For as much as we love hockey around here and take pride in knowing and growing the game, it borders on the absurd to think that Tom Barrasso, ex- of Acton-Boxborough High, last Monday became only the second former Bay State high schooler to be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame.
For those who just wandered into the rink, the Commonwealth’s only other player to gain Hall fame was Rod Langway. Long ago the pride of Randolph High before he started his NHL career in Montreal in the late 1970s, Langway later became the franchise backbone along the blue line for the Capitals.
Granted, HOF debates — all sports — are the subjective stuff that keep barstools spinning around the world. But for the great number of talented kids around here we’ve seen go on to succeed in the pro game — Keith Tkachuk and Jeremy Roenick primo examples — it seems the Hub of Hockey deserves more locker space in the hallowed halls of Toronto.
But first, let’s not lose sight of Barrasso’s outstanding achievement. He went directly from Acton-Boxborough (Class of 1983) to the NHL and was the Calder winner (Rookie of the Year) with Scotty Bowman’s 1983-84 Sabres, posting a 26-12-3 freshman record. High school to the high time in a matter of weeks.
Only 24 months earlier, we saw Bobby Carpenter, the “Can’t Miss Kid,” do the very same, going for St. John’s Prep directly into the show with the Capitals. We started to think that was a regular thing. Spoiler alert: It wasn’t.
Barrasso’s rocket ride to success was all the more impressive, stepping in at age 18 and succeeding at the toughest position on the ice.
“I’m an adopted kid; my brother and sister are, as well,” noted Barrasso, 58, during comments just prior to his induction ceremony. “So for me, the idea that my parents adopted me as an infant and, here I am, is an incredible opportunity. Grateful for everything that they did, to raise me, to let me play hockey, to give me the opportunity to play two games on a Saturday — and just to have that life, this opportunity.”
Bowman, coach and general manager of the Sabres in the early ’80s, also was high on Barrasso’s gratitude list as he entered the Hall.
“[He] drafts an 18-year-old American kid, and then starts the season [with him],” said Barrasso. “I mean, who does that?”
Yanks were still somewhat new to the NHL upon Barrasso’s arrival. He and defenseman Mike Ramsey (Minneapolis) were the only Americans on that Buffalo roster.
Bowman, of course, arrived in Buffalo with the five Stanley Cup wins he earned behind the Canadiens’ bench in the 1970s. He retired with nine total. He had the bona fides to go with Barrasso, who shared the job his rookie season with Bob Sauve.
Barrasso posted his best years, and carved his path to the Hall, while in Pittsburgh, where he backed the Penguins (Mario Lemieux, et al) to consecutive Cup wins in 1991 and ‘92. The Penguins erased the Bruins in the Eastern Conference finals each of those seasons.
In those Cup runs, Barrasso went 28-12 with a 2.72 GAA and .913 save percentage. The second of those titles came with Bowman as coach. The Penguins were poised for a Cup three-peat in 1993, posting a franchise record 56-21-7, with Barrasso posting a career-best 43 wins.
“You fight for two solid months to have a chance to put your name on the trophy,” recalled Barrasso. “Sometimes you’re successful. Sometimes you’re not. We were fortunate to win it two years in a row, then with one of our best teams we lost in the second round. You can’t take anything for granted.”
In Langway’s case, it was ex-Northeastern forward David Poile, then the Capitals’ GM, who pulled off the deal with the Canadiens that also brought Doug Jarvis, Brian Engblom, Craig Laughlin, and the franchise-defenseman-to-be to Landover (a moment of silence here, please, for the dump that was the Capital Centre). Langway won the Norris Trophy in each of his first two seasons (1983 and ‘84) with the Capitals and finished with 329 points in 994 career games
Langway put his name on the Cup as a Montreal rookie in 1978-79, the last of the Habs’ four straight wins with Ken Dryden in net. Had Langway remained in Montreal, and evolved as the backline force he became with the Capitals, no telling how many more Cup titles the Habs might have won. In 1979, he was part of a blue-line corps that still included Larry Robinson, Serge Savard, and Guy Lapointe.
But the Habs had all they needed. Or so they thought.
Beyond Keith Tkachuk (Malden Catholic) and Jeremy Roenick (Thayer Academy), a short list of Massachusetts kids with excellent, potentially Hall-worthy pro careers includes Robbie Ftorek (Needham), Tony Amonte (Thayer), Bill Guerin (Wilbraham & Monson), and Bobby Carpenter (St. John’s Prep). Not all Hall of Famers, but worthy of discussion.
Ftorek, the best high school hockey player in Massachusetts history, posted four 100-point seasons in the WHA before entering the NHL with Les Nordiques. In the late 1960s, he was the Wayne Gretzky of Massachusetts high school hockey, averaging more than 5 points a game his senior year. No one here ever has come close to matching his production.
Jim Craig (Oliver Ames) and Mike Eruzione (Winthrop) wouldn’t gain HOF admission based on their pro playing careers, but maybe the Hall could open a 1980 Gold Medal Pub Room. Vladislav Tretiak could visit from the other side of the building. Their Team USA exploits remain among the sport’s most memorable moments.
Here’s the best case for Tkachuk and Roenick: They are among an elite group of 45 NHLers to reach the 500-goal and 1,000-point plateaus. Aside from those who are active or otherwise not yet eligible for induction (Jaromir Jagr, Patrick Marleau, Alexander Ovechkin, Steven Stamkos, and Sidney Crosby), the lone three players on the 500/1,000 list not to be inducted are Pat Verbeek (522/1,062), Roenick (513/1,216), and Tkachuk (538/1,065).
Verbeek, Roenick, and Tkachuk deserve induction. Verbeek was the only one to win the Cup (Dallas, 1999), but all three, with a combined 4,348 games (regular season and playoffs) deserve their lasting moment at center ice.
Verbeek made the leap directly to the NHL (Devils) as a 19-year-old out of OHL Sudbury in 1983-84. Roenick, who finished at Thayer in the spring of 1988, months later cracked the Blackhawks roster, but not until after a half-season (28 games) tuneup in the Q (Hull). Tkachuk was 19 when he joined the Winnipeg lineup in 1991-92, following a full season’s prep under the watch of Jack Parker at Boston University.
in Johnson case
British law enforcement, it appears, did not find video to contradict what we saw here: the scissor kick Matthew Petgrave delivered to Adam Johnson appeared to be intentional, not a “freak accident” as initially reported in media accounts. One of Petgrave’s skate blades sliced across Johnson’s neck, resulting moments later in Johnson’s death due to blood loss.
Petgrave subsequently was arrested on manslaughter charges, leaving it to the British legal system to determine justice for Johnson.
The closest case to compare, according to the Associated Press, was the 1992 death of Miran Schrott, who died while playing in Italy when slashed across the chest with a stick by Canadian-raised Giacinto “Jimmy” Boni. Schrott, a 19-year-old defenseman, died of cardiac arrest induced by the slash, leading to a charge of culpable homicide against Boni.
Boni ultimately pleaded to manslaughter, avoiding a potential 18-year jail sentence, and was ordered to pay financial restitution to Schrott’s family.
Other than a smattering of isolated cases, including young Bruins winger Jakub Lauko, NHLers predictably have been slow to adopt neck protection in the wake of the Johnson tragedy. It’s the same cultural attitude we witnessed over the last 40-plus years, players first reluctant to wear helmets and later visors.
Mind you, this is the same workforce that never considered playing a single shift without protective cups. Safety has its level of priorities.
Meanwhile, the NHL and the Players Association will continue to chew over the pros and cons of the issue. Likely outcome, similar to helmets and visors: a grandfathered approach, allowing current NHLers to decide for themselves, but newbies mandated to collar-up.
Johnson and girlfriend Ryan Wolfe were not yet formally engaged. According to the Nottingham (England) Post, he had bought an engagement ring, which she found days later among his belongings in their apartment.
Wolfe, her sister at her side, read a letter to Johnson during his memorial service last Monday in Hibbing, Minn. Much of it was what she planned to tell him on their wedding day.
“To me you were everything, you were my home, my best friend, my sounding board, my rock, my safe haven, and the love of my life,” she read from the letter. “I’m never going to stop thinking about you, missing you and loving you until we can be together again.”
Oilers needed to make change
The Oilers entered weekend play winners of three straight after an abysmal 3-9-1 start. Two of those wins came after Jay Woodcroft was dismissed as coach, replaced by first-time NHL bench boss Kris Knoblauch (after a stint of four-plus years coaching AHL Hartford).
A bold move by GM Ken Holland, but wise, given the talent on the roster and the long runway leading to the playoffs.
“We didn’t want to wait around any longer,” said Holland.
The Oilers’ game Saturday afternoon in Tampa was No. 16 on the schedule — only 66 (and 132 possible points) to go.
Bold prediction: Even with their goaltending still, shall we say, questionable, the Oilers sail to a postseason berth for a fourth consecutive season.
As a precursor to dumping Woodcroft — their third coach in the Connor McDavid/Leon Draisaitl era — the Oilers waived ex-Maple Leafs goalie Jack Campbell to AHL Bakersfield, where he lost his first three starts. Only 16 months earlier, Campbell signed a five-year/$25 million free agent deal in the wake of his 31-9-6 run the prior season with the Leafs.
It’s now up to Stuart Skinner to regain the netminding form he showed last season when leapfrogging Campbell on the depth chart. For now, Skinner is partnered with 31-year-old Calvin Pickard, who is seven years past last seeing substantial NHL work with the Avalanche.
Sounds like Skinner or bust, unless Holland finds some legit help in the trade market. The Bruins could have Brandon Bussi, their top dog in Providence, to offer. The 6-foot-4-inch Bussi looks legit but is only a second-year pro. The step up is often daunting. With McDavid/Draisaitl as his headliners, Holland should be looking for a more proven hand.
The Canucks, red hot under coach Rick Tocchet, as of Friday morning were 12-4-1, trailing only the Golden Knights and Bruins in the overall standings. They also had the league’s 1-2-3 point producers: J.T. Miller, Elias Pettersson, and Quinn Hughes (with 27 points apiece). No big free agent-purchased magic in the turnaround, contrary to what is the typical prescription for such reversals of fortune. They’re getting top-shelf net work from ex-Boston College goalie Thatcher Demko, but that’s nothing new. Overall, it’s the buy-in to Tocchet’s north-south, 200-foot approach, pretty much what he preached for four seasons in Arizona with little to show for it. Coach talks. Talent dictates, provided the buy-in is there. The biggest X-factor is Hughes, now in his fifth season and among the game’s most dazzling defensemen . . . Rod Langway, now 66, wore the Providence Spoked-P for the final 10 games of his pro career, aiding Tom McVie as an assistant coach with the 1997-98 AHL WannaBs. He then had a fairly short run coaching the Richmond Renegades, first in the ECHL and then the UHL, calling it quits behind the bench after the 2003-04 season . . . Peter Bondra and Maurice “Rocket” Richard (Hall of Fame, 1961), by the way, are the only NHLers to score 500 goals and not reach the 1,000-point plateau. Bondra topped out at 503/892 and Richard finished 544/966 . . . After their two Cup wins with Tom Barrasso between the pipes, the rude ending for the Penguins came in 1993, Round 2/Game 7 vs. the Islanders, the same night that derailed Kevin Stevens’s life and career when the Penguins star forward was knocked cold on his feet by a Rich Pilon check, Stevens crashing face-first to the Igloo ice. Pain killers needed to cope after surgery that night, contends Stevens, led him down a destructive path of addiction . . . A member of that Blackhawks lineup that welcomed Jeremy Roenick to Chicago in 1988-89: 23-year-old defenseman Bruce Cassidy . . . “Patrice Bergeron: From Kid to Captain” landed late in the week at area bookstores and retailers. A career retrospective, presented in a series of Globe-authored stories across two decades, the Triumph tome sells for $16.95 US and $22.95 CAN . . . Bruins forward Trent Frederic has a 1-inch scar on his forehead, just over his left eye, compliments of then-neighborhood pal Brady Tkachuk during their boyhood days outside St. Louis some 15-years ago. More about that next week in this space . . . The NHL’s first quarter will end with Hughes the early favorite for the Hart (MVP) Trophy. He would be only the second Canuck to win it. The other: Henrik Sedin in 2010. Hughes easily could finish with 100-plus points, just a year after Erik Karlsson broke the 100 plateau in San Jose — the first defenseman to get there since Brian Leetch in 1992. The industry is so much more fun when the puck goes in the net, isn’t it? In the four consecutive seasons, 1988-92, a defenseman cracked 100 points, a group that included Paul Coffey (twice), Al MacInnis, and Leetch. Then the tap turned off for the better part of a quarter-century. Give me more goals . . . Also give me more Brendan Gallaghers. The feisty, 5-9 Canadiens forward may not be among the NHL’s more prolific scorers, but man, he is full-on facewash, elbows-to-the-ribs entertainment when the puck is free around opposing goalies. He is Pig Pen with a hockey stick, which no doubt would have brought a smile to cartoonist Charles Schulz, the hockey-loving creator of Peanuts. More Pig Pens, please. Arrrrrrgh!
Kevin Paul Dupont can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.