I’ve referenced at several points through this odyssey that I’ve been spending my free time watching an inordinate number of classic hockey games via YouTube. Whatever I can find or whatever seems interesting in that moment, that’s what I’ll go to.
This is where I let it be known that I have spent a lot of time in the 1970s and ’80s, when the boards were off-white and the red line was in play, when helmets were sparse and most masks were of the fiberglass, halloween variety. And even if the pace is a bit slower because of the rules and the conditioning regiments of the time, the game is still largely the same — both teams are trying to get odd-man rushes, both trying to hit a goalie’s weak points, both trying to outdo the other in terms of skill or strength, whatever’s on hand.
To take us into the weekend after more than a month of quarantine, I thought I’d pass along some games that caught my attention. These aren’t necessarily the five greatest games ever, but they were definitely entertaining. And what more can one ask for at a time like this?
Dec. 27, 1976: Soviet Union vs. New England Whalers
This features a young Gordie Roberts and his older brother Doug, as the Whalers host the Soviet Union as part of their tour through the WHA that season. Vladislav Tretiak is at his peak here, playing a modern style that’s so quick and just looks so different from every other goalie in North America at that time. Factor in some high production value by HBO sports and mid-game interviews with Soviet officials, and it’s a fascinating piece of hockey history.
April 13, 1982: Quebec Nordiques vs. Montreal Canadiens
A classic Battle of Quebec matchup in the Forum, which featured the Adams Division rivals meeting up in a do-or-die Game 5. Montreal has to make do without Steve Shutt, while Quebec is down Peter Stastny, but that doesn’t do anything to hamper the intensity or skill level on this night.
Jan. 24, 1974: Chicago Black Hawks vs. Boston Bruins.
It’s always fun to use the old, two-word “Black Hawks” spelling. This is a cool one, with a number of Bobby Orr streaks across the ice, beginning from behind his own goal and crashing into Chicago’s net on the other. Once there, Tony Esposito was in top form, doing everything he could to frustrate a high-octane offense.
Oct. 23, 1977: Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Cleveland Barons
It’s only a 30-minute segment, but it’s prime footage of the Barons playing on their home rink, while the Penguins are looking sharp in their original blue sweaters. The previously featured Gilles Meloche was in net for Cleveland, while Dunc Wilson (from Toronto, Ont.) dons a rebel flag mask in Penguins blue for Pittsburgh in the other. Additionally, there are a number of interesting low angles, which had to be rather cutting edge for a 1970s hockey broadcast.
April 11, 1990: Boston Bruins vs. Hartford Whalers
This was game 4 in a series that sparked a Boston rally, eventually winning the series in seven games. This also clears up a mystery that had always bothered me: why is Gary Galley wearing the captain’s “C” on the hockey card above? The answer was that this was the point in the series that Ray Bourque missed due to injury, and Mike Milbury elected to have Galley serve as captain in his absence. Two years later, Dave Poulin filled in by donning the captaincy for the end of their series with Montreal and the beginning of the next round with Pittsburgh.
There’s so much more to be found, and I obviously have my biases towards northeastern matchups. If old hockey is is your thing you could do much worse than these five games to start.