TORONTO (Dec. 23) — How unusual it was, still, to see the once–proud Colorado Avalanche looking so downtrodden and hopeless against the Maple Leafs on Thursday night. A 6–0 loss at the Pepsi Center flattered the home team while cementing its place at the bottom of the National Hockey League standings.
What has become of the former Quebec Nordiques franchise that took Denver by storm upon re–location in 1995 — immediately winning the Stanley Cup, and then repeating five years later? The team of Patrick Roy, Joe Sakic, Peter Forsberg, Rob Blake and Raymond Bourque; all members of the Hockey Hall of Fame? Moreover, how has it gotten so horrible in the Mile High City? Didn’t the Avalanche follow the boilerplate strategy of the salary cap era by bottoming out for half–a–decade; missing the playoffs in six of the past seven years and stockpiling coveted picks near the top of the NHL draft? Isn’t that the so–called “Shanaplan” here in Toronto? The blueprint of the struggling Edmonton Oilers? And, hasn’t it worked marvelously for the Chicago Blackhawks of Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews — three–time Stanley Cup champion since 2010?
It is said today that if a team can put together a solid nucleus of half–a–dozen players, including an elite defenseman and dependable goaltender, it should be able to thrive in the NHL. Well, hasn’t Colorado effectively done that since 2009 — drafting Matt Duchene, Tyson Barrie, Nathan MacKinnon and Gabriel Landeskog? Should that foursome take a back–seat to Morgan Rielly, William Nylander, Mitch Marner and Auston Matthews? If so, then surely not by many lengths. Why, then, are the Leafs considered a young, burgeoning team while the Avs are — in the words of MacKinnon — “embarrassing” themselves nightly?
WHAT HAS BECOME OF THE COLORADO AVALANCHE, ONCE A PERENNIAL STANLEY CUP CONTENDER?
It’s a question without an easy answer.
Particularly after it appeared, merely three seasons ago, that Colorado had become a Stanley Cup threat once again — finishing second to Boston in the 2013–14 NHL standings with a 52–22–8 record for 112 points. Semyon Varlamov may not be another Roy between the pipes (who is?), but neither is he a sieve. Varlamov has ranked in the “dependable” category through much of his nine–year NHL term with Washington and Colorado. In 2013–14, he compiled a record of 41–14–6 and a 2.41 goals–against average. Middling netminders don’t often accomplish that. Has he suddenly forgotten how to play the position?
Clearly, there’s been turmoil off the ice with the Avalanche since that season. Roy — next to John Elway, arguably the most–revered athlete in Denver sports history — coached the team and pioneered the now–common practice of removing a goalie for a sixth attacker with more than 90 seconds to play in a one–goal game. Roy suddenly resigned as coach and V–P of hockey operations last August, apparently catching his boss (and former Cup teammate) Sakic off guard. The Avs replaced Roy behind the bench with Jared Bednar, coach of the defending American Hockey League–champion Lake Erie Monsters. Poor Bednar looked like he was battling PTSD (post–traumatic stress disorder) every time the TV camera focused on him Thursday night.
The Mile High disaster was a subject of the TSN intermission panel during the Leafs rout of the Avalanche. Jeff O’Neill, who scored 237 goals as a winger in the NHL from 1995 to 2007, had difficulty putting his finger on it. “That team is absolutely terrible and it shouldn’t be,” said O’Neill, flanked by James Duthie, Darren Dreger and Dave Poulin. “There must be a problem in the dressing room. It’s the only way I can figure it.”
Whatever the issue, something is rotten in Denmark… or, in this case, Denver.
IT WAS NO CONTEST AT THE PEPSI CENTER THURSDAY, AS TORONTO DEMOLISHED COLORADO, 6–0.
The Avalanche has joined the Oilers as a cautionary tale for fans of the Maple Leafs. Though it appears Brendan Shanahan, Lou Lamoriello and Mike Babcock have the Blue and White pointed northward, there are no guarantees in the NHL. Even when a club seems to be constructing itself properly and traditionally.
Only time will tell whether this is a downward blip for the ailing Colorado franchise… and whether the Maple Leafs will ascend from their decade–long quagmire by following virtually the same path.
WRESTLING NIGHTS AT MAPLE LEAF GARDENS
For no reason other than some benign nostalgia, I posted this old newspaper wrestling ad from 1971 on my Facebook page… and it went freakin’ viral. Practically every Baby Boomer “friend” of mine commented on the names in the ad, remembering Frank Tunney’s Sunday–night wrestling shows at Maple Leaf Gardens.
The wrestling heyday of my youth occurred between 1969 and 1972 when a used–car salesman from Detroit named Eddie Farhat — billed as The Sheik — could not be conquered by even the greatest of opposition. A stroke of genius by the promoter Tunney and his son, Jack, kept The Sheik as a headliner at the Gardens for more than three years, and drew crowds in excess of 14,000 to most Sunday–night cards (not infrequently selling out the home of the Toronto Maple Leafs). Accompanied by his manager, Abdullah Farouk (aka The Weasel; real name Ernie Roth), The Sheik was our city’s most notorious villain in the early–70’s.
For the apparent multitudes that vividly (and fondly) recall that era, here’s a rundown on the characters of the wrestling ring — the overwhelming majority of whom have since passed on:
THE SHEIK: Real name — Eddie Farhat. Died in January 2003. Would be 92 years old today.
ABDULLAH FAROUK: Real name — Ernie Roth. Died in 1993. Would be 90 today.
WHIPPER BILLY WATSON: Real name — William Potts. Died in 1990. Would be 101.
BOBO BRAZIL: Real name — Houston Harris. Died in 1998. Would be 92.
DICK (BULLDOG) BROWER: Real name — Richard Gland. Died in 1997. Would be 83.
LORD ATHOL LAYTON: Real name — same. Died in 1984. Would be 95.
TEX McKENZIE: Real name — Hugh McKenzie. Died in 2001. Would be 88.
HAYSTACK CALHOUN: Real name — William Dee Calhoun. Died in 1989. Would be 82 today.
WILD BULL CURRY: Real name — Fred Thomas Koury Sr. Died in 1985. Would be 103.
FLYING FRED CURRY (Bull’s son): Real name — Fred Thomas Koury Jr. Still alive. Age 73.
SWEET DADDY SIKI: Real name — same. Still Alive. Age 76.
TIGER JEET SINGH: Real name — Jagjeet Singh Hans. Still alive. Age 68.
IVAN KALMIKOFF: Real name — Edward Bogucki. Died in 1996. Would be 98.
FRED ATKINS: Real name — Fred Atkinson. Died in 1988. Would be 106 today.
THE BEAST: Real name — Yvon Cormier. Died in 2009. Would be 78.
JOHNNY VALENTINE: Real name — John Wisniski. Died in 2001. Would be 88.
THE MIGHTY IGOR: Real name — Dick Garza. Died in 2002. Would be 85.
DEWEY ROBERTSON: Real name — Byron James Robertson. Died in 2007. Would be 76.
GENE KINISKI: Real name — same. Died in 2010. Would be 88 today.
ANGELO (KING KONG) MOSCA: Real name — same. Still alive. Age 79.
PAMPERO FIRPO: Real name — Juan Kachmanian. Still alive. Age 86.
CHIEF JAY STRONGBOW: Real name — Luke Joseph Scarpa. Died in 2012. Would be 88.
TONY PARISI: Real name — Antonio Pugliese. Died in 2000. Would be 75.
ERNIE (THE CAT) LADD: Real name — same. Died in 2007. Would be 76 today.
GEORGE (CRYBABY) CANNON: Real name — George McCArther. Died in 1994. Would be 84.
KILLER KOWALSKI: Real name — Edward Spulnik. Died in 2008. Would be 90.
KURT von HESS: Real name — Bill Terry. Died in 1999. Would be 74.
HANS SCHMIDT: Real name — Guy Larose. Died in 2012. Would be 91.
LOU THESZ: Real name — Aloysius Martin Thesz. Died in 2002. Would be 100 today.
BRUNO SAMMARTINO: Real name — same. Still alive. Age 81.
THE (MASKED) ASSASSIN: Real name — Jody Hamilton. Still alive. Age 78.
MAGNIFICENT ZULU: Real name — Ron Pope. No current information.
LUIS (“ARRIBA”) MARTINEZ: Real name — same. Died in 2006. Would be 93.
BILLY (RED) LYONS: Real name — William Snip. Died in 2009. Would be 84.
DORY FUNK JR.: Real name — Dorrance Earnest Funk Jr. Still alive. Age 75.
GINO BRITO: Real name — Louis Gino Acocella. Still alive. Age 75.
DOMINIC DeNUCCI: Real name — Dominic Nucciarone. Still alive. Age 84.
WALDO von ERICH: Real name — Walter Sieber. Died in 2009. Would be 83 today.
ABDULLAH THE BUTCHER: Real name — Lawrence Shreve. Still alive. Age 75.
THE FABULOUS KANGAROOS
AL COSTELLO: Real name — Giacomo Costa. Died in 2000. Would be 97 today.
DON KENT: Real name — Leo Smith Jr. Died in 1993. Would be 83.
THE LOVE BROTHERS
HARTFORD LOVE: Real name — Wes Hutchings.
REGINALD LOVE: Real name — Johnny Evans. No current information.
SKY LOW LOW: Real name — Marcel Gauthier. Died in 1998. Would be 88 today.
LITTLE BEAVER: Real name — Lionel Giroux. Died in 1995. Would be 81.
FUZZY CUPID: Real name — Leon Stap. Died in 1976. Would be 88.
LORD LITTLEBROOK: Real name — Eric Tovey. Died in September 2016. Would be 87.
THE FABULOUS MOOLAH: Real name — Mary Ellison. Died in 2007. Would be 93 today.
JUDY GRABLE: Real name — Nellya Baughman. Died in 2008. Would be 81.