Like Yesterday Afternoon

By HOWARD BERGER

TORONTO (May 11) — It was 45 years ago Sunday. Mother’s Day 1970. My mom Sandee was in the prime of her life at age 32. I was 11 and had probably enjoyed brunch with her; my dad Irv and sister Cori.

Late in the day, I was ensconced in front of our Admiral console (a piece of furniture containing a color–TV tube) watching Game 4 of the Stanley Cup final at Boston Garden. Like many, I figured the 1969–70 National Hockey League season would end, as the Bruins held a 3–0 series lead over St. Louis. But, the stubborn Blues — in their third NHL season and coached by Scotty Bowman — were making it tough on Bobby Orr, Phil Esposito and Co. A goal by veteran John Bucyk of the Bruins with 6:32 left in regulation sent the match into overtime, whereupon Orr authored perhaps the most iconic moment — and image — in the game’s history.

At 40 seconds of the first extra period, Orr executed a give–and–go with Derek Sanderson to beat Hall–of–Fame goalie Glenn Hall and win the Stanley Cup. A hockey fan of any age, 4½ decades later, can recognize the legendary photograph — by Ray Lussier of the old Boston Herald–American — of Orr flying horizontally through the air after being flipped by St. Louis defenseman Noel Picard. While covering the 1988 Stanley Cup final between the Bruins and Edmonton Oilers, I walked along Faneuil Hall in Boston and purchased a copy of Lussier’s photo. I arrived at the Garden several hours before Game 3 (on May 22) and spoke with ex–Bruins winger Ed Sandford — then the supervisor of off–ice officials. Without an explanation, we went to the top row of the balcony on one side of the arena, overlooking center–ice, and Ed told me to stay put. He then disappeared up and around a corner. Moments later, Orr poked his head out from a private box and introduced himself. The greatest hockey player that ever lived asked for the famous photo and signed it to me.

It remains (below) among my most cherished items.

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THE GOAL: BOBBY ORR at BOSTON GARDEN — May 10, 1970.

STICKS AND STONES: It was last Sunday that Brandon Prust of the Montreal Canadiens engaged in verbal warfare with NHL referee Brad Watson at the Bell Centre. With his team getting pounded, 6–2, by Tampa Bay in Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Eastern Conference semifinals — and 1:53 left on the clock — Prust was assessed a two–minute minor penalty for tripping and a five–minute major for fighting Braydon Coburn of the Lightning. While in the penalty box, Prust was set upon rather demonstrably by Watson, who wagged his fore–finger at the player.

Afterward, Prust told reporters: “I thought the original call was kind of soft and I let [Watson] know it on the way to the box. He kept provoking me. He came to the box and called me every name in the book. He called me a piece of you–know–what; a mother–fu–er; a coward; said he’d drive me right out of this building. I kept going, ‘Yeah okay… yeah okay.’ He kept on me… he tries to play God.” Watson gave Prust the ‘T’ hand–signal (actually a 10–minute misconduct) and a game misconduct. Prust was fined $5,000 by the NHL and later apologized for his remarks.

It isn’t often today that a referee in the NHL so vehemently loses his composure. If, in fact, Watson called Prust a “piece of sh–” and a “mother–fu–er,” he should be spoken to, according to the longest–serving referee in hockey history. “I’ve never met Brad Watson but I’d be very disappointed if he resorted to that kind of personal attack,” said Ron Wicks, who officiated in the NHL from 1962 to 1988 — on the ice with such legends as Gordie Howe, Jean Beliveau, Bobby Hull, Bobby Orr, Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux. “Hockey is an emotional game — more–so during the playoffs. As a referee, you are the judge and you have to stay under control, even if everybody around you is going nuts.

“Otherwise, ice level becomes an asylum.”

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RON WICKS (RIGHT) POSES WITH FORMER NHL COLLEAGUE BRUCE HOOD AT A HOCKEY LUNCHEON LAST NOVEMBER. HOOD REFEREED THE GAME, 45 YEARS AGO SUNDAY, IN WHICH BOBBY ORR SCORED HIS LEGENDARY STANLEY CUP–WINNING GOAL AGAINST ST. LOUIS.

Confrontational authority and outward aggressiveness are more common among baseball umpires than hockey referees. Of course, NHL coaches cannot run onto the ice to accost an official as can a baseball manager when disputing a call. Many a referee (fan… reporter… player) would have relished the vision of John Tortorella getting rinsed — umpire–like — at mid–ice. But, hockey is more civil in that regard.

“I may have told a player f– off and multiply but I don’t think I gave out half–a–dozen misconducts in my career,” said Wicks. “My way was to try and diffuse situations with humor. I remember Phil Esposito and I got mad once and started calling each other names in Italian. After a few seconds, we broke up laughing. Today is even more difficult for the players. Every game is on TV; every mistake magnified. They get enough sh– from coaches and fans. They don’t need referees making a scene.”

WEEKEND THOUGHTS: I begin with something that truly matters. Rob Ford is undergoing potential life–saving surgery today at Mount Sinai Hospital here in Toronto. Everyone is aware of the polarizing figure that Ford became as mayor of our city between 2010 and 2014. But, none of it should matter when a son, father and husband is on an operating table with a malignant tumor in his abdomen. I hope I’m speaking on behalf of most Torontonians when I wish Ford a speedy recovery and continued good health… In the years since Orr’s famous goal, the Stanley Cup has been won in overtime on seven occasions: 1977 — Jacques Lemaire of Montreal defeating Boston; 1980 — Bob Nystrom of the New York Islanders defeating Philadelphia; 1996 — Uwe Krupp of the Colorado Avalanche defeating Florida; 1999 — Brett Hull of the Dallas Stars defeating Buffalo; 2000 — Jason Arnott of the New Jersey Devils defeating Dallas; 2010 — Patrick Kane of the Chicago Blackhawks defeating Philadelphia and 2014 — Alec Martinez of the Los Angeles Kings defeating the New York Rangers. Fans of the Sabres will go to their graves convinced that only six of the seven should have counted. In 2013, Chicago won the Cup with a quasi–overtime goal when David Bolland scored on Tuukka Rask of Boston at 19:01 of the third period in Game 6 at the TD Garden. It became the latest goal in regulation time to ever win the NHL championship… A scout for an Eastern Conference team — and a well–known former player — told me on the weekend that he’s convinced Mike Babcock will join Bob Nicholson, Peter Chiarelli and Connor McDavid with the Edmonton Oilers. If so, he’d better act quickly. It appears that Edmonton will hire Todd McLellan as coach once the World Hockey Championships in Prague come to an end. McLellan is guiding the Canadian entry. Another NHL employee said, “No chance [Babcock] goes to Edmonton. His wife wants a nice place to live. Mike will end up in San Jose. Remember where you heard it.” And, the guessing game continues… Bruce Arthur of the Toronto Star and TSN offered an intriguing opinion about Babcock in his Monday column: “It’s fine [for the Leafs] to swing at Babcock, because his endorsement would signal that when briefed on what Toronto plans, he would be willing to bite the leather strap, if not forever. But more likely, it would signal that Babcock is in this for money and ego and restaurants — and quite possibly family, to be fair — rather than the central driving focus of his career, and who believes that?” Put Arthur down among the multitudes that think Babcock will not come to Toronto… I’m going to take a not–so–wild stab here: Boston hires a new general manager, who dismisses Claude Julien. The Leafs quickly hire Julien as coach to replace Peter Horachek… The Stanley Cup Western Conference final will be a coaching battle of former Toronto skaters. Bruce Boudreau (Anaheim) and Joel Quenneville (Chicago) played a combined 121 games as Maple Leaf teammates in 1978–79 and 1979–80. Boudreau was a third–round draft pick of the Leafs in 1975 from the junior Toronto Marlboros. He appeared in 134 games — often as a spark–plug recall from the minors — between 1976–77 and 1982–83, registering 27 goals and 69 points. He signed with Chicago as a free agent and finished his career playing seven games with the Blackhawks in 1985–86. The Maple Leafs drafted Quenneville 21st overall from the Windsor Spitfires in 1978. He appeared as a defenseman in 93 games for the club before a hugely unpopular trade to Colorado on Dec. 29, 1979. Quenneville went to the Rockies with Lanny McDonald in exchange for Wilf Paiement and Pat Hickey. Punch Imlach pulled the trigger for the Blue and White…

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JOEL QUENNEVILLE AS A YOUNG DEFENSEMAN WITH THE COLORADO ROCKIES IN 1980.

After years of falling short with Washington and Anaheim, Boudreau is coaching for the first time in the Stanley Cup semifinals. I’m sticking with my pre–playoff prediction of the Ducks and New York Rangers in the championship round, though I was less–than confident about the latter team a few days ago… The Capitals and Rangers will conclude an increasingly memorable Conference semifinal with Game 7 Wednesday at Madison Square Garden beginning at 7:30 p.m. EDT. CBC will have the game here in Canada; NBC Sports Network in the United States… Boudreau scored two playoff goals for the Maple Leafs — one against the New York Islanders in 1981 and another against the Minnesota North Stars in 1983 at Maple Leaf Gardens. Somehow, 32 years later, I can close my eyes and still see “Gabby” jumping up and down on his skates after the second goal… Terrific news for all hockey fans: Nancy Bower, wife of Leafs legend Johnny Bower, is resting comfortably after a brief stay at Credit Valley Hospital in Mississauga, Ont. John Bower, the grandson of Nancy and Johnny, tells me today, “Grandma is back at home — 90 percent recovered from her pneumonia — and is slowly getting back on her feet. Obviously JB1 is a lot better these days with Grandma back home. Hope this helps! Thanks again for your thoughts about the family!”… The San Jose Sharks were hatched 25 years ago last week (May 5, 1990) when the NHL allowed George Gund and Gordon Gund — co–owners of the Minnesota North Stars — to re–locate in northern California. Ultimately, the Gunds were awarded an expansion team for the 1991–92 season while World Hockey Association pioneer, Howard Baldwin, briefly took over proprietorship of the North Stars. Baldwin had done all of the initial groundwork in San Jose but the league chose to give the new club to an existing partner. Baldwin sold the North Stars to Norm Green, with whom he did not get along. Green moved the team to Dallas for the 1993–94 season… During his six–weeks in Minnesota, Baldwin hired Bobby Clarke as general manager and Bob Gainey as coach. That duo took the North Stars to the 1991 Stanley Cup final, where they lost to Mario Lemieux and the Pittsburgh Penguins…

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NANCY BOWER (RIGHT), PICTURED LAST DECEMBER WITH SALLIE BAUN (WIFE OF FORMER LEAFS DEFENSEMAN BOB BAUN) IS HOME FROM HOSPITAL AFTER A BOUT OF PNEUMONIA.

The continued success of the Chicago Blackhawks should warm the hearts of bedraggled Maple Leaf fans. Until the spring of 2010, Chicago held the longest Stanley Cup drought (49 years). The ‘Hawks defeated Philadelphia to end the streak and are in the Cup semifinals this spring for the fourth time since then. Toronto now owns the lengthiest Cup famine (48 years and counting) but the Leafs are merely a Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews and Duncan Keith removed from turning the trick themselves. No problem, huh?… Heard the argument again this week (heavy sigh) that the Leafs and St. Louis Blues share the longest Stanley Cup drought. Let’s go over the logic for the millionth time: The night the Maple Leafs last won the Cup — May 2, 1967 — St. Louis wasn’t yet part of the NHL and could not compete for the mug until the spring of 1968. So, I ask those still confused: How can the Blues share the dubious mark with Toronto?… The Boston Red Sox were in town over the weekend to play the forever–.500 Toronto Blue Jays. It’s difficult to fathom the Sox winning the World Series just two years ago. Not with a pitching staff that would now struggle in Double–A. Boston is also razor–thin at catcher, with veteran starter Ryan Hanigan on the 60–day disabled list (fractured hand). I was a bit surprised the Red Sox did not try to re–claim Jarrod Saltalamacchia last week when he was released by Florida. Saltalamacchia caught the 2013 championship team and was popular in Beantown. Instead, he signed a minor–league contract with the Arizona Diamondbacks… Having watched multiple broadcast tandems during the 2015 Stanley Cup playoffs, I’m not certain there’s a better one than Rick Ball and John Garrett, who called the Tampa Bay–Detroit seven–game series north of the border. Ball is TV voice of the Calgary Flames and he worked, part time, for Hockey Night In Canada before Rogers Communications acquired 12 years of national rights this season. His voice and cadence are as good as anyone in the business. Garrett has been a long–time TV analyst at Hockey Night and Sportsnet. I had the honor of working with “Cheech” during the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics. Yours truly; Hall–of–Famer Peter Maher, Garrett and current Buffalo Sabres TV voice Dan Dunleavy handled the radio wing of the Rogers/TSN broadcast consortium. We were doing our bit at Rogers Arena (or Canada Hockey Place, as it was known during the Olympics) when Sidney Crosby scored the “golden goal” on Feb. 28, 2010. What a terrific memory… Gord Miller and Chris Cuthbert of TSN have frequently (and awkwardly) appeared on Sportsnet during the playoffs — both doing freelance work for NBC. It’s hard to keep good men down… Speaking of a good man, here’s a way to save NHL commissioner Gary Bettman some time (and grief from cat–callers): Give the Conn Smythe Trophy right now to Corey Perry… In the past 15 minutes, the Blue Jays have shuffled half–a–dozen pitchers back–and–forth between Toronto and Triple–A Buffalo. Well, not really. But, I probably could have fooled you…

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COREY PERRY (10, FACING CAMERA) IS THE BEST HOCKEY PLAYER ON THE PLANET RIGHT NOW. HERE, HE REJOICES WITH ANAHEIM DUCK TEAMMATES AFTER SCORING IN OVERTIME TO ELIMINATE CALGARY FROM THE STANLEY CUP PLAYOFFS SUNDAY NIGHT AT THE HONDA CENTER. MICHAEL GOULDING THE ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER/THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

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One comment on “Like Yesterday Afternoon

  1. I too was eleven watching that game on my parents portable colour television set in their bedroom, and WOW, 45 years! Yes Orr was one of the greats, but Gordie was the greatest! He was top ten in NHL scoring longer than even Bobby played the game.
    Great to see Nancy Bower on the mend, they are the Maple Leafs royal couple!
    Now with regards to the former mayor, everybody wishes him well, but the “son, father, husband” line, come on Howard, some example!

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