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Thursday, February 7, 2013

A moment in time: February 7th, 1976.



I write a lot of blogs. That is no secret. One a day for about a year now. For anyone, it would be hard to keep up with them all. And frankly, I am aware that many aren't that good or interesting. As well, because I am so random and diverse many of them simply don't appeal to some because of the subject matter. I write what I like and whatever comes to me on that day, so I accept that as part of the deal.
I know it is hard to read them all, but if you read enough of them you will know that I spent a lot of time at my grandmothers house in Montreal watching TV when I was very young. That is where I was when this memory happened. That is where I was when many of my memories happened as a very young child. My mother used to drop us off each day when we didn't have school because she had issues and could not cope with life. I never minded. Grandma's house was always fun times. Watching TV there was always one of them. She had a much better color TV than we did and she got more channels.
Many times when we recall memories, it is more about where we were, both physically and developmentally in our lives. I am no exception to that and that is how I approach this particular kind of blog.
It is very fair to say that I watched a lot of sports growing up. Baseball was always my first love and game, but hockey was right up there. Growing up in Montreal, watching the Habs was religion. I am sure it was the same for any Toronto boy. Watching The Toronto Maple Leafs was something you did without thinking. For me, the famous announcer was Danny Gallivan, still today considered one of the greatest to ever call hockey. He had presence and a voice that just kept your attention. He made you feel like you were right in the stands at the game. As announcers go he was a true poet and he called the greatest goal and game that I have ever seen, which will be the subject of another blog later in the spring. 


Even today, my friends and I still talk about the "Savardian Spinarama" and  "Robinsonian" type play. His term for a great glove save, in "rapier like fashion" is something so unique to him that nobody has ever copied it.

 


Part of the deal with my grandparents was the religious rules they adhered to. They were extremely strict about observing the Jewish Sabbath. That meant from sunset on Friday night until sundown on Saturday night there was no electricity, no driving, no money, and most importantly to me, No TV! I didn't really think about it then, but I realize it now. But, that is just how it was. So, when Saturday night came along and Hockey Night In Canada was on, we were ready to watch. The sun always went down in hockey season by the time the game started on Saturday nights.
Being Canadian, Hockey Night in Canada is and still to some extent is a big deal. Every Canadian kid, and probably citizen, knows this song.

  
 Even though I grew up in Montreal, Foster Hewitt was the voice of hockey for the CBC and all of Canada. I have provided a link to tell his life story. He was the Vin Scully or Mel Allen of Canada, for those of you who know baseball.

Foster Hewitt, in the early days calling a hockey game on the radio for CBC from the gondola.

http://www.hhof.com/htmlSpotlight/spot_oneononeb196501.shtml

Foster Hewitt was not calling the game I watched that is the subject of this blog. He had long since retired by then. His son, Bill Hewitt was. Foster's last hurrah is the call he is most famous for in 1972. It is today known as "The goal of the century."

 


 After turning television broadcasts over to his son Bill with the start of the 1958-59 season, Foster carried on with radio play-by-play for several more years before retiring to devote full attention to his radio station. But he was convinced to return to broadcast the 1972 Summit Series that pitted Canada versus the Soviet Union. ... Hewitt's description of the winning goal, scored by Paul Henderson in Game 8, has become as legendary as his greeting, "Hello Canada and hockey fans in the United States and Newfoundland!"


Growing up in Canada, you pretty much only got to see one hockey game a week, and that was on Saturday Night. Even when most of us got older and could go out on a Saturday night, to the movies or with girls, we would stay home and watch the hockey game first. Even the greatest players the game has ever seen understand how significant it was.

  
"Saturday night was always Hockey Night."

 -Gordon Lightfoot

"Feel the crowd out there. Do you hear the buzz?"

-Don Cherry

 "Guys like Foster Hewitt, Danny Gallivan, Bob Cole. They were sort of the architects of delivering a message...I remember the first time we were on Hockey Night In Canada. The trainer came in with new laces (for the skates). I asked him why we were getting new laces. He said ' We are on Hockey Night In Canada, we have to look like professionals.'"

-Wayne Gretzky

In Toronto however, there were also the Wednesday night games on CHCH, and Bill Hewitt became known more for calling those games. But the game I am going to feature, which spawned this memory that the blog pertains to happened on a Saturday Night on Hockey Night in Canada. The Montreal Canadiens must not have been playing that night, or for whatever reason I watched the Leaf game, because I remember seeing it in Montreal. Back in those days, you only got to see one or the other, and growing up in Montreal, that always meant the Canadiens game. But not this night. Bill Hewitt called this game. And there was a lot to call
This game is a tale of two players. One who was already a star and famous, and is now infamous, while the other who was never a star nor ever going to be famous or remembered, but is now forever famous because he was in the right place at the wrong time for his career. A career that pretty much ended that night. The night Darryl Sittler (the star) scored 10 points in one game on Dave Reece (not the star) on Hockey Night In Canada,  February 7, 1976, 33 years ago today.


Darryl Sittler was a superstar. A top player in the league for most of his career. His talent had reached its full potential by the time he stepped on the ice that night. But even for him, it was just one of those nights. A night when everything he did worked. He scored 6 goals and 4 assists, for 10 points. The previous record, 8 points in one game, had stood since 1944. After this game, just a few months later, he scored another very significant goal in the 1976 version of Canada Cup, in which the Canadians once again were victorious on a last minute goal. An overtime goal in fact. He went on to be a superstar for another 8 or 9 years and a Hall of Famer. His 10 points in one game has never been broken and might never be. Most teams don't even score 10 goals in one game, let alone one player get a point on every goal.


Dave Reece was not a bad goalie, just one who has been tagged with being on the wrong side of an NHL record. Reece played at the University of Vermont before winding up in Boston. The Bruins assigned Reece to their AHL team where he took on the bulk of the Braves' goaltending workload. 


  Dave Reece's good play in the 1975 preseason earned him the backup role behind Gilles Gilbert and the opening night start against the Montreal Canadiens. The Bruin fans were in an optimistic mood as a banner read " With Reece in the Crease, Scoring Will Cease." Unfortunately, Reece allowed seven goals before a shot in the chest forced his removal from the game. The Canadiens won 9-4. It wasn't the last time he would take a severe beating in net, but the next time would be his last and he wasn't fortunate enough to be pulled. He had to stay in start to finish. Sadly, that was the last NHL game he would ever play. And everybody in the hockey world would get to see it.
Reece put the rough start behind him and proceeded to provide capable support for Gilbert. As the season progressed, Reece' s record steadily improved by going 7-3-1, with a 2.31 goals against average and two shutouts after the opening night loss. While he improved, his time was almost up. As a reward for his service, Bruins coach Don Cherry opted to start Reece on February 7, 1976, before sending the goaltender to the minors. He was destined for the minors because the goalie of the past, Gerry Cheevers was now returning and Gilles Gilbert was number one. Teams did not carry 3 goalies in those days, so he was the odd man out. This was his last chance to show what he could do. 
It was a game on Hockey Night in Canada, a very big deal back in those days when not many games were televised. One last chance for shining glory. Or..a night that would not be so shining for Dave Reece.
Years later Reece would admit that he wasn't at his peak going into the game. Said Reece: " It was beachball city. It just wasn't my night and Darryl was pure magic. The Leafs were going nuts, but I never realized he was doing all the scoring or going for a record. That' s the fun of sports, but sometimes I wonder why I wasn't pulled after five or six goals." 
 


The Boston coach, Don Cherry has explained why he couldn't pull Reece, even though he knows he should have and would have under normal circumstances. 

"I couldn't put Gerry (Cheevers) in because he had just come back from the WHA. I tell ya he didn't even have a practice with us. So I had to keep him for the next night when we played Detroit in Boston. I had to leave poor Dave in the net and the Leafs showed no mercy. It wasn't easy I tell ya to watch Dave get hammered like that. But I had to do it for the good of the team."

-Don Cherry 

Dave Reece returned to the minors two days later. He hung on for another season in professional hockey before hanging up the skates following the 1977 World Championship in Vienna. Reece has since worked in education and as a consultant. The big game for Sittler was a springboard to future success. The bad game for Reece was his last in the NHL.
Darryl Sittler went on to be the greatest player of my generation for the Toronto Maple Leafs and was expected to lead the team back to glory after the glory years of winning stopped in the late 1960's. That never happened. But for one night, all that he did, he could do no wrong. And it all happened, coast to coast on Hockey Night In Canada, and in my grandmothers den, in color, on TV.  
 


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