Story of the Week
The 1960’s. Here was another decade to be marked by fine individual and team performances in the National Hockey League. But as fine as such performances were, the decade’s big hockey story was to take shape in 1966. The feature story this week is about NHL expansion.
In 1966, the NHL announced that its size would double with the start of the 1967-1968 season. Six franchises were awarded in the next months. They went to St. Louis, Minnesota (the games were played in Bloomington), Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Oakland, and Los Angeles. Each franchise carried a $2 million price tag, with the money to be divided among the six old-line clubs; Montreal, Toronto, New York, Boston, Chicago and Detroit. In return, the veteran teams agreed to supply the new teams with 20 players each.
The distribution was accomplished through a draft of the major teams and their farm club personnel. The old clubs were allowed to protect the cream of their crop by sheltering 14 players, two goaltenders included. Prior to expansion, there were 120 players at the league’s major level. There would now be 240 NHL players.
It was always interesting to me that the NHL determined to align the veteran teams in one division, and the newcomers in a separate division. So, the expansion teams knew that one of them would, in fact, make it to the Stanley Cup playoffs that expansion year, only to be slaughtered by the winner of the veteran division. That really was a stretch of one’s imagination, and it seemed ridiculous to all hockey fans, myself included, to set it up this way, even though the obvious motivation was to add credibility to the new teams. The Stanley Cup finals would, for all intents and purposes, be rather anticlimactic.
St. Louis, as expected, lost to Montreal in the Stanley Cup finals in four straight games. But what was very unexpected was the fact that the Blues played the powerful Frenchmen admirably, losing all four games by just one goal, and two of those games in overtime.
Many more teams have been added to the NHL since that 1967-1968 season. Expansion has become common-place in all of the major sports. But with it all, hockey is the only major sport that is a throw-back to the old days. NHL players play with the same great pride and desire today as they did in yesteryear. As a generalization, they are not the pampered babies found in the other major sports today. Yes, that is merely a generalization.
Last Week’s Trivia
Who are the only brothers to homer in the same World Series game? In the seventh game of the 1964 World Series, Ken and Clete Boyer, third basemen for the Cardinals and the Yankees respectively.
Trivia Question of the Week
What famous father and two sons played for the same pro hockey team----at the same time? What team was it? See next week’s Sports Junkie for the answer.