By HOWARD BERGER
TORONTO (Mar. 20) — On the afternoon of Feb. 7, after another dreadful, unresponsive performance at New Jersey the previous night, I wrote in this space that the Maple Leafs should fire their second coach in just more than a month. Peter Horachek had assumed the role upon the dismissal — Jan. 6 — of Randy Carlyle and the Leafs had simply gotten worse and worse. The 4–1 debacle at Newark was Horachek’s 13th game behind the Toronto bench. His coaching record stood at 1–11–1 with still 29 games left on the schedule — 15 in front of the audience that forks over the highest ticket price in the National Hockey League.
Given the Leafs had not responded even tepidly to Horachek — and though the season was well beyond salvation — I felt there was no credibility to preserving the interim coach. With more than one–third of the home schedule remaining, fans at the Air Canada Centre deserved a transparent effort from management to show that tickets were still “worth” something. Surely another person could summon more from the players than Horachek — one of two assistants appointed for Carlyle after his chosen alternates (Greg Cronin and Scott Gordon) had been sent packing last summer. Most others vehemently disagreed, telling me that no hockey person alive could motivate this contemptible collection.
Y’now what? They were right. And I was wrong. Dead wrong.
MY EARLY–FEBRUARY ASSESSMENT OF PETER HORACHEK WAS WRONG — TOP TO BOTTOM.
Scotty Bowman and Al Arbour — together in the prime of their coaching careers — would have flopped with this untenable group. It is nearly criminal (a word I’ve used on more than one occasion this season) for the Leafs so–called “top” players to collect salary based on performance the past three months. Just how Phil Kessel, Tyler Bozak, James van Riemsdyk and Joffrey Lupul can comfortably look themselves in the mirror is perplexing. I exclude Dion Phaneuf from my list because he provides an honest effort most nights. While I’m sure it’s disheartening to skate for a club in tear–down mode, the aforementioned players could have prevented the grand scale of this disaster. Instead, they opted — for reasons inexplicable — to begin coasting after a 6–2 rout of Anaheim at the ACC on Dec. 16. The Leafs were 10–1–1 in 12 games and appeared to have everything to play for. Why the most lavishly compensated, in particular, began to quit two nights later in Raleigh, N.C. is a mystery that management has wisely chosen not to solve. Dramatic change — however permissible in the salary cap world — is the club’s only option.
Horachek, therefore, is victim rather than accomplice. And, I owe him an apology. Given his situation, he could have easily made excuses for the multi–millionaires that so blatantly packed it in three months ago. With not a shred of employment security beyond Apr. 12, Horachek might have been the “good guy” softening the blow for his players — even as they performed so dishonorably. Instead, he has shown uncompromising enmity for the Leafs appalling condition; speaking out, as he should, against those that have defrauded the club’s loyal rooters. Horachek knows, like all of us, that his “stars” long ago began their summer vacation. Despite clearly walking the plank in these hideous final weeks, he has retained credibility, self–esteem and — we hope — sanity.
This portion of Horachek’s career will not reflect well on his resume. Those that understand the game, however, will look deeper and find a very good man. I mistakenly did not recognize that back in February.
EXPANSION GLOSSIES: 1967–68 to 1969–70
During the 1960’s, 70’s, 80’s and 90’s — in the pre–digital age — National Hockey League teams would provide the media with 8×10–inch glossy, black–and–white photos of players and staff. In my early years at The FAN–590, I wrote to the individual teams and requested these images. In the years prior to my radio career, I accumulated much older photos at sports collector shows. In fact, I have four large binders in my collection that feature expansion teams, several of which (California Seals, Minnesota North Stars, Atlanta Flames, Kansas City Scouts, Colorado Rockies, Cleveland Barons) no longer exist or have re–located. I’d like to share some of them — beginning with the early expansion era in the NHL: 1967–1970. How many of these names do you recall as players?
b. Feb. 4, 1944 — Ottawa, Ont. — Current Age: 71.
Appeared in five games with Toronto before going to California in 1967 expansion draft.
b. Nov. 3, 1932 — Cudworth, Sask. / d. Mar. 21, 2006. Age: 73.
Played with Toronto Maple Leafs 1964 Stanley Cup team.
b. July 29, 1935 — Toronto, Ont. / d. Sep. 20, 2001. Age: 65.
Won Stanley Cup in 1962–63–64 with Toronto Maple Leafs.
b. Oct. 21, 1934 — Ottawa, Ont. — Current Age: 80.
Scored Los Angeles Kings first goal — vs. Philadelphia, at Long Beach Arena — Oct. 14, 1967.
b. Jan. 5, 1942 — Barrie, Ont. / d. Oct. 5, 2004. Age: 62.
Shared Los Angeles goaltending with Hall–of–Famer Terry Sawchuk in 1967–68.
b. May 8, 1940 — St. Albert, Alta. — Current Age: 74.
Led expansion Los Angeles Kings with 57 points in 1967–68.
b. July 21, 1943 — Vermillion, Alta. / d. July 12, 1999. Age: 55.
Led expansion Los Angeles Kings with 26 goals in 1967–68.
b. Nov. 13, 1938 — Kirkland Lake, Ont. / d. Nov. 24, 1990. Age: 52.
Minnesota, in 1968–69, was his third of four NHL stops (Chicago, New York, Philadelphia).
b. Sep. 19, 1936 — Cadomin, Alta. / d. Sep. 18, 2014. Age: 67.
Member of Toronto Maple Leafs during 1967 Stanley Cup playoffs.
b. Apr. 3, 1945 — Montreal, Que. — Current Age: 69.
Born two days before his Flyers goaltending partner, Doug Favell.
b. Apr. 5, 1945 — St. Catharines, Ont. — Current Age: 69.
Born two days after his Flyers goaltending partner, Bernie Parent.
b. Mar. 28, 1937 — Kingston, Ont. — Current Age: 77.
Younger brother (by three years) of Don Cherry.
b. Aug. 13, 1949 — Flin Flon, Man. — Current Age: 65.
His rookie photo, here, from 1969–70.
b. Aug. 28, 1932 — Winnipeg, Man. — Current Age: 82.
Tied Bobby Hull for NHL scoring title (84 points) in 1961–62 but lost on goals (50–28).
b. June 19, 1940 — Sundridge, Ont. / d. Dec. 9, 2003. Age: 69.
Played 532 NHL games from 1961–62 to 1974–75 with Montreal, Pittsburgh and Atlanta.
b. Sep. 2, 1943 — High River, Alta. — Current Age: 71.
Played in all 76 games with Pittsburgh in 1969–70, scoring 12 goals.
b. Oct. 21, 1949 — Malartic, Que. / d. Apr. 13, 1971. Age: 21.
After a superb rookie season in Pittsburgh, a car crash on May 15, 1970 ultimately took his life.
b. Oct. 3, 1931 — Humboldt, Sask. — Current Age: 83.
His NHL record of 502 consecutive starts with Detroit and Chicago will never be broken.
b. May 4, 1933 — Rossland, B.C. / d. Sep. 6, 2014. Age: 81.
Veteran of Canadian national team appeared in 30 games with the expansion Blues of 1967–68.
b. Nov. 1, 1932 — Sudbury, Ont. — Current Age: 82.
First captain of the Blues played in all 74 games of inaugural NHL season — 1967–68.
b. Dec. 8, 1939 — Regina, Sask. — Current Age: 75.
Scored NHL–record–tying six goals against Doug Favell, at Philadelphia, Nov. 7, 1968.
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