January 13th 2014 10:11 am
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Mr. Hockey: the ‘50s:
The latter part of the 1940s belonged to the Maple Leafs; since the NHL assumed control of the Stanley Cup in ’26, no team had won it more than twice in a row. That changed in the last three years of the ‘40s, when Toronto won three straight, and four times in five years (winning in ’45 and ’47-’49). Their opponents in the last two Stanley Cup victories were the Detroit Red Wings, a sign of things to come. In the first year of the new decade, the Red Wings took home the Stanley Cup, and would go on to dominate the first half of the 1950s. Of the first six Stanley Cup finals in the ‘50s, the Red Wings would win four of them. The Winged Wheelmen were led by Gordie Howe, a brilliant hockey player who began his career in the NHL in the 1946-47 season, and would go on to play professional hockey for 31 more season, spanning four decades. Nicknamed “Mr. Hockey,” Howe won six Art Ross trophies, six Hart Trophies and when he retired held the records for goals and points, considered by many to be the greatest hockey player of all time (before Gretzky came along, anyway).
Just as the Detroit Red Wings had faced the Maple Leafs twice at the end of the Leaf’s string of Stanley Cup wins in the ‘40s and went on to form their own dynasty, the Montreal Canadiens did the same, facing the Red Wings in ’54 and ’55, losing both times. However, the rest of the decade belonged to the Habs (their nickname, short for “Les Habitants”). Beginning in 1956, the Canadiens went on a string of five straight Stanley Cup victories, unmatched either before or since. The Canadiens even switched coaches twice during their run, but remained unbeatable for that stretch. Just as the Red Wings were led by Gordie Howe, the Canadiens were led by Maurice Richard and a newcomer, the young (and handsome) hockey star Jean Beliveau.
Three innovations that changed the game forever appeared in the 1950s, and two of them actually began in the same year. The first was television. Though televised hockey had actually appeared as far back as 1939, it was an extremely rare occurrence. In 1952, however, as more people began to own televisions, hockey waded into the pool of TV. The first to dip their toes were the Chicago Black Hawks, who decided to broadcast weekend matinee games on Saturdays (not wanting to compete with Saturday night television programs. The Saturday matinees became a staple for the Hawks for years. That same year, a program began in Canada that goes in to this day: Hockey Night in Canada. The first airing was on November 1, 1952, showing a game between the Canadiens and Maple Leafs (beginning in the second period, as Conn Smythe didn’t want to show it all). Smythe had sold the rights to Imperial Oil for $100 per game that first year (just $808 today), but after seeing it was a smash success, Smythe sold three years’ worth of games for $450 thousand dollars beginning that next year (worth $3.6 million today).
The second innovation (and arguably just as significant) was the invention of the Zamboni. The Zamboni, the ice-smoothing tractor used at ice rinks around the world, was created by Frank Zamboni, who opened an outdoor ice rink in southern California in 1940. Zamboni, with backgrounds in both auto repair and refrigeration, wanted a less time-consuming way to resurface the ice, coming up with the machine that drives over the ice, shaving it, smoothing and squeeging it with clean water and recycling the dirty water for reuse. The first Zamboni used in an NHL game was between, again, Montreal and Toronto in 1952.
The last innovation occurred at the very end of the decade. Canadien goaltender Jacques Plante, winner of five Vezina trophies and five Stanley Cups, had been hit in the face by a puck in 1955, sidelining him for five weeks, and again in 1956. After the ’56 strike, Plante mentioned in an interview he’d be interested in a facemask of some kind. A Quebec fan sent Plante a plastic facemask that Plante used in practice for the next three years. In ’57, a man named Bill Burchmore sent Plante a letter, telling him about a facemask made of fiberglass that could be molded to fit Plante’s face that Burchmore had been working with. Together, Plante and Burchmore perfect the design, but it wasn’t until 1959 that it finally made its debut in the NHL. Plante’s coach, Toe Blake, refused to allow Plante to wear the mask, worried it would distract him. On November 1, after Plante was hit in the face with a slapshot, he refused to go back in unless he could use the facemask. Blake finally agreed, and after the Canadiens went on a 10-game winning streak with Plante wearing the facemask, it became a permanent fixture, both in Montreal and across the league.
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Mom remembers Angel Granddad watching Hockey Night in Canada with all those old great ones on it. Mom was just a kitten and the TV was black & white, but Angel Pierre used to love to chase the puck across the screen. Here's your treat, we sauteed it in butter for you today for a change.
Another great blog today. I bet with the freezing weather so many furiends have been experiencing, they could all use a Zamboni on their yards and streets! MOL! Amazing how long it took for hockey to allow use of the facemask! I left a treat for you buddy with purrs and hugs.
"I don't mind a cat, in its place. But its place is not in the middle of my back at 4 a.m." - Maynard Good Stoddard
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