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The story has been told and retold……and untold…..and told again. One of most famous tales in all of sports history involves baseball’s Babe Ruth “calling the shot!” Legend has it that in his crucial World Series at bat, before the pitcher started his wind-up, he pointed to right field, as much as to say. “That’s where it’s going!”
There have been in depth examinations of the account ad infinitum. There is still no unanimous conclusion. Lou Gehrig, Yankees superstar, contends there is no doubt that he made the telling gesture. A relative of the Chicago Cub’s pitcher of the day, Charlie Root, maintains that if such intentions were clear, the upcoming pitch would have been a “bean ball”, and the Great Bambino would have become a modern-day headless horseman!
Was this timeless tale a phenomenal fact or a fictitious flim flam? Even time, it seems, cannot tell.
But there are a number of instances in NHL history where skaters transformed into seers on ice. They “called their shots”—predicted they were going to pop the disc behind the netminder into the cage — and they did just that!
One of the first prophecies came from the lips of Nels Stewart, who commenced his career with the old Montreal Maroons in 1925. That same campaign Roy Worters first pulled on an NHL sweater with the old Pittsburgh Pirates.
Stewart was a big lumbering skater, who appeared to be lazy on the ice. But that deportment ended at the goal mouth. It was said that he looked so casual that goalies were caught off guard. He would be just standing nearby — then suddenly he would pounce on puck. His shot was quick and accurate with no warning—and, as with sleight of hand he had scored.
It is said that one night, against that same Worters, he skated across the goal mouth and shouted, “you’ll find the puck in the lower, left-hand corner!” And he did! No wonder they nicknamed him “Old Poison”!
Art Daley of the New York Times, who first released the report, which was eventually repeated in the Montreal Gazette, remarked at the time that he recalled only one other puckster whom he had observed aping this magic. That player was Ebbie Goodfelllow of the 1930’s Detroit Red Wings.
Daley wrote: “…one night he skated through the whole team, stopped dead, and ‘picked the spot’!” Apparently the cage cop saw that glance, moved to cover it—but the damage was done!
Bob Gracie scored 13 goals while wearing the Blue & White in his second season with Toronto. But none of those tallies could match the significance of the one he planted in the Montreal cage during the 1932 post season against the Montreal Maroons. In the two-game, total goal series, game one ended in a 1-1 tie. In the second contest regulation time ended with the same knotted score. But up stepped this cocky young sophomore and announced to coach Dick Irvin Sr. that he would notch the tie breaker.
On the next shift he fired one past goalie “Flat” Walsh — but it was called back on an off-side. Brazenly, as he returned to the ice, he skated over to the time keeper, instructing him to write him down for the winning goal. Thirty two second later he made good on his claim.
On a couple of occasions the “called shot” was credited to other than the one who managed the tally. In April of 1949, the Maple Leafs had their eyes set on their third Stanley Cup championship in succession. During the final game of the series (which Toronto won 4 games to 2 over the Red Wings) Detroit News reporter, Fred Huber requested that the Motor City crew score in the first three minutes of the initial frame, so he could submit a photo for the Sunday edition of the paper. He almost missed with his deadline. But at 2:59 of that first period Ted Lindsay slammed the puck passed Turk Broda. The collective opinion of the eventual losers of the match was that “you can’t say we weren’t cooperative!”
Max Bentley is the only one of this select group to have accomplished a double whammy in the prophetic department. In the summer of 1953, with his career seeming to have reached a conclusion with Toronto, he was sold to the New York Rangers. There, for 20 games, he and brother Doug were reunited as teammates.
Another new Broadway Blueshirt that season was Camille (the Eel) Henry. The experienced “Dipsy
Doodle Dandy from Delisle” was a helpful tutor to the skinny rookie.
In his book, Behind the Net” Stan Fischler unfolds the story. “One night in Detroit Max told his slender teammate he was going to score a goal against the Wings. Since the opposition included future Hall of Famers like Howe, Lindsay, Kelly, and Sawchuk, it seemed like a pie-in-the-sky hope. Jokingly, Henry claimed he was going to imitate the slick centre.
But in the second period the visitors had a power play, with Max on deck. He snagged the puck, skated all the way down the ice through that aggregation of superstars, deked Sawchuck and scored. Prediction fulfilled.
As he skated back to the bench, Cammy said, “Don’t forget about me!”
“Don’t worry! You’ll score!” Only about a minute later Max duplicated his multiple slight-of-hands moves, and skated right in on goal. With Ukey down and out, he slipped the disc over to his partner in crime, who recalled, “There’s no way in the world I could miss!”
Just an echo? But it made the same noise!
The previous spring (1953) “Boom Boom” Geoffrion had got in on the foretelling act. The Canadiens were pitted against Chicago in the semi-finals; and before the series got underway, he boldly stated, “I’ll get all the tying goals; let someone else get the winners!”
In game one he countered “Doc” Couture’s opening tally. In the second tilt, he rammed home a shot to make it 3-3, in his team’s 4-3 victory. And in third match he notched the opening goal, offset by Bill Mosienko’s equalizer. Bernie was often guilty of lots of blarney—but not this time.
Two years later it was Gordie Howe’s turn to polish the crystal ball. The Leafs again clashed with Detroit, as they did so often during that decade. In one game, with Detroit leading 4-3, he skated over to the Detroit News photographer and chirped: “Get set! I’ll pop one in!” Two minutes had barely passed when he bulged the twine behind Harry Lumley to salt away the victory.
Chronologically, the next fortune teller, front and centre, was also one who did not register the tally personally. However, he did figure in the play in an impressive way.
Reggie Flemming, known more for his bombastic personality than his scoring prowess, told teammate Bobby Hull five weeks in advance that when the Golden Jet reached that magical 50th goal of the season: “Old Reg will be the one who feeds you the puck!” Most thought this was simply the typical enthusiasm with which he approached every game. But, true to his word, his kept his promise.
It was March 25, 1962, and the Windy City Six were in Madison Square Garden to take on the Rangers in the last game of the regular campaign. At almost the five-minute mark of the opening frame, the stocky forward, in a forechecking mode, forced Al Langlois to hurry his move, intercepted the pass, and slipped it over to Hull, who was open in front of Gump Worsley. A quick backhander floated over the Ranger goalie’s shoulder and into the webbing. History was made! Hull had tied Rocket Richard’s record. It was the Hawk’s only marker in a 4-1 loss; but it stood out like a beacon — the final opportunity for the historic milestone.
Bill Fairbairn would never be tagged as a sniper — but he was a solid goal scorer. In the eight full seasons he skated in the Big Time, he averaged 21 markers. In 1972-73 he potted 30 tallies with the Rangers.
But on December 29, 1974 he illustrated his dependability along this line. Previous to the match against Kansas City, he spoke to his wife on the phone, where she was waiting in the maternity ward for the arrival of the stork. During that call he promised he would score a goal for the two of them. He made good his word and sunk the winning marker at 5:10 of period number one, just moments after the time their new arrival announced his presence on this earth.
Another instance involving a big-league skater calling a shot as a tribute to someone else, took place on January 12, 1980. In Calgary, a nine-year old boy, Cory Gurnsey, had been stabbed on his way home from school by a deranged attacker. Miraculously, after being rushed to hospital, he lived. But his replica of Guy Lafleur’s number 10 Canadien’s sweater was torn and bloodstained and thrown out.
Claude Mouton, the Habs’ Public Relations man heard about the incident and passed the news on to the “Flower”. The swift-footed winger phoned the boy, and promised he would score a goal for him on the next day’s game at the Forum against the Maple Leafs. Sure enough, Lafleur wasted no time and at 4:12 of the first period, he blasted the puck past Paul Harrison.
As far as the general public was concerned it was just another of the sniper’s tallies. But, strangely, he pushed the goalie aside and retrieved the disc. He then skated to the bench and handed it to Mouton for safe keeping.
The next day, every sports page reader understood why the unusual gathering the puck in that manner. Photos featured both Lafleur with the prize, and a shot of a smiling Cory Gurnsey in countless newspapers. Lafleur’s charitable action demonstrated that there is more to goal scoring than the glory of beating an opposition netminder.
Lifting the spirits of those finding themselves in less than positive circumstances has been a common motivation for ‘calling the shots’. Scoring the decisive goal in the King’s 4-2 win over the Leafs on January 5, 1991 gave John Tonelli more satisfaction than any of his previous game winners. Earlier in the day he had made a promise to his seven-year-old cousin R.J. Waddle, who was suffering from leukemia, that he would score a goal for him that evening. It was team owner, Bruce McNall, who suggested he imitate Babe Ruth and ‘pot a goal for him’! It climaxed a very special outing for the boy, who had visited the dressing room in his wheel chair earlier that day.
There must have been magic in the air that month, because less than 30 days later Peter Stasny got into the act as a seer as well. Just previous to the January 30th win over L.A., his brother Anton had phoned him from Switzerland to encourage him as he approached the 400-goal mark in his career. The initial member of the family to make it to the NHL responded with: “I am going to score number 400 tonight; there is no doubt in my mind!” Well, he was right—he did! The milestone tally came at 18:57 of the second period, giving New Jersey a 3-2 lead. It stood up as the winner.
Not every such marker can actually be viewed as it happened. But YouTube makes it possible to watch Owen Nolan’s determined finger-pointing during the 1997 NHL All Star Game. It was one of three that he potted In front of his home-town fans, two of which came eight seconds apart against Martin Brodeur. But he saved the grand finale until the final frame. As he sped toward Dominic Hasek, he clearly gestured that his ensuing shot was going to go in. He might have been chosen star of the game for his dramatics alone.
Bob Corkum will never be voted as one of the top 100 NHL’ers of all time. In 720 games he totalled 97goals. But there are two that earned him marquee points from his daughter, Carley. As he looked forward to the January 29, 1999 tilt with the Coyotes against the Islanders, he promised he would bury one against Tommy Salo as a special birthday present. That night he actually scored twice — once in the first and again in the third to help salvage a tie with the crew from Long Island. He managed only nine for the entire campaign. But that was a big night in the Corkum household!
Probably the most recent scene of this kind took place on November 25, 2017. 13-year old Alex Luey was front and centre at the ACC that night. Recovering from cancer, which necessitated the amputation of part of one of his legs, the Washington Caps fan, whose favourite was “the Great 8”, had the night of his life. Before the match got underway he mingled with the D.C. contingent, and even gave them a “pep talk” of sorts.
He moved to sit on the team bench, to which Ovechkin skated and told him: “I’m going to score for you tonight!” After he made good on his promise, he gestured toward where he knew the boy was sitting, as if to say, “I did like I promised!”
And he went overboard. He pulled off the hat trick in a 4-2 victory. Again, back in the locker room, with Ovie’s arm draped over his shoulder, it is no surprise that the younger Alex chirped: “I’ll never forget this night! Never!”
Abraham Lincoln once said: “The best way to predict the future is to create it!” 15 NHL hockey players proved that is true.
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