Hockey's Wildest Season – The Changing of the Guard in the NHL, 1969-1970 (by John G. Robertson)

Hockey’s Wildest Season is an examination of the thoroughly crazy 1969-70 NHL season—one that featured amazingly close playoff races in both the...
  1. John Robertson
    Book Title: Hockey’s Wildest Season: The Changing of the Guard in the NHL, 1969-1970

    : John G. Robertson

    Publisher: McFarland: Hockey’s Wildest Season – McFarland

    Author’s Information

    John G. Robertson is a 57-year-old sports history author who lives in Cambridge, Ontario. He has been researching and writing selected histories of various sports since the age of 19. Hockey’s Wildest Season is his second book about hockey history. (Robertson’s first hockey book was Too Many Men on the Ice: The 1978-79 Boston Bruins and the Most Famous Penalty in Hockey History; it was also published by McFarland, in 2018.) Other books include several scholarly works on both baseball and boxing history.

    About Hockey’s Wildest Season

    Hockey’s Wildest Season is an examination of the thoroughly crazy 1969-70 NHL season—one that featured amazingly close playoff races in both the East and West divisions that were not decided until the final Sunday of the regular season. It also looks at all aspects of that season: the decline of the traditional NHL powerhouses (Montreal and Toronto) and the emergence of the former have-not clubs (Boston, Chicago and New York); the awful Ted Green-Wayne Maki stick-swinging incident in the preseason; several amusing anecdotes, such as the Rolling Stones nearly causing an L.A. Kings home game to be forfeited; and two postseason tragedies (the sudden deaths of Michel Briere and Terry Sawchuk). Hockey’s Wildest Season also chronicles how the 1969-70 regular season climaxed with two crazy, farcical games that prompted the NHL to rewrite its flawed tiebreaker rules, and the memorable Stanley Cup playoffs culminating in Bobby Orr’s iconic Stanley Cup-winning goal at Boston Garden on May 10.

    Excerpt of Hockey’s Wildest Season (from Chapter #30)

    Entering their much-anticipated 1970 semifinal, there was not much to choose from between the Bruins and Black Hawks. In their eight regular-season meetings, Boston and Chicago had battled each other to the equivalent of a stalemate. The Bruins and Hawks each won three times, with two other games ending in ties. Boston had outscored Chicago 21-19 in those games. Of course, both clubs had ended the regular season with 99 points. Tony Esposito had recorded two of his 15 shutouts versus Boston, but the Bruins had also shut out the Black Hawks twice. As in the previous two years in the post-expansion era, many fans and hockey writers considered the series to decide the East Division champion to be the de facto Stanley Cup final regardless of which team emerged as the West’s winner. Everything pointed to an evenly matched Bruins-Black Hawks series. Instead, it proved to be shockingly one-sided.
    “If you had told me before the series started that we would take [Chicago] in four straight games, I would have laughed in your face,” Boston assistant captain Johnny Bucyk later recalled in his autobiography. “When it was all over, I was shocked—but not as much as the Black Hawks.” Chicago came into the series riding a six-game winning streak that dated back to the hectic and crazy final weekend of the regular season.
    Game #1 occurred on Sunday, April 19 at Chicago Stadium. It was scheduled for the afternoon to accommodate the CBS NHL Game of the Week time slot. Boston won comfortably, 6-3. Bobby Orr, who contributed two assists, put on a show defensively. On three separate occasions he blocked shots that seemed headed for an unguarded Bruins’ net. However, the offensive damage was mostly done by Phil Esposito who delighted in scoring three times on his younger sibling. The feat was recognized in bold letters atop the Montreal Gazette’s sports page: “Boston’s Phil Wins Esposito Battle.”
    Pat Curran of the Gazette was thoroughly impressed by the visitors’ performance. “Neither brotherly love, nor respect for the [regular-season] champions, nor appreciation for the fans who paid for the show deterred the Boston Bruins in their convincing 6-3 upset of the Black Hawks,” he wrote. “Boston simply took the play away from Chicago from the start. Before it was over, Phil Esposito had scored this third playoff hat-trick, with other goals going to Johnny Bucyk, Ken Hodge, and John (Cowboy) McKenzie.”
    The elder Esposito brother showed little compassion for Tony. “It’s hardly a family matter when there’s five-grand on the line,” Phil noted, citing the difference in playoff money awarded to players on a Stanley Cup-winning team and a losing divisional finalist. He seemed annoyed at the very idea of taking it easy on his brother.
    John McKenzie got into a scuffle with a couple of belligerent Black Hawk fans near the end of the game who had called the Bruins “a bunch of stupid bums.” McKenzie fired back, “Any guy who pays $25 for two seats in this dump can’t be too smart, either.”
    Despite Chicago carrying the play for much of the first period, Boston had a 2-0 lead after 20 minutes. The Bruins upped it to a 3-0 advantage 5:11 into the second period. Chicago never got closer than a two-goal deficit. Both teams scored twice on the power play. Boston coach Harry Sinden noted, “We had a good first period and didn’t get behind the eight-ball. We had some great goalkeeping [from Gerry Cheevers] and no team can win a Stanley Cup without it.” Cheevers handled 32 of the 35 Black Hawk shots that came his way, but even he acknowledged he had received some timely and conspicuous extra help, calling Bobby Orr’s block of a Bobby Hull blast with his chest “the save of the day.”
    Every Bruin seemed to have a big afternoon. Pesky Derek Sanderson, a faceoff specialist and amateur statistician, lost just two draws the entire game and won 16—by his reckoning, at least.
    When asked if he thought the Black Hawks were “stale” because they had not played a game in a week, Boston coach Harry Sinden guffawed. “Stale? If we had lost, could I say they were stale? Yeah, I guess they were stale.”


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