Friday, May 16, 2014

Trivia Tag-up: Canadiens, Rangers Both Have Past Providence Alliances

The NHL’s 2014 Eastern Conference Final will not feature 11 one-time Providence Bruins, much less the rest of Boston’s active roster. But with the Montreal Canadiens seizing the right to confront the New York Rangers for the Prince of Wales Trophy, the matchup is permeated with distant, historic Providence partnerships.

According to the Internet Hockey Database, the Providence Reds spent their first decade of operation in the Canadian-American League. For half of that time, they partnered with the Habs as their first parent club.

That alliance lasted from 1928-29 to 1932-33 and featured a pair of Fontaine Cups titles (1930 and 1932) for Providence. Montreal concomitantly stamped back-to-back Stanley Cup titles in 1930 and 1931.

In their 41 years under the AHL heading, the Reds variously served as the primary feeder base of seven NHL and WHA franchises. The Blueshirts served as their major-league affiliate for two stints: 1955-58 and 1971-76. The first season of that first stint witnessed the Divine City’s last professional playoff hockey title until the P-Bruins nabbed the 1999 Calder Cup.

In addition, the Rangers’ current Triple-A club in Hartford is a distant reincarnation of the Reds. The franchise in question spent two decades in Binghamton, N.Y. as the Dusters, Whalers and Rangers until transferring to Connecticut in 1997.

While Bruins buffs lick their wounds and the current Canadiens and Rangers prepare to lock twigs, there is a way to service the fans of all three franchises at once. On that note, here is a look back on the latter two franchise’s historic connections to Providence. (Note: Only those who played for both Providence and the parent club when the affiliations were active are eligible for mention.)

5 Key Reds-Canadiens Connections

Gerald Carson, D: Carson’s first NHL season in 1928-29 saw him transfer via trade from the Rangers to the Canadiens. The next year, he spent a six-game conditioning stint in Providence, but otherwise remained north of the border. As it happened, both the Reds and the Habs won their respective playoff titles that spring.  

Carson spent the entire 1930-31 and 1931-32 seasons in the Ocean State, winning a Fontaine Cup in the latter year before permanently returning to The Show. He dressed for every game with the Canadiens in each of the three campaigns from 1932 to 1935, then tacked on a 42-game ride with the intramural rival Maroons in 1936-37.

Johnny Gagnon, RW: Gagnon’s final CAHL season yielded 20 goals and the 1930 Fontaine Cup. In each of the next two seasons, he placed second on Montreal’s goal-scoring leaderboard only to Howie Morenz. As a rookie, he added six goals and eight points in 10 playoff games to help the 1931 Canadiens repeat as champions.

Gagnon later topped Montreal’s charts with 20-16-36 scoring totals in 1936-37. His final NHL transcript reads 454 games and a 120-141-261 production log.

Art Giroux, RW: To cap off his second full season in Providence, Giroux co-led the team with a 3-1-4 playoff scoring log en route to the 1932 Fontaine Cup. The next season, he broke in with the Canadiens, seeing action in 40 of his eventual 54 NHL games.

Wildor Larochelle, RW: A decade-plus with the Habs (1925-35) sandwiched a 39-game stay in Rhode Island during the first year of the affiliation. Larochelle pitched in eight goals and 12 points, then returned to Montreal for six-plus additional seasons.

Following his refinement with the Reds, he cracked double digits in the goal column four times and partook in the 1930 and 1931 Stanley Cup. The Canadiens ultimately dealt him to the Blackhawks early in the 1935-36 campaign.

Armand Mondou, LW: In a 14-year playing career (1926 to 1940), Mondou made only three cities his place of employment. Leading up to and whilst logging 385 games and two Stanley Cup rings with Montreal, he saw multiple minor-league stints in Providence and New Haven.

5 Key Reds-Rangers Connections 

Johnny Bower, G: Before he built his “China Wall” persona in Toronto, Bower was on the Providence-New York shuttle. Between 1954 and 1957, he scraped the blue paint for the Rangers 77 times, the Reds 118. That does not even count his 14 playoff appearances, including nine for the Reds’ last Calder Cup run in 1956.

Camille Henry, LW: In his lone full-length AHL season, Henry led the Calder Cup-winning Reds with 50 regular-season and 10 playoff goals. He buried another 31 strikes in 29 games before earning a permanent promotion to Manhattan. 

For the next eight-and-a-half seasons, leading up to a 1965 trade to Chicago, Henry donned nothing but Blueshirt attire, thrice leading the team in goals. His final NHL totals: 727 games played, 279 goals, 249 assists and 528 points.

Dave Maloney, D: Maloney stepped into the pros months after the Rangers drafted him 14th overall in 1974. He mustered four NHL appearances in his rookie season, otherwise devoting 58 games to Providence. He subsequently averaged an assist per game in six contests in the 1975 Calder Cup playoffs. 

After another 26 AHL twirls in 1975-76, the two-way blueliner became a permanent NHLer for the 10-year balance of his career. His plus-18 rating topped the team chart in 1977-78 and his career-high plus-24 rating led all Blueshirt skaters in 1980-81.

Rick Middleton, RW: Bruins buffs knew him as “Nifty” by the time Middleton had finished his career with a prolific 12-year ride in Boston. But he spent his first three professional seasons in New York’s organization, devoting his first to minor-league development in 1973-74.

All he did that year was endear himself to a more selective sector of New England puckheads with a team-leading 36-48-84 scoring log in 63 games. He followed that with a point-per-game average (9-6-15) in the 1974 playoffs, co-piloting the Reds to their last Calder Cup Final, where they lost to Hershey in five. 

On the heels of that output, Middleton collected the AHL’s top rookie laurel, broke in with the Rangers the next fall and never looked back. His first 90 of 988 points in The Show benefitted the Blueshirts.

Gump Worsley, G: With two exceptions, the colorful Hall of Fame netminder was consistently in The Show with New York from 1954 to 1963. The first of those exceptions was a 25-game stint with the Reds during the 1957-58 season.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Trivia Tag-up: Beware the Ides of May, Boston Bruins?

Until this year, the Boston Bruins held an 8-0 lifetime record in postseason games played on May 1 and a 9-0 overall on that date. (They edged the Ottawa Senators on May 1, 1995, late in a lockout-shortened and delayed regular season.)

Two weeks ago, the Montreal Canadiens chipped that trend and raised the initial upper hand in the 2014 Atlantic Division Final with a 4-3 overtime victory in Game 1.

Crossover New England puckheads and omen junkies can take consolation in that as the series meets its inevitable end Wednesday, May 14, 2014.

If the 15th day of the third calendar month is the Ides of March, then the 14th sunrise of the fifth month marks the Ides of May for the Spoked-Bs. The Boston franchise is 1-8 on that date with an active five-game losing streak entering Wednesday’s Game 7.

The lone exception witnessed captain Ray Bourque and Co. stamping that core group’s first of two Stanley Cup Final passports. The norm includes a Canadiens’ Cup clincher, the last playoff hockey game at the old Boston Garden and all three May 14 hockey games at the new TD Garden.

Bruins buffs who have the digestive organs for it are invited to revisit the rundown below. (Bold type denotes season-ending defeats for Boston.) Otherwise, skip the next eight lines:

1974: Game 4, Stanley Cup Final, 4-2 loss at Philadelphia

1977: Game 4, Stanley Cup Final, 2-1 loss to Montreal

1988: Game 7, Wales Conference Final, 6-2 win over New Jersey

1995: Game 5, Eastern Conference Quarterfinal, 3-2 loss to New Jersey

1999: Game 4, Eastern Conference Semifinal, 3-0 loss at Buffalo

2009: Game 7, Eastern Conference Semifinal, 3-2 overtime loss to Carolina

2010: Game 7, Eastern Conference Semifinal, 4-3 loss to Philadelphia

2011: Game 1, Eastern Conference Final, 5-2 loss to Tampa Bay

The only two series Boston won in these instances have been the 1988 and 2011 conference finals.

In fairness, that once-impeccable May 1 record carried a cornucopia of kickers. Four of those eight wins on that date granted the Bruins a 1-0 series lead, but did nothing to avert an eventual letdown in that series. Those included the 1991 conference final, the second round of the 1994 tournament and the aforementioned 2009 Carolina confrontation and 2010 Philadelphia flameout. 

With a win Wednesday, the Bruins can turn that altogether trivial hex on the Habs. Otherwise, we are looking at a mini-reprise of 1977 for the faithful of each franchise.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

2014 Bruins Need To Channel 2001 Avalanche Now More Than Ever

Boston Bruins buffs who have spent the 2013-14 season banking on Jarome Iginla as the “reverse Ray Bourque” have reached the climax of the Colorado-Los Angeles phase. The padded personnel are on a threshold between the halfway mark of the Stanley Cup playoffs and elimination.

New England puckheads old enough to at least be graduating high school in the next month should remember enough to draw parallels. A President’s Trophy-winning team with a dense corps of Cup winners and one aging, Cup-less legend has let a worthy adversary force Game 7 in the second round.

The 2000-01 Avalanche had a 3-1 lead on the Kings in the Western Conference Final, only to let that pothole fill for lack of production. Back-to-back 1-0 falters necessitated a rubber tilt at the Pepsi Center.

The present-day Bruins had a chance to snuff the Montreal Canadiens on Monday, but retched a 4-0 stinker. As penance, they will have their rivals follow them home for Wednesday’s winner-take-all fixture at the TD Garden.

Paging through the commemorative tome Mission 16W (co-authored by longtime Denver Post scribe and part-time Bleacher Report colleague Adrian Dater) casts light on additional similarities at this stage.

When the Avs whiffed on their closeout bid on the road, they fired 33 vain shots at the Kings cage. Captain Joe Sakic led that fruitless struggle with five registered stabs.

When the Bruins spilled their first chance to put away the Habs, they let Carey Price complete a 26-save shutout. Iginla, the most seasoned forward on the strike force, piloted the fruitless toil with six shots on goal. Linemates Milan Lucic and center and alternate captain David Krejci combined for five.

When Colorado missed its first of three eventual chances to close out the Kings, its power play slipped to three conversions on 29 segments in the series. Through six games, including a blown first chance out of two to dump Montreal, Boston’s power play is a similarly plebeian 2-for-15 against the Canadiens’ penalty-killing brigade.

The Avs of the past and the Bs of the present each endured a washout en route to a whitewash on their first attempt to reach the conference final. The former club had Milan Hejduk’s would-be Game 5 equalizer waved off due to a high stick. The latter watched Montreal center David Desharnais legally halt the puck on his own goal line in the closing frame.

Both team failed to let those close shaves, among others, spark them to better finish on subsequent attacks.

But like Bourque and his Colorado colleagues, Iginla and the Bruins will have 60 more minutes to percolate more onslaughts.

The parallels are at a present peak leading up to Wednesday’s faceoff. They will only have the potential to continue thereafter if the Spoked-Bs stretch their season to at least an additional round.