Tuesday, April 30, 2013

April 30: Steve Smith's Own Goal Eliminates the Oilers

On April 30, 1986, Edmonton Oilers defenseman Steve Smith inadvertently knocked the puck it his own net just 5 minutes and 14 seconds into the third period of Game 7 of the Smythe Division Finals. The goal gave the Calgary Flames a 3-2 lead that proved to be the game winner. As soon as Smith realized his error he went to the ice in pure disbelief. Flames forward Perry Berezan was credited with the goal but everyone knew it was just an errant pass by Smith that sent the Flames to the next round. Smith wept as he shook hands with the Flames players after the game, it was a heartbreaker that he would never forget and it happened on his birthday. After beating the St. Louis Blues in the next round the Flames advanced to the Stanley Cup Finals where they lost the the Montreal Canadiens. One year later the Oilers won The Cup and the first person Wayne Gretzky handed the trophy to was his friend and teammate Steve Smith.

Here is an article from 2011 in which Smith recalls the goal: http://www.edmontonsun.com/2011/04/29/exoilers-steve-smith-recalls-fateful-own-goal

Watch the goal here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4D6oWkhJzIk

Monday, April 29, 2013

April 29, 1986: The Rocket Strikes Out 20

On April 29, 1986, in a 3-1 win over the Seattle Mariners, Red Sox hurler Roger Clemens broke a major league record by striking out 20 batters in a nine inning game. The Rocket would match the feat in September of 1996, then in 1998 Kerry Wood joined him as the only two pitchers to strike 20 men out in a nine inning game. Randy Johnson struck out 20 men in nine innings in 2001, but since the game went into extra frames it's not categorized as occurring in a nine inning contest. The record for strikeouts in a game belongs to Tom Cheney he fanned 21 batters in September of 1962 as his Washington Senators beat the Baltimore Orioles 2-1 in 16 innings.

Here is an impressive list of pitchers who have struck out 18 batters or more in a nine inning game:

Sunday, April 28, 2013

April 28,1980, The Big O is enshrined into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame

On April 28, 1980, The Big O, Oscar Robertson was enshrined into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame. After a stellar career at the University of Cincinnati, Robertson was drafted by the Cincinnati Royals in 1960. He quickly made his mark at the professional level. In his first season in the league he would take home rookie of  year honors after averaging 30.5 points, 10.1 rebounds, and 9.7 assists per game. The next season he became the only player in NBA history to average a triple double for the entire season, with 30.8 points,12.5 rebounds, and 11.4 assists per game. He simply could do it all. Despite his success on the court the Royals failed to win a championship and after 10 years with the team, he was traded to the Milwaukee Bucks. In Milwaukee, he found himself paired up with Lew Alcindor who would later become known as the one and only Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. They formed one of the most dynamic duos in the history of the league as they led the Bucks to a championship title in 1971. Two more division titles followed the championship and the Bucks made another appearance in the Finals in what would be Robertson's last year in the league in 1974. After the Bucks lost to the Celtics in 7 games, it was the end of the line for his career on the court. The 12 time all star scored more than 26,710 points, picked up 9,887 assists, and had 7,804 rebounds under his belt by the time he retired. Robertson's impact on the game went well beyond the hardwood. He was essentially basketball's version of Curt Flood, as head of the players association Robertson led the charge in an anti trust lawsuit against the league. The lawsuit led to landmark changes in free agency and higher salaries for players all across the league.

Check out Robertson's career stats here: http://www.basketball-reference.com/players/r/roberos01.html

Saturday, April 27, 2013

April 27, 1994: The Buffalo Sabres prevail in a quadruple overtime playoff battle

On April 27, 1994, the Buffalo Sabres and New Jersey Devils would take four overtimes to decide who would win Game 6 of a first round playoff matchup. The Sabres came into the game facing elimination and their goalie Dominik Hasek would stand on his head to make sure his team would live to play another day.  Hasek made 70 saves before his teammate Dave Hannan got one passed Martin Brodeur to force a Game 7. The 15,000 plus at The Aud in Buffalo witnessed an instant classic that lasted more than 6 hours before Hannan sent them home happy. The joy was short lived as the Sabres lost 2-1 in the final game of the series just two days later.

Watch Hannan's goal here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=brf3W2sinz0

Here is an article that was published in the New York Times the day after the quadruple overtime thriller:

Friday, April 26, 2013

April 26, 1961: Maris begins the quest to 61

On April 26, 1961, Yankees outfielder Roger Maris hit his first home run of the season off of Tiger hurler Paul Foytack. The blast was the beginning of the historic quest to break Babe Ruth's single season record of 60 home runs that had been set in 1927. Maris would need every single game to break Ruth's record, he hit 61 in the fourth inning in the last game of the season to become the single season record holder. Despite his record breaking performance the commissioner of baseball Ford Frick chose to put an asterisk next to his 61 homers because Maris didn't break the record in the same amount of games. It was a low blow that took away from the achievement and Maris remained bitter about it the rest of his life. In an interview in 1980, Maris said "They acted as though I was doing something wrong, poisoning the record books or something. Do you know what I have to show for 61 home runs? Nothing. Exactly nothing." Maris passed away just 5 years after he made that statement. I wish he knew how much people came to appreciate the achievement. It truly was one of the greatest seasons by one man in the history of the sport.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

April 25 1950: Chuck Cooper becomes the first African American to be drafted into the NBA

On April 25, 1950, Chuck Cooper became the first African American to be drafted by an NBA team when the Boston Celtics picked him with the 12th pick of the second round. Fellow African Americans Earl Lloyd and Harold Hunter would be drafted in the later rounds, then Nat "Sweetwater" Clifton and Hank DeZonie would sign free agent deals as basketball worked toward integration. Harold Hunter never did play a game in the NBA and DeZonie quit after just 5 games due to discrimination and disagreements with his coach. Cooper, Lloyd, and Clifton would put together solid careers. Clifton played for 7 years, in his first season he helped the Knicks reach the Finals where they lost in 7 games. By 1957 Clifton was a member of the Pistons, that season he became the the oldest player to be named to an all star game at the age of 34.  Lloyd played nine seasons in the NBA and won a Championship with the Syracuse Nationals in 1955, that season Lloyd and Jim Tucker became the first African Americans to play on an NBA championship team. Cooper's career did not come with great accolades. He played just four years in Boston before being traded to the Milwaukee Hawks, after a couple of years in a Hawks uniform he was released then signed with the Fort Wayne Pistons, he spent one year with the Pistons before retiring. Everyone of these men were pioneers in the NBA, they endured the same abuse that Jackie Robinson did in baseball, much like Jackie they were brave as they fought through it and paved the way for many men to follow.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

April 24, 1994: Robinson scores 71

On April 24, 1994, San Antonio Spurs star David Robinson scored 71 points as in the regular season finale in Los Angeles. The 71 points didn't only lead Robinson's squad to a 112-97 win, it also led Robinson to a scoring title as he just edged out Orlando's Shaquille O'Neal for the title. Robinson scored 63 percent from the floor making 26-of-41 including a three pointer and 18-of-25 free throws. The Clippers double teamed Robinson all night long, but some days the great players can't be stopped. Only 4 players other than Robinson have scored 70 points or more in a game and only one player has done it more than once, the one only Wilt Chamberlain crossed the threshold an astounding 6 times.

Here is a list of players who scored 60 points or more in a game: http://www.nbauniverse.com/records/60_or_more_points.htm

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

April 23, 1950: The Red Wings win the first ever Stanley Cup Game 7

On April 23, 1950, in the first ever Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals the Detroit Red Wings beat the New York Rangers 4-3 in double overtime. Pete Babando scored the game winner 28 minutes and 31 seconds after regulation play had ended. After winning the first game of the series the Red Wings dropped the next one before winning Game 3. Games 4 and 5 both went to overtime and both games would be won by New York, which meant the Rangers only needed one win to take home hockey's top prize, they just couldn't get that win. After a 5-4 Detroit victory in Game 6, the first ever Game 7 would be an epic contest that sealed the deal for the Red Wings.

Monday, April 22, 2013

April 22, 1959: The White Sox score 11 runs on one hit

On April 22, 1959, the Chicago White Sox scored 11runs on only one hit in the 7th inning of a 20-6 beatdown of the Kansas City A's. Johnny Callison's single was the only hit in the inning while the rest of his teammates received 10 walks with 5 of those walks coming with the bases loaded.  The A's also commited three errors and hit a batter in the meltdown of an inning.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

April 21, 1959: Stan Musial breaks up a no no

On April 21, 1959, Stan Musial broke up Glen Hobbie's bid for a no hitter in the 7th inning of a contest at Wrigley Field. Hobbie and the Cubbies would have to settle for a one hitter as he went the distance in the 1-0 victory over the Redbirds. Just four days earlier, Musial spoiled Johnny Antonelli's no hit bid in the 7th inning of a matchup against the Giants in San Francisco.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

April 20, 1986: Jordan Scores 63

On April 20, 1986, in Game 2 of the first round of the playoffs, Chicago Bulls star Michael Jordan scored a playoff record 63 points against the Boston Celtics. Despite his heroics the Bulls would lose the game by the score of 135-131 to Larry Bird's squad in a double overtime thriller. The Celtics swept the Bulls out of the playoffs in three games, then went on a run for a title. The 23 year old Jordan said before the game "I don't think one man can beat the Boston Celtics", in the end he was right but it wasn't for a lack of effort. Jordan's 63 broke former Lakers great Elgin Baylor's record of 61 points that had been set in the NBA Finals in 1962. The legend of Michael Jordan was just beginning, he broke into the league in 1984 but had limited success in the playoffs until 1991 when he won his first title, it would be the first of six championships for Jordan and the Bulls.

Here is a great video that tells the story of Jordan's historic performance

Friday, April 19, 2013

April 19, 1970: Phil Esposito scores a hat trick against his brother Tony

On April 19, 1970, in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Semi Finals Phil Esposito scored a hat trick for the Boston Bruins in a 6-3 win over the Chicago Blackhawks. Esposito scored all three of the goals against his brother Tony who took home the Vezina Trophy as the best goalie in the league. The Bruins proved to be too tough  for the Blackhawks as they rolled over them with a 4 game sweep. The Bruins knocked off the Rangers 4 games to 2 in the next round, before meeting the St. Louis Blues in the Stanley Cup Finals. The Bruins continued to make history as they swept the Blues and took home the Stanley Cup.

The link provided is a newspaper archive from the day after Phil scored three times on his brother Tony:

Thursday, April 18, 2013

April 18, 1950: Sam Jethroe becomes the first African American to play for the Braves

On April 18, 1950, 33 year old outfielder Sam Jethroe became the first African American to play for the Braves organization. Jethroe led a remarkable career in the Negro Leagues before he was signed by Branch Rickey in 1948. After excelling at the minor league level Sam was dealt to the Boston Braves where he got his shot to play and he would make the most of it. In his first game he collected two hits with one of them being a homer. He would go onto bat .273 with 18 home runs and a National League leading 35 stolen bases. Jethroe's performance in the 1950 season would earn him rookie of the year honors and to this day he is the oldest player to win the award. He would put up almost identical numbers in his second year but couldn't repeat the success in the '52 season. Jethroe hit just .232 on the year with 13 homers, one of those homers would be the last grand slam in Boston Braves history as the team shifted to Milwaukee in 1953. Sam was just the sixth African American to get a shot to play in Major League Baseball. While his name is not as well known as Jackie Robinson, he faced many of the same battles that Jackie did, and even though he had just three productive years at the big league level Sam Jethroe was instrumental with helping the wheels of progress move forward.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

April 17, 1997: Brodeur lights the lamp in the playoffs

On April 17, 1997, New Jersey Devils netminder Martin Brodeur became just the second goalie in NHL history to light the lamp in a playoff game. With the Candiens down by 2 late in the game they pulled Jocelyn Thibault hoping for a miracle. It was a miracle that would never happen as the puck ended up on the stick of Brodeur who shot it the length of the ice and straight into the empty net. Brodeur's goal sealed the deal on a 5-2 win for New Jersey. Ron Hextall scored a playoff goal for the Philadelphia Flyers in 1989 making him the first goalie to accomplish the feat in a playoff game.

Here is footage from Brodeur's playoff goal: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QIuBGMohoUE

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

April 16, 1989: Gruber becomes the first Blue Jay to hit for the cycle

On April 16, 1989, Kelly Gruber became the first player in the history of the Toronto Blue Jays to hit for the cycle. Gruber hit a home run in the first inning, doubled in the second, tripled in the seventh before getting the single in his last at bat in the eighth. Gruber went 4 for 6 on the day and collected 6 ribbies on the way to a 15-8 win over the Kansas City Royals. In 2001, Jeff Frye became the second player in franchise history hit for the cycle, he is also the last Blue Jay to do so. The San Diego Padres and the Miami Marlins are still waiting for a player to accomplish the feat in one of their uniforms. The Padres are also the only active team to have never had a pitcher throw a no hitter.  Here is a team by team list of the players that have hit for the cycle:


Monday, April 15, 2013

April 15, 1947: Jackie Robinson makes his debut

On April 15, 1947, with 25,623 Dodgers fan in attendance at Ebbets Field in Brooklyn, Jackie Robinson became the first African American to join the ranks of Major League Baseball. In his first regular season contest Robinson went 0 for 3 but did work the count for a walk which led to a run in the 5-3 Opening Day victory over the visiting Braves. The numbers on the scorecard really did not matter as much as the long lasting impact that Robinson would have sports and society as a whole. Robinson endured and overcame racism on his way to becoming a legend. He averaged .311 over his ten years in the big leagues, won the batting title and the National League MVP in 1949., and became World Series Champion in 1955. Robinson helped open a door that had been closed for more than 60 years and countless great players have been able to walk through that door. One of those players was Bob Gibson. Gibson made his debut with the St. Louis Cardinals 12 years to the day that Robinson first stepped on the field with the Dodgers. The 23 year old Gibson was facing Robinson's former club that had relocated to Los Angeles. Gibson came in relief at the Coliseum in L.A. and gave up a home run to 3rd baseman Jim Baxes. That would give him the distinction of being the first future hall of famer to serve up a long ball to the first batter he faced.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

April 14, 1976: Kingman Goes Boom at Wrigley

On April 14, 1976, with a 20 mile per hour wind at his back Dave Kingman from the New York Mets crushed one of the longest home run in the history of Wrigley Field. It happened in the sixth inning of the contest with the Mets up 3-2 over the Cubbies. Kingman stepped to the plate with a guy on and two outs, after a brief discussion with his manager Cubs reliever Tom Dettore worked the count to 1 ball and 1 strike before he sent a fastball down the pipe and Kingman crushed it. The ball sailed across Waveland avenue and bounced off a building, for many years a red X marked the spot closest to where the ball hit. Some estimated it at 630 however more conservative estimates have it around 530 feet, either way it was a moon shot that nearly went into orbit. While some argue that some other home runs at Wrigley were longer, many believe this to be the longest in the history of the park. Even with Kingman's blast the Mets couldn't hold onto the win as the Cubs took the game by the score of 6-5.

If you would like to check out a great rundown of the history of the long ball at Wrigley check this out:

Saturday, April 13, 2013

April 13, 1989: Tim Kerr scores 4 in the second period of a playoff game

On April 13, 1985, Philadelphia Flyers right winger Tim Kerr set a playoff record when he lit the lamp 4 times in the second period of Game 3 of the Patrick Division Semi-Finals. All 4 goals came in just an 8 minutes and 16 seconds span. The Flyers went onto win the game by the score of 6-5 which swept New York right out of the playoffs. The Flyers momentum carried them all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals where they were knocked out by the Edmonton Oilers. Mario Lemieux was able to match Kerr's playoff record of 4 goals in one period in April of 1989, but no player since Lemieux has been able to repeat the feat.

Here is a short video about his remarkabe performance

Friday, April 12, 2013

April 12, 1958: The St.Louis Hawks Win the Title

On April 12, 1958, the St. Louis Hawks were crowned NBA Champs. Bob Pettit dominated the sixth and final game of the series by knocking down 50 points in the 110-109 victory over the Boston Celtics.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

April 11, 1961: Yastrzemki makes his debut

On April 11, 1961, Carl Yastrzemki made his debut for the Boston Red Sox. The pressure was huge for Yaz as he took over in left field, a position Ted Williams had held since 1939. In his first at bat he singled to left off of A's hurler Ray Herbert. Yastrzemki spent the next 23 years with the Red Sox and collected another 3,418 hits on the way to establishing himself as a legend in Boston. The 18 time all star and former triple crown winner was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1989.

If you would like to read more about Yaz and his great career check out his bio here: http://sabr.org/bioproj/person/a71e9d7f

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

April 10, 1982: The Miracle on Manchester

On April 10, 1982, in a game that would become known as "The Miracle on Manchester" the L.A. Kings stunned Wayne Gretzky and the Edmonton Oilers in the third period by scoring 5 goals after being down 5-0. The game would go to overtime before Daryl Evans completed the biggest comeback in the history of the NHL playoffs by scoring the game winner.  The fans inside The Forum erupted as they had just witnessed the improbable. Combined with upset wins in Games 1 and 5,
the Kings eliminated the heavily favored Oilers in a 3-2 series victory to send them to the second round.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

April 9, 1959: Celtics sweep the Lakers in the NBA Finals

On April 9, 1959, with a 118-113 victory over the Minneapolis Lakers the Boston Celtics completed the first ever sweep in the NBA Finals. It was the first of eight consecutive Championships for the Celtics as they put together one of the most dominant stretches in the history of the sports.

It was the second title for the Celtics in the last three seasons, they had won it in 1957 then made a trip to the Finals in '58, only to be beaten by the St. Louis Hawks. They came back in '59 with a vengeance and marched through the regular season and finished with a league best 52-20 record. The team was unstoppable as they rolled into the postseason. The Lakers on the other hand were led by Elgin Baylor, Baylor was an absolutely great player who averaged 24.9 on the year, the team finished with a 33-39 record which was the second best in the West behind the defending champion St. Louis Hawks. The Hawks posted an almost equally impressive record as the Celtics as they went 49-23, once the playoffs started records were out the window and Minneapolis made a run. After knocking out the Detroit Pistons in the first round the Lakers stunned the basketball community by beating the defending champs in 6 games which sent them to the Finals. After the Syracuse Nationals beat the New York Knicks in the first round they were set to meet the best team in the league. The Nationals didn't go down without a fight as the series went to 7 games before Boston prevailed.

It would be the first time the Celtics and the Lakers would meet in the Finals. The Celtics rolled over the Lakers in dominant fashion with the first sweep in the history of the NBA Finals. The closest the Lakers would come to winning a game was in Game 1, they lost by the score of 118-115, in the next two games they were beat by double digits. Then in the final game they put up a fight before the Celtics won it by 5 and took home the trophy.

This was the first time a losing team made it to the Finals, the only other team to did it in 1981 when the Houston Rockets made it with a 40-42 record. The Rockets much like the Lakers had their run end at the hand of the Celtics, it would take 6 games to decide that series. The 1959 Championship series was the beginning of the rivalry that still stands strong today. They have met head to head in the Finals 12 times. Boston took home the title the first 8 times, it all started with this game in 1959. The Lakers shifted to L.A. following that season and developed into one of the best teams in the west. They still couldn't get passed the Celtics as the team from Boston dominated an entire decade, they won the title every year from '59-'66, after failing to make it passed the second round in 1967 they bounced back to win it in '68 and '69.

The dynasty truly started in 1957 when they won their first title, the team was led by coach Red Auerbach and he put together one of the greatest lineups ever. The 1959 Championship squad alone had 5 future Hall of Famers. The team was a true powerhouse, after the championship in 1969 Bill Russell surprised everyone by retiring, which led to the end of that era. The rivalry would lye dormant for a while before Magic and Bird brought it back in the 80's, they had a rivalry that dated back to college and it would help renew the long standing rivalry between the franchises. The two teams met for the first time in the Finals in 1984, it had been 15 years since the Celtics beat them in 7 games, the same fate was in store for this Lakers squad after being disappointed once again. The Lakers finally beat the Celtics in 1985 then again in 1987. The rivalry took on a different look in more recent years as different stars like Kobe Bryant and Kevin Garnett have come along and while it isn't quite the same as those days the rivalry will always continue the Celtics were able to beat the Lakers in 2008 before the Lakers took it from them in 2010. It was the last times these two teams have met in the Finals, hopefully they have a few more in store.

Monday, April 8, 2013

April 8, 1974: Hammerin Hank Breaks Babe Ruth's Home Run Record

On April 8, 1974, with more than 53,000 in attendance at Fulton County Stadium in Atlanta, Braves outfielder Hank Aaron knocked his 715th home run of career, breaking  Babe Ruth's record of 714 that had stood since 1935. The historic long ball came off of Dodgers starter Al Downing, it was a two run shot that launched over the wall in left field into the Braves bullpen during the fourth inning of the their home opener. As Aaron rounded the bases two fans joined him on the trip, then he was mobbed by his teammates before embracing his family. Aaron had been a model of consistency for close to twenty years which led him to this historic day. The Braves went onto win the game by the score of 7-4.

Aaron broke into the majors in 1954, while the Braves were still in Milwaukee. In his rookie season he showed that he could play with the big boys as he hit .280 and cranked out 13 homers. In his second year in the league he knocked 27 out of the park and brought his average up to .314, this was just the beginning of one of the best stretches of baseball any player had ever seen. His only World Series ring was won in 1957 as he led the team to the World Series after batting .322  in the regular season, he showed up in the Fall Classic and hit .393 with three homers and 7 ribbies.

The year after they won the series he brought his average up to .326, then in 1959 he hit a league leading .355. He continued to hammer the ball and his numbers continued to blow people away. The team moved to Atalanta in 1966, it was the end of an era in Milwaukee, but the beginning of an era in Atlanta. His first two years in Atlanta he led the league in home runs and the fans knew they were getting to watch one of the greatest to ever swing a bat. He hit 315 home runs in Atlanta before he he cracked his historic 715th at the home opener in 1974. He would hit 19 more that season it would be the last season he wore a Braves uniform.

 Aaron was traded to the Milwaukee Brewers right after the '74 season ended, he was headed back to the city where it all started. It was the twilight of his career, he played two seasons with the Brewers then retired as the all time home run leader. He had hit another 40 home runs since that day he surpassed the Babe, which brought his total to 755. In 2007 Barry Bonds surpassed Aaron on the all time home run list, however many people still consider Aaron the true champion since Bonds has been implicated in steroid use. No matter how you lean on that topic the career of Hank Aaron was one of the greatest careers in the history of baseball. He is the only player in the history of the game to hit 30 homers 15 or more times and also holds the all time rbi record and the all time total bases record. Hank was enshrined into Cooperstown in 1982.

Here is a great video about his historic home run: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8S6KPtpGn9E

Sunday, April 7, 2013

April 7, 1979: Ken and Bob Forsch become the only brothers in the history of MLB to both toss a No Hitter

On April 7, 1979, in a 6-0 win, Astros hurler Ken Forsch tossed a no hitter against the Atlanta Braves. Forsch faced just two batters over the minimum on his way to making history. His brother Bob had pitched a no no in the '78 season for the St. Louis Cardinals, which made them the only siblings to both toss a no hitter.

Ken lived in the shadow of his brother a bit, but on this day it was Ken who would shine. After a second inning walk he sat down twenty consecutive batters before walking another batter in the 8th inning. He was absolutely dominant as he completed the sixth no hitter in the history of the Astros franchise. It was something that was well deserved for Bob's older brother, unlike Bob he had bounced between the rotation and the bullpen, while he had limited success in each role he hadn't made a huge name for himself, this game made it so everyone from California to New York knew who he was. He pitched for a number of years following that remarkable performance, he spent time with the Astros and Angels before retiring in 1986.

Bob Forsch threw a second no hitter in 1983, his career was definitely a notch above the career of his older brother. However, what Ken did over the course of his career is to be admired, he was a solid pitcher that would do anything it took to help his team win a ballgame including tossing a no no to start the 1979 season. They were both very accomplished athletes and they will forever be the first set of brothers to both throw a no hitter and to date no two brothers have matched the feat so they might just go down in history as the only brothers to ever do so.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

April 6, 2008: Tkachuk scores his 500th Goal

On April 6, 2008, on the final day of the regular season, Keith Tkachuk of the St. Louis Blues scored the 500th goal of his career. He reached the milestone with a shorthanded empty netter in a 4-1 win over the Columbus Blue Jackets. Tkachuk was the 41st player to reach the mark, and he is one of five American born players that have scored 500 goals. Big Walt would light the lamp 38 more times before he retired in 2010. Tkachuk laughed about his milestone goal because he never thought it would come on a penalty kill with an empty net nonetheless.

Tkachuk's first goal came on March 18, 1992 when he was just a 19 year old kid playing for the Winnipeg Jets. Tkachuck developed into a team leader and regular goal scorer, he was named the captain of the Jets in 1993. His best year in Winnipeg came the in the '95-'96 season it was the last year the team was in the city. He scored 50 goals and had a career high 98 points, before the franchise relocated to Phoenix. In Tkachuk's first season in Phoenix he led the league with 52 goals and had truly developed into one of the best in the game. He continued to light the lamp for the Coyotes for several years before he was traded to the Blues in March of 2001.

Tkachuk made an immediate impact in St. Louis, with the team making a playoff push he scored 6 goals in the last 12 games of the season. The team advanced through the first two rounds of the playoffs before being knocked off in the Western Conference Finals by the Colorado Avalanche, Colorado went onto win The Cup. Tkachuk became a fan favorite in St. Louis over the next few years, in his first full season in the Lou he lit the lamp 38 times. He topped the 30 goal mark three years in a row to start his run with the Blues. After the lockout cancelled the '04-'05 season he came back and had a sub par year but bounced back by scoring 20 goals for the Blues in  the '06-'07 campaign before being moved to the Atlanta Thrashers near the trade deadline. He scored 7 goals for the Thrashers but they weren't able to make any noise in the playoffs. He wasn't out of a Blues uniform very long, the Blues reacquired Tkachuk before the next season began and he was set to finish his career in St. Louis. At that point Tkachuck was 35 years old and his time in the league was coming to an end. Tkachuck scored 27 goals in his return to the Blues, with his 27th being his 500th of his career. After one more solid season his numbers fell off and he called it a career in 2010. While Tkachuk wasn't able to win Lord Stanley's Cup he was a remarkable player that will surely find his way into the Hall of Fame, he will be eligible in 2015.

Friday, April 5, 2013

April 5, 1983: Marcel Dionne Wins The Scoring Title

On April 5, 1980, future Hall of Famer, Marcel Dionne of the Los Angeles Kings edged out a young phenom from the Edmonton Oilers to win the scoring title. Dionne and Gretzky finished the '79-'80 season tied with 137 points apiece, but Dionne had two more goals so he took home the Art Ross Trophy. It was the only time in his career that he would win the scoring title, however Dionne consistently finished near the top in the points category as well as many others. Marcel played 18 seasons in the National Hockey League, in that time he was a goal scoring machine. He lit the lamp 731 times and recorded a grand total of 1,171 points before he retired in 1989. At the time of his retirement Dionne was the third leading scorer of all time, only Gretzky and Howe had scored more points in their careers.

A native of Quebec, Dionne rose through the junior rankings quickly and by 1971 he was drafted 2nd overall by the Detroit Red Wings. Dionne's rookie season was a great one, he scored 77 points, which was a record for a rookie at the time. With speed and the ability to score at a moments notice, Dionne turned into one of the best centers in the league. He finished third in the league in points in the '74-'75 season with 121 and was developing into one of the league's elite players. Unfortunately for the Red Wings organization a contract dispute would lead to a trade to the L.A. Kings in June of 1975. While it was unfortunate for the Red Wings, the Kings would get to watch this kid turn into the franchise's all time leading scorer.

Dionne showed up in L.A. and made an immediate impact as he scored 40 goals in his first season with the team, he followed it up with a 53 goal season. In 1979 he was put on a line with Dave Taylor and Charlie Simmer, it became known as "The Triple Crown" line. Dionne had already made a name for himself but the two guys by his side were far from established. It wouldn't take them long to become superstars right along side of Dionne. The line went onto become one of the best scoring combos in the history of the game. The '80-'81 season was the best as each player topped 100 points on the season. The trio played together until Taylor was traded in October of 1984.

Despite all the regular season success, it didn't translate to the postseason for Dionne and the Kings. After Taylor was traded to Boston Dionne played in L.A. for another full season before being traded to the Rangers at the trade deadline in 1987. The Rangers were headed to the playoffs and he hoped this would be the year he won the Stanley Cup. It just wasn't to be, the Rangers were knocked out in the first round and a championship would continue to elude him. In his only full season in New York, Dionne scored 31 goals but the team wouldn't make the playoffs. He played just 37 games the next season then hung up the skates. Even though he never did win a Cup, he was one of the best players to ever play the game. Dionne is 4th all time with 731 goals and 5th on the all time points list. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1992 and would forever be among the best to ever lace up a pair of skates.

Check out Legends of Hockey Marcel Dionne:

The artwork of Dionne can be found here:

Thursday, April 4, 2013

April 4, 1983: Jim Valvano Coaches N.C. State to a National Championshipship

On April 4, 1983, North Carolina State completed one of the most improbable runs in NCAA history as they beat Houston 54-52 in the National Title game. The Wolfpack cemented their place in history with a dunk by Lorenzo Charles at the buzzer in the title game. The team was led by coach Jim Valvano and he truly made them believe they could achieve anything and achieve they did. With a 17-10 regular season record nobody but Valvano and the guys in that locker room believed they were capable of what could arguably be the greatest run in the history of NCAA Basketball. When Charles slammed the ball through the hoop the The Pit in Albuquerque, New Mexico erupted and Valvano ran on the floor looking for anybody to hug as his team had just won the National Championship. It was truly one of the greatest moments in the history of the tournament as Cinderella put on the glass slipper and it fit great.

It had been a season of  ups and downs for the Wolfpack, with injuries taking away a key player in Dereck Whittenburg for an extended period the team had to rally around each other as they tried to keep winning ballgames. The young men in that locker room included Thurl Bailey, Cozell McQueen, Sidney Lowe, and Lorenzo Charles. All of these kids were capable of doing great things. When Whittenburg was hurt it was a definite blow to the team as they lost three of the next four before things started turning around. The players had a closed door meeting and whatever was said sparked them into winning 8 of their next 10 before stumbling again at the finish line. Whittenburg returned to the lineup with just three games to go in the season. Even with his return the Wolfpack lost 2 games in a row before finishing the season with a huge win over Wake Forest. The team finished with a 17-10 record and coach Valvano let them know the only way they would get into the big dance was by winning the ACC tournament which would be no easy task.

The first team they faced in the ACC tourney was Wake Forest, the Wolfpack beat the Demon Deacons handily in the regular season finale by the score of 130-89, it wouldn't be the case in the first round of the ACC tournament. Wake Forest battled N.C. State down to the wire as the Wolf pack barely escaped with a 71-70 victory. The next game had the Wolfpack facing Michael Jordan's Tar Heels, this game would go into overtime before N.C. State would claim a 91-84 victory. The final game of the tournament had them matched up against Ralph Sampson and Virginia. Sampson was one of the best players in college basketball and the Cavaliers had already beaten the Wolfpack twice, the team knew it was win or go home and they came out and played like champions as they stunned Virginia by the score of 81-78. This was just the beginning of this historic run.

With the ACC title secured N.C. State was in the Big Dance. Valvano told his team from day one that he knew he was going to win a championship, it was his dream and it was a bold statement at the time but he instilled the belief in them they could get it done and this team would make their coach's dream a reality. The first couple of seasons that Valvano coached N.C. State the team didn't live up to expectations, they didn't make the tournament in his first season as head coach then made an appearance the following season but made a first round exit. It was his third year with the Wolfpack when they made history.

The first game N.C. State faced was the squad from Pepperdine University, the Wolfpack lacked focus early and had to dig themselves out of a hole just to force overtime. Pepperdine had a 6 point lead with a less than a minute on the clock. With it looking like N.C State would be making another first round exit the improbable happened, Dane Suttle from Pepperdine missed some key  free throws and the Wolfpack came storming back to force another overtime. Both teams fought hard for the victory but it was N.C. State who came out on top by the score of 69-67. The team had a flare for the dramatic as they kept fans on the edge of their seat and there was more to come.

The next obstacle in front of them was UNLV. Once again N.C. State found themselves shooting from behind the eight ball as they fell behind 52-40 with just a little more than 11 minutes to go in the game, then the tide turned. The team went on a run and with just 37 seconds to go Thurl Bailey nailed a jumper that cut the lead to 70-69. After UNLV wasn't able to convert from the line Bailey hit a fade away jump shot  that gave N.C. State 71-70 victory. It was heart stopper after another as the Wolfpack kept finding a way to win.

The only game they played throughout this run that might be considered easy was the win in the next round as they beat Utah 75-56. With that victory behind them they were set to meet Virginia once again and they knew it would be far from easy to take down Sampson and the Cavaliers, especially after they wanted revenge for losing the ACC Title. It was another classic battle between the two squads that went right down to the wire. In the final seconds of the game Virginia was clinging to a one point lead when Sampson fouled Lorenzo Charles, Charles went to the line and sank both his free throws and the Pack was headed to the Final Four with a 63-62 win over Virginia. What they were doing was beyond anyone's wildest dreams besides their head coach Jim Valvano this was something he had dreamed all along.

Even with N.C. State reaching the Final Four some people thought the run had to be coming to an end. The first thing they had to do was beat the Georgia Bulldogs. They handled the team out of Georgia well as they built an 18 point lead with less than five minutes left in the game. The Bulldogs didn't go down with out a fight as they pulled within 7 but it wouldn't be enough as the Wolfpack held onto a 67-60 victory. The team was headed to the title game and they were set to face the Houston Cougars that featured Hakeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler.

The newspapers almost wrote an obituary for the Wolfpack squad before the title game was even played, there was simply no way that this team could take down the team out of Houston, or so they thought. The team was prepared to take on Houston with a plan to try and control the tempo of the game, it looked like the plan was working well as they had a 33-25 lead at the half. The Cougars came out on fire after halftime as they went on a 17-2 run. Suddenly the lead was gone and Houston was on top 42-35, N.C. State needed something big to happen to keep the dream alive. They got what they needed when several missed free throws and turnovers helped them to even the score at 52 with just 1:59 on the clock. Both teams tried to stall to take it down to the wire, then in the final seconds N.C. State tried desperately to penetrate the zone or just find any one that could nail a clean shot. The ball wound up in the hands of Sidney Lowe before he threw the it wildly to Dereck Whittenburg who put it in the air in hopes of winning the National Title. Everybody that seen the shot knew it didn't have enough distance then Lorenzo Charles plucked it out of the air and slammed it through the hoop. North Carolina State had just won it all, they were National Champions.

It truly might be the greatest story in the history of college basketball. Everything about it sounds like it is made for a movie. I recently watched ESPN's 30 for 30 Survive and Advance that covered this improbable run if you get a chance be sure and watch it, they truly did a great job. Sadly it came after Lorenzo Charles lost his life in a bus accident in 2011. The hero of the title game might have perished but that game winning moment will live forever in the history of sports.

It's stories like this one that makes me love sports. Sometimes it just seems the stars are aligned and there is nothing in the world that can stop a team from winning it all. The job that Jim Valvano did with that team is something that should not only be admired it should be celebrated each and every time the anniversary of this game comes up. He was the perfect guy for that job and he achieved a lifelong dream on that day in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Most of us know the story of Jim Valvano and how he lost his life to cancer at the age of  47.  I'm sure most of us have heard his speech at the ESPY awards before he lost that battle. In that speech he asked for people to give to the Jimmy V. foundation to help fight a battle he was sure to lose it was an effort to help those in the future that might come across the same battle.  What the Jimmy V. foundation does to help cancer research is very important and it will hopefully help people beat the battle that Valvano lost in April of 1993.

I will leave you today with a link to his ESPY speech and a link to his foundation. It really is a good cause and 100% of the money donated goes to cancer research. Valvano may not of won his battle but his fight still continues. http://www.jimmyv.org/

If there was ever a guy that could carry a room it was Jim Valvano. Here is his Espy Speech:

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

April 3, 1945: Liscombe scores 4 goals as the Red Wings advance to The Finals

On April 3, 1945, with a trip to the Stanley Cup Finals on the line, Detroit Red Wings left winger Carl Liscombe scored 4 goals as his team beat the Boston Bruins 5-3 in Game 7 of the semi final round of the playoffs. It was a remarkable performance by Liscombe as he almost single handily punched his team's ticket to the Finals. Unfortunately he wouldn't be able to match his performance in the Finals as the Red Wings fell to the Toronto Maple Leafs in 7 games. His four goals stands as a Red Wings record for most goals by any player in a playoff game.

Liscombe got his start in the NHL during the '37-'38 season, he was described as a smart player who was fast and could handle a stick well. He quickly became an offensive presence in Detroit,  in a game during his rookie campaign he scored a hat trick in just 1 minute and 52 seconds it was a record that stood until Bill Mosienko scored a hat trick in an unbelievable 21 seconds in 1952.

Liscombe developed into a solid player at a rapid rate and by 1943 he was able to hoist the Stanley Cup as Detroit swept Boston in the Finals. Liscombe led his team with 6 goals during that run and he had established himself as a true scorer. The following season would be his best statically as he scored 36 goals and tallied a total of 73 points. The 36 goals was just two shy of the league leader. His next real shot at a Championship came in the '44-'45 season when he had the four goal game that moved his team onto the Stanley Cup Finals. Liscombe and the Red Wings gave everything they could to take home another title but it just wasn't to be and Toronto took the crown. Liscombe played one more season in Detroit following that run at a title, he was then sold to an AHL club where he spent the rest of his playing days. In his 9 years in Detroit, Liscombe scored 137 goals along with 140 assists. He might not have put up Hall of Fame numbers but he was a key player for close to a decade and once upon a time he helped send the Red Wings to The Finals

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

April 2, 1972: Mets Manager Gil Hodges passes away after a sudden heart attack

On April 2, 1972, the manager of the Mets, Gil Hodges had a fatal heart attack while he was returning from a golf outing with his coaches. While he was best known for his long playing career with the Dodgers, he had also made a name for himself a as a manager when he managed the Miracle Mets to a World Championship in 1969. The manager was just two days shy of his 48th birthday. The Mets organization was rocked by the passing of their skipper and they named Yogi Berra manager, Berra remained in that position until 1975. The flag flew at half staff at Shea Stadium on Opening Day as the team wore a black armband for the entire '72 season in memory of their late manager.

Hodges playing career was a solid one. He started out as a 19 year old kid trying to make the Brooklyn squad, his hopes to become a major leaguer were put on hold when he was called into service during World War II. When he returned from war he was 23 years old and had a cup of coffee with the club before becoming an everyday player in Brooklyn. Hodges won the World Series twice while he wore Dodger blue, the first ring came in 1955 in Brooklyn then the second ring came in 1959 just one season after the team shifted to Los Angeles. He played with the Dodgers until he was taken by the Mets in the 1962 expansion draft. He only played in 54 games during the '62 season for the Mets as he was hampered by knee injuries but he did hit the first long ball in the history of the franchise. After just 11 games in 1963 the Mets dealt him to the Washington Senators, in Washington he hung up his cleats and became a full time manager.

He managed the Senators until 1967, while the team showed improvement he wasn't able to guide them to a winning record. Even though his team wasn't able to win on the field his impact on his players was profound and probably none more than a relief pitcher by the name of Ryne Duren. With Duren's career coming to a close he had turned to the bottle and alcoholism had taken over his life. One night Duren decided he just didn't want to live any more and was going to commit suicide by jumping off a bridge, his manger Gil Hodges came and talked him off of that bridge, which not only saved his life it might have just been a turning point for the 36 year old player. Durne went onto live a long life, he not only beat his addictions he turned it into a positive and by educating other men and women about the damage that alcohol can do to their lives. While Hodges' days in Washington didn't produce a winning record he definitely helped Duren win a battle.

In 1968, Hodges was talked into managing the New York Mets. The team had struggled since their early days in the league and Hodges knew that it was going to take some work to get things turned around. In his first year with the club they posted a 73-89 record, it was the best record the team had posted since they began playing ball. The '69 season was one that Mets fans will never forget as Hodges led the team to  World Championship. Hodges had become a master at using each and every player on his bench and guided his team to a 100 win season before they went on a run for the title. Both the Mets and Orioles swept their way through the League Championship Series before they met in the Fall Classic. The Mets capped off the complete turnaround by beating the O's 4 games to 1 to become World Champs. The job Hodges had done was nothing short of remarkable. The club wasn't able to match the success of the '69 season but they did remain competitive for the next couple of seasons. Then tragedy struck.

With the season on the horizon and hopes of another Championship run in mind, Hodges took a handful of coaches to shoot a round of golf in Orlando, Florida. While the group of men were headed back to the hotel, Hodges collapsed and slammed his head on the sidewalk as he fell.  His bullpen coach Joe Pignatano went to assist the manager and immediately knew that Hodges wasn't going to make it, he said that Hodges passed away right in his arms. It was devastating to all those that knew him, Howard Cosell said "Next to my son's death, this is the worst day of my life" I think that says a lot on how people felt about Gil Hodges. Hodges left behind a wife, a son, and three daughters.

The life and career of Hodges is the reason why I chose to use this fact, even though this day marks the anniversary of his passing it also gave me an opportunity to talk about the man and his accomplishments. Those accomplishments include; 8 All Star appearances, 3 Gold Gloves, and 3 World Championships. There is no doubt that his time on earth was shorter than many would have hoped for but in that time he made his indelible mark on the game he played and managed for so many years. The Mets organization retired Hodges #14 in 1973 and while he has not yet to be elected to the Hall of Fame, I believe that time will come.

Monday, April 1, 2013

April 1, 1919: The Spanish Flu Causes the Stanley Cup Finals to be Cancelled

On April 1, 1919, the Stanley Cup Finals were cancelled due to an outbreak of the Spanish flu. The Montreal Canadiens were set to take on the Seattle Metropolitans in game 6 when the flu struck the Canadiens team with a vengeance. Several players had to be hospitalized along with the manager of the Canadiens squad George Kennedy. When Kennedy realized he would not be able to put a full team on the ice he had no choice but to forfeit the Stanley Cup to Seattle. The head coach of the Mets, Pete Muldoon refused to accept the championship under these conditions and no Stanley Cup was awarded that season. It was the one and only time the playoffs were held and a champion was not crowned.

The 1919 series was set to be a best of 5. It was an odd setup with the teams alternating between the PCHA rules and the NHL rules throughout the series. Seattle dominated under the PCHA rules which were set to be used in games one, three, and five. In the first game the Mets beat the Canadiens 7-0. When it shifted back the NHL rules the Candiens were able to even things up with a 4-2 victory. With the rules shifting back to Seattle's advantage they put up another lopsided victory in game 3. In game 4 the teams skated to a 0-0 tie which led the Canadiens to lobby for game 5 to be played under the NHL guidelines. Seattle protested a bit but it was decided they would play under the NHL rules and that any future playoff game would be played until someone scored. Game 5 was the hardest fought battle of the series as Montreal found themselves down 3-0 before storming back and sending it to overtime. Nearly 16 minutes into the extra frame Jack McDonald scored the game winner for the Canadiens and the deciding game was set to take place in Seattle before the flu hit the Canadiens squad like a freight train.

The impact it had on the team was beyond imaginable as Joe Hall, Newsy Lalonde, Billy Coutou, Jack McDonald, Louis Berlinguette, and manager George Kennedy had to be hospitalized or were sent home to bed. While most of them recovered, Joe Hall wasn't so fortunate, just 5 days after the series was cancelled, Hall passed away from pneumonia that had been brought on by this violent strain of the flu. Hall was 37 years old, while he only played in the NHL for two seasons he had played the game for 17 years at the professional level. Most of his teammates were able to come to his funeral. The manager George Kennedy never fully recovered either, a few years after the flu hit his team he passed away at the age of 39.

The Spanish flu killed anywhere from 50 to 100 million people worldwide. It began in January of 1918 and lasted nearly three years, affecting over 500 million worldwide. The worldwide impact really makes what happened with the Stanley Cup a secondary story in a lot of ways. A worldwide flu pandemic is a scary thing to think about and when it comes to the forces of nature no one is immune, not an athlete or even a king. People could only speculate on where the flu originated, when the King of Spain nearly died from being stricken with the deadly strain it led to the nickname Spanish Flu.

The choice by Seattle's management to not claim the championship when Montreal was struck by this horrible illness was the right choice since neither team had truly won the series. There was nothing engraved on the Cup to commemorate either team until 1948 when it was redesigned and both teams were added to the collar.