Kukla's Korner Hockey
by Paul on 05/20/14 at 08:33 AM ET
By Tom Murray,
First and foremost this week, a few words about the late Shirley Fischler, who died earlier this month after a long and courageous battle with cancer.
I first met her right around the same time her husband Stan fortuitously came into my life in the mid-1970s, both of us ultimately destined to collaborate in the revival of The Hockey News, which at the time was in dire need of a major facelift.
I spent more than a few memorable days at the Maven’s home office on the upper west side of New York, utilizing what were the best resources in New York—if not North America—to dig into whatever background information was required for a hockey story. Hard as it is to believe now, in those dark times before the arrival of the Internet and virtually instant access to any imaginable fact or figure, actual research was required. So instead of schlepping to the library on 42nd Street, I’d take the subway uptown to Stan and Shirley’s. There, every conceivable nook, cranny and desktop was jammed with current and back issues of NHL and team media guides, reams of back issues of newspapers and magazines and, of course, Stan’s endless array of books about hockey, many of whom were co-authored by Shirley.
It was all available, courtesy of the Mave and his bride, for anyone who needed it. And no matter the day or time of year, multiple phones were invariably ringing off the hook, typewriters clacking (computers were still at least a decade away), as a multitude of Stan’s cheerful and faithful minions happily churned out product.
And at the center of it all, seemingly always battling a looming deadline for a chapter for a book, a story for a magazine or a long list of calls that needed to be returned—or all of the above—there were hockey’s first couple, the literal tranquil center of what was a daily hockey storm swirling around them.
Theirs was truly a union of love, for the game, but most especially for each other. And that’s what I’ll remember and cherish most of all.
And with that as prologue and with dear Shirley very much in mind, few thoughts on some of the hockey happenings to date:
News: The demonization of Rangers forward Chris Kreider in Montreal.
Views: Seriously? Let’s review. On Monday the hockey world learned that Kreider’s collision with Canadiens goalie Carey Price in Game 1 of their conference final would mean that Price would miss at least the remainder of the series.
And the rhetoric immediately ramped up. Soon after the game ended the majority of Canadiens players, as well as coach Michel Therrien, described the play as accidental. The next day former Ranger Brandon Prust called it “accidentally on purpose” as Therrien updated his opinion:
“Obviously it was accidental contact,” he said, “but let’s put it this way: He didn’t make much effort to avoid the contact.”
Then, after the devastating news broke on Monday, here was Therrien again:
“It’s a reckless play,” he said. “That’s the truth. And Kreider, this is not the first time he’s gone after goalies.”
Gone after goalies. Really? No. What Therrien was trying to do was rally his team around their fallen goaltender and best player.
And what Kreider was trying to do on that play was score a goal—and at a rate of world-class speed only a few players in the league can come close to matching. And let’s be realistic here: If his true intention was to hurt Price or take him out, wouldn’t he have barreled into him with his arms or shoulder? Instead, Kreider went in feet first. Not that he had much of a choice in the matter, because his left skate was clipped by Canadiens defenseman Alexei Emelin, knocking him off balance at the last possible instant.
A similar incident took place in the Rangers series against Pittsburgh and goalie Marc-Andre Fleury: Kreider busted in, pursuing defenseman Kris Letang shoved him from behind at the last instant, Kreider ran into Fleury and the puck slipped into the net. That time, the referee not only over-ruled what should have been a good goal, but also gave Kreider an undeserved two minutes for goalie interference.
And oh by the way?
Flash back to mid-March. Canadiens forward Brendan Gallagher drove in on Buffalo Sabres goalie Jhonas Enroth, got off a shot and then was shoved from behind by a Sabres defenseman. He plowed into Enroth, who suffered a season-ending injury to his right leg.
Gallagher was doing exactly the same thing as Kreider.
The point of all this?
Simply that when hockey players are doing what they’re supposed to do—driving to the net as fast as they can and trying to put the puck through the goalie if they have to….stuff happens. It’s an occupational hazard that is an intrinsic part of the game. That’s not going to change, nor should it.
But if video review in these instances was made available to help the officials determine what caused a player to take out a goalie, at least there would be some semblance of irrefutable evidence that would provide an explanation—and more importantly a deterrent to future incidents. As it stands right now, neither the refs, fans nor players, in particular the goalies, have that benefit.
And speaking of goalies, it seems Coach Therrien made a costly gamble in Monday night’s Game 2 that clearly didn’t pay off: Rather than starting backup Peter Budaj in Price’s place, he opted for Dustin Tokarski, who previously played in only 10 NHL games, none in the postseason.
But the kid, just 24, entered the game with an impressive minor league track record in the 2012 playoffs: 12-2 in 14 AHL games with Norfolk, with three shutouts, a 1.46 GAA and a .944 save percentage.
“You look at his track record, he’s a winner,” Therrien said after the 3-1 loss. “I believe he did well, and we’re pleased with our decision.”
Strongly suspect Budaj might not agree. Not only was the established vet, with nearly 300 NHL games under his belt, passed over but his coach clearly told the world he has no confidence in him.
Which raises a few obvious questions as the Canadiens, down 2-0 in the series, head to Madison Square Garden for Game 3 on Thursday night:
What’s the current status of Budaj’s confidence in himself? And does Therrien truly have any option now but to go back to the kid?
News: Lucic misbehaves in handshake line.
Views: No need to regurgitate what allegedly happened between Bruins forward Milan Lucic and Canadiens Dale Weise and Alexei Emelin. It’s very easy for anyone who’s never been in a heated 7-game battle with a bitter rival to chide Lucic for not conforming to one of the greatest traditions in sports—never mind hockey.
So rather than direct any more venom at either him or Weise, who was wrongly accused of breaking another hockey tradition and spilling the beans about what Lucic said in lieu of a warm and fuzzy handshake, let’s focus instead on what happened at the end of another 7th game, between the Kings and Ducks.
The Kings won convincingly, on what became the last game of Teemu Selanne’s Hall of Fame career. And after Selanne and his Duck teammates went through the handshake line, the entire Kings team lingered on the ice, tapping their sticks before heading for their locker room.
Said Kings forward Justin Williams: “We would have stood out there for 20 minutes if we could.”
What a moment that was. Getting chills again, just writing about it. Because what happened during and after that handshake line by an entire team—and not by one player in another line after another series—is what hockey is truly all about.
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