Glenn Guzzo

 

So Many Seasons, So Little Time

 

By Glenn Guzzo

 

            Here’s a twist on those great-team tournaments that could be just right for gamers who have more Strat-O-Matic seasons than they can play.

 

            This gaming method is especially useful for hockey and football gamers who have enjoyed receiving three historic seasons per year and now have a string of consecutive seasons. Unlike the traditional great-team tournaments involving cross-era play, this one takes teams from several seasons in the same era.

 

            In this example, four regular-season champions from a five-year period of the National Hockey League’s Original Six era faced off in a tournament akin to the four-team playoffs of the era.

 

            Two rounds of best-of-seven series would give any gamer familiarity with all of these teams.

 

 

1962-63 Toronto: 35 wins, 82 points, +41 goal differential.

 

The Maple Leafs haven’t won a Stanley Cup since the end of the Original Six era in 1967, but from 1961-62 through 1966-67, they won four. This was the best of them, the first (and last) Toronto squad since 1947-48 to finish best in the NHL during the regular season.

 

Frank Mahovlich and Dave Keon led the offense, while the blueline foursome of Tim Horton (a 5), Allan Stanley, Carl Brewer and Bob Baun (all 4s) added imposing defense. Johnny Bower was the steady stand-up goaltender. The team had 10 future Hall of Famers.

 

 

1964-65 Detroit: 40 wins, 87 points, +49 goal differential

 

            After a drought since the 1950s, the Red Wings had a formidable team again, preceding an even longer drought after expansion. Though atop the standings, Detroit did not win the Stanley Cup.

 

            Hall of Fame forwards Gordie Howe, Norm Ullman and Alex Delvecchio led the offense, supported by HOF defensemen Bill Gadsby and Marcel Pronovost and spectacular young goalie Roger Crozier.

 

 

 

1965-66 Montreal: 41 wins, 90 points, +66 goal differential

 

            The Canadiens managed to win consecutive Stanley Cups in 1965 and 1966 with players who marked transition from the Habs’ dynasty of the late 1950s (Jean Beliveau, Henri Richard, Ralph Backstrom, Claude Provost and Jean-Guy Talbot) and their dynasty of the late 1970s (Yvan Cournoyer, Jimmy Roberts).

 

In 1965-66, young, but experienced players like Jacques Laperriere, J.C. Tremblay, Bobby Rousseau and Gilles Tremblay played major roles. HOF Goalie Gump Worsley, long a New York Ranger and recently a Canadien, was at his best this season.

 

 

1966-67 Chicago: 41 wins, 94 points, +74 differential

 

            In all the years since Chicago’s only Stanley Cup in 1961, this team may have had the best chance to repeat the success. Of the teams in this fantasy playoff, the Hawks scored the most goals and allowed the fewest. Alas, Chicago did not even make it to the Stanley Cup finals.

 

            Bobby Hull’s 52 goals in ’66-67 were the most of any player in this playoff. Stan Mikita’s 62 assists and 97 points were tops, too. Mikita’s Scooter Line mates, Kenny Wharram and Doug Mohns, Hull’s centerman Phil Esposito and mobile defenseman Pierre Pilote added to the attack. Young Denis DeJordy and veteran HOF’er Glenn Hall formed a potent goaltending tandem.

           

 

            I had no trouble eliminating Boston and New York from the playoffs, since they did such a consistent job of it themselves. The Rangers and Bruins finished fifth and sixth every season from 1963-67 except in the final year, when New York finished fourth, then made a hasty exit from the playoffs.

 

The two Stanley Cup winners earned the top seeds and home-ice advantage. Montreal, the more dominant of the two, should draw the weaker non-Cup winner, Detroit. That seemed fitting. After Detroit won the regular season in ’64-65, Montreal knocked them off in the first round of the playoffs, and then won the Cup. The next season, the two teams met in the finals and the Red Wings shocked all of hockey by winning the first two games at the Montreal Forum. But the Canadiens retaliated by taking the next two in Detroit and clinching the Cup in six games.

 

The stalwart defenders in Toronto had to deal with high-scoring Chicago. This seemed fitting, too. When the Maple Leafs finished first in 1962-63, they were one point ahead of the Blackhawks. When Chicago finished first in 1966-67, it was Toronto that knocked the Blackhawks out in the first round of the playoffs, and then won the Cup.

 

 

 

 

Semi-Finals: (1) Montreal vs. (4) Detroit

 

            Down 3-1 in the first game at the Montreal Forum, Detroit makes it 3-2 in the final 44 seconds of the second period on a goal by Delvecchio, and then steals the game with three third-period goals. Howe’s second goal of the game ties it, Pit Martin’s puts the Red Wings ahead and Floyd Smith’s seals the win, 5-3. Detroit out-shoots Montreal, 42-21.

 

            Montreal never trailed again, winning 4-1, 4-2, 3-0 and 4-0, clinching the series at the Forum. Beliveau and Gilles Tremblay each had three goals and J.C. Tremblay led the Canadiens with seven points.

 

Worsley, with a card that should stop 72 percent of Goalie Rating challenges, turned aside 86 percent of them – 30 in all, 23 of 24 after Game 1 and all 9 in the his Game 5 shutout. He was the first star of the game in three of Montreal’s victories.

 

            Winner: Montreal, 4 games to 1.

           

Semi-Finals: (2) Toronto vs. (3) Chicago

 

            Toronto play classic defensive hockey in Game 1 at Maple Leaf Gardens, suffocating the flashy Chicago offense before giving up a meaningless late goal in a 5-2 victory. The Blackhawks manage just 11 shots in the first two periods and find themselves behind 3-0 midway in the third on goals by Bob Nevin, Horton and Baun. After Chicago makes it 3-1 on Eric Nesterenko’s goal, Mahovlich scores twice to put the game away against a shaky Glenn Hall.

 

            Chicago turns it on and turns it around in Game 2, with Hull’s hat trick and a 7-2 victory in a bombardment that includes 12 Goalie Rating shots and two straight Goals against the beleaguered Bower. But the series really turns in Game 3 at Chicago Stadium. It is the Leafs’ type of game, 1-1, with Bower stopping all six Goalie Rating challenges through regulation. In overtime, Mohns fails to penetrate against Nevin, but Nevin then mishandles the puck, Mohns converts it into a breakaway and beats Bower on one last Goalie Rating.

 

            The dispirited Leafs and Bower surrender four goals – two by Hull – on Chicago’s first six shots in Game 4 and the Hawks take command of the series, 7-3. DeJordy had played every minute of the three Chicago victories and the Hawks may have been overconfident on return to Toronto for Game 5. They gave Hall another start and Mahovlich beats him three times for a 5-2 win to keep the Leafs alive.

 

            DeJordy is back in goal for Game 6 in Chicago and the Hawks clinch the series 5-3. Mikita, who led all scorers with 13 points in the series, puts the Hawks ahead 2-1 in the first period and then scores the game winner in the second.

 

            For the series, Hull and Wharram had six goals each. The Hawks intimidated with 55 Goalie Rating chances and nine straight-out goals. For Toronto, Mahovlich was a force with seven goals, but Keon was a huge disappointment, with zero goals and only two assists. His line managed just one goal all series.

 

Winner: Chicago, 4 games to 2.

 

 

Finals: (1) Montreal vs. (3) Chicago

 

            Game 1: At the Forum, the Canadiens quickly outclass Chicago, scoring on four of their first six shots to bench DeJordy after 10 minutes and building a 5-0 first-period lead by scoring on all three power plays. Final score: 8-0. Beliveau has two goals and four assists, while Rousseau adds a pair of goals and three helpers. Worsley effortlessly handles the six Goalie Ratings the Hawks fire at him, most in the final period after the outcome is decided.

 

            Game 2: Beliveau and Rousseau score in another fast start, as Montreal built a 3-0 lead in the first 10 minutes. Esposito and Wharram’s second-period goals draw Chicago to within 3-2, but it is fiction that the Hawks are really in this game. Beliveau and Cournoyer score third-period power-play goals and the Canadiens win 6-2 while keeping DeJordy under siege all game: 19 Goalie Ratings and one straight-out Goal. In feeble response, the Hawks challenge Worsley with just four Goalie Ratings. This series looks like a mismatch.

 

            Game 3: Somehow the Hawks regroup on home ice. Esposito and Mikita tally goals in the first period and Chicago keeps the Montreal offense under check all game (just five Goalie Ratings), giving the Hawks a 4-0 win.

 

            Game 4: DeJordy comes up big again, turning aside seven of eight Goalie Rating challenges, but Chicago manages only half that offense and Montreal clings to a 2-1 lead late in the third period. Then Nesterenko scores at 17:27 to force overtime. At 7:17 of the extra period, Mikita takes a pretty pass from Pat Stapleton and rips a shot over Worsley’s shoulder for the sudden-death game-winner that gives the Blackhawks sudden life. Can an overtime win turn this series around for Chicago as it had against Toronto?

 

            Game 5: Hull, held without a goal through the first four games, assists on Bill Hay’s game-opening goal, then scores the next two. His eight shots on goal help Chicago keep the pressure on all game at the Forum, emerging with a shocking 5-0 victory. DeJordy faces a mere four Goalie Rating challenges, while the Hawks pepper Worsley with 12 and one straight-out Goal.  Suddenly, it’s Montreal that must win two straight, including the next one on hostile ice.

 

            Game 6: Montreal knows it must weather an early surge, but it can’t do it. Pilote sets up Mohns’ game-opening goal at 8:22 of the first period, then sets up Mikita for a power-play goal at 11:47. The Canadiens are in big trouble, until their big captain, Beliveau, takes over the game.

 

His tally at 15:50 cuts the Chicago lead to 2-1. His second goal at 1:41 of the second period ties it and five minutes later he sets up Rousseau for Montreal’s first lead. Dick Duff adds a Montreal goal for a 4-2 lead at the end of two periods and the Canadiens skate to a 6-3 victory. Back to Montreal for the finale.

 

Game 7: A furious finish between heavyweights includes 21 Goalie Rating challenges and a very unlikely hero.

 

An eye-opener: Chicago, not Montreal, comes out blazing at the Forum, out-shooting the Canadiens in the first period, 18-4. Hull is playing like a man possessed, but Worsley stymies two of his Goalie Rating challenges and two more from other Hawks. Thanks to Worsley’s performance it’s Montreal that scores first, a goal by Provost at 9:31 of the first period. But exactly one minute later, Hull ties it on a power-play goal. Finally, at 18:35, J.C. Tremblay connects on a Montreal power play – the Canadiens’ second goal on only three shots and it gives the Habs a 2-1 lead at the end of one period. Worsley has stopped six Goalie Rating challenges – four by Hull.

 

Then another shocker: Montreal fourth-liner Jimmy Roberts starts buzzing the Blackhawks, firing shot after shot, six in all. Most of these are harmless on a card reflecting Roberts’ five goals for all of 1966-67, but he’s keeping the puck away from Chicago’s dangerous shooters. Then, with the help of a Rousseau setup, Roberts finds a Goal 1-11 on a dice roll 2 that eludes DeJordy at 2:41 of the second period to give the Canadiens a threatening two-goal lead, 3-1.

 

This could have been a demoralizer, but Hay converts a Hull pass to make it 3-2. Montreal counters when Beliveau sets up Rousseau for another two-goal Canadiens lead, but Wharram answers by burying a breakaway to cut the lead to 4-3. Chicago will not relent. 

 

Still in the second period, DeJordy has to thwart a startling Goalie Rating challenge from Roberts, but 30 seconds later at 17:30, Roberts takes a pass from Beliveau and again finds the one Goalie Rating on his Inside Shot column (dice roll 9). This one surprises DeJordy for a 5-3 Montreal lead that carries over into the third period.

 

 With the Canadiens protecting a two-goal lead at home, the Hawks never get close to another goal. Gilles Tremblay’s empty-net goal ends the desperation, and the series, 6-3.

 

The Conn Smythe winner is the Big Bell, Beliveau, the leader with 10 goals and 22 points in 12 games. But who is the second man to escort the Stanley Cup around the Forum rink? The first star of the deciding Game 7 – Little Jimmy Roberts.