Forget the Stanley Cup – in 1971, the T.J. Rugg Trophy was the one to win

Stan Fischler
Action at the first Professional Table Hockey Tournament in 1971 (Courtesy of Stan Fischler)

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

The Rangers are rich and entitled; the Islanders are lucky and shameless

New York Rangers vs. New York Islanders (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

In our Playoff Preview edition, we asked one blogger following the Rangers and one following the Islanders to have some fun at each other’s expense. To our delight, they didn’t play nice.

By Dominik Jansky of Lighthouse Hockey:
To say Rangers fans were born on third base thinking they hit a triple would be an insult to nepotism: their blue-blooded forefathers have hit one triple since 1940, and even that exhausting trip required a bunch of uncles from Edmonton to do the pinch running. Yet like an embarrassing, fumbling son whose rich father pretends he doesn’t exist, Rangers fans boldly stagger around town with hollow bluster, as if their club has contributed anything to hockey over the past 75 years beyond bloated payrolls, retirement packages for fading stars, and miraculous job security for Glen Sather.

The Rangers are New York’s media darlings – if being the seventh-most-popular team in one’s home is “darling”-worthy – purely by virtue of geographic convenience. That all changes when their rivals bring their own superior, impressive history to Brooklyn, and media don’t have to trudge out to Nassau to get quotes from New York’s best player, John Tavares.

For now, Isles fans can enjoy one last hurrah in a raucous Nassau Coliseum – birthplace of the only dynasty New York will ever see, and home of the majority of New York’s Stanley Cups since the Great Depression. Rangers fans must be content to tell themselves the new sky bridge at the sterile Madison Square Garden, the “World’s Most Self-Congratulatory Arena,” is somehow worth the $1,000 tickets, the gutting of the 300s section and the loss of their soul.

At least they’ll always have Matteau…if he can still afford to get in the building.

By Mike Murphy of Blueshirt Banter:
The Islanders are giving their fans a nice treat by making the club’s last season at the Coliseum an Irish wake instead of the cataclysmic, all-consuming funeral pyre that would’ve been far more appropriate. Next season, the steadfast crew behind the Gorton’s Fisherman will leave the NHL’s second smallest arena for the new second smallest arena, in Brooklyn…where exactly zero percent of the locals admit to being a part of Long Island.

When Isles fans aren’t standing like meerkats trying to see the action in a building that in no way was designed to host hockey games, they’ll continue to make the hatred of the Rangers a load-bearing part of their identity and express a shameless pride when they manage to be louder than visiting Blueshirts fans in their own arena.

The Islanders will appear in the playoffs for the third time since the 2004-05 lockout, which will mercifully give their fans something to do other than call for the heads of their coach, GM and owner. Luckily for them, the team managed to add a top ‘D’ pair on clearance sale before the season and trade for a goalie who didn’t refuse to report to the club!

Things sure are looking up for the Empire State’s other team (even Buffalo knows that Buffalo doesn’t count), which goes to show you that if you fail long and badly enough and somehow avoid being exiled to Kansas City, you might just survive to draft a Tavares and put yourself in a position to advance past the first round for the first time in 22 years. What an inspiration.

This is feature appears in the Playoff Preview 2015 edition of The Hockey News magazine. Get fun features like this one, and much more, by subscribing now.

Is Vladimir Tarasenko the missing piece in the Blues Stanley Cup puzzle?

Vladimir Tarasenko (Chris Lee/St. Louis Post-Dispatch/MCT)

The 2010 draft turned out to be pretty fruitful overall, but on the first day of the actual selections, St. Louis went in with a specific plan of action: take Jaden Schwartz with the 14th pick overall and, if possible, trade for another selection to land Vladimir Tarasenko. The first part went off without a hitch. With the 15th pick, Los Angeles tabbed big blueliner Derek Forbort, paving the way for Blues GM Doug Armstrong to swing a trade with Ottawa that saw the Sens grab defenseman David Rundblad in exchange for pick No. 16, which Armstrong used to snap up Tarasenko. Had the Russian right winger been off the board, St. Louis would have kept Rundblad, forever altering history.

Armstrong admits Tarasenko was the riskier pick, due to the fact the KHL offered a perfectly decent career path for the Russian kid whose father coached him with Sibir Novosibirsk. But Tarasenko made his way over to North America after the 2012-13 lockout and has been endearing himself to the organization since. “He’s the type of kid who has a lot of respect for the guys on his team and he really wants to play well,” said goalie Brian Elliott. “Sometimes you don’t see that in young guys, but he’s a team guy to the max.”

Adjusting to life in North America wasn’t easy, but Tarasenko was willing to put in the work. Some NHL teams have softened the cultural blow for young Russians by bringing in a veteran from their homeland (it almost always seems to be Sergei Gonchar), but the closest St. Louis has come is Dmitrij Jaskin, who was born in Omsk but was raised in (and plays internationally for) the Czech Republic. The Blues did hire retired defenseman Sergei Zubov for a year to help facilitate coaching messages during practice, but otherwise it was adapt and survive. “It was basically, throw him in the deep end and let him figure it out,” Armstrong said. “He worked hard on his own, and he wanted to be part of the team.” Read more

Where does Carey Price sit among the Canadiens goalie greats?

Carey Price (Francois Lacasse/NHLI via Getty Images)

It’s been almost 20 years since Patrick Roy walked the length of the bench, past coach Mario Tremblay, and straight to president Ronald Corey to tell him he had played his last game for the Montreal Canadiens. Since that fateful night, a total of 20 men have occupied the blue paint for the Habs. Jose Theodore, the NHL’s most valuable player in 2001-02, was a supernova that crashed and burned in a tire fire of controversy and was traded for a career backup. Andy Moog and Stephane Fiset were No. 2 goalies on Stanley Cup winners. Cristobal Huet and Tomas Vokoun went on to greater things and more money elsewhere. And a number of them have been clearly part of the “we-hardly-knew-ye” variety. Olivier Michaud, the youngest man ever to stop a puck for the Canadiens, currently lives in Montreal and operates Ecole de Gardiens de But Olivier Michaud.

One of those 20 men is Carey Price, the 27-year-old bow hunter and rodeo champion from Anahim Lake, B.C., whose father flew him in his own plane from his remote village to Williams Lake so he could play youth hockey. Price is unflappable and engaging, has a quiet swagger and is on his way to becoming one of the all-time greats in a conga line of all-time greats produced by the Canadiens. Of the 35 goaltenders enshrined in the Hockey Hall of Fame, seven of them have earned their way there by backstopping the Habs. (An eighth, Riley Hern, won four Stanley Cups with the Montreal Wanderers, a pre-NHL juggernaut.)

The Vezina Trophy appears to have Price’s name already engraved on it, and the notion of Price winning the Hart Trophy as the league’s MVP is gaining a lot of steam. That’s because, under scrutiny by both eyeballs and hockey analytics, the Canadiens are decidedly mediocre without him. They start games dreadfully, they rarely knock their opponents off the puck and they are one of the worst possession teams in the league. When they get a lead, they give up a ridiculous number of shots, in terms of attempts and those that end up in Price’s glove to die. To suggest Montreal is a rag-tag team that would be life-and-death to make the playoffs if not bound by chicken wire and Price’s lasso rope isn’t a stretch. He proves it time and again when he is great, which is almost all the time, and when he is shoddy, almost never. Simply put, if Price isn’t the best player on the ice, the Canadiens don’t win. Read more

Who deserves the first Stanley Cup pass on each playoff team?

The Hockey News
Kimmo Timonen (Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

Who can forget Ray Bourque’s big moment June 9, 2001?

His Colorado Avalanche had just won their second Stanley Cup. He’d won his first at age 40 after 22 stellar, Hall-of-Fame-worthy seasons. It seemed the entire sport was cheering for him. When Avs captain Joe Sakic finally hoisted the chalice, everyone watching around the world knew who was getting it. It’s impossible not to get chills watching this, which ended up being Bourque’s final moment on the ice as a player:

Assessing all 16 playoff teams for 2014-15, we pondered who each team’s Bourque is. What non-captain will get the first Cup pass on each squad? It could b a sentimental favorite like Bourque or someone with whom the captain has a personal connection. You know who Henrik Sedin would pass it to.

Read more

How do you win in the playoffs? Doug Gilmour tells you

Gilmour kisses the Cup (Bruce Bennett Studios/Getty Images)

By Doug Gilmour

The playoffs were always my time of year. That’s because no matter what kind of a season you had, the post-season is what everybody remembers. Whether it was a good year, a bad year or an average year, it didn’t matter. You write your ticket in the playoffs.

Make no mistake, there’s a huge difference between playing in the regular season and playing in the playoffs. Some NHL players raise their level of game at the most important time of year. Others who may star during the season disappear in the playoffs. It’s a time for desperation. You know if you lose, you’re going home. That’s what motivated me.

We all play for the opportunity to win the Stanley Cup. It’s been a dozen years now since I last played in the NHL. But these are the things I still think about if you ask me about making a run for the title: Read more

Can advanced stats predict the Stanley Cup winner?

Stanley Cup (Getty Images)

When it comes to building a Stanley Cup winner, there’s a lot to be said for analytics and advanced statistics. When it comes to predicting a Stanley Cup winner, well, there’s a lot to be said for tarot cards, crystal balls, coin flips and a game of rock, paper, scissors.

That’s due to the unpredictability of the playoffs. It’s not that advanced stats are useless for those trying to project the conference finalists, but we wouldn’t recommend taking them to the proverbial bank. Read more

Big, bang & bust for the Memorial Cup is just part of the CHL cycle

Ryan Kennedy
Quebec's Anthony Duclair  (Photo by Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images)

Back in 2011, the Saskatoon Blades went for it. The WHL team traded for A-list prospect Brayden Schenn, giving up three first-round bantam picks and a second-rounder in the process, along with two players. The Blades had a serious roster before Schenn arrived, but with him, the club smelled glory. Instead, Kootenay made a splash of its own by nabbing Cody Eakin from Swift Current and in the second round of the playoffs, the Ice swept Schenn and the Blades into the dustbin.

Someone always has to lose in hockey, but hope springs eternal, especially in the CHL where the cycle of construction and destruction is a tight one. This season is no different. Read more