Hockey's the most photogenic of sports
By Stu Hackel
There's not much coming out of New York on the CBA negotiations -- and perhaps no news is good news (except when it's not). So let's go elsewhere for today's post. On Tuesday, Sports Illustrated rolled out its Top 100 sports photos of all time on SI.com, images that have appeared in the magazine and elsewhere, culled from thousands that the editors considered. It's a fantastic gallery that you should view. Some are iconic and well-known, others not as much, but all are excellent examples of sports photography, if not breathtaking then at least historically momentous.
Of the 100, five were hockey photos. They included Bobby Orr's Stanley Cup-winning goal against the Blues in 1970 at Number 80; the 1980 Miracle on Ice U.S. Olympic team's victorious moment against the Soviet national team at Lake Placid at Number 78 (an SI cover that, as I recall, is one of the few that had no words on it beside the magazine name); Wayne Gretzky waving goodbye to fans after his final game at Madison Square Garden in 1999 at Number 74; and Canadiens goalie Jacques Plante crouching to find the puck in a 1957 game against the Rangers, another SI cover shot, at Number 60. Gretzky scoring his 802nd career goal against the Canucks in 1994, making him the top professional goal scorer of all time, was the highest rated hockey photo at Number 14.
One of the points of a list like this is to spark discussion and debate, and I'll gladly comply.
Personally, I was a bit disappointed that only five hockey photos made the cut. I've always thought hockey is the most photogenic of all sports. The very best sports photography shows athletes fully extending themselves, either physically or emotionally, and hockey's very nature allows for more of that than perhaps any other game. The bright white ice sets off the bold, multi-hued uniforms brilliantly, while older photos that were taken before bright TV lights add a shadowy element that contributes drama. Plus, since hockey is a game of nearly constant motion, freezing moments provides a perspective that's nearly impossible with the naked eye.
As for the rankings, I believe that the Orr goal is the greatest hockey photo ever, historic for numerous reasons (a Cup clincher by the game's top star, capturing the moment of his ascendancy to king of the game at the time of the its first big explosion as a truly national sport in the United States after the NHL's expansion of 1967) and exceptional as an image. It's otherworldly in its appearance with Orr flying Superman-like through the frame. It's black and white, so perhaps that cost it points with the editors, but that never bothered me. In fact, many of my favorite hockey shots are black and white.
I'm not alone among hockey bloggers who are offering an alternate view of this list. Daniel Wagner of The Vancouver Sun's Pass It To Bulis blog objects as well. He calls the entire list "a fantastic collection of brilliant moments caught on film," and is pleased that SI's top hockey photo features the Canucks. Unfortunately, he's not pleased that "it’s certainly not their finest moment." For that, he takes us to an epic series.
"The greatest Canucks photo of all time," he writes, "is undoubtedly the iconic image of Trevor Linden, bloody but unbowed, leaning on Kirk McLean at the conclusion of game 6 of the 1994 Stanley Cup Finals. After already down and injured, Mark Messier hit the Canucks captain, leaving him to crawl to the bench in the final minute of the game.
"Jim Robson’s call of 'He will play! You know he’ll play! He’ll play on crutches! He will play and he’ll play at Madison Square Gardens on Tuesday night!' sums up Linden’s determination in words, but that picture captures Linden’s determination in a single image," Wagner continued. "In 2008, Cliff Ronning revealed that Linden played the last 4 games of that series with cracked ribs and torn rib cartilage and his teammates could hear him screaming from down the hall as painkillers were injected into his ribs. Then Linden would walk into the dressing room like nothing had happened.
"You can see that pain and exhaustion in Linden’s face, but you know he’ll return for game seven, scoring two goals and almost single-handedly willing the Canucks to the Stanley Cup. But that wasn’t good enough for Sports Illustrated, apparently."
It's hard to argue with that. But as long as we're talking about bloody, exhausted players in postgame photos, I don't think the Linden-McLean shot surpasses what I have always considered the second greatest hockey photo ever: The Canadiens' Maurice Richard shaking hands with Bruins goalie Sugar Jim Henry after the semi-conscious Rocket scored the Game 7 winner late in the third period of the 1951 semi-final. Richard had been knocked unconscious earlier in the game and Henry was squinting through the black eye caused by a broken nose. In the words of Rocket's biographer Andy O'Brien, "An immortal photograph was shot as Richard and Henry (by Roger St. John), looking like the two sole survivors of a head-on highway crash, stood shaking hands -- without exchanging a word."
I like the Plante photo that SI selected a great deal. I appreciate how the composition contrasts the pattern of the seated fans with the open randomness of the action on the ice. You can tell a lot from this shot, including how fans used to dress for hockey games in jackets and ties. But there's a better photo of Plante, more historic and to the core of the dangers inherent in the sport, especially in the 1950's. This was taken after the November 1, 1959, game at the Garden when an Andy Bathgate backhander opened Plante's face and he refused to return after being stitched up unless coach Toe Blake allowed him to wear a mask. That changed the game forever.
If you like game action of historic moments, you can't do better than the Dallas Stars' Brett Hull scoring the Stanley Cup-winning goal in 1999 against Dominick Hasek and the Bufffalo Sabres (seen at the top of this post). It's the infamous foot-in-the-crease goal in which Hull's skate was in the blue paint when the puck was not, which should have washed out the tally according to the rule at the time. But the goal stood, despite subsequent protests by the Sabres, which went unheard as the celebration was on and championship hats and shirts were being distributed. This overhead shot of the play clearly shows the infraction -- a rule that vanished not long afterward -- and in Buffalo, they still cry "No goal!"
There was no more colorful player in NHL history than Eddie Shack who, while not a great player, earned the title of "The People's Choice" while playing for the great Maple Leafs teams of the 1960's. He'd get the puck, go off on one of his headlong rushes and no one knew where he'd go, not even Shack himself, hence the battle cry, "Clear the track, here comes Shack!" When Leafs boss Punch Imlach moved on to run the expansion Sabres, Shack was not far behind, nor were his antics, like (click and scroll down) this lassoing of the California Golden Seals' Marshall Johnston in the early '70s.
There are two Gretzky shots in the SI top 100, but neither are my favorite. This one is: it appeared in SI was taken during the 1988 playoffs when he was still an Oiler, rushing the puck over the red line in Calgary. To see it, click here on the May 2, 1988 issue of the magazine in the SI Vault and turn to page 3.
There are dozens of photos that are almost identical to this one to the right. Actually, it's the pose that's iconic, not the photo. Still, they're all classic: Canadiens goalie Ken Dryden in a typically contemplative mood as he watches the action at the other end of the ice.
The Red Wings' Gordie Howe is at or near the top of most lists as the greatest hockey player who ever lived. He may not have been as dynamic as Richard or as prolific as Gretzky, but he could do everything. He was a complete player in every sense of the word. Here's Howe checking Toronto's Gordie Hannigan into the boards during a semifinal series in the Stanley Cup playoffs. That's referee Frank Udvari climbing the chicken wire fencing in Detroit (pre-plexiglass) to avoid getting crushed.
Nothing typifies hockey players more than their lack of pretense, and nothing symbolizes that better than the toothless smile. SI.com's Andy Gray put together this SI.com gallery of hockey's best toothless smiles, from Gordie Howe, Bobby Hull and Stan Mikita, through Bobby Clarke to Alex Ovechkin. They all qualify for my best-of list.
Goal celebration photos can be unmatched when it comes to exultation and the proximity of joyous fans to the action. Bruce Bennett's iconic shot of Bobby Nystrom's Cup-winning leap at Nassau Coliseum in 1980 got it all, and it's the moment that the Islanders dynasty began.
Another terrific goal celebration shot captured Elmer Lach and Rocket Richard in a flying embrace after Lach's OT goal against the Bruins won the 1953 Stanley Cup. Rocket broke his linemate's nose with the leap. Elmer didn't seem to mind.
One of hockey's most famous photos is that of Maple Leafs defenseman Bill Barilko's Stanley Cup winning goal in 1951. All five games of the series went to overtime and this goal gave the Leafs their fourth Cup in five years. One of elements adding to the fame of this Nate Turofski photo was that it was Barilko's last game; he died in a plane crash in the offseason and his body went un-recovered for many years. The Leafs didn't win the Cup again until 1962 and shortly afterward, Barilko's body was found. You can see the photo at the bottom of this page, third image from the left, on the website publicizing Kevin Shea's recent biography of Barilko. Next to it is a rarely seen angle of the same goal.
Here's one that I'd bet not enough people have seen, from the rainy Winter Classic in Pittsburgh on Jan. 1, 2011. We used it on the blog before and it's worth more exposure.
We're going waaaay back for this one. It's Lionel "Big Train" Conacher of the Montreal Maroons in the 1930s, sitting in the dressing room of the Boston Garden after a game, his nose busted up, but managing a smile nonetheless. Conacher may have been the greatest athlete ever produced in Canada, inducted into the Lacrosse Hall of Fame, the Canadian Football Hall of Fame, the Hockey Hall of Fame and the Canadian Sports Hall of Fame, not to mention the Canadian Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame. He also played pro baseball and was a champion boxer. Additionally, he was elected to Parliament and died in 1954 from a heart attack while legging out a triple in a softball game between MPs and the press corps.
Ted Lindsay was no politician (well, apart from trying to start the NHLPA), but he was the Red Wings' captain in the 1950s, and as fierce a competitor as has ever played in the NHL. In this photo, he leaps to screen Jacques Plante of Montreal as Gordie Howe creates more traffic. Doug Harvey and Claude Provost have to do a better job of clearing the crease. In the first round of the 1956 playoffs, before a Wings game in Toronto, Maple Leaf Gardens received a phone call and the voice on the other end said, "Don't worry about Howe and Lindsay tonight. I'm going to shoot them." Lindsay responded by scoring the game-winning goal and afterward he aimed his stick into the crowd and mimicked shooting it like a machine gun.
I can't finish without one of my first hockey hero, Gump Worsley, here stopping Claude Provost on a breakaway (click on the photo and it will enlarge) in a game that took place in 1962 or thereabouts . Taken by John Zimmerman, it's one of the first photographs ever from inside the net and it was a center spread in SI. Don't know how the selectors missed this one.
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