Forget About 2020, Sports Fans

TORONTO (Mar. 31) — A doctor/friend of mine near Philadelphia who works with infectious diseases and is “busier than a seven–peckered monkey in heat” told me yesterday that he has no confidence professional sport will return in this calendar year. “The remainder of 2020 is a washout,” said my friend, who requested anonymity. “In my view, January is the earliest that a resumption can be considered. And, even that depends on there not being a second wave of COVID–19. This thing is incredibly scary and unpredictable.”

The doctor’s forecast comes amid news that the National Hockey League is apparently checking on arena availability in late–July and early–August for a mini playoff competition that would determine a 2020 Stanley Cup winner. “It’s understandable why the NHL is seeking a contingency,” said the doctor, “but I’ll be astonished if the coronavirus is under control by then. Again, the key will be a second wave. As soon as the current restrictions are eased — and who makes that decision? — we’ll learn more about the virus. Perhaps an effective therapeutic compound will emerge. But, my big concern is COVID–19 re–awakening once we resume ‘normal’ social activity. If that happens, all bets are off with professional sport in North America.”


WILL HISTORIC FENWAY PARK IN BOSTON REMAIN CLOSED FOR THE BALANCE OF 2020?

The conservative estimate of next January would wipe out the entire Major League Baseball, Major League Soccer and Canadian Football League seasons for 2020. It would almost–certainly preclude a credible finish to the 2019–20 NHL schedule; necessitating a reprise of the lockout–shortened seasons in 1995 and 2013 to determine a 2021 Stanley Cup champion. The 2020 National Football League season would be annulled with the NFL perhaps conducting a 10–game schedule and Super Bowl tournament in late–March and April.

“Sports is so minuscule in relation to the big picture, but it’s also mega–business,” said the doctor. “Thousands of people working for teams will be severely effected if there’s no resumption until 2021; many have already been hurt. Yet, I can’t imagine a reasonable scenario that points to a return by this summer.”

QUIET VENUES: There is, as often–suggested, the potential of games resuming amid empty arenas and stadiums. I provided my opinion on the subject more than two weeks ago (here: http://bit.ly/38LQZSD). This would amount to desperation — offering dismal, made–for–TV productions without the din and tumult of a live event. But, television guides the ship in professional sport, so anything is possible. My doctor/friend weighed in: “Even with empty arenas, it would necessitate office–workers, players and officials gathering in close proximity for a non–essential service. Every state and province currently has regulations for social distancing. How could this be maintained, at the moment, with the return of hockey and baseball? Or, later on, football? Of course, the circumstance could change with respect to COVID–19. But, I don’t think the idea is credible. Certainly not until we determine whether the coronavirus can be brought widely under control.

“And, that isn’t going to happen in the immediate or near–future.”

FAVORITE SPORTS VENUE… FROM THE PAST

During our idled posture, I have posed, on Facebook and Twitter, questions about sporting preferences. Among the queries: “Name your favorite former stadium or arena; one you attended in person.” People have copious time, at the moment, and responses were therefore numerous. My choice is the Los Angeles Forum, still resting in suburban Inglewood, Calif. more than 52 years since it opened as home to the Kings and Lakers. Each club played at the Forum through the end of the 1998–99 season and then moved downtown to the Staples Center. Why the Forum for me? A number of reasons. It was among the expansion arenas in hockey we never saw back in the 60’s and 70’s when games from Toronto and Montreal were aired nationally by CBC (Saturdays) and CTV (Wednesdays). Only once did a U.S. national telecast originate from the Forum: the day of its first sports event — Dec. 30, 1967 — as CBS aired the Kings and Philadelphia Flyers.


THE LOS ANGELES FORUM IN A PICTURE–POSTCARD FROM 1969.

In my diary–book (below) on traveling with the Toronto Maple Leafs during the lockout–abbreviated schedule of January–to–May 1995, I wrote about the night of Mar. 25, 1972 and my astonishment while flipping through TV channels just after 11 p.m. A technicians’ strike at the CBC was playing havoc with Hockey Night In Canada telecasts, often pulling the plug on viewers moments after the opening face–off. This occurred early in a game at the Montreal Forum between the Canadiens and New York Rangers.

Three hours later came a pleasant surprise:

  
In the summer of 1978, I traveled to California for the first time and attended — at the Forum — a concert by Lionel Richie and The Commodores. My initial visit to the arena evokes another sharp recollection: There were 19,000 music fans in the Forum on that hot, August eve… 18,998 African–Americans and two Caucasians (me and my friend, Jeff). Or, so it seemed. 🙂 While visiting my cousin, David Gotfrid, in L.A., 2½ years later, I saw hockey for the first time in Inglewood, as the Kings hosted the Minnesota North Stars (Mar. 14, 1981), Buffalo Sabres (Mar. 17) and Pittsburgh Penguins (Mar. 19). Just more than 12 years afterward came the wondrous Stanley Cup semifinal series of 1993 between the Leafs and Kings. I covered all three matches at the Forum, including never–to–be–forgotten Game 6, when referee Kerry Fraser legendarily allowed Wayne Gretzky to play on after slicing open Doug Gilmour’s chin with his stick. The first game of my years covering the Leafs, full time, as a reporter for The FAN–590 originated at the Forum on Jan. 20, 1995, the start of the 48–game season truncated by an owners’ lockout. So, yeah, it’s my favorite ex–NHL barn, with its old and peculiar color–scheme of gold seats on one side; orange on the other.

Today, the Forum is a concert hall.

A $50 million renovation in 2013 converted the former sports arena and it opened to a week–long tour by The Eagles (Jan. 15–25, 2014). Last week, the Forum was purchased (from the Madison Square Garden Company) for $400 million by Steve Ballmer, owner of the Los Angeles Clippers. The NBA club (featuring ex–Toronto Raptors star Kawhi Leonard) is leased at the Staples Center through 2024. At which time Ballmer will move his team to the Inglewood Basketball and Entertainment Center — located several blocks from the Forum, adjacent to SoFi Stadium, soon–to–be home of the NFL’s Los Angeles Chargers and Rams.

MORE LEAFS LINE–UPS… THROUGH THE YEARS

In my collection of Maple Leaf Gardens programs, these line–ups date from Dec. 18, 1937 to Oct. 19, 1974:


DEC. 18, 1937: Toronto 3, New York Americans 2 — For 17 seasons (1925–26 to 1941–42), the New York Americans were part of the NHL. The club played, as did the New York Rangers, at Madison Square Garden. When the Amerks, as they were known, suspended operation, the league moved forward, for 25 years, with six teams; that era known, euphemistically, as the “Original Six,” ended with expansion to 12 clubs in 1967–68. On this night, the Americans gave the Leafs a battle until the final buzzer. Buzz Boll (with two goals) and Syl Apps scored for Toronto. Eddie Wiseman and Nels Stewart replied for New York; Stewart’s powerplay marker coming with just eight seconds left. Earl Robertson played goal for the Amerks; Turk Broda for the Leafs. Future NHL president Clarence Campbell officiated the game. In 1937–38, Toronto forward Gord Drillon won the NHL scoring title with 52 points. No Maple Leafs player has since accomplished the feat.


OCT. 15, 1955: Toronto 2, Boston 2 — Billy Harris, nicknamed “Hinky” — scored his first of 126 NHL goals in this game. The rookie forward would be a member of the Leaf Stanley Cup teams in 1962–63–64 under Punch Imlach; he would skate, afterward, with Detroit, Oakland and Pittsburgh, retiring after the 1968–69 season. Harris and Ron Stewart scored for the Leafs; Marcel Bonin and future Chicago Blackhawks coach Orval Tessier counted late markers for Boston, at 15:26 and 16:46 of the third period. Hall–of–Famer Terry Sawchuk played goal for the Bruins. He’d been obtained from Detroit in June 1955, as the Red Wings put their faith in young stopper Glenn Hall. After two stellar seasons in MoTown, Hall was traded to Chicago and Detroit re–acquired Sawchuk from the Bruins for winger Johnny Bucyk. Harry Lumley was between the pipes for the Leafs. Jack Mehlenbacher refereed the game. His linesmen were George Hayes and John Clancy. 


NOV. 4, 1961: Toronto 2, Chicago 1 — The Leafs were off to a good start (6–2–5) during their first of three consecutive Stanley Cup seasons (1962–63–64) and they edged Chicago, on this night, thanks to Dave Keon’s goal with 6:58 left in the game. Bob Nevin (for Toronto) and Ken Wharram had traded goals in the second period. In his fifth NHL season, Bobby Hull was still wearing No. 16 for the Black Hawks. He switched to No. 9 the following year, after Bronco Horvath was traded to New York. Glenn Hall (Chicago) and Johnny Bower (Toronto) were the goalies. The referee was Eddie Powers; the linesmen, Neil Armstrong and Ron Wicks.

Toronto would defeat Chicago in six games to win the 1962 Stanley Cup.

  
NOV. 23, 1963: Toronto 4, Boston 1 — There was some question whether this game would be played, occurring the night after U.S. President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas. But, the NHL carried on with its only scheduled encounter of Nov. 23. And, it ended rather quickly when Allan Stanley, Eddie Shack and Frank Mahovlich beat Bruins goalie Eddie Johnston in a 3:04 span midway through the first period. Mahovlich scored again in the middle frame and future Leaf Murray Oliver ruined Johnny Bower’s shut–out bid with 3:58 left on the clock. Art Skov officiated the match with linesmen George Hayes and David Smith.

  
JAN. 2, 1965: Toronto 3, Detroit 1 — The Red Wings would finish first in the six–team NHL in 1964–65, 13 points up on fourth–place Toronto. But, the Leafs — the three–time defending Stanley Cup champion — came out ahead in their first game of the new year. Future Leaf Norm Ullman opened the scoring on former Wing Terry Sawchuk late in the first period, but Tim Horton evened the count with 1:52 left in the opening frame. Ron Stewart scored the eventual winning goal for the Leafs at 1:36 of the second period and Horton added another early in the third. There was a fight at 9:51 of the third between Frank Mahovlich and Detroit defenseman Doug Barkley, whose NHL career would end just more than a year later (Jan. 30, 1966) when Chicago’s Doug Mohns, while attempting to lift Barkley’s stick, accidentally struck him in the right eye. Roger Crozier was the losing goalie; he was spelled, for 90 seconds, by back–up Carl Wetzel. Sawchuk stopped 25 shots for the win. The referee was Vern Buffey; the linesmen, Matt Pavelich and John D’Amico.

  
NOV. 19, 1966: Toronto 5, Montreal 1 — In the midst of their “forgotten dynasty” (Stanley Cups in 1965–66–68–69), the Canadiens were struggling to begin the 1966–67 season: 4–5–1 after 10 games and on a four–game losing streak. That slump reached five games with a lop–sided defeat at Maple Leaf Gardens. The Leafs blew open a tight match (2–1) with third–period goals by Ron Ellis (12:20 and 14:43) and Red Kelly (18:12). Larry Jeffrey and Jim Pappin had given the Leafs a 2–0 lead before Dave Balon scored for the Habs. Gump Worsley took the loss; Terry Sawchuk recorded the win for Toronto. Each club had 31 shots on goal. Referee John Ashley called 18 minutes in penalties. The linesmen were Neil Armstrong and Brent Casselman.

The Leafs and Canadiens would meet for the 1967 Stanley Cup — Toronto prevailing in six games.

  
MAR. 7, 1968: Boston 2, Philadelphia 1 — Hockey historians remember this night for a pair of reasons: a) it was the lone NHL game of the expansion era (post–1967) at the Gardens to not involve the Maple Leafs. And, b) it featured one of the most–infamous stick–swinging episodes of all time. The expansion Flyers took to the road in March 1968 after a vicious wind–storm tore a hole in the roof of the Philadelphia Spectrum. Philly had played at Toronto a night earlier (Mar. 6, losing 7–2) and stayed over to “host” the Bruins. Eddie Shack of Boston and Larry Zeidel of Philadelphia carved one another into bloody pulps at 9:33 of the first period. The episode started near center–ice and continued down the east boards to the rear of the south goal. Referee Bruce Hood and linesmen Matt Pavelich and Ron Ego could only watch in horror, as did more than 10,000 fans. Ken Hodge scored on Bernie Parent in the second period to give the Bruins a 1–0 lead. Gary Doak put Boston ahead by two early in the third and Pat Hannigan of the Flyers ruined a shut–out attempt by Gerry Cheevers with 6:35 to play. Zeidel retired after the 1967–68 season.

  
DEC. 30, 1970: Toronto 3, California 1 — The Leafs were horrible in the first two months of 1970–71, going 7–18–1 in their opening 26 games. As the new year approached, however, the club had straightened out under second–year coach John McLellan and was 8–1–0 before defeating the Golden Seals in their final match of 1970. Dave Keon and Garry Monahan gave Toronto a 2–0 lead in the first period. Ex–Leaf Gerry Ehman scored for California in the second, but Paul Henderson restored the two–goal advantage in the third. The Leafs out–shot the Seals, 38–31. Gary Smith played goal for the visitors; Jacques Plante for the home side. Referee Dave Newell called only 14 penalty minutes. John D’Amico and George Ashley were the linesmen. Three nights later (Jan. 2, 1971), also at home, the Leafs recorded what remains their most lop–sided shutout win: a 13–0 annihilation of Detroit. The Leafs re–designed their logo and uniforms for this season. They now sported shoulder–to–sleeve piping on both sets of jerseys. It was the first of 33 years (ending after 2002–03) in which home teams wore their predominantly white outfits. The club went 30–15–7 in its final 52 matches to finish fourth in the East Division. It lost an opening–round playoff series in six games to New York — former Leaf Bob Nevin scoring the overtime winner for the Rangers at the Gardens.

  
OCT. 19, 1974: Vancouver 5, Toronto 4 — This stinging loss at home foreshadowed a mostly miserable 1974–75 season for the Leafs, who fell back by eight points from the previous year. Toronto had a 3–2 lead with less than seven minutes to play, but the roof fell in. Goals by Tracy Pratt (13:34), ex–Toronto Marlboros junior Paulin Bordeleau (14:10) and Dennis Ververgaert (16:03) allowed Vancouver to escape with a 5–4 victory. Doug Favell could not stem the tide in the Toronto net; Gary Smith stopped 31 shots for the win. Two goals by George Ferguson and one by Blaine Stoughton had the Leafs in front, 3–0, by 13:47 of the opening frame. But, another ex–Marlie, Bob Dailey, got the Canucks on the board before the period ended. Ian Turnbull restored Toronto’s three–goal edge in the second, but Chris Oddleifson started Vancouver’s comeback at 5:39 of the third. The referee was Bob Kilger; the linesmen, John D’Amico and Leon Stickle.

EMAIL: HOWARDLBERGER@GMAIL.COM

One comment on “Forget About 2020, Sports Fans

  1. True, it was difficult in southern Ontario to ever see TV games from the LA Forum. But I recall in the early 1970s one of the Buffalo stations used to televise one Sabres west coast road trip per season. So if you lived anywhere in the Golden Horseshoe region, within days of each other you could tune in late at night and see not only the Forum, but also the Seals home rink in Oakland (considerably more spartan when the Seals were the main tenant than in recent years as the home court of the Golden State Warriors).

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