Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Moe Mantha

During most of the 1980s Moe Mantha was a serviceable offensive defenseman, although he was always a notch or two away from achieving elite status.

Mantha, who was Winnipeg's second choice (23rd overall) of the 1980 Entry Draft, didn't really feel comfortable in the NHL until the 1983-84 season when he exploded for 16 goals, 38 assists and 54 points. Despite the great improvement, Mantha was shipped to Pittsburgh at season's end to complete a deal for Randy Carlyle, who was one of the top defensemen in the league at that time.

Mantha enjoyed 3 really good seasons in Pittsburgh. His first year saw him score 11 times and 40 helpers. In 1985-86 he enjoyed his best statistical year, scoring 15 goals and 67 points. A fractured wrist and a thigh injury shortened his 1986-87 season to just 62 games, in which he scored 9 goals and 40 points.

Despite Mantha's contributions, he wasn't the typical offensive defenseman that teams coveted. Paul Coffey was the prototypical scoring rearguard at the time - able to rush the puck from end to end with blazing speed and perfect passes. Mantha was an above average skater and a good puckhandler but was more of a breakout player. He'd pass the puck out of his zone rather than lug it up ice. Mantha was a decent pointman on the powerplay, but was never a true "quarterback." He read plays very well and liked to jump into the slot for scoring chances. On weaker teams he'd be a good PP player, but ideally he was best suited as the second man on the point. Defensively Mantha was only average. Despite his size, he was not a physical player and he lacked intensity on a consistent basis.

When Paul Coffey became entangled in a contract dispute with the Oilers, the Pens became the most interested team in his services. Part way through the 1987-88 season they got their man but at a steep price - Craig Simpson, Dave Hannan, Chris Joseph and Mantha in exchange for Coffey, Dave Hunter and Wayne Van Dorp.

However Mantha never fit in in Edmonton. Perhaps it was the pressure of having to "replace" Coffey, or maybe he just wasn't suited for the Oilers style of play. Mantha was very ineffective in just 25 games with Gretzky and Co., collecting just 6 assists. The Oilers moved him to Minnesota in exchange for veteran speedster Keith Acton before the end of the year.

Mantha was never quite the same from that point on. Maybe it was partly due to having to live with the stigma of being traded for Paul Coffey, although he battled some injuries along the way too. He bounced from Philadelphia to Winnipeg to the 1992 US Olympic Team and briefly back to Philly before ending his playing career in 1993.

Mantha has since turned to coaching in his post playing days.


Thursday, August 22, 2013

Danton Cole

The Winnipeg Jets drafted Danton in 1985 with their 6th choice, 123rd overall. At the time Cole had just graduated high school and was headed to play university hockey, so the Jets knew it would be a while before he would ever crack a professional lineup. Cole played admirably for the Michigan State Spartans for 4 years (1985-89). He scored 69 goals and 163 points in 180 games. He was the team's scoring leader in both his junior and senior years.

Attending university can be either good or bad as far as pursuing NHL opportunities later on. While the player has more time to develop his skills and mature as both a hockey player and a person, you also turn pro relatively late, often at the age of 23 or 24. At that age you don't have a whole lot of time to prove you can play at the NHL level before you get labeled.

Perhaps that is exactly what happened to Danton. After learning the pro game with a solid rookie season in the AHL, Cole played parts of 2 seasons with the Jets. For the most part Cole was used as a 4th line checker despite his background as a goal scorer. Cole became labeled as an expendable winger.

The Jets dumped Cole on the Tampa Bay Lightning in the summer of 1992. It was a good move for Danton as he had the opportunity to play with the expansion franchise. He responded reasonably well, even recording a 20 goal season in 1993-94.

Cole became somewhat of a hockey ping-pong ball after that season. Traded in the next season to New Jersey, he became a spare part there to finish the season. He signed as a free agent with the New york Islanders in 1995 but spent most of his time in the minors before being traded to Chicago, where he also spent of his time in the minors. He only played 10 games for NY, and 2 for Chicago.

The minors became Cole's permanent home after his 2 game sniff in the Windy City. He also spent part of a season in Germany.

A good skater, Cole is a good example of how a scoring prospect doesn't always translate in the NHL. A good scorer in college, he had trouble performing where the pace was quicker, the hits were harder and the play was just better. While he played in excess of 300 games, he was pretty much an expendable 3rd or 4th line winger who benefited from 1990s expansion.


Sunday, January 20, 2013

Ron Loustel

This is Ron Loustel. He played only one game in the NHL, and as a result of that one game he holds an unkind distinction in NHL history.

Loustel made 41 saves in his only NHL game. Unfortunately the Vancouver Canucks took 51 shots that night. Yep. The Canucks defeated the Winnipeg Jets 10-2 on March 27th, 1981.

As a result Loustel, who 20 days earlier had just turned 19, holds the record for the highest goals against average of all time among goalies who played only one full game! That's right - he never played in the NHL again.

Loustel was just a junior fill in from Saskatoon. He returned to the Blades for 2 seasons and played with the Brandon Wheat Kings for another season after that. He would only go on to play two more professional games ever before hanging up the pads for good.


Wednesday, January 02, 2013

Don Spring

At first glance you'd have to think defensive defenseman Don Spring had at least one NHL scoring record - highest scoring player born in Venezuela. His birthplace certainly stands out first and foremost, but Rick Chartraw was also born in the South American country. Chartraw would play significantly more games and that allowed him to pick up more points.

Spring was born in Venezuela because his Canadian father was working there as an engineer. When Don was four years old the family returned to northern Alberta. He was the star athlete - on the ice as well as the volleyball court and swimming pool - in the small town of Edson.

Spring was never on the NHL radar until 1980. He had been playing with the University of Alberta Golden Bears while earning a bachelor of commerce degree. But he left school in 1979 to try out with Father Bauer's Canadian national team. Spring was drawn to the program by Bauer and by the fact that it was an Olympic season.

The steady defender ended up making the Canadian Olympic team that competed at Lake Placid in 1980. He only picked up an assist, but he also picked up the interest of the Winnipeg Jets. The Jets would sign Spring to a free agent contract right after the Olympics.

Spring would play four solid seasons in Winnipeg, scoring just 1 goal and 55 points in a career that lasted 259 NHL games. He would also play a season of professional hockey in Germany before hanging up the blades in 1985.


Friday, November 23, 2012

Teppo Numminen

Despite 20-plus seasons in the NHL and a storied international career somehow Teppo Numminen always remained one of the NHL's best kept secrets.

The underrated defenseman - best known for playing with Winnipeg/Phoenix - was a low-maintenance, high-efficiency defenceman who provided steady hockey night in and night out.

But he never wanted the spotlight.

“I'm just who I am and I just play. That's about it,” said the unassuming Numminen. “It’s tough to evaluate yourself. I just do my job and hopefully do a good job. What keeps me going? Maybe the way I play. I work hard and I keep in shape in the off-season. Not much more than that.”

Teppo Numminen always had hockey in his blood.

His father coached Finland’s Olympic team in 1980 in Lake Placid. Numminen, who as a kid grew up skating with the national team, always said the game when the Americans defeated Finland to clinch the Olympic gold medal as the game that had the biggest impact on his life.

Eight years later, Numminen was playing on the national team for real and was participating in his own Olympics. He was a key part of a team that won a silver medal for Finland’s first Olympic hockey medal in 1988 in Calgary - arguably the greatest moment in Finnish hockey at that point in history.

A member of the Finnish Hockey Hall of Fame, Numminen would go on to play in four Olympics (winning three medals), four IIHF World Championships, and another four Canada Cup/World Cup events.

Numminen was drafted 29th overall by the Winnipeg Jets in 1986.  By the time he retired, in 2009, he had played 1,372 regular-season games in the NHL, more than any other European player.

The square-jawed reliable positional defender who always played against the team's top forwards. He had the skating skills, the strength and the hockey sense to excel as a defensive stalwart. His offensive game was very much underrated. He never put up spectacular numbers but for much of his career he was a fixture on the power play. He was a minute munching stalwart who every coach in the league wished they had on their team.

Numminen seemingly was forced off the ice in 2007 thanks to emergency heart surgery to repair a faulty valve. He finally got doctor's clearance to play hockey in time for the final game of the 2007-08 season. He called that game "the most important game of my life, and I'll never forget it.

In 2013 Teppo Numminen joined his father Kalevi as the first father-son inductee in IIHF Hall of Fame history.


Saturday, October 06, 2012

Pokey Reddick

As a boy Eldon Reddick was dubbed "Slowpoke" by his father. The nickname stuck and evolved into Pokey.

Which is kind of funny because on the ice Pokey was anything but slow. He was an acrobatic goaltender known for his lightning quick reflexes. He, like so many middle of the pack goalies of the 1980s, was spectacular - often spectacularly good, sometimes spectacularly bad.

Reddick was a WHL workhorse goalie with the New Westminster Bruins and Brandon Wheat Kings, but was never drafted by a NHL team. He signed on with the Winnipeg Jets as a free agent. The Jets would get full value for their investment in the untried goalie.

After just one season (29 games played at that) in the minor leagues, Pokey Reddick wrestled away the starting goaltender job  in Winnipeg in 1986-87. He and fellow rookie Daniel Berthiaume ousted incumbent Steve Penney and the two became Manitoba celebrities with their spectacular play. They were dubbed Pokey and the Bandit.

Reddick got the lion's share of the work that season, posting a 21-21-4 record, but he would lose out the starters role to Berthiaume by the playoffs. 

Pokey's surprise debut turned out to be his best taste of NHL action. The following season he was very inconsistent and shuttled back and forth between the minors. When Bob Essensa arrived the next season after that Reddick was moved along. 

Reddick joined the Edmonton Oilers. Though he spent most of his time in the American Hockey League, he did get his name on the Stanley Cup when the Oilers won in 1990. 

Aside from a two game audition with the Florida Panthers, Pokey Reddic was destined for minor league stardom throughout the 1990s. In the early 2000s he extended his career with a move to Europe, playing for the Frankfurt Lions.


Daniel Berthiaume

They will go down together in Winnipeg Jets history as the team's most popular goaltending tandem. Just not necessarily the best duo.

For three years in the late 1980s Eldon "Pokey" Reddick and Daniel "the Bandit" Berthiaume enjoyed a fantastic run. The two were small and slight, but acrobatic and entertaining. 

Berthiaume came out of Monreal and starred in the QMJHL with Drummondville and Chicoutimi. The Jets drafted him in the third round in 1985 and by 1986 he was a full time NHL goaltender. 

Reddick got the edge in terms of games played in the 1986-87 regular season but it was Berthiaume who led the Jets into the second round of the playoffs. That trend continued in 1987-88 when Berthiaume appeared in a career high 56 games, posting a 22-19-7 season. 

Then disaster struck for the Bandit. He showed up for camp out of shape, something the fans and media never forgave him for. They might have had he played well, but he started the season 0-8-0 with a goals against average near 6.00. He was sent to the minor leagues and replaced with a young Bob Essensa. 

Berthiaume tried to return to the Jets in 1989-90. He was 10-11-3 playing behind Essensa (Pokey had moved on to Edmonton for this season.) But by January 1990 he was moved to Minnesota where he played just 5 games.

Berthiaume joined Wayne Gretzky's Los Angeles Kings in 1990-91 and enjoyed a fine first season behind starter Kelly Hrudey. In the back up roll he went 20-11-4. But success was fleeting for the Bandit. He struggled through a 7-10-1 start with the Kings in 1991-92 before being traded to and used minimally by the Boston Bruins. The Bruins actually would trade Berthiaume back to Winnipeg, though he opted to play in Switzerland rather than return to Manitoba. 

Just before Christmas 1992 Berthiaume returned from Europe and signed on as a free agent with the down right awful Ottawa Senators expansion club. While backing up starter Peter Sidorkiewicz Berthiaume went 2-17-1. He would played just one more game with the Senators in the following season, his last in the NHL.

Berthiaume continued to strap on the goalie pads, playing many years in several different minor leagues through to 2005. He even played professional roller hockey in the summer time.

Berthiaume now lives in Virginia and has traded his net for a different kind of net. He owns a fishing charter business. It seems the Bandit has given way to "Captain Bert."


Wednesday, October 03, 2012

Lars Erik Sjoberg

There is a famous photo of Lars-Erik Sjoberg of the Winnipeg Jets carrying the Avco Cup, the championship of the World Hockey Association. The Jets were a power house in the old WHA. Bobby Hull and imported forwards Anders Hedberg and Ulf Nilsson got all the headlines, but the tiny defenseman they called "Shoe" was every bit as integral to the Jets' success. In fact, Sjoberg was the Jets captain for all three WHA championships.

In the 1970s the NHL learned to respect and love European players thanks largely to the success of pioneer defenseman Borje Salming. The WHA was much welcoming of Europeans, particularly at forward. Lars-Erik Sjoberg was a standout defenseman who never garnered the attention of Salming, but was in no way any less of a pioneer.

Sjoberg was just 5'8" and 175lbs, small for a defenseman of any modern era. But he was very heady, relying on great skating and positioning, as well as smart puck movement to create offense. They called him "The Little General" because he was such a key cog to the Jets dynamic offense. And defensively he was very solid, and caught many by surprise with a compact and clean physical game.

Sjoberg was making headlines before coming to North America in 1974. He was named Swedish Player of the Year (1969). In 1973 he helped Sweden capture the silver medal at the World Championships. They followed that up with a bronze in 1974, with Sjoberg named as Best Defenseman and named to World Championship All-Star Team (1974)

Sjoberg joined the Jets in 1974-75. Instantly he put up strong offensive numbers, especially in the assist column. In just 4 full seasons in the WHA (he missed most of the 1978-79 season with a torn Achilles tendon) he scored just 25 goals but 169 assists for 194 points in 295 games. In 1978 he was named as the top defenseman in the WHA that season. While the Hot Line of Hull, Hedberg and Nilsson got all the accolades, it was the nimble and crafty Sjoberg who often heated things up with his brainy game.

A very confident individual, Sjoberg was a great leader, too. In addition to being named as Winnipeg's captain in 1976, he was also named captain of the Swedish national team for the 1976 Canada Cup. Hedberg suggested "Everybody talked about Borje Salming at the '76 Canada Cup, and he was great, but, defensively, Lars-Erik was our best player. You just couldn't beat him because he was such a great skater. He was so quick in the corners and he never made a mistake with the puck. He was our reliable guy back there."

And when Winnipeg joined the National Hockey League in 1979 he became the first non-North American born and raised captain in the NHL history.

How good was Sjoberg? Ulf Nilsson called him "one of the best defensemen of all time." Anders Hedberg called him "simple but brilliant." And it was said that Montreal Canadiens coach Scotty Bowman greatly coveted Sjoberg more than any European player in the WHA.

Sjoberg's NHL story was a short one. He was already 35 years old, and the stripped down Jets had a terrible year, winning just 20 of their 80 games that season. Sjoberg openly talked about how he had no fun that final season, as the lack of winning really wore on him.

Sjoberg retired from the game and became a successful businessman back home in Sweden. He stayed very involved in hockey, serving as a scout for the New York Rangers. In 8 seasons as a scout Sjoberg unearthed the likes of Tomas Sandstrom, Jan Erixon, Kjell Samuelsson, Ulf Dahlen, and Raimo Helminen.

Unfortunately Lars Erik Sjoberg passed away of cancer in 1987. He was just 43 years old.


Sunday, July 29, 2012

Paul Fenton

Paul Fenton was not blessed with NHL size or NHL skills. He had some decent foot speed but not the greatest agility. At 5'11" and 180lbs he couldn't physically contain the opposition. Not a gifted puck handler, he was also easy to knock off the puck. His college coach even suggested that he should get "a real job" outside of hockey.

Fenton however did possess good hockey instincts. And through a work horse like attitude, dogged determination and good vision and anticipation he enjoyed a lengthy NHL career.

Born in Springfield, Massachusetts, Fenton played with Boston University from 1979-1982 but was undrafted. After a huge season in the IHL, Fenton signed as a free agent with Hartford and later the New York Rangers, but spent most of his first 4 seasons as an all star in the American Hockey League.

1987-88 was Fenton's first full NHL season, and he showed a promising scoring touch scoring 20 goals, 8 of which were on the power play. But after a slow start in 1988-89 he was traded to Winnipeg in exchange for Gilles Hamel.

Fenton's best NHL season came in 1989-90 when he scored 32 goals with the Jets. But the following season he was sent to Toronto and later Calgary. By 1991 he was a San Jose Shark netting 11 goals and 4 assists.

In his 411 game career, Paul Fenton scored 183 points - 100 goals and 83 assists. He is one of many examples of a player who is an all star at the AHL level, but a bit of an expendable commodity at the NHL level. He was a strong checker who could pop a few goals now and again.

After he left the ice Fenton became a long time member of the Nashville Predators' front office staff.


Monday, November 21, 2011

Dale Hawerchuk

Dale Hawerchuk was a legendary junior hockey player who went on to even bigger things in the National Hockey League and in international competitions. It is no wonder why he is a deserving member of the Hockey Hall of Fame.

As a junior player, he was named to the QMJHL First All-Star team after the 1980-81 season and was named the Canadian Major Junior Player of the Year. That year he played in all 72 games and scored a ridiculous 81 goals, 102 assists for 183 points! He led Cornwall of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League to consecutive Memorial Cup Championships (1980 and 1981) and won the Stafford Smythe Memorial Trophy as the Memorial Cup Tournament MVP in 1981.

Hawerchuk was the Winnipeg Jets’ first round choice (first overall) in the 1981 Entry Draft. He made an immediate impression with the Jets as he was the first NHL rookie to record 40 goals and 100 points in the same season finishing with 45 goals and 103 points in 1981-82. Following the season, he won the Calder Memorial Trophy as the NHL Rookie of the Year, beating out a great young goalie in Edmonton named Grant Fuhr.

In nine seasons with Winnipeg, Hawerchuk established himself as one of the NHL’s premier forwards. He led the team in scoring in each of his nine years in Winnipeg and broke the 100-point barrier six times. Seven times he scored more than 40 goals. During the 1984-85 season, he established career highs in goals (53) and points (130) while finishing second in the voting for the Hart Memorial Trophy as the NHL’s Most Valuable Player.

Hawerchuk was a joy to watch. He was an excellent though not smooth skater, deceptively fast and blessed with great lateral agility. He had the rare ability to handle the puck and create plays even at top speed. A tremendous one on one player, Hawerchuk learned not to over handle the puck and became a great playmaker as well as a goal scorer, particularly on the power play.

However Hawerchuk and the Jets were never able to find post seasons success. That is largely due to the fact that they were in the same division as the powerhouse Edmonton and Calgary teams. The Jets just didn't have the depth to escape the Smythe division.

While Hawerchuk never tasted NHL post season highs, he did experience some great moments in international hockey. He was a member of the 1982, 1986 and 1989 Team Canada at the World Championships. He represented the NHL All Stars at Rendez Vous 1987 and most importantly was a big part of two Canada Cup championship teams - in 1987 and 1991. Dale's role in 1987 in particular is looked upon as one of the greatest examples of gamesmanship in hockey history. Dale was a high scoring superstar in the NHL, but at this level he graciously accepted a lesser role and became more of a gritty checker. That selflessness played a big role in Canada's victories, and in the maturing of Dale Hawerchuk into a complete hockey player.

As the 1980s wound down, Hawerchuk's offensive contributions were slowing as well. Coming off of his great 1987 Canada Cup performance, Dale scored the second best numbers in his career - 121 points thanks to 44 goals and 77 assists. He dipped down to a still very impressive 96 points in 1988-89, but in 1989-90 Dale had his worst offensive year in his career. 26 goals and 81 points in 79 games sounds like a career year for most players but for Dale those were his worst numbers in Winnipeg. The Jets were concerned that his play was in recession, and after a decade of brilliance, they still had not accomplished anything in the playoffs.

Jets management decided it was time for a change, and prior to the 1990-91 season, Hawerchuk was traded to the Buffalo Sabres in a draft day blockbuster that saw Phil Housley go to Winnipeg. In his first season in Buffalo, he scored 31 goals and 89 points and recorded his 1,000th NHL point during the campaign. He played a strong second line role behind Pat Lafontaine - combining his great playmaking with his gritty defensive game he discovered while in the Canada Cup. However post season success would not happen in Buffalo either, due to untimely Sabres injuries almost every playoff season.Dale would play in 5 seasons in Buffalo. His terrific passing game keyed the Sabres power play from the point for most of his time in New York state. In 5 seasons in Buffalo (including the lockout shortened 1994-95 season) Dale scored 110 goals, 265 assists for 375 points in 323 contests. His intelligent and shifty game made him a fan favourite.

Hawerchuk signed with the St. Louis Blues as a free agent on July 8, 1995. He played in 66 games for the Blues in 1995-96 before being traded to Philadelphia in exchange for Craig MacTavish.

Dale played in his first and only Stanley Cup final in 1997, yet he and his Philadelphia Flyer's came up short against the Red Wings. Dale played admirably in that series, and you couldn't help but route for him even if you weren't a Flyers fan.

Injuries forced Dale Hawerchuk to retire earlier than anyone wanted him to. His high scoring days were behind him but he was still a joy to watch.

Hawerchuk has played in 1,188 NHL games over 16 years with Winnipeg, Buffalo, St. Louis and Philadelphia. He has registered 518 goals and 891 assists, which ranked him at the time of his retirement 21st all-time in goals, and 10th in both assists and points.

Dale was elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2001.


Thomas Steen

Thomas is one of the most underrated Swedish players in NHL history.

He grew up in the small town of Grums in the Värmland region where he learned to play hockey as a little kid. His childhood idol was his cousin and ex-NHL'er Dan Labraaten as well as his older brother Malte Steen who played in the Swedish elite league for many years. They inspired Thomas to become a hockey player.

Thomas played for Grums IK in the Swedish 2nd division until 1976. In his last season there he had 9 points (5+4) in 21 games. He then debuted in the Swedish Elite league as a 16-year old for Leksand. Thomas made such a good impression that he was selected to represent Sweden in the 1977 European Junior Championships. He did very well there as he collected 6 points (3+3) in 7 games and guided Sweden to a Gold medal. Thomas also played in the 1979 and 1980 World Junior Championship tournaments, making the All-Star team in 1979. All in all Thomas played 18 games and collected 18 points (10+8).

Winnipeg Jets liked what they saw and drafted Thomas 103rd overall in 1979. At that time nobody could imagine that this young kid would one day become the franchise All-time leader in seasons (14) , games (950) and assists (553). This quiet, humble and well liked Swede played in the shadow of many of his fellow countrymen but was one of the most useful players around. In 1990-91 the players in the NHL voted for him as the most underrated player in the league.

The season before he came to the NHL he won the "Player of the year" award (1980-81) in Sweden as he led his team Farjestad BK in scoring and to the league title. He also finished second overall in league scoring. That same season Thomas represented Sweden in the 1981 World Championships and Canada Cup.

Thomas played hard every game and never backed down from any confrontations. Former Jets GM John Ferguson only had positive things to say about Thomas.

"Thomas Steen is the toughest and bravest of all the Swedes in the NHL. I've seen Thomas involved in more physical confrontations than most of the Canadian players in the league. He looks like a choirboy, but he can play as tough as anyone in the league."

Rick Bowness who coached Winnipeg said:

"You need players of Steen's caliber to be successful in the NHL. He is our most useful player."

Thomas strength was that he didn't have a real weakness. He played with a great deal of determination, he had great leadership qualities which landed him the captaincy between 1989-91, he was a great passer, a fine two-way player, he had good anticipation and vision, was a fine face-off man, nice stickhandler... and the list goes on...

He wasn't the flashy type of player but he was the heart and soul for the Jets for most of his 14 seasons with the team. No one wore the Jets uniform with more pride and dignity than Thomas Steen.

When it was announced at a press conference that Winnipeg was moving to Phoenix he cried openly.

"I was crushed by the news, he said later on."

During his 14 year NHL career Thomas hit the 80 point plateau twice (84 and 88 points), 70 points once (72), 60 points four times (65, 64, 66 and 67) and 50 points four times (59, 50, 54 and 51). His best effort point wise came in 1988-89 when he collected 27 goals and 61 assists.

Even in Sweden Thomas wasn't a household name. The primary reason was that he left for the NHL when he was only 21. But after his outstanding effort in the 1984 Canada Cup when he led his team to the finals, he got the recognition he deserved even from his folks back home. Thomas had prior to the 1984 Canada Cup only scored two goals in 21 games for the Swedish senior national team. He however exploded in the Canada Cup, as he went on to score a tournament high 7 goals in 8 games, scoring on 46.7 % of his shots.

"It was great to succeed in such a fine and prestigious tournament like the Canada Cup," Thomas said. "It was something of a personal revenge for me since I never had much success previously on the national team."

Thomas played on a line together with Hakan Loob and Kent Nilsson, both playing for Calgary Flames. They clicked together immediately and displayed some great hockey in the tournament.
Kent Nilsson had nothing but praise for his line mate.

"Thomas was incredible. As a center on our line he really worked hard. He was just a phenomenal guy to play with."

Thomas heroics in the Swedish uniform wasn't over. In the 1986 World Championships he was the tournaments leading scorer with 8 goals in 8 games as Sweden won the Silver. Thomas other appearances in the Swedish uniform came in the 1989 World Championships and 1991 Canada Cup.

The only thing Thomas regretted in his career was that his Winnipeg Jets never got past the second round while he was there.

"Personally I had a lot of success in Winnipeg. I only wish that the team could have done better in the playoffs."

On May 6, 1995 Thomas Steen's jersey # 25 was retired. He became only the second Jet after Bobby Hull to receive this honour and he became the first European trained player to have his number retired.

A great honour for the symphatic Swede. "It's a great honour and I'm proud of it," he said.

When Thomas announced that he had played his last game for Winnipeg he was given maybe the finest honour of them all. The children's hospital in Winnipeg got the name "Thomas Steen children's emergency" Thomas had donated large sums of money to the hospital for many years and also had a personal tragedy earlier on when his two month old son passed away.

The Steen family kept a house in Winnipeg as Thomas went on to play another three seasons in Germany for the Frankfurt Lions and Eisbären Berlin. He collected 55 points (23+32) in 117 games before finally hanging em' up in 1998. During that time he also fulfilled a dream to skate along his talented son Alexander Steen during an exhibition game.

As the new millennium approached Thomas was still running his appreciated hockey school in Orsa, Sweden, together with his brother Malte every summer.

The words in the 1995-96 Winnipeg Jets Media Guide sums up Thomas perfectly.

"Steen was a consummate professional who embodied everything good about the Jets organization; loyalty, commitment to excellence, hard work, dedication and pride. He played with enthusiasm and a burning desire to win at all costs. He was an exceptional player who represented the club both on and off the ice with class and distinction."

- Special thanks to Pat Houda


Friday, September 09, 2011

Dan McFall

Danny McFall can thank long time NHLer Jim Lorentz for helping him appear in the NHL too.

McFall, who played 9 games for the Winnipeg Jets over parts of two seasons, was being coached by Lorentz when McFall was discovered by NHL scouts. Lorentz had recently retired but didn't want to leave the Buffalo area, so he turned to coaching the Buffalo Jr. Sabres, of the NYJHL. Now not too many players are ever drafted out of the NYJHL, but under Lorentz's guidance, McFall played impressively enough not only to get scholarship offers to play Division 1 college hockey, but also to be drafted out of high school by the Winnipeg Jets. The Jets selected Dan 148th overall in 1981.

The Jets probably never expected McFall to pan out as far as the NHL was concerned. The fact that he played 9 games was probably more than anyone expected. They drafted him knowing that most 8th round picks never make it. They also knew that he had committed to going to Michigan State for the next 4 years.

McFall had a good collegiate career with the Spartans. In 1984 he was named to the NCAA West's second All American team. By 1985 he was named to the first All American team. In 168 games over 4 years, McFall scored 36 goals and 76 assists. He excelled more as a defensive d-man, though he was too small to excel in that role at the professional level.

Immediately following the completion of the collegiate season in 1985, McFall joined the Jets late in the season where he played in his first two NHL games. 1985-86 saw the Jets send McFall to the minor leagues as they felt he needed time to adjust from the collegiate game to the rougher professional ranks. He did appear in 7 games for the Jets, recording his only NHL point, an assist.
 McFall didn't have a great season in the minors either. He had 2 goals and 12 points in 50 games. He seemed very overwhelmed by the difference of the pro game.

McFall played in just 11 games in the IHL in 1986-87 before called it quits. But McFall did alright for himself. He was just a kid playing hockey in Buffalo who got discovered with a bit of luck. He went on to get a good education at a good school and got paid for 2 years for playing hockey. He even made it to the big show for 9 games.


Craig Endean

Craig Endean was a brilliant scorer in the Western Junior League with the Seattle Breakers/Thunderbirds and Regina Pats. However the smallish winger did little else than score, meaning he wasn't a physical presence nor a great defensive player.

Craig, who started in the WHL at the tender age of 15, played 5 seasons of junior hockey. Playing that many years is unusual, and allowed Craig to be one of the highest scoring players on the WHL career scoring list with 529 points.

After scoring 16 goals as a 15 year old, he scored an impressive 97 points as a 16 year old. By the time he reached age 17, the age many players begin playing juniors, he erupted for 58 goals and 128 points! He turned 18 before the NHL draft, thus making him eligible for NHL selection. But because of his size he slipped 91 selections before the Winnipeg Jets picked him 92nd overall in the 1986 Entry Draft.

Craig spent the 1986-87 season split between Seattle and Regina, and posted a mind boggling 146 points based on 69 goals and 77 assists! Endean was also brought up to the Jets to play his first two NHL games, and even picked up an assist!

However that would be the only two games Endean would ever play in the NHL. He returned to junior hockey as an overage junior, a rare thing for a true NHL prospect. At that point Endean must have realized he faced an uphill battle to make it to the big leagues. He would play one season in the Jets minor league system before he was released. Both the Philadelphia Flyers and Minnesota North Stars would give him a look in the following years training camp, but never signed him. Instead he signed some independent contracts with minor league teams but never made a big splash down there.

Endean retired as a hockey player at the end of the 1992-93 season.


Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Willy Lindstrom

Willy was born and grew up in the small Swedish town of Grums where he played hockey until the late 1960's. After that he went on to play five seasons for Vastra Frolunda in the Swedish elite league. His smooth and effortless skating in combination with his hustling playing style caught the eyes of WHA's Winnipeg Jets in the mid 1970's. Willy always played at full speed in Sweden and had injuries like a broken wrist, smashed cheekbone, broken nose and torn knee ligaments.

Willy was already a veteran of the Swedish national team when he joined Winnipeg for the 1975-76 season. It took him awhile before he was comfortable in his new surrounding. He struggled with his English at first and had to take lessons from a tutor before he could communicate with his Canadian and American teammates. But when he got the hang of it he became one of the teams greatest practical jokers.

It took him awhile to adapt to the more physical North American style as well. But after about 50 games under his belt he started to dish out checks on his own and played a more aggressive hockey. His style was that he skated with his legs far apart which made him tough to knock off the puck. He had a decent rookie season in the WHA scoring 59 points in 81 games.

His sophmore season was excellent as he scored 80 points, including 44 goals. During that 1976-77 season Willy played a total of 124 games,which included pre-season games, Canada Cup games as well as regular season and playoff games for Winnipeg. Writers and broadcasters voted him as the best player on the West team in the 1977 WHA All-Star game.

Willy then had two more solid seasons in the WHA scoring 60 and 62 points. His biggest contributions came in the AVCO Cup playoffs where he helped Winnipeg win three titles. He for example led all goal scorers in the 1979 playoffs (10 goals) and scored the last Jets goal in the WHA.

He also had Winnipeg's first ever hat trick in the NHL where continued to put up descent numbers for Winnipeg. He had two 20+ goals seasons and one 30+ goal season and had just reached the 20 goal plateau in his 4th NHL season (1982-83) when he was told that he had been traded to Edmonton.

"I got the news on the airport when we were heading home from a game in Vancouver." Willy said. "John Ferguson (the Jets GM) came to me and said that I had just been traded to Edmonton. First I thought he was joking, but I soon understood that he was serious. I was both shocked and sad at the same time. Me and my wife had a lot of friends in Winnipeg and we even had plans to settle there for good. Of course I was disappointed to leave Winnipeg because I had played there for such a long time and I really enjoyed the place and the team."

But coming to Edmonton proved to be the best thing that could have happened to Willy. Edmonton made the finals in each of his three seasons with the team, winning two Stanley Cups. Willy had a defensive role on the Oilers team that was stacked with offensive fire power. He mostly played on the third and fourth lines. But in the playoffs Willy's savvy and experience proved to be very valuable. When Edmonton won their second Stanley Cup in 1985 Willy scored three goals in the final series, only Gretzky scored more goals in the finals.

"It was a wonderful feeling to win. The first time was the best, but from a personal standpoint I scored more important goals when we won the Cup the second time. I scored three important goals in the finals and when we won the second game against Philadelphia I scored the most important goal of my entire hockey career" Willy said.

After that playoff Willy was picked up by the Pittsburgh Penguins in the 1985 waiver draft. In Pittsburgh he got to play together with a young superstar in Mario Lemieux. After two seasons in Pittsburgh Willy decided to return back to Sweden in 1987. At that time he was 36 years old but went on to play another three seasons, finishing his career in Brynas 1990. Thanks to his fine skating he was able to play until he was 39.

Willy was no star in the NHL, but he was a very decent and honest player who accomplished more than most players could ever dream of. He represented his country in the World championships and Canada Cup.

He's one of very few players to win both the AVCO Cup and Stanley Cup. He also had the honour to play alongside two of the greatest players in Gretzky and Lemieux. All in all Willy had an exciting hockey career for over two decades.


Sunday, July 24, 2011

Paul MacLean

Paul MacLean and his big bushy moustache was Dale Hawerchuk's regular right winger for most of his time with the Winnipeg Jets.

Big Mac was a very underrated player in his day, with much of his success immediately credited to his superstar center. The dirty work on that line (often with Brian Mullen on LW) often ended up on MacLean's plate. He was  a solid defensive player and, thanks to his size and balance, an above average grinder. It was often MacLean's job to retrieve pucks from the heavy traffic areas in the corners and the slot. He was a handful for defensemen to handle, but because he was generally such a clean player he rarely garnered the notice other lesser players have received.

MacLean had good anticipation skills and surprising speed for such a big man. Offensively he relied on his terrific wrist shot, which feature a very quick release. He was far from one dimensional though, as he had good vision and, with soft passes, he utilized his linemates well.

MacLean was a rare NHL player born in France - Grostenquin, France to be specific. But he was a Canadian kid through and through - an Air Force brat who spent far more time in Cold Lake, Alberta and Chatham, New Brunswick where his father was regularly stationed.

The St. Louis Blues drafted MacLean 109th overall in the 1978 NHL draft after a solid junior career in Brockville, Ontario and Hull, Quebec. While with Hull he was almost traded to the Quebec Remparts in exchange for Kevin Lowe. Hull nixed the deal after MacLean scored 5 goals in a single game.

Despite the promise MacLean exhibited, he was not one to follow the usual route to the NHL. Instead of signing professionally and earning his stripes while riding the buses in the minor leagues, MacLean enrolled at Dalhousie University to pursue his education. A season later he joined the Canadian national team and made the 1980 Olympic squad. Canada failed to medal at the 1980 Lake Placid games.

After the Olympics MacLean finally turned pro. He had a real solid freshman year with the Blues farm team in Salt Lake City, and even earned a 1 game call up to the NHL.

Despite the promise shown that season, little did MacLean know his future did not lie in St. Louis. He was part of a package of players including goalie Ed Staniowski and defenseman Bryan Maxwell shipped to Winnipeg for a big young defenseman named Scott Campbell.

Campbell never really found his way in the NHL, but MacLean sure did. Over the next 9 seasons he was a regular 35 goal scorer. In three seasons he topped the 40 goal mark. Only once in that time span did he fail to reach 30 goals. That injury plagued year he still registered 27 red lights.

All told, Paul MacLean scored 324 goals, 349 assists for 673 points in 719 career games. He became a long time coach following his playing days, finally landing a NHL head bench job in Ottawa in 2011.

If I were to compare Paul MacLean to any other player in NHL history it would have to be Dave Taylor, the long time LA Kings right winger. Both were really solid, physical wingers who played in the shadows of superstar centers (Hawerchuk in Winnipeg and Marcel Dionne in Los Angeles.)


Friday, June 24, 2011

Winnipeg Jets Greatest Players


Other Notable Players 


Saturday, April 02, 2011

Laurie Boschman

Following an amazing final season of junior hockey with the Brandon Wheat Kings (he scored 66 goals and 149 points as well as 215 penalty minutes playing along side Brian Propp and Ray Allison),  center Laurie Boschman was drafted 9th overall in the 1979 NHL Entry Draft by the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Now Boschman never really emerged as the offensive leader the Leafs had hope he would. A sophomore jinx coupled with a bad bout of mononucleosis doomed him, at least in the eyes of cantankerous Leafs owner Harold Ballard. Ballard publicly question Boschman's toughness due to his religious nature. He had recently became a born-again Christian, thanks in part to former Leaf Ron Ellis.

Boschman started a third season in Toronto but was hobbled by both Ballard and a bad stomach ulcer.  He requested a trade, and by the trade deadline he was moved to the Edmonton Oilers for Walt Poddubny. 

Boschman was a bit player with the increasingly mighty Oilers of the early 1980s. By the trade deadline in 1983 he was moved to Smythe Division rival Winnipeg.

Boschaman would be best remembered as a Jet. He would thrive playing behind Dale Hawerchuk. After scoring just 48 points in his first 4 NHL seasons he erupted for 74 points in his first season with the Jets. More amazingly, he accumulated 234 penalty minutes that season, too.

There must be something in the Manitoba air as Boschman enjoyed his best seasons, both in junior and as a pro in the Canadian province.  A poor man's Bobby Clarke, "Bosch" would be a dependable 70 point man for his first three seasons, while settling into an agitating third line checking role through the rest of the decade. 

In 1990 Boschman joined the New Jersey Devils for 2 seasons. His final season came in 1992-93 where he served as the first captain in the reincarnated Ottawa Senators history.  The Sens had a forgettable year (10-70-4, 24pts) but Boschman would be remembered for his great work ethic. 

All told, Laurie Boschman played in 1009 career NHL games (and another 57 in the playoffs), scoring 229 goals and 348 assists for 557 points. He also spent 2257 minutes in the penalty box. 

Boschman played one season in Britain after leaving the NHL. He soon returned to Ottawa as his adopted home. He  has been very active with Hockey Ministries International in retirement. 


Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Jimmy Mann

When NHLers retire, the last thing most of them do is play more organized hockey than ever before. But that's exactly what Jimmy Mann does.

Mann, a first round pick of the Winnipeg Jets in 1979, organizes the Oldtimers' Hockey Challenge. This group of former NHLers travel all across Canada taking on local beer league teams, and rarely lose. In a recent stretch the team traveled from Fort St. John to Medicine Hat to Kitimat in less than 72 hours! Then they headed to Newfoundland with only one week's rest.

Mann suspects he's played in over 1000 old timer games, mostly in Canada as well as the US and Russia. In addition to playing Mann arranges for travel and hotel accommodations, as well as media and publicity events. Proceeds from each game go to a local charity.

Some of the regulars on the tour include Guy Lafleur, Marcel Dionne, Tiger Williams, Lanny McDonald and Bobby Hull. Due to family and business commitments, most players play some but not all games. Mann not only organizes the games, but participates in almost all of them.

"I really enjoy this," says Mann, who was born in Montreal. "I'm raising money for a good cause, I get to give a little back to society and its good to see guys like Guy Lafleur and Marcel Dionne play."

"I really enjoy playing smaller rinks - there's less ice to cover and for a 40 year old, that's perfect!" jokes Mann.

Mann's Oldtimers like to joke around on the ice too. In one Harlem Globetrotter-like moment, two of the oldtimers will act like they are upset at each other, and start squirting each other with water bottles. Then one will go into the bench and come out with a bucket of water, and chase the other around the rink. He'll finally catch up to his enemy just as they go by the local team's bench and of course misses his teammate, and instead soaks the unlucky local saps.

Mann of course was a big, scrappy right winger for parts of 10 NHL seasons with the Winnipeg Jets, Quebec Nordiques and Pittsburgh Penguins. He quickly earned his reputation as a ruffian, earning a league leading 287 PIM in his rookie season of 1979-80. He was actually a goal scorer in junior hockey but once he got the NHL he was quickly labeled as a goon. Injuries hampered Mann throughout his career, as did the erosion of his puck skills due to lack of use in such areas. He was big, slow and a poor puckhandler. In 293 games he only scored 10 goals and 30 points.

While Mann enjoyed his 10 years in the NHL, he still loves to play hockey. If the Oldtimers Hockey Challenge ever comes to your town, be sure to check it out. Also check out their website at


Monday, March 28, 2011

Keith Tkachuk

Keith Tkachuk is a bit of a funny case for me. Despite his status as an elite power forward who, in his hey day, was scoring 50 goals and accumulating 200 penalty minutes in a season, not unlike a Cam Neely, I never really warmed to him. I'm not sure why. I was always left wanting more.

Tkachuk was arguably the best power left wing of his era, an era that also included John LeClair and Brendan Shanahan. He had soft hands for scoring goals with his strong wrist shot and quick release. He was a hulk of a fan made more physically dangerous thanks to his powerful and well-balance skating. He could drive right by most defensemen. The others he would simply try to plow right over.

Perhaps the reason I did not like him as much as I probably should was his penchant for taking bad penalties. He was mean and volatile, which is often great with such hockey beasts. But he had a reputation for keeping his stick high and for throwing retaliatory punches once the safety of the scrum had arrived. That, and he had little post-season success and was seemingly always in a contract squabble.

All that being said, let's take a look at his final resume:

  • 1201games played in 18 NHL seasons
  • 538 goals, 525 assists, 1063 points, 2219 penalty minutes
  • Led NHL in goals 1997
  • Only NHL player to lead league in goals while accumulating 200 PIMs
  • 2 times post-season 2nd all-star - 1995, 1998
  • 4 time Olympian - silver medal in 2002
Is that enough to get him into the Hockey Hall of Fame?

Traditionally, the answer is yes. 500 goals, 1000 points, 1200 games are all strong numbers. He was an elite player in his era, as suggested by his all star status and Olympic inclusion.

But somehow I still don't think of him a Hall of Famer - not like Neely, or Shanahan or even Leclair. Neely was a controversial induction, Leclair still waits while Shanny is eligible for the first time in 2011. Is Tkachuk as good as him, or is a level south, on par with the likes of Adam Graves or Gary Roberts? Excellent players, but not Hall of Famers.

I rank Tkachuk somewhere in between based on regular season numbers. His playoff numbers are brutal though - just 28 goals in 89 post season games, and a career -15. Yeah, Tkachuk never played on a great team. But only once did his team make it to the third round of the playoffs. That year - 2001-02 - Tkachuk scored just 2 goals in 15 games.

Keith Tkachuk is a tough player to judge in history's eyes. It will be interesting to see what the consensus will be. 


Sunday, March 20, 2011

Danny Geoffrion

Hockey has always been a family game, with a number of great father/sons and brother combinations in National Hockey League history - Henri Richard, Brett Hull, Mark Howe and Doug Bentley are all examples of NHL superstars who had even bigger named family members play in the league.

But bloodlines do not mean you are going to be a good NHLer. In fact, often the name association can prove to put too many unrealistic expectations on a young player - like Keith or Brent Gretzky, Vic Howe, or Alain Lemieux. Another good example would be Danny Geoffrion, the 8th overall selection of the Montreal Canadiens in the 1978 Amateur draft.

If there was ever a player who should be great based solely on his bloodlines, it would have to be Danny. He was of course the son of the legendary Bernie "Boom Boom" Geoffrion. And that made his grandfather the great Howie Morenz, as Boom Boom married the daughter of the first NHL superstar.

Needless to say the pressure of playing in Montreal is bad enough, but for a rookie with connection to two of the greatest players in franchise history, it proved to be too much. Though he was a goal scorer in junior, he failed to score a goal in 32 games in 1979-80. He picked up 6 assists as he battled confidence and pressure problems.

Prior to the 1980-81 season the Habs waived their rights for Geoffrion, who was then picked up by the Quebec Nordiques. Geoffrion previously spent 1 year with the Nordiques back in their WHA days, but was unnoticeable with 12 goals in 77 games. The Nords however traded him two days later to Winnipeg.

The Jets were an awful team in 1980-81, perhaps the worst of all time. But Geoffrion at least got a chance to play and redeem himself. He did okay, scoring 20 goals and 46 points in 78 games. But as the Jets acquired better players over the coming years, Geoffrion was soon dispatched to the minors, only playing 1 more NHL game after 1980-81.


Friday, March 11, 2011

Doug Smail

The key to being a good hockey player is being able to skate. If you can skate really well you can last a long time. Few could skate better than Doug Smail

Smail was phenomenally quick, probably the quickest skater during the 1980s. He was a very intelligent skater as well, as he often would skate at less than full board in order to throw off his check. This unpredictability led to a lengthy career as a penalty killer and defensive left winger.

Smail joined the Winnipeg Jets as a free agent in 1980 after playing three seasons with the University of North Dakota where he was quite the athlete. In his final season of college hockey he scored 43 goals in 40 games while leading his team to the NCAA Championship. Smail was named as the NCAA Championship tournament's MVP.

The Moose Jaw native played in parts of 11 seasons with the Jets. He didn't possess the puck skills to match his foot skills to be much of an offensive contributor, but he did set a career high 31 goals and 66 points in 1984-85. He reached the 20 goal plateau 3 other times while with the Jets, including the 1989-90 season when he represented the Jets as their player in the NHL All Star Game.

Smail was traded to Minnesota in exchange for a prospect named Don Barber early in the 1990-91 season. By the summer he was traded to Quebec and he spent one final NHL season with the expansion Ottawa Senators in 1992-93.

Smail finished his career by playing in Britain.


Thursday, March 10, 2011

Doug Soetaert

When the New York Rangers used a high draft pick to claim Doug Soetaert, they had hoped he would be their long term solution to their goaltending puzzle. The selected him in the 2nd round of the 1975 entry draft (30th overall), ahead of such distinguished names as Mike O'Connell, Willi Plett, Paul Holmgren and fellow goaltender Don Edwards.

You certainly couldn't blame the Rangers for thinking like that. Soetaert had a brilliant junior career with his hometown Edmonton Oil Kings, and even represented Canada at the World Junior Championships.

However the man they dubbed "Soapy" never got much of a chance to play in New York. He played seasons with the Rangers, only one of which was anything close to a full season, and every one of those seasons he saw time in the minor leagues. His first two years he only played 52 games, some of those weren't even full games as he filled in on relief appearances as he was a backup goalie for the most part. He constantly had to battle the likes of John Davidson, Lindsay Middlebrook, and Wayne Thomas for playing time. None of them were bonafide NHL starters, so the job was always there for the taking, although Soapy never seemed to be given a full chance.

It wasn't until the 1980-81 season that Doug finally got a real chance to play for the Rangers. That season he posted a respectable 16-16-7 record in 39 games. However the Rangers  weren't impressed enough, and dealt Doug to Winnipeg for a draft pick.

The Jets, who were really struggling in the early 1980s, were happy to acquire Doug. The Jets general manager at the time was John Ferguson, the former boss in New York. He knew Doug well and felt Doug was capable of doing the job.

"(The Rangers) considered Soetaert surplus. I knew he could play," said Ferguson.

Fergie was right, as Doug played the lion's share of the Jets games over the next three season, posting a better than .500 winning percentage even if his goals against average was very high. In those three season Doug's record was 50-48-21, which was a dramatic improvement from the Jets first two season in the NHL without Soetaert. They went 29-106-15 as they struggled to find a goaltender in those days.

While Soetaert did an admirable job, no one was calling him a bonafide NHL starter in an ideal situation. With Brian Hayward emerging in the prairie province, the Jets moved Doug to the Montreal Canadiens for prospect Mark Holden.

Soetaert enjoyed his best days in Montreal, even though he didn't play much. He was relegated to a back up role and leader, as he helped to guide two of the hottest young goalies in the league in the mid-1980s. First, in 1984-85, it was Steve Penney who was on fire. He quickly fizzled out, but the following season Doug backed up a rookie by the name of Patrick Roy. While Doug didn't get to play a lot, he was part of a Stanley Cup championship team in 1986.

Ironically enough, the Canadiens acquired Soetaert's replacement in Winnipeg to replace him once again in Montreal. Brian Hayward was brought into backup Patrick Roy, and Soetaert was allowed to sign as a free agent anywhere he wanted. He chose to go back to where his career all began - the New York Rangers.

Not much had changed in New York as far as Doug's playing time was concerned. He played in just 13 games as the Rangers carried three netminders - John Vanbiesbrouck, Bob Froese and Soetaert.
That proved to be Doug's last season as an active goalie. He retired with an all time record of a respectable 110-104-42 record and 6 career shutouts.

Doug has been involved in team management at the minor league level since retirement, and will likely return to the NHL soon in a front office position there.


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