Tough-as-nails defenseman Gadsby dies at 88

gadsby howe

Former NHL defenseman Bill Gadsby died last week at age 88. Gadsby, who spent 20 years minding the blueline for the Chicago Blackhawks, New York Rangers and Detroit Red Wings, was tough as a two-dollar steak and representative of the robust, resilient players who skated in hockey’s pre-expansion era.

Gadsby not only tallied 130 goals and 438 assists, becoming the first defensemen to score more than 500 points during his career, but also notched more than 1,500 penalty minutes, while sustaining some 640 stitches and numerous broken bones while playing in the NHL between 1946 to 1966.

To say that Gadsby was a survivor would be an understatement.

As a 12-year old, he and his mother were aboard the British liner SS Athenia in early September 1939 when it was torpedoed and sunk by a German submarine. The pair spent several hours in a lifeboat before being rescued. Some 128 passengers and crew died when the vessel sank.

When Gadsby was 25, he contracted polio at the Blackhawks training camp and narrowly averted paralysis, according to the New York Times. He quickly recovered and went on to play in 68 games that season.

Gadsby retired in 1966, the season before Bobby Orr made his debut with the Boston Bruins and revolutionized defense. While Orr would obliterate scoring records for defensemen, hockey didn’t forget about Gadsby. He was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1970.

Gadsby played long before the era of big money, yet, as the Times recounted, he found an interesting way to earn some extra compensation.

“When a local insurance man started offering players stitch insurance, I signed up immediately,” he once told the Hockey Hall of Fame. “Under terms of the $100 policy, I would receive $5 for every stitch I received that season.”

Soon afterward he incurred a cut that required 30 stitches to his lower lip.

“I had to laugh at the poor agent,” he said. “In less than two weeks I had paid for the policy. I had gotten back all my money, plus a $50 profit. I think they stopped offering that policy not long after that.”

(Top: Bill Gadsby, left, talks with teammate Gordie Howe, prior to a Detroit Red Wings game in 1963.)

Montreal Canadiens Hall of Famer Elmer Lach dies at 97

lach stanley cup broken nose

Elmer Lach, one of the National Hockey League’s all-time great playmakers, died Saturday at age 97.

A three-time Stanley Cup champion who for a time centered the great Maurice “Rocket” Richard and Toe Blake on the famed “Punch Line,” Lach was the oldest-living former player to have donned the blue, blanc et rouge of Les Habitants.

Lach led the league in scoring twice and was awarded the Hart Memorial Trophy as the NHL’s most valuable player in 1945, despite the fact that Richard set a league record by scoring 50 goals in 50 games.

The Saskatchewan native retired after 14 seasons as the league’s all-time leading scorer in 1954, with 215 goals, 408 assists and 616 total points in 664 games.

He was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1966 and his No. 16 was retired in 2009 by the Canadiens.

Lach, who was easily recognized by his prominent nose, won his final Stanley Cup by scoring in overtime during the deciding game of the 1953 Cup Finals.

However, Lach’s nose was broken when he was struck by Richard’s stick during the on-ice celebration immediately afterward.

“I took the hardest check of my life when the Rocket jumped on top of me when the puck went in,” Lach later said.

(Top: Canadiens’ legend Elmer Lach, shown with Stanley Cup and the broken nose suffered after scoring winning goal in final game of 1953 Finals. Photo credit: CBC.)

Bidding adieu to one of hockey’s all-time greats

beliveau

Here a few words from the Montreal Gazette on the passing of Jean Béliveau, who, for all his skill and grace on the ice, was an even better person away from the rink:

He was an uncommon man with the common touch. A prince who walked among the people as though it were his job to clean up after the king’s horses.

He was at once regal and humble, magnificently talented and unfailingly generous, modest to a fault and fiercely proud of his team, and as gentle as a man could be in this most violent of sports.

He was Jean Béliveau — and his passing Tuesday night has left a void in the life of this city and this province that may never be filled. It’s conceivable that if they are very, very lucky, the Canadiens might one day draft another Rocket Richard. There will never be another Béliveau.

Le Gros Bill, as he was known, was 83. He will be missed, by fans of the Montreal Canadiens and all of hockeydom.

Wings’ prospect scores eternal ignominy

Sheahan

Drunk driving is anything but a laughing matter, but one has to wonder if the abuse Detroit Red Wings’ draft pick Riley Sheahan, who was arrested recently while driving intoxicated, will face from teammates, opponents and opposing fans will far outweigh any penalty handed down by the law.

Sheahan, the Red Wings’ top pick in the 2010 NHL draft, was wearing a purple Teletubbies costume (see above) when he was pulled over on a drunk driving charge in Grand Rapids, Mich., in late October, according to police.

Video taken by Grand Rapids Police Department dashboard camera shows Sheahan apparently wearing the costume of the purple Teletubby known as Tinky Winky when he was stopped.

According to a police report obtained by MLive.com, Sheahan blew a .30 at the police station after his arrest, almost four times the legal limit, and almost twice the limit needed to add a “super-drunk” charge to his current charge of driving under the influence.

Michigan’s “super-drunk” laws punish drivers charged for the first time with operating a vehicle under the influence who blow a .17 or higher — that’s more than twice the .08 limit deemed illegal for driving on Michigan roads, The Huffington Post reported.

So-called “Super-drunk” convictions carry a heavy price tag.

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Former Soviet hockey great dies at 52

Twenty-plus-years after the collapse of the Soviet Union, many hockey fans don’t realize how special it was when the USSR began allowing some of their top talent to come to North America to play in the National Hockey League.

Among the biggest names that came over in the late 1980s were members of the so-called “K-L-M Line”: Vladimir Krutov, Igor Larionov and Sergei Makarov. The trio formed one of the most potent offensive lines in hockey history.

Together, they won two Olympic gold medals and several world championships before leaving for the NHL.

Krutov, who tallied 288 goals and 215 assists in 438 games during 12 seasons in the USSR, never made it big in North America, lasting just one season before returning to Europe.

Sadly, he died last week from internal bleeding at the age of 52.

“We lost a great friend, someone with whom all of us would go to war, without any doubt,” said Vladislav Tretyak, the Hall of Fame goalie who is now the Russian ice hockey chief.

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Tsujimoto: the NHL draft pick that never was

The National Hockey League draft still pales in comparison to its NFL and NBA counterparts in terms of popularity, but it gets considerably more attention than it did a generation ago.

Several thousand fans, for example, were on hand for the most recent draft, held this past Friday and Saturday at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minn.

Compare that to 1974, when the NHL draft was held in secrecy, part of the league’s efforts to hold off the upstart World Hockey Association.

How secret was the 1974 draft? As it neared its conclusion, Buffalo Sabres general manager Punch Imlach had become so bored with the long process of selecting players that he decided to have some fun and sent public relations director Paul Wieland off to find a relatively common Japanese name, according to the Buffalo News.

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Whale proves no match for drunkard

It’s not quite a man-bites-dog story, but an East Hartford, Conn., man was arrested after he allegedly tackled and punched “Pucky the Whale,” the mascot for the minor league Connecticut Whale hockey team, over the weekend.

Kevin O’Connell, 28, has been banned from the XL Center after he allegedly assaulted the mascot in the stands during an American Hockey League game Saturday night, according to the Hartford Courant.

O’Connell, said to have been intoxicated, told police he attacked Pucky over a bet. He was arrested and charged with one count of second-degree breach of peace. He was released on a promise to appear in Superior Court in Hartford.

Pucky was greeting young fans in the stands near section 105 Saturday night when O’Connell tackled and punched the whale, police said.

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