A Bloodcurdling Notion

TORONTO (Mar. 8) — While much of the world around us has descended into a vortex of inhumanity, we here in the great white north bask in relative calm. Our newly–elected leader isn’t threatening to “water–board” his enemies; we aren’t chopping off the heads of — or drowning in cages — those that differ politically and ethnically; refugees from war–torn Syria have been enveloped in love and affection… and our streets are thankfully quiet. By and large, society north of the 49th parallel follows rule and order.

Here in Toronto, however, law–enforcement will be on high alert in the evening and overnight hours of Saturday, Apr. 30. Our local service and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police have been appropriately warned. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau understands he may have to follow his father’s apocalyptic example from 1970, when Pierre Elliott Trudeau invoked the War Measures Act during the “October Crisis” involving the Front de liberation du Quebec (FLQ). In the event reinforcements are required, three levels of government have appealed to the National Guard in the United States. Shops, restaurants and retail outlets along Yonge St. south of Bloor Ave. will be urged to erect prison–like bars outside their entrances.

All of this in the event of an Edmonton Oilers logo appearing on TV screens from coast to coast. Yet again. In the hands of a bemused and horrified Bill Daly — deputy commissioner of the National Hockey League.

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Sorry if I alarmed you but it’s not too early to think outside the box. As the Toronto Maple Leafs plummet deeper into the NHL basement, a shiver runs up and down my spine. The largest TV audience in the history of southern Ontario will gather on the first Saturday of the Stanley Cup playoffs for the annual NHL draft lottery. Barring a miracle, the Leafs will command the highest percentage–odds (20.0) among the 14 non–playoff teams of “winning” the lottery and commencing the 2016 draft in neighboring Buffalo. Only once before — in 1985 — did Toronto own such a privilege; awarded, then, by merely placing dead–last in the overall standings. The team with the fewest regular–season points chose No. 1; Leafs earning the entitlement with a paltry 48. By coincidence, the 1985 event was held at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre — Wendel Clark, a defenseman with Saskatoon of the Western Hockey League, the top prize.

The draft lottery is designed, ideally, to preclude bottom–rung teams from “tanking” late in the season. A further wrinkle this year will determine the top three selections in the first round (rather than merely No. 1) and will allow for the 30th–place club to select as low as fourth overall. It doesn’t however, hamper a spirited bid to place as far down as possible — the Maple Leafs, for a second consecutive year, trading veteran, NHL–caliber players for future components while giddily spiraling toward the nether regions.

As of today, the gap between Toronto and the rest of the NHL is six points (53–59). If all goes according to “plan,” that margin will be 10–15 by season’s end. To merely equal the pathetic outfit of a year ago that white–flagged two coaches, the Leafs must accumulate 15 points in their final 17 games. Quite a stretch, given the club is 1–8–2 in its past 11. You’ve heard of an “embarrassment of riches?” This is a “richness of embarrassment” for patient Toronto rooters. Biblical embarrassment. Yet, it’s all good — providing the draft lottery Gods next month are compassionate. If they aren’t? Well… it curdles my blood.

A Calgary logo… a Buffalo logo… a Winnipeg logo… discouraging, yet manageable.

An Edmonton logo popping up No. 1 again threatens the loss of civil restraint.

Let us pray.

MEETING “MINNIE”

One of the hockey names from my youth came to life on Monday during the monthly NHL Alumni lunch in Markham, north of Toronto. I was introduced to Howie Menard, 73, a native of Timmins, Ont. and original member of the Los Angeles Kings during the expansion season of 1967–68. Nicknamed “Minnie” for his smallish frame (5–foot–6, 160 pounds), Menard appeared in 35 of the Kings 74 games that initial year and put up a respectable 24 points. He later went to the Chicago Black Hawks and Oakland Seals; then was selected by Buffalo from Oakland in the 1970 expansion draft (though he never played with the Sabres).

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MY PHOTO OF HOWIE MENARD AT THE NHL ALUMNI GATHERING ON MONDAY.

Some quick research in THE HOCKEY NEWS revealed that Menard was called up by the Kings from Springfield of the American Hockey League for a game against St. Louis on Jan. 11, 1968. The best performance of his abbreviated NHL career occurred eight nights later when New York visited Los Angeles. In just the fourth hockey game at the new Forum in Inglewood, Calif., Howie scored twice and set up two others as the Kings upset the Rangers (summary and incorrect date, below; the game was Jan. 19, 1968).

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Howie’s big night was written up in THE HOCKEY NEWS:

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Menard began his NHL career in a three–game stint with Detroit in 1963–64. And though he only appeared in 151 games overall, he can boast — all these years later — of being teammates with Gordie Howe (Detroit), Terry Sawchuk (Los Angeles) and Bobby Hull (Chicago). Not too shabby.

YOUNG LOU

Also from THE HOCKEY NEWS (Dec. 29, 1972), I came upon this image of Maple Leafs general manager Lou Lamoriello from his days running the hockey program at Providence College. Lots of hair. Businesslike countenance, as always. Lou would have been 30 at the time:

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RSCN0278-2  16-lounowLOU THEN; LOU TODAY.

EMAIL: HOWARDLBERGER@GMAIL.COM

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