The news of Patrick Cote’s sentencing for two bank robberies the other day was in parts sad, shocking and curious. What happened to lead to his descent from one-time NHL enforcer to a life of crime?
The tale also brought to mind Attila Ambrus, the most notorious and engaging thief hockey has ever known.
If you’re not familiar with Ambrus, he was a Hungarian hard-drinking, womanizing, puck-stopping (sometimes) goalie whose legend reached iconic status. His adventures were expertly told in the 2004 book The Ballad of the Whiskey Robber, written by Julian Rubinstein.
The best American hockey team of all time didn’t need a miracle.
No U.S. team has ever achieved more fame than the 1980 Olympic squad that stunned the Soviet Union in the semifinal before completing the ‘Miracle on Ice’ by beating Finland for gold in Lake Placid, N.Y.
That squad’s spectacular rise is one of the best stories in sports history, period. The reason for that, though, is because it was the ultimate underdog tale, a group – as they’ve so often been described – of rag-tag college kids shocking the world.
The shock was still there 16 years later at the next big triumph for Team USA, but it was more about how good the team was rather than the fact it took on the world and won.
The American team that beat Canada in a best-of-three final at the 1996 World Cup is the best collection ever to wear stars and stripes. It was a coming out party for Team USA, which rolled through the round-robin, toppled Russia in the semifinal and bounced back from a Game 1 overtime loss in the final to earn consecutive victories over Canada in Montreal to win the tournament previously known as the Canada Cup. Read more
The backyard pond is an iconic place for many Canadians and growing up in Winnipeg, the Toews boys first demonstrated their competitiveness on such a sheet of ice.
“They played a lot of hours on the backyard pond,” said Bryan Toews, the father of the clan. “A few times we’d see sticks flying, but no bloody noses, so I guess they figured it out.”
Jonathan and David Toews both went on to play the sport at a high level, but the older brother and captain of the Chicago Blackhawks revealed that competition at home would help the brothers abroad.
“He definitely challenged me,” Jonathan said. “He was two years younger, so I shouldn’t have had to worry, but it was always competitive.”
Going through the local youth hockey circuit, Jonathan recalls he and his brother both being at the top of their age groups as they grew up. David was taken in the third round of the 2008 NHL draft by the New York Islanders and followed his older sibling to the University of North Dakota before switching to Brandon of the Western League in 2010-11. Jonathan’s path has already led to the highest echelons of hockey – just as he planned.
“For myself, there was no alternative,” Jonathan said. “One level after another, you get better.”
Jonathan showed promise right from the start. His dad remembers him traipsing through the house in his skates and that passion carried onto the ice.
“He had been skating by the time he was three-and-a-half and had a stride at four,” Bryan said. “That blew my mind.” Read more
When you talk to Bobby Orr about his career, there isn’t a whole lot of new ground to cover. After all, his days as the best defenseman, if not the best player, of all-time are well documented and he hasn’t played a meaningful game in more than three decades.
And he’s not comfortable talking about his career, maybe because it was so abruptly aborted by aching, surgically repaired (sort of) knees.
“How do you feel when somebody tells you that you wrote a good story?” Orr responds when asked how he reacts to those who constantly tell him he was the greatest player the game has ever seen.
There is little doubt Orr was the most dynamic skater to ever patrol a blueline. He had the ability to change the complexion of a game and in doing so, changed the complexion of the game. Never before had the sport seen a defenseman who could have the impact in all three zones that Orr had because of his skating ability.
And during the 1970-71 campaign, Orr had the single greatest offensive season ever for a defenseman. In 78 games, he scored 37 goals and added a mind-boggling 102 assists. Wayne Gretzky managed 102 or more assists 11 times and Mario Lemieux once, but that’s it, ever. Two players, both centers. Those 139 points are a total Sidney Crosby or any other forward would kill for these days, but there was Orr, a defenseman, posting them in his fifth year in the league.
Paul Coffey came within one point of Orr’s 139 points exactly 15 years later, but nobody else has even come close in the quarter of a century that has passed since. Coffey did surpass Orr to set the record for goals by a defenseman with 48 that 1985-86 season, but Orr doesn’t expect anyone to approach his or Coffey’s numbers any time soon. Read more
On the first day of spring, 1952, the last-place Chicago Black Hawks took the Friday train to Toronto for a Saturday night game against the Maple Leafs. Nine-year Hawks vet Bill Mosienko was wrapping up his best offensive season since his rookie year and, having the night off, decided to look up an old friend. They got together for a drink, a meal and a gab session that rainy evening, then relaxed around a collection of hockey books.
“We were thumbing through the NHL record book,” Mosienko recalled a few days later, “and I remarked how nice it would be to have my name in there with some of the hockey greats. But I just figured it would never happen – and then it did, 48 hours later.” Read more
From 1980 to 1984, the New York Islanders won four consecutive Stanley Cups and made a fifth appearance in the Cup final. In all they won a record 19-straight playoff series, the longest streak in the history of pro sports (one more than the NBA’s Boston Celtics had from 1959 to 1967).
“We felt we could beat anyone – that’s the attitude you develop as a team on a streak like that,” said Mike Bossy, statistically the game’s greatest ever sniper. “With the quality of players we had – Bryan Trottier, Denis Potvin, Billy Smith – it seemed there was always someone there to do the heavy lifting if another of us wasn’t at his best.”
In dissecting the streak, the heavy lifting Hall of Fame center Trottier in particular managed can’t be overlooked. He elevated his game during the dynasty years and in the 1981 post-season tournament, he set a record by producing at least one point in 18 consecutive games (Wayne Gretzky and Al MacInnis came closest to breaking it with a 17-game runs; Gretzky in 1988, MacInnis in ’89).
More impressively, from the period of 1980 to 1982, Trottier had points in 27 straight playoff games – a mark that has even less chance of being broken than his mark of 18 games in a single playoff. Read more
Because hockey players are some of the most humble athletes in all of sport, you won’t find too many of them willing to suggest the record they hold will take an extremely long time to be broken.
But veteran star right winger Teemu Selanne – one of hockey’s best ambassadors and a man who would brag only if forced to at gunpoint – will tell you the mark he is most famous for won’t be challenged in the next couple years – if ever.
That’s because a fresh-faced Selanne scored a whopping 76 times for the now-defunct Winnipeg Jets in 1992-93, setting the standard for goals in a season by a rookie. On second thought, “setting” is too delicate a word for what he accomplished. Selanne demolished the previous record of 53 in a season, established by Islanders Hall of Famer Mike Bossy during the 1977-78 campaign.
For some perspective, Alex Ovechkin scored 52 times in his rookie season. Read more
By the turn of the 21st century, work stoppages had become a semi-regular occurrence in professional sports. In football, the NFL had gone through mid-season player strikes in 1982 and 1987 that were resolved after a few weeks and didn’t threaten the season. MLB had been through a number of strikes and lockouts, with its most costly stoppage coming midway through the 1994 season, when 938 games and the World Series were cancelled. And in basketball, the NBA had to shave 32 games off its regular season in 1998-99 and a 2011 lockout delayed the season opener until Christmas Day.
The NHL, of course, had its own history of a dubious relationship between the players and the owners. From the owners’ attempts to block the formation of a players’ union in the Ted Lindsay days to the shameful Alan Eagleson era, distrust had festered and led to a brief player strike in 1992 and a lockout in 1994-95 that lasted three-and-a-half months. The latter shaved the season down to 48 games.