Stan Fischler is an award-winning writer and broadcaster who's covered the game since 1954. He been a contributor to The Hockey News since 1955 and you can continue to find his Strange But True features in almost every issue. He's also produced the hockey newsletter, The Fischler Report, for the past 20 years. Order Fischler's latest book, "Behind the Net: 101 Incredible Hockey Stories," on amazon.com.
Yogi Berra played baseball and loved it, but when the World Series ended he adored his hockey as much as a Gordie Howe or Rocket Richard.
I learned of Berra’s ice passion when he hosted a book signing for my Metro Ice, a history of New York hockey, at the Berra Museum in New Jersey. That’s when the Yankees icon told me that he actually skated alongside members of the St. Louis Flyers, his hometown team.
When I shook my head in disbelief, he said, “Here; have a look.” Sure enough, in one corner of the museum there was a life-sized photo of Berra in an AHL uniform with Yogi looking every bit a stickhandler.
My first chat with Al ‘Radar’ Arbour took place in Detroit’s old Leland Hotel in 1961, several hours after the defenseman’s Chicago Black Hawks had defeated the Red Wings for their first Stanley Cup since 1938. Al, myself and Toronto’s Hall of Fame goaltender Turk Broda were the last to occupy what passed for the press room. Al was one of the rare bespectacled players and he was wearing the specs that earned him the name ‘Radar.’
I’d seen Al play plenty before and always was impressed with his steady, savvy performances which — for that time — wasn’t easy since he usually was carried as a spare back liner plugged in for emergencies. At 3 a.m. in the Leland there didn’t seem to be much to talk about anymore but Al — Turk, too — was loquacious and funny. He never seemed to tire of telling hockey stories.
Little did I realize it at the time but those ingredients that blended amiability with perception and a healthy dose of toughness were the very same elements that would characterize Arbour as the greatest coach I ever observed and I started watching hockey at Madison Square Garden in 1939. Sure, Scotty Bowman won more games but being the ultimate in coaching also included a human quality that Al possessed over them all.
“It was Al’s personality that made him so terrific,” Glenn ‘Chico’ Resch once told me, “as much as his brains. Radar had a way with players that made you want to play for him. In a sense, he was like your favorite uncle.” The Maven learned that midway in my professional career that veered from writing to the electronic media. Read more
Kenny Reardon, the rambunctious Montreal Canadiens defenseman, had one thing in mind as he stickhandled across Madison Square Garden ice on the night of March 16, 1947 – freeze the puck. “Dick Irvin, our coach, had bawled me out for losing the puck and the game last time we were in New York,” Reardon said.
Montreal was leading the Rangers 4-3 with 32 seconds left. If the visitors could hold the lead they’d clinch first place and a new prize of $1,000 for each player the NHL was giving away that year. The downtrodden Rangers, on the other hand, needed the win to stave off elimination from a playoff berth.
As hockey games go, this one was ripe for mayhem. The teams had been nurturing individual and collective hatreds all season. Montreal’s Reardon and Maurice Richard squared off with Bill Juzda and Bryan Hextall of the Rangers in the second period. “They were out to get Richard and Reardon,” Irvin charged, “in order to ruin them for the playoffs.” Reardon, who in 1946 had declared war on Ranger fans by slugging a promenade customer, agreed with his coach. “But,” added Reardon, “I couldn’t afford a fight in that last minute. I wanted to stay out of trouble.” Read more
Table hockey has had its exciting moments, but nothing like the first New York Professional Tournament played at the George Washington Hotel in March 1971.
Historians have argued for decades over the precise birth of hockey in Canada. But when it comes to when and where professional table hockey was born in Manhattan, I have no problem citing the site, players and purse. I even remember the championship silverware – known as the T.J. Rugg Trophy, because it originally was my wife, Shirley’s, antique samovar (a metal container used to boil water).
The first tiny puck was dropped in our living room. This premiere table hockey event happened by accident. Actually, it came about because of pure snobbery. To celebrate moving into our new Upper West Side apartment, my wife and I decided to throw a party, inviting two sets of friends. On one hand, there were the hockey nuts like us. On the other were pseudo-intellectuals who neither knew nor cared about our beloved ice game. With that in mind, we segregated the groups; heavy-thinkers in the dining room while puck-followers were around the corner where Shirley set up our brand-new table hockey set. Read more
If you were a smart player when Conn Smythe ruled Toronto hockey – and he paid your salary – you didn’t mess with the ‘Little Major’ of Maple Leaf Gardens.
Smythe had his rules, and woe to those who chose to break them. One of Conn’s canons had to do with weddings. Get married during the season and – uh-oh – brother you’ll get Zamboni-ed right out of the lineup. Johnny ‘Goose’ McCormack, who just happened to be the Leafs best penalty killer, couldn’t wait and wed Margaret Gordon during the 1950-51 campaign. Alas, the Goose was cooked. Faster than you can say mazel tov, McCormack was sold to Montreal. Read more
If the supreme boss of an NHL team tells his son – who had been the team’s leading scorer – he’s no longer good enough to make the club, how could the son possibly outwit his dad and get back on the squad?
This curious generational battle – won by the son – involved one of the NHL’s foremost powerbrokers, New York Rangers GM-president Lester ‘The Silver Fox’ Patrick, who demanded his oldest son, Lynn, a Hall of Fame left winger, not return to the Blueshirts lineup in October 1945 at the age of 33. Read more
You couldn’t make this up. An American-born National League baseball umpire coaches the Chicago Black Hawks in the 1937-38 season. His club finishes dreadfully under .500, yet manages to make the playoffs. His goalie is injured the day of Game 1. A replacement is reputedly found in a Toronto tavern. He beats the heavily favored Maple Leafs and then is suspended by the league. Eventually, the Hawks win the championship, but Lord Stanley’s Cup isn’t even around for the players to haul around the rink.
Go figure. Read more
It never happened before, nor has it happened since. And it very likely never will happen again.
Coached by Clarence ‘Hap’ Day, the 1941-42 Toronto Maple Leafs remain the only team to overcome a 3-0 deficit in the Stanley Cup final. They accomplished that feat because Day went totally against the coaching grain, and then some. Read more