Monday, May 6, 2013

Gustav Forslund

This is Gustav "Gus" Forslund. He played one season in the National Hockey League. In 1932-33 the 5'10" 150lb right winger played the whole 48 game season with the Ottawa Senators. He scored 4 goals and 13 points and then quickly disappeared from the NHL and pro hockey altogether.

But by making the NHL he became the answer to a very good trivia question. That's because Gustav Forslund became the first Swedish born player in National Hockey League history.

Now there is an asterisk attached to this story. Forslund was born in Umea, Sweden but he moved to Canada as a youngster. He grew up playing the great Canadian game on the frozen sloughs near Port Arthur,  Ontario, better known today as Thunder Bay.


Thursday, February 21, 2013

Harvey Pulford

For some 15 seasons Harvey Pulford dominated the hockey scene in Ottawa. That and every other sporting scene in the area as well.

Hockey wasn't the only sport in which he was good at. Pulford was a superb athlete who excelled in several sports. He won the Eastern Canada light-heavyweight and heavyweight boxing titles. He held the title of Canada's champion in both single and double-blade paddling and won international honors in the sport of rowing.

He was a member of the Ottawa Rough Riders team that won Canadian football titles in 1898, 1899, and 1900 and also played a vital role on a superb Ottawa Capitals lacrosse team in the late 1890's. On top of that he was also a very good squash player, winning the Ottawa championship long after his hockey days in 1922-23.

But it was on the ice where Pulford was most famous. A defenseman not noted for his offense, Pulford joined Ottawa HC in 1893. Whether they were known as Ottawa or the Silver Seven or the Senators, Pulford was a mainstay for four Stanley cup championships.

Here's how the famous hockey history book The Trail of The Stanley Cup describes Pulford's play:
It was not until 1901 that Pulford attempted any of the rushing tactics featured by Mike Grant of the Victorias. Throughout his career, he favoured playing back of what would now be his blueline ad it would be a rare occasion to justify a sortie up the ice. He would steer opponents into corners or catch them with thumping body checks away from the boards. If he relieved an opponent of the puck, he would most likely hoist it to the other end of the rink with a towering backhand lift. This technique was standard with most defence players at that time but now would be called icing the puck. His style of play is reflected in his scoring. He played almost seven years before he scored a goal and only netted eight in his whole career.
Pulford was notable for his physical play and leadership. He was hockey's strongman and was fully respected by foes and friends alike. He was knocked for his skating ability because he lacked speed. but he had great balance thanks to "the thinnest blades in hockey." He was impossible to move off of the puck.

Pulford might have put down his stick in 1908 but he kept his skates handy. He became a long time referee, including in the NHA and NHL.

By 1921 Pulford took a job with a life insurance company. He stayed there until his death in 1940. He was 65 years old.

When the Hockey Hall of Fame was founded in 1945, Pulford was one of the original nine inductees.


Eddie Gerard

This is Eddie Gerard, one of the early greats of the game. An inaugural member of the Hockey Hall of Fame, some writers back in the day claimed he was better than Eddie Shore.

He was born February 22nd, 1890. He would grow up to be a great athlete, also starring in football, paddling, cricket, tennis and lacrosse.

But it was hockey he loved most, and he excelled at his whole life. And he did it all in his hometown of Ottawa.

Gerard played his amateur hockey with Ottawa New Edinburghs before turning professional with the NHA's Ottawa Senators in 1913-14 as a left wing. It was far from an easy decision, as Gerard had a stable job with Geodetic Survey of Canada.

But the chance to play hockey against the best in the world proved to be too strong of a calling for Gerard. Well, that and money. The Senators offered Gerard a $400 signing bonus, a significant sum in those days. Gerard's father is said to have proclaimed that the hockey team were "a bunch of damned fools" for such a signing bonus.

It paid off for the Sens though, and quite handsomely at that. Gerard had 10 assists in 1914-15,which in those days was exceptional. He played in the Stanley Cup final that season, but Ottawa lost to the Vancouver Millionaires.

In 1917-18, the NHL was formed and he served as the Senators player-coach After a losing season he gave way to Alf Smith. It was in 1917-18 that Gerard moved back to defense for good, and this is where he would prove to be so great.

In 1918-19 Gerard was outstanding this year, both offensively and defensively as Ottawa gave up the fewest goals against for the next five years, largely in part due to Gerard's outstanding play. Gerard would be named captain of the Senators and the team would go on to win the Stanley Cup - the first of four championships for Eddie.

1920-21 was one of his best seasons. Not only did he score 11 goals in 24 games, but Ottawa continued to be the best defensive team in the NHL, and Gerard's great passing and stickhandling abilities left little room for rough play.

But he ran wild in the 1921 playoffs, getting 53 minutes in penalties in 7 games to lead all performers in that dubious distinction. The Senators also won their second straight Stanley Cup that year.

Gerard had another great year in 1921-22 with 7 goals 11 assists for 18 points in 21 games. Oddlly, he would play on a Stanley Cup champion this year as well, but not with the Senators. The Toronto St. Patricks had beaten Ottawa and played Vancouver for the Cup. During one of the games Harry Cameron was injured and the St.Pats asked permission of the Patricks to use Eddie Gerard and were granted permission. He played well in that one game, and that prompted Frank Patrick to withdraw his permission for the final game. But it was too late as Toronto defeated Vancouver 5-1 to win the Cup.

Gerard was back with Ottawa for 1922-23, but misfortune struck him. He was struck in the throat by Sprague Cleghorn, damaging his vocal cords. He would only have a weak voice for the rest of his life. But he stuck it out and played 23 games for the Senators that season.

Despite injuries, he played well in the Stanley Cup classic and when the undermanned Senators won the Stanley Cup that year, Frank Patrick, president of the PCHA called them the greatest team he had ever seen.

But Gerard had enough as a player, as the asthma and the throat injury convinced him to retire.

He was a gentleman on and off the ice and played his defense position well and cleanly. He signed as an assistant coach of the Montreal Canadiens in 1923-24.  During 1924-25, Hart was both manager and coach, but resigned as coach at mid-season, leaving the coaching to Gerard. When Hart was fired at season's end, Gerard was named general manager as well.

Gerard accompanied Cecil Hart to the new Montreal Professional Hockey Club which would be named the Maroons in 1925-26. Gerard was also instrumental in signing Babe Siebert and Nels Stewart. These two led the Maroons to win the Stanley Cup in 1925-26.

Gerard went to the finals yet again in 1928, but lost to the New York Rangers in that classic series where Gerard refused to lend Alex Connell or Hugh McCormick to the Rangers to replace the injured Lorne Chabot in goal. In an unsportsmanlike gesture, Gerard chuckled as he told the Rangers 44 year old coach Lester Patrick to take to the nets himself. Patrick did, and he unthinkably beat the Maroons in that game for one of the most famous moments in Stanley Cup history. Joe Miller finished the series for the Rangers as they defeated the Maroons for the Cup.

After a last place finish in 1928-29, Gerard's Maroons finished first for the first time in 1929-30, but they lost in the playoffs. Gerard received a lucrative contract offer from the New York Americans, though the stint would prove to be unsuccessful.  He would return the Maroons and later coached the St. Louis Eagles, but his magic seemed to be lost.

Throat cancer claimed the life of Eddie Gerard in August of 1937. He was only 47 years old and all of those who knew him mourned.There had been another death that year of another great of the game, Howie Morenz, who also died too young.

For recognition of his great contributions to hockey, Gerard was one of the nine charter members elected to the brand new Hockey Hall of Fame in Kingston, which later moved to Toronto.


Friday, November 23, 2012

Pascal Leclaire

Pascal Leclaire was known for his quick reflexes and for making spectacular saves. His talent was undeniable. And had he been healthy he had a chance to be the most dynamic showman of his goaltending generation.

But first and foremost he will be remembered as a goalie who never really reached his potential due to serious injuries. Leclaire played seven seasons in the NHL before being forced out of the game due to injury.
He announced his decision during the NHL lockout of 2012. Sadly his retirement may have gone unnoticed due to the labour dispute. In some ways that was a fitting ending to an unceremonious career.

Leclaire was drafted by the Columbus Blue Jackets with the eighth pick in the 2001 NHL Draft. He was the first goaltender taken in a draft that also featured Martin Gerber, Ray Emery, Dan Blackburn and Peter Budaj.

Leclaire’s best season came in 2007-08 with the Jackets, when he played in a career high 54 games. He posted a 24-17-6 record and was second in the league with nine shutouts. But an ankle injury derailed him the following season and all the promise he showed was lost. He never played more than 35 games in any other year. Leclaire suffered from a variety of ailments through his career, including injuries to his groin, ankle, knee, hip and face

After spending the first six seasons with Columbus, Leclaire was traded to the Ottawa Senators. Instead of a finding a fresh start in the nation's capital, he found more injuries. In one game he suffered a fractured cheekbone when a puck struck him in the face while he sitting on the bench. Serious hip problems ultimately required three unsuccessful surgeries and ended his career.

In 173 NHL games, Leclaire went 61-76-15 with a 2.89 goals-against average, a .904 save percentage and 10 shutouts.


Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Brad Shaw

Brad Shaw was a heady, offensive defensemen who I always cheer for. He was very smart at head manning the puck and quarterbacking a power play. But he was too small to thrive in the NHL game for more than short stretches.

In Shaw's case, he played smaller than he was. 6'0" and 190lbs is at best average for a NHL defenseman, but Shaw played smaller than that, hampering his own game. He was not very strong, and did not hit with much authority. He relied on strong positional play and active stick with his good reach to play defense. Physically he would push players with his stick but never intimidated a soul.

He was far more comfortable with the puck. He was a good skater with a long stride, though he was by no means quick. He was a very intelligent player with the puck, and could read plays as they were developing. He would often advance the play with a well placed pass.

Detroit drafted Shaw in 1982. Shaw would complete his junior career with some outstanding offensive numbers with the Ottawa 67s and also was a strong member of two Canadian world juniors entries. In his last season, 1982-83, he was named as the OHL's top defenseman.

Despite his strong showing Shaw and Detroit were unable to come to a contract so the Red Wings moved him to Hartford in 1984 for next to nothing.

It took 5 seasons of apprenticing in the minor leagues, but Shaw finally made it to the NHL on a full time basis in 1989-90. His 3 goals and 35 points was the second most among "rookie" defensemen that season. Only Viacheslav Fetisov (who had even more experience than Shaw) had more.

Shaw would quietly play two more seasons in Hartford before joining the expansion Ottawa Senators via the expansion draft. Shaw would play two seasons in Ottawa, scoring a nice 11 goals and 64 points in that time, though his combined minus-88 was a little scary. Ottawa often chose to team Shaw with even more undersized Norm MacIver together. MacIver, a fan favorite, took the role of offensive catalyst and tended to wander all over the ice. Shaw was asked to play more of the conservative defensive role, on his weak side, to boot. He was game but never really thrived in the situation.

Aside from a brief re-appearance with Washington and St. Louis, Shaw rounded out his career with the Detroit Vipers in the IHL.

Shaw was an effective player who gave a full and steady effort to the best of abilities. He must be admired for that. And he used his hockey intellect to become an excellent coach, including half a season behind the bench as the head coach of the New York Islanders.


Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Petr Schastlivy

Petr Schastlivy grew up in a small Siberian town of Vikhorevka, playing hockey all winter long - indoor and outdoors even in -35 degree weather - and soccer all summer long. His dad was his coach, which proved to be the real secret to his success. You see, his dad played and coached an adult team. As a 12 year old young Petr was playing against 25 and 30 year old men.

Talk about a great learning curve. Soon enough Petr was starring in youth tournaments, catching scouts attention in Russia. Petr's dad allowed him to leave home early. He moved to Angarsk for six years, which proved to be the necessary steppingstone to the Russian Elite League with Torpedo Yaroslavl.

NHL scouts certainly started noticing as he performed well with Yaroslavl. The Ottawa Senators selected him in the fourth round (101st overall) of the 1998 NHL entry draft.

The highlight of Schastlivy's career came in 1999 as he was part of Russia's gold medal winning World Junior team.

The next year he crossed the Atlantic to pursue his NHL dream, but spent most of the next two seasons in the minor leagues adjusting his game and his life to the North American way.

Despite some promising skill and talent, he never did fulfill his NHL potential. Inopportune injuries played a big role in that. But he was also slight and polite, and that generally does not bode well for long term NHL employment. He had an absolute laser of a wrist shot, but he was reluctant to use it.

In 2003-04 the Ottawa Senators traded him away to Anaheim. It was not an easy decision, as the Senators had previously cut Pavol Dimetra loose prematurely, only to watch him blossom into a star. There was some fear that Schastlivy would do that, too, especially in Anaheim as it was said none other than Sergei Fedorov requested he join the team.

Yet it was just not in the cards. After quietly completing the season in California, he headed home to Russia where he continued to play for many years.

In 129 NHL games Petr Schastlivy scored 18 goals, 22 assists and 40 points. He married Latvian Olympic long jumper Ineta Radevica.


Monday, July 2, 2012

Radek Bonk

Radek Bonk was the jewel of 1994 NHL Entry Draft. The teenager from Czech Republic came to North America and dominated the IHL minor league with 42 goals and over 200 minutes and penalties. Expectations for the 6'3", 215lb man-child were through the roof.

The Ottawa Senators selected Bonk 3rd overall. He would spend the rest of his career struggling to live up to the unrealistic expectations.

Bonk's skating was a terrible detriment, and prevented him from early scoring success in the NHL. But eventually he found his niche as a strong, two way power pivot.

"Maybe the expectations were for something that is not his strength," suggested Claude Julien, Bonk's coach in Montreal. "When you draft players in the first round, all of a sudden people have a tendency to think he should be your leading scorer. You can't have 20 leading scorers, everybody's got to be really good at their jobs."

Bonk admits that the years failing to meet those lofty goals in Ottawa began to wear on him and eventually affected the way he played the game.

"You were trying to do things that normally you don't try," he said. "When you try to do something different, you don't play your role and that's when your game collapses. So I really want to concentrate on my role (in Montreal) and leave the goals to the goal-scorers."

Bonk did emerge as a regular 20 goal, 60 point threat in Ottawa. And he did play in the NHL over 1000 games (including playoffs). He scored 194 goals, 303 assists and 497 points - a pretty nice career when all was said and done.

But you definitely got the feeling Bonk was happy to leave Ottawa after 10 seasons of failing to meet expectations.

"I want to do whatever I can to help the team win," Bonk said. "We have a great group of players here and we all want to win the Cup. Everyone believes in each other and that makes a huge difference."

"I don't mind have more demands put on myself," he added. "I'm very demanding on myself. I want to win and I want to be a big part of this team being a success."

Bonk joined Montreal in 2005, then Nashville in 2007. He left for Europe in 2009, playing one season with Yaroslavl of the KHL before returning home to the Czech Republic to play several more seasons.


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