Jamie ‘Noodles’ McLennan still has the best seat

Jamie McLennan featured

As a player always slotted as backup goalie, Jamie McLennan used to enter each season wondering how much work he’d get. During his NHL career that began in 1993 and ended in 2008, his games played in a season ranged from nine in 2006-07 with Calgary to 38 in 2000-01 with Minnesota. All told, McLennan appeared in 254 games (80-109-36 record and 13 shutouts).

“I’m very proud of it,” McLennan said. “I had some success and pitfalls. I am well aware it wasn’t Hall of Fame worthy, but I was a backup goalie who hung around for a long time.”

Today, as a hockey analyst with TSN and the NHL Network, McLennan is still viewed as a backup by some. With Bob McKenzie and Darren Dreger the go-to guys at TSN, McLennan gets duty on That’s Hockey and That’s Hockey 2Nite on TV and co-hosts Leafs Lunch for two hours a day on TSN Radio. That’s on top of providing color commentary for 36 regionally broadcast games for the Ottawa Senators. Read more

Once a rugged power forward, Willi Plett still making living with his hands

Jared Clinton
Willi Plett (Steve Babineau/NHLI/Via Getty Images)

When Willi Plett retired from the NHL, he did it on his own terms. In his early 30s at the time, it wasn’t that he was too old or that he couldn’t keep up. And he wasn’t too battered and bruised from playing his hard-nosed style. Rather, Plett didn’t want to continue his career when his heart was no longer in it. Read more

Backchecking: Allan Bester

The Hockey News
(Photo by John Mahler/Toronto Star)

By Richard Kamchen

Fans of Allan Bester can be forgiven if they assumed the ex-Toronto Maple Leaf netminder had become a twitching mercurial recluse in retirement. Who wouldn’t after experiencing the trauma of being a fish under siege in the Leafs’ barrel during Toronto’s dark days in the 1980s? Don Cherry wasn’t exaggerating much when he quipped Bester had seen “more rubber than a dead skunk on the Trans-Canada highway.” Bester rountinely faced 40-plus shots a game as his introduction to the NHL.

“For years I’d been stopping pucks in my sleep and punching my wife in the face,” Bester jokes.

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Backchecking: Pete Dawkins

The Hockey News
dawkins

By Randy Schultz

Following his graduation from West Point in 1959, Heisman Trophy winner Pete Dawkins received an invitation to participate in a Detroit Red Wings practice.

Dawkins had played hockey growing up in Michigan and was good enough to make the West Point varsity team. He got the invite through a friend, went to practice, warmed up with the Wings and then played in a scrimmage.

“When I lined up to take the faceoff,” Dawkins says. “I looked to my right and Gordie Howe was my right winger.”

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Backchecking: Mike Krushelnyski

Ronnie Shuker
Mike Krushelnyski (Photo by B Bennett/Getty Images)Mike Krushelnyski (Photo by B Bennett/Getty Images)

Despite its recent run of success, Los Angeles wasn’t always a prime destination for NHLers. These days, it’s atop the list of preferred places to play for many free agents, but there once was a time when it was a league backwater that had won all of bupkis and had zero NHL neighbors.

So you can forgive former King Mike Krushelnyski for not wanting to go there when his lawyer called him Aug. 9, 1988.

“He said, ‘Are you sitting down?’ And I’m like, ‘Why?’ He goes, ‘You better sit down,’ Krushelnyski said. “There was some talk of trade prior to that, and I said, ‘I’ll go anywhere except L.A.’ ”

At the time, Krushelnyski, now 54, was on top of the hockey world, having won his third Stanley Cup with Edmonton and entering the peak of his career at 28 years old. ‘The Trade’ changed that. The Oilers shipped Wayne Gretzky along with Marty McSorley and Krushelnyski to the Kings for Jimmy Carson, Martin Gelinas, a trio of first-round picks and a whole heap of California cash.

“The press got the trade all wrong,” Krushelnyski jokes. “ ‘Gretz’ went for the three first-rounders, Marty went for Gelinas and I was the guy that went for the 15 million bucks. Let’s clarify that right now.” Read more

Backchecking: Blake Geoffrion

The Hockey News
Blake Geoffrion (Photo by Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images)

BY ARI YANOVER

After sustaining a career-ending injury Nov. 9, 2012 while playing for Montreal’s
farm team, the Hamilton Bulldogs in the American League, Blake Geoffrion was left with an uncertain future. He spent seven months doing nothing but recovering from a depressed skull fracture, and he couldn’t find a doctor who would give him the green light to resume playing.

But even though he’d hung up the skates, there was still interest. Columbus Blue Jackets GM Jarmo Kekalainen called, offering Geoffrion a scouting position.

It was a way to stay in hockey, a natural instinct for someone who has spent his entire life in the sport. So Geoffrion accepted Kekalainen’s proposal, deciding to try it for a year and see if it was a fit. “I want to be a general manager in the NHL one day,” he’d said upon taking the job. “After doing some research and figuring out how to become a general manager, this is where you started, in scouting.”

Geoffrion spent the year scouting for Columbus, but after seeing how things were run, he felt he didn’t have enough experience. He knew plenty about the hockey side, but the business side was new to him, and he wanted to explore that. Read more

Mike Richter: Cup champ, Ivy Leaguer, environmentalist

Matt Larkin
Mike Richter

It’s been one nostalgic spring in Manhattan, and with good reason. The New York Rangers can reach the final with a victory over Montreal at Madison Square Garden tonight, 20 years after they ended a 54-year Stanley Cup drought in one of the most memorable title runs in league history.

Retired goaltender Mike Richter, 47, appreciates the win just as much today, if not more. Bring up the 1994 Cup and he says he can talk about it all day. He ain’t kiddin.’ Ask him one question about that season and he answers your next four in one vivid sermon, recalling every detail of the season as if it was yesterday. He’s as articulate and enthusiastic an interview as you’ll find.

“You just didn’t want it to end,” Richter says. “You’re coming to that seventh game, and you realize, ‘Wow. It’s really over.’ You’ve been nose to the grindstone so long that it’s almost a sense of some relief, but also almost sadness that it’s over. We were in a really good place. You get into a rhythm, especially in a seven-game series. You play a game, you have a day off, you practice, you prepare, you go watch a movie, hang out with the guys, have a great meal, you get up, you practice, you play. That journey was really, really enjoyable. It was a rhythm where nothing else mattered in the world. and there was no place you’d rather be than right in that locker room with the guys, preparing, playing, recovering, and hitting the repeat button. That was your family, as it was all across the year. We were a really tight team. You just couldn’t wait to get to the locker room in the morning and hang out and laugh. It’s still like that when we get together.”

Richter has an uncanny ability to tell the story of 1994 blow for blow, but what makes him especially interesting is how much he’s done since then. He wasn’t content to bask in the glory days. After concussion woes ended his career in 2003, he decided he’d finish his education, which he’d started accumulating during his career as an occasional student during off-seasons. Richter went to Yale as a 40-year-old to earn a degree in ethics, politics and economics. For perhaps the first time in his life, he was a little intimidated, as most of the student population around him had a significant head start.

“It’s endlessly interesting,” Richter says. “It’s hard, because your whole life has been focused on one thing, and it quite literally changes overnight. No one is asking you to play anymore, you’re very good at a specific skill set, and where I think it applies to the rest of your life’s challenges is that you’re not one of 700 people that do something unique. And so you have to recognize that you’ve got a lot of learning to do. That was awesome.”

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Backchecking: Nathan Perrott

(Photo by Bruce Bennett/Bruce Bennett)

Nathan Perrott is no stranger to the trials of training camp. His NHL career started at Nashville’s in 2001 and ended when he was released from New Jersey’s in 2006. He’d been through plenty of gruelling hockey trials, but nothing that could help him in the preparation needed for his current job: use of force, gun training, shooter situations, rapid troop deployment and advanced counterterrorism tactics.

It’s all Jack Bauer 24-type stuff, crammed into 12 weeks of boot camp at a military base. Not your typical NHL training camp and not your typical job. As a former NHL enforcer, Perrott used to get paid to defend his teammates with the Predators, Toronto Maple Leafs and Dallas Stars, but now he’s part of a paramilitary team paid to defend the world’s second-largest nuclear power plant. He still wears a helmet to work, but he’s traded his shoulder pads and stick for a Kevlar vest and assault rifle.

And just like when Perrott played in the NHL, his team at the Bruce nuclear plant in Owen Sound, Ont., has its superstars. The Bruce tactical response team has won multiple SWAT championships in the U.S.

“They train hard, those guys,” Perrott says. “They’re right there with any of the NHLers for being in shape.”

His career has taken him through minor leagues, the NHL (four goals, nine points, 251 penalty minutes in 89 games), Russia and the pro boxing world, but Perrott never expected he’d grow up protecting the same nuclear plant where his mother worked during his childhood.

At 33, four years removed from playing in the NHL, Perrott was in nearby Walkerton, Ont., for a senior hockey game when a friend urged him to apply at Bruce Power.

“I realized it was time to turn the page in my life and I wasn’t getting any younger so my hockey skills were quickly diminishing,” he says. “I saw the security job and I thought that’d be a perfect fit for me.”

Nowadays, Perrott, 37, is fitting in as a skills coach with the Ontario League’s Owen Sound Attack and as an assistant minor hockey coach for the oldest of his three sons. And he’s got plenty of experience to share. After the Devils made him a second-round pick in 1995, Perrott later signed as a free agent with the Chicago Blackhawks. But he didn’t play for either team. It wasn’t until Chicago traded him to Nashville in 2001 that he had his first regular season action. He spent parts of the next four seasons with the Predators, Leafs and Stars before winding up with Chekhov Vityaz of the Russian Superleague in 2007.

Perrott played there for two seasons and witnessed the dawn of the Kontinental League, along with some of its early hiccups.

“They made everybody take a 20-percent pay cut,” he says. “The Russian guys always said, ‘Well, it’s Russia, what do you expect?’ ”

If Perrott learned one thing in Russia, it was to expect the unusual. He remembers the old lady who used to pay Chekhov players out of a shopping bag packed with millions in U.S. dollars.

“She’s coming from the bank, guys would line up by the (dressing room) door and they’d pay your bonus money,” he says. “This little old lady wouldn’t even have a guard with her.”

Chekhov Vityaz’s owner was the money guy behind Olympic boxing gold medalist Alexander Povetkin, whose Olympic training gym was near the Vityaz rink. Perrott soon started training there as a boxer and returned to North America for three pro bouts. He went 1-2, winning his debut fight over Makidi Ku Ntima.

“That was awesome because the guy was tough,” Perrott says. “I knocked him out right at the end of the fourth round.”

But even that taste of boxing glory couldn’t beat his greatest hockey memory. For most NHLers, that moment is a big goal or a title. For Perrott, it was an opening faceoff at the Air Canada Centre. It was the only time he started a game in the NHL and he was in good company. Ed Belfour was in net. Tomas Kaberle and Bryan McCabe were on the blueline. And lining up at left wing, skating alongside Mats Sundin and Alexander Mogilny, was lifelong Leafs fan Nathan Perrott.

“It was really exciting,” Perrott says. “You dream about it as a kid and it’s way better. The reality is better than anything you can imagine.”

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