Twenty years ago this summer, the first crop of elite-level Group III unrestricted free agents went on the open market. The NHL was coming off its first protracted work stoppage, and the 1994-95 season was reduced to 48 games for each of the league’s 26 teams. The new collective bargaining agreement with the players’ association granted unconditional free agency for any player 32 or over once his contract expired.
Among the first players to act was future Hall of Famer Dale Hawerchuk. By that time, ‘Ducky’ was already a veteran of 14 NHL seasons and had 489 goals and 1,314 points. But this was his first real chance to cash in – he signed a $7.5-million deal over three seasons – and his first real opportunity to challenge for a Stanley Cup with the St. Louis Blues.
The Blues were loading up that summer 20 years ago, also signing UFAs Geoff Courtnall, Grant Fuhr and Brian Noonan. But it was Hawerchuk they really wanted, and negotiations with agent Gus Badali took just a few minutes. St. Louis coach-GM Mike Keenan knew he was getting an aging superstar who still had a lot to offer, because Keenan had watched Hawerchuk develop and dominate for the better part of a generation. Read more
By Namish Modi
Danny Lewicki may not have had the fairest of shakes at an NHL career, but he can be remembered for one particular record. He remains the only player to win the Allan Cup, Memorial Cup and Stanley Cup as a junior.
“I don’t think that record will ever be broken,” he said.
Lewicki, 83, has fond memories of his playing days but also recollects some things that didn’t go his way, resulting in a short career. In his autobiography, From the Coal Docks to the NHL, Lewicki highlights his life from his childhood growing up in an immigrant enclave in Fort William, Ont., all the way to the end of his pro career – nine seasons as an NHLer. “There were many problems with management in those years,” Lewicki said. “You were not allowed to speak back, which I did, unfortunately.” Read more
By Denis Gibbons
Terry Crisp bent over backwards to show Sergei Makarov respect when the great Soviet winger came to play in the NHL for Calgary in 1989. One day the Flames coach was drawing up a play on the board, illustrating to Makarov how to position himself. Suddenly, Makarov grabbed the chalk, crossed everything out and started making his own diagrams.
“Tikhonov bad guy, good coach,” he said to Crisp (in reference to the late Soviet bench boss). “You? Good guy, bad coach.”
Crisp, who had led the Flames to a Stanley Cup the year before, said Makarov, who played in the Soviet Union on the KLM line with Vladimir Krutov and Igor Larionov, probably had more talent than anybody he had ever coached. Read more
By Ty Dilello
When you think of Tommy Soderstrom, the first thing you remember is the big Jofa helmet and cage he wore. This was a goaltender who never put tape on the blade of his stick and was known to keep his whole body inside his net when the play was away from him.
The seemingly quirky Swedish netminder, though, felt he was incredibly normal. Former teammate Kevin Dineen once said, “He’s the most relaxed goalie I’ve ever seen. Nothing rattles him.”
So maybe the quirk about this goalie was that he was normal, which is abnormal for a goalie. Read more
After walking out on the Rangers coaching job for a similar stint with the Bruins in 1950, Boston coach Lynn Patrick never failed to zing his former team nor its stars.
One of Patrick’s favorite foes was an unobtrusive little guy who wore No. 18 for the Rangers and never caused trouble, except to enemy goaltenders. Wally Hergesheimer, who died at age 87 on Sept. 27, was that target. “Hergesheimer,” snapped Patrick after the diminutive right winger had potted a pair, “is nothing but a garbage collector.”
By contrast, Wally’s manager, Frank Boucher, smelled nothing but roses, laughing off Patrick’s rip during the 1952-53 campaign with the perfect squelch: “ ‘Hergy’ was my leading scorer (26 goals) last year and will do it again. I’ll take that ‘garbage.’ ” Read more
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
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
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.