April 26, 2004

More NHL History

Probably the most underappreciated player in the history of hockey was Detroit's Alex Delvecchio. In 24 seasons he played 1,529 games, scored 456 goals and 825 points, yet was selected for the NHL all-star game only one time, and that on the second team. Why was this stellar performer overlooked by so many for so long? Because his line-mate was Gordie Howe.

The finals of the 1950-1951 season were memorable because all five games were decided in overtime. The Toronto Maple Leafs won it all when rising star Bill Barilko lifted a shot past Gerry McNeil of the Montreal Canadiens for the winning goal. During the ensuing off-season, Barilko disappeared while on a fishing trip to a remote area of Northern Ontario. It was 11 years before the wreckage of the airplane and his body were found and 11 years before the Maple Leafs won the Stanley Cup again.

The playoffs of the 1951-1952 season introduced a weird hockey tradition. Two Detroit brothers came up with the symbolism of the octopus. Eight arms for eight wins needed to take home the Stanley Cup. In the first period of the fourth game of the finals against Montreal, the brothers heaved their deceased mollusc onto the ice. The idea caught on, and even though the today's modern playoff format makes the number eight meaningless, fans all over the country continue to throw octopi onto the ice during playoff games.

Stan Mikita was the first Czech player to make it into the NHL, joining the Chicago Blackhawks at the end of the 1958-1959 season. During his early career he was a scrapper and routinely racked up 100+ penalty minutes a season. After his seventh season, his young daughter asked him why he spent so much time in the penalty box, and he resolved to play a cleaner game from then on. Cutting back on his penalty minutes didn't hurt his game at all, and he won the league MVP and Lady Byng trophy for sportsmanship two years in a row. In 22 seasons he led the league in scoring four times. Later in his career he suffered a concussion that caused him to miss a quarter of the season, after which he designed a helmet which proved to be very popular. Having a star of his caliber wear a helmet took a lot of pressure off of other players during a time when almost no one wore them and wearing one caused some to question your toughness.

Posted by: Ted at 05:37 AM | category: Square Pegs
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