In honor of the passing of Johnny “The China Wall” Bower over the holiday break, I thought it would only be right to dedicate this article to one of the original “tough guys” of hockey.
A Brief History of Johnny Bower
Bower grew up in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan to a poor, working class family. Growing up in a family of nine children meant his family couldn’t even afford hockey equipment. So Bower created his own using an old mattress for pads and a tree branch for a stick.
At the age of 15, he lied about his age and enlisted in the Canadian Army during World War II. In 1943, he was discharged due to rheumatoid arthritis.
That didn’t stop Bower from being active. Less than two years later, Bower made his professional hockey debut with the Cleveland Barons of the AHL.
Bower bounced between the AHL and NHL for many years before finally getting claimed by the Toronto Maple Leafs in 1958.
The Toughness of Johnny Bower
If joining the Army at 15 years old and then playing professional hockey with rheumatoid arthritis isn’t evidence enough of how tough he was, then let his teammates, the statistics and the nature of his position convince you.
Being a goalie in this era of hockey was absolutely brutal. With no masks and minimal padding, injuries were an expectation, not an inconvenience.
Johnny Bower played most of his career in the NHL with the Toronto Maple Leafs. (Photo from AZ Quotes)
Dick Duff, one of Bower’s former teammates, said in an interview with CBC Radio, “[goalies] … the leg and arm, they would be yellow, green, black from stopping the pucks.”
Not only was Bower tough, but he was also talented. He won the Vezina Trophy two times. His name appears on the Stanley Cup four times (three of which were in consecutive years). He also remains the career leader in wins in the AHL.
When speaking of Bower specifically, Duff called him “fearless.” Others refer to Bower as a “legend.” One thing for sure is that Johnny “The China Wall” Bower will live on in hockey history forever.
“‘Hockey toughness’ is not about an individual player’s physical strength or fighting prowess. It’s about teammates protecting and defending one another, preserving together through adversity and pain. It’s not about a lack of fear but, rather, a willingness to face it head on.”
On Nov. 18, 2016, halfway through the second period during a game between division rivals Columbus Blue Jackets and New York Rangers, Blue Jackets’ left-winger, Matt Calvert, took a nasty slap shot to the face courtesy of the Rangers’ Nick Holden. (Video is bloody, be advised) (YouTube link from jguth95)
He was quickly helped off the ice and taken to the dressing room where he received 36 stitches.
One would assume that he would not see the ice again that night, but after passing a concussion test, he took to the ice again midway through the third period. Not only did he come back to play in the same game, but he also scored a short-handed goal, which proved to be the game winner.
Calvert’s return to the ice that night after what should’ve been a game-ending injury serves as only one example of why hockey players are some of the most physically impressive athletes in professional sports. On top of the physical toughness, they also possess great amounts of mental toughness. Having to insert themselves into such a physically demanding situation when already injured takes insane amounts of courage.
Calvert isn’t the only hockey player to have displayed this kind of perseverance. Here’s some ‘tough’ hockey history.
In the 1964 Stanley Cup Finals, Toronto Maple Leafs’ defenseman Bobby Baun injured his leg badly enough that he had to leave the ice on a stretcher. He returned for overtime where he scored the game winner. It was later revealed that he did indeed have a broken leg. (YouTube link from NHL)
Derek Stepan of the New York Rangers returned to the ice after breaking his jaw in a 2014 playoff game against the Montreal Canadiens.
Boston Bruins’ Gregory Campbell blocked a shot during the 2013 playoffs, which resulted in a broken fibula. Campbell got up and finished killing the penalty before leaving the ice. (YouTube link from Fred Murtz)
The list goes on and on. Endless amounts of lost teeth, stitches, breaks and sprains. Injuries that would often force the best of athletes to sit from anywhere between one game and a few months show us why hockey is a sport that demands respect, if for no other reason than the unmatched toughness of the players.
Feature image from Pictorial Parade/Hulton Archive/Getty Images
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It is typical at times for a perceived great team to get off to a surprisingly slow start. It’s tough to judge a team just 8-10 games in, but you would like to see positive signs moving forward.
Montreal, Edmonton and New York (Rangers) are three of the five bottom teams in the league at the moment. The only team with a worse record (as of Oct. 26) is the Arizona Coyotes (0-8-1). All three of these teams finished with over 100 points last season.
This is a small sample size. However, after a long offseason, teams are typically high on new energy at the start of the year. Moreover, the points you deposit in October are worth the same as the points put in the bank in March. Ask the Canadiens of last year. Montreal started the season 13-1-1, played .500 hockey the next 43 games (18-18-7), and still captured a division title finishing 47-26-9.
Every team hits a lull, or multiple lulls over the course of a season. A hot start isn’t 100 percent crucial to a successful season, but it is your first imprint on the year. It’s the first building block. Your season can be made or broken based off of how it starts. It’s very early again, but what’s going on with three of the league’s current bottom feeders?
off and walking habs
The Habs began their season with a 3-2 shootout win over the Sabres. They then proceeded to lose their next seven. Montreal ended that skid Tuesday night with a 5-1 win over a Roberto Luongo-less Florida squad. The team is giving up close to four goals a game and both net minders (Price and Montoya) have save percentages under .900.
The Canadiens are a team that depends on their goaltending heavily having arguably the best in the league in Carey Price. The 2015-16 season saw them skate to a 10-2-0 record with Price in the net and a 4-15-1 record the next 20 after his injury. Thirty-seven of their 47 victories last season came with Price manning the crease. The pressure on Price is huge because they only possess one player (Max Pacioretty) that had over 20 or more goals for them last season.
Montreal is scoring less than two goals a game. They are averaging over 38 shots a game lacking finish. The Habs have the eighth worst power play at just under 14 percent in a year where special teams is ruling with the amount of penalties being called. It’s just not clicking for the Canadiens nine games into their season.
We could see a flip of the script of last year where Montreal could trend upward after October instead. There are 73 games remaining. It’s simply a slow start for the Habs.
Not Much Fuel early For the Well-Oiled Machine
The curious case of the not so well-oiled machine at the moment is concerning. Edmonton has won only two of their first eight games. Connor McDavid is still doing Connor McDavid things (nine points). However, the depth along with the stellar goaltending from Cam Talbot isn’t showing up currently.
Edmonton is giving up an even three goals a game after giving up 1.89 per game through eight games last season. They needed everything and more from their starter Cam Talbot last year. The 30-year old played in 73 of the 82 games. It started with him as the Oilers let up the eighth fewest goals of any team. They’re going to need Talbot to be who he was last year and maybe more if the offense doesn’t pick up.
The league MVP is obviously the catalyst for everything that goes on offensively for the Oilers. However, to be successful and a true contender, you need production from all four lines. The 2016-17 season saw Edmonton possess five 20+ goal scorers, four 50+ point getters and one fourth liner (Mark Letestu) net 16 goals. McDavid can turn this team around in a hurry as they have almost everyone from a year ago minus Jordan Eberle.
Great teams sometimes suffer when they are aware of the talent they have. This can be seen at times with the Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers during the NBA regular season. They get bored occasionally. However, the Oilers have no excuse having just made the playoffs for the first time in 10 years despite having the second best preseason Cup odds at 10-1. They haven’t won or proven anything yet.
broadway at a standstill
The Rangers have played in 10 games so far this season and have come away victorious twice. However, they have shown the most positive signs of improvement statistically of the other two teams. New York has been in three one-goal games, averaging 2.50 goals per game, and converting on close to 20 percent of their power plays.
The Blue Shirts’ defense is centered around Kevin Shattenkirk and Ryan McDonagh after an offseason trade with Arizona and free agency. They traded Antti Raanta (backup goalie) and Derek Stepan (key bottom six depth player).
Their new backup (Ondrej Pavelec) is 0-2 and has given up six goals in 96 minutes of action. The penalty kill (manned by much of the bottom six) sits at 23rd in the league at 77.8 percent. The new defensive core is a combined -11.
New York finished ninth overall in the league last year with 102 points. They captured a series win over Montreal and took Ottawa to six games who was one goal away from reaching the Finals. The Rangers organization then presumed a few tweaks were needed to take the next step. Sometimes that’s valid and other times it isn’t the case at all.
This could be nothing like the previous two teams discussed. Hopefully (for the front office) this will be a footnote to the next 72 games for the Rangers.
No time to worry
There are new faces up and down a roster coming into the year. Chemistry and figuring out how to play with one another is crucial. Some teams learn faster than others and there is no way to project where these particular teams will be in the standings later on in the season.
The key is to have a short memory and always be in the right frame of mind. Each of these hockey clubs believe they can win with the personnel they possess.
The longest losing streak for the Stanley Cup winning Penguins last year was four. Therefore, the seven game losing streak by the Habs is alarming. The league worst 15 goals that the Oilers have registered in their eight games is concerning. The lack of cohesion from the new-look Rangers is also worrisome. However, they can’t look back.
Will these teams get it together sooner rather than later?
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Browsing social media this week, hockey fans were champing at the bit for newsworthy NHL trades. There were minor deals as the expansion draft passed, and the suspense only grew as the NHL Draft approached.
It’s safe to say that the fans got their wishes.
The past two days have featured former first round picks, backup goaltenders and Stanley Cup champions. If that wasn’t enough, there are likely more coming even before free agency hits on July 1. Until that happens, let’s analyze the top NHL trades that went down before the draft.
Golden Knights ship Trevor van Riemsdyk to Hurricanes
Trevor’s time in Vegas was short-lived, as the expansion team acquired a 2017 second round pick for trading him and a 2018 seventh round selection.
van Riemsdyk is a young asset heading to a younger team. One needs perspective when analyzing his season. He missed time with an upper-body injury which underscored his stats. Still, he was +17 with 100 blocks and 16 points in 58 games.
The former Blackhawk joins three former teammates in Teuvo Teravainen, Joakim Nordstrom and Scott Darling. Perhaps that can help his transition. He’s a capable right-handed shot that helps Carolina get younger and faster. Vegas adds another high draft pick to build their team.
Grade: B+ for Carolina, B for Vegas
Oilers and Islanders swap Jordan Eberle and Ryan Strome
Jordan Eberle heads to the Big Apple. Photo by Andy Devlin, NHLI via Getty Images.
New York getting Eberle long seemed inevitable, but it was intriguing how it occurred. It was a one-for-one swap after many reports had Edmonton seeking a prospect or draft picks.
This was an excellent move from Isles general manager Garth Snow. He paid a heavy price in a first-rounder to prevent Vegas from taking a number of players, and it essentially means they traded it for Eberle.
The former first-round pick disappointed with the Oilers after scoring just 51 points. Pairing with his world championship teammate, John Tavares should boost his input and give Tavares confidence to sign in New York long-term.
As for Edmonton, this was a move that helps more for cap than on-ice skill. They ship $6 million on Eberle’s contract, which helped them extend defenseman Kris Russell. It also increases cap space for when Hart winner Connor McDavid needs a new deal.
As for Strome, he didn’t live up to his fifth overall selection with just one 50-point campaign in four years. He could benefit from a new environment, but on the ice, the Oilers don’t benefit as much. Edmonton could’ve received more for Eberle, it seemed.
Grade: A for New York, B- for Edmonton
Canadiens bring in David Schlemko from Golden Knights
Vegas sends out another expansion draft pick for a 2019 pick. This was a minor move from both sides, which didn’t have to give up much.
Montreal needed defensive help after shipping prospect Mikhail Sergachev and Nathan Beaulieu. In Schlemko, they get a blue liner with back-to-back double-digit point seasons. The 30-year-old vet had 112 blocks and a 53.6 percent Corsi rating. It’s not a major step forward; he hasn’t played a full season. If he’s healthy, he helps.
Grade: B for Montreal, INC for Vegas with draft pick too far away to judge
Niklas Hjalmarsson moves from Blackhawks to the Coyotes
Niklas Hjalmarsson is headed to the Coyotes. Photo by Matt Marton, AP.
This is when the NHL trades started to boil. Chicago sent their 10-year defenseman to Arizona for defenseman Connor Murphy and forward Laurent Dauphin.
Even though Arizona’s front office is in a tenuous phase, they still took a big swing for a three-time Stanley Cup winner. He logged over 20 minutes per game in the past six seasons and had a career-high 181 blocks last season. He has excellent size, moves the puck well and can anchor the Coyotes’ blue line for a few more years.
As for Chicago, let’s just say fans were not happy about the news. They lose a strong core of their championship teams to relieve their cap.
Murphy is the better piece in the return deal, but he’s not as skilled as Hjalmarsson defensively. He’s 6-foot-4 and more lauded for his skating ability. The 2011 first-round pick can develop well under new assistant coach Ulf Samuelsson. How well he does dictates if this gamble pays off for Chicago.
Grade: A- for Arizona, C+ for Chicago with chance to work out better
Brandon Saad returns to Midway while Artemi Panarin heads to Columbus
Chicago wasn’t finished. In fact, they dropped a bomb on the NHL with this move. Saad returns to the Blackhawks along with goalie Anton Forsberg and a 2018 fifth-rounder. The Blue Jackets receive Panarin as well as forward Tyler Motte and a sixth round pick in today’s draft.
This is a slam dunk for Columbus. They receive a Calder Award winner with consecutive 30-goal seasons. He’s dominant on the power play and adds a versatile offensive game to a team that can use it. His contract runs for two more years at $6 million, about the same as Saad.
The decision-making behind this for Chicago stems from Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane. Panarin’s next contract would cost too much for Chicago based on their contracts. Plus, Saad was impressive playing on Toews’s line for two Stanley Cups.
Chicago Sun-Times writer Mark Lazerus made a good point yesterday: Toews could regain his success with Saad while Kane will still produce without Panarin.
The Blackhawks have turned their team around to keep themselves atop the Western Conference. They have the chance to do that after these trades, but it’s a gamble. Columbus should get a productive Panarin, but it remains to be seen if he can contribute just as much without Kane. Each trade has its risks, but this is a balanced trade on both sides.
Grade: A- for Columbus and Chicago
Rangers dispatch Antti Raanta, Derek Stepan to Coyotes
Arizona continued to wheel and deal yesterday when they snagged their new starting goalie and a top-six forward. In exchange, young blue liner Anthony DeAngelo and the seventh overall pick, which the Rangers used to pick center Lias Andersson.
As written last week, Raanta was a name to watch in the expansion draft. When Vegas didn’t select him, Arizona was salivating. The Blueshirts’ netminder enjoyed a career season. He deserves the chance to nab the starting job.
As for Stepan, his contract was steep for New York and he’s automatically the Coyotes’ most expensive player. He’s also the best center now, recording four straight 50-point campaigns. Stepan also helps on the power play that ranked 26th last season in the desert. This was a high-upside trade that fills multiple roles. Now, about finding a head coach…
Meanwhile, New York gets younger on defense with DeAngelo. He’s just 21 years old with an offensive acumen, notching 14 points in 39 games for the Coyotes. DeAngelo is undersized and will have to improve defensively to crack the Rangers’ lineup. Andersson’s play will determine how this trade shakes out for New York. He comes from the elite HV71 in Sweden. While his skating, versatility and defense are superb, he didn’t stuff the scoresheet with 19 points in 42 league games.
Grade: A for Arizona (not just for the alphabet), B- for New York
Blue Jackets and Wild exchange forwards
Rounding out yesterday’s pre-draft NHL trades came with a small move for both teams. Dante Salituro heads to Minnesota while Jordan Schroeder goes the other way.
The 20-year-old Salituro provides goal scoring ability from a 5-foot-8 frame. He impressed in training camp and signed a three-year, two-way contract with Columbus last July. In 295 games across five OHL seasons, he tallied 122 goals and 160 assists. He won’t arrive in the Twin Cities anytime soon, but he has potential.
Schroeder is another small forward but is six years older. With the Wild this year, Schroeder scored six times for 13 points in 37 games. At 5-foot-9, he has to overcome his size. But on the ice, he has the instincts to maintain a roster spot.
Grade: B for Minnesota, C for Columbus
Blues snag Brayden Schenn from Flyer to shed Jori Lehtera
While yesterday trade hype built in the afternoon, it was quiet for most of the draft. There was a minor Blackhawks-Stars trade, but St. Louis and Philadelphia broke the silence. Schenn heads to the Blues by himself while Philly acquired Lehtera, the 27th overall pick (used on Morgan Frost) and a future conditional first-round pick. Elliotte Friedman breaks down the conditional pick.
The Blues upgrade with a more bona fide scorer in Schenn, who has 82 goals in the past three seasons. Lehtera is a great facilitator, but Schenn is an upgrade and Lehtera is making a lot of cash. The negatives for St. Louis is the possible price. They went back into the first round by trading Ryan Reaves to Pittsburgh, so the 27th doesn’t hurt. Two possible first-round picks can be a steep price.
Philadelphia can use Lehtera for depth as they ease new draft pick Nolan Patrick into the team. Frost provides speed and special teams abilities down the middle too. It seems the Flyers are prioritizing playmakers that can move the puck. Depending on where the conditional pick winds up, they can add even more pieces.
They have to replace Schenn’s production. Will they give Patrick the chance? Those two questions are the risks for Philadelphia at the moment, but ones that have quick solutions for a team on the rise.
Grade: B for St. Louis, B+ for Philadelphia
The Final Trade
As for Reaves heading to Pittsburgh, it’s icing on the cake for the Metro division. Reaves is an aggressive player that was 10th last season in hits. The Penguins love those types of players. He should perform well there as the division improves exponentially.
Feature image of Blackhawks General Manager Stan Bowman by Anthony Souffle of the Chicago Tribune
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