Monday, May 4, 2015

Latvia Restoration of Independence Day

Today, May 4th, is Restoration of Independence Day in Latvia. On November of 1918, Latvia declared its independence, which was internationally recognized.

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This lasted until August of 1939, when the Soviet Union and Germany signed a pact, which included a secret protocol dividing Eastern Europe into "spheres of influence", which assigned Latvia to the Soviet Union. On October 5, 1939 the two countries signed a mutual assistance pact, but later in June of 1940, the Soviet Union issued an ultimatum to Latvia, accusing it of not living up to the agreements of the treaty, namely forming a military alliance against the USSR with the two other Baltic nations, Lithuania and Estonia.

The three Baltic nations had formed an agreement to support each other in international affairs back in 1934 and tried to remain neutral, but the massive armies of Germany to the west and the Soviets bordering them to the east made that an impossibility. The Soviets requested a new government be formed and to guarantee the Soviet military free entrance into Latvia. The government gave in to the ultimatum and on June 17, 1940, Soviet forced entered Latvia. By July 21st, a new Soviet controlled parliament was elected and declared its consent for Latvia to become a part of the Soviet Union.

Fast forward to 1990, and Latvia, emboldened by recent developments in the Soviet Union under the leadership of Mikhail Gorbachev and his policies of giving the republics of the Soviet Union more control over their own affairs, Latvia issued a declaration for the Restoration of Independence on May 4th following massive public demonstrations.

The Soviet government declared the declaration void because it violated the Constitution of the Soviet Union as well as the Constitution of Latvia (which had been put in place by the pro-Soviet government). Latvia's response was to point out that it was annexed by the Soviet Union without holding a public referendum and it was not seceding from the Soviet Union, but restoring it's independence. Negotiations failed to resolve the issue and on January 7, 1991, Soviet military troops moved into the capital of Riga. 700,000 Latvians gathered on January 13th and began to erect barricades to protect likely targets for the Soviets in response to the increasing Soviet military presence in the city and an attack on a TV tower which killed 13 in neighboring Lithuania by the Soviets intending to prevent Lithuania's similar attempts to withdraw from the Soviet Union.

The barricades were manned by the citizens of Latvia, including Latvian goaltender Arturs Irbe, who left the Soviet Union National Team to join his fellow countrymen who took to the streets in protest, erecting barricades in front of government buildings and media outlets. Red Army hockey officials warned Irbe that if he did not return to the team, he would never play for it again.

Irbe did not return.

Death, or a one way trip to Siberia, was a very real possibility for Irbe who could have simply kept quiet and enjoyed life at the pinnacle of the Soviet hockey world.

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A barricade in Riga

The first attacks happened the following day with the first casualty, Roberts Mûrnieks, occurring on the 16th. His funeral on the 19th resulted in a demonstration which led to more arrests and beatings.

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Citizen defenders at the barricades

The danger of being in Riga at the time was very real, as 100 of the Black Berets of the Soviet Interior Ministry seized Latvia's Interior Ministry building, killing five people on January 21, 1991. They had already sized the main press building, attacked the police academy and shot out tires of vehicles at the barricades.

The Latvian government then took control of the barricades on the 24th and most of the citizen defenders were gone by the next day.

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Soviet military in Riga

On August 21, 1991, hard-line party members attempted to take control of the Soviet Union from Gorbachev and his government, which ultimately failed. The following day Latvia, and Estonia, both declared their full independence, which was recognized by the Soviet Union on September 6th.

The day is celebrated annually in Latvia with special exhibitions, church services and an official state flag raising ceremony at Riga Castle. Award ceremonies, concerts, dances and other events, such as a solemn flower-laying ceremony at the Freedom Monument, parades and fireworks all take place.

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The flower laying at the Freedom Monument

The Latvia National Hockey Team is currently ranked 9th in the IIHF World Rankings. They first competed in the World Championships in 1933 and then again in 1935, 1938 and 1939 and also participated in the 1936 Olympics.

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Since regaining their independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, they returned to the Olympics in 2002 and again in 2006 and 2010 followed by a best finish of 8th in 2014 thanks to a Quarterfinal upset of Switzerland.

Latvia has been a regular participant in the World Championships, first being assigned to Pool C as a new country, the lowest rung of the ladder system. Right off the bat, the Lativans won Pool C, earning promotion to Pool B. Following a pair of second place finishes in 1994 and 1995, they won Pool B in 1996, earning promotion to the Top Division for 1997, where they have remained since, recording a best finish of 7th on three occasions and averaging a 10th place finish. Under the previous format, they generally avoided the relegation round. but have survived easily on the occasions they had to defend their place in the top division.

The finest moment in Latvian hockey history came with the 3-2 defeat of Russia at the 2000 World Championships held in Saint Petersburg, Russia, which had great emotional significance for the Latvians given their past political history with the Russians.

If that moment does not rank as the top moment, then the amazing comeback in the final game of Final Olympic Qualifying for the 2006 Olympics in Torino, Italy ranks surely must be. With both Latvia and Belarus off to 2-0 records, they were to meet in the final winner-take-all game of their group.

Belarus opened the scoring of the deciding game at 5:16 of the first and stretched their lead to two at 12:06 before Latvia answered at 18:33. The second period was played even, with each team scoring one with Belarus going back up by two at 1:49 before former Boston Bruin Grigori Panteleev scored 18 seconds later to return the margin to one in favor of Belarus.

Belarus put themselves in a good position with a goal at 9:11 of the third to make the score 4-2 for Belarus.

Now in desperation mode, Latvia pulled goalie Edgars Masalskis during a Latvian powerplay at the with just six minutes remaining in the game and down by two. The gamble paid off as Latvia scored at the 15:11 mark to reduce the margin again to one.

1:47 later the Latvians thrilled the home crowd by getting the equalizer at even strength, leaving just three minutes to decide who would claim the final remaining spot in the Olympics. Alexsandrs Semjonovs sent the home fans into rapture by finishing the comeback and punching Latvia's ticket to Italy just 33 seconds later to complete the three goal outburst in two minutes and twenty seconds in what would become known as "The Miracle in Riga".

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Another notable moment for Latvia was a 3-3 tie against the United States during the 2006 Olympics in Torino, Italy.

The glory days of Latvian hockey was the early 2000's when they were battling Switzerland for the "best of the rest" when they boasted NHL players such as Sandis Ozolinsh, Irbe and Sergei Zholtok on a regular basis. Their national team suffered a blow when veteran Karlis Skrastins was killed in the Lokomotiv Yaroslavl air disaster in 2011.

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Sandis Ozolinsh

For this past season, two Latvians played in the NHL, Zemgus Girgensons of the Buffalo Sabres and Ronalds Kenins of the Vancouver Canucks.

In addition to their national team, their main club team Dinamo Riga boasts a roster of 75% Latvians and competes in the KHL. Those players also make up the bulk of the current national team in addition to those Latvians playing in other various European and North American leagues.

Regardless of whether the team wins or loses, the Latvian fans are recognized at the loudest and most passionate in the world, regularly traveling en masse to tournaments both near and far.

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Today's featured jersey is a 2000 Latvia National Team Arturs Irbe jersey as worn during the 2000 World Championships when Latvia defeated Russia in an emotional 3-2 in Russia.

Irbe was a regular member of the Lativa National Team whenever his NHL commitments would allow, and he competed in nine World Championships and two Olympic Games for Latvia following their gaining their independence from the Soviet Union, with whom he also competed in two additional World Championships, winning gold medals in both 1989 and 1990.

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Bonus jersey: Todays bonus jersey is a 2002 Latvia National Team Sergei Zholtok jersey. After initially competing in blue jerseys with red trim in 1993 after regaining their independence from the Soviet Union, Latvia changed to their now customary maroon and white jerseys in 1996, an obvious choice with those being the colors of the Latvian flag.

Their jerseys would only undergo minor detail changes while remaining in use through 2004, such as collar style and sleeve number placement, and see Latvia through some of their finest moments, such as their emotionally charged 3-2 defeat of Russia at the 2000 World Championships in Russia, and defeating the Russians again 2-1 in 2003.

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Today's video highlights begin with the stunning comeback by Latvia in the last four minutes of the deciding game of the Final Olympic Qualifying for the 2006 Olympics that would become known as "The Miracle in Riga".

While Latvia certainly faces and uphill task when it comes to winning gold medals, no one, and we mean no one, has a better time at the games than the fans from Latvia, often drowning out crowds that number thousands more than them while playing on the road. If you are looking for an underdog to support, get on the Latvian bandwagon. Win or lose, it's always a fun ride.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

2015 IIHF World Championships - 1996 Czech Republic Robert Reichel Jersey

Today is the third day of the 2015 IIHF World Championships, which are being held in Prague and Ostrava in the Czech Republic.

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In Group A action yesterday, Austria shocked Switzerland by winning 4-3 in a shootout after scoring with less than a minute to play with their goaltender pulled to score 2 valuable points in their quest to avoid relegation.

Germany pulled off a dramatic 2-1 win over France when Patrick Reimer scored on a power play with one minute to play to give the Germans a win.

The host Czech Republic defeated Latvia 4-2 to the delight of the home fans in Prague as the Czechs got 3 power play goals, including one each from NHLers Jaromir Jagr and Jakub Voracek as they came from behind twice to win in regulation.

Play in Group B saw Slovakia give away a point in the standings when they required a shootout to defeat Denmark 4-3, which does not bode well for the Slovaks, who seem more than any other country to be a "feast or famine" team in various years this century, as sometimes they finish outside the top eight (2008, 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2014) and other times they find themselves playing for a medal (2000, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2012).

Belarus scored a workman like 4-2 win over Slovenia, who debuted new jerseys today.

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Slovenian captain Tomaz Razingar debuts
the new Slovenia jersey on Saturday

Finally, the United States won their second game in two days thanks to a narrow 2-1 win over feisty Norway, who were unlucky not to get at least a point out of their efforts.

There is a full schedule of games today, with Group A starting off with Austria, fresh off their win yesterday, taking on favorites Sweden. Canada then faces Germany and the day in Prague wraps up with France vs. Switzerland, who will be looking to take the full 3 points off the French.

Meanwhile, in Ostrava, Group B begins with the Russians against Anze Kopitar and the Slovenians, followed by what should be a highly competitive game between Belarus and Slovakia. Finally, Denmark will have to face an annoyed Finland, who lost big on opening day and will be looking to right their ship in a big way to improve their goal differential.

Czechoslovakia hosted the World Championships eight times, first in 1933 than then again in 1938, 1947, 1959, 1972, 1978, 1985 and finally in 1992, the final year of Czechoslovakia. They won gold at home in 1947, 1972 and 1985.

Following the division of Czechoslovakia into the Czech Republic and Slovakia on January 1, 1993, the Czech Republic has only hosted the World Championships once previously, that being in 2004.

The Czech Republic National Hockey Team is currently ranked 6th in the IIHF World Rankings.

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The Czech Republic have participated in the Olympic ice hockey tournament six times after the division of Czechoslovakia into Slovakia and the Czech Republic. Their best result was a gold medal in 1998 in Nagano, Japan, the first Olympics with full NHL participation, thanks to the outstanding play of goaltender Dominik Hasek. In 2006, the Czechs won their second medal, a bronze in Torino, Italy.

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Hasek stole the show in Nagano

Since becoming an independent nation, the Czech Republic have been regular participants in the World Championships, with a number of championship titles to their credit. Since their first independent appearance in 1993, the Czechs have won bronze five times, silver once and gold on six separate occasions, with the last being in 2010 in Germany. As hosts this year, they will be looking for their first medal since 2012.

The Czechs have also participated in the World Cup of Hockey twice, reaching the semi-finals in 2004.

The Czech Republic enters the 2015 World Championships with 7 NHLers on it's roster, beginning at the back end with Ondrej Pavelec of the Winnipeg Jets in goal. A solid defensive group should provide plenty of support for Pavelec, and will be led by Jan Hejda of the Colorado Avalanche.

The offense will be loaded, as 43 year old Jaromir Jagr returns to the World Championships at home, while NHLers Martin Erat (Arizona Coyotes), team captain Jakub Voracek (Philadelphia Flyers) and Tomas Hertl (San Jose Sharks) are joined by several KHL players with NHL experience, including Roman Cervenka, Jiri Novotny, Vladimir Sobotka.

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The ageless Jaromir Jagr

With the format for the World Championships calling for the top four teams after the Preliminary Round to advance to the Quarterfinals, the key for the Czech Republic will be defeating Latvia, France, Austria, Germany and Switzerland without yielding any points by requiring overtime. Their two toughest matchups are Sweden, who they took to overtime before losing in a shootout on Friday, and their game on Monday versus Canada.

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Today's featured jersey is a 1996 Czech Republic National Team Robert Reichel jersey as worn when the Czech Republic captured their first gold medal as an independent nation in 1996, in only their fourth year of play.

They won Group 2 with a 4-0-1 record, defeating Sweden and Finland in the process. They drew Germany in the Quarterfinals, who they dispatched 6-1 before dominating the United States 5-0 in the Semifinals. They drew Canada in the final and a dramatic goal by Martin Prochazka with 19 seconds remaining gave them a 3-2 lead before an empty net goal made for a 4-2 final score and their first World Championship as the Czech Republic.

This classically styled jersey was worn only once by the Czech Republic and resulted in a World Championship, making it a great combination of both rare and desirable. Following the World Championships, the Czechs changed to a new "waving flag" style for the 1996 World Cup of Hockey later that year in the fall.

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First up in today's video section, today's featured jersey in action during the 1996 World Championships against the United States. Note that the United States has already adopted the waving flag style, which makes the Czech jersey an anomaly during the 1996 Worlds.

Next are a pair of videos from the gold medal game of the 1996 World Championships, the first being the introduction of the Czech squad and the second a highlight video showing the Czechs defeating Canada to capture an emotional World Championship, their first as the Czech Republic since the division of Czechoslovakia just three years earlier.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

The 2015 IIHF World Championships

The 2015 IIHF World Championships began yesterday in Prague and Ostrava in the Czech Republic.

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There are 16 teams competing in two groups, a format adopted in 2012. Group A in Prague consists of Sweden (ranked #1 in the IIHF World Rankings), Canada (4), host Czech Republic (5), Switzerland (7), Latvia (9), France (12), Germany (13) and Austria(16), who were promoted from Division I Group A last year.

Group B in Ostrava has Finland (2), Russia (3), the United States (6), Slovakia (8), Norway (10), Belarus (11), Slovenia (14), who were also promoted last year from Division I Group A, and Denmark (15).

Teams will play each of the seven other teams in their group once, with the winners in regulation receiving 3 points, unlike the NHL where a regulation win is worth only 2. Winners in overtime or a shootout will receive 2 points and the OT or shootout losers 1 point. The top four teams in each group will advance to the Quarterfinals on May 14th, with the four survivors advancing to the Semifinals on May 16th, with the losers playing for bronze and the winners for gold the next day, Sunday, May 17.

While teams in the top eight will be looking to win the world championship, the goal for other nations is to rise up and be competitive beyond expectations, such as France (winners last year over Canada on opening day and later Slovakia) and hosts Belarus (victors over Switzerland and Latvia) who qualified for the Playoff Round.

For some though, the goal is to collect enough valuable points from taking the big dogs to overtime and winning games against the lower ranked teams in order to avoid relegation down to Division I Group A for 2017. Last year, 15 of the 16 teams were able to win games in regulation time and France's victory over Canada serves as a reminder that no team should be taken for granted. That said, Belarus, France, Germany, Slovenia, Austria and Denmark will be the teams expected to be fighting to avoid finishing last in their groups and be relegated.

There were four games on opening day, with Group A seeing Canada have a better opening day than last year with a 6-1 win over Latvia, with Jason Spezza leading the way with 2 goals and an assist, while Nathan MacKinnon had a goal and 3 points while captain Sidney Crosby had an assist and scored on a penalty shot late in the game.

The other game in Group A was a wild affair between the top ranked Swedes and the host Czechs. Sweden struck first and added a power play goal before Jaromir Jagr pulled one back for the Czechs before the first period ended. Sweden scored again to go up 3-1 before the teams traded goals early in the third to make it 4-2 for Sweden before the Czechs staged an electrifying rally to score three times in 5:19 to take a 5-4 lead with three minutes remaining.

The Swedes pulled goaltender Jhonas Enroth with 1:45 remaining and then went on the power play 20 seconds later when Petr Koukal was sent off for tripping, giving Sweden a 6 on 4 advantage, which they converted with under a minute to play to send the game to overtime. It would eventually require a shootout for Oliver Ekman-Larsson to win it for Sweden.

Group B action started with the United States winning convincingly over Finland and goaltender Pekka Rinne by a score of 5-1. Steve Moses (recently of Jokerit Helsinki of the KHL), captain Matt Hendricks, Dan Sexton, Nick Bonino and Hendricks again into an empty net accounted for the American scoring as goaltender Connor Hellebuyck held the Finns to a lone goal to take an important 3 point regulation win for the US.

Opening day play wrapped up with a 6-2 Russian win over Norway with Russia streaking out to a 4-0 first period lead before Patrick Thoresen got a pair for Norway, which Russia responded to before the end of the period for the final four goal margin. Denis Zaripov led the way with a goal and 3 points for Russia with Sergei Bobrovski getting the win in goal.

Games today include Switzerland vs Austria and France vs Germany in Group A and Slovakia vs Denmark and Belarus vs. Slovenia in Group B.

The United States plays next today vs Norway at 2:15 EST. but it will not be shown until 7 PM on NBCSN, while the next test for the Canadians comes on Sunday vs Germany at 10:15 AM EST on the TSN networks.

Friday, May 1, 2015

1964-65 Montreal Canadiens Jean Beliveau Jersey

Honoring Conn Smythe, the former owner, general manager and coach of the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Conn Smythe Trophy is awarded annually to the player judged Most Valuable to his Team during the NHL's Stanley Cup playoffs. The trophy depicts Maple Leafs Gardens, which Smythe had constructed in 1931 as a new home to his Maple Leafs.

Conn Smythe Trophy

In contrast to other sports leagues playoff MVP awards, the Conn Smythe Trophy is based on a players performance during the entire postseason and not just the final game or series.

The award was first announced in 1964 and the first recipient on this date in 1965 was Jean Beliveau of the Montreal Canadiens for his performance during the 1965 Stanley Cup playoffs during which Beliveau scored 8 goals and 8 assists for 16 points in 13 games as Montreal captured their 13th Stanley Cup following a seven game series against the Chicago Black Hawks.

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The first winner of the Conn Smythe Trophy, Jean Beliveau

The following season Roger Crozier of the Detroit Red Wings became the first goaltender to win the Conn Smythe trophy as well as the first player to be a member of a team that did not win the Stanley Cup.

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The first goaltender to win the Smythe, Roger Crozier

Subsequent winners were Dave Keon of Toronto in 1967 and goaltender Glenn Hall of Chicago in 1968. Serge Savard of the Canadiens was the first defenseman to win the Smythe in 1969, followed by another defenseman, Bobby Orr of the Boston Bruins in 1970.

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Dave Keon poses with the Conn Smythe Trophy

Perhaps the most unexpected winner ever was Montreal's Ken Dryden, who was named the winner in 1971 with just 15 combined games of NHL regular season and playoff experience!

In 1972 Orr became the first player to win the trophy twice following the Bruins second title in three seasons. After Yvan Cournoyer of Montreal was named the winner in 1973, goaltender Bernie Parent of the Philadelphia Flyers became both the first goalie to win the Conn Smythe twice as well as the first player to win it in back to back seasons and ushering in an era of domination.

Reggie Leach became the second player on a losing club to win the trophy, extending the streak of Flyers winners to three. The next three seasons the trophy went to Canadiens, Guy Lafleur, Larry Robinson and Bob Gainey. The New York Islander dynasty then included four consecutive Conn Smythe recipients, Bryan Trottier, Butch Goring, Mike Bossy and Billy Smith in 1983, ending a run of ten years monopolized by three clubs.

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Montreal's Larry Robinson

Mark Messier of the Edmonton Oilers got his name added to the trophy in 1984, followed by teammate Wayne Gretzky in 1985. Patrick Roy of the Canadiens won his first in 1986 as a rookie, only the second one after Dryden, prior to the Flyers Ron Hextall becoming only the third player on the losing side to receive the honor in 1987.

Gretzky won his second in 1988 and Mario Lemieux matched that feat with back to back Conn Smythe trophies in 1991 and 1992. The following year Roy joined Parent, Gretzky and Lemieux as two-time winners.

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Mario Lemieux with his second Conn Smythe Trophy

1994 saw American Brian Leetch of the New York Rangers be the first non-Canadian player to win the Conn Smythe, as well as the first and only Ranger.

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The only American to win the Smythe, Brian Leetch

In 2001, Roy, now a member of the Colorado Avalanche, became the first, and to date only player, to win the trophy three times and the only man to have won it while a member of two different teams.

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Roy with his record setting third Conn Smythe

The next year new ground was broken, as Nicklas Lidstrom of Detroit became the first European to ever be named the winner in the trophy's 38 year history.

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The first European to win the Smythe, Nicklas Lidstrom

2003 saw goaltender Jean-Sebastian Giguere become the fourth player on the losing side to take home the honors and goaltender Cam Ward became the third rookie to be named the winner, all of which were goalies, when he led the Carolina Hurricanes to the Stanley Cup despite not having been the Hurricanes number one goaltender at the start of the playoffs. He finished the season having a total of 28 regular season and 23 playoff games of NHL experience.

Detroit's Henrik Zetterberg joined Red Wing teammate Lidstrom as only the second European and second Swede to be named the winner of the trophy in 2008, immediately followed by Evgeni Malkin becoming the first Russian to earn the honor for Pittsburgh in 2009 before Chicago's Jonathan Toews regained the trophy for Canada in 2010.

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The first Russian to be named the winner, Evgeni Malkin

Goaltenders Tim Thomas and Jonathan Quick won in 2011 and 2012 before Toews Chicago teammate Patrick Kane became only the second American to win the Conn Smythe in 2013 after Leetch in the 50 year history of the trophy.

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Just the second American winner in 50 years, Patrick Kane

Others to have won the trophy are Al MacInnis, Bill Ranford, Claude Lemieux, Joe Sakic, Mike Vernon, Steve Yzerman, Joe Nieuwendyk, Scott Stevens, Brad Richards, Scott Niedermayer and most recently, Justin Williams, the second recipient from the Los Angeles Kings in three years.

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Steve Yzerman lifts the Conn Smythe in 1998

Today's featured jersey is a 1964-65 Montreal Canadiens Jean Beliveau jersey from the first man to have his name added to the Conn Smythe Trophy.

Believau was a ten time Stanley Cup champion with Montreal in his 20 years with the club. In addition to the Conn Smythe, Beliveau also won the Art Ross Trophy as scoring champion in 1956 and the Hart Trophy as MVP in 1956 and 1964. Had the Conn Smythe Trophy been in existence prior to the 1965 finals, odds are that Beliveau would have won at least one other one, particularly in 1956 when he led the Canadiens in playoff scoring with 12 goals and 19 points in just ten games.

Montreal Canadiens 64-65 jersey, Montreal Canadiens 64-65 jersey
Montreal Canadiens 64-65 jersey, Montreal Canadiens 64-65 jersey

Today's first video is a terrific find, footage of Beliveau being the first man to ever receive the Conn Smythe Trophy in 1965.

Next is the Top Ten Conn Smythe Trophy winners and a look at each of their spectacular playoff performances.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

1910-11 Montreal Canadiens Georges Vezina Jersey

In 1909, goaltender Georges Vezina joined his local team, the Chicoutimi Hockey Club.

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Vezina in 1909 as a member of the Saguenéens

The club, known as the Saguenéens, played an exhibition game against a brand new club playing in their first ever season, the Montreal Canadiens in February of 1910. Vezina shutout the Canadiens by a score of 2-0 that evening. So impressive was Vezina's performance that his opponent that evening, Joseph Cattarinich, recommended Vezina to his team owner George Kennedy, who reached an agreement with Vezina to play for the Canadiens beginning with the 1910-11 season.

Vezina made his Montreal debut on New Year's Eve in 1910 and went on to play all 16 of the Canadiens games in the National Hockey Association (NHA), finishing with a record of 8-8 while allowing the fewest goals in the league and his cool demeanor earned him the nickname the "Chicoutimi Cucumber". The following year he again led the league with the fewest goals allowed, but Montreal gave him little offensive support and their 8-10 record left them in last place.

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Vezina in the Canadiens barberpole jerseys of 1912-13

He recorded his first professional shutout, as well as the first in Canadiens history, with a 6-0 win over the Ottawa Senators on January 18, 1913. After finishing with a 9-11 mark that season, the Canadiens improved in 1913-14 when Vezina posted his first winning season with a 13-7 mark, good for a tie for first place with the Toronto Blueshirts, who defeated Montreal in a two game playoff series for the championship.

After a last place finish in 1914-15, Montreal rebounded strongly in 1915-16 to earn their first O'Brien Cup as NHA champions with a 16-7-1 record. As champions of the NHA, Montreal earned the right to host the Portland Rosebuds of the PCHA in a best-of-five playoff for the rights to the Stanley Cup.

Portland shut out Montreal 2-0 in Game 1, but the Canadiens came back to win the second game 2-1. Game three also went to Montreal 6-3 prior to Portland evening the series with a 6-4 win in Game 4 to set up a winner take all Game 5. Vezina and the Canadiens then captured the first Stanley Cup in franchise history with a 2-1 win over the Rosebuds in front of their fans at the Montreal Arena.

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Vezina from the Stanley Cup winning season of 1915-16. Note the "CA" logo on the chest, worn prior to the now familiar "CH" logo, which would arrive the following season.

Montreal defeated Ottawa in a two-game, total-goals playoff 7-6 to remain NHA champions in 1916-17 to earn their second O'Brien Cup but fell in the Stanley Cup Finals to the Seattle Metropolitans.

For the 1917-18 season, Montreal began play in the new National Hockey League (NHL), Vezina recorded the first shutout in NHL history on February 18, 1918 and early in the next season, on December 28, 1918, he became the first goaltender to ever earn a point in the NHL when he was credited with an assist in a 6-3 win over the Toronto Arenas. While Montreal finished second during the regular season, they defeated Ottawa in the playoffs for their first NHL championship. They then travelled to Seattle to face the Metropolitans in the Stanley Cup Final, but play was suspended with the series tied at 2-2-1 when players began to become sick due to the Spanish Influenza epidemic, which would claim the life of Canadian Joe Hall.

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The engraving noting "series not completed" for the 1919 Stanley Cup Finals

After four more seasons with Montreal, each with a winning record, Vezina established an NHL record with the first goals against average under 2.00 when he finished the season at 1.97. Montreal then defeated the favored Senators to become champions of the NHL and went on to capture their second Stanley Cup in 1924 when they first defeated the Vancouver Maroons 2 games to none and then the Calgary Tigers two games to none. In their four Stanley Cup contests, Vezina allowed just four goals, with a shutout in the final game to clinch the cup.

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Vezina from the Stanley Cup winning 1923-24 season

The following season Vezina set career best marks with 17 wins as well as lowering his goals against average to 1.81.

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Vezina in the Canadiens 1924-25 jerseys which
commemorates their status as world champions

When Vezina arrived for training camp in 1925-26, he appeared sick, and by the time the regular season began on November 28, he had lost 35 pounds in six weeks and was running a fever of 102º. Still, he started the game against the Pittsburgh Pirates and held them scoreless through one period. During the intermission he began vomiting blood prior to insisting he begin the second period, but he collapsed on the ice and was taken out of the game. "In the arena, all was silent as the limp form of the greatest of goalies was carried slowly from the ice," reported one journalist.

The following day he was diagnosed with tuberculosis and never played again. He returned home to Chicoutimi and died on March 27, 1926 just 39 years old.

During his 15 year career, which began on this date in 1910, Vezina played every one of Montreal's 328 regular season and 39 playoff games and had the lowest goals against average seven times and the second lowest on another five occasions.

With Vezina in goal, Montreal would win two NHA championships, three NHL championships and two Stanley Cups from those five appearances. His final combined NHA and NHL totals show 175 wins, 15 by shutout, a goals against average of 3.49 and another 15 playoff victories.

In 1926 the owners of the Canadiens donated a trophy in his name, the Vezina Trophy, which is awarded annually to the most valuable goaltender each season in the NHL.

He was elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame as a charter member of it's inaugural 12 man class on this date in 1945.

Today's featured jersey is a 1910-11 Montreal Canadiens Georges Vezina jersey. While the Canadiens are known for their iconic Bleu, Blanc et Rouge jerseys with the blue band across their red jerseys, the earliest version of of today's well known look did not arrive until the Canadiens fourth season of 1912-13 when their white, blue and red barberpole jerseys caused the Ottawa Senators to complain that Montreal's barberpole sweaters were too similar to their white, black and red version. The Canadiens response was a red sweater with a blue stripe across the chest, worn only against Ottawa.

Prior to that, the Canadiens wore a blue sweater with white striping for their inaugural season of 1909-10. For their second season of 1910-11, a gorgeous red jersey with white and green trim arrived, adorned with a green maple leaf and an Old English "C". Despite it's attractiveness, this sweater would be worn for just one season.

Vezina Montreal 1910-11

Today's video selection is a brief look at the career of Georges Vezina.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

1989-90 Edmonton Oilers Craig MacTavish Jersey

An era came to an end on this date in 1997, when Craig MacTavish announced his retirement from the NHL, as MacTavish was the last NHL player to play without a helmet.

When the NHL mandated the use of helmets for all players in 1979, any player already in the league was given the option of continuing to play without protective headgear.

MacTavish was drafted by the Boston Bruins in the 1978 NHL Entry Draft and saw limited NHL action for three seasons as he spent the majority of his time in the American Hockey League, ut it was his 46 games with the Bruins in 1979-80 that allowed him the exemption from the new helmet rules.

He finally made it with the Bruins full time in 1982-83 and got his first extended playoff experience as the Bruins made it to the conference finals that season. After one more year in Boston, MacTavish missed the 1984-85 season following a conviction of vehicular homicide while driving under the influence and spending a year incarcerated. After his release, the Bruins and MacTavish parted ways and MacTavish joined the Edmonton Oilers, where he accepted the role of a checking center on a team loaded with offensive talent.

He would play nine seasons in Edmonton, winning three Stanley Cups in 1987, 1988 & 1990. His best offensive season was in 1988-89 when he scored 21 goals and 31 assists for 52 points, which is the best one can expect playing behind offensive minded centers like Wayne Gretzky and Mark Messier.

Following the departure of Kevin Lowe, MacTavish became the Oilers team captain in 1992 until his late season trade to the New York Rangers in 1994, just in time to help the Rangers capture their famous Stanley Cup championship, their first since 1940.

The following season he signed with the Philadelphia Flyers, where he would play for two seasons before being traded to the St. Louis Blues in 1995-96. He would return to the Blues for the final season of his career in 1996-97 as the last helmetless player in the league.

MacTavish Blues

His final NHL totals show 17 seasons, 1093 games played, 213 goals and 267 assists for 480 points and his name on the Stanley Cup four times. Following his playing career, MacTavish eventually became head coach of the Oilers for eight seasons, including a run to the Stanley Cup Finals in 2006.

The first player to be credited with wearing a helmet on a regular basis for protection in the NHL was George Owen back in 1928, who wore the same helmet while playing for the Bruins that he wore while playing college football. Owen played five seasons for the Bruins, winning a Stanely Cup in 1929.

After suffering a head injury in 1933, Eddie Shore began wearing a helmet for the rest of his career, but it wasn't until the on ice death of the Minnesota North Stars Bill Masterton that players began to embrace the widespread use of the helmet. At the time of the helmet rule being made mandatory 11 years later, 70% of players were wearing helmets.

While many players wear similar helmets, occasionally facial injuries can result in additions to the normal helmet, such as Pat Lafontaine's addition to protect a broken jaw.


Other players notable for their unique helmets were Stan Mikita and his rounded Northland "dome" helment, Wayne Gretzky's Jofa VM lid and Butch Goring, who wore the same Snaps helmet since he was 12 years old, famous for it's small size and lack of gloss while with the New York Islanders.

Hockey Helmets

Goring actually had a pair of the helmets, one for at home and one for the road. They went through several color alterations as Goring moved from the Los Angeles Kings to the Islanders and later the Boston Bruins and eventually the Nova Scotia Oilers to close out his career.

When Goring was traded from the Kings to the Islanders late in the 1979-80 season, the Islanders equipment man didn't have the right paint available and had to improvise while on the road to get Goring in line with the rest of the team, as his road helmet was currently painted Kings' purple while the other was painted gold. The solution was to cover one of the helmets with blue tape, giving the headgear it's distinctive non-glossy, flat appearance, as if it had been flocked.

"It looked pretty good, you couldn't tell the difference." Goring said. "The tape was light enough so it was no big deal, it did the job."

"I didn't wear it for the protection. It was almost why do you wear gloves, why do you wear pads? For me, it was like I didn't know any other way to play hockey other than with my helmet. I grew up in an era where helmets were mandatory as a kid and it just didn't make any sense to take it off because it wasn't anything cumbersome that I needed to get rid of."
"Hockey players are like any other athletes, they get attached to certain things and they had good success and the helmet for me and I actually had a couple of items I kept for a long period of time but I think it is just a comfort zone more than anything else," Goring recalled.

Today's featured jersey is a 1989-90 Edmonton Oilers Craig MacTavish jersey. This jersey was worn during the final championship season of the Oilers era of success.

When the Oilers first joined the NHL they wore Maska jerseys and then Sandow SK brand for two seasons before the change to Nike. It was not until the 1989-90 season that the Oilers began wearing CCM, meaning Gretzky never wore CCM jerseys while with the Oilers in the NHL.

Edmonton Oilers Jersey
Edmonton Oilers Jersey

Today's video section begins with a brief look at the history of the hockey helmet and a profile of MacTavish.

Helmets used to come in a wider variety of shapes and sizes. In one of YouTube's finest moments, we present the Toronto Maple Leafs Top 11 Worst Head Gear.


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