With the exhibition season under way and the new NHL Season upon us, the excitement builds with every passing day. “Will Sidney Crosby play this year” should be the question on every mind.
Hockey nuts like me love this time of year and we also like to look back. So while we ponder Sidney’s fate, how many remember the start of the 1969 season? Remember that year? Man stepped on the moon in a giant leap for Mankind and hundreds of thousands of small steps assembled in a field in New York. Tranquility Base and Woodstock seem so long ago, but making a stand for something would also start off the 1969-70 NHL season.
The Golden Jet sat out the Hawks first game in an effort to make a point or more to the point, force the Hawks to keep their word. Bobby Hull alleged several gentlemen’s promises were made when he signed his four year $400,000 contract. Those of us that were playing hockey in 1969 might recall wearing a CCM product with Bobby Hull’s name on it, so Bobby was quite able to sit out a few games if he felt it was the principal of the thing. Bobby would eventually play and record 38 goals and 29 assists for 67 points.
Lost in all of this preseason Hull-noise was the quiet start of Gordie Howe’s 24th season. No issues with Howe, he calmly went about his business in a season when Mr. Hockey, at the age of 41, scored 31 goals and had 40 helpers.
I got the inspiration to write this story on Monday morning when three young high school students walked by the nose of my car sipping Tim Hortons Ice Caps at 7:45 in the morning. Book bags in tow, Blackberry devices in one hand and Ice Caps in the other, I instantly thought of the blue liner and what he would think of all this. A simple donut shop in Hamilton that exploded into a gazillion dollar enterprise that feeds kids pink slurpy stuff on the way to school. I love Tim Hortons, go there often, so this is not a slam at our favorite coffee house. But, I could not get Tim Horton off my mind.
In 1969, Tim Horton was 39 years old, his coffee and doughnut shop on Ottawa Street in Hamilton was five years old. He was the best defenseman in the NHL. Not that big at 5'10", he was very strong, Tim Horton was what they called a defensive defenseman, he was a wall. Tim Horton was also caught in the middle of the changing of the guard, he learned it was as much a part of a defenseman’s job to keep pucks out of your net, while the new kid on the block was thrilling youngsters with end to end rushes.
Bobby Orr had hit the main stream. Tim Horton, like Bobby Hull, also had a contract issue. Get this, Tim Horton turned down $40,000 a year and retired, then he decided to ask for $85,000 to see if the Leafs really wanted him back. They did and Tim Horton settled somewhere in between. It might have cost him, because before the season ended, Horton was a New York Ranger. Speaking of money, this will make you chuckle, Barclay Plager of the Blues and Phil Esposito of the Bruins were fined $250 a piece for separate incidents during preseason games. Both players pushed referees after being given misconducts. The Esposito incident took place in a game played in Ottawa September 21.
Those that remember history will recall that during that game the infamous Ted Green-Wayne Maki stick winging incident took place. Man, the game has changed; imagine getting that excited in an exhibition game today, jail might be an option. In case you were wondering, the Oakland Seals opened the season undefeated in two games on the road and lead the Western Conference.
Not doing anything Friday (Sept. 23) morning, drop by St. Columbans Grave Yard across from Cornwall Tire on Eleventh Street West at 11:00 a.m. for the Constable John Robert Davey Memorial and Tomb Stone un veiling. Everyone is invited.