Monday, December 31, 2012

December 31, 1910: Georges Vezina made his debut with the Montreal Canadiens.

On December 31, 1910, Georges Vezina made his professional debut as goalie of the Montreal Canadiens.  The goaltender would go onto play in 367 consecutive games which included regular season and playoffs.  His career was remarkable, starting out in Chicoutimi, Quebec in Canada, Vezina's parents were local bakers who also owned the local ice rink, which meant from a very young age Georges would find himself on the ice. He played with local teams throughout his youth before being discovered by the Montreal Canadiens.

In February of 1910, an exhibition game brought the Canadiens to his hometown to take on the local team. Vezina performed so well in the exhibition game that the Montreal club tried persuading him to come and play with them. Initially Vezina would turn the team down. In December of the same year the Canadiens came back to town, this time they were able to convince Vezina to join their team and signed him to a staggering $800 contract, by today's standard that would be close to $20,000. On December 31, 1910, Vezina took his spot between the pipes for the Canadiens, he would remain between those pipes until November of 1925.

When Vezina came to Montreal the team was a member of the National Hockey Association, the NHA was the forerunner to the NHL. He had success early, nicknamed "The Chicoutimi Cucumber" because he was cool as a cucumber when he was in net, Vezina would lead the league in his first three seasons with the lowest goals against average. He would get his first shot at a Stanley Cup Title following the '13-14 season, when his team ended up in a tie with the Toronto Blueshirts it forced a 2 game total goal playoff. Vezina was able to shutout the Toronto team in the first game but then gave up 6 goals in the second game which pushed the Blueshirts onto the Stanley Cup Finals where they won it all. The Canadiens had a rough season the next time around, losing 14 of 18 games caused them to miss the playoffs. They bounced back in the 1915-'16 campaign by  finishing at the top of the NHA, it would set the table for them to meet the Pacific Hockey Association's Portland Rosebuds in the Stanley Cup Finals. It was a best of 5 series to decide who took home the hardware. The series went the distance with Vezina playing his ass off. The night of Game 5, Montreal not only won their first cup in the history of their franchise, Vezina's second son was born, it was great night for the netminder.

The following season, Vezina led the league once again with the lowest goals against average. His goaltending led the Canadiens back to the Finals where they met and then lost to the Seattle Metropolitans, making the Seattle team the first team south of the Canadian border to win the Stanley Cup. In November of 1917 the NHA dissolved, with the Canadiens joining the newly formed NHL, Vezina became the first goalie in the history of the league to record a shutout on February 18, 1918, then on the 28th of December in the same year Vezina was credited with an assist after his teammate Newsy Lalonde snatched up the puck after a Vezina save, Lalonde put the biscuit in the basket and Vezina was credited with the first assist by a goaltender in the history of the NHL.

Vezina and the Canadiens would advance to the Stanley Cup Finals following the '18-'19 season, it was a 5 game series that set them up to avenge their 1917 Cup loss to the Seattle Metropolitans. With both teams tied 2 all, Game 5 was set to take place in Seattle. Before either team stepped on the ice for game 5 the series was cancelled because of the Spanish flu epidemic, a particularly deadly version of the flu that killed an estimated 20-50 million people worldwide. This would be the first time the Stanley Cup was not awarded to a team. It wouldn't be until the '23-24 season that  they would find themselves back in The Finals, Montreal took on the Calgary Tigers in the best of three, with the Canadiens sweeping the series in two games. It was Vezina's second championship and the first time the Montreal won Lord Stanley's Cup as a member of the NHL. They did go to The Finals again the next season, but would lose to the Victoria Cougars.

When Vezina arrived for camp for the '25-'26 campaign he was noticeably sick. He had lost significant weight and was not looking well at all, some disregarded it because he was a thin and pale guy already and nobody expected what was to come. The Canadiens opened the season against the Pittsburgh Pirates, after getting through the first period without allowing a goal, Vezina was seen in the locker room coughing up blood, he still attempted to go back out and play. Vezina didn't make it long, after collapsing near the goal he was replaced by Alponse Lacroix. It was the first time since 1910 the goalie had to have a substitute come into a game for him. Sadly it would be the last time Vezina took to the ice. The very next day he was diagnosed with tuberculosis and was  advised to return home. On December 3, 1925 Vezina stood before his team one last time, with tears rolling down his cheeks he said goodbye to his second family, I would imagine it was one of the hardest days in his life. Vezina and his wife Marie returned to his hometown of Chicoutimi, where he spent the last few months of his life. Georges Vezina passed away on March 27th of 1926. Even with the fact he only played one game that season the organization still paid his $6,000 salary in full, it showed what he had meant to team.

Vezina was one of the most dominant goaltenders of his time. He helped the Canadiens reach the Stanley Cup Finals 5 times winning it twice, 7 times he had the lowest goals against average in his league and was runner up in that category another 5 times. Prior to the '26-'27 season Canadiens owners Joseph Cattaranich and Leo Letourneau immortalized his name by establishing The Vezina Award, a trophy that is given to the top goaltender in the league at the end of every season. Vezina was a great goalie, even when he was literally deathly ill he still wanted to go out and play the game. It says to me that he loved the game, he loved his team, and the only thing that would stop him from playing the game was an unbeatable illness. He played in a time when goaltenders didn't wear masks and the rules were different so a goalie couldn't even  leave his feet to make a save, you could only imagine how hard of a job that would have been. Georges Vezina was a true badass.  It has been over 100 years since he made his debut with the Canadiens and he still has fans, I know this because I'm one of them.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

December 30, 1978: Woody Hayes fired after 28 years as head coach of the Ohio State Buckeyes

December 30, 1978, Ohio State University decided to part ways with the legendary coach Woody Hayes. Hayes departure from the university came after just one day earlier his Buckeyes took on the Clemson Tigers in the Gator Bowl. With the Buckeyes down late in the fourth quarter 17-15 they were on the move when Buckeyes quarterback Art Shlichter sailed one wide of his running back, the pass was intercepted by Clemson Nose Guard Charlie Bauman, he took the ball and rumbled his way down field and was then tackled, ending up out of bounds on the Buckeyes sideline. When he got to his feet all hell broke loose, Hayes lost his cool and punched Bauman in the throat. With the sideline in pandemonium the Buckeyes were assessed a 15 yard unsportsmanlike penalty on that play. Then the Buckeyes were penalized again for Hayes stepping onto the field of play at a time when he shouldn't have, there was some confusion in the booth whether the coach grabbed an official or not, either way that cost his team 15 more yards. Clemson was able to run the clock down to zeros and sealed up a Gator Bowl victory for their school. The administration at Ohio State was embarrassed by the actions of their head coach and decided to relieve him of his coaching duties. It was  the end of an era for Buckeyes football.

Here is a video of the incident involving Coach Hayes and Charlie Bauman:

The incident was an unfortunate one because Hayes was a great coach. His temper just got the best of him and there is a good possibility it cost his team the game. When a coach loses focus it has a ripple effect through his team, with the game so close it's hard to say whether the outcome would have been different. Hayes had several temper issues through the years. In 1956 he attempted to punch a reporter and missed, he ended up hitting a sports editor instead of his intended target. Then  in 1965 there was an incident in which Hayes damn near got into a fist fight with the athletic director from Iowa State, both parties had to be restrained. Before the Buckeyes took on USC in the 1973 Rose Bowl, Hayes lost it with a photographer, shoving a camera into photographer's  face ultimately cost Hayes a 3 game suspension, a $2,000 fine and his team would lose that day. In a game at Michigan in 1977, Hayes charged an ABC cameraman when he saw him recording his frustration after an Ohio State turnover, this would cause the coach to be put on probation and hit him in the pocketbook for another $2,000. The incident with Bauman in the '78 Gator Bowl would be the last time he lost his cool as a head coach, Hayes retired from the game altogether following his firing from Ohio State.

When I say it was unfortunate I mean it because it was the end to a great career that started in 1946 at Denison University out of Granville, Ohio, he spent two years there before taking a job as head coach at Miami of Ohio where he also spent two years, he then took on the job that defined his career at Ohio State. With the Buckeyes he had great success, winning 5 National Championships and 13 Big Ten titles. In his 28 years at the helm of the Buckeyes he would post a 205-61-10 record, which are numbers that speak for themselves.

Hayes also stared adversity in the face, in a time when racial inequality was high he not only recruited and brought African Americans into start for his team, he also hired African American assistant coaches. It was said that Hayes treated all people the same, which gives me great respect for the man. Hayes was well respected by his students and he held a high academic standard  which brought respect from his peers. As the first head coach to introduce film to help teach his players, Hayes was also an innovator. When I look back at the career of Woody Hayes I look at it with great admiration, however I also do see a lesson in there, as adults we all have to know when to pull the emotions back, when we make bad choices there are always consequences to pay. Even with this fact being based on one what was probably the worst day in the career of Woody Hayes, he was still one of the greatest coaches of his time. I think it's safe to say he had many more good days than bad days in his career.

The painting of Woody Hayes was done by Jay Johnston, you can view more of his work at

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Saturday, December 29, 2012

December 29, 1999 Wilt Chamberlain became the first player in the history of the NBA to have his number retired by three different teams.

December 23, 1999, the late Wilt Chamberlain had his number retired by the Golden State Warriors, Chamberlain became the first player in the history of the NBA to have his number retired by three different teams. It happened during halftime in a game against one of Chamberlain's former teams, the Philadelphia 76'ers. The Warriors presented Chamberlain's family a jersey, then lifted his #13 to the rafters at the Oracle Arena. Chamberlain's number had already been retired by the Philadelphia 76'ers where he won the NBA Champion ship in 1967 and it also been retired with the Los Angeles Lakers where he won a title in 1972. His Hall of Fame career began in 1959 with the Philadelphia Warriors. In his first year in the league he shattered rookie records and ended up being named Rookie of the Year and League MVP, a feat that has only been matched by Wes Unseld who won both awards in the '68-'69 season. By the end of his first year in the league he led his team to a playoff series win over the Syracuse Nationals then to the Eastern Conference Finals where they were knocked out by the Boston Celtics. In his second year in the league Chamberlain put up ridiculous numbers, he became the first player to break the 3,000 point barrier and his 2,149 rebounds not only made him the first player to get 2,000 rebounds in a season he is the only player to have ever accomplished the feat to this day, during that season he set the record for rebounds in a game with 55. The Warriors would end up being knocked out by the Syracuse Nationals in the first round, some blamed Chamberlain others blamed the coach, in the end it doesn't matter because both coach and player shared the responsibility for the team not advancing. In his third season under new coach Frank McGuire, Wilt put up numbers that players only dream of, he averaged a record 50.4 points a game then added 25.7 rebounds per game to that, and definitely not to be forgotten it was the same season Wilt put up his jaw dropping 100 points in one game. By the time the '61-'62 season wrapped up, Chamberlain became the only player to ever surpass 4,000 points in one season, only Michael Jordan joined him in the 3,000 point club after the '86-'87 campaign. In the 1962 playoffs the Warriors met the Celtics again in the Easter Conference Finals, this time losing to Boston in 7 games. Many criticized Chamberlain for averaging 50 points per game but not winning the title with the Warriors, I would say to them one man does not make a team and they would not have been where they were if it wasn't for his great play. The following year the Warriors franchise was sold to a group of California businessmen, the team then relocated to the West Coast and became the San Francisco Warriors. The move caused problems within the organization, Paul Azrin chose to retire rather than move his family out of Philadelphia and Tom Gola requested a trade to the Knicks so he could be close to his family. Even with Chamberlain having a solid year it wouldn't be enough and the Warriors missed the playoffs. In the '63-'64 season Chamberlain and the Warriors bounced back, they teamed him up with Nate Thurmond who was a great young center and together they led the team all the way to The Finals. Unfortunately for Chamberlain he would meet the Celtics and lose the series 4 games to 1, once again Boston ended his quest for a Championship early. The next year in San Francisco was rough from the start for the Warriors, with the team struggling on the court and the ownership suffering from financial strain they decided to trade Chamberlain to the Philadelphia 76'ers at the 1965 All Star break  In his six years in a Warriors uniform he averaged 41.5 points and 25.1 rebounds in 429 games, it was just a start to a great career. He would go onto have great success as we all know but no matter what he did after he left he always started off his NBA career in a Warriors uniform. I do think it was a great thing for that organization to recognize that he was one of the greatest to ever play the game, and they were lucky to have him be part of their franchise.

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