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Life in 1963 was quite different than it is in the New Millennium—in many respects.
The latest fad in nightclub fare was called “discotheques”—featuring flashing lights, loud music, and a dance called the “twist”. Virtually every TV programme was rated “G” (“Beverly Hillbillies”, “Bonanza”, & “Father Knows Best”), with only “The Bob Hope Show” possibly causing a rush for ear plugs). 23 “Black and White TV’s cost $440. You could purchase a ticket for a Leaf playoff game at the Gardens (if you could find one) for $2.50. The average salary in Canada was $9,700, with the minimum wage set at $1. per hour. You could buy a bungalow in a small town for $16,000.
A new Dodge set buyers back $2,400.; and gas SERVED at a White Rose or Supertest station was 30 cents per gallon (6.6 cents per litre) A new tire sold for $11.99; Coca Cola cost 27 cents a bottle; and ice cream cones were a dime.
VCR’s were still two years in the future; cassette recorders would be unveiled in 12 months; and PC’s were more than a decade away. And, hold on to your hat—the first Tim Horton’s donut shop would not open for business for one year yet!
As for Canada’s National pastime—well, the changes which have taken place over the last half century in that venue are just about as extreme. Through the courtesy of YouTube or Leaf TV, tapes of NHL contests played in 1963 are available to watch—and compare!
The most obvious difference for the average shinny buff—who had to view hockey action of the tube rather than in the arena—was that games seen shown in black & white. The colour format was to be introduced three years hence at the commencement of the 1966-67 campaign.
Forget about Digital, High Definition, and all the other bells and whistles available today—you got the bare bones presentation—and that was it.
While on that subject in 1963, Bill Hewitt called the action from the gondola, with the scoring of a goal evident to viewer in the same way it was sitting in the stands. If you missed the old boot heel bulging the twine, there was no replay to enable you either see it happen, or to analyze how it play came about. It was during the playoffs in 1965 that a “repeat performance” was available. And you dared not miss that either—because it was only shown once. It was often referred to as the “play back” in those early attempts of re-living the moment.
There is no need for commentary on the modern approach to reviewing of tallies. At least three times—usually from three different angles—the deed is displayed.
Previous to that, large bold white numbers or letters told the tale—like a goal by Mikita, or a penalty to Howie Young. The score was periodically portrayed in the same manner.
As far as “colour commentary” goes, regular spokesmen had ceased to be part of HNIC in Toronto by then. Foster Hewitt had retired from being son Bill’s sidekick two years previously, and guests carried out that duty—often journalists like Jim Coleman—each of whom was strictly forbidden to ad lib more than three times during the course of a period. Brian McFarlane, who came on board in 1965, gradually ignored that order more and more, setting the pace for the verbal barrages which emanate from Bill Houston’s and Joe Bowen’s right-hand-men, for instance. One begins to wonder if the play-by-play commentator is ever going to get a word in edge-ways.
Down at ice level the disparity between 1963 and 2013 is just as noticeable. The most obvious variance was the number of teams in the loop. It was what has commonly been tagged “The Original Six” era. Montreal Canadiens, which was born in 1911 in the NHA fraternity; Toronto Maple Leafs, which joined the NHL as the Arenas, and became the St. Patricks before being re-named; the Boston Bruins, an “expansion” franchise—entering the circuit in 1924-25; the New York Rangers, who came into being two years later; the Chicago Blackhawks and the Detroit Red Wings following suit. Actually the latter club, in the main, had previously skated as the Victoria Cougars. They were later called the Falcons, and finally the switched to their present moniker. The NHL was a tightly-knit brotherhood, which reluctantly submitted to pressure to expand in 1967. To break into these lineups, when only 120 positions were available, was as difficult as robbing Fort Knox.
As far as action was concerned, it was a common practice for defensemen to take face offs in the circles to the left and right of the goalie. Of course, this freed up all three forwards to be in a position to break out of the defensive done, getting the jump on the play. The above-mentioned Brian McFarlane made the comment that, on one occasion, he observed Allan Stanley take Beliveau out illegally, and that move, in the last minute of play the was a key one—the last time the Leafs won the cup.
Another significant alteration involves loose pucks along the boards. In the 1960’s, following a long-standing pattern, if the disc got lodged against the dasher behind a players skates—especially when a number skaters were involved—the whistle was blown and a face off followed. Contrariwise, if you watch a current tilt it is evident that even if the puck were nailed to the wall, scrums for possession continue ad nauseum! It’s all a part of economizing the time necessary to complete a game.
Shifts were considerably longer when Dave Keon, Bernie Geoffrion, and Bobby Orr patrolled the ice lanes. Two minutes without a break was common. Changing on the fly WAS practiced, but more often than not it was a stoppage in play which prompted a line change. And then the mind games began. New sticks were often needed—or a skate lace needed to be tightened—and to be sure, matching the opposition’s lines prompted multiple trips back to the bench for ANOTHER formation.
We are told that today 30 seconds may be all a forward trio will stay on the ice. The reason for the difference is obvious. With “pacing oneself”, a la Doug Harvey, falling into the dinosaur category, being replaced by going all out every moment on the ice players just don’t have enough gas in the tank for it. “Too many men on the ice” penalties have increased considerably because of that. Line matching must be immediate before the puck drops, or “delay of game” calls will be made. Frantic switching after play has begun to fulfill that strategy often follows.
Sweater numbers during the days of the “sexual revolution” were inclined to take on a predictable stance. In a word, they were relatively low. Jean-Guy Morissette, whose major league career spanned all of 36 minutes with the Habs, sported number 31. Frank Mahovolich wore the highest digit—the famous number 27. The lowest-ending sequence of numerals featured the Blackhawks, with Stan Makita displaying the lofty number 21. The most common “high” cipher was eight—13 pucksters chose that one. It was quite normal for the roster, printed in a game programme, to see an ascending increase from one through eighteen with a break. Even during the 20th Century’s sixth decade, the 40-year-old league rule about utilizing numbers one through ninetenn still carried weight.
In the modern game, the ice is dotted with numerals which are reminiscent of a football team’s line-up. Players like Wayne Gretzky (who picked ninety-nine because he couldn’t have nine—the digit of his hero, Gordie Howe); Petr Klima donned number 85—the year he arrived in the NHL; Kurt Meuller chose #88 because it was the year HE came into this world; Alexander Mogilny paid tribute to his defection in ’88 by having that numeral stitched on his jersey. But that afore-mentioned mandate has long gone the way of the horse and buggy.
Bare-headed gladiators were the norm. As near as can be determined only “Red” Kelly, Warren Godrey, Charlie Burns, and “Red” Berenson chose to wear protection for their noggins. The idea of sporting a helmet in those days was equivalent to wearing a sign, “I am a sissy!” Even after tragic death of Bill Masterton—one day after, to be exact, Brian Conacher donned headgear as a Maple Leaf hosting the league All Stars—and was scorned by coach Punch Imlach.
Protecting one’s cranium in the New Millennium is a given. How many would have made this transition on their own will never be known. Previous to the 1979-80 campaign, helmets were made mandatory for players entering the league. With the law coming down from the top, quite a number who had been resisting the trend quietly complied with a rule which didn’t even apply to them. Only Craig MacTavish maintained the helmetless stance until he hung up the blades.
Likewise, goalkeepers were expected to bare their countenances to 100 MPH shots from the likes of Bobby Hull. Jacques Plante’s firm decision never to enter his cage without a mask in 1959, was met with grim resistance by everyone from his bench boss, “Toe” Blake, to the water boy of the Shunk Junction Gearjammers! As well as “Jake the Snake”, Terry Sawchuck and Don Simmons had joined the masked bandits. But Glenn Hall, Johnny Bower, Caesar Maniago, “Gump” Worsley, and Eddie Johnston were not ready for that metamorphosis yet.
No “orders from headquarters” ever went into the books regarding a netminder covering his physog. But common sense, and the increasing popularity of the slap shot gradually spawned more and more adversity toward broken cheek bones, lost teeth, and multi-stitch cuts. Worsley maintained a “no mask” stance until the last six games of his last year; but Andy Brown held out, and retired in 1977, never having protected his face in this manner.
Physical contact is a basic element in the game of ice hockey. Bone-jarring body checks are as old as skates and pucks. In the “good old days” opposition skaters kept a wary eye out for thumpers like Leo Boivin and Bill Ezinicki. But illegal application of this tactic has raised its ugly head from day one.
“Boarding”, which has traditionally been penalized by a two-minute sentence to the sin bin, is an approach which has become popular during various eras—yet waned in others. During World War II it was especially frowned on because teams were so shorthanded, due to many of their players being in the service, they were antsy about healthy competitors getting hurt.
Through videotape windows scrutiny of those 1963 contests is possible. Even a cursory look at play reveals that “boarding”, as outlined the rule book, seldom took place. Opponents were SQUEEZED up against the dashers—but with only enough force to halt their progress. An attempt to slip between a rearguard and the wall meant one would like get his hair mussed—but there was no assault and battery.
Just when and how ramming a player, with significant force into the boards to leave his imprint on the wall, got started, is difficult to determine. Like most infractions which have gradually been viewed with leniency, the pasting of an “enemy” to these immoveable objects, doubtless came about by osmosis.
“Babe” Pratt, commenting on the modern game said: “There was no spearing then (earlier era), and very little cross-checking, and not near as much boarding.”
First cousin to smashing opponents into the boards is hitting from behind. Pratt continued: “Today they stress checking from behind—unheard of when we played. We’d hit a man standing right up, and now players don’t seem to want that kind of check. The only check they want is on the first and fifteenth of the month”.
The “Babe’s” observations certainly applied to 1963. “Unheard of”, is an accurate assessment of this cowardly tactic—which today continues to cause concussions and hospital stays. Gordie Howe called hockey “a man’s game”—but he never would have resorted to ambushing a player from another team in this manner. Even wild men like Howie Young and Eddie Shack would never have resorted to sinking that low.
Slap-shots were rare 50 years ago. “Boom Boom” Geoffrion laid claim to its invention, (with Andy Bathgate arguing he should get credit) although Alex Shibicky was known for its use in the 1940’s, and Armand Mondou utilized it all the time when he patrolled the ice lanes with the Maroons back in the 1920’s. Several coaches were skeptical about its value. Joe Primeau’s evaluation of it in 1951, when Bill Barilko used it frequently, was that it was a fad which would soon disappear into oblivion.
Fred Shero called it “ridiculous”! “Winding up takes time. So the shot’s often blocked or deflected. And who can control it?” Other bench bosses noted how much time it give the goalies to get set for the blast.
A number of leagues curbed the innovation, including the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League. The CAHA also put a damper on it for minor league level shinny.
But, it grew in popularity, with the game’s icons like Bobby Hull, Bobby Orr, and Guy Lafleur aping Geoffrion. Of course in 2013, despite the fact that quite a number of forwards and defensemen see the value of a quick wrister, it is still the order of the day during in NHL arenas.
The curved blade; the composite stick; ads pasted on boards surrounding the ice surface; two referees; loud rock music blasting over P.A. systems; statistics about shot blocking and plus/minus numbers: and safety netting strung across the end seating areas, are other changes which have transpired over the last half century, altering the face of the “fastest game in the world”!
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