Reimer’s Best Hour

By HOWARD BERGER

TORONTO (Apr. 8th) – While re-establishing himself as a legitimate No. 1 commodity in the National Hockey League, James Reimer has turned in a bevy of dazzling performances this season – particularly since Randy Carlyle stopped playing musical goalies. No game, however, was quite as solid as Leafs 2-1 win Saturday at New Jersey.

For the second consecutive match, Reimer prevented his club from being overcome in the first period. Though Leafs were beaten 5-3 by Philadelphia on Thursday at Air Canada Centre, the game would have been a foregone conclusion after 20 minutes had Reimer not made an assortment of difficult stops. It was no different in Newark on Saturday – Reimer blocking all 14 shots directed at him by the Devils; half of which could have been goals.

JAMES REIMER GLOVES A SCORING ATTEMPT ON SATURDAY NIGHT IN NEW JERSEY WITH DEVILS FORWARD DAVID CLARKSON LOOKING FOR A REBOUND IN THE CLUTCH OF LEAFS DEFENSEMAN DION PHANEUF. ANDY MARLIN GETTY IMAGES/NHL.COM

Reimer has gained poise and confidence in his first season working with Leafs goaltending coach Rick St. Croix. He was in complete control against the Devils, moving laterally in anticipation of just about every shot. His maturity was on display all week – before and after the NHL trade deadline – as Leafs GM David Nonis sought to effectively replace him with either Miikka Kiprusoff or Roberto Luongo. A lesser man would have reacted negatively to such maneuvering, but Reimer coolly brushed it off. He has the ideal temperament to guide Leafs into the playoffs this spring.

Next up: Back-to-back encounters with Henrik Lundqvist and the New York Rangers, beginning tonight at Air Canada Centre.

THIS TIME, BETTMAN PROMISES

Mark it down, officially. Jan. 1, 2014. Toronto Maple Leafs vs. Detroit Red Wings. Michigan Stadium, Ann Arbor.

Unless a rogue NHL governor abruptly frowns on the new Collective Bargaining Agreement, the annual Bridgestone Winter Classic will resume after a one-year hiatus. So affirmed NHL commissioner Gary Bettman yesterday at his second Leafs-Red Wings announcement in just more than a year. The owners’ lockout that reduced the current schedule to 48 games ended just nine days after the initial Toronto-Detroit outdoor match had been slated. Canceled Nov. 2 with no end in sight to the labor  quarrel, it broke a chain of five New Year’s Day hockey encounters dating to 2008, when Buffalo Sabres and Pittsburgh Penguins clashed at Ralph Wilson Stadium in Orchard Park, N.Y. – home of the NFL Buffalo Bills.

NHL North East Divisions Toronto Maple Leafs NHL Logo fom 1931 - 1932 large

SPORTSLOGOS.NET

As we told you in this space on Aug. 2, Leafs will wear a slightly tweaked replica of their jersey from 1931-32 – the first season of hockey at Maple Leaf Gardens. Detroit has designed a specialized look for the outdoor game, with the city’s name emblazoned atop the familiar winged-wheel logo. Each club will wear solid-color jerseys: Toronto blue and Detroit red. Respective coaches Mike Babcock and Randy Carlyle will don unique jackets for the occasion and the game will be played – for the first time – in front of more than 100,000 spectators at the so-called “Big House”, home to the University of Michigan football team. Ann Arbor is 43 miles west of Detroit.

Leafs last played in MoTown on Mar. 26, 2011, losing 4-2 at Joe Louis Arena. 

TORONTO AND DETROIT JERSEYS FOR 2014 BRIDGESTONE WINTER CLASSIC (ABOVE) WERE OFFICIALLY UNVEILED SUNDAY AFTERNOON IN ANN ARBOR, MICH. – LEAFS UNIFORM NEARLY IDENTICAL TO THE ONE IN MY COLLECTION (BELOW).

ON THE WALL AT MAPLE LEAF GARDENS

I’VE BEEN ASKED OVER THE YEARS ABOUT THE PENALTY AND OUT-OF-TOWN CLOCKS AT MAPLE LEAF GARDENS DURING THE 1960s. THEY WERE MOUNTED ON THE NORTH AND SOUTH WALLS OF THE ARENA – ABOVE THE INITIAL SPAN OF SEATS; THEN ABOVE THE MEZZANINES THAT WERE BUILT FOR THE 1966-67 SEASON. THE PHOTO, ABOVE, SHOWS LEAFS COACH PUNCH IMLACH AND TRAINER BOBBY HAGGERT BEHIND THE BENCH DURING THE 1967 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFFS. THE PENALTY AND OUT-OF-TOWN CLOCKS ARE VISIBLE ABOVE THE NORTH MEZZANINE BLUES. A CLOSER LOOK APPEARS BELOW FROM A TV IMAGE DURING THE TORONTO-MONTREAL CUP SEMIFINAL OF 1965. EDDIE SHACK (NO. 23) OF LEAFS HAS RECEIVED A TWO-MINUTE PENALTY (LEFT) WHILE THE CANADIENS HAVE BEEN ASSESSED A FIVE-MINUTE MAJOR FOR FIGHTING (RIGHT – THE CLOCK YET TO SIGNAL JOHN FERGUSON’S NO. 22 JERSEY). THE OUT-OF-TOWN SCOREBOARD SHOWS CHICAGO LEADING DETROIT 3-1 IN GAME 3 OF THE OTHER SEMIFINAL SERIES. THESE AGED DEVICES WERE REMOVED AFTER THE ’67 PLAYOFFS WITH THE ADVENT OF A NEW DIGITAL SCORE-CLOCK ABOVE CENTRE-ICE AT THE GARDENS (PICTURED TWO BELOW DURING LEAFS-HABS 1967 STANLEY CUP FINAL).

CALIFORNIA AT TORONTO 1967

LEAFS TV RECENTLY SHOWED THE BLACK-AND-WHITE TELECAST OF A GAME AT MAPLE LEAF GARDENS ON SATURDAY, OCT. 28, 1967. IT WAS THE YEAR OF THE GREAT EXPANSION, AS THE NHL DOUBLED IN SIZE TO 12 TEAMS, AND THE CALIFORNIA SEALS WERE MAKING THEIR FIRST VISIT TO TORONTO. VETERAN CHARLIE HODGE, CLAIMED FROM MONTREAL IN THE EXPANSION DRAFT, PLAYED GOAL FOR CALIFORNIA (ABOVE). SEALS HAD ALSO CLAIMED FORMER LEAF DEFENSEMEN BOB BAUN (NO. 21 ABOVE) AND KENT DOUGLAS (BOTTOM-LEFT). TORONTO BEAT CALIFORNIA 5-2. LEAF GAMES BEGAN AT 8 P.M. BACK THEN AND 1967-68 WAS THE FINAL SEASON THAT HOCKEY NIGHT IN CANADA WENT TO AIR AT 8:30, WITH TWO OR THREE MINUTES LEFT IN THE FIRST PERIOD. BEGINNING IN 1968-69, LEAF GAMES WERE TELECAST IN THEIR ENTIRETY. 

COLOR PHOTOS WERE RARE

THOUGH FULL-COLOR PHOTOGRAPHS ARE COMMON TODAY, THEY WERE EXTREMELY RARE DURING THE MIDDLE-1960’s, WHEN THE NHL WAS STILL A SIX-TEAM LEAGUE. ONE OF MY CLOSEST FRIENDS, JOEL COLOMBY, MAINTAINED HOCKEY SCRAPBOOKS IN THAT ERA AND MADE SURE TO CUT OUT THE UNIQUE NEWSPAPER IMAGES OF PHOTOGRAPHER HAROLD BARKLEY. THE FIRST MAN TO USE STROBE LIGHTING FOR COLOR HOCKEY PHOTOS, BARKLEY HAD A VIRTUAL MONOPOLY ON SUCH DESIGN IN THE 60’s. THE IMAGES BELOW ARE FROM JOEL’S SCRAPBOOKS. MY GOOD PAL, BY THE WAY, IT A 33-YEAR VETERAN OF THE TORONTO SUN SPORTS DEPARTMENT. HE WRITES THE POPULAR “FANTASY FARE” COLUMN IN THE SUNDAY SUN EACH WEEK.   

                                                                      

BOBBY ORR AT 18

RARE NEWSPAPER PHOTOS (BELOW) FROM JOEL’S SCRAPBOOK OF BOBBY ORR IN HIS ROOKIE NHL SEASON, 1966-67. SOON TO BECOME HOCKEY’S GREATEST PLAYER, THE BOSTON BRUINS DEFENSEMAN BROKE INTO THE LEAGUE AT 18 YEARS OF AGE. ORR IS CHASED (BOTTOM-LEFT) BY MAPLE LEAFS CENTRE DAVE KEON AND IS TANGLED UP WITH PETER STEMKOWSKI (RIGHT) – BOTH IMAGES FROM MAPLE LEAF GARDENS.

          

MR. HOCKEY IN 1967

ALSO FROM JOEL’S SCRAPBOOK (BELOW) IS GORDIE HOWE SHOOTING ON PITTSBURGH PENGUINS GOALIE LES BINKLEY IN THE FIRST YEAR OF NHL EXPANSION – THIS FROM A GAME AT DETROIT OLYMPIA ON NOV. 9, 1967. SPRAWLING PITTSBURGH DEFENSEMAN IS AL MacNEIL, WHO WOULD COACH MONTREAL TO THE 1971 STANLEY CUP.

MORE OF MY PHOTOS

BACK ON DEC. 11, I POSTED A BLOG HERE (http://bit.ly/ZbUYNR ) OF PHOTOS I SNAPPED AT MAPLE LEAF GAMES IN THE  LATE-1970’s. ON THE WEEKEND, I CAME ACROSS FOUR OTHER IMAGES. IN THE ABOVE SEQUENCE, CAPTAIN BOBBY CLARKE OF PHILADELPHIA FLYERS STANDS DURING O CANADA BENEATH APPARATUS THAT WAS LOWERED FROM THE GARDENS SCORE-CLOCK. CLARKE THEN FACES OFF AT CENTRE-ICE WITH DAVE (TIGER) WILLIAMS OF THE LEAFS. REFEREE IS WALLY HARRIS. BOTTOM SEQUENCE IS FROM GAMES BETWEEN THE LEAFS AND VANCOUVER CANUCKS. DARRYL SITTLER (27) FACES OFF (BOTTOM-LEFT) AGAINST DON LEVER. TORONTO FORWARD BRUCE BOUDREAU (19, BOTTOM-RIGHT) LOOKS UP-ICE NEXT TO TEAMMATE ERROL THOMPSON AND VANCOUVER’S ANDRE BOUDRIAS. REFEREE IS YOUNG DON KOHARSKI. BOUDREAU, OF COURSE, IS CURRENTLY HEAD COACH OF THE SUCCESSFUL ANAHEIM DUCKS. 

TORONTO BLUE JAYS HYPE AND EXPECTATION

YES, I ACTUALLY HEARD AND READ THIS OVER THE WEEKEND – SATURDAY MORNING TO BE EXACT. THE BLUE JAYS HAD BEEN DEFEATED BY BOSTON THE PREVIOUS NIGHT AT ROGERS CENTRE, FALLING TO 1-and-3 AFTER FOUR GAMES. A NEWSPAPER WEBSITE HERE IN TOWN RAN THE FOLLOWING HEADLINE: “BLUE JAYS SLOW START IS CAUSE FOR CONCERN.” NOW, WE’VE BEEN THROUGH THIS BEFORE IN HOCKEY, WITH MAPLE LEAFS ERUPTING FROM THE GATE TWO AND THREE YEARS AGO. IN OCTOBER 2010, LEAFS WERE 4-0-1 THROUGH FIVE GAMES AND WERE BEING LAUDED FOR AN INCREDIBLE “START” TO THE SEASON. EVERYONE’S FAVORITE COACH – RON WILSON – PRUDENTLY SPLASHED WATER ON THE FIRE, SUGGESTING A “START” IN THE 82-GAME NHL SEASON WAS IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD OF 15 TO 20 GAMES. CAN YOU THUS IMAGINE 1-and-3 BEING A “START” TO THE 162-GAME BASEBALL SEASON?

NOTHING DISPROPORTIONATE REGARDING THE BLUE JAYS, HOWEVER, WILL COME AS A SURPRISE THIS YEAR AFTER THE PHENOMENAL HYPE LEADING INTO THE 2013 CAMPAIGN. IT’S UNDERSTANDABLE WHY THE CLUB’S OWNER – ROGERS COMMUNICATIONS – WENT HOG-WILD AFTER FINALLY OPENING THE VAULT FOR GENERAL MANAGER ALEX ANTHOPOULOS, BUT ANY REASONABLE OBSERVER UNDERSTOOD IT WAS WAY OVER THE TOP. WITHIN THREE DAYS OF ACQUIRING R.A. DICKEY, SPORTSNET HAD PROVIDED MORE INFORMATION ON THE NATIONAL LEAGUE CY YOUNG AWARD WINNER THAN WE KNOW ABOUT OUR CLOSEST FAMILY MEMBERS. HOW COULD DICKEY LOSE TWO GAMES ALL SEASON, LET ALONE IN THE FIRST WEEK?

PERSPECTIVE MIGHT NOW COME IN HANDY, THOUGH ROGERS CREATED A MONSTER WITH OVERBEARING PUBLICITY IN THE OFF-SEASON. IT WILL THEREFORE BE GENUINELY DIFFICULT FOR THE BLUE JAYS TO MEET EXPECTATION, EVEN WITH A MUCH-IMPROVED RECORD IN THE AMERICAN LEAGUE.   

SPORTSNET MAGAZINE ASSURED THE BLUE JAYS 2013 SEASON WAS “GONNA BE FUN” EVEN BEFORE THE FIRST PITCH IN SPRING TRAINING. WHEN DOES HYPE BECOME A DETRIMENT?

HOWARTH/MORRIS A BROADCASTING JEWELL

NO MATTER HOW WELL THE BLUE JAYS FARE THIS SEASON, FANS LISTENING ON THE RADIO (SPORTSNET-590) ARE GOING TO LEARN AN AWFUL LOT ABOUT THE GAME. FROM MY PERSPECTIVE, JERRY HOWARTH AND JACK MORRIS HAVE QUICKLY BECOME THE BEST ON-AIR TANDEM SINCE TOM CHEEK AND JERRY SHARED THE BROADCAST BOOTH. MORRIS, THE FOUR-TIME WORLD SERIES-WINNING PITCHER, HAS A WEALTH OF KNOWLEDGE AND HE CLEARLY WILL NOT SOFT-SOAP AROUND ISSUES. ON SATURDAY, AFTER BLUE JAYS CATCHER J.P. ARENCIBIA TWICE ASKED FIRST-BASE UMPIRE JOHN HIRSCHBECK TO RULE ON A CHECK-SWING IN THE TOP OF THE FIRST INNING, MORRIS QUICKLY SPOKE UP. “A CATCHER HAS TO BE VERY CAREFUL WHEN ASKING FOR HELP BECAUSE IT TENDS TO SHOW UP THE HOME-PLATE UMPIRE,” HE SAID. “WHEN IT HAPPENS TWICE LIKE THIS EARLY IN THE GAME, IT COULD IMPACT THE WAY PITCHES ARE CALLED FOR THE BLUE JAYS.” HOWARTH, NOW INTO HIS 32nd SEASON IN THE BROADCAST BOOTH, HAS THE BASEBALL MEMORY OF AN ELEPHANT AND HE’S BEEN QUICK TO ASK MORRIS ABOUT HIS MONUMENTAL EXPERIENCE IN THE GAME. JERRY AND JACK WILL BE A TREAT FOR BLUE JAYS FANS ALL SEASON.  

BLUE JAYS RADIO BROADCASTER JACK MORRIS THROWS OUT CEREMONIAL PITCH (ABOVE) BEFORE FRIDAY’S BOSTON-TORONTO GAME AT ROGERS CENTER.

THE LONGEST NAME

I ATTENDED FRIDAY NIGHT’S BOSTON-TORONTO BALLGAME AT ROGERS CENTRE AND IT TOOK ME ROUGHLY FIVE INNINGS TO LEARN THE CORRECT PRONUNCIATION OF RED SOX CATCHER JARROD SALTALAMACCHIA. I LISTENED CLOSELY TO PUBLIC ADDRESS ANNOUNCER (AND FORMER RADIO COLLEAGUE) TIM LANGTON EVERY TIME SALTALAMACCHIA CAME TO THE PLATE AND I HAD IT (SALT-A-LA-MAUCKEE-AH) DOWN PAT BY EVENING’S END. OUT OF CURIOSITY, I LOOKED UP THE RED SOX PLAYER ON WIKIPEDIA AND LEARNED HE HAS THE LONGEST SURNAME (14 LETTERS) IN MAJOR LEAGUE HISTORY. DIDN’T SURPRISE ME ONE BIT. 

RED SOX CATCHER JARROD SALTALAMACCHIA (ABOVE AND BELOW) RECEIVES NEW BASEBALL FROM HOME-PLATE UMPIRE BOB DAVIDSON DURING 13-0 POUNDING OF THE BLUE JAYS SUNDAY AFTERNOON. SPORTSNET TV IMAGES

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