Archive for the ‘NHL History’ Category

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Sabres vs. Soviet Wings: January 4, 1976

1976 Super SeriesIt was the height of the Cold War. The NHL and Russia had an unofficial war over bragging rights for the best hockey program in the world, the echoes of which can still be heard today. The Soviets burst onto the international scene in the mid-fifties and dominated in tournaments held on international ice surfaces using international rules. The Soviets teams were largely professionals who played together year round, most were drafted into the Red Army so they were under the control of the Soviet government.

The Soviets main adversaries, Canada and the United States,  met the Soviets in various tournaments with largely amateur teams. It was rarely the Soviet’s best against Canada’s best, America’s best or the NHL’s best. The NHL fumed at the prestige the Soviets took from the NHL without ever having faced an NHL caliber team. The first clash of the NHL’s best and the Soviets was the famed Summit Series in Moscow of 1972. Paul Henderson scored the “goal heard around the world” to lift Team Canada to victory in the last minute of the eighth and final game. Although many people, myself included, think that victory was tarnished by a delibertate act by Bobby Clarke to break Valeri Kharlamov’s ankle.  Canda’s assistant coach John Ferguson would admit to it. Regardless, it was the first time a professional team from North America had defeated the vaunted Red Machine.  In 1974 the upstart WHA decided to try their luck against the Soviet.  The NHL did not allow its players to play with WHA talent so the rematch between Canada and the Soviet Union consisted solely of WHA talent. The Soviets came out on top, again under a cloud of controversy, this time over the treatment of team Canada on and off the ice.

In 1975-76 NHL owners agreed to arrange a tournament between the Soviets’ best and various teams in the NHL. The Soviets sent the vaunted Central Red Army team and the Soviet Wings team to North America to face selected NHL opponents, a list that included the Buffalo Sabres.  The Central Red Army team went into New York and clobbered the Rangers 7-3 on December 28, the Wings went into Pittsburgh and thumped the Penguins 7-4 the next day. On New Years Eve the Red Army went into the forum of Montreal and held the Canadiens to a tie(the Habs would win the Stanley Cup that year). The Wings prepared for their next game on January 4, 1976.

Enter the Buffalo Sabres. “I don’t know what the Sabres had for a game meal, but they came out mean and tough. Jerry Korab was a man on a mission…. He took it to their big stars, once almost putting Yakushev right through the Zamboni doors. I don’t recall a penalty on the play either.” Ron Wicks NHL referee

The Aud was filled to capacity that night. In school we talked about the game quite a bit. The Sabres were a year removed from a Stanley Cup Final appearance and in the 70′s we were taught to quite literally hate the “evil commies”.  It was a big game, an important game politically and in terms of hockey prestige (most NHL players at the time were Canadian and they were out to prove the Canadian style of play and the Canadian player were the best in the world).  The air along the Niagara Frontier was electric and the Aud rocked as only that grand old building could do. The Wings uniforms were ill fitting, their equipment appeared shabby and tattered but it was a trap. The Soviets’ equipment was top notch, the Soviet government spared no expense for such a propaganda tour. The Soviets wanted to give the appearance of an ill prepared team.  Although the Wings were a step down from the Central Red Army in terms of talent they were still a powerful team (they would beat  the Pens 7-4, The ‘Hawks 4-2 and the Islanders 2-1). The Sabres themselves were at their height in terms of the mix of finesse and brute power with a hulking defensive corps. Buffalo wanted to show the world what NHL hockey, the Buffalo Sabres and the French Connection were all about. Punch Imlach wanted to beat the Soviets badly, he had the Sabres prepared and on edge, especially Jerry Korab.

“The feeling on the way down the QEW to Buffalo wasn’t good. We hadn’t fared well against the Soviets. We should have known better. With Punch Imlach in the background, it was bound to be a battle. For my money it was an outstanding game, probably the best one the Sabres ever played. It had to be a career game for Jerry Korab and for some reason Don Luce sticks out in my mind. I don’t think he was a goal scorer, but he was at his very best. Heading back up the QEW we knew we’d seen a game to remember” – Frank Selke Jr VP Hockey Night in Canada

On January 4, 1976 the Soviet Wings hit the ice in Buffalo’s Memorial Auditorium. It was a small rink and an extremely loud building.  The Sabres came out banging and hitting, a style the Soviets were not used to playing. At 6:10 of the first period the Sabres got on the board with a goal by Josh Guevremont and they never looked back. A minute later Gilbert Perreault blasted a Korab pass into the net. “I remember the Soviet Wings game as if it was yesterday. Imlach told us in no uncertain terms he wanted this game – a lot. Well, he couldn’t have wanted it any more than each and every player on the team did. We had seen the 3-3 tie in Montreal on New Year’s Eve, and it only made us more determined. Punch said we were going to intimidate them. That was the key” – Jerry Korab

The French Connection scored 4 goals and notched five assists. Danny Gare netted a pair of goals and Fred “yes the office furniture guy” Stanfield had a goal and 3 assists. The Sabres outshot the Wings 46-21. By the end of the first period the Sabres led 4-2, by the end of the second the score had ballooned to 9-4. The Sabres won the game 12-6.

The player of the night was the man nicknamed Kong. Korab punished the Soviet players anytime they came into the Sabres zone and his checks set the tone for the game. By the end of the first period the Soviets were reluctant to cross the Sabres blue line, they were that intimidated by the hard hitting Sabres. After four games against the Soviets the NHL’s record was 1-1-2.

The Soviet teams would bounce back to win against the Bruins, Islanders, Blackhawks. The final game was the Red Army against the Philadelphia Flyers. In perhaps the strangest game of my life as a hockey fan I actually cheered the broad street bullies as they manhandled the Red Army for the NHL’s second win of the tournament. The Flyers took a page from the Sabres game plan and unmercifully beat the Red Army. It led to the Soviets leaving the ice in protest of the Flyers’ style of play, although they would return when they were told they would not be paid if they did not finish the game.

The games in Buffalo and Philly made a lasting impact on how North American players viewed the Soviets. The Soviets were now stuck with the label of soft, afraid to hit and would melt in a physical game. It’s a stereotype that has largely lasted even to today as European players are now a large part of the NHL. No matter the great accomplishments of these players they still can’t distance themselves from the beatings handed to the Soviets by the Sabres that in 1976.

Sources

Brewitt, Ross.  26 Seasons in Buffalo’s Memorial Auditorium.  TFB Press, 1997.

“Canada-Soviet Hockey Series”. CBC Digital Archives. <http://archives.cbc.ca/sports/hockey/topics/318/>.

Joyce, Gare (December 28, 2007). “John Ferguson, 1938-2007″.   (ESPN).  <http://sports.espn.go.com/espn/page2/story?page=obits/ferguson/071227. Retrieved May 21, 2008>.

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How NHL Teams Selected Their Names

How NHL Teams Selected Their NamesAnaheim Mighty Ducks: Disney CEO Michael Eisner named the team after the hit Disney movie “The Mighty Ducks”.

Atlanta Thrashers: derived from Georgia’s state bird – the Brown Thrasher and the logo was designed to put forth a feeling of speed.

Boston Bruins: Businessman Charles Adams wanted his new franchise to have brown and yellow team colors to match his stores as well as a name equated with strength and power. A fan named the team in a contest.

Buffalo Sabres: The management held a contest and chose Sabres. Team officials wanted a fresh new name not being used in the pros, and something other than buffalo/bison variations.

Calgary Flames: Given to the team when it was in Atlanta to commemorate the burning of the city in the Civil War. When the team moved to Calgary, management held a contest/vote, and the fans chose to keep the Flames name, which also relates to Alberta’s petroleum industry.

Carolina Hurricanes: Hurricanes commonly make landfall in the North Carolina.

Chicago Blackhawks: Original owner Frederic McLaughlin named the team in honor of the Black Hawk Battalion he served with in WWI. The unit was named after a Chief Black Hawk. The name was merged to Blackhawks several years ago.

Colorado Avalanche: COMSAT gave Colorado fans a list of eight names to choose from and let the public respond. Avalanche was the most popular nickname among fans. The Quebec Nordiques became the Colorado Avalanche on August 10, 1995.

Columbus Blue Jackets: Fan contest. Officially the Blue Jackets state the name has to do with celebrating patriotism, pride and the rich Civil War history in the state of Ohio and, city of Columbus. There was speculation the name could have also come from the fact the owner’s favorite color was blue, an insect with attitude logo had already been unveiled or perhaps to honor a Shawnee chief of the same name (there are various legal suits in the United States about the use by sports teams of native nation names and imagery.

Dallas Stars: Dallas is in Texas, the Lone STAR state. Also, when the team was in Minnesota, hockey fans chose the Minnesota state motto “Etoile du Nord” (Star of the North).

Detroit Red Wings: Then team president James Norris named it in honor of a team he had played with – the Montreal Winged Wheelers. The logo was perfect for the Motor City.

Edmonton Oilers: The management held a contest and chose Oilers, reflecting the importance of the oil industry. They kept the name when it moved from the World Hockey Association (WHA) to the National Hockey League.

Florida Panthers: H. Wayne Huizenaga wanted to draw attention to the Panther, an endangered native wildcat of Florida.

Hartford Whalers: When originally in the WHA, club was named New England Whalers for two reasons: (1) Massachusetts seaport towns connected to whaling; (2) the name had WHA in it (WHAlers). Name later changed to Hartford Whalers.

Los Angeles Kings: Two possible reasons: (1) The management held a contest and chose the name; (2) Jack Kent Cooke named them the Kings via executive decision, giving no specific reason.

Minnesota Wild: named in a contest. Six finalists named for new NHL franchise: Minnesota Blue Ox, Minnesota Freeze, Minnesota Northern Lights, Minnesota Voyageurs, Minnesota White Bears and Minnesota Wild. The state of Minnesota is well known for vast stretches of open wilderness, especially in the northern part of the state.

Montreal Canadiens: Representing the nationality of the players on the team. Originally, the team had only French Canadian players.

Nashville Predators: On September 27, 1997, held a season ticker holder event “Ice Breaker Bash”. Fans were surveyed and voted on the “Predators”. The name is linked to the area via fossils found in 1971 of a saber-toothed tiger, extinct for over 10,000 years.

New Jersey Devils: Comes from a legend: a witch allegedly gave birth to a demon known as “Jersey Devil” in 1735. The Jersey Devil was alleged to be a half-man, half-beast that stalked N.J.’s Pine Barrens or the area surrounding Lake Hopatcong for 250 years, causing fear and terror and basically mutilating his victims in an extreme display of guts and gore. Others say the Devil was the 13th child of Mother Leeds, jinxed by gypsies.

New York Islanders: The team is based in Uniondale, Long Island, N.Y.

New York Rangers: MSG President Tex Rickard’s team unofficially known as Tex’s Rangers (a play on Texas Rangers police), but Rangers was the official name.

Ottawa Senators: In honor of old Ottawa Senators hockey team that won 6 Stanley Cups. Originally: as Canada’s capital, the nickname for 1901 amateur team.

Philadelphia Flyers: After 25,000 entries, a committee chose Flyers, although the winning entry by a kid was spelled Fliers, because it went phonetically with Philadelphia.

Phoenix Coyotes: Management held a name the team contest, coyotes are/were fairly common in the desert south west United States.

Pittsburgh Penguins: The management held a contest and chose Penguins, partly because the team is in PENnsylvania.

Quebec Nordiques: Committee named them Nordiques (then in the WHA) because they were the northernmost team in pro hockey at 52 degrees North, 72 degrees West.

St. Louis Blues: Then owner Sid Salamon, Jr., drew inspiration from the famous song by W.C. Handy.

San Jose Sharks: Out of 5,000 entries, officials picked Sharks. 7 varieties in Pacific Ocean, several shark research facilities in area. One part of Bay Area is known as Red Triangle due to its shark population.

Tampa Bay Lightning: Tampa Bay is the lightning capital of the world.

Toronto Maple Leafs: Two possible reasons: (1) Then owner Conn Smythe drew inspiration from an old Toronto team called the East Maple Leaves; (2) when Conn Smythe bought the Toronto St. Patricks, his first act was to rename the team after the Maple Leaf Regiment of the First World War, as well as for the maple leaf on the Canadian flag. Originally, the team was known as the Arenas, then renamed St. Patricks, supposedly to attract the Irish.

Vancouver Canucks: The nickname was taken from a Canadian folk hero. The legend says that Johnny Canuck was a great logger, and was a skater and a hockey player in his spare time.

Washington Capitals: Washington, D.C. is the Capital of the U.S.

Winnipeg Jets: Then owner Ben Hatskin asked his pal Sonny Werblin, then owner of the National Football League’s New York Jets, for permission. The current team (the Atlanta Thrashers franchise) has yet to be officially named.

Sources:

Les Canadiens Magazine, Magazine #6: 1991-92 Season Postings on the Internet Newsgroup rec.sport.hockey

Various history sections on official team sites.

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