Sad Week For the NHL

By HOWARD BERGER

TORONTO (Nov. 27) — The National Hockey League “family” — as it likes to be known — has lost three prominent members since Sunday.

Given his involvement in the game, professionally and internationally, the death of Pat Quinn resonated across Canada and into the United States. No less significant was the passing of former NHL players Murray Oliver and Gilles Tremblay. In a somber twist of fate, Oliver, 77, died suddenly of a heart attack in Minnesota Sunday night shortly before Quinn succumbed to a lengthy illness at Vancouver General Hospital.

“I can’t believe that [Murray] and Pat passed away within hours of each other,” Oliver’s widow, Helen, told the Monday Hamilton Spectator.

Both men were natives of the Steel City at the west end of Lake Ontario; later teammates in junior and in the NHL. When Quinn and Oliver played with the Toronto Maple Leafs in 1968–69 and 1969–70, the big man watched over his smaller friend. A slight 5–foot–9, 165 pounds, Oliver occasionally got under the skin of opposing players. The 6–foot–3, 215–pound Quinn was there for support. “Pat would come over [to a scrum] and say ‘Is there a problem here?'” Helen Oliver told the Spectator.

Gilles Tremblay, dead at 75, won four Stanley Cup titles as a diligent forward with the Canadiens in the 1960’s. He passed early Wednesday at home in Repentigny, Que. — an off–island suburb of Montreal.

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MURRAY OLIVER PLAYED THREE SEASONS WITH THE MAPLE LEAFS (ABOVE) BEFORE BECOMING A FIXTURE WITH THE MINNESOTA NORTH STARS (BELOW) IN THE EARLY–1970’s.

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Known throughout the hockey world as “Muzz,” Oliver was a steady; at times prolific and much–underrated forward with Boston in the 60’s — finishing among the top ten NHL scorers in three seasons. His best year, 1963–64, saw him place seventh in points with 68 (in 70 games), behind Stan Mikita, Bobby Hull, Jean Beliveau, Andy Bathgate, Gordie Howe and Kenny Wharram. All but Wharram are in the Hockey Hall of Fame. Boston traded Oliver to the Maple Leafs for the irrepressible Eddie Shack on May 15, 1967 — just 13 days after Toronto won its last Stanley Cup.

Oliver may be the only player in Maple Leafs history to not miss a single game in his years with the team. He appeared in all 226 regular–season matches from 1967–68 through 1969–70 and in four playoff games during the infamous first–round series with Boston in April 1969. We were reminded of that Bruins sweep after Quinn died, for it was Quinn that knocked out Bobby Orr with a flying shoulder/elbow smash in the opening game at Boston Garden, inciting a wild melee in the third period that featured Toronto scrapper Forbes Kennedy. That series is also remembered for Boston winning the first two matches 10–0 and 7–0… and for Leafs owner Stafford Smythe firing general manager/coach Punch Imlach after the finale at Maple Leaf Gardens on Apr. 6, 1969.

During much of his time in a Leafs jersey, Oliver played left–wing on a forward unit with Bob Pulford and Dave Keon — all three natural centers. Murray’s best season here was 1968–69 when he compiled 14 goals and 36 assists for 50 points. Maple Leafs GM Jim Gregory traded Oliver to Minnesota for Brian Conacher, Terry O’Malley and cash on May 22, 1970.

When Quinn was GM and coach of the Maple Leafs, he brought his life–long pal back to the club. Oliver served as a pro scout for four seasons (2000–01 to 2003–04). It was during this time that I had the privilege of getting to know Murray. He was a soft–spoken man with a wry sense of humor and I’ll long remember the compelling conversations we had about the game during intermissions in the Air Canada Centre press box.

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MURRAY OLIVER’S TOPPS HOCKEY CARD IN 1966–67.

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OLIVER (BOTTOM–LEFT) AND QUINN (UPPER–RIGHT) IN MAPLE LEAFS 1969–70 TEAM PHOTO.

Gilles Tremblay was an exceptional skater for Montreal during the so–called “lost dynasty” of the Canadiens — the club that won four Stanley Cup titles in five years between 1964–65 and 1968–69. Had the Maple Leafs not upset Montreal in 1967, this version of the Habs would have tied the club and NHL record of five consecutive championships. It is called the “lost dynasty” because the late–60’s teams were not considered as prolific or complete as the five–time champions of 1956–1960 or the Scotty Bowman–led powerhouse that captured four consecutive titles between 1976 and 1979. This rings particularly true in goal, where Charlie Hodge, Gump Worsley and a young Rogatien Vachon shared duties between Jacques Plante and, later, Ken Dryden.

Tremblay was the less–heralded of two Montreal players with the identical surname. Jean–Claude (or J.C.) Tremblay was an all-star defenseman with the Canadiens of the late–60’s and early–70’s and later a mega–force with Quebec of the World Hockey Association. But, Gilles also had some big seasons in Montreal, scoring at least 22 goals on five occasions. His best year was 1961–62 when he had 32 goals and 54 points in 70 games. A severe asthmatic condition forced Tremblay into retirement midway through the 1968–69 season. In 1971, he began a distinguished broadcasting career of 27 years when he teamed with the legendary Rene Lecavalier for Saturday–night telecasts on La Soiree du Hockey — the French version of Hockey Night In Canada. Lecavalier and Tremblay are members of the Hockey Hall of Fame, having been honored with the Foster Hewitt Award for broadcasting excellence.

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GILLES TREMBLAY PLAYED ON MONTREAL’S “LOST DYNASTY” OF 1965–1969. HE IS PICTURED (BELOW) AT FAR–RIGHT OF THE MIDDLE ROW IN HABS 1967–68 STANLEY CUP PHOTO.

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MY BAD: I should know better than to make a statement of alleged fact before checking with Scotty Bowman. In my photo–blog tribute to Pat Quinn (here: http://bit.ly/1tieg3i), I showed an image of the young defenceman from the St. Louis Blues inaugural media guide in 1967–68. In the cut–line, I assumed it was Bowman who decided that Quinn wasn’t good enough to make the expansion club. For that, I probably deserve a good smack. Instead, I received a friendly email from Bowman, setting me straight (and not for the first time):

“Pat Quinn never reported to the Blues training camp in 1967. He and [fellow defenceman] Al Arbour did not report as the late Lynn Patrick was GM and refused to give them the contracts they desired. I was assistant GM and assistant coach [to Patrick] at the time and did not do contracts. Al was looking for a three–year [deal] and after a couple of weeks, he signed that [length of] contract with Lynn, which proved to be one of the best things that happened for the Blues. Al became captain and mentored our young defensemen, especially Barclay and Bob Plager.

“We purchased the rights to Pat from Montreal, where he had played for [the Canadiens] development team in Houston (as well as Seattle, on loan from Montreal the previous season). After the brief hold–out, Lynn agreed to loan Pat to Punch Imlach of the Leafs to play on their development team in Tulsa. The Leafs liked [what they saw in Pat] and a trade was completed [with Toronto] for the rights to Dickie Moore. (NOTE: Moore, the Hall–of–Fame winger of the Canadiens’ Cup dyanasty from 1956–1960, played 38 games for the Maple Leafs in 1964–65, then was out of hockey in the two seasons prior to expansion). Dickie played [27 games] for us in the regular season and then had a great playoff [in 1968] — scoring seven goals (and 14 points) as the Blues went to the Stanley Cup final against Montreal.

“Thus, I did not jettison Pat out of St. Louis. Thought you’d appreciate the enclosed.”

If you’re wondering why half the civilized world has pestered Scotty through the years about writing his memoir, now you know.

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SCOTTY BOWMAN’S BIO IN THE 1967–68 ST. LOUIS BLUES MEDIA GUIDE.

MY BAD — 2: When the Leafs beat Detroit, 4-1, on Saturday at Air Canada Centre, all eyes were fixed on the Toronto players. Would they mosey off the ice without saluting their fans for a second consecutive game, having caused a sh—storm two nights earlier after a win over Tampa Bay? Or, would they make the supreme sacrifice and raise their sticks once again? In a blog I posted immediately after the game, I noted that Stephane Robidas appeared to be arguing with Dion Phaneuf as players were congratulating goalie Jonathan Bernier. Given that Phaneuf had told reporters the end–of–game salute would likely not continue, I surmised that Robidas — a respected leader throughout his career — may have been talking the captain out of such a plan. Seconds later, the Leafs offered their patrons a half–hearted “thanks for showing up” before leaving the ice. The planets were once again aligned.

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STEPHANE ROBIDAS (12) SEEMS HIGHLY ANNOYED AT DION PHANEUF SECONDS AFTER THE FINAL HORN ON SATURDAY NIGHT AT AIR CANADA CENTRE. CBC/ROGERS

Alas, my suspicion — based on the apparent video evidence (above) — may have been a tad premature. An email arrived not long afterward from a gentleman within the Leafs organization claiming that Phaneuf had told him, Saturday morning, the players would raise their sticks. This, of course, was a classic he–said–she–said, but I’ve known and respected the man long enough to take the message at face–value.

Sorry Dion.

Of arguably greater import are fairly decent performances by the Maple Leafs captain the past two games, including Wednesday night’s overtime loss at Pittsburgh. In a pre–game interview with Scott Oake of Hockey Night In Canada on Saturday, Phaneuf would not take the bait and harp on the arena snub 48 hours earlier. Oake asked the perfect question: “Dion, if you had to do it over, would the club have responded differently?” Phaneuf — stone–faced as ever — replied, “We’re here to try and get a big two points tonight.” And that the Leafs did… convincingly.

In Wednesday night’s game at the Consol Energy Center, the Leafs fought back from a 2–0 hole in the first period to grab a well–earned point before Pittsburgh won, 4–3, at 2:53 of overtime on Blake Comeau’s third of the match. Phaneuf had ridden Sidney Crosby out of the play in the right–wing corner, but Crosby worked his way back to the Leafs goal and distracted Bernier on Comeau’s shot from inside the right point.

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CROSBY IS TAKEN OUT OF THE PLAY IN THE CORNER BY PHANEUF, BUT REGAINS HIS FEET AND HEADS TO THE SIDE OF THE MAPLE LEAFS NET…

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CROSBY WAVES HIS STICK IN FRONT OF JONATHAN BERNIER AND DISTRACTS THE GOALIE WHILE BLAKE COMEAU’S SHOT SAILS HIGH INTO THE NET. SPORTSNET IMAGES

RUSKIES UNITE

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SPORTSNET GRABBED A TERRIFIC SHOT IN THE WARM–UP WEDNESDAY AS FELLOW RUSSIANS LEO KOMAROV OF THE LEAFS AND EVGENI MALKIN SHARED A JOKE AT CENTER ICE.

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