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Cornered Coach: It's a Small (Hockey) World, Part 2


In my last blog post, we took a stroll down memory lane, reflecting on a few of the Top 100 players recently released by the National Hockey League to celebrate their 100th anniversary.

This week, we wrap up that theme with a few more personal recollections of some of the greatest players to ever grace NHL ice.

Eric Lindros
A lot of people perceived that "The Big E" carried a colossal chip on his shoulder. After all, Lindros did refuse to report to the Soo Greyhounds when he was a teenaged wiz kid selected first overall in the OHL draft. Later, Lindros also dug in his heels after being picked first overall by the Quebec Nordiques in the NHL draft. But even though Lindros definitely owned a stubborn streak, he was also a gentle giant who always had a soft spot for kids. At the height of his fame with the Philadelphia Flyers, Lindros arrived for a personal appearance at a Calgary sporting goods store. I was a young reporter for a local television station and was assigned to cover the event. To be honest, it was an absolute gong show. The store had failed to publicize the arrival of Lindros and only a few people were on hand when Eric walked through the doors. But Lindros couldn't have been more gracious to the people who were there, especially the kids. He spent a lot of time with them firing orange hockey balls into a street hockey net and, even though the promotional campaign was a complete bust, the handful of folks who were in attendance picked up a memory that will last a lifetime.

Al MacInnis
"The Chopper,” as he was nicknamed, is another NHL legend who spoke softly and carried a big stick; a REALLY big stick. MacInnis owned one of the most feared slapshots in all of hockey and I was there on the night in the early-90's when MacInnis put the fear of God into L.A. Kings netminder-turned "Hockey Night in Canada" personality Kelly Hrudey.  MacInnis unleashed a particularly dangerous bomb from the blueline that smashed the plexiglass behind Hrudey, and I can still recall the excited noise in the Calgary Saddledome from Flames fans who couldn't believe the power in Al's blade. But in addition to his ferocious shot, Macinnis was one of the real "nice guys" in the game; a friendly soul from Cape Breton, Nova Scotia who never forgot his down-home roots, even when he became the first Flame in history to command a salary of $1 million per season. Funny enough, I was part of a broadcast panel that discussed Al's new contract. We were all of the opinion that $1 million was the maximum amount of money the NHL could sustain and that anything higher would absolutely kill the league's economic model. It showed what we knew, of course, as $1 million dollars would now be considered "chump change" by modern NHL'ers, especially superstars such as MacInnis.

Brad Park
Like MacInnis, Park was an outstanding NHL blueliner. The only problem? Park happened to play in the same era as a fellow by the name of Bobby Orr, who tended to steal a lot of the headlines. Still, Park was a premier defenceman who could play it any way you wanted – tough as nails in his own zone and smooth as silk with the puck on his stick. I witnessed that smoothness firsthand when I was fortunate enough to play on Park's team during a charity hockey game in Calgary a number of years ago. The Saddledome was packed and, believe me, the fans weren't there to watch a certain shaky-legged television reporter strut his stuff. Instead, NHL legends such as Lanny McDonald entertained the crowd and I was particularly impressed with Park. It was amazing to watch his skill with the puck as he kept it on a string and controlled the game like a great conductor controls an orchestra. It was easy to see why Park was a legendary hall-of-famer and, next to the incomparable Orr, the defining defenceman of a great era of hockey back in the 1970's.

Just a few personal memories of some of hockey's greatest players.

Thanks for allowing me to share them with you, and hopefully they stir up a few of your own memories when it comes to these true hockey legends.

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