Archive for the ‘old time hockey’ Category

The Gift Game

Friday, October 30th, 2020


For the longest time I had a strange notion about hockey. I believed that every so often, usually around Christmas, the players would go for it. Throw the game wide open and go end to end in firewagon hockey. The players would become kids again playing their joyous pond hockey in front of thousands of cheering fans. The fans would see and feel the joy and exclaim “old time hockey.”

The idea of a free, unfettered game was nourished in the 1960’s when games like this actually did occur now and again. The games then only featured the Leafs and Canadiens and their opponents so it may have been a bit easier to convince CBC to yank the shackles than it would have if US interests were involved. But perhaps not. Almost anyone would rather watch wild, free flowing hockey than the constricted pick and shovel games of today. The Stanley Cup playoffs of this year were pretty much a yawn. The first team to score would then clamp the game down as far as they could. This sucked the energy and excitement away. It reminded me of the stifling New Jersey Devils games of awhile back. Especially tedious was the Leafs-Columbus series. The Leafs are about the only team that tries play a go devil game now and it did not work against a choking, stifling defense. It is easier to play the pick and shovel game and safer for coaches to just board up the net than to try and create scoring chances.

What constitutes a good game to me? Speed and rapid puck movement with lots of shots on goal. Not loads of goals but lots of chances , a game like that of December 21, 1968 between the Bruins and Habs. The Bruins had been revived from their doldrums days and had some great talent. Phil Esposito was starting to fill the net and Bobby Orr was rapidly ramping up his game. Gerry Cheevers was in goal and Turk Sanderson was a coming a factor along with established stars like Johnny Bucyk. Montreal, as always had a very respectable club. Jean Beliveau was still strong and their great young defence was excellent. They had a young goalie they had just called up by the name of Tony Esposito who must have had a few butterflies about the prospect of facing his brother on the hallowed ice of the Forum. The game jumped into high gear right away and Phil got a good chance on Tony who snagged the shot

From then on it was non- stop racehorse hockey and the Forum crowd was wild. I watched the game from the old Queen’s Hotel beer parlour in Nelson, BC. I found a quiet corner beyond the range of George Jones and Tammy Wynette on the jukebox and marvelled at the spectacle on the old TV in front of me. Harry Sinden who was coaching Boston said he had never seen two teams go more all out for 60 minutes. Danny Galivan, the great Canadiens broadcaster called it the best all around contest he had seen at the forum in the last ten years.

In 1972, Harry Sinden moved on to coach Team Canada 72 against the Soviet Union. That was a remarkable series fondly remembered by Sinden and most Canadians. However when he spoke with reporter George Vass thirty years later, he insisted that the 1968 game ” was probably the best game from the standpoint of exciting and skilful play, for goaltending, for the fans to see, that hockey’s ever had…. the greatest game I ever saw”.

Right on Harry and let’s see more of them. It’s only been 52 years since that one.

Ted Burns

October 26, 2020