Articles tagged with: Hockey

A Mayor and his Coliseum

on Tuesday, 01 September 2015. Posted in Hockey

Special to BackSportsPage by Sean K. Palmer


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A Mayor and his Coliseum

There’s less than 40 days until the puck drops on the 2015-2016 NHL hockey season.  As it approaches, there is a strange feeling upon me; something or someone is missing.   

See, I've been an Islander fan since the day that I was born. From the moment my grandfather took me to my first game, sometime in the late 1970's.  There I saw Bossy, Trottier, Potvin, and of course, the legendary coach, Al Arbour.  

THE KID’S ALRIGHT...

on Tuesday, 22 November 2011.

Projected top draft pick Michael Matheson puts education first, chooses NCAA


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THE KID’S ALRIGHT...

With his opponents tick-tacking passes through the neutral zone, 17 year-old Michael Matheson seems to stop on a dime. Though his feet never stop moving, he appears to be standing still as the play unfolds around him. Then it happens. With a quick snap of his wrists, he’s stripped the puck from a baffled Viking forward and is exploding down ice, leaving opponents and teammates alike to play catch-up.

 

Long Live the Beer League Hero

on Thursday, 20 October 2011.

The Unspoken Truths of Recreational Sport


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Long Live the Beer League Hero

Losing by a score of 8-2 with just over 54 seconds remaining in the third period, players on both benches were busy gathering water bottles and back-up sticks as I lined up for the game’s final face-off in the offensive end.

The puck squirted free into the corner, and I could feel the presence of the opposing center on my left. He was gaining quickly, but I decided to dig in, hoping for one more tally in the name of pride. There was still plenty of time to throw a quick pass to the blue line before going hard to the net in search of a rebound or deflection.

As we clamored for the loose puck, our feet became tangled. He hit the ice with a soft clunk and the sound of equipment grinding against ice dissipated into background noise as I pulled away from the crowd. Then, just as I arrived at the puck, I caught the reflected image of an airborne hockey stick in the glass over my left shoulder. Before I had time to realize what was happening, the two-handed tomahawk chop came down with a wallop against my right ankle.

A grown man, in the presence of 20 other grown men...in an otherwise abandoned arena...at 10pm on a Monday...in a regular season, beer-league game...which his team was winning by six goals with under a minute to play...had just tripped over his own two feet and decided that the most appropriate response would be to break my ankle.

As I rose slowly to my feet, a scuffle ensued. I said something nasty about his mother (or was it his wife?) and the referees decided that playing the last 30 seconds wasn’t worth the 11 bucks they were being paid to be there. They called the game and everybody went home angry.

Other than a bruised calf, there was no damage done on the play...but I couldn’t help but wonder:

What is it about playing a sport that makes some people think they have the right to lose their damn minds?

I mean, if a guy gets cut off in traffic, there aren’t many who would get out of the car to take a full-on baseball swing at another human being with a five-foot stick made of carbon graphite...

Because that would be crazy.

Yet, I hadn’t endangered this guy’s family. I hadn’t even dinged his bumper and left him with a repair bill. I was the winner of an insignificant foot race at the tail-end of a meaningless game, the outcome of which had already been decided. And this jackass figured it was the appropriate moment to unleash his inner Bruce Banner all over my Achilles tendon.

But why?

In a 2003 article by Tim Delaney, professor of sport sociology and social theory, he described sport as a microcosm of society. The experience of winning in sport mirrors the experience of success in life, with similar boundaries, competitors and laws governing participation. Just like in real life, you experience success and failure, teamwork and individual responsibilities, good breaks and bad bounces, and occasionally, you simply run out of time.

Thus, the reward of asserting dominance on-ice (or on-field, on-court, etc...) can sometimes fill a void left by the lack of success in a person’s “real” life.

As human beings, we are hard-wired to operate within certain social parameters. Throughout our evolution, the ability to distinguish between “us” and “them” has aided our ability to survive. It’s the reason people continuously sub-divide themselves; PC vs. Mac, Republican vs. Democrat, Budweiser vs. Coors, Packers vs. Bears...

We attempt to define who we are by establishing what we are not.

Once the line has been established, displays of dominance and aggression towards other groups essentially scratch a primordial itch to justify our own ambitions. If it’s a matter of “we” versus “they,” then obviously “we” are the ones who deserve the spoils.

But we do not live in primordial times. In the modern world, acts of violence and aggression are deterred by the threat of incarceration or other forms of punishment.

So we compensate; by revving the engines of expensive cars, by purchasing houses well beyond our physical needs, and by wearing 9 lbs. of titanium and diamonds around our wrists when a plastic Timex would do the same job for 1% of the price.

It’s all about displaying dominance.

Now, I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but there is something deeply unsatisfying about the lack of violence involved with these things. Having nice things is certainly proof of ability, but buried somewhere deep inside of every man is the need to stand over a defeated opponent, roaring out his dominance and thumping his chest like an angry gorilla.

Displaying dominance is nice, but asserting it is a different beast altogether.

Which brings me back to our beer league hero. Sport, it appears, is the last sanctuary of pure masculinity in our society; a place where the harshest penalty imaginable is the game ejection...that is, a forcible return to the real world.

With the amount of time left on the clock when the incident occurred, this particular angry gorilla had very little to lose. He was ejected from the game, but the referee didn’t even bother marking the penalty correctly on the score sheet. Technically, the ejection was given to the player with my jersey number on the opposing team (a player who, for the record, does not exist).

In the real world, the appropriate response would be to contact the proper authorities and let the system take care of the consequences. After reading all of this, you may think I would be inclined to do just that, to use my understanding of the situation to rise above the childishness of physical conflict.

But you would be wrong.

Sport is not about rising above conflict, it is about digging deep into it and engaging an enemy. It is about defending yourself and your teammates while working towards a common goal. It is about reverting to the most base of desires and simply overwhelming an opponent with sheer force.

That’s the beauty of sport; it is about scratching that itch.

So no, I won’t be writing to the league in order to correct the score sheet and ensure that the player’s mandatory suspension is upheld. And I will certainly not be forgetting the incident and moving along with my season.

Instead, I will simply take note of his jersey number and the next time I catch him with his head down, I will unleash the fury of thousands upon thousands of years of pent-up evolutionary aggression all over his sorry ass.

Because that’s what sports are for. The only difference is that I will understand why it feels so damn good to do so.

And if sport is truly capable of playing the role it should play in society...maybe we’ll grab a beer after the game and laugh the whole thing off. I have a feeling he might be the kind of guy who would appreciate the new watch I just bought.

Raising the Draft Age

on Tuesday, 18 October 2011. Posted in Hockey

Is Bob Nicholson Trying to Kill Two Birds With One Stone?


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Title

Hockey Canada President Bob Nicholson has submitted a nine-page proposal to the NHL and its Players Association which would see the official age for draft eligibility raised to 19 years. Under the current system, players become draft eligible at the age of 18.

According to Nicholson, this leaves many players in a sort of career limbo, caught somewhere between the professional and amateur ranks at a key point in their development process. Many players find themselves drafted at a young age, but end up parked in an NHL press box rather than garnering valuable on-ice experience.

Arena Etiquette

on Tuesday, 11 October 2011. Posted in Hockey

Be a Better Hockey Fan


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Arena Etiquette

When you head out to see your local boys lace ‘em up and bang, please keep in mind the following tips for being less of a knucklehead:

-Banging on the glass. Has any clear pane of material ever been erected that was designed for grown men to slap their hands against and scream? No. This might seem obvious, but the glass is there so you can see the game and not fear for your safety. It is not a fishbowl…and if it was a fishbowl, would you really taunt the fish? What kind of sicko are you? These are professional athletes, supposedly entertaining you. Are you going to disrespect the years of training and continuous effort it took them to reach the pinnacle of their profession by yelling in their face and playing patty cake with the glass? Sit down, cheer and clap like a sane person. Kids bang on the glass. Hipster posers bang on the glass. Bandwagon-jumping, fair weather fakes bang on the glass. Fans don’t bang on the glass. Fans respect every player on the ice.

-Booing the visiting team’s star player every time he touches the puck. We get it: you don’t like the guy. Maybe he scored on your team a lot in the playoffs. Perhaps there has been a war of words in the press. A personal rivalry between the star players on the home team is often the catalyst for these sorts of situations. But when you boo vociferously each time the puck touches his stick, you sound petty and dumb. The entire arena seems like a school yard hissing at an unpopular kid. It is a base and vulgar reaction. What does this act of mass ignorance accomplish? The player already knows you don’t like him. Do you think you are going to rattle him? Is he going to think, ‘Oh no, they hate me! Guess I’ll just lie down and die then.’ More often than not, this type of taunting has the opposite effect, spurring the player on to perform at an even higher level. Again, act like a sane person and cheer for your team. Booing against someone instead of cheering for your guys just proves you fear their skill.

-Whooping or yipping when a former player touches the puck. How small-minded can you be? There are a finite number of players skilled enough to play in the NHL. There are also a finite number of teams. Therefore, players will be traded or sign with multiple teams throughout their career. Even the Great Gretzky played for several teams. Think of your favorite player. If he hasn’t already played for more than one team, odds are he will and soon. Did they leave for more money? My god, what a traitor! None of us fans would do anything like that, would we? None of us has ever left a job and moved across the country for a career boost and better pay. So much of bad behavior in arenas is driven by emotion. If you’d stop to think about the better opportunities afforded by a move, perhaps you’d cut the player some slack. Their careers are short relative to our own and they have to make hay while the sun is shining. Sometimes that means moving on to better pastures. And when you yelp at them, you are decrying every good play, every bit of joy and entertainment they provided to you while they were with your team. Be respectful. You never know when they might be back for a second go round in your town.

-Mock cheering for a goalie having a bad night. Exactly what purpose does this serve? It won’t make him play any better. Or do you seek to humiliate one of your favorite team’s players? Pointing out his failures will surely bolster his confidence. What was done to you as a child? Did your father mock clap when you fell face first in the mud? Do you feel that made you stronger? Does derision serve as a coaching tool with your children or at work? What a joy you must be at family gatherings. If you can’t cheer for a struggling player, just be quiet. Or I’ll come to where you work and golf clap when you screw up.

-Talking on your cell phone and waving at the camera. When I am watching the game at home, the last thing I want to see is you standing up and waving with your cell phone jammed against your stupid face. When I am at the game and you are doing this, you are annoying and are blocking my view. Either way, you look like a jerk that has never been away from home before. I can just imagine how that conversation goes: “Look ma, Cletus is on the TV box. He sure done made the big time now. Cletus, bring me home one of them city street hot dogs that the police mans eats on the Law & Order.”

-Getting drunk. There are several factors at play here. Firstly, you need to understand the appropriate level of inebriation for a public place. The arena is not a bar. There are children at the games, as well as people who don’t want to deal with your drunken ass. Many arenas have bars. Feel free to sit in the bar and watch the game, but for the life of me, I don’t know why you wouldn’t just drink at home and watch the game on TV. A lot of venues have drink and meal packages before the games with unlimited beer. Know thyself. Unlimited does not mean “drink as much as you possibly can to get your money’s worth.” Worst of all are those who show up to the game late, already tipsy, have a couple of beers and leave during the second intermission. This happens at downtown arenas on weekends when young men and women are on the prowl. They have no interest in the game, only in lurking and being seen. I abhor these people. In general, if you are loud and belligerent and you feel it is your duty to berate the officials, we all know you are hopped up on false courage and are a tiny little man on the inside.

Now for the twist: I have done every one of these things. I have gotten drunk and screamed at refs until I turned purple. I have booed opposing players, mock cheered, yipped and banged on the glass. When hockey was new to me, it was all very exciting. I wanted to see fights all the time. That was in the bad old days. I didn’t know any better. As in every other aspect of my life, my appreciation for hockey has also matured. Being a Washington fan, my taste went from Dale Hunter to Peter Bondra: from brash and violent to elegant and sleek. I no longer let the emotions of a young man control me. I see things more clearly, with a fuller appreciation for the details. The items I have listed are barriers, vestiges of an adolescent response to the game that hinders one from enjoying the NHL experience at its full potential.

 

What Goes Up...

on Friday, 23 September 2011.

Some Big Name Players Who May Prove Underwhelming in 2012

Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.” –Seneca, ~50 AD

He may not have been a hockey fan, but two thousand years after the ancient Roman philosopher uttered the most famous of his musings, Seneca’s logic still rings true. For every break-out rookie performance, there is a disappointed veteran grinding his teeth on the bench. For every open ice toe-drag that leads to a highlight reel goal, there is an embarrassed defenseman lying face down in a pile of snow.

Such is the nature of sport. Such is the nature of life.

In my last piece, I examined a few of the players who have the potential to reinvent themselves this season; players who, for whatever reason, have been overlooked in terms of their potential impact and could come from nowhere to take the league by storm in 2012.

In this article, I will examine a few of the players who I believe could be poised for disappointment this year. Fantasy owners take heed; the past does not necessarily reflect well upon the future, and not all that glitters is gold.

Surprise, Surprise!

on Wednesday, 21 September 2011.

Three Players Who Just Might Shock the World in 2011-12

With the preseason once again upon us, experts from around the world of hockey are clamoring to their crystal balls, eager to provide predictions for the season that lay ahead.

As always, there are a few topics upon which the media has chosen to focus its speculation; Steven Stamkos is widely expected to continue his meteoric ascension. The pressure is on in Vancouver as the Canucks look to prove their window of opportunity has not yet closed. And the number of two-cent donations piling up on Sidney Crosby’s status could fill a vault that would make Scrooge McDuck blush.

Each year, however, there are a small number of players who seem to appear from nowhere to take the league by storm.

The 2010-11 season was certainly no exception, with veteran net minder Tim Thomas leading the way. After a series of health-related issues forced him to forfeit his starting duties to back-up Tuuka Rask, Thomas was considered a long-shot, at best, to see regular playing time in the Boston crease...

He ended up having an OK year.

Whether it is a veteran player who is counted out too soon, or a blue-chip prospect that comes from nowhere (anyone remember Clarke MacArthur as a Buffalo Sabre?), every NHL season has its share of surprise heroes. Here’s a closer look at three players who I believe could fit the bill in 2011-12:

Crosby's Nagging Injury

on Thursday, 08 September 2011.

CONCUSSION WOES STILL HAUNT THE PENGUINS CENTER


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Crosby's Nagging Injury
Sidney Crosby has announced that there will be no timetable for his return to National Hockey League action, however, he feels that he will be back in the upcoming season.  He has been skating, but he still experiences concussion symptoms when reaching 80-90 percent physical exertion capacity.  The Pittsburgh center and league golden boy has not played since receiving two concussions this past January.  As you may recall, he suffered the first injury during the Winter Classic on New Year’s Day at the hands (er, shoulder) of David Steckel of the Washington Capitals.  A few days later, on January 5, he received another hit that exacerbated his earlier injury, compounding the concussion.  This time it was a check from behind from Viktor Hedman of the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Fighting For Their Lives

on Monday, 05 September 2011.

OUTLAWING NHL FIGHTING WILL DO LITTLE TO PREVENT DEPRESSION-RELATED DEATHS


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Fighting For Their Lives
As I opened the newspaper and flipped through to the sports section this morning, I experienced a palpable sinking in my chest. Yet another "expert" had taken the opportunity to hop up onto his soapbox and proclaim that, surely, this incident must be the final straw in the long-fought battle to impart an outright ban on fighting in the National Hockey League.

Welcome Home Jets

on Monday, 29 August 2011. Posted in Hockey

A PRIMER ON WINNIPEG


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Welcome Home Jets
If I told you that the Atlanta Thrashers were relocating to Akron, Ohio you might think me mad.  Why would a professional sports franchise abandon the largest market in the southeast for a city that isn’t even the largest media center in its own state?  Cleveland and Cincinnati don’t even have a team, how could humble Akron net such a boon?  Surely a cross-state rivalry with Columbus is afoot.

Flyers' Woes At Center

on Monday, 29 August 2011.

Replacing The Core Of Their Line Up


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Flyers' Woes At Center
Michael Nylander was invited to training camp on August 17th by the Philadelphia Flyers.  The Swedish-born journeyman center last played in the NHL during the '08-'09 season with the Washington Capitals.  A fourth round draft pick by the Hartford Whalers in 1991, the 38-year-old has spent the past few seasons splitting time between the American Hockey League and the Finnish Elite League.  This is a desperate move to bring a modicum of talent to the position after this summer’s self-immolation.

The Blue Shirts Must Find A New Messier

on Sunday, 28 August 2011.

THE NHL NEEDS THE RANGERS TO SUCCEED


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The Blue Shirts Must Find A New Messier
The New York Rangers play their home games in the heart of a massive and storied megalopolis.  They toil in the nexus of a population center so massive that they require at least two of every manner of sports team to satisfy demand.  Getting around in such a densely populated environment is difficult, so if someone makes the effort to attend a contest and pays the inflated urban price for a hockey ticket, the team better deliver or the fans will find someone else to take their money.  As you move out of Manhattan proper, the opportunity for entertainment doesn’t drop off all that much.  For a fan to make a trip into the city to see the local boys play they have to fight traffic, pay for parking and again pay high urban ticket prices.  On the way to and from the game they will pass venues of all types that offer far more convenient ways to spend their discretionary funds.  As a general manager, you can’t have your fans wishing they’d have just done something else.  But that is a danger for the Rangers organization.

Original Six All-Time Rosters: Chicago Blackhawks

on Monday, 22 August 2011.

4 OF 6


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Original Six All-Time Rosters: Chicago Blackhawks

After suffering through a 48-year championship drought, the Chicago Blackhawks found themselves atop the hockey world once again in 2010. In a city that is thoroughly saturated with sports success, the Blackhawks had become something of an afterthought in the wake of consistently competitive performances by the Bulls, Bears, and even White Sox through the latter half of the twentieth century and into the early 2000s.

Original Six All-Time Rosters: Boston Bruins

on Friday, 12 August 2011.

3 of 6


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Original Six All-Time Rosters: Boston Bruins

Undoubtedly the most dominant city in professional sports over the past decade, the streets of Boston have hosted parades celebrating three Super Bowls, two World Series’, and an NBA championship since 2001.

But when Boston Bruins’ captain Zdeno Chara hoisted the Stanley Cup this past June, Beantown erupted like never before. An estimated 1.7 million fans took to the streets for a celebration that rocked the city-center until the wee morning hours. The celebration was not only larger than any Super Bowl parade, it also dwarfed the 2004 Red Sox World Series parade, making it literally the largest celebration in the history of America’s most historic city. Not bad for a "fourth sport".

With the dust barely settled on the franchise’s first championship in nearly forty years, we look back upon the greatest players to don the black and gold:

 

Original Six All-Time Rosters: The New York Rangers

on Wednesday, 03 August 2011.

2 of 6


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Original Six All-Time Rosters: The New York Rangers

For many, the era of the Original Six represents the golden age of professional hockey. By the 1940s, modern rules had taken shape and the National Hockey League had emerged as the dominant force within the game. Through radio broadcasts and a budding television medium, fans were able to connect with the game like never before.

Nowhere was this growth better represented  than in New York City. Under the bright lights of Broadway, a hockey game could blossom into a grand spectacle. And it was the New York Rangers who took center stage.

For many players, the lure of playing in the world’s most exciting city was simply too tempting to resist. The Rangers were able to attract top-notch talent as players flocked to the energy and excitement that was mid-century New York. The result is an alumni base that reads like a "Who’s Who" of Hockey Hall of Fame inductees.

Sifting through the seemingly infinite annals of Rangers history, I have emerged with what I believe to be the single greatest line-up the franchise has to offer. In this, the second installment of the Original Six All-Time Roster series, I present the New York Rangers:

LW, Adam Graves- (1991-01) A true fan favorite for his hard-nosed style of play and offensive flair, Graves was a critical component of the 1994 Stanley Cup team that ended New York’s 50 year championship drought. In what may have been the single greatest individual season in Rangers history, Graves put up a team record 52 regular season goals and an additional 10 in the playoffs en route to winning the Cup. That year, he was also presented with the King Clancy Memorial Trophy in recognition of his outstanding community involvement.

C, Mark Messier- (1991-97) There is only one justifiable reason to have Jean Ratelle sitting on any bench, and that reason is Mark Messier. Quite simply the greatest leader in the history of the game, Messier captured his second Hart Trophy as league MVP in his first season as a Blueshirt in 1991-92. Two years later, facing elimination at the hands of the New Jersey Devils in the Eastern Conference Finals, he guaranteed a Game 6 victory. With the entire Rangers team on his back, Messier proceeded to record a natural hat trick en route to ousting the Devils and eventually winning the Cup. The display of raw emotion as Messier ecstatically clings to the Cup at center ice remains an iconic image in the hearts of not only Rangers faithfuls, but of hockey fans the world over.

RW, Andy Bathgate- (1954-64) Perhaps one of the most under-appreciated Rangers of all time, Andy Bathgate was a legitimate superstar overshadowed by mediocre team performances. Bathgate took home the Hart Trophy in 1959 and was a perennial all-star for more than a decade, leading the Rangers in scoring for eight consecutive seasons. One of the very first players to harness the power of the slap shot, he may be best remembered for inflicting the facial laceration that led directly to Jacques Plante’s development of the goaltender mask. Known for his fiery temper as much as his scoring, he was later quoted as saying, "I was skating past and old Jacques, he stuck me with the goalie stick. You can’t hit him, so how do you get back at a goalie? Boom..."

D, Brad Park- (1969-76) Brad Park could well be the second best defenseman to have ever laced up a pair of skates. It was his only misfortune that throughout the course of his career he was rarely, if ever, the best defenseman to be playing in the NHL on any given night. Playing his entire career in the shadow of Bobby Orr, Park was a six-time runner-up for the Norris Trophy as the league’s top defenseman and a first team all-star on seven occasions. Although his defensive skills were impeccable, it was his smooth skating and ability to contribute offensively that helped him to redefine the defense position.

D, Brian Leetch- (1987-04) Mark Messier called him "the greatest Ranger of all-time." He won the Calder Trophy as Rookie of the Year in 1989 and the Norris Trophy as the league’s best defenseman in 1992 and 1997. He is one of only five defensemen to ever record 100 points in a season and in 1994, he led the entire playoffs in scoring en route to winning the Stanley Cup and taking home the Conn Smythe as playoff MVP... not bad for a kid from Corpus Christi, Texas. Brian Leetch was simply the epitome of a New York Ranger and his 17 seasons in blue and red still resonate with fans and experts alike, as evidenced by his first-ballot Hall of Fame induction in 2008.

G, Mike Richter- (1989-03) Mike Richter didn’t exactly take the NHL by storm early in his career, bouncing around the minor leagues for parts of three seasons before settling into split responsibilities in the Rangers goal in 1990. When the Rangers traded goaltender John Vanbiesbrouck following the 1993 season, however, Richter quickly blossomed into an elite-level NHL goaltender. The following season, he appeared in the All-Star game before his hometown crowd at Madison Square Garden, becoming the first goaltender to take home MVP honors in almost a decade. It wasn’t until the playoffs, however, that Rangers fans saw Richter’s true capacity as he backstopped all 16 victories en route to the Rangers’ first championship in more than 50 years. He was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame alongside teammate Brian Leetch in 2008.

Coach, Lester Patrick- (1926-1939) The first coach in franchise history, Lester Patrick is also the only coach to win multiple Stanley Cups behind the Rangers’ bench, taking home the hardware in 1928 and 1933. He also guided New York to a third championship as general manager in 1940. Although famous for implementing the offensive red line, Patrick is perhaps best remembered for the 1928 Stanley Cup Finals match-up versus the Montreal Maroons. Following an eye injury to goalie Lorne Chabot and hampered by a depleted roster, Patrick did the unthinkable and simply suited up to tend the goal himself. Not only was he adequate between the pipes, he was stellar, allowing just a single goal in a 2-1 overtime victory. Today, the Lester Patrick Trophy is awarded annually to honor outstanding contributions to hockey in the United States.

Honorable Mentions- Vic Hadfield, Jean Ratelle, Rod Gilbert, Ron Greschner, Jaromir Jagr, Harry Howell, Eddie Giacomin, Henrik Lundqvist, Coach Mike Keenan