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Hockey Years

Dave Schulz, Philadelphia Flyers, 1974-75

Dave Schulz, Philadelphia Flyers, 1974-75

I’m trying to remember every morning to turn to the Wall Street Journal’s new sports page so I can see what their daily feature article is about. I remembered today. It’s about hockey fights, how they used to be an essential tool for winning teams, but how in recent years, thanks in part to rule changes, the Detroit Red Wings have achieved success without fighting.

This isn’t exactly news. But what got my attention was the writer’s strange way of describing hockey years. This is a confusing matter, since hockey seasons start in October and run into May or June. To be accurate one must speak of the 2008-2009 season, or the 1974-1975 season. Reed Albergotti wrote, “Fights have always broken out during physical hockey games, but in the 1960s it became a strategy. The Boston Bruins and Philadelphia Flyers used intimidation to win Stanley Cups between 1969 and 1975.” At first I thought he was confused or failed to do his research. After all, neither team won the Stanley Cup in 1969.

I was a close follower of hockey in those years, a Rangers fan from childhood through the 1972-1973, and then a converted Bruins fan over the course of the 1973-1974 season. This is the same time that I also converted from fanatical Knicks fan to Celtics fan. For the four years that I lived in Cambridge as an undergraduate, 1969 to 1973, I remained an ardent New York fan. But in September 1973, I remained in Cambridge, started graduate school, moved from university housing to an apartment, and began to feel like a local resident. I started reading the Boston Globe, started watching local sports coverage on the evening news, and realized that the hated Celtics John Havlicek were interesting guys, as were the equally hated Bruins Bobby Orr and Phil Esposito. In fact, though I chose to deny it for years, Bobby Orr really was the greatest player in hockey history, and my bull-headed devotion to the Rangers got in the way of my appreciating greatness in my midst. This is one of the great regrets of my life. My sports fan life anyway.

The Bruins won the Stanley Cup in 1970, at the end of the 1969-1970 season, and again in 1972. And in 1974, now that I was finally a Bruins fan, I was confident they would win it again. But they didn’t. Something odd happened. The Flyers of Bobby Clarke and Bernie Parent, the Broad Street Bullies, got in the way and beat them. This bordered on the unimaginable, not unlike the Jets’ Super Bowl victory over the Colts a few years earlier. An original-six hockey team had never lost a Stanley Cup final to one of the expansion teams. But it happened. And to show it was no fluke, the Flyers won again in 1975. Okay, so how does one describe that? I would have thought one might say that the Bruins and Flyers won Stanley Cups between 1970 and 1975, not 1969 and 1975. On first reading, I found Albergotti’s wording jarring. But before I ran to my computer to send an email, I realized he might have started with 1969 since that’s when the season started that culminated with the Bruins’ 1970 Stanley Cup. I decided to let it go.

Until I came to this sentence near the end: “The 2007 Ducks … won the Stanley Cup in 2007 with a league-high 71 fights.” Huh? Why aren’t they the 2006-2007 Ducks? And in what other year would the 2007 Ducks have won the Stanley Cup? Yet again one must wonder what happened to copy editing.

Categories: Language, Sports
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