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Ailing Beliveau one of a kind

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Big and tall, yet a graceful skater, the legendary Jean Beliveau was the personification of a classy player. (Denis Brodeur/Getty Images)

By Stu Hackel

In this darkest of seasons for Canadiens fans, the bad news continues to pile up. Their loss to Tampa Bay on Tuesday night dropped them three points behind the Islanders and Hurricanes for last place in the East. They were unable to peddle anyone other than the disappointing Andrei Kostitsyn on Monday’s trade deadline day, prompting The Montreal Gazette’s Red Fisher to write, “Once, teams would line up looking for help from this franchise. The view was that if a player was good enough to wear the CH, he surely had something to offer. Now, the franchise is in disarray from the top down. Now, it’s an embarrassment unworthy of attention. Where has the talent gone? Where has the pride gone?”

And then the news came that Jean Beliveau, the man who personifies talent and pride — not just for the Canadiens, but all of hockey — had suffered a stroke, the latest of his many health setbacks. The living symbol of everything this franchise has wanted to stand for — excellence, achievement, dignity, class, respect — had been laid so low that Fisher concluded his Wednesday Gazette article on Beliveau with the three words he often reserves for those whose health is at grave risk: “Pray for him.”

Those of you born well after Beliveau’s playing career ended in 1971 may well wonder, “Who is this man I’m asked to pray for?” and it’s a legitimate question.

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  • Published On Feb 29, 2012
  • Is Ovechkin a victim of his own fame?

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    Alex Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby have been the NHL’s marquee stars for six years, but only Ovechkin has been hit with the charge that his fame has negatively affected the level of his play. (Brian Babineau/NHLI via Getty Images)

    By Stu Hackel

    I know very little about what goes on in the NBA — as a hockey guy, some of that is by necessity and some by choice — but it’s impossible to avoid Jeremy Lin. This young basketball player has come out of nowhere to emerge as an instant worldwide breakout celebrity on the basis of two weeks’ worth of  performances for the New York Knicks and his name and his image are seemingly everywhere. You can’t miss him if you try, even if you have no clue (as I did until a few days ago) about what he’s done to deserve all the attention and acclaim.

    The question here is: why doesn’t something like this happen more often with hockey players? What follows isn’t meant to supply any answers as much as probe the question itself.

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  • Published On Feb 16, 2012
  • A vanishing shot; Semin’s enigma

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    Alex Semin of the Washington Capitals is a supremely talented player, but maddeningly inconsistent. (Russell Lansford/Icon SMI)

    By Stu Hackel

    One of hockey’s most breathtaking plays has nearly vanished from the NHL: the goal scored by a player who zips down the wing and blows a slap shot past the goaltender.

    “You can’t do that kind of shot today,” Avalanche forward Matt Duchene​ told my SI.com cohort Adrian Dater at his regular Denver Post gig. “It’s not going to work. The goalies are going to make the save, and you can’t even take the time to wind up like that off the rush. The (defenseman) is going to get to you and take away the puck or block the shot in the time it takes you to wind the stick back.”

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  • Published On Dec 22, 2011
  • Two Minutes for Booking: The Devil and Bobby Hull

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    Courtesy of Wiley & Sons

    By Stu Hackel

    If hockey ever produced a cautionary tale, it’s the life of Bobby Hull. That tale, and not merely recounting Hull’s on-ice exploits, is the approach taken by award-winning Toronto author Gare Joyce in his excellent new book, The Devil and Bobby Hull (John Wiley & Sons, 274 pages).

    Hull was hockey’s biggest attraction in the waning days of the Original Six era, more charismatic than the laconic Gordie Howe, flashier than the decorous Jean Beliveau. In his day, he was King of the Ice ( to borrow the honorific crown conjured up by the late Paul Quarrington in his great 1988 hockey novel, King Leary). Hull’s reign was wedged between those of Rocket Richard and Bobby Orr, although he was hardly in decline during Orr’s peak. He was not only the NHL’s top goal scorer — the first NHLer to break the 50-goal barrier in a season — but also it’s most explosive, visible and marketable player.

    Five times a Sports Illustrated cover subject — unprecedented for an NHL player of that time – Hull’s stardom transcended the game, and through his numerous endorsements, which doubled his Black Hawks salary, Gare establishes that he became the first hockey figure to gain continent-wide recognition and was the impetus for the league’s first great expansion in 1967.

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  • Published On Nov 18, 2011
  • Where does the Jets’ history reside?

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    Thanks to the Phoenix Coyotes, the most famous No. 9 in the new Winnipeg Jets history is not Hockey Hall of Famer Bobby Hull, it’s Marc Savard or young Evander Kane (pictured). (Todd Kirkland/Icon SMI)

    By Stu Hackel

    The Winnipeg Jets are not the Winnipeg Jets. And if that sounds confusing, be prepared for more of the same, because the team that will start play this fall in Winnipeg can’t claim the history of the team with the same name that once played there. It is what it is, except when it’s not.

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  • Published On Jul 22, 2011
  • Gretzky at 50: A look back at one of a kind

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    By Stu Hackel

    Wayne Gretzky, who many believe was the greatest hockey player ever, and unquestionably the greatest offensive player of all time, turns 50 years old today (Jan. 26) and to hockey fans of a certain age, it doesn’t seem very long ago that he was just a teenager — “The Kid,” as he was called then — playing for the Edmonton Oilers.

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  • Published On Jan 26, 2011
  • Blackhawks maintain link to past with class

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    Members of the 1961 Stanley Cup Champion Blackhawks (left to right) Rob Crawford, Eric Nesterenko, Bill Hay, Stan Mikita, Glenn Hall, Bobby Hull, Ab McDonald, Pierre Pilote, and Wayne Hicks were honored by team chairman Rocky Wirtz and president John McDonough in a pregame ceremony on Sunday. (Bill Smith/NHLI via Getty Images)

    By Stu Hackel

    Among the major team sports, only baseball rivals hockey when it comes to celebrating the past, and in our disposable culture of planned obsolescence, it’s always heartening when clubs maintain their connection with fans by saluting the players who have brought honor to the sweater and team crest.

    The Blackhawks paid tribute to their 1961 championship team on Sunday night, marking the 50th anniversary of Chicago’s third Stanley Cup, before a 5-0 shutout of the Islanders and you don’t have to be a Blackhawks fan to appreciate the significance of this franchise’s gesture to its history and its fans.
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  • Published On Jan 10, 2011
  • Two minutes for booking: “The Golden Jet” could have been as great as Hull

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    A new career retrospective on Bobby Hull curiously leaves out his years with the WHA’s Winnipeg Jets. (Courtesy of Triumph Books)

    By Stu Hackel

    In his prime, Bobby Hull was Original Six hockey’s most dangerous and prolific goal scorer. With his lethal slap shot, his powerful skating, matinee idol good looks and ability to bring fans out of their seats, the Golden Jet was the game’s top drawing card, the biggest sports star in Chicago and, to opponents and fans of other teams, the most feared player in the league.

    Younger fans who primarily know him as Brett’s father likely can’t begin to appreciate Hull’s talent or charisma. The thrilling sight of him flying down left wing, wearing that famous sweater with the Indian head crest on his chest and with puck on his stick lifted fans out of their seats throughout the league. Enemy coaches would draw up their entire game plans with stopping Hull as the focus. He’d absorb all variety of physical punishment and come back for more. A first team All-Star 10 times and the first player to break the 50-goal barrier, he would famously make his team’s bus wait at the arena after a game while he fulfilled every autograph request and answered every fan’s question. For fans of a certain generation, Hull was it.

    In 1972, when Hull jumped from the NHL to the WHA, “It shook the entire sports industry,” according to the new book The Golden Jet, by Bobby Hull with Bill Verdi (Triumph Books, 300 pages). “Only one player could provide the rival league with instant credibility and traction: Bobby Hull. His move, rife with pressure to produce, immediately enhanced the value of players in either league.”

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  • Published On Nov 29, 2010


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