he made the All-Star team, helped the North Stars win the Norris Division and also helped them reach the Stanley Cup finals.

"That was quite a year," Don admitted. "Just to make it to the NHL, we won a few games, I made the All-Star team out in Los Angeles and I'd never been there before, and we were in the finals. It was quite a year, no doubt, and I never had anything like that again."

Don played in two of the games in the finals (Gilles Meloche played in the other three). Don earned the lone North Stars victory when his team was facing elimination, down 3-0. They eventually lost the series in five games as Don played in the fifth and final game.

"We had a lot of young guys with energy and enthusiasm, and we had a pretty good group of guys," he said. "Perhaps the difference between winning and not was that most of the talent was in the young and inexperienced guys. We had older guys with a lot of heart, but most of the talent was in the guys 25 and under, so maybe that was the difference."

Don spent seven fairly successful seasons in Minnesota although none as good as his rookie season. He was then placed on waivers and sent to the minors early on in the 1988-89 season. It didn't sit well with Don who demanded a trade. His wish was granted and Don was traded to Washington for rights to Claudio Scremin on November 1, 1988.

At first, Don was sent down to the minors and it seemed that his situation wasn't going to improve since Clint Malarchuk and Pete Peeters were between the pipes in Washington .

"That took some of the excitement away," Don said. "I knew I had to put in my time, but it was tough, it was probably the toughest point of my career. Pete Peeters and Clint Malarchuk were there. I had to unseat them. You could play as well as you could, but if they are playing well for the Caps you aren’t going to get a shot. It was tough, because the rumor was that a couple of teams wanted to make a trade for me because they had injuries, and the Caps didn’t want to make any deals. It was pretty frustrating."

But soon Don got another chance and seized it. He not only made his way back to the NHL, but went on to make his mark in the Capitals' record book. Don held the franchise record in career wins (128) until Olaf Kolzig broke that mark.

The Capitals had a strong team defensively with a defense-first mentality, anchored by blueline stalwart Rod Langway.

"No doubt, those were some of the most fun times in my career," Don said. "I was playing all the time, we were winning in a tough division, it was real satisfying for me.

"I had five shutouts in one year [league leading in 1990-91], and I struggled to get one in every other year I think. It was fun to play with guys like Rod Langway and Mike Gartner, real good players and respected players. It was a good experience, and I really enjoyed living in Washington D.C., too."

Don's 2.64 GAA in 1990-91 was a career best and he played in his second All-Star game in 1992. Don was eventually traded to the lowly Ottawa Senators in 1995. There he played a total of 71 games between 1995 and 96 and was then traded to the NY Islanders who the same day shipped him to Toronto. Don finished his playing career by playing the majority of his games for St.John's Maple Leafs (AHL). He also saw time with Utah Grizzlies (IHL) and the Maple Leafs.

"I was fortunate to play 17 years professionally, and it went by quick," Don said. "The NHL was done with me, and I think I was pretty much done with it and could leave it behind.

Today Don lives in Minnesota, where he and a partner run a construction equipment rental business called Power Lift Inc. The company rents man-lifts, scissor-lifts, booms and other heavy gear used in construction.

"We started with about 78 machines and now we have 350 in a year and a half, and things are going OK," Don said. "It was rough early with the capital expenditure to buy the equipment, but it's going OK, we’re happy. It’s been a good learning experience to not only get involved in a business regularly, but to help run it."

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Kevin Hatcher

I'm really not sure why, but I never truly respected Kevin Hatcher quite like I did his younger brother Derian.

Derian was one of my true favorites, mostly because of his mean streak and his commitment to team defense. Kevin on the other hand was a giant who, at times, liked to throw his weight around but was most notably an offensive defenseman.

I suspect I never warmed to Kevin because for all his skill and impressive scoring ability, never maximized himself like he could have. That's a pretty easy thing for me to say, with my grand total of 0 NHL games. Perhaps we fans just placed too high expectations on Kevin Hatcher, like so many other players over the years.

Regardless, he was never reputed to be as good in his own zone as he was in the other team's. He seemed susceptible to making boneheaded, risky plays, overhandling the puck and hurting his team defensively. He did not always maximize his size, taking nights off. Outside of the 1992-93 season he just never really could put it all together and be one of the game's truly dominant defenders.

Kevin Hatcher was a powerful straight ahead skater, which he displayed whenever he could by jumping into or leading the rush. With his giant stride he could catch even the speediest of transition attackers on the way back. Defensively he could look awkward when turning, but he compensated for that with his gigantic reach.

He had a devastating shot from the point, and would often come crashing in from the blue line looking for a surprise garbage goal. When he was on his many offensive rushes he was an excellent give and go player. Otherwise he was good passer, but not a greatly creative player.

Physically he could dominate. He was imposing at 6'4" and 225lbs, and he enjoyed banging bodies, sometimes with a mean streak. Other times, especially as his career advanced, he seemed quite disinterested in the physical game, which for someone of his size is extremely frustrating for coaches and fans alike. He lost a few fights early in his career and seemed to back down over time. Perhaps this was simply because his coaches wanted him on the ice, not by the ice box.

He could be guilty of getting out of position to make a big hit. Since he didn't have the lateral mobility to recover he could get burned by such bad reads. He was usually a safe defender when it came to clearing the puck, usually breaking a man with a good pass. He could be guilty of overhandling the puck, and when he did cough up the puck in his own zone, he usually did so royally.

Drafted by Washington 17th overall in 1984, Hatcher went on to play in 1,157 career NHL games, scoring 227 goals and 450 assists for 677 points. He also registered 1,392 career penalty minutes. He put together one of the most impressive offensive seasons by a defenseman in 1992-93 when he scored 34 goals and 79 points. Impressively he reached double digits in goals scored 12 times in a row in his career, including seasons of 24 and 19 goals.

Despite these impressive scoring stats, he was never truly among the game's elite defensemen in the 1990s, but rather firmly just a notch below.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Andrei Nikolishin

One of the most underrated players in the National Hockey League around the turn of the century was Washington Capitals center Andrei Nikolishin.

A quick glance at his numbers hint at nothing special. He never scored more than 14 goals in one season and outside of a 51 point campaign with Hartford back in 1996, he would challenge the 30 point mark regularly in Washington. He would play in 10 seasons in the NHL, seeing 628 games. He scored 93 goals and 187 assists for 280 points. In 43 career playoff games, he had just one goal and 17 helpers.

Yet Nikolishin's game was much stronger than his output ever suggested.

He was a very strong skater, blessed with a powerful stride. He literally could turn on a dime, shaking many defenders, and had great balance.

He was nifty puckhandler with a pass-first mentality, almost to a fault. Unfortunately he never really had the chance to play with a triggerman on the wing who could convert his slippery passes.

Nikolishin was used more in a checking role, a role he eagerly accepted but soon became trapped in. He read plays well, backchecked with determination and killed penalties and blocked shots with authority. He almost seemed content to let his defensive game carry him. It would have been nice to see him a more offensive role, because I think he would have done well at it.

Though he was not very big (he was listed a 5'11" and 180lbs) he adapted well to the more physical North American game. He was very popular with his teammates as he had exemplary work habits.

The Caps let Nikolishin go in 2002. After failed stops in Chicago and Colorado, Nikolishin went home to Russia during the NHL lockout season of 2004-05. He never returned to the NHL, but continued to play hockey in Russia for many years.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Alan May

Do you know which NHL player was traded the most times on NHL trading deadline day?

According to an official NHL press release the answer is Alan May, who was traded 4 times (1988, 1989, 1994, 1995). That is one more time than Dan McGillis, Mark Jannsesn, Mike Gartner and Steve Konroyd.

Who?

Other than famed goal scorer Gartner, why would NHL teams be so interested in these already all but forgotten names at the trading deadline? In May's case in particular, why would teams in the heat of a playoff drive be so interested in a pugilist who in his best season scored just 7 goals and a scary 339 penalty minutes?

Alan May was a hard working and hard nosed hockey player. He showed little promise in junior hockey, rarely playing in the WHL and never being drafted by the NHL. After a 1986-87 season in the lowest of the minor leagues, an old "Slap Shot-like" league called the ACHL, he signed with the Boston Bruins before being traded to the Edmonton Oilers, who were known for stockpiling goons as well as superstars.

To his credit May worked his butt off to get on to the NHL's radar. A rugged kid from the industrious farms and forests of Barrhead, Alberta - about 75 miles northwest of Edmonton - May was never shy of hard work. Over the next couple of seasons he took on all comers in the AHL, but also worked on his skating, defensive coverage and puck skills. A bit of a late bloomer, he was beginning to show he could play the game some, as well as being as tough as nails.

And the NHL noticed. The Oilers gave him a three game audition, and he even scored a goal.

But it was not until the 1989-90 season that May arrived in the NHL. The Washington Capitals had acquired May from Edmonton via Los Angeles in a draft day trade. May would become the Caps resident tough guy for the next 4 and 1/2 seasons.

Make no mistake, the 6 foot, 205 pound winger was in the NHL for his ability to throw punches. Though maybe not a true challenger for hockey's heavyweight title, he handled his own, surprising many by punching with both hands.

May was an intelligent goon in that he knew when and when not to fight, in terms of impacting the flow of the game. If his team was going well, he would not interrupt the trend. But if his team needed a pick-me-up, he was more than willing to look for a way to fire up the bench.

And despite his high penalty minute totals, it was rare that he left his team shorthanded. He usually took someone from the other team to the penalty box as well.

While he was there to fill the goon role, he brought more to the table than just fists of fury.

First and foremost, he was an excellent teammate. He was universally loved on the bench and in the room. This allowed him to take on a leadership role, whereby his devotion and intensity rubbed off on teammates of much higher skill levels. He worked hard on every shift and in every practice, setting the tone for every player.

He also was a decent role player, able to play a few minutes each game and contribute more than just glove-dropping intimidation.

With a decent amount of quickness and balance on his skates, May's skating allowed him to launch himself into opponents when bodychecking, maximizing his physical game. When forechecking he was like a heat seeking missle, zeroing in on defensemen who were anxious to get rid of the puck. He did some nice work along the wall and in the corners, too, often freeing pucks from those heated scrums.

Unfortunately, May had next to no skills with the puck once he freed it. He had no vision whatsoever, and no creativity other than to immediately fire it on net with his heavy shot, or to put back along the boards and fight for it again.

Still, May was able to carve out a nice 393 game career, toiling with Dallas and Calgary late in his career. In that time May scored 31 goals, 76 points and registering an unforgiving 1346 penalty minutes. Unlike some goons, he played in the playoffs, too. He got into 40 post season games, contributing 1 goal, 3 points and 80 PIMs.

Upon retirment May opened up his own physical training business in Dallas after dabbling in coaching in the minor leagues.

  © Blogger templates Newspaper III by Ourblogtemplates.com 2008

Back to TOP