Archive for September 26, 2015

Perreault: Still Number One in a Mixed Bag

1128 for publication Sept. 25, 2015

Ross Brewitt

Sitting out on the back deck, the September sun beating down in its 30-degree Celsius – 88 American – glory, a random thought crossed my mind.

45 years ago the first Buffalo Sabres training camp was held in Peterborough, Ontario. 1970. As the Sabres are doing right now, just not in Peterborough.

For the newer hockey afficianados ages 14 to 30, the ones I’ve already confused suggesting an NHL team didn’t train in their own backyard, in those days Punch Imlach was the GM and coach of the Sabres. He once held the same rank with the Toronto Maple Leafs who won four Stanley Cups in the space of six seasons, and if it was good enough for them, it was good enough for Punch’s ‘70’s crew called the Sabres.

That first season was my first with the Sabres too, and it fell to me to get our photographer, Buffalo Bob Shaver, up to the Kawartha Lakes area in order to snap Perreault for the first-ever Sabres magazine cover. Until then, there were no photos of “Bert” in a Sabres uniform.

So, on this sultry day, I called Mr. Perrault on his cel, and with call ID he answered as he’d often done in the past. “Allo, me?” It never failed to catch me off-guard and break me up. Then snickering at his phone he asked in perfect English, “call me back on the house phone.” Who among us hasn’t had problems with voice delays on echo-ing cell-phones?

When he answered the second call, it was a man completely at ease with two languages, unlike me, and we spoke of his next visit to Buffalo, and getting together for an informal catch-up interview, maybe a column.

“This time without your interpreter,” I suggested, remembering our first time in ’70 when veteran centre Phil Goyette did the translations.

“Unless I need one for you,” he added, with the hearty laugh we rarely saw or heard in his early seasons as a Sabre.

Our future arrangements made, I later dug out stats on that 1970 amateur draft, held in Montreal. Like the many gambles that have followed since then, it held surprises, revealed startling errors in judgment, and showed how tenuous and risky the gamble over young talent can be.

That year the argument had raged in the media about who would be the first pick. But either Perreault, or Dale Tallon would be 1-2 for the two newest expansion teams in the League. And, it went exactly that way, much like the McDavid/Eichel draft.

Reggie Leach was the third pick, Rick MacLeish fourth, both by Boston who had four selections in the first-round of fourteen. Fifth was Ray Martynuik, a goalie from the Flin Flon Bombers, selected by Montreal, who would play in every minor pro League except the ECHL, yet never made the NHL, or the WHA. He left the game in 1979.  Sam Pollock was the Habs GM. Mistake made.

The sixth spot went to highly touted Chuck Lefley, also chosen by Montreal, who played only 5 NHL seasons and bowed out. Next came Greg Polis, (PIT-10 NHL seasons), Darryl Sittler (TOR-15), Ron Plumb (BOS-1 WHA-8), Chris Oddleifson (CALIF-9), Norm Gratton (NYR-5), Serge Lajeunesse (DET-5), Bob Stewart (BOS-9), Dan Maloney (CHI-11).

And, if Buffalo hit a home-run with Perreault, they struck out with the 15th, and first selection of the second-round in Butch Deadmarsh. Imlach obviously wanted some toughness, but Deadmarsh spent only ten games with the Sabres that first season and only 46 more in two partial schedules before dropping to the minors and finished his career with four seasons in the WHA.

Perreault, the guy I wrote “was a 6-foot, 200-pound rocket who could accelerate and maneuver like a sports car,” played all his 17 seasons with Buffalo. Sittler put 15 into the NHL, and both are now in the Hockey Hall of Fame. Only Leach (1) and MacLeish (2) won Stanley Cups.

Tallon began his career with Vancouver for three seasons but the Canucks couldn’t make up their mind to play him at centre or defence. He went to Chicago for five, then two years with Pittsburgh before a back injury forced him to retire.

It only proves the amateur draft is risky business, and what a dicey crap-shoot it can be.

And, happy anniversary ‘Bert. You’re still a class act.

Hockey’s World Cup, the Jays, and Adieu #16

1125 for publication September 11, 2015

Ross Brewitt

Thursday morning, after a summer of low profile by the NHL, Commissioner Gary Bettman almost elbowed his way to the forefront of the sports channels with an on-stage cast of All Stars formally announcing the 2015 World Cup.

But the Blue Jays, the resident darlings of the diamond, had managed to hold off the NHL challenge to lead-off the news with a bomb of their own. Another double digit defeat at the hands of the cellar-dwelling Red Sox. More later.

Anyway, there’s Mr. Bettman, accompanied by the NHLPA’s Mr. Fehr, sitting so close together you wondered which one was the ventriloquist. They took turns rhyming off why this was to be something of note on your calendar.

The first six teams in the World Cup have a familiar ring. The last two are hybrid collections, one made up of NHL players from Russia and Europe, the other an under-23 team of Canadian and American NHLers unofficially named the “McDavid Eichels.”

It’s the usual suspects versus the oddballs. Meaning they could be interesting, or they could become bombs themselves. Therein lies the mystery. Let’s face it, the NHL and the players are into an experiment they made very clear is not a threat to the Olympics.

Well gollee geez, even the Olympic Ring-a-dings knew that. The lone threat being under cover, is the NHL and it’s work-force might take their puck and go home. Sort’a. Maybe.

Still, while they’re facing that unlikely scene, let’s also be clear the NHL has never liked the IOC’s take-over every four years, running the show and taking credit for some very entertaining drama.

This is exactly the point where the NHL and the players are split. For the NHL it’s a profit disturbing, publicity arrangement they don’t like one bit, and it comes at a heavy cost. Not to forget the disruption of their sacrosanct 82-game schedule. Not to mention the concern of injuries to their players, for the most part their very best players. And, not to bring up the back-hand support accorded and realized by the five-ring crew and their brand.

The NHL could do without the Olympics. Not the players. There’s a lot of legs and prestige in an Olympic medal. Both tournaments are major events, but country-on-country carries more weight than six of the best countries, and a couple of “mystery grab bags.”

Aside from the main six, all of whom have medalled at the Games, the under-23 crew holds the most outside attraction. The good news is, hockey fans will get to see an interesting schedule coming into the new season. But a word of caution, it may cut into the always expensive exhibition game calendar. What a shame, huh? We’ll find out soon.

As for those error free, but erratic Blue Jays, the answer to the burning question of “who’s pitching in Buehrle’s spot,” was throwin’ ‘em Wednesday night? All three-and-a-third innings worth.

Former starter Drew Hutchinson, has likely punched his ticket to the bullpen, injury replacement status, or eating sunflower seeds with the other call-ups sunning in the bullpen.

Although he’s always been slow on the trigger when changing pitchers, and having relievers ready, there’s no fault in manager Gibby thinking things were in hand. With two out in the third, Mookie Betts’ took Hutch off the top of the “Monster” for a home run, and two more singles setup dinger 498 for “Big Papi” Ortiz and the game was in-hand. The list of Jays relievers following only made the point moot.

But, overall, Hutchinson was looking shaky from the start, missing his targets, and the pitches were piling up, leaving little on the positive side to take away. In all, it was a sad thing to watch.

Finally, we’re saying “well done” to number 16, Jayna Hefford, an outstanding player who logged five Olympics wearing Team Canada’s colours. Four gold, and one silver medal in a truly illustrious 20- year career. She’s expecting, and retiring.

I once called her “Canada’s female Paul Henderson,” urging young players to watch her all-in, all-game performance.

Jayna was pure gold.