Major league ice hockey has never pretended to imitate major league baseball—although their seasons virtually overlap at both ends. But last week, as the National Hockey League opened its 38th season, U.S. and Canadian fans sensed that hockey, too, has its New York Yankees. Their names: the Detroit Red Wings, who have won the NHL title six years running. In three of those years the Wings have also won the Stanley Cup postseason play-offs between the four top teams after all six clubs have finished their tedious 70-game grind. This season the Wings are favored to make it seven crowns in a row. Montreal and Toronto are regarded as the only serious contenders. Both hope to throw a jolt into the champs.
As a fiery sidelight to the team race this season, fans hope to see a renewal of the famous scoring duel between two of hockey's greatest right wingers: Detroit's Gordie Howe (242 goals in eight seasons) and Montreal's Maurice (Rocket) Richard (384 goals in 12 years). Before the opener Howe said he considered team play more important than his goals. The Rocket kept mum. That night's results: Detroit edged Toronto 2-1 as Howe missed six scoring chances; Montreal beat Chicago 4-2 with Richard scoring twice.
National Hockey League Preview
GEN. MANG.—JACK ADAMS
Rookie Jim Skinner, 36, is up from the efficient Detroit farm system replacing Coach Tom Ivan, who moved to Chicago as general manager. Skinner inherits a stand-pat club with Kelly, Lindsay, Sawchuk and Howe already established among hockey's greats as individual and team stars. Rookie Skinner's problem: starting with a top team, he will be expected to win.
"Production Line" of Delvecchio centering for Howe and Lindsay probably the best in existence. Returning forwards Skov, Leswiek, Pavelich, Prystai, Reibel are all reliable skaters. Kelly, Woit, Pronovost and Goldham make up rugged defensive corps and Sawchuk is as good as they come in the nets. Peters retired but Bonin and Poile have come up from Edmonton. The Wings, in almost every expert's opinion, figure to repeat.
MAN. DIR.—FRANK SELKE
Dick Irvin, 62-year-old senior NHL coach, goes into his 15th Montreal season with a problem at center and goal, Lach and McNeil having retired. However, Irvin feels he has no worries. "We'll be stronger than last year," he reports. "Everyone at the beginning of the season thinks they're going to finish in first place. If they don't, they should."
A sure bet for one of the three top spots, Montreal's title chances may depend on the goal-tending skill of Plante, a hot replacement for McNeil last year, but now faced with his first 70-game stretch of major opposition. In front of him Harvey is great. Age may slow down Bouchard and Richard, but Beliveau, Moore and Geoffrion should improve. Newcomers are centers Marshall (already injured) and LeClair, right winger Litzenberger.
MAN. DIR.—CONN SMYTHE
Coach King Clancy, 51, did well last season and thinks his club is 20% stronger now and that "we have a helluva chance." King, ex-Leaf star and an NHL referee, is banking on top performances from veterans Smith, Lumley and Thomson, and thinks Capt. Kennedy will have another fine year. Clancy plans to eliminate "cheap penalties" by tossing $25 fines at all chronic offenders.
Only three newcomers can expect to find berths on the new Leaf club. One is Creighton, acquired in a trade for Flaman from Boston. The others are Rookies Cahan and Cullen. Much depends on Vezina Trophy-winning Goalie Lumley, Capt. Kennedy and the hoped-for improvement of Armstrong, Horton, Bailey, Boivin, Bolton and Nesterenko. Clancy, dissenting from popular opinion, says that Montreal, not Detroit, may be toughest.
Lynn Patrick, 42, son of Lester Patrick, the first Ranger coach, is in for trouble if Goalie Henry, a strong backbone in recent years, tires during the long pull. Lynn likely won't get as much out of Schmidt, now in his 16th season, but he says, "This is the most spirited and balanced team I've had in Boston. Fast and aggressive, nobody's going to push us around."
All Bruin hands must come through with a top showing if club is to move up. Loss of Creighton to Toronto and retirement of Peirson will hurt scoring punch unless Mohns, Chevrefils, Mackell and Sandford find the range and stay with it. Defensively Flaman will throw his weight around plenty. Final standings may depend on how well the team, never known for its precision play-making, can do against the play-off-hungry Black Hawks and the arch-rival young Rangers.
Murray (Muzz) Patrick, 39-year-old brother of Lynn, starts his first full season as Ranger coach after his team showed amazing improvement toward end of last year. Says optimistic Muzz, a tough prewar Ranger defenseman, "We've got a good young club which may surprise a lot of gloom merchants who seem to feel sorry for us already."
Only a miracle, it seems, can keep the Rangers off the cellar steps. Top goal-scorer Hergesheimer will nurse a broken leg until December. Lewicki, ex-Leaf, may fit well on line with Mickoski and Raleigh, but "kid" line of Bathgate, Murphy and Rookie Popein is untested. Gone are the Bentleys, Riese, Kullman and Buller. Returning is ex-Captain Stanley to bolster the defense, and Laprade takes over as penalty killer. Goal spot strong: Worsley, with Bower on call.
GEN. MANG.—TOMMY IVAN
Rookie Coach Frank Eddolls, 33, ex-big leaguer with N.Y. and Montreal, guided Buffalo to AHL title last year to earn the Hawks job under new General Manager Tommy Ivan. Replacing Sid Abel, Eddolls' chief problem "is to develop our young fellows fast." Both Ivan and Eddolls think they have the personnel to move into serious play-off contention.
Last year Hawks won only 12 games, scored a measly 133 goals. Revamped team is built around dependable, over-worked Goalie Rollins, but will miss Mosienko (who retired) and Fogolin (temporarily injured). Defense has been strengthened by acquisition of Hollings-worth from Montreal, Martin from Boston. Other newcomers, all experienced, are Sullivan from Hershey, McCormick and Gamble from Montreal, Hassard and Timgren from Toronto.