Monday

Chris Lindberg


Many Canadian fans always had a soft spot for Dave King's Canadian national teams back in the 1980s and early 1990s. Generally speaking the team was made up of defensive minded speedsters who were long shots to win Olympic and international tournaments. Many of the players graduated to the NHL with varying levels of success.

One of the more noticeable "Nats" players in the 1991-92 season was Chris Lindberg. Of course the national team got quite a lot of attention that year. It was an Olympic year after all, and with the fall of the Soviet Union some believed Canada finally had an equal chance to compete on a level international playing field. Moreover, Canada had a strong team with NHL super-prospect/hold out Eric Lindros leading the way. Joey Juneau, Brad Schlegel and Jason Woolley also played big roles, as did NHL imports like Sean Burke, Dave Hannan, and Dave Tippett.

Lindberg was noticeable first and foremost because of his astonishing speed. He could keep up with the fastest Russians and then some. He was often asked to kill penalties and be the first man in on the forecheck. His speed also created a lot of offensive opportunities. In two seasons with the Nats he scored 25 and 33 goals. In the Olympics he scored 1 goal and 5 points in 8 games.

Lindberg's dedication to the national team paid off in Albertville at the Olympics. Canada would lose to the Russians (playing under the title of "Unified Team" due to the evolving break up of the Soviet Union) 3-1 in the final game. Canada had nothing to be ashamed of in winning the silver medal.

Immediately after the Olympics Lindberg made the jump to the Calgary Flames. He played in 17 games to end the NHL season, scoring 2 goals and 7 points.

Dave King finally tried his hand at the NHL game. He signed on with the Calgary Flames as head coach for the 1992-93 season. This was great news for Lindberg. Lindberg stayed with the Flames full time that season, scoring 9 goals and 21 points in helping the Flames return to the playoffs.

Lindberg left Calgary prior to the 1993-94 season, signing as a free agent with the Quebec Nordiques. He played half a season in Quebec before being demoted to the minor leagues where he was a strong offensive player in the playoffs with the Cornwall Aces.

Lindberg could read the writing on the wall and he must not have liked the idea of riding buses in the minor leagues for the rest of his career. He took control of his own destiny and headed overseas to play in European leagues where his speed and experience would allow him to play more prominent roles. He played in Germany, Austria, Switzerland and even a season in Japan, extending his career by an extra 10 years.

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Tuesday

Interview With Perry Berezan

GreatestHockeyLegends.com thanks Frederick Lavallee for the following interview with Perry Berezan:

2011 has been quite the year for this little French writer from Montreal, Quebec. Had the chance to interview four former NHLers, and I, of course, wanted a fifth one. I like to read those old NHL Yearbooks, especially since they started at about the same time I started watching hockey. I will always remember that 1991 Minnesota North Stars run to the Stanley Cup finals, and I told myself : ‘’ Why not try and interview a player from that roster? ‘’

I peeked at the forwards, and noticed that familiar name : Perry Berezan. Yeah, remembered him from the Flames, North Stars and Sharks. Played two times in the Stanley Cup Finals, and for an expansion team, interesting! And so, I e-mailed him. And less than 12 hours later, I had my answer...

‘’ Frederick, thanks for taking interest in an old slug.

I’d be happy to speak to you. Call me Tuesday at... ‘’ – Perry Berezan

I was shocked. I called, and was asked by Berezan if I’d prefer meeting him, because he’d come to Montreal a month after. I said yes without any hesitation. He liked my devotion and passion and was willing to take some time to meet and share some thoughts about his career, and the choices that he made in life. And so, it all happened October 21st right here in my hometown of Montreal.

Perry Berezan was born on December 5th 1964, in Edmonton, Alberta. Like many other Canadian hockey kids, he learned to skate early on an outdoor rink close to his home. His dad put him on the ice with his first pair of skates when he was 4 years old...

‘’ I just ran on the ice. Instead of falling, I just ran. Didn’t skate, didn’t walk, but it was pretty obvious to me that I wanted to play. I started playing hockey with some neighbors when I was five and I remember scoring my first goal on a breakaway by sliding in the net with the puck. One of the moms would give 10 cents per goal to kids and I remember telling myself : ‘’ I can get ten cents! ‘’. I was so excited! ‘’ says a laughing Berezan.

He played his minor hockey (up to the age of 15) in the Northeastern part of Edmonton, where he lived in a lower-middle class neighbourhood. He just loved playing. Practiced a lot of different sports and he just craved for more. But that desire especially showed in the form of...running!

‘’ In grade 7, one of the Phys Ed teachers wanted to start the 500 kilometers club, to see if people would follow. I had to get up early before school to run. I remember wanting to do a thousand! I had such a drive. My Junior High would be running in the morning, just because I had to, and then play with soccer or basketball teams, or track teams, and in the winter, during the evening, it would be hockey! ‘’

Berezan would get a shot at playing in the Alberta Junior Hockey League at age 15, but he was cut from his team. He went back to the midget level, and went back up with the Saint-Albert Saints the next year, where he would meet a coach that would have a great influence on his early career. This very coach is the father of Edmonton Oilers Hall-Of-Famer Mark Messier, Doug...

‘’ I would call it my first experience of professional hockey. Doug was as influencial on me as anyone else. He prepared me for pro hockey more than anyone. I played 112 games total that year, we won a couple of championships (BC and Alberta). Those days back then...lots of brawling, fighting, biting...bench clearing brawls. Doug scared the living daylights out of his players between periods, before games, after games. He built and put together a tough team, and I lived a pretty sheltered life at home. That year, I experienced things I thought I would never experience... ‘’ Berezan says, and he goes on...

‘’ When I got through University and joined the Flames during that Flames-Oilers rivalry, I wasn’t afraid of anything. I got to know Mark (Messier) a little before because Doug was my coach, and having played against him, I can say he was as scary and as tough as they get, I was ready! ‘’

The former AJHL Saints center decided to pursue an education by studying Business at the University of North Dakota. As he was slowly getting ready to go play hockey at North Dakota, Berezan got a very special phone call during a work shift at the factory where he worked...

‘’ I was working in Fort Saskatchewan in a warehouse for a mine. I’d run parts back and forth to help the guys that needed it at the mine...one day, my supervisor called me to tell me someone wanted to speak to me on the phone. He reminded me that I was not on break and I had to make it quick. I took the phone, and it was CBC. They told me I was drafted by the Flames and they wanted to interview me. I told them I had to go back to work and that they should call me after. So that’s what they did, since I was not on break and didn’t have time at work. I called my parents during break... ‘’

Being drafted was a good thing in Berezan’s career: it goes without saying. He was a 3rd round pick of the Flames in the 1983 NHL Entry Draft. But at the time, even though he was happy about it, the former defensive forward was not celebrating all that much, as he had another objective in mind...

‘’ Being drafted almost was a non-event. I was happy I was drafted, but I didn’t want to celebrate too much. It wasn’t really a goal to play in the NHL at that time. My goal was to play university hockey. I wanted to be the best university player I could be. Getting to university, I just wanted to be in the best shape I could be... ‘’

Back then, Berezan loved to run, and break his own limits. He was driven to do more than anyone else, whether it was about running or playing sports, he had to show the best shape possible and be the best he could be. But that turned out to be a strange thing when he started university...

‘’ I got there and saw those U.S. kids...they were big, talented and strong. I was a little intimidated, until we started doing the pre-season workouts. One of the things we had to do was to run three laps of stairs in the old Ralph Engelstad Arena. I used to run stairs all the time in the summer when I was living in Edmonton. I thought it would be a piece of cake and it was, I lapped half the team! People were mad at me and they thought I was cocky, asking me what was wrong with me. I remember saying ‘’ No, what’s wrong with you? ‘’ ...but I started to realize that even though I was not necessarily better than other people, I certainly was in better shape! ‘’ says the proud Edmonton native, who completed his degree about twelve years after leaving North Dakota the first time.

He ended up playing two seasons there with the likes of future NHLers such as Rick Zombo, Tony Hrkac, Jon Casey, and another player who would turn up to become a business partner in the future, Gord Sherven. The former North Star was quite solid and a great scorer, amassing 110 points in 86 games over the two seasons he played there.

As he was halfway through his second season at North Dakota, just before Christmas, he was going down to the rink early before a game, coming down from the hotel, in an elevator. Then, it stopped and two well-dressed men came in...Those faces were somewhat familiar to Berezan, but he was not sure...

‘’ It was Flames GM Cliff Fletcher and his assistant Al McNeil, but I didn’t recognize them at the time. I played my game that night, and when it ended, there were those two guys again! They introduced themselves and they were quite clear: they told me that the Flames coach at the time, Bob Johnson, liked what he saw and wanted me to join the Flames when my season was over at North Dakota. So they asked me to call my agent, but I didn’t have one, I was in school! That’s when I realized that I was going to play in the NHL. I thought it was only for the best players, how could I be in that group? But I joined the Flames at the end of my season, played right away, and fit in right away as well...‘’

He played his first nine games during the end of the 1984-85 season, amassing five points, including three goals. His first goal was an empty-netter, and he couldn’t remember the first goalie he beat. It was on March 20th, 1985 in Calgary in a 7-4 Flames win.

‘’ The Leafs had a couple of goalies that year, and I just can’t remember who it was. I had a great game, lots of shots, and I received a pass from Mike Eaves on a two on one to score. I just had to throw it in the net! ‘’ says the one who used to wear number 21 with the Flames.

He would have the chance to play his first full season with the Flames in 1985-86, scoring 12 goals and 33 points in 55 games. It was a great first season offensively, but Berezan played with a stacked Flames team, and so, his chances of being that offensive Top 6 forward were slim. But he found his role, and got regular ice time. His coach had confidence in him and played him in all situations...

The 1985-86 season will forever remain a part of Perry’s greatest hockey memories. That year, the Flames played a memorable 7-game series against their arch-rivals from Alberta, the Edmonton Oilers. The Oilers were the two-time defending Stanley Cup champs, and were looking for a third one in a row. With about eight minutes left in the third period of game 7, the score was tied at two. Berezan was on the ice when a line change was called, so he dumped the puck deep in the Oilers zone, and headed back to the bench...a couple seconds later, Steve Smith tried a pass across the crease, the puck hit Grant Fuhr and ricocheted right into the Oilers net...

‘’ It’s pretty amazing to be known for a goal you didn’t even score! I remember I would always play well in Edmonton. I played with John Tonelli and Lanny McDonald...we were all in a mental zone at the time. I was just trying to do the smart thing and dump it in and Steve threw it in his own net. Back then, the Oilers had the greatest transition game in hockey. And instead of going behind the net, the defenseman would try to reach a winger at the red line, and then the winger would just tip it to a streaking player down the middle for a fast and massive entrance in the offensive zone. ‘’ mentioned the former NCAA player. And he added this...

‘’ So all Steve Smith was doing was basically organizing the Oilers rush down the ice. But he fanned on the puck a little and Grant Fuhr was way too far ahead of his net. So it was Grant’s fault but ultimately, Steve got blamed for it. Mike Vernon stood on his head for the remaining 8 minutes and that was it. We were taking on the Blues in the Conference Finals. ‘’

The Flames beat the Blues in a tough 7 game series as well. The Flames thought it was all over when they led game 6 by a score of 5-2, but the Blues came back from the deficit to win in overtime and force a game 7. Fortunately, the Flames won 2-1 in the last game to get the chance to play against the Montreal Canadiens for the Stanley Cup.

‘’ Badger Bob Johnson put me in the starting lineup for the first game at the Forum. I tried to take everything in stride...I couldn’t be intimidated with a ‘’deer in the headlights’’ look, because I needed to keep my focus to perform. But I remember standing on that blue line for Oh Canada, going through my personal routine. And for a second, I thought: ‘’ Holy cow. I’m at the Montreal Forum for the Stanley Cup Finals! ‘’ but I had to get back my focus, to stay in the moment. ‘’ said a proud Perry Berezan.

Unfortunately, the Flames didn’t win the Cup in 1986. They won the first game, but lost the other four. And so, the Canadiens took Stanley to Montreal and the Flames were left disappointed. The teams that show the most character, heart and willingness to go to war usually win in the end...

‘’ Being my first year, going to the Finals...I learned quickly. You cannot start celebrating , you cannot pat yourself on the back. You just have to keep your focus and work your *ss off and do anything it takes to be a successful playoff team. Those teams that can do that and come together can succeed. But it’s hard for some teams to come together in the playoffs...just look at the Washington Capitals, for example. ‘’ and he continues...

‘’ Talented teams, but some guys are not willing to go to war, and you need everyone to go to war. Some guys learn it early, some learn it over time, and some will never learn. Some playoff guys are going to be terrible forever because they are not willing to give it all. The teams that do will win, just like the Boston Bruins last year. ‘’

Speaking of character, Berezan was directly involved in a hard rivalry. He was born and raised in Edmonton...but he wore the Flames red shirt when it all took place during his NHL years. As of today, the Battle of Alberta still is a great rivalry. Those geographic rivalries often give the fans great hockey to watch...

‘’ The Battle of Alberta! I loved every game. For an Edmonton boy to be playing in Calgary was a thrill. I had some of my best games as a pro in Edmonton in front of my family. Of course playing against Gretzky and the rest of those Oilers made it easy to get pumped up whether it was exhibition, regular season or playoffs. Badger Bob loved preparing us for the Oilers games so

each time our entire team was ready to go to war and do whatever it took to win. Unfortunately for us the Oilers were so talented and so good that we only got by them once in the playoffs. ‘’

Playing with the Flames organization from 1985 to 1989, Perry Berezan had a lot of nice things to say about his former team. He praises ‘’ Badger ‘’ Bob Johnson for the chance he was given to play early in his career and for the role he discovered for himself in the NHL...Johnson was the coach of the Wisconsin Badgers (NCAA) between 1966 and 1982. He won three national championships there. It was he who followed Berezan’s career at North Dakota and asked the Flames GM Cliff Fletcher to sign him to play with the Flames in 1985...

‘’ Bob used to be a college coach, so he was signing and bringing a lot of college players in. He gave me every single opportunity in the world to play. He played me in all types of situations and he would tell the press he had confidence in me because I could take the faceoff, play left wing, right wing, on the penalty kill or the power play. He gave me a ton of confidence and he praised me so much for my defensive abilities as a forward...I knew what my role was...‘’ says Perry about his former coach. And then, he goes on with an interesting thought...

‘’ I knew I couldn’t be a great goal scorer in the NHL, I was never that talented. I could skate, so maybe I’d be better off as a good penalty killer and a defensive forward. I couldn’t score, I just didn’t have the gifts. But every team can’t have just goal scorers on their roster! Even if you got six or seven, only three or four can really be your guys. You’ve got to fit into a role...and intuition was telling me that that was not where I was heading. I saw Brett Hull start his career in Calgary, then being sent down to the minors. My first full year in Calgary, I was up playing for the Flames, while future all-stars like Brett Hull, Gary Roberts, Theo Fleury and Brian Bradley were all playing in the minors. ‘’ continued the former IHLer, before finishing with the following on that matter...

‘’ What does that tell you? Tells you that if you find a role and you’re good at it, there’s no room for those other guys. They’re competing for the top two lines. I found my spot, I was reliable, and if Badger didn’t give me the opportunity, maybe I would have never gotten it elsewhere and I could’ve been in the minor leagues for my whole career, who knows? ‘’

Perry also has good memories of the organization in general. He was always treated with respect by the Flames and he is still part of them today...

‘’ The people there were great, leadership wise. The organization...Cliff Fletcher was like a father to me. I would go talk to him and it would feel like I was talking to my dad. It was a family atmosphere. Lanny McDonald, Jim Peplinski, Tim Hunter, Doug Risebrough...these guys were incredible leaders and our teams were really tight because of it... ‘’

Berezan would have to deal with injuries between the 1986-87 and 1988-89 seasons, playing a total of 88 games with the Flames only. He got traded to Minnesota in March of 1989, just before Calgary won the Stanley Cup. And where he found leadership and unity in Calgary, he was shocked by what he found in Minnesota...

‘’ When I got with the North Stars, I realized not everyone was like the Flames. That team was a bunch of misfits, selfish players. Then Bob Gainey came for my second year in Minnesota for his

first professional year of coaching. We went to the Stanley Cup Finals that year. Why? Because Bob understood leadership, and how to put together a team. You know, Bob was an a**hole at times.... ‘’ said the former North Star. But he had more to say on Gainey...

‘’ You can’t be a nice guy and succeed in anything all the time. Gainey is as credible and genuine as they get. If it means stepping over somebody, he doesn’t care. He wants to get something accomplished. I learned so much about life, just from seeing Bob pull our misfit, selfish group together. ‘Cause that’s what it was: a bunch of guys who had no idea what winning was about. ‘’

Learning from all the great leaders he played with in Montreal, Bob Gainey gained Perry Berezan’s respect behind the North Stars bench, with Doug Jarvis and Andy Murray as his assistants. Not a bad set of coaches!

‘’ Bob transformed the North Stars organization in a matter of months. We squeaked into the playoffs in the last game of the season. We then beat the Black Hawks in six games, and then the Blues and the Oilers. Jon Casey was standing on his head, Gaetan Duchesne played his role, there were guys with reputations, but Bob put everyone together and put them in their roles. ‘’ concluded on the subject Berezan, whose spot in the regular lineup was taken by Marc Bureau for the 1991 playoffs, resulting in him playing only one game in the playoffs.

‘’ Yeah I talk about Bob Gainey with such respect, but I hated him back at the time! But looking back, I have tons of respect for what he did. ‘’ says the laughing former St. Albert Saint.

It was hard for Berezan not to be playing during the playoffs. But he had the chance to play one game, against the Pittsburgh Penguins, during the Finals. Just like 1986, Berezan was a part of history without even intending to.

‘’ The game I played was that infamous game when Mario Lemieux scored that highlight goal that you can see every time on Hockey Night in Canada. I was on the ice when it happened. I was on a rush for the Penguins net, took a shot, and then, the defenseman just tapped it to Mario, who went all the way through our defence and beat Jon Casey. The magic stopped after that game...our bubble literally burst. And they crushed us after that to win... ‘’

That game would be the last one after two seasons with the North Stars. GM Bobby Clarke wanted to buy out Berezan’s contract...

“I had two years left to my contract and Bobby Clarke called me into his office during training camp. It was not a good sign, as he was not exactly the fatherly figure that Cliff Fletcher was. He wanted to buy out my contract for two thirds of the amount, which I refused. If you want to buy out a contract after July 1st, it has to be paid in full. I was a little intimidated and he threatened to keep me in the minors for the remainder of my contract. I was making about 170,000$ a year back then. It was not a same amount as today, but still, the rules stated that was all mine. My agent started negotiating with him...‘’

Jack Ferreira was the Sharks GM, and a former member of the North Stars organization. He was interested in Perry’s services, and he wanted to tick off Bobby Clarke. So the North Stars

resigned their former no. 21’s contract, and the veteran center was signed by the newly arrived San Jose Sharks, an expansion team...

‘’ I had a great time there. They played me a lot. But I hated losing, but our fans would be cheering us all the time. They didn’t really know hockey, they were just fans who were happy they had a team. We could basically do no wrong. George Kingston and Bob Murdoch, our coaches, decided early that it was going be a fun atmosphere. So they stressed a lot on that aspect. We had some all-stars, like Doug Wilson and Kelly Kisio. But there was a bunch of guys on that team who wouldn’t have played anywhere else. It was a good two years, but it was hard losing. ‘’ says the honest former Shark, who says he had his best year there in 1991-92 despite a brutal first season from the San Jose team.

As fans, we often hear about players who do not seem to care about losing...as long as they play and get paid. A lot of fans will say that such hockey players exist, while others, like me, tend to think that everybody hates losing and that no one gets accustomed to it. Some people just have more will then others, but Berezan burst my bubble...

‘’ It does exist. There are still players that are so gifted and everything had come easy to them. If you get 6-7 million dollars a year because you are that gifted, what is your motivation now? Those types of players are out there...and they need a kick to change. Some of them just never will... ‘’

Being a winner and a great leader, Bob Gainey was that type of coach who would kick a guy in the butt to make him work harder...

‘’ Bob Gainey completely changed Mike Modano. When you interview Mike Modano Fred, you ask him what influence Bob had on his career. Bob was so hard on Mike, and Mike hated Bob for a while. But he is his biggest influence because Mike was soft. But compared to Bob, everyone is. That guy is as hard as they get. But if you get those soft players, you’ve got to try and transform them, make them miserable for a while. And Bob could spot them from a mile...Ken Hitchcock is in the same mold. Those are people that, if hired at the right time, can do wonders. They don’t always last long, but they transform players ‘’

During the course of his second year with San Jose, Perry played his last game in pro hockey. He sustained an ankle injury shooting basketball with Brian Hayward and he played throughout training camp with an injured ankle...having a history of injuries, it was getting harder and harder for Berezan to bounce back...

‘’ The writing seemed to be on the wall. I was going have to do some amazing things to come back. Shortly after, my wife was diagnosed with MS. I was mentally fried. I was done. You have to snap out of it...you start to feel sorry for yourself for some reason. There are times when we all want to feel sorry for ourselves. And I went through it. I’d go on a road trip and my wife would cry. She had symptoms, we had a new baby...I didn’t want to play anymore. I was not motivated...and the Sharks could tell... ‘’ says former Lanny McDonald’s linemate in Calgary.

After a shaky season debut, he got sent down to Kansas City in the IHL. Kevin Constantine tried to knock some motivation back into Berezan, and it seemed to work, because he got called up again. But his fate seemed to be written in stone already...

‘’ We were playing in Calgary against the Flames, and Ronnie Stern and I collided and went knee-to-knee. He blew up my MCL. I remember laying on the stretcher in the dressing room and telling myself I was done. I couldn’t go on anymore... ‘’

And so, his career finished on a stretcher. After he decided that his career was over, he called back at North Dakota and he wanted to finish his Business Degree. Which he did...

‘’ I had decided what to do with my life. I finished my degree and I’ve never looked back because I was mentally fried. But I’m much more fortunate now, because I can make good money being a stockbroker and do it for the rest of my life. I don’t have to worry about injuries, being away from my family, being fired, having a coach telling me I’m no good...all that went away. While I miss the atmosphere and the competitive nature, I’m happy with what I got now. ‘’

Perry Berezan is a very lucky guy. He worked hard to get where he is now and that has nothing to do with luck, but he’s one of the few who actually can carry on with his life after and NHL career without too much trouble...

‘’ Out of ten pro hockey players, within two years after their playing careers, eight will end up being either bankrupt, divorced, or not working. That means only two ‘’get through’’ the first two years without too much hurt in the process. That’s tough, absolutely terrible! ‘’

Now everything’s great for the father of three. He used to do some color commentary on the TV and radio for the Flames, and, of course, he’s happy working with Greg Sherven, a former North Dakota teammate, in the Calgary area. He’s also involved a lot in his community, having won the Calgary Rotary Club 2009’s Integrity Award, for the work he does with charity.

‘’ The Flames have a terrific Alumni Association. When I was playing for the Flames, I remember after a practice seeing Jim Peplinski close to a white board with names on it. Then he’d tell players that they’d have to go there and there at this or that date. It was a player, not a PR guy. I thought it was like this everywhere. Our team at the time did so much stuff outside, and I did so much charity stuff back then, I grew to like it a lot. Other cities didn’t do that nearly as much. And when I retired...we picked up where we left off with the Alumni and we still do so much today. I love to organize and be part of doing events and raising money. And even if it’s not money, a lot of people just love that we spend the time to help them ‘’ says a proud Berezan, who does a lot still today.

Since he has the chance to be with Flames players frequently, I asked him what player he hasn’t played with, that he would’ve like to play with the most. I was proud when he told me that was the first time somebody asked him that, and he replied with something that surprised me just as much...

‘’ Because I grew up in Edmonton, and that I joined the Flames Alumni, I had the chance to work with former Oilers a lot as well. And there are a lot of good people amongst them. Playing with

Wayne Gretzky would have to be on the top of my list...because I admired him on the ice and also off the ice... ‘’ and, again, he goes on with an interesting anecdote...

‘’ I had to give a speech at an NHLPA meeting on career transition, and the line I had for them was : when you’re a 50-goal scorer in the NHL and an a**hole, people will remember you are a 50-goal scorer. But when you retire, you’re just an a**hole. So remember how you treat other people when you’re playing, because you’ll get that back when you retire ‘’ says the thoughtful man, who is as generous in person as he seems when you don’t know him.

As of December 22nd, 2011, Perry Berezan still lives in Calgary, where he works as a stockbroker and is happily married with his wife and has three children. He celebrated his 47th birthday on December 5th. I would like to thank him for his kindness and the time he took for this interview. It was a great thrill meeting a player already in just my fifth interview.

Perry is very grateful for the chance he was given by Badger Bob Johnson when he started his career. And even though I haven’t started mine yet, I’ve got to say I’m as grateful for having the chance of meeting the former two-time Stanley Cup finalist for a very fascinating hour about his career, life, and thoughts.

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Thursday

Harold Phillipoff

This is Harold "Hal" Phillipoff. He was a high draft choice (1st round, 10th overall by Atlanta Flames in 1976) after an impressive junior career with Ernie "Punch" McLean's New Westminster Bruins of the WHL. They were a junior dynasty in the 1970s, with the likes of Stan Smyl, Barry Beck and Mark Lofthouse. Phillipoff was an important member of two Memorial Cup appearances.

The Kamsack, Saskatchewan native made his pro debut in 1977, playing with the Flames farm team in Nova Scotia. He helped the Voyageurs capture the 1977 Calder Cup championship.

The following season Phillipoff debuted in the NHL, finishing his rookie year with a respectable 17 goals and 36 assists for 53 points. However he would fall victim to the dreaded sophomore jinx, and never really found his way in the NHL again. He struggled that season to a 9 goal, 26 point performance in 51 games before being traded to Chicago.

That trade was quite the notable transaction. Eight players changed their address on March 13, 1979, making it the biggest trade (in terms of bodies involved) in history to that point.
Atlanta traded Phillipoff, Tom Lysiak, Pat Ribble, Greg Fox and Miles Zaharko to Chicago in exchange for Ivan Boldirev, Phil Russell and Darcy Rota.

Phillipoff never found his way in The Windy City, either. He would get into just 23 games over 2 seasons, picking up zero goals and 4 assists. He was destined for the minor leagues for the rest of his career.

Late in his career he had what looked to be his final reprieve. Phillipoff was traded by Chicago with Dave Logan to Vancouver for Ron Sedlbauer on Dec. 21, 1979. But Phillipoff, who spent much of his successful junior career in British Columbia's Lower Mainland, never played for the Canucks.

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Friday

Hakan Loob

Hakan Loob, a definite member of the NHL's all time best-names team, holds a special place in the heart of Calgary Flames fans. That may partially have to do with the fact that he disappeared from the league just when he was taking the NHL by storm.

Loob was a hard worker who adjusted well to the rougher NHL game. Even though he was dubbed "the Gretzky of Sweden" because of the records he set back home, many teams shied away from the undersized winger. He was not drafted until 181st overall in 1980.

Loob was an amazing skater. He had great speed, and understood how to change the pace to be more of a quicker, darting forward and hard to defend against. Though he was tiny (5'9" and 180lbs) he possessed great balance. He was very difficult to knock off of the puck.

Loob was a good puck handler with good hockey sense. Primarily an open ice player, Loob opened up by using his teammates (notably Joe Nieuwendyk in his rookie season) well. Loob would then go close to the net, looking for a quick tap in or loose puck. He had a strong wrist shot and the hand skills to score from in tight, but rarely scored from further out.

The agile Loob came over in 1983 and put together a string of three 30 goal seasons together (30, 37 and 31). He had a mysteriously disappointing 1986-87 season, scoring just 18 goals.

It was around that time that rumors started that Loob wanted to return home to Sweden. He wanted to raise his children back home and in their native language. And at that time he could make comparable back home. Somehow the Flames convinced him to stay another couple of yeara.

It's a good thing he did stay, as it was a magical time for Loob and the Flames. In 1987-88 Loob became the first Swedish player in NHL history to score 50 goals. He added 56 assists for 106 points, leading all Flames player. But disappointment would be found in the playoffs, with an early exit.

The Flames erased all playoff disappointment forever by capturing the Stanley Cup in 1989. Loob was a big part of it. His goal production fell off to just 27 goals, but he still registered for 85 points. He added 8 goals and 17 points in the playoffs.

With a Stanley Cup ring added to his resume, Loob made the tough decision to leave the NHL. Family reasons were the driving reason behind his decision, and he never regretted it.

"My oldest son, Henrik, is 8 years old. He went through some pretty tough times last fall in school here. He's feeling pretty good about himself now, but we know we want to go back and live in Sweden eventually and we think that's where we want him to grow up," he said.

"It has nothing to do with hockey or money," he added. "If those were the issues then I'd play here for three or four more years."

Loob continued to play in Sweden, returning to Farjestads for 7 more seasons. Loob retired in 1996 as one of the greatest players in Swedish Elite League history. He owned league records for goals and points in a season. He helped Farjestads to win the 1981 SEL championship. He is also one of the rare players to win the Stanley Cup, the World Championships and Olympic gold medals.

After leaving the ice Loob became manager of Farjestads. His dedication to Farjestads and Swedish hockey in general is commendable.

There are few bigger legends of Swedish hockey than Hakan Loob. The Swedish Elite League honoured him by naming their trophy for the top goal scorer after him. He is also enshrined in the International Ice Hockey Federation Hall of Fame.

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Sunday

Stephane Yelle


Stephane Yelle was a very smart player who could read the oncoming attacks with great proficiency. As such, he became one of the NHL's most knowledgeable defensive forwards in the later 1990s and in the 2000s.

His hockey smarts were his greatest asset, because the sum of his skills were average at best. He was a good skater, but lacked the speed to be much of a threat. His hand skills made him a limited player offensively. Physically he was tall and rangy, not well built to battle against the league's biggest brutes.

Yet somehow Yelle was able to use his understanding of the game of hockey combined with his hard work to become a key role player and key penalty killer with the ritzy Colorado Avalanche. He helped the Avs win championships in 1996 and 2001, and helped the Calgary Flames reach the finals in 2004. He was a very popular player with the fans and his teammates, but most especially with the coaching staffs.

Yelle is best known with the Avalanche, where he played 3rd line center in the shadows of Joe Sakic and Peter Forsberg. Yelle was more than a throw-in in the big trade that took him to Calgary. He was moved along with Chris Drury, to the Flames for Derek Morris, Dean McAmmond and Jeff Shantz.

Yelle, who also played with Boston and Carolina for short stints late in his career, retired in 2010 with 991 games played with 96 goals and 265 points. In the playoffs, where he earned his reputation as a valued NHL player, he chipped in 11 goals and 32 points in 171 post-season games. Underwhelming numbers to be sure, but his two Stanley Cup rings are far more reflective of his true worth.

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Thursday

Ric Nattress

Ric Nattress, a native of Hamilton, Ontario, was drafted as an underage junior by Montreal Canadiens in 1980 (2nd round, 27th overall) after having posted a solid rookie season for the Brantford Alexanders (OHL). 

As a defenseman, the scouts liked Ric's size and toughness. He played another two seasons for Brantford until making his pro debut during the 1982-83 season when he played 9 games for the Canadiens farm team Nova Scotia (AHL) and 40 games for Montreal.

Unfortunately Ric will mostly be remembered for getting caught at the customs for possession of 3 grams of Marijuana and 1 gram of Hashish in August 1983. He was fined $150 in a Brantford court, but his stiffest punishment came from the NHL where he was given a 40 game suspension following his conviction in the Ontario court. Some players nicknamed Ric "Stash."

Ric rebounded from this embarrasing moment though. His right were sold from Montreal to St.Louis on October 7, 1985 where he completed two seasons between 1985-87. During the 1987 entry draft Ric was traded from St.Louis to Calgary for their 4th round choice in 1987 (Andy Rymsha) and 5th round choice in 1988 (Dave Lacouture).

Ric spent the next 4½ years in Calgary winning the Stanley Cup in 1989. On January 2, 1992 Ric was involved in the biggest trade ever in NHL history up to that point when he was dealt to Toronto in a 10-player deal that involved Doug Gilmour.

He did very well in Toronto upon his arrival there and scored 16 points in 36 games. During the off-season on August 21, 1992 he decided to sign as a free agent with Philadelphia. Ric responded with a career high 7 goals in only 44 games. The 1992-93 season was his last due to a knee injury that he suffered on March 21, 1993.

Ric Nattress scored 164 points based on 29 goals and 135 assists in 536 career NHL games. Ric wasn't a fancy player by any stretch of the imagination. He lacked creativity and did not handle the puck well, especially under pressure. He was at his best when he kept his style as simple as possible - chipping the puck off of the glass and out of the zone. He was an average, almost clunky skater with a tendency to wander from his position at times. Defensively he was big and strong, but more of a pusher than a hitter. Because his skating could be exploited by faster opponents, he was essentially a depth blue liner.

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Sunday

Paul Kruse

Solid and sturdy with a bit of a mean streak, rugged Paul Kruse was more of an agitator than a true NHL heavyweight. That never stopped him from going toe to toe with some of the NHL's toughest hombres. He even took boxing lessons to become a better fighter.

But Paul Kruse nicely made a career for himself simply by working hard and listening to his coaches. He became a reliable defensive player, making safe plays and by being fundamentally sound positioning.

A naturally fast skater blessed with first-step quickness, Kruse w as relentless in his pursuit for loose pucks on the forecheck and in the corners. He never had the hand skills to do too much with the puck when he did get it, but he was smart enough to know his limitations.

As such the enthusiastic Kruse was a perfect 4th line player who could move up to the third line for stretches. His lack of production kept him on the bubble all the time.

He lasted 423 games in the NHL with Calgary, NY Islanders, San Jose and Buffalo. He scored 38 goals and 71 points, not to mention earning 1074 hard fought penalty minutes.

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Thursday

German Titov

When the Soviets first came to the National Hockey League in the early 1990s, I took special interest in each one.One player that confused me was German Titov.

Titov, who starred for years with Khimik Voskresensk, came to Calgary in 1992 after a season and a half playing in Finland. I admittedly had never heard of him prior to his joining the Flames. I think what really surprised me about him was he had very good size and was not outstandingly fast - making him unusual amongst the best Soviet players.

That is not to say he was not amongst the better Soviets to initially join the NHL. In fact he adjusted quite well, thanks to willingness to use the body (thanks to incredible balance on his skates). He protected the puck well, blocked shots and sacrificed his body defensively. He was good on faceoffs and kill penalties. Because he was so responsible defensively he found a role with the Flames quickly, most famously on a line with speedier, more offensive players Theo Fleury and Michael Nylander.

Titov did bring offense to the table, too. In 3 of his first 4 seasons he topped 20 goals. He was a streaky scorer, but he had good hockey sense and was creative with the puck. I will always remember him for his short stick and his one-handed puckhandling. 

Titov played in 624 NHL games, also playing with Pittsburgh, Anaheim and very briefly Edmonton. He scored 157 goals, 220 assists and 377 points. He also helped Russia win the World Championship in 1993 and Olympic silver medal in 1998.

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Wednesday

Vic Mercredi

Vic Mercredi is one of only five NHL players in history (as of 2011) to have been born in the Northwest Territories. Vic was the first, followed by fellow Yellowknife-born Greg Vaydik. Others are Geoff Sanderson and Rob McVicar of Hay River and Zac Boyer of Inuvik.

Vic is one of the few native Canadians (Indian) to have played in the NHL. He may have been born in NWT, but he played his junior hockey for the Penticton Broncos (BCJHL) and New Westminster Bruins (WHL). He managed to crack the 100 point barrier in both leagues..
 
Vic was drafted by Atlanta Flames in 1973 (Atlanta's 2nd choice, 16th overall). He was also selected by Houston Aeros in the 1973 WHA draft. Vic's first professional season came in 1973-74, but he was hampered by a slight shoulder injury. He still managed to score a respectable 57 points (21 goals, 36 assists) in 68 games for Omaha Knights (CHL).
 
His only two NHL games came the following season during a west coast road trip. His NHL debut came against Vancouver on December 6, 1974 (7-5 loss) and his last NHL appearance came the following night against Los Angeles (6-2 loss). Vic only skated for a few shifts in these games.
 
In 1975-76 Vic played three games for the Calgary Cowboys (WHA). Calgary had obtained his rights from Houston. The rest of the season he played in the AHL for Baltimore Clippers.
 
In 1976-77 Vic jumped on the opportunity to play in Europe. He signed a contract with the Swedish division 2 club Hammarby IF from Stockholm. Vic only played 18 games and scored 14 pts (5 goals) and collected 67 Pim's before heading back to Canada again.
 
From there on Vic only played one AHL game and the rest in the little known Pacific Hockey League (PHL). In PHL he skated for Phoenix Roadrunners and Tuscon Rustlers. His last season as an active player came in 1979-80 for Delta Hurry Kings in the British Columbia Senior Hockey League (BCJHL).
 
Vic's number one asset was his speed. Interestingly he played with a neutral hockey stick, no curve at all. That made him almost unique in pro hockey at that time. Although he was primarily listed as a right hand shooter, he could move the puck from either side and rarely used the conventional backhand shot.

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Saturday

Craig Conroy

When Craig Conroy was drafted in the 6th round (123rd overall) in 1990, expectations for the smallish center's future probably weren't great. Even Conroy could never have dreamed his future in hockey would turn out so well.

Conroy would enjoy a 16 season career exceeding more than 1000 career games, most notably with the St. Louis Blues and Calgary Flames. He also would represent the United States internationally at the 2004 World Cup of Hockey and 2006 Olympics.

Moreover, Conroy would grow into a reputation as an exemplary hockey player, class act and one of hockey's true nice guys that everyone should be looking up to.

Born in Potsdam, New York, Craig was the son of Mike Conroy, a minor league player who appeared in 4 games with the WHA.  He would follow his father's footsteps and star at Clarkson University. He would help the Knights with the ECAC title and in 1994 was a finalist for the Hobey Baker award as the top player in US college hockey.

Although he was an offensive star at Clarkson, the Canadiens, like they have done - often successfully - time and again, sent him to the minor leagues to turn him into a defensive specialist. Hey, at least the Canadiens had plans for him. In his first NHL training camp he accidentally fired a slap shot which caught ace goalie Patrick Roy in the head. The result - a fight between the team's superstar and the unknown rookie.

After a couple of strong seasons in the minor leagues (and a handful of call up games in Montreal), Conroy was part of the huge Pierre Turgeon trade to St. Louis. With the Blues Conroy would immediately find a home and become a solid NHL citizen.

Under coach Joel Quenneville Conroy emerged as a top defensive center with the Blues. In 1997-98 he was a finalist for both the Selke trophy and the Lady Byng, as the league's most gentlemanly player. A faceoff specialist, he also chipped in 43 points.

Conroy played 5 seasons in St. Louis before being traded to Calgary at the trading deadline in 2001. It was not a popular trade at the time, as Calgary moved one of their few top offensive gunners in Cory Stillman to the Blues in exchange.

But a funny thing happened early in the next season. Conroy showed great chemistry with Flames superstar Jarome Iginla. He would serve as Iginla's long time centerman. Conroy's own offensive contributions spiked while Flames fans quickly learned to appreciate his defensive contributions.

Aside from a one year free agent sabbatical with the Los Angeles Kings, Conroy would be one of Calgary's most popular players - both on the ice and in the community - right through some diminishing years and his exit in the 2010-11 season.

In 1009 NHL games Craig Conroy scored 182 goals and 360 goals for 542 career points. He added 10 goals and 20 assists for 30 points in 81 Stanley Cup playoff contests. He was an underrated player when he played and is destined to remain so in history's eyes.

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Sunday

Lanny McDonald

Lanny McDonald's bushy moustache is his trademark, but so were such characteristics as speed, work ethic, and commitment. Those traits, not really counting his facial hair, helped make him a member of the Hockey Hall of Fame.

The Toronto Maple leafs made McDonald their first round selection (fourth overall) in 1973, following a brilliant junior career with the Medicine Hat Tigers. His high skill level and intensity enabled him to make the jump directly to the NHL and contribute in 1973-74 straight from junior hockey, an amazing accomplishment for anyone. For Lanny it was simply unreal - he had spent his entire youth dreaming of wearing the blue and white of the Toronto Maple Leafs and now he would get to fulfill that dream.

However Lanny would struggle initially, and the fans weren't overly pleased. Coming into training camp as such a high draft pick and an expensive and publicly known contract thanks to the bidding war between NHL teams and World Hockey Association teams, McDonald had a terrible rookie season in his own estimation, and compared to the other profile rookies who were tearing up the NHL, he was right. Lanny's second season wasn't a lot better statistically, though he did make more of an impact in games thanks to his relentless hustle.

McDonald arrived as the star NHL player that he was predicted to be in 1975-76. He scored 37 goals and 93 points in his break out year. He would always thank coach Red Kelly for sticking with him through the lean years and helping him achieve his destiny.

Roger Nielson took over as coach in 1976-77. Though McDonald admired Red Kelly, he would term Nielson's tenure in Toronto as the most exciting time in his NHL career. Under Nielson's innovative coaching, the young Leafs team ascended to the cusp of NHL greatness. Fans could feel that something was special with that team, however they would never get to witness the culmination of Nielson's hard work.

Nielson teamed McDonald and Darryl Sittler together permanently, often with Errol Thompson or Tiger Williams on left wing. McDonald prospered on the top line.

McDonald stared the 1976-77 season at the first ever Team Canada training camp for the Canada Cup. He admitted he was a surprise selection to the team, but he played a key role as a grinder with the likes of Bob Gainey. He picked up 2 assists and a lot of respect on the team many agree is the greatest team ever iced. He followed that up with a spectacular season with the Leafs. He scored 46 goals and 90 points to lead the team, plus scored 10 goals and 17 points in an exciting playoff season which lasted 9 games.

McDonald's greatest moment as a Leaf came in 1978. Coming off of a 47 goal, 87 point season, McDonald was ready to again lead the Leafs in the post season. His scoring totals were way down (he scored 3 goals and 7 points in 13 contests), but he was a star most nights. He was the brightest star in game 7 of the Leafs second round showdown with the NHL's other hot young team on the rise - the New York Islanders. In sudden death over time McDonald - sporting a broken nose and a broken bone in his wrist - fought through a crowd in front of the net to poke a loose puck past Isles' goalie Chico Resch. McDonald's goal ranks as one of the Leafs greatest playoff moments in the illustrious history of the franchise.

The Leafs would run out of gas in their next playoff match - with their eternal rivals the Montreal Canadiens. But the Leaf fans greatly appreciated the efforts of the 1977-78 Leafs, which only led to greater expectations in 1978-79. The team would struggle. Coach Nielson would be fired during the season only to show up behind the bench for the very next game, but would be fired again at the end of the season along with general manager Jim Gregory.

Replacing the Gregory/Nielson regime was a Leaf legend from the past - Punch Imlach. However Imlach would tarnish his reputation as he tore apart the young Leafs team in order to put his stamp on team. He was most famous for publicly feuding with star center and team captain Darryl Sittler. McDonald, a close friend of Sittler and the Leafs' NHLPA union representative, was one of the first to be exiled from the Leafs.

Imlach traded McDonald and defenseman Joel Quenneville to arguably the worst team in the league - the Colorado Rockies - in exchanged for Pat Hickey and Wilf Paiement. McDonald was devastated. He was dumped by the team he grew up idolizing, and just prior to the birth of his second child. The move to Colorado was not easy, although coach Don Cherry did everything he could to ease the situation by arranging for him to be with his family at all times other than when the Rockies played games. McDonald rarely practiced with the team and spent most of his time in airports and on airplanes.

Despite the emotionally and physically draining affair, McDonald played well under Cherry. He finished the season with 25 goals with the Rockies to finish the year with 40 goals - making it the 4th consecutive year with at least that many goals in a NHL campaign.

There were few Rocky Mountain Highs for anyone involved with the Colorado Rockies. Although he enjoyed some of his greatest friendships with members of the lowly Rockies, he was more than thrilled to leave the hockey abyss early in the 1981-82 season when he was traded to the Calgary Flames.

If McDonald isn't remembered as a Leaf, he certainly is remembered as a Calgary Flame. Born in southern Alberta, returning home turned out to be a great thing for Lanny. The Flames would rise to the top of NHL elite for much of the 1980s, thanks in large part to the contributions of Lanny McDonald.

McDonald enjoyed his greatest season in 1982-83. Playing with underrated super star Guy Chouinard, McDonald unthinkably challenged Wayne Gretzky for the NHL goal scoring total. Gretzky would end up with the crown thanks to his 71 goals, but McDonald wasn't far behind with an overachieving 66. It was simply an amazing season for McDonald. Everything he touched turned to gold that year. He was honored with the 1983 Bill Masterton Trophy as well as a second all star team nomination.

The Flames made major changes in 1983-84, including the trading Chouinard to St. Louis. McDonald would miss the creative playmaking of his center from the year before, and it showed in his scoring totals. In 65 games he scored 33 goals and 66 points. Had he been healthy all year he likely would have topped the 40 goal plateau again - a more realistic level for McDonald.

McDonald's goal scoring would slow over the following years, but he remerged in the 1985-86 playoffs. As co-captain of the Flames, McDonald led the Flames to the Stanley Cup finals against the Montreal Canadiens thanks to 11 goals and 18 points. After finally knocking off their rivals from the north - Gretzky's Edmonton Oilers - in a dramatic 7 game playoff series that many would argue was the greatest playoff series ever played, the Flames seemed to run out of gas against a Montreal team that they should have been able to beat.

The Flames would get another chance in 1989 when the Flames returned to the finals and again faced the Montreal Canadiens. By this time McDonald was definitely near the end of his career. For three seasons he became more of a third or fourth liner who was present for his leadership. It was a good year for McDonald nonetheless. He recorded his 500th goal, 500th assist and 1000th point all in the same season. Then in the playoffs the Flames would not be denied and finally captured the Stanley Cup championship. McDonald scored just one goal in that playoff year - in the decisive 6th game of the Finals!

McDonald, one of the classiest gentlemen to ever play in any sport, retired as a champion shortly following the Cup victory. He would be honored as the NHL's Man of the Year and King Clancy Memorial trophy in the summer of 1989, and would be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1992 - his first year of eligibility. His number 9 has been retired by the Flames organization as well.

He would remain with the Calgary Flames in several capacities in retirement, and devoted more time than ever to charities. He also became involved in Team Canada. He was instrumental in the 2001 World Championship entry and the 2002 gold medal winning Olympic squad.

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Paul Reinhart

Paul Reinhart was a tremendous cerebral player who could have been a Hall of Famer had his body held up. A serious back problem really limited him throughout his short career, but you could just tell how intelligent and special this player was despite the pain.

Paul was a very versatile player. He was primarily a defenseman but could also play any forward position. Even as a junior with his hometown team the Kitchener Rangers, he split time between center and defense. This development continued in his pro career.

"My defensive work needed a lot of attention" said Paul of his junior days. "But all that background as a forward was useful because today's defenceman handles the puck a lot and is expected to be an integral part of the offence."

And Paul certainly became an integral defenseman, although he played at times in every skating position, particularly in his first year in the NHL.

Paul was Atlanta's 1st pick, 12th overall in the very strong 1979 draft. Paul broke in with the Atlanta Flames that same year as a defenseman because the Flames were in a desperate need of a good all-around defenseman. Over the next rew years Paul filled in wherever the team needed. If they lost a center they moved Paul up. If they needed a winger Paul took that spot as well. If they wanted to hold on to the lead in the last minute of play they moved Paul back to defense again.

When Paul did play on the blueline - which was the majority of the time - he was often paired with fearsome veteran Phil Russell. Reinhart left an impression on Russell almost immediately.

"I've seen the other draft choices (from the deep 1979 Entry Draft) around the league and Paul doesn't have to take a back seat to any of them" Russell said. That's quite a compliment considering other first round draft picks that year included long time NHLers like Ray Bourque, Mike Gartner, Rob Ramage, Rick Vaive, Craig Hartsburg, Mike Ramsey, Tom McCarthy, Brad McCrimmon, Brian Propp, Michel Goulet and Kevin Lowe!

Paul was very strong with the puck. Once he got the puck it was very hard to get it away from him. Paul picked up a total of 559 pts (133 goals and 426 assists) in only 648 games, not bad considering that he was a defenseman most of the time. His best offensive outputs was 75 points 1982-83, and he also had 69 points in 1984-85, 68 points in 1986-87, 67 points in 1980-81 and 61 points (in only 62 games) in 1981-82. He also had two seasons of 57 pts for Vancouver while only playing 64 and 67 games due to the bad back.

His bad back unfortunately bothered him for most of his career and was the reason why he decided to retire at only 30 years old. He almost retired when he was 24. He had a problematic disc in his back that required surgery and forced him to miss all but 27 regular season games in 1983-84. He also only played 32 games in 1985-86 and 14 games in 1987-88.

Paul was one of the first people asked to try out for the Canada Cup team in 1984 but had to turn down the invitation because of the bad back. He already had a Canada Cup behind him in 1981 where he made the team ahead of such players like Paul Coffey, Doug Wilson and Randy Carlyle (all subsequent Norris trophy winners). Unfortunately he twisted his ankle after only two games and had to watch the rest of the tournament from the stands. Paul also starred for Canada in the 1982 and 1983 World Championships, making the All-Star team. He also played in the 1985 and 1989 NHL All-Star games.

Although Paul never won the Norris trophy he was always one of the top scoring defensemen when healthy. For a couple of years he formed maybe the best offensive pairing amongst defensemen together with a young Al MacInnis, also a Kitchener Rangers graduate.

During the 1984 playoffs the Flames lost in the 7th and deciding game against the Oilers who went on to win the Stanley Cup that year. After the series Paul Reinhart was the leading playoff scorer with his 17 pts in 11 games and his partner on the blue line Al MacInnis was the second highest defenseman in the playoffs to that point (14 pts in 11 games). Paul was a very good playoff performer who got 77 pts (23 goals and 54 assists) in 83 career playoff games.

Paul's bad back continued to plague him for many seasons and eventually had to quit although just coming of a fine 57 point season in only 67 games for the Canucks where he played his last two seasons. Despite playing in just two pain-filled years in Vancouver, Paul was named to the the team's 25th anniversary "All Canuck" team by the media. The accolade all but named #23 as the best d-man in Canucks history despite only playing 2 seasons, neither of which he played at 100%.

Paul had four or five good years left in him but his bad back won the battle. Paul goes down to history as one of the games most underrated skilled defensemen.

"In terms of all around talent, I don't believe there are many defensemen better than Reinhart," said his coach Bob Johnson during the 1986 season. "He's a capable defender in his own zone, first of all. Moreover, he's got the mobility and the offensive skills to make an important contribution to our attack. He's the big reason we've got one of the strongest power plays in the NHL."

An interesting side story about the man they call "Rhino" - As a kid he once played against Wayne Gretzky's peewee team. Paul tied The Little One against the boards in a rink with no glass to stop the puck from going out of play. Paul tied him up in the wrong spot as Wayne's grandmother was right there. She grabbed her purse and clubbed Reinhart over the head and told him to "leave my Wayne alone!" Gretzky later joked that the Oilers were looking to sign Grandma Gretzky if Dave Semenko ever got injured.

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Joel Otto

In the mid-1980s, the Calgary Flames and Edmonton Oilers were battling each other not only for Alberta bragging rights, but for NHL supremacy. When they didn't have their hands full with Wayne Gretzky, the Flames had to worry about Mark Messier - a hulking moose of a center who could out muscle any Flame or anyone else in the league. He single-handedly created physical havoc when the Oilers played the Flames.

The Flames needed someone to put a blanket over hockey's supreme power forward. Can you imagine a monster big enough and strong enough to quiet Messier? Not only would he have to be strong, but he'd have to be intelligent, defensively sound and a good skater. Could such a player exist?

The answer ultimately is no, but the Flames found as close a fit as possible when they signed the fearsome Joel Otto.

Otto was a 6'4" 220lb face-off specialist who loved to physically punish any opponent at any time. He became the prototypical 3rd line center that everyone wanted. Huge and strong and not afraid to demonstrate that fact, Otto was very good defensively, and excelled at puck drops. A dedicated athlete and tireless worker, he was a quiet leader. He had decent skating skills but lacked great speed or agility. He also lacked great hand and puck skills to develop into a great scorer. He was a good fighter though rarely dropped the gloves. This is partially because no one wanted anything to do with him and partially because he knew he was to valuable to his team to be spending great amounts of time in the penalty box. But if one of his teammates was being fouled, Otto would be first on the scene.

Otto faced off against all the top centers in the league, shutting them down defensively and physically abusing them at the same time. But the Messier-Otto war-like grudge matches were classic.

"Those two had some incredible battles. He was the only guy I saw who could physically dominate Mark," said former Oiler Mike Krushelnyski.

Joel was signed as free agent by Calgary Flames on September 11, 1984. Otto had just graduated from little-known Bemidji State University and went undrafted by the NHL. Otto played much of his first season in the minor leagues learning the professional game, but was called up for the Flames playoff drive. He played really well, scoring 12 points in 17 games and another 3 points in 3 playoff games.

Joel had his best season in terms of offensive statistics in 1985-86 when he scored career high 25 goals and 59 points. He played a big role in the Flames playoff drive to the Stanley Cup finals as well. Joel's role as the physically dominating center became cemented that season. In addition he chipped in nicely to the offense - scoring 5 goals and 15 points in his 22 post season games.

The Flames of course lost the 1986 Finals to Montreal, but Otto was a big part of the Flames return trip to the Finals in 1989, once again against the Habs. Otto scored 6 goals and 19 points in 22 playoff contests as the Flames captured their first Stanley Cup championship.

Joel scored at least 50 points in his first 4 full seasons, but his offensive numbers began to drop after that as he concentrated more on defensive duties. The ultimate team player, Joel sacrificed his own offensive output for the good of the team. His defensive excellence was eventually noticed league wide, as he was twice a finalist for the Selke trophy as the league's best defensive forward, though he never won the award. He had overcome his early label of a monstrous thug to be one of the league's most valuable and sought after players.

When Mark Messier left the Edmonton Oilers to join the New York Rangers, all the eastern conference teams began searching for an Otto-like player to control "the Moose." Many teams tried many players, but nothing worked really until the summer of 1995. Otto himself had become an unrestricted free agent and the Flames didn't have the money to keep him. A bidding war for Otto's services occurred as team's desperately wanted Otto. The Rangers themselves desperately wanted him in order to keep him away from Messier. Eventually the Philadelphia Flyers outbid the New York Rangers as they made Joel Otto a very rich man.

Otto played 3 seasons in Philadelphia, but by the 3rd season it was apparent that Otto had lost a step. He was used sparingly and was let go as a free agent in the summer time. There was little interest in Otto's services that time around as he was pretty banged up from 14 years of battling in the NHL. Otto could still serve as a face-off specialist, but quietly decided to hang up his skates in the summer of 1998.

Otto retired with 195 goals, 313 assists and 508 points in 943 games. He picked up 1934 penalty minutes along the way. He won one Stanley Cup, played in 2 World Hockey Championships, played in three Canada Cups/World Cups and in the 1998 Olympics! Not bad for a player who was never drafted by any team in the entire NHL.

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Thursday

Colin Patterson

During the mid to late 1980s the Calgary Flames were an NHL super power. One of the most unheralded yet most valuable players from those teams was Colin Patterson.

Patterson combined speed and anticipation to establish himself as one of the NHL's best defensive forwards. A tremendous forechecker who would sacrifice his body without thought, Patterson was hard worker and dedicated athlete. He was also a character in the locker room, always cracking jokes to keep the team loose.

Patterson was signed as a free agent by Calgary after an impressive amateur career with Clarkson University. In three seasons with Clarkson, he scored 64 goals and 155 points in 99 games. Patterson thanks his college coaches for making him a better hockey player.

"Billy O’Flaherty and Terry Meagher really pushed me to the limit of my skill capabilities and allowed me to leave after my junior (third) year to pursue a professional hockey career. Along with my parents they were instrumental in making sure I went back to university over the summers to finish off my degree.”

Following his collegiate career, Patterson played with the Colorado Flames of the Central Hockey League before joining Calgary on a regular basis in 1983-84. In his first NHL season, he scored 13 goals and 27 points in 56 games. During the 1984-85 campaign, he recorded career-highs with 22 goals and 43 points in 57 games.

Patterson was a key figure on the Flames roster for the next four seasons and especially during the 1988-89 campaign. He established a career-high 24 assists and totaled 38 points during the regular season that year and was a solid performer for the club in the postseason. In 22 playoff games in 1989, he totaled 13 points and helped the Flames to their first Stanley Cup championship.

His kamikaze style of play finally caught up to him by 1989. His knee was so banged up he had to have reconstructive knee surgery in the summer. That surgery cost him the entire 1989-90 season.

After a rehabilitation period that would leave most exhausted, Patterson returned to the NHL for the 1990-91 season. Unsure of his knee, the Flames dealt Patterson to Buffalo where he finished out his career by playing the next two seasons.

Patterson left the NHL with career totals of 96 goals, 109 assists and 205 points in 504 regular season games. In 85 playoff contests, he had 29 points.

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Friday

Dave Hindmarch

In the 1984-85 season the NHL mandated the use of the movable nets. Place upon flexible "Marsh Pegs," the nets would safely breakaway when too much force was applied. This has saved countless injuries over the years. Prior to this innovation many players were seriously hurt when they crashed into the old immovable nets.

One such victim was Calgary's Dave Hindmarch. In the season prior to the adoption of the Marsh Pegs, Hindmarch, tripped by Rick Lanz, crashed into the posts in a game against Vancouver on December 16th, 1983. Hindmarch seriously damaged the cartilage in both needs. Doctors described the injury more in line with that of a car accident rather than a hockey play.

Hindmarch was left in a wheelchair for weeks as he underwent major reconstructive knee surgery on both knees. That surgery required intense rehabilitation for a year and a half. Yet doctors still told him he should not play hockey again. His NHL career was over after just 99 games. He scored 21 goals and 38 points.

Hindmarch was a promising young player, just entering his second full season in the NHL. Although his father was a legendary player and coach at the University of British Columbia, Vancouver born Dave opted to play and study at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, helping the Golden Bears win a national title in 1978. He would lead the entire Canadian university scene in goals the following year.

In 1980 he opted to play neither college or pro, but rather with the Canadian national team with dream of playing in the Olympics at Lake Placid. He had a strong showing in those Olympics, with 3 goals and  7 points in 6 games. No doubt Dave's dad Bob was instrumental in instilling the Olympic dream. Bob worked with Father David Bauer as general manger and assistant coach of the 1964 Canadian Olympic team.

Hindmarch turned pro following the games, although much of his first couple of seasons were played in the minor leagues. In his first call up he scored his first NHL goal in his first NHL game.

His first full season was not until 1982-83 when he caught on as a defensive forward with the Flames. He did manage to score 11 goals and 23 points in a season truncataed to 60 games due to an ankle injury.

After giving up on a return to hockey, Hindmarch decided to finish his degree in physical education. He graduated from UBC where his dad had now risen to the title of athletic director.

At last report Dave was a high school P.E. teacher at Chatelech Secondary School in Sechelt on British Columbia's beautiful sunshine coast. 

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Tuesday

Calgary Flames/Atlanta Flames Greatest Players

Curt Bennett
Perry Berezan
Dan Bouchard
Valeri Bure

Guy Chouinard
Don Edwards
Kari Eloranta

Theoren Fleury
Tim Hunter
Reggie Lemelin
Tom Lysiak
Al MacInnis
Brad McCrimmon
Lanny McDonald
Joey Mullen

Frank Musil
Phil Myre
Joe Nieuwendyk
Kent Nilsson
Joel Otto
Willi Plett
Pat Quinn
Paul Ranheim

Pekka Rautakallio
Paul Reinhart
Doug Risebrough
Gary Roberts
Ron Stern

Gary Suter
Rick Wamsley
Carey Wilson

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Sunday

Kari Eloranta

This is Kari Eloranta. He was a Finnish hockey star and Olympian who was one of the top players in the Swedish Elite League before trying his hand at the NHL at the age of 25.

When he came to North America in 1981 he was undoubtedly one of the most sought after free agents. Seven teams were in serious negotiations for his services, but it was the Calgary Flames who won the derby. The Flames figured they had just landed the next Risto Siltanen or Pekka Rautakallio - the next very good defenseman from Europe.

It didn't quite work out that way. Eloranta was probably every bit as good as Siltanen or Rautakallio, especially with the puck. But he never really adjusted to the NHL style and went back home to Europe just as he appeared to be finding his way.

After just 19 NHL games (he picked up just 5 assists) into the 1981-82 season the Flames demoted Eloranta to the minor leagues for more seasoning, and even went as far as to trade him to St. Louis in a conditional deal before the end of the season.

Eloranta finished the season with the Blues, scoring his first NHL goal and seven assists in 12 games. But Eloranta was returned to Calgary in the summer time.

Eloranta's first season in North America was dubbed a disappointment by just about everyone. Speculation had it that if he had a poor training camp in 1982 the Flames would buy out his guaranteed contract and allow him to return to Europe.

But the proud Eloranta would not give up so easily. He trained hard all summer, and gave it his best in training camp. He won the final spot on the Calgary blue line to start the season, at the expense of a promising though green rookie named Al MacInnis.

Experience was the biggest factor in Eloranta's improvement, as he said he felt "more relaxed out there. I'm taking it easy a little bit. Last year, I didn't know what to do."

Eloranta returned to the game that made him such an attractive prospect to begin with.

"Last year, I tried to do some things I haven't done before. I tried to play a hitting game. I like to move the puck and skate. I'm trying to play my own game."

Eloranta's played improved dramatically. He played the full 80 games, seeing time on the power play. He responded to the opportunity with 4 goals and 40 assists for a career high 44 points. He chipped in with 1 goal and 4 points in 9 playoff games, too.

Eloranta played 3 more seasons with the Flames, gradually losing ice time to up and coming defensemen like MacInnis and Gary Suter. The Flames began stockpiling the lower ranks of their back line with behemoths, writing Eloranta increasingly out of the picture.

Eloranta returned to Europe where he continued to star in Finland, Sweden, and Switzerland until 1997. He represented Finland in 4 Olympics, 4 World Championships and 1 Canada Cup.

Eloranta was a smooth skater and puck mover. As his NHL statistics suggested, he was more likely to pass than to shoot. In 267 NHL games he score just 13 goals, but had 103 assists for 116 points. He could be rendered neutral by a heavy forechecking team, but he was respected as an intelligent, puck moving defenseman.

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Thursday

Paul Ranheim

In the days before the internet, hockey fans studied the NHL Guide and Record Book for all the statistical records and feats

Fans eyeballs enlarged when they doubled checked Paul Ranheim's stat line for the 1988-89 season. Ranheim was a first year pro with Calgary's farm team in Salt Lake City. In 75 IHL games he scored an amazing 68 goals! He added just 29 assists for 97 points.

The Flames, of course, just had won the Stanley Cup. They already had 50 goal scorers in Joe Mullen and Joe Nieuwendyk, not to mention a scary collection of brilliant offensive players including Doug Gilmour, Al MacInnis, and Gary Suter. Youngsters Theo Fleury and Gary Roberts, future 50 goal scorers themselves, were promising to play bigger roles.

It appeared the Stanley Cup champs had another super scorer in Ranheim ready to make the team.

Ranheim, as it turned out, would not become much of a scoring threat in the NHL. In three out of four seasons with the Flames he would score over 20 goals, but he spent the bulk of his career with Hartford/Carolina and then Philadelphia struggling to score even 10 goals. But he did play in over 1000 NHL games because a) he was a fantastic skater and b) he reinvented himself as a checker.

Ranheim was always the faster skater on the ice. He rocketed around the rink like an Yvan Cournoyer or a Russ Courtnall. While his speed created many scoring opportunities at the University of Wisconsin and in the minor leagues, at the NHL level he just lacked creativity and hand skills to be much of an offensive force. He merited little power play time, partly because his shot was astonishingly inaccurate.

But Ranheim became a top defensive player. His speed obviously allowed him to keep up with any defensive assignment. He played a solid physical game, although he was not much of an initiator. He had good defensive reads and good anticipation, making him a fixture on the penalty kill.

If you told a young fan armed with NHL Guide and Record Book back in 1990 that Paul Ranheim would go on to play in 1000 NHL games they would have believed you. But they would never have guessed it would be as a penalty kill specialist.

It just goes to show that you can't really scout a player strictly by the statistics.

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Wednesday

Ron Stern

Ron Stern was more than a just tough guy.

True, he would drop the gloves without complaint and racked up some gaudy PIM totals, but I always considered him to be more of a honest, blue collar winger who knew his job and performed it to the best of his ability. He was a surprisingly good skater, allowing him to excel at a bang-and-crash game where he was a punishing hitter. He was a guy who you had to admire because he gave it everything he had on every shift.

Although he had decent offensive numbers in juniors and in the minors, Stern could never find his coring touch in the NHL. He only scored 75 times in his 638 game career, mostly by crashing the net for loose pucks. If he could hit 10 goals a year that was considered to be good production. He rarely handled the puck with much success. His best offensive play was to simply let his linemates carry the puck into the zone while he drove hard to the net opening up lanes for them.

Stern's best days were with the Calgary Flames, forming an effective grind line with center Joel Otto. He also played in Vancouver and San Jose, always employing his rugged game.

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Frank Musil

This is Frank Musil. He split his career pretty evenly between the Minnesota North Stars and the Calgary Flames, also skating parts of a couple of seasons with Edmonton and Ottawa later on in his career. I best remember him as a Flame personally.

I remember Musil as a big, physical defender, combining strong skating and balance with a desire to play physically and unafraid. He even had a bit of a mean streak.

Musil was mostly a defensive-minded defenseman, more often than not making the correct safe play to get the puck out of the zone.

He made few contributions in the offensive zone. He had all the tools, just not the toolbox. He was a good skater with speed and mobility. He could handle the puck well under pressure. He had no great shot to brag about, but he he occassionally would slip down low for a back door goal.

Despite a promising array of talents, Musil seemed content to play ultra-safe on every play. He would always force a puck carrier wide rather than step up and take control. He would unfailingly fall back off the blue line rather than contain the point. He would carry the puck only a few strides, just enough to get to center ice and dump it in.

As one reporter put it, he was a reactive player rather than an active player.

I never really minded, because he was consistent and reliable. But I can understand being a fan of the North Stars or Flames being frustrated when they can see the talent was there and expected a little more.

Frantisek Musil was born in beautiful Paradubice. He would later play with Dukla Jihlava where he met the famous Holik family, legends in Czechoslovakia. Jaroslav and Jiri were brothers on the national team in the 1970s, and later returned home as coaches. Jaroslav had two kids - Bobby Holik, who of course you know as the long time NHLer, and Andrea Holikova, a world class tennis player. Frank would one day marry Andrea.

Drafted by the North Stars 38th overall in the 1983 NHL Entry Draft, Musil had helped his country win gold at the 1985 World Championships. Back in 1983 he helped the national team win silver at the worlds even though he was still a junior player. At the World Junior championships he help

Musil had no real hopes of being allowed to leave Communist Czechoslovakia until maybe late in his career. So Musil took matters into his own hands. He obtained a holiday visa and travelled to Yugoslavia with a girlfriend. Musil then met with Minnesota GM Lou Nanne and player agent Ritch Winter, who had arranged for an American work visa. Winter and Nanne used the work visa to fool the border guards, who were unaware that Musil was a defecting hockey star. The North Stars had been working on this secret plan for 3 years, waiting for Musil to complete his mandatory army service so that he would not be known as a deserter. With the working visa completely legit, Musil technically never actually defected.

Frank Musil would go on to play in 797 NHL games, scoring 36 goals and 144 points. With a changed political world he was able to return home and even play for his country again, helping the Czechs win a bronze medal at the 1992 World Championships.

Last I heard Musil was back home coaching as well as scouting for the Edmonton Oilers. He had finished his career in Edmonton, albeit very painfully. He missed an entire season due to a spinal cord injury in a training camp practice. He made it back in the middle of the following season, but the nerve damage in his neck and arm ultimately forced him to retire.

On an interesting note, Musil had a penchant for taking odd jobs in the summer time when he was still playing the NHL. He sold cars in Minnesota, and later worked a slaughter house in Alberta. He may have not made millions every season, but he certainly was paid well enough to have not worked.

I guess on or off the ice, Frank Musil just did not know how to stop working hard.

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Sunday

Valeri Bure

This is Valeri Bure. Once his big brother Pavel was tagged with the nickname "The Russian Rocket," Val's obvious moniker was quick to follow - The Russian Pocket Rocket.

Pavel exploded on to the NHL scene back in 1991, putting some pretty lofty expectations on the younger Val. Pavel he was not, but he was a very creative little player who, when placed in the right situation, was a very good top six forward.

Val spent his main formative years in North America. He fled Russia at the same time as Pavel, but because of his age he spent three seasons playing with the Spokane Chiefs of the Western Hockey League.

Drafted by Montreal way back in 1992, it was not until the 1995-96 season that he would stick with the Habs. He was used primarily as a third line winger in Montreal, seeing very little specialty team time. This affected his scoring totals severely. He topped 20 goals just once in four seasons with Montreal.

Listed generously at 5'10" and 170lbs, Bure really needed a big power forward on his line do the heavy work and create some space. Bure was strong for his size and was willing to pay the price, but he had to rely on smarts and speed to survive in the NHL. Fortunately for Bure, he was blessed with ample supplies of both.

Val was never as lightning fast as Pavel was, and could never electrify the crowd the same way. But he had excellent first step quickness greatly aided by superb sense of anticipation.

Hockey fans really witnessed that upon Val's arrival in Calgary. In February of 1998 Montreal sent Val and a draft pick to the Flames in exchange for Jonas Hoglund and Zarley Zalapski.

At first it did not seem like a great fit. Brian Sutter was the coach, and he demanded heavy physical play, just like how he played. But Bure won him over with a work ethic that exceeded his nice skills package. He was rewarded with ice time and power play time

Bure put together three good seasons in Calgary, scoring 26, 35, and 27 goals. He was a streaky scorer who could frustrate you when he was not scoring, but when he put it all together he was an upper echelon NHLer. For example, in that 1999-00 season his 35 goals and 75 point paced the Flames by a fair margin.

Yet he never could escape the enormous shadow of his brother. That same season Pavel scored 58 goals, and that was not even his best season. Had Valeri had a different last name, I think people would probably have better appreciated him then and now.

The rebuilding Flames moved Bure to Florida in exchange for Rob Niedermayer at the 2001 draft. It was an exciting time for the Bure family, as the two brothers would be reunited with the Panthers. Pavel was coming off a 59 goal season and Valeri looked to prominently help out the Panthers anemic secondary scoring.

The Bure brothers of course were together just a few months earlier at the 2002 Olympics, where they won a bronze medal. The two also helped Russia win the 1998 silver medal.

Things did not quite work out as planned. Valeri blew out a knee, missing a total of 51 games thanks to two knee surgeries. A pouting Pavel slumped through a poor season before being traded to the New York Rangers late in the season.

The knee injury cost Val 20 games of the 2002-03 season, too. And upon his return a broken wrist cost him 12 more games and hampered him the rest of the season. He scored only 5 goals, and was traded away the trade deadline to St. Louis.

Val's stay in the Gateway City was brief, playing just 11 games with the Blues, including playoffs. The Blues put Bure on the waiver wire during the off-season and, surprise surprise, the Panthers quickly reacquired him.

Bure had one last decent season in him. In 55 games with the Panthers he chipped in with 20 goals and 45 points, respectable numbers for sure. The Panthers traded him away at the trading deadline once again, this time to Dallas. He would play just 18 games with the Stars.

Bure opted to rest his weary body during the 2004-05 lockout. Back surgery in the summer of 2004 all but prevented any attempt to play hockey.

He and wife Candace Cameron, of Full House sitcom fame, enjoyed their life in California with their young family. When the NHL finally returned from the work stoppage, he signed with the Los Angeles Kings, hoping to play with his family nearby. But the injuries were too much. Valeri Bure retired from the game of hockey.

The Bure family has explored several entreprenurial pursuits, most notably Bure Family Wines in California.

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