The All Star Weekend Has Come and Gone

By Chris Parker

The All-Star Weekend has come and gone, meaning NHL teams have ramped up their play for the important stretch drive. The final 30 or so games that so-often determine not only who will battle in the first round, but also who will make the post-season "show" at all. And as much I've enjoyed watching Chris Chelios' 45th season (it's actually his 25th. It just seems like his 45th) and his efforts to hack opponents black and blue, or Sean Avery's self-destruction, or the usual coaching carousel, or Crosby and Ovechkin's highlight reel plays, it's my "recreational" (insert 'drop-in', or 'shinny', or 'old-timers' as applicable) hockey season that has my toes a-tingling right now. Really, is there a sweeter smell in the world than cracking open that hockey bag each week? Sure, Chanel No. 5 is nice, but we're talking well-seasoned hockey gloves here people - no contest!

While millions of people of people nation-wide just don't get what we're talking about, or don't get it yet, hundreds of thousands of hockey fanatics like me (like you?) spend the tail end of each summer counting the weeks and days until their hockey leagues or weekly groups again hit the ice. We are a brotherhood, a fraternity, proud to have paid our dues in the heavy slot, the corners, the "trolley tracks" and the penalty box.

After summers of fattening up on golf and beer, we winter athletes head the yearly call of the ice and head to rinks from coast to coast to begin stretching out those lungs, and ridding ourselves of the dreaded "jell-o" legs . I still vividly remember my first game this year; I wheezed and gasped for air so loudly, the players in the adjoining arena came over to look thinking Sergei Makarov was back in Canada. But really, isn't that horrible deep-in-your-chest feeling what the start of the season is all about? Knowing that that's as bad as it is going to get. That you are only going to skate faster, deke better, and pass more crisply as each game goes by. Of course, by the end of the season, you're playing at the level you should have been at all year, only to find that it's all done and you're zipping up the gear all safe and sound until Fall arrives again. Ahhh, the life of a serious athlete... Nothing better.

We are so glad you have chosen to visit us here at FarParker, your complete hockey source and resource. And, thank-you also for donating a few minutes of your life to give my column a whirl. In fact, you may at this very moment be thinking "what can I, the reader, expect to see in this column in the weeks and months ahead?" Well, let me tell you. I will be tackling all-things hockey, providing my own unique insight and tons of skewed opinions on such topics as the NHL's possible expansion to Europe, fighting in hockey, the David Frost trial, unfair travel schedules for the NHL's western teams, Don Cherry - asset or ass___le?, hockey's golden days of the early 80's, as well as equipment reviews and comparisons, prospects to watch, and much more...

Wanna put your two cents in? Hit me up via email at to share your thoughts on what you've read, dispute my irrefutable opinions, or just to let me know what you'd like to see in future columns. Who knows, if you've got moxie, you may just see your comments or questions addressed in future columns.

Strap yourselves in hockey fans; it's going to be a great year! - 31496

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Boston Bruins' Scoring Legend Phil Esposito

By Ross Everett

Although many of his offensive records have now been left in the dust by Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux, former Boston Bruins/New York Rangers center Phil Esposito is still regarded by hockey experts as one of the greatest players in NHL history.

A native of Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, Esposito was signed by the Chicago Blackhawks as a teenager. After some time in junior hockey, he was called up to the NHL in 1964 quickly earning a spot on the teams top line between Bobby Hull and Marcel Dionne. In 1967, Esposito was traded to the Boston Bruins along with Ken Hodge and Fred Stanfield.

It wasnt long before Esposito started to destroy long standing NHL records. In 1969, he became the first NHL player to top the 100 point mark (combined goals and assists) for the season"he obliterated the record with 126 points, which would be the first of six times that hed top the century mark. He topped 100 points in five straight seasons between 1971 and 1975, missing a sixth straight season by a single point with 99 in 1970. Bruins fans were fond of displaying car bumper stickers that read Jesus Saves; Esposito scores on the rebound.

In the 1970-71 season, Esposito smashed the NHL record for most goals in a season with 76. That record stood for over a decade until Wayne Gretzky scored 79 for the Edmonton Oilers in 1981-82. Gretzky also broke Espositos single season points record of 154. Even now, only four other players including Gretzky have scored more than 150 points in a season and only five others have scored more than 76 goals in a season. Perhaps the most amazing element of Espositos game was the frequency with which he put the puck on net"Espo had 550 shots on goal in 1970-71. No one has since come close"in fact, just last Alexander Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals became the first player to come within 100 shots of Espositos mark.

In 1975, Esposito was traded with Brad Park to the New York Rangers for Brad Park, Joe Zanussi and Jean Ratelle. By that point, he had been slowed considerably by knee injuries but his experience, intelligence for the game and nose for the puck made him a valuable component of the Broadway Blueshirts offense and he was named team captain. Until the very end of his career, he remained a dangerous scoring threat that all opposing teams were forced to reckon with.

After his retirement in 1975, moved into the executive suite. He served as the GM of the Rangers before helping secure an expansion team for Tampa, Florida in 1992. Esposito served as the President and GM of the Tampa Bay Lightning until 1998. - 31496

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Montreal Dominates Swooning New York Islanders

By Ross Everett

The Montreal Canadiens have gotten off to a slow start this season, and entered Thursday night's game against the New York Islanders having gone thirteen games without a win in regulation dating back to last season. Apparently, all they needed to cure their ails was a team that was struggling more than they are. The Habs jumped on them early scoring three goals in the first two periods en route to a 5-1 victory at the Bell Centre. Montreal improved to 4-5-0 with the victory while the Islanders dropped to 1-4-3.

NHL hockey betting devotees who weren't scared away by the -180 home favorite price tag on Montreal cashed their tickets with the Canadiens' big win. It was the sixth win for the Habs in their last eight meetings with the Islanders. The six goals scored just managed to go OVER the posted total of 5'. The Canadiens went OVER for only the fourth time in nine games, while the Islanders have gone OVER in five of their nine contests.

The struggling Montreal offense finally woke up, helped by a 43-22 shots on goal advantage. When Montreal opened a 2-0 lead in the first period it marked the first time this season that they'd led by more than a goal, a fact that surprised left winger Mike Cammalleri:

"We're making it hard on ourselves. That's something -- I didn't realize that until right now but that makes sense. Every game's been so tight, and it's important to try and win in tight games and find ways to win those games but at the same time you can't do that 82 times a year and then however many games in the playoffs, so it was important to get out to a little bit of a lead and hang on to one tonight."

Montreal goaltender Jaroslav Halek played well in relief of starter Carey Price, but lost his shutout bid when he misplayed a puck just seconds into the final period. Cammalleri described a conversation he had with Halek after the game:

"After the game I went to give him a hug and he said, 'I don't like shutouts. And I said, 'Well, you better like shutouts!' But he played great when we needed him tonight, made some solid saves, and we'll let that one go."

Islanders' coach Scott Gordon admitted that his team's listless play made it easy for the Habs' to dominate:

"We were a pretty easy team to play against. Defensively we were on our heels because of all our turnovers and it wasn't just in one area, it was coming out of our zone, it was situations where we had full control of the puck and we're not making plays. It's probably the worst that I've ever seen it tonight and it's something that we've got to get better at."

Montreal plays their next two games at home, hosting the New York Rangers on Saturday night and welcoming the Islanders back to the Bell Centre for another game next Monday night. They'll then head to Pittsburgh for a game against the defending Stanley Cup Champion Penguins on Wednesday. The Islanders have a Saturday night home game against the Washington Capitals before their return engagement with Montreal. - 31496

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Windy City Hockey Icon Stan Mikita

By Ross Everett

While NHL hockey players from the country formerly known as Czechoslovakia"as well as other Eastern European nations"are commonplace today, Chicago Blackhawks great Stan Mikita was something of a pioneer. Other players with a flashier game such as Bobby Hull became better known, but you can make a compelling case that Mikita was the best center iceman in professional hockey during the 1960s. Mikita was born in Sokolce, in what is now known as Slovakia. He was sent by his family to the Toronto, Ontario area as a young boy to avoid the political strife in the area prior to World War II. An aunt and uncle adopted him, and he changed his name from his birth name of Stanislav Guoth adopting their last name of Mikita. Like most young Canadian boys, he started playing hockey and quickly proved to have an impressive aptitude for the national sport.

As a teenager, Mikita starred for the St. Catherine Teepees of the junior league Ontario Hockey Association. In 1959, he made the jump to the NHL for good joining the Chicago Blackhawks. He played sparingly in his first partial season in the NHL, but quickly became an important part of the Chicago offense in his first and second full seasons as a pro. In 1961, he led the team in playoff scoring as they won the Stanley Cup"his only championship during his career and the last time the franchise would win the NHLs highest team honor.

The following year was when Mikita really began to make a mark in professional hockey. Centering the dangerous Scooter Line with Ken Wharram on the right wing and Ab McDonald or Doug Mohns on the left wing, he became one of the most feared offensive scorers and playmakers in the league. While he played in the media shadow of Bobby Hull, Mikita was considered by most hockey cognoscenti to be the real offensive catalyst of the team.

Mikitas influence wasnt limited to offensive output"he was a feared defensive player and considered one of the best faceoff men in the game. He also brought about one of the most significant innovations in NHL history, being the first to play with a curved stick blade. This was a very radical modification at the time, but was quickly copied throughout the league to the point where today a player that *doesnt* play with a curved stick is considered something of an anachronism.

Early in his career, Mikita played a tough, rugged style of hockey that made him one of the most penalized players in the game. In the mid 1960s, however, he began to play a much cleaner and more sportsmanlike style that would earn him the Lady Byng Trophy for most gentlemanly player twice. The story goes that he had a change of heart when his young daughter asked why he spent so much time sitting in the box on televised games.

In addition to his Stanley Cup victory, Mikitas career accomplishments rank among the most impressive in the history of the sport. He won the Art Ross Trophy as the NHLs leading scorer four times (1964, 1965, 1967, 1968), the Hart Memorial Trophy for Most Valuable Player twice (1967 and 1968) and the Lady Byng Trophy in 1967 and 1968. He remains the only player in NHL history to win the Ross, Hart and Byng trophies in the same season (1967).

Mikita suffered from back injuries in his last years as an active player, finally retiring in 1980. He played his entire career for the Chicago Blackhawks, and was voted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1983. He became something of a trivia answer for a younger generation when a donut shop called 'Stan Mikita's Donuts' was featured in the popular movie 'Wayne'w World'. - 31496

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Bobby Hull: The Golden Jet

By Ross Everett

Bobby Hull"nicknamed The Golden Jet for his blond hair and his style of play"was the most feared goal scorer of the 60s and 70s and along with teammate Stan Mikita made the Chicago Blackhawks one of the NHLs true offensive juggernauts. He and Mikita were the first NHL players to use curved stick blades, which made his already wicked slapshot even more difficult to stop.

Hull was born and raised on a dairy farm near Belleville, Ontario. As a teenager it was obvious that he was on a fast track to NHL stardom, and he joined the Chicago Blackhawks not long after his 18th birthday. He would finish second in the leagues rookie of the year balloting in his first season and within a couple of years would become one of the NHLs marquee superstars. In 1961, he played an important role in the Blackhawks' Stanley Cup championship victory.

In 1966, Hull broke a hallowed NHL scoring mark by becoming the first player to net more than 50 goals in a season. His 51st goal broke the record of 50 goals held by Montreal Canadien greats Bernie Boom Boom Geoffrion and Maurice Rocket Richard. Hull would go on to score 54 goals in the 1966 and would surpass that mark by scoring 58 in 1968. These numbers arent surprising in light of his slapshots deadly speed and accuracy"Hulls shot was once clocked at a mind boggling 118 MPH!

Hulls tenure with the Chicago Blackhawks ended in 1972, when he jumped to the upstart World Hockey Association (WHA). Hull signed for an at the time unprecedented $1,000,000 signing bonus. Initially, Hulls response that he would jump ship for a million bucks was an offhanded joke but when the WHA ownership agreed to contribute to that sum thinking that it would provide instant credibility for the league it became a reality.

In the WHA, Hull was quickly back to his old tricks. On a line with Swedish superstars Ulf Nilsson and Anders Hedberg called The Hot Line, he led the Jets to two league championship AVCO Cup victories. In 1977, he set a new professional hockey record with 77 goals in a season which surpassed Phil Espositos 1970-71 mark of 76 by a single goal.

Hull suffered from knee trouble throughout his career and was off the ice more than on it during the WHAs final season of 1979-80. After appearing in a handful of games for the Jets, he was shipped to the Hartford Whalers for future considerations. He would play in a few games for the Whalers before calling it a career. With the exception of an abortive comeback attempt with the New York Rangers in 1981 that was the end of his professional hockey career.

Hull's legacy lived on in flesh and blood with his third son, Brett Hull. The Hulls are the only father/son combination to ever score 50 goals in an NHL season and Brett will follow his father into the Hall of Fame this year.

Hull is now 70 years old and splits his time between the Toronto area and Chicago where he serves as a PR ambassador for the Blackhawks organization. He is expected to formally induct his son into the Hall of Fame at the ceremonies later this summer. - 31496

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