Friday, May 26, 2017

Going Out in Style - The Orlando Solar Bears

Founded in 1994 as a member of the International Hockey League, the Orlando Solar Bears began play during the 1995-96 season, which, along with the expansion San Francisco Spiders, boosted the IHL from 17 teams to a high of 19, up from 9 just six seasons earlier.

Orlando Solar Bears logo photo Orlando_Solar_Bears.png

In addition to the arrival of the Solar Bears, other changes in league membership saw the Denver Grizzlies relocate to Salt Lake City as the Utah Grizzlies, having been displaced by the arrival to Denver of the Colorado Avalanche of the NHL. Additionally, the San Diego Gulls moved north to become the Long Beach Ice Dogs.

The Solar Bears were an immediate success on the ice, as they won the Central Division with 110 points, third best in the league thanks to a 52-24-6 record. They were led in scoring by Craig Fisher, who had a league leading 74 goals, 18 more than anyone other player, and 130 points, which was second in the IHL scoring race. Mark Beaufait was second on the club with 109 points, good for fifth in the league, while Dave Barr was ninth with 100. Former Toronto Maple Leafs goaltender Allan Bester was a workhorse in goal, playing in 51 games with a 32-16-2 record while also finding the time to play in 10 games with the Dallas Stars of the NHL.

Fisher Solar Bears photo Fisher Solar Bears.jpg
Craig Fisher, the inaugural season leading scorer

During the playoffs, the Solar Bears defeated the Fort Wayne Komets 3-1, the Detroit Vipers in seven and the Cincinnati Cyclones 4-2 to advance to the Turner Cup Finals during just their first season before unfortunately being swept by the Grizzlies.

For the 1996-97 season, while the league remained at 19 teams, the Spiders folded after just one season. The Atlanta Knights relocated to become the Quebec Rafales, the Grand Rapids Griffins were formed, the Minnesota Moose relocated to become the Manitoba Moose, and the Peoria Rivermen moved to become the San Antonio Dragons.

The Solar Bears were moved out of the Central Division and moved to the equally inappropriate North Division! They exceeded their point total by one with 111 and again had the third best record in the league. For 1996-97, they were led in points by Beaufait's 91 points, seventh in the IHL, while Hubic McDonough's 30 goals were tops for Orlando. Bester raised his games played to 61 with a 37-13-3 record. While the Solar Bears defeated the Griffins 3-2, they were upset by the Cleveland Lumberjacks 4-2 in the second round of the playoffs.

Bester Solar Bears photo Bester Solar Bears.jpg
Allan Bester

Entering the 1997-98 season, the IHL league lost the Phoenix Roadrunners and dropped to 18 clubs. While Orlando remained grouped with Detroit, Grand Rapids and Quebec, the North Division was now renamed the Northeast Division. While still a successful club on the ice with a 42-30-10 record, the Solar Bears dipped to 94 points, which was seventh overall in the IHL.

Beaufait was again their leading offensive threat with a team leading 85 points while McDonough was tops in goals with 32. Their goaltending was divided between David Littman (44 games - 21-13-6), Bester (26) and Scott LaGrand (23).

The Solar Bears began their march into the playoffs with a 3-1 win over the Indianapolis Ice, the eliminated the Cleveland Lumberjacks 4-1 before falling to the Detroit Vipers 4-3 in the Semifinals.

The 1998-99 season saw the IHL shrink by two teams as Quebec and San Antonio folded, bringing the league down to 16 clubs.

Orlando posted the same 94 points as the season prior, which was again the seventh best record. Beaufait again led the team in scoring with a team highs in goals (28), assists (43) and points (71). Latvian Grigori Panteleev was just behind with 25 goals. Littman was the goaltender of choice, playing in 55 games with a 32-17-1 record, while none of the other four goaltenders had more than 17.

The Solar Bears received a bye in Round 1 of the playoffs before sweeping the Michigan K-Wings 3 games to none. They got their revenge on the Vipers from losing in last season's Semifinals by becoming the only team in the 56 year history of the IHL to come back from a 3 games to none deficit to win a playoff series when they reeled off four straight wins, 3-2, 2-1, 4-1 and finally 5-4 in Game 7 on a goal by Todd Krygier just 25 seconds into overtime to return to the Turner Cup Finals for the third time in six seasons.

There, they met the Houston Aeros. After the teams split the first two games in Houston, the Aeros put the Solar Bears on the brink by winning the first two games back in Orlando. The Solar Bears fought back with an overtime win at home in Game 5 and forced a Game 7 with a 3-2 victory back in Houston, but fell short 5-3 in the deciding Game 7.

For the 1999-00 season, the IHL got smaller for the third straight season. Now reduced to 13 teams, the league lost the Fort Wayne Komets, who left to join the United Hockey League. Also leaving the IHL was Indianapolis, who transferred to the Central Hockey League, and the Las Vegas Thunder, who lost their lease at their home rink and subsequently folded.

The Solar Bears 47-23-12 record was good for fourth in the league with 106 points in the Eastern Division. Once again, Beaufait was the team leader in all three offensive statistical categories with 28 goals and 50 assists for 78 points. Another Latvian, Herbert Vasiljevs was second with 25 goals and 60 points.

The goaltending was a literal revolving door, as no less than eight different players donned the pads for the Solar Bears! Scott Langkow saw the most action, but that was with just 27 games. Rick Tabaracci was the only other player over 20 with 21, while Corey Schwab had 16. While none of the other five goalies reached 10 games, each one played at least twice and none of the eight had a losing record. The "big three" were a combined 34-18-8 and the remaining five contributed to an excellent 13-5-4 mark as a group.

Their playoff season was an abbreviated one, as they fell in six games to the Cyclones.

By now the IHL was reeling, and two more clubs fell by the wayside for the 2000-01 season, bringing the league down to now 11 teams. Long Beach left for the West Coast Hockey League while the Michigan K-Wings (formerly the Kalamazoo Wings) folded due to the loss of their affiliation with the NHL's Dallas Stars and concerns over larger market teams entering the league.

For the sixth consecutive season, the Solar Bears finished the season with a winning record. They won 47 games, lost 28 and had 7 shootout losses for 101 points, second overall in "The I".

It should come as no surprise that Beaufait lead Orlando in scoring for the sixth consecutive season, as he was tops in goals (23), assists (42) and points with 65. J. P. Vigier equaled Beaufait's 23 goals. While six goaltenders suited up for the Solar Bears, Norm Maracle was the clear number one with 51 games played and a 33-13-3 record.

Beaufait Solar Bears photo Beaufait Solar Bears.jpg
The main cog in the Orlando offense, Mark Beaufait

Cincinnati was the first to fall in the playoffs to Orlando, 4 games to 1. The Solar Bears got out to a 3-0 lead over Grand Rapids before eventually winning in six games to advance to the Turner Cup Finals against the Chicago Wolves. Orlando dominated at home, winning the first two games 7-2 and 5-1. The Wolves took Game 3 in Chicago 3-1 before Orlando took charge with a 2-1 win in overtime of Game 4. Back in Orlando, the Solar Bears won the Turner Cup with a 5-1 victory in front of their home fans one final time in what would be the last IHL game ever played.

Turner Cup Solar Bears photo Solar Bears Turner Cup.jpg
The 2001 Turner Cup champion Orlando Solar Bears

The IHL had been moving into major markets, including those which already had NHL teams, such as Chicago, Detroit and Long Beach, near Los Angeles. In response, many NHL teams switched their affiliations to teams in the American Hockey League, reducing the number of affiliated IHL teams to just four in 1997-98. The loss of subsidized player salaries, high expansion costs and greatly increased travel costs were too much for the IHL, which ceased operations after the 2000-01 season.

Six teams, the Chicago, Grand Rapids, Houston, Utah, the Milwaukee Admirals and Manitoba were granted admittance into the AHL, while Cincinnati joined the ECHL. Unfortunately for the fans of the Solar Bears and the Kansas City Blades, owner Rich DeVos owned three clubs, Orlando, Kansas City and Grand Rapids. Rules would only allow DeVos to own one club in the AHL, which was was chosen to be Grand Rapids. In addition to the Solar Bears and the Blades, Cleveland and Detroit also ceased operations when the IHL folded.

Despite their success on the ice, Orlando never drew very well and trended downward each and every season. They averaged 10,460 in 1995-96 and two seasons later they were down to 7,219. The Solar Bears dropped into the 6,000's for 1998-99 and 1999-00 before a plummet in 2000-01 to 5,156, which was less than half of their inaugural season average. By comparison, after a peak of 7,285 in 1991-92, the DeVos' Blades were down to 5,235 in 2000-01 while his surviving Griffins averaged 8,022 and were just two seasons removed from three consecutive at over 10,000.

It should come as no surprise that Beaufait was the Solar Bears all-time leading scorer with 159 goals and 340 assists for 499 points, far outdistancing Todd Richards' 260 and McDonough at 231, the only three players over 200 while with Orlando.

Richards Turner Cup photo Richards Turner Cup.jpg
Team captain Richards accepting the Turner Cup
following the Solar Bears last game

When the Solar Bears folded after the 2000-01 season, Beaufait played one year in the AHL before moving to Germany to play seven seasons with the Berlin Polar Bears, which seemed entirely appropriate for someone who had played six seasons with the Solar Bears.

Fisher retained his records for Most Goals in a Season (74) and Most Points in a Season (130), while Beaufait was tops in single season assists with 79. Barry Dreger set the team record for Most Penalty Minutes in a Season with 387 while Bester set the goaltending mark for Most Wins in a Season with 37 in 1996-97.

Orlando finished with a 286-162-44 franchise record, with at least 42 victories in each of their seven winning seasons.

Today's featured jersey is a 1995-96 Orlando Solar Bears Allan Bester jersey as worn during the Solar Bears inaugural season by the team's original number one goaltender. With it's purple, black and teal color scheme, this jersey could not be more representative of the trendy colors of the 1990's which look terribly dated today.

Not only is the name on the back italicized, but be sure to note a rare feature of names on the back of pro or college sports jerseys - seldom seen lower case letters!

Orlando Solar Bears 1995-96 jersey photo Orlando Solar Bears jersey.jpg
photo courtesy of Classic Auctions

Bonus jersey: Today's bonus jersey is a 1995-96 Orlando Solar Bears Craig Fisher jersey as worn on the road during the Solar Bears inaugural season by the team's original leading scorer. Note the Turner Cup Finals patch on the upper right chest.

Orlando Solar Bears 1995-96 jersey photo Orlando Solar Bears 1995-96 R F jersey.jpg
Orlando Solar Bears 1995-96 jersey photo Orlando Solar Bears 1995-96 R B jersey.jpg

Bonus jersey: Today's bonus jersey is a 1997-98 Orlando Solar Bears Todd Richards jersey. This black jersey was an alternate style worn by the team. Note the different treatment for the names on the back when compared to the home and road jerseys. While the letters are no longer italicized, they are retain the Solar Bears trademark lowercase letters which are now not only three color letters, but vertically arched as well!

 Orlando Solar Bears 1997-98 jersey photo Orlando Solar Bears 1997-98 A F jersey.jpg
Orlando Solar Bears 1997-98 jersey photo Orlando Solar Bears 1997-98 A B jersey.jpg

Today's video looks back at the 2001 Turner Cup champions, the Orlando Solar Bears, who went out in style, winning the title in their final game ever.


Thursday, May 25, 2017

1990-91 Pittsburgh Penguins Mario Lemieux Jersey

The Pittsburgh Penguins started the 1990-91 season without Mario Lemieux, who missed the first half of the season recovering from a back injury suffered in February of the previous season.

Still, the team had a deep lineup featuring Joe Mullen, Mark RecchiKevin Stevens, rookie Jaromir JagrLarry MurphyPaul Coffey and goaltender Tom Barrasso. As if that roster weren't strong enough on it's own, the Penguins also added Bryan Trottier, a veteran of the New York Islanders 1980s dynasty to provide veteran leadership. Coaching this deep lineup of talent was "Badger" Bob Johnson in his first year behind the Penguins bench.

The team got off to a slow start, but with the return of Lemieux on January 26th, with three assists against the Quebec Nordiques right out of the gate, the Penguins fortunes improved to the point that they were in playoff contention in 3rd place in their division when March rolled around.

Then on March 4th, they pulled off a big trade that would put them over the top, acquiring Ron Francis, Ulf Samuelsson and Grant Jennings from the Hartford Whalers while letting go John Cullen, Jeff Parker and Zarley Zalapski in return. With the addition of Francis, the Penguins finished the season 9-3-2 and won their first Division Championship.

In the playoffs they would defeat the New Jersey Devils in 7 games after being down 3 games to 2. They next defeated the Washington Capitals  in four straight after dropping Game 1 and then advanced to the Stanley Cup Finals by beating the Boston Bruins in 6, after falling behind 2-0 to start the series.

Awaiting the Penguins was the surprising Minnesota North Stars, who actually finished the regular season with a dismal 27-39-14 record but came out of nowhere in the playoffs to defeat the President's Trophy winning Chicago Blackhawks in a huge upset, followed by an equally shocking upset of the St. Louis Blues, as Chicago had finished 38 points ahead of the North Stars with St. Louis 37 up on Minnesota. Everyone figured the clock would strike midnight when Minnesota's next opponent was the defending champion Edmonton Oilers. After the teams split the first two games in Edmonton, the North Stars got on a roll, winning Games 3 and 4 at home in dominating fashion 7-3 and 5-1. They then closed out the Oilers 3-2 in Edmonton to punch their ticket to the finals.

In the finals, Minnesota continued their hot streak and won Game 1 on the road 5-4, but the Penguins came back to win Game 2 handily 4-1.

 photo Penguins North Stars SCF.png
Mario Lemieux attacking Minnesota's Jon Casey

The series shifted to Minnesota where the North Stars won Game 3 by a score of 3-1. Penguins earned a split, tying the series at 2-2 by shocking Minnesota with 3 goals in the first three minutes and held on to win 5-3 after the North Stars closed to within 4-3.

Pittsburgh then won Game 5 at home after again blitzing Minnesota with 4 goals in the first 14 minutes of the first period. Still, the North Stars fought back, scoring 4 of the next 5 goals to narrow the lead to 5-4 before the Penguins sealed the victory with a goal with less than two minutes to play to take a 3-2 series lead.

Game 6 at the Met Center in Bloomington, Minnesota, on this date in 1991, saw Barrasso facing Jon Casey in goal for the North Stars.

With Neal Broten off for interference after just 9 seconds from the opening faceoff, Samuelsson scored on the power play at exactly 2:00 from Trottier and Peter Taglianetti. Minnesota hung on for the next ten minutes before Lemieux scored shorthanded at 12:19 from defenseman Murphy. Mullen then put Minnesota on the ropes with a goal from Taglianetti and Stevens just 55 seconds later for a 3-0 lead after the first period.

The North Stars kept the Penguins off the scoreboard for the first half of the second period with Bryan Hayward now in goal, but could not solve Barrasso. Bob Erry then scored from Jagr and Lemieux at 13:15 before Francis made it 5-0 1:13 later from Mullen. If Minnesota had any hope remaining of coming back, those thoughts were crushed with Mullen scored from Stevens and Samuelsson at 18:44 to put Pittsburgh up by 6 at the end of the second period.

Jim Paek then scored at 1:29 of the third period from Lemieux, chasing Hayward from the nets as Casey returned to the crease. Finally, the slaughter was complete with Murphy converted a power play from Lemieux at 13:45 to make the final score 8-0 and secure the Penguins first Stanley Cup.

1990-91 Pittsburgh Penguins
The Penguins celebrate their 1991 Stanley Cup victory

Lemieux was awarded the Conn Smythe Trophy as a much deserving playoff MVP after leading Pittsburgh in scoring with 16 goals and 28 assists for 44 points in 23 games after playing in just 26 regular season games after returning to the ice in January.

Lemieux 1991 Cup

Today's jersey is a 1990-91 Pittsburgh Penguins Mario Lemieux jersey featuring the 1991 Stanley Cup Finals patch, worn only during that season's Finals.

When the Penguins arrived on the scene in 1967, they wore powder blue jerseys for their first six years. The shade of blue darkened somewhat in 1973 and lasted until 1977 when an even darker navy blue became the club's primary color.

Then, quite unusually, the Penguins changed to their new color scheme of black and yellow during the middle of the season! The change in colors was an effort to win the goodwill of the fans of Pittsburgh, as both the Pittsburgh Steelers of the NFL and baseball's Pittsburgh Pirates won world championships in both the Super Bowl and World Series in 1979 while wearing black and gold, the colors of the flag of the City of Pittsburgh.

These jerseys would remain in use through the 1991-92 season, which included the Penguins second Stanley Cup championship in a row, before a change to a new set the following year.

Finally, after 22 years away, the Penguins brought back their Stanley Cup winning jersey as an alternate jersey for the 2014-15 season. After two seasons as their third jersey, the Penguins promoted their throwback to once again be their primary jersey for the 2016-17 season, which also saw a return of the white version as their new road jersey.

Pittsburgh Penguins 1990-91 SCF jersey photo PittsburghPenguins1990-91SCFRF.jpg
Pittsburgh Penguins 1990-91 SCF jersey photo PittsburghPenguins1990-91SCFRB.jpg
Pittsburgh Penguins 1990-91 SCF jersey photo PittsburghPenguins1990-91SCFRP.jpg

Today's video is all the goals from the deciding Game 6 as Pittsburgh dominated the contest to win the cup in as convincing a fashion as has ever happened.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

1925-26 Pittsburgh Pirates Lionel Conacher Jersey

Pull up a chair and settle in, as today we have the story of a life less ordinary, for on this date in 1902, Lionel Conacher came into this world. Nicknamed "The Big Train", he quit school after the eighth grade to help support his nine younger siblings. While in school, he quickly discovered that he was among the better players in any of the many sports he tried. He eventually won 11 championships with the 14 different teams he played for as a teenager.

At the age of 16 he won an Ontario wrestling championship and at 20 won a Canadian amateur boxing championship. In one memorable day, he hit a triple to help his team win the Toronto city baseball championship before rushing across town to find his lacrosse team losing by a score of 3-0 in the Ontario provincial final. He donned his gear, joined the fray and proceeded to score four goals and an assist to lead his team to victory for his second championship in a matter of a few hours!

He was an accomplished football player, winning city and provincial championships as a teenager before moving up to the senior level, where he led the league in scoring in 1921 while leading his team to not only the league championship, but also the Grey Cup as Canadian champions.

The cost of hockey kept him from taking up the game until he was 16, but by 1920, he had added a Memorial Cup championship to his ever growing trophy case. NHL teams had begun to take notice of Conacher's prodigious abilities and the Toronto St. Patricks offered him $3,000 a season, while the Montreal Canadiens came in with an offer of $5,000, well above the current average of $1,000 a year. They were both rebuffed, as Conacher was not ready to give up his amateur status.

He accepted an offer to play for the Pittsburgh Yellow Jackets of the United States Amateur Hockey Association, an arrangement which included a job and paid university tuition, first at Bellefonte Academy and then Duquesne University. Ever the prolific athlete, Conacher played football for both schools in the fall before serving as captain for the Yellow Jackets over the winter, winning championships in 1924 and 1925. His summers were spent back home in Toronto, where he continued to purse baseball and lacrosse.

Pittsburgh Yellow Jackets, Pittsburgh Yellow Jackets

For the 1925-26 season, the Yellow Jackets turned professional, changed their name to the Pittsburgh Pirates and gained entry into the National Hockey League. Conacher surprised many in Toronto when he elected to remain with the club, which would mean an end to his football playing days, his acknowledged favorite sport.

1925-26 Pittsburgh Pirates, 1925-26 Pittsburgh Pirates
The 1925-26 Pittsburgh Pirates

Conacher would score the first goal in Pirates history on his way to a total of 9 in 33 games. He returned to Toronto in the summer to play baseball professionally for a team named the Toronto Maple Leafs, who would win the International League championship followed by the Little World Series, the championship of minor league baseball in North America.

He returned to the Pirates for the 1926-27 season, only to be traded after ten games to the New York Americans. His second season with the Americans saw him set a career high of 11 goals. He would play two further seasons with the Americans, but having a bootlegger for a team owner led to his heavy drinking, which would take it's toll on Conacher's performance and health.

Conacher Americans, Conacher Americans

Finally in the offseason of 1930, he would quit drinking when his first child was born and his rights would be sold to the Montreal Maroons.

After his first season of play for the Maroons, the owners of the Canadian NHL franchises launched a plan to fill their arenas during the summer months by developing the indoor version of lacrosse. Playiing for the Maroons entry in the International Professional Lacrosse League, Conacher led the league in scoring, nearly doubling the point total of the next highest scorer, including scoring ten goals in a single game.

Conacher Maroons, Conacher Maroons

His first season with Montreal would start with Conacher, a defenseman, scoring 7 points, but he more than doubled that to 16 in 1931-32.

Following the season, he declined to return to the lacrosse league, choosing instead to wrestle professionally in the off season, eventually finishing his career undefeated at 27-0.

When the hockey season resumed, he showed no ill effects of his seemingly constant participation in sports by setting career high with 28 points for the Maroons in 1932-33.

That fall he was part of an effort to organize a new, professional football league. While the league did not get off the ground, he was able to filed a team of other former amateur players who had given up football by turning professional in other sports. The team played a series of exhibition games over the course of the next two falls, but the now 34 year old was beginning to feel his age and the team did not return for a third season.

Conacher Football, Conacher Football

The Maroons would then trade Conacher to the Chicago Black Hawks for the 1933-34 season, where he scored 23 points and double digit goals for one of only two times in his career with 10. He added two more goals in the playoffs as Chicago won the first Stanley Cup in franchise history and Conacher was named a First Team All-Star for the season.

Conacher Blackhawks, Conacher Blackhawks

Just prior to the following season, Conacher was traded to the Montreal Canadiens with two other players for package that included the legendary Howie Morenz, goaltender Lorne Chabot and on other player. That was not the end of the wheeling and dealing, however, as the Canadiens then sent Conacher back to the Maroons in another trade.

The Maroons would go on to defeat the defending champion Black Hawks and then outlast the New York Rangers to earn a place in the finals, where they swept the Toronto Maple Leafs three games to none, giving Conacher back to back Stanley Cups, only with two different clubs.

1934-35 Montreal Maroons team, 1934-35 Montreal Maroons team

He would play to more seasons for the Maroons, during which his point total rose from 8 to 14 to 25, the second highest of his career, which came in his final season in the NHL.

Following his athletic career, Conacher went into politics, becoming a member of the Ontario provincial parliament from 1937 to 1943. From 1949 he won a seat in the Canadian House of Commons, serving until 1954 when he died of a heart attack after hitting a triple during the annual softball game between the Members of Parliament and the press.

Concacher's long and successful sporting career was recognized in many ways, as he was named Canada's Greatest Male Athlete of the Half-Century in 1950, having won the Little World Series, a Memorial Cup, a Grey Cup and two Stanley Cups!

Following his passing, he was inducted into the Canadian Sports Hall of Fame (1955), the Canadian Football Hall of Fame (1963), the Canadian Lacrosse Hall of Fame (1966) and the Hockey Hall of Fame (1994). Additionally, the annual award by the Canadian Press for Male Athlete of the Year is named the Lionel Conacher Award.

Conacher autograph, Conacher autograph

In addition to Lionel's exploits, his brothers Charlie Conacher and Roy Conacher also played in the NHL and were inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame, while his son Brian Conacher played in the 1964 Olympics for Canada and won a Stanley Cup in 1967 while with the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Today's featured jersey is a 1925-26 Pittsburgh Pirates Lionel Conacher jersey from Conacher's first NHL season. The Pirates chose black and gold based on the colors of the City of Pittsburgh flag, and were the first team from the city to adopt those colors, as the Pirates baseball club was still wearing red, white and blue and would not change to black and gold until 1948 and the Pittsburgh entry of the National Football League would not arrive on the scene until 1933.

Pittsburgh Pirates 25-26 jersey, Pittsburgh Pirates 25-26 jersey
Pittsburgh Pirates 25-26 jersey, Pittsburgh Pirates 25-26 jersey
Our video section today is a brief overview of Conacher's achievements in sports and life.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

1991-92 Calgary Flames Gary Roberts Jersey

Gary Roberts, born on this date in 1966, began his road to the NHL with the Ottawa 67's of the OHL in 1982-83. After his second season, in which he scored 57 points in 48 games and impressed with his toughness, acquiring 144 penalty minutes, Roberts was drafted 12th overall in the 1984 NHL Entry Draft. Additionally, Ottawa won the OHL playoff championship and advanced to the Memorial Cup, which they were able to win following a 7-2 dismantling of the Kitchener Rangers in the final.

Now full of confidence after having been drafted as well as winning the championship the previous year, Roberts elevated his game to the next level in 1984-85 when he scored 44 goals and 106 points while amassing 186 penalty minutes in 59 games, establishing himself as an elite NHL prospect.

Roberts began the 1985-86 season with Ottawa bit was traded to the Guelph Platers for the second half of the season. Roberts was the missing piece for Guelph, as he racked up 31 points in 20 playoff games to lead the Paters to the second Memorial Cup title of his career.

Roberts turned professional the next season with the Moncton Golden Flames of the AHL. He was called up to the Calgary Flames, which included scoring a goal in his game. He bounced up and down between the AHL and NHL in 1986-87, eventually totaling 15 points in 32 games with Calgary.

During his second full season with the Flames in 1988-89, Roberts and the Flames went on a run through the playoffs which cumulated in their winning the only Stanley Cup championship in Flames history. In 22 games, Roberts contributed 12 points.

Roberts Stanley Cup

Roberts game took a big leap forward the following season, as he nearly doubled his previous season's offensive totals with 39 goals and 72 points, while his toughness was not affected, as he finished with over 200 penalty minutes for the third of five consecutive seasons.

In 1991-92 Roberts reached the pinnacle of his offensive production with the only 50 goal season of his career with 53 on his way to totaling a career best 90 points to lead the Flames in scoring, no easy feat on a roster with Al MacInnis, Theo Fleury, Sergei Makarov and Joe Nieuwendyk. Thanks to his 207 penalty minutes, Roberts became the first player in NHL history to ever score 50 goals and have over 200 penalty minutes in one season, essentially creating the concept of the modern "power forward" singlehandedly.

Roberts Flames

In the 1993-94 season Roberts nearly equalled his career high when he hit 84 points in 73 games. During the season he blocked a slapshot while killing a penalty, which broke his thumb in seven places, but in a testament to his ongoing toughness, he missed just one game and scored two goals in his return.

Injuries did get the better of Roberts when he suffered severe nerve damage in his neck, which limited him to just 8 games of the 1994-95 season. His recovery time continued into the 1995-96 season as he require multiple surgeries to address his condition. Finally, he returned in January of 1996 and scored a goal in his first game back. He would play in the Flames next 35 games, changing from center to wing to avoid additional contact for his fragile neck, and score 22 goals and 42 points before once again injuring his neck and missing the remainder of the season as well as the 1996 playoffs.

With the risk of paralysis from any further injury a very real possiblity, Roberts announced his retirement from the NHL in June of 1996, just two days before receiving the Masterton Trophy for his comeback to hockey after nearly a year away earlier in the season.

Roberts Masterton

Roberts never actually signed his retirement papers however, and continued to work out and rehabilitate his neck while missing the 1996-97 season. He announced himself fit and pain free in January of 1997 and was offered a contract by the Flames for the 1997-98 season. Roberts let the Flames know that while he was interested in returning to the NHL, it would be only if he were traded to an Eastern Conference club.

A deal was struck with the Carolina Hurricanes in August and Roberts was able to successfully pass his physical and return to action for the 1997-98 season. He would play three seasons with the Hurricanes, playing 61, 77 and 69 games. He would not return to his previous offensive totals, as his game, as well as the overall style of play in the NHL had changed from the wide open style of his 90 point season eight seasons earlier, but he was still and effective two-way player who consistently scored between 42 and 53 points during the second phase of his career.

Roberts Hurricanes

Following his three seasons with the Hurricanes, Roberts signed as a free agent with the Toronto Maple Leafs, where his 53 points in 2000-01 were good for second on the club behind perennial leader Mats Sundin while leading the team in hits with 206.

Roberts Maple Leafs

During the 2001-02 playoffs, Roberts led the Maple Leafs with 19 points in 19 games as Toronto made it to the conference finals.

He missed the first four months of the 2002-03 season following shoulder surgeries during the offseason. After playing for a month, he missed another month with a groin injury before returning for the playoffs.

He bounced back with 72 games in 2003-04, which included the 1,000th game of his career on January 13, 2004. That season he was also reunited with former Flames teammate Nieuwendyk.

Roberts Maple Leafs

After sitting out the 2004-05 season due to the NHL lockout rather than playing in Europe like many other NHLers, Roberts, along with Nieuwendyk, signed with the Florida Panthers for the resumption of play for the 2005-06 campaign. His season was limited to 58 games, during which he scored 40 points or more for the 13th time in his career.

Roberts Panthers

During his second season in Florida, Roberts, now 40, was traded to the Pittsburgh Penguins for the remainder of the 2006-07 season.

Roberts Penguins

He returned to Pittsburgh for 2007-08, but suffered a broken leg in December. Known league-wide for his toughness and conditioning, Roberts was said to be listed as "questionable" for the next Penguins game by some fans in jest after hearing the news, along the lines of other such Gary Roberts Facts as;
  • Gary Roberts sleeps with a pillow under his hockey stick
  • Gary Roberts goes grocery shopping at Lowe's
  • That's not a chin under Gary Roberts playoff beard, it's another fist
Roberts season was not finished however, and he returned in time to join the Penguins run to the Stanley Cup Finals.

Following the season, Roberts was traded to the Tampa Bay Lightning where he played in 30 games before retiring for good in March of 2009 after 21 seasons, 438 goals, 910 points, 2,560 penalty minutes and one Stanley Cup and a well earned reputation for toughness, perseverance, fitness and longevity.

Today's featured jersey is a 1991-92 Calgary Flames Gary Roberts jersey worn during the season in which Roberts had his only 50 goal season while setting a career record with 90 points.

The Flames wore this jersey from their first season in Calgary through the 1993-94 season, which included the first nine of Robert's ten seasons with the Flames before changing to a new, more modern style for his final season in Calgary prior to his first retirement following the season due to a serious neck condition.

Calgary Flames 91-92 jersey
Calgary Flames 91-92 jersey

Bonus Jersey: Today's bonus jersey is a 1999-00 Carolina Hurricanes Gary Roberts jersey as worn during his return to the NHL following his first retirement after returning to action after needing 11 months to recover from serious nerve damage to his neck.

This is a rare "triple patch" jersey, which features both the NHL 2000 patch, worn by all teams in honor of the new millennium, as well as the Raleigh Arena Inaugural Season patch on the front of the jersey. When the Whalers moved out of Hartford, the franchise's new arena would take two years to construct, forcing the team to play their first two seasons as the Hurricanes in Greensboro, an hour and a half from their eventual home in Raleigh.

Completed for the 1999-00 season, the club would now move into their new, permanent home and celebrated the move with a celebratory patch.

Also appearing on this jersey, but obscured from view on the left arm in between the sleeve number and secondary shoulder logo, is the Steve Chaisson Memorial patch, worn in memory of former Hurricane Chaisson who died in an automobile accident just after the conclusion of the previous season.

The Hurricanes have worn this jersey since relocating from Hartford in 1997, even maintaining the essentially the same jersey during the switch to the Reebok Edge jerseys in 2007-08.

Carolina Hurricanes 99-00 jersey

In today's video section, the 41-year-old Roberts teaches 23 -year-old Ben Eager a lesson about respect.


In this highlight, Roberts scores in triple overtime to win a playoff game for the Maple Leaf in 2002.


Finally, Roberts wreaking havoc for Pittsburgh during the 2007-08 season. And don't you forget it.

Monday, May 22, 2017

The 2017 IIHF Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony

Yesterday was the 2017 IIHF Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony, which saw six outstanding players inducted.

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The IIHF Hall of Fame Class of 2017

First, was Saku Koivu, who began his international career for Finland at the 1992 European U18 Junior Championships. In 1993 he played in both the World Junior Championships as well as making his senior level World Championships debut. 1994 saw Koivu again play in the World Juniors before earning his first international medal with a bronze medal at the 1994 Olympics in Lillehammer, Norway at the age of 19. Later that spring, he won another medal, this time a silver at the World Championships.

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Saku Koivu won an Olympic bronze medal in 2010

He was named as one of Finland's assistant captains for the 1995 World Championships, where he finished second in scoring with 5 goals and 10 points in 8 games as Finland won their first ever gold medal at the World Championship.

In 1996, Koivu played in the first World Cup of Hockey before he captained Finland to a bronze medal at the 1998 Olympics in Nagano, Japan where tied for the team lead in points with 10 in six games. He earned another silver medal at the 1999 World Championships, again as Finland's team captain.

His next international competition would come at the 2003 World Championships after missing the 2002 Olympics while overcoming cancer. This was followed by a second place finish at the 2004 World Cup of Hockey, both again as team captain.

Koivu played in his third Olympics in 2006 in Torino, Italy, where he again tied for the team scoring lead with 11 points in 8 games while once again captain of Finland.

His final World Championships in 2008 saw him add another bronze to his collection before his final international appearance for Finland, this coming at the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver, Canada, where he captained Finland to a bronze medal.

In all, Koivu played in 20 games at the junior level in international competition, scoring 7 goals and 26 points. At the senior level, he played in 89 games, scoring 30 goals and 94 points. He played in one European U18 Championship, two World Juniors, seven World Championships, earning a bronze, two silver and a gold medal, one World Cup, with a second place finish, and four Olympics, winning three bronze and a silver. He was named Best Forward at the World Championships in 1995 and 1999, and led the 1998 and 2006 Olympics in scoring.

Today's featured Koivu jersey is a 1995 Finland National Team Saku Koivu jersey. This is the same style jersey used in the 1994 Olympic games and, while branded as a Reebok jersey, they were produced by Tackla using their mesh fabric and dye sublimation process. Visually, the only difference  between the Olympic jerseys and the World Championship version is the addition of the Warsteiner sponsorship patches to each arm.

Finland 1995 road jersey photo Finland 1995 R F.jpg
Finland 1995 road jersey photo Finland 1995 R B.jpg

The next player to be inducted into the IIHF Hall of Fame was German Uwe Krupp, whose international career began during the days of separate teams for East and West Germany, with Krupp first suiting up for the West Germans at the 1983 U18 European Junior Championships and the U20 World Junior Championships. He played in a second U20 World Juniors in 1985.

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Uwe Krupp

Krupp, a defenseman, made his World Championship debut in 1986 with his second World Championships coming in 1990, his last for the West Germans.

By the time of the 1998 Olympics in Nagano, Japan, Germany had reunified and Krupp was able to make his Olympic debut thanks to the pros of the NHL now being allowed to compete.

Krupp, a defensive defenseman, scored 2 goals and 4 assists in his 21 international games. He also had a 15 year NHL career which included becoming the first German to win the Stanley Cup in 1996 followed by winning a second in 2002.

Following his playing career, Krupp returned to Germany and eventually became head coach of the German National Team from 2005 to 2011 at many levels, including the World Juniors, World Championships and Olympics, which included guiding the Germans to a semifinal appearance at the 2010 World Championships, their best result since 1976.

Today's featured Krupp jersey is a 1998 Germany National Team Uwe Krupp jersey. This style jersey was only worn at the 1998 Olympics with the heraldic eagle crest. Later in 1998 at the World Championships, the crest was changed to that of the German Ice Hockey Federation and worn through the 2000 World Championships.

Germany 1998 Olympic jersey photo Germany1998OLYF.jpg
Germany 1998 Olympic jersey photo Germany1998OLYB.jpg

 The third member of the Class of 2017 is Canadian Joe Sakic, whose international resume begins with the 1988 World Junior Championships, where Canada went 6-0-1 to win the gold medal.

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Sakic making his Olympic debut in 1998

Sakic appeared at his first World Championships in 1991, leading Canada with 6 goals and 11 points in 10 games on the way to a silver medal.

His next World Championships came in 1994 where Sakic was third in team scoring with 4 goals and 7 points in 8 games as Canada would go 8-0 to win their first gold medal in 33 years following a shootout in the final.

The next time Sakic would wear the maple leaf for Canada was at the 1996 World Cup of Hockey, where the Canadians would finish second.

Sakic's first Olympic Games came in 1998 followed by winning gold in his second Olympics in 2002 in Salt Lake City, Utah. After going 1-1-1 in group play, the Canadians would find their game with Final Round wins over Finland, Belarus and the host United States as Sakic was named the tournament's MVP.

Sakic's gold medal at the 2002 Olympics gained him entry into the exclusive Triple Gold Club for players who have won World Championship gold, Olympic gold and the Stanley Cup, which he accomplished with the Colorado Avalanche in 1996 and 2001.

He would add to his already impressive resume by winning the 2004 World Cup of Hockey, where he tied for second place in scoring with 4 goals and 6 points in 6 games.

After being an assistant captain for the 1998 and 2002 Canadian Olympic teams, Sakic was chosen to captain Canada for his final international tournament, the 2006 Olympics in Torino, Italy.

In all, Sakic played in 48 international games at the senior level, scoring 22 goals and 41 points.

While his World Championship opportunities were limited by the successful teams he was a part of during his 20 year NHL career, 17 of which were as captain of the Quebec Nordiques and Avalanche, he is record is a stellar one, with gold medals at the World Juniors, World Championships and Olympics along with a World Cup and two Stanley Cups.

Today's featured Sakic jersey is a 1994 Canada National Team Joe Sakic jersey as worn during the 1994 World Championships during which Canada ended their 33 year World Championship drought.

The jersey is a Finnish made by Tackla, but branded as a Reebok jersey The jersey was produced using the dye sublimation process, in which all the graphics are created by injecting ink into the fabric, which is then cured with heat. This jersey also sports a pair of Warsteiner Beer sponsorship logos, giving the jersey it's unique World Championships look, as jerseys worn during the Olympics are free from advertising.

This multi-striped style was a short-lived one and used only for the 1994 and 1995 World Championships, as Nike arrived on the scene with all new designs for the 1996 World Championships.

1994 Canadian National Team Joe Sakic Jersey
1994 Canadian National Team Joe Sakic Jersey

The fourth member of this year's IIHF Hall of Fame Class Koivu's fellow Finn, Teemu Selanne. The Finnish Flash made his international debut at the 1988 European U18 Junior Championships, where he led all players in scoring with a dominating 7 goals and 16 points in just six games as Finland won the silver medal.

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Selanne went out in style, winning a medal and being
named the tournament MVP at the 2014 Olympics

Selanne played in one U20 World Junior Championship in 1989, tying for the team lead with 10 points in 7 games.

He made his debut at the senior level at the 1991 World Championships, finishing one assist back of Jari Kurri for the team lead in points. Later that fall, Selanne was a member of the Finnish team at the 1991 Canada Cup.

Selanne made his Olympic debut at the 1992 Games in Albertville, France, coming in fourth in tournament scoring while leading the Finns with 7 goals and 11 points in 8 games.

In 1996, he returned to the World Championships, where he led Finland in scoring with 5 goals and 8 points in 8 games. Later that year, he played in the inaugural 1996 World Cup of Hockey as Finland's assistant captain.

He earned the second medal of his career at the 1998 Olympics, bringing back a bronze after leading all scorers with 4 goals and 10 points while playing in just 5 games compared to as many as 7 for other players.

Selanne came in second in scoring to Koivu at the 1999 World Championships with 3 goals and 11 points back of Koivu's 16, but it was Selanne who took home the tournament MVP honors while winning a silver medal.

In 2002, he played in the Olympic Games in Salt Lake City, scoring 3 goals in 4 games. He led Finland in scoring at the 2003 World Championships with 8 goals and 11 points in seven games as team captain for the Finns.

Selanne then took part in the 2004 World Cup of Hockey before returning to the Olympics in 2006, leading all players in goals, with 6, and points, with 11, as Finland finished with the silver medal and Selanne was named as the Top Forward.

He came home with a bronze medal at the 2008 World Championships after coming in second in scoring with 7 points in 9 games.

After playing at the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver, British Columbia and winning a bronze medal, Selanne participated internationally one final time, this coming at 2014 Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia, where he won a bronze medal as Finland's team captain. His 4 goals and 6 points were one point back of the team leader as the Finns would win their third consecutive Olympic medal, this time a bronze, the fourth Olympic medal of Selanne's illustrious national career as he set a record as the oldest player to ever win a medal in Olympic hockey at the age of 43. Selanne was then named the tournament's Most Valuable Player.

Selanne concluded his international career with 96 games played, scoring 54 goals and 102 points and holds the record for the most points in Olympic hockey competition with 24 goals and 43 points in 37 games.

Today's featured Selanne jersey is a 2014 Finland National Team Teemu Selanne jersey as worn during his final international tournament, the 2014 Olympics, his sixth Olympic Games.

This highly unusual full bleed flag style was worn only at the 2014 Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia. It was paired with a more conventional road blue jersey. For the subsequent World Championships later that spring, the Finns wore a white version of their blue road jersey, ending the use of this style after just one outing.

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Finland 2014 Olympic jersey photo Finland 2014 B.jpg

The final player inducted into the IIHF Hall of Fame this year was American Angela Ruggiero, who played in ten IIHF Women's World Championships, winning four gold medals and six silver medals, including scoring the winning goal in a shootout in 2005 to give the United States its first gold medal.

Ruggiero also participated in four Olympic Games, winning gold in 1998 as the youngest member of the team at 17 years of age, and winning silver in 2002 and 2010 and a bronze in 2006.

In 2004, she won the Patty Kazmaier Award as the top player in US Women's College Hockey. She became the fourth woman to ever be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2015 and the only inductee ever from California. She is also the all-time leader in games played for the United States, regardless of gender, with 256.

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Angela Ruggiero

Dieter Kalt, Sr. of Austria was inducted into the Builders category. A star player in the Austrian league in the 1960's, he won five championships in six seasons with Klagenfurt with a career that spanned from 1957 to 1980. He played for Austria in eight World Championships and two Olympics, in 1964 and 1968, the second time as the team captain.

From 1996 to 2016, Kalt was the President of the Austrian Ice Hockey Federation and has been a long time member of the Austrian Olympic Committee.

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Dieter Kalt, Sr.

Finally, the winner of the Bibi Torriani Award for players who have had great international careers from nations outside of the top hockey nations was Tony Hand of Great Britain. Four times during his domestic career in the British Hockey League, Hand had seasons of over 200 points, with a high of 222 points from 72 goals and 150 assists in a 44 game season!

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British scoring legend Tony Hand

In addition to his scoring exploits of 15 seasons of over 100 points, longevity was also a hallmark of Hand's career, as he played 32 seasons of British domestic hockey in a career that spanned from 1981-82 as a 14 year old to the 2014-15 season, when he retired at the age of 47. So impressive was Hand's abilities, that he was drafted by the Edmonton Oilers in 1986, the first British-trained player ever selected in the NHL Draft.

He played for Great Britain at the World Championships 10 times, the World Juniors 3 times and the European U18 Junior Championships 4 times. At the senior level, he played in 52 games, scoring 34 goals and 105 points.

In 2004, Hand became the first ice hockey player ever honored with the Member of the Order of the British Empire by Queen Elizabeth II.
 

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