Backchecking: Tommy Soderstrom

The Hockey News
(Photo by Bruce Bennett Studios/Getty Images)

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

No one took care of the garbage like Wally Hergesheimer

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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

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
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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: 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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