Niagara Gazette


December 8, 2013

SINGER: The recollection of hockey icons


Niagara Gazette — One neophyte Howe clobbered in the mouth (for no apparent reason), making blood flow like an open hydrant, was Phil Esposito; but unlike others, Espo slashed Howe right back, and Gordie later told him that this was his way of trying to “own” guys for the duration of their careers. If a rookie stood up to him, he’d fare better.

And Espo was always his own man, gaining the esteem of Bobby Hull when he broke in with the Hawks; then enrolled by Bruins’ coach Harry Sinden to dump in goal after goal from the slot, working with an incomparable group of dedicated players, en route to two Stanley Cups in Beantown. Espo’s autobiography is fascinating, but its off-ice content will be too salty for young readers!

Which is also true of a more recent offering by Jeremy Roenick (“J. R.”) — one I loved through the Keenan era in Chicago, Iron Mike being the hated and loved coach who made Roenick into both goal-scorer and toughie. I liked it less after that, as Roenick migrated from one team to another and never had another leader like Keenan (who won a Stanley Cup with New York in 1994 and now coaches in Russia).

I was fortunate to watch from a vertiginous seat, as Roenick burst all over the Aud ice circa 1990 against the Sabres. You could already denote something special in this kid of 20 or so, who became an instant star, admired even by basketball’s Charles Barkley. Did he also party? Yes, he and Espo led the league in that department as well, before predictable eras of recovery ensued.

Did all these greats get along well with each other? Not invariably. In J.R.’s case, while he (and Espo) lauded Gretzky’s way of seeing the ice and playing almost like an extra-terrestrial, Roenick did not at all take to the Great One’s coaching near the end of his career in Phoenix.

I guess we should just be glad for the individuality and greatness these people demonstrated as players. It certainly made good raw material for memoirs — but what of Bobby Orr’s just-published autobiography? That one requires an entire piece of its own!

B.B. Singer has taught at several colleges in the area, including Niagara University.

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