SARATOGA SPRINGS… Have you ever had one of those days where you had some time on your hands and a chance to get online and let your keyboard take you on a little journey? Well, today is one of those days. It’s the day after the spectacular National Hockey League Centennial 100th celebration and All Star Game weekend and there are no games tonight. So I just started out by typing in “on this day in hockey history February 1st” and some interesting items came up. I kind of smiled at the first one. It was a mention of  New York Ranger goalie Chuck Rayner in 1947 initiating 3 separate rushes up ice all the way into the opponents (the Montreal Canadiens) end of the rink in an attempt to score. Rayner did not score that night and the Rangers would end up losing 2-1 to the Habs and the league would enact a rule prohibiting goaltenders from carrying the puck up ice and crossing the center ice line with the puck. No mention as to whether or not it is known as the “Rayner Rule”.

Claude Earl “Charlie or Chuck” Rayner, aka “Bonnie Prince Charlie” hailed from Saskatoon and started out playing for the New York Americans until they folded during World War II. He then took a 3 year break for a stint with the Royal Canadian Navy and when he came back signed with the Rangers and was their starter for 6 of the next 7 seasons. Unfortunately the Rangers weren’t that good during most of Rayners stint with them. He usually had losing records every year but in spite of that was still considered to be one of the best goalies of his era. In 1953 he suffered a knee injury and lost his starter job to former Habs, NorthStars and Ranger goalie, the famed Gump Worsley. In 1973 Rayner got the call to The Hall becoming only the 2nd goalie in league history to go into the HHOF with a losing record…

ALSO ON THIS DAY in 1970 would be the final victory for HHOF goalie Terry Sawchuk. It was his 447th win and also his 103rd shutout in the NHL, a league record,  which would stand for 39 years until broken by the NJ Devil net minder Martin Brodeur. Sawchuk was considered as enigmatic player and person as there was in the game, probably due to some undiagnosed and untreated depression. He became alcoholic as well and had a myriad of personal problems as a result. Sawchuk died prematurely at the age of 40 not long after a fight with teammate Ron Stewart over some financial matters. Before he passed Sawchuk took responsibility for the incident and said his injuries from the incident were accidental, unintentional and that Stewart wasn’t to blame.  

Even though Sawchuk’s number of games played per season started to dwindle in the sixties, I got to see him play several games, and even a few in person. This guy had some real game between the pipes and it would have been interesting to see how much better his career could have been had he taken better care of himself and if the physical and mental care that we have now had been available in his era. There are at least a couple of books available about his life and career, and one of them will leave you somewhat saddened with how things unfolded for him in his last few years. There is an arena named after him in his hometown of Winnipeg and to this day he remains as the winningest net minder of all Original Six NHL teams…

54 YEARS AGO ON FEBRUARY 1ST, the legendary Lou Thesz defeated another wrestling legend “Killer” Kowalski in Houston to win the NWA World Title belt. For reasons only pro wrestling aficionados would or could understand, Kowalski was still recognized as the Champion in most of Texas, probably because of a victory over Buddy “Nature Boy” Rogers. Thesz was unique to that business in that he was one of the true heavyweights of the era that was going about unifying all of the various promotions title belts under the NWA banner. If you were to name the top three professional wrestlers in the history of the sport it would be Thesz, Verne Gagne and Harley Race. If you were going to add 3 more you would have to say Rogers, Ric Flair and probably Bruno Sammartino. Hulk Hogan probably is a more recognizable name then any of these gentlemen and has probably been paid more money then all of these guys combined, but he couldn’t tie these guys boots for them, couldn’t wrestle and his TV interviews (known as promo’s) were the worst….

ON THIS DAY IN 2004 the New England Patriots beat the Carolina Panthers to win Super Bowl 38. (if my roman numeral interpretation is correct) The Pats won 32-29 on an Adam Vinatieri field goal with 4 seconds left in the game. This Sunday New England will go after another Super Bowl title when they hook it up with the Atlanta Falcons in Houston. This will be a SB record 9th appearance for the Pats, and they will be going for their 5th Championship. I can recall seeing the original Pats play in the old AFL and they were an exciting team back then and have been throughout most of their history. They have 7 retired numbers amongst their alumni and one of them belongs to a Minnesota native. Steve Nelson played for the Pats from 1974 to 1987. He played college ball at North Dakota State and came there from Anoka High School in the Twin Cities. When I was in HS I got to see him pound on my team for 2 of my HS years. They were an established HS and we were a newer suburban entity, built to accommodate the urban exodus of young families. As I recall, Nelson was a pretty tough hombre….

OVER THE NHL ALL STAR WEEKEND the league announced their compiled list of the top 100 players in league history. Friday night there was a ceremony to introduce and honor them. All I can say is that I found myself fighting back tears frequently as this list had several of my childhood hockey idols on it and to see them honored like this brought back so many memories. What a great game and league. If you saw the event you know what I am talking about. Can you smile and cry at the same time? Yup… PEACE