By HOWARD BERGER
TORONTO (Dec. 13) – Sorry if I’m not in the gynormous camp that believes disaster will befall the Maple Leafs should they somehow lose to Carolina tonight at the ACC. I might remind anxious followers of the Blue & White that such a calamity occurred a mere 23 nights ago in Raleigh (Hurricanes edged the weary Leafs, 3-2, and then followed by upsetting the Flyers in Philadelphia). Yes, one coach and three weeks later, Carolina is mired in a 1-7-1 tailspin, but the long NHL season cannot be measured through the prism of a single game until teams begin to encounter mathematical playoff elimination. And that’s a bit down the road yet, even for the woebegone Columbus Blue Jackets.
The stigma of losing at home to a floundering Conference opponent might be tough to endure for Leaf fans, but it’s still way too early to consider any result (even a Toronto romp) a defining moment. Followers of the Blue & White gripping the most over tonight’s match will be quick to point out the club’s sordid record in this circumstance: hosting a mid-week game against a struggling foe. In no way would losing tonight establish a Leaf precedent. Much more critical than the result is re-asserting calm and direction on the penalty kill after getting strafed by the Capitals on Friday night (all four Washington goals were scored on the powerplay). A team-wide commitment to defensive detail would not only improve the chance for victory, but also provide James Reimer some valued support in his comeback curve.
All of that said, there is a one-night Rolaids scenario for Leafs Nation: a regulation loss to Carolina combined with victories by New Jersey (at Florida); Washington (at home to Philadelphia) and Buffalo (hosting Ottawa) would sink Toronto into an eighth-place tie in the East with the Devils, though Leafs would rank higher given a goal-scoring edge in two games thus far against New Jersey. Something tells me that would hardly console followers of the Blue & White.
Thanks to renowned neurosurgeon, Dr. Charles Tator, for pointing out an enormous flaw in the discussion of head injuries in the NHL. Tator emphasized to the Toronto Star that there is no such thing as “concussion-like” symptoms: a common description offered by teams about players suffering from blows to the head. Such a term is the equivalent of suggesting that an expectant mother is displaying “pregnancy-like” symptoms. “Either you have a concussion or you don’t,” Tator told reporter Joseph Hall of the Star.
The NHL scouting fraternity and junior hockey ranks lost a marvelous person on Monday when Bill White passed away from complications of diabetes. Bill coached the OHL Oshawa Generals in 1977-78 and 1978-79 and served as an amateur scout with the Calgary Flames for nearly 20 years under general manager Cliff Fletcher. “Bill was the absolute salt of the Earth,” Cliff told me today, having visited White at Sunnybrook Veterans Centre last week. “Just the nicest fellow you’d ever meet.” I can certainly attest to that. When White left the Generals after the ’78-79 season, he returned to his first love: coaching Tier II junior hockey with the North York Rangers. Under his guidance, the Rangers advanced all the way to the Centennial (now Royal Bank) Cup final in 1980, losing a one-game championship to the Red Deer Rustlers before an enormous crowd shoehorned into the North York Centennial Centre. I was with the Rangers that year in an administrative capacity (I turned 21 during the season) and it remains one of my fondest memories.
North York was led by players that would not distinguish themselves at the pro level – the league’s leading scorer, Bill Coville, received a scholarship from Providence College while linemate John Ciotti went to Miami of Ohio. A skilled, puck-handling defenseman, Jim File, was recruited by Ferris State University. The most prolific Rangers alumni are Paul Coffey and Bernie Nicholls; the latter was the club’s leading scorer in 1978-79, my first year with the team. He would later become one of only eight players in NHL history to score 70 goals in a season – and one of only five to record 150 points – both with the Los Angeles Kings [and Wayne Gretzky] in 1988-89. The 1980 championship Red Deer team boasted future NHLers Brent, Ron and Rich Sutter and was coached by Western Hockey League legend John Chapman.
Working in Red Deer at the time was a keen television sports anchor named Ron MacLean who went on to slightly bigger things.
All of this flooded into the memory well earlier today when I was informed of Bill White’s death by Doug Philpott, who did publicity for the Rangers before my arrival and then went on to direct media relations for the Toronto Argonauts of the CFL.
Rest in peace, Whitey… you were one prince of a fellow.