Far More than Three Stars When Playing with These Classic Hockey Seasons
By Glenn Guzzo
Strat-O-Matic has two classic seasons to offer this summer to fans of hockey history. Though 35 years separate the 1954-55 and 1989-90, they have something very exciting in common: Megastars at their best.
Nearly a half century later, Montreal fans have not forgotten this season, remembering it more vividly even than Stanley Cup winning Detroit.
The reason: Riots at the Montreal Forum when NHL Commissioner Clarence Campbell showed up for the playoffs. Campbell had suspended all-time great Maurice “Rocket” Richard for the final three games and the playoffs after punching a linesman following a stick-swinging incident.
Detroit won the regular season for the seventh straight year and the Stanley Cup – the last year before Montreal’s dominant five-year run of Stanley Cups. But without the Richard suspension, Montreal might have won both in 1954-55 and Richard might have won his only scoring title.
Detroit, trailing Montreal by two points when Richard was suspended for the final three games, ended two points ahead of the Habs, 95-93. Then, with Richard still suspended for the playoffs, the Red Wings whipped the Canadiens in a seven-game final for the Cup.
Richard also had been leading the scoring race by two points at the time of his suspension. As it was, Richard tied teammate Bernie “Boom Boom” Geoffrion for the league lead in goals (38), though Geoffrion topped Richard in points, 75-74. Jean Beliveau gave Montreal the top three scorers in the league with a 37-36-73 campaign.
The Canadiens led the NHL in scoring, but were only third in goals allowed with rookie Jacques Plante in the net and defenseman Doug Harvey winning his first Norris Trophy in a string of four straight and seven out of eight. For the most part, these Habs are the same players who next season would begin a record run of five straight Stanley Cups.
Detroit: Earl Reibel (25g, 66p) and Gordie Howe (29g, 62p) were 4-5 in league scoring. Red Wings were second in offense and first in defense, allowing a mere 134 goals in 70 games with Vezina Trophy winner Terry Sawchuk.
Third-place Toronto had the league’s MVP in Teeder Kennedy (42 assists) and Lady Byng Trophy winner Sid Smith (33g), but otherwise was defensive-minded, yielding only one more goal than Detroit, but scoring only 147.
The Leafs’ 70 points were only three better than fourth-place Boston, which made a swift exit in the playoffs, despite a roster with eight double-figure goal scorers.
Fifth-place New York had 29-goal Danny Lewicki, 20-goal Andy Bathgate and goalie Gump Worsley. Last-place Chicago had Calder Trophy winner Ed Litzenberger (16g), Red Sullivan (19g, 61p) and 10-goal defenseman Allan Stanley.
The stars could not have been much brighter than in this season, when the scoring leader was Wayne Gretzky, the MVP was Mark Messier, the Vezina Trophy winner was Patrick Roy, the Norris Trophy winner was Ray Bourque and the Lady Byng Trophy winner was Brett Hull. Steve Yzerman and Mario Lemieux were top-five scorers. Hull (72) and Yzerman (62) topped a list of eight 50-goal scorers that included Cam Neely, Pat Lafontaine and Brian Bellows.
After two years of yielding the top spot to Mario Lemieux (who still led in points per game, but played only 59), Gretzky won another scoring title, this time for LA. But the MVP was in Edmonton, which proved (once, and for the last time) that it could win the Stanley Cup without Gretzky. The Oilers still had MVP Messier (45g, 129p), Jari Kurri (33g, 90p), Glenn Anderson (34g, 72p) four other 20-goal scorers and defenseman Kevin Lowe.
Edmonton finished second in its division to defending Cup champs Calgary, which led the West with 99 points and had an all-star cast of Joe Nieuwendyk (45g, 95p), Doug Gilmour (24g, 91p), Gary Roberts (39g), Joe Mullen (36g), Theo Fleury (31g) and the Russian import Rookie of the Year Sergei Makarov (24g, 86p) up front, Al MacInnis (28g, 90p) and Gary Suter (16g, 76p) on the blue line and Mike Vernon in goal.
Boston, which led all teams with 101 points, just three more than Buffalo in the tough Adams Division that also included 93-point Montreal, had Bourque and Neely, but lost a five-game finals to Edmonton.
Buffalo had 98 points with 40-goal scorers Pierre Turgeon (106p) and Dave Andreychuk and high-scoring defenseman Phil Housely (21g, 81p)
Chicago won the Norris Division with 88 points and productive seasons from such enduring stars as Denis Savard (27g, 80p), Steve Larmer (31g, 90p), Jeremy Roenick (26g, 66p), defenseman Doug Wilson (23g, 73p), and 40-goal man Steve Thomas
St. Louis skated to the playoffs – and won a round there – on the strength of Brett Hull’s regular-season 72 goals, 10 more than runner-up Steve Yzerman of Detroit, and his playmaking center, Adam Oates (79a, 102p), though four other Blues scored at least 24 goals.
The six teams above will be offered in a card set. As usual, all teams will be in the Windows version and the non-carded teams can be printed out from a supplemental computer disk.
On the disk:
Scoring leader Gretzky and 52-goal teammate Luc Robitaille for LA … Points-per-game leader Mario Lemieux for Pittsburgh … goal-scoring runner-up Steve Yzerman for Detroit … 16 of the top 20 goal scorers … Vezina winner Patrick Roy (league-best 91.2 save percentage) and 51-goal teammate Stephane Richer for Montreal … GAA Leader Mike Liut (2.53) for Hartford … Patrick Division-winning New York Rangers, led by goalies John Vanbiesbrouck and Mike Richter and winger John Ogrodnick (43 goals) … 55-goal man Brian Bellows for Minnesota and 54-goal man Pat Lafontaine for the New York Islanders.