Saturday, 7 May 2011

1954 NHL Season Preview

I find old articles about hockey very interesting for the minor stuff that they bring forward in terms of hockey history. The Sports Illustrated Vault is becoming a place of interest for me simply because of the immense amount of hockey history they are holding there. As far as I can tell, Sports Illustrated used to do a very good job in covering hockey, and the men they had assigned to the sport were very knowledgeable and intuitive. Case in point is the 1954 NHL Season Preview published in the magazine to the left. I'll post the previews here in order of how the experts thought the teams would finish, but the work done by the SI writers is absolutely top-notch in this article.

Here's the web version of the article for reference. Here's the meat, though, as the season preview of the 1954 NHL season takes us to a whole new level.

CLUB FINAL 1953-'54 STANDINGS: GEN. MANG. — JACK ADAMS; ARENA — OLYMPIA STADIUM. The seemingly invincible defending Stanley Cup champions are shooting for their seventh straight NHL title. Most home Wings games are Thursday, Saturday and Sunday at 8:30. Prices are scaled from $1.20 to $3.50 in the 12,500-seat stadium.
COACH: Rookie Jim Skinner, 36, is up from the efficient Detroit farm system replacing Coach Tom Ivan, who moved to Chicago as general manager. Skinner inherits a stand-pat club with Kelly, Lindsay, Sawchuk and Howe already established among hockey's greats as individual and team stars. Rookie Skinner's problem: starting with a top team, he will be expected to win.
TEAM PROSPECTS: "Production Line" of Delvecchio centering for Howe and Lindsay probably the best in existence. Returning forwards Skov, Leswiek, Pavelich, Prystai, Reibel are all reliable skaters. Kelly, Woit, Pronovost and Goldham make up rugged defensive corps and Sawchuk is as good as they come in the nets. Peters retired but Bonin and Poile have come up from Edmonton. The Wings, in almost every expert's opinion, figure to repeat.

CLUB FINAL 1953-'54 STANDINGS: MAN. DIR. — FRANK SELKE; ARENA — MONTREAL FORUM. Les Canadiens, usually colorful, always rough, have missed the play-offs only once in 12 years. Each of the 13,531 Forum seats has been sold for every game since 1945. Prices are $1.50 to $3.25 for Thursday at 8:30, Saturday at 8:15.
COACH: Dick Irvin, 62-year-old senior NHL coach, goes into his 15th Montreal season with a problem at center and goal, Lach and McNeil having retired. However, Irvin feels he has no worries. "We'll be stronger than last year," he reports. "Everyone at the beginning of the season thinks they're going to finish in first place. If they don't, they should."
TEAM PROSPECTS: A sure bet for one of the three top spots, Montreal's title chances may depend on the goal-tending skill of Plante, a hot replacement for McNeil last year, but now faced with his first 70-game stretch of major opposition. In front of him Harvey is great. Age may slow down Bouchard and Richard, but Beliveau, Moore and Geoffrion should improve. Newcomers are centers Marshall (already injured) and LeClair, right winger Litzenberger.

CLUB FINAL 1953-'54 STANDINGS: MAN. DIR. — CONN SMYTHE; ARENA — MAPLE LEAF GDNS. Hockey-Crazy Toronto hasn't seen the Leafs finish first since 1948. New General Manager Clarence Day thinks this may be the year. Home games are every Saturday, some Wednesdays, at 8:30. The prices for 12,586 seats: from $1.25 to $3.50.
COACH: Coach King Clancy, 51, did well last season and thinks his club is 20% stronger now and that "we have a helluva chance." King, ex-Leaf star and an NHL referee, is banking on top performances from veterans Smith, Lumley and Thomson, and thinks Capt. Kennedy will have another fine year. Clancy plans to eliminate "cheap penalties" by tossing $25 fines at all chronic offenders.
TEAM PROSPECTS: Only three newcomers can expect to find berths on the new Leaf club. One is Creighton, acquired in a trade for Flaman from Boston. The others are Rookies Cahan and Cullen. Much depends on Vezina Trophy-winning Goalie Lumley, Capt. Kennedy and the hoped-for improvement of Armstrong, Horton, Bailey, Boivin, Bolton and Nesterenko. Clancy, dissenting from popular opinion, says that Montreal, not Detroit, may be toughest.

CLUB FINAL 1953-'54 STANDINGS: PRES. — WALTER BROWN; ARENA — BOSTON GARDEN. Manager-Coach Lynn Patrick got the Bruins into the play-offs a year ago, may have a tougher time of it this season. Bruins Most home games are Sundays, Thursdays and Saturdays at 8:30. Tickets for the Garden's 13,909 seats go from 70¢ to $3.50.
COACH: Lynn Patrick, 42, son of Lester Patrick, the first Ranger coach, is in for trouble if Goalie Henry, a strong backbone in recent years, tires during the long pull. Lynn likely won't get as much out of Schmidt, now in his 16th season, but he says, "This is the most spirited and balanced team I've had in Boston. Fast and aggressive, nobody's going to push us around."
TEAM PROSPECTS: All Bruin hands must come through with a top showing if club is to move up. Loss of Creighton to Toronto and retirement of Peirson will hurt scoring punch unless Mohns, Chevrefils, Mackell and Sandford find the range and stay with it. Defensively Flaman will throw his weight around plenty. Final standings may depend on how well the team, never known for its precision play-making, can do against the play-off-hungry Black Hawks and the arch-rival young Rangers.

CLUB FINAL 1953-'54 STANDINGS: MANAGER — F. BOUCHER; ARENA — MADISON SQ. GDN. Launching their 29th NHL season, Ranger officials gloomily recall but three titles and second division finishes for Rangers the last 12 years. Games are usually Sundays and Wednesdays at 8:30. Tickets for 15,284 seats: 70¢ to $4.50.
COACH: Murray (Muzz) Patrick, 39-year-old brother of Lynn, starts his first full season as Ranger coach after his team showed amazing improvement toward end of last year. Says optimistic Muzz, a tough prewar Ranger defenseman, "We've got a good young club which may surprise a lot of gloom merchants who seem to feel sorry for us already."
TEAM PROSPECTS: Only a miracle, it seems, can keep the Rangers off the cellar steps. Top goal-scorer Hergesheimer will nurse a broken leg until December. Lewicki, ex-Leaf, may fit well on line with Mickoski and Raleigh, but "kid" line of Bathgate, Murphy and Rookie Popein is untested. Gone are the Bentleys, Riese, Kullman and Buller. Returning is ex-Captain Stanley to bolster the defense, and Laprade takes over as penalty killer. Goal spot strong: Worsley, with Bower on call.

CLUB FINAL 1953-'54 STANDINGS: GEN. MANG. — TOMMY IVAN; ARENA — CHICAGO STADIUM. Last place finishers for six of the past eight seasons, the Hawks have undergone house-Black cleaning from front office to bench. Chicago's hopes are highest since the war. Most games are Sunday at 8:30; 16,666 seats scaled from $1.25 to $4.
COACH: Rookie Coach Frank Eddolls, 33, ex-big leaguer with N.Y. and Montreal, guided Buffalo to AHL title last year to earn the Hawks job under new General Manager Tommy Ivan. Replacing Sid Abel, Eddolls' chief problem "is to develop our young fellows fast." Both Ivan and Eddolls think they have the personnel to move into serious play-off contention.
TEAM PROSPECTS: Last year Hawks won only 12 games, scored a measly 133 goals. Revamped team is built around dependable, over-worked Goalie Rollins, but will miss Mosienko (who retired) and Fogolin (temporarily injured). Defense has been strengthened by acquisition of Hollings-worth from Montreal, Martin from Boston. Other newcomers, all experienced, are Sullivan from Hershey, McCormick and Gamble from Montreal, Hassard and Timgren from Toronto.

So Detroit was picked to finish atop the NHL standings, so what really happened in the 1954-44 season?

Detroit finished first in the NHL with a 42-17-11 record for 95 points. They scored 204 goals-for, and allowed a league-low 134 goals-against. Detroit would appear in the Stanley Cup Final in 1955.

Montreal finished second in the NHL with a 41-18-11 record for 93 points. They scored a league-high 228 goals-for, and allowed 158 goals-against. Montreal would meet Detroit in the Stanley Cup Final.

Toronto finished third in the NHL with a 24-24-22 record for 70 points. Yes, you read that correctly: Toronto finished with 22 tied games that season. They scored a league-low 147 goals-for, and allowed 135 goals-against. Toronto would be swept in four games by the Detroit Red Wings in the playoffs.

Boston finished fourth in the NHL with a 23-26-21 record for 67 points - another team with an inexplicable amount of tied games to their credit. They scored 169 goals-for, but allowed 188 goals-against. Boston would fall to the Montreal Canadiens in the playoffs by a 4-1 series count.

The New York Rangers finished fifth in the NHL with a 17-35-18 for 52 points. They scored 150 goals-for, but allowed 210 goals-against. The Rangers would miss the playoffs this season.

The Chicago Black Hawks finished the season with a 13-40-17 record for 43 points, good for sixth- and last-place in the NHL. They scored 161 goals-for, but allowed a league-high 235 goals-against. Chicago also missed the playoffs.

It appears that the Sports Illustrated were pretty good in predicting how the season would play out. For those of you who are interested, Montreal's Bernie "Boom Boom" Geoffrion won the scoring race by one point ahead of teammate Maurice Richard. Geoffrion's 75 points also included 38 goals, tying him with Richard for the lead in goals that season. Jean Beliveau, who played alongside both men, finished with 73 points as the Canadiens' trifecta of stars were the league's best that season.

The league would be marred by the "Richard riot" in Montreal as the league suspended Maurice "The Rocket" Richard for the remainder of the season and the playoffs after he got into an altercation with a referee. The Richard riot is still remembered by a number of people in Montreal to this day.

Also, this season marked the first time a Zamboni was used to resurface the ice in an NHL arena. March 10, 1955 saw the Montreal Canadiens roll the Zamboni out onto the ice of the Montreal Forum for a game between the Canadiens and the Maple Leafs. The game ended in a scoreless tie with an unusual twist: fans were so enraged with Toronto's defensive play that they threw pig's feet onto the ice!

At the end of the playoffs, the Detroit Red Wings stood atop the NHL mountain again, having defeated the Montreal Canadiens in the Stanley Cup Final by a 4-3 series count. Detroit won Game Seven by a 3-1 score, and marked the first time that the home team won each of the seven games in the series. It has only happened twice since: 1965 and 2003.

Again, I love me some hockey history, and this was a great article! Look at those ticket prices as well: 70¢ for a ticket to an NHL game! WOW! How cool is that?

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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