Montreal Canadiens coach Toe Blake held his season-ending, pre-playoff press conference and laid out his plans for the playoffs for the Montreal press corps. One of the tidbits Blake revealed was that he plans to alter the routine the team followed in last year’s playoffs.
For the past couple of seasons, the Canadiens have stayed out of Montreal at a Laurentian retreat, practising on a small rink at that location. This year, the boys will again spend most of their days and nights at the same retreat, but will practice every morning at the Forum. They will be available for the press for a short time after each practice.
Blake feels that this will allow the players to be completely free of publicity requests while at the resort.
Blake was asked about goaltender Charlie Hodge playing without his customary face mask during the Saturday game against Boston. The questioner had asked if Blake had requested Hodge to remove the facial protection.
“Charlie and I talked it over before the game and we both thought ‘could there be a difference?’ We decided it would be a good time to try it without the mask. When a goalie has been wearing one so long, he gets to feel lost without it.”
The Bruins seemed to have their way with the maskless Hodge during a 6-2 shellacking of the Canadiens, so it would appear Hodge wasn’t completely comfortable going without face protection.
Blake is well-known for his opposition when then-Montreal netminder Jacques Plante first donned the mask for a game in New York in November of 1959.
Blake is upbeat about his team’s chances against defending Stanley Cup champion Toronto in the semi-final series.
“It took them seven games to knock us off last year, and while they’re a tough club, the boys and myself are pretty optimistic. Don’t forget our young fellows have a year’s experience under their belts and that could just make the difference.”
Blake feels that captain Jean Beliveau is playing great hockey right now and will be a key component to any success that Montreal may enjoy.
“He got off to a bad start in the season, had a leg injury, and then found himself in the second half and finished real strong.”
Blake singled out two other players whose second-half performances were noteworthy.
“That Ralph (Backstrom) was really something the last half of the year. He finally found himself and what a difference. Jean-Guy Talbot was another.”
Favoured Wings relax at races
The Detroit Red Wings, still basking in the glow of their surprising first-place finish in the National Hockey League standings, were given a very light workload by coach Sid Abel as the team prepares for their semi-final series against the Chicago Black Hawks.
Abel had a few players participate in a light skate, but said he was taking the team to Toledo to enjoy some horse racing.
“If my guys aren’t in shape after 70 games, they’ll never be in shape. I’m taking them to Toledo and the races this afternoon.
“The yannigans will work every day, but this is the last workout for the regulars. They’ll take it easy in Toledo between games, conserving their energy.
“We’ll try the races again Friday. The system worked pretty well last spring when we came within a goal post of beating the Maple Leafs for the Stanley Cup. This year we should go all the way.”
The Red Wings are fairly healthy going into the playoffs. The only questionable starter is defenceman Doug Barkley, who is listed as doubtful for Thursday’s opening game.
Abel said, “We have to figure that Barkley is on the doubtful list until he gives his leg a real whirl on the ice prior to the playoff opener. Groin injuries are hard to figure.
“If we decide it’s too big a gamble, we’ll bring Warren Godfrey in from Pittsburgh to take his place on defence. Warren played very well when we had him up to help out late in the season.”
Abel doesn’t feel that the loss of the Vezina Trophy in the last game will damage goalie Roger Crozier’s confidence.
“He doesn’t cook under pressure. He’ll bounce back with a big game like he did after the Leafs shellacked him by 10 goals early in the season. He has the confidence and the determination to match his ability.”
Hull key to Hawks’ chances
The Chicago Black Hawks, still stinging from a late-season collapse that saw them once again miss out on a first-place NHL finish, are preparing for their semi-final series with the Detroit Red Wings with question marks surrounding their superstar Bobby Hull and a couple of other key players.
Hull, who for the first half of the season looked like he was going to completely re-write the NHL record book, has been bothered by wonky knees as the season wound down. To say he is at less than full speed right now is an understatement. He did not play the final two games of the season. The Hawks need him to perform if they are to have any chance at getting past Detroit.
Two other players, captain Pierre Pilote, the likely Norris Trophy winner, and right-winger Eric Nesterenko, are nursing injuries. Pilote has sore ribs while Nesterenko is still feeling the effects of a stubborn groin injury.
Pilote suffered his rib injury last Tuesday and did not play the final game on Sunday night. Nesterenko did not play the final six games of the schedule.
Hawks’ coach Billy Reay claims to have no idea if any of his injured workers will be able to suit up on Thursday.
‘”Hull hasn’t been on skates since he was re-injured and Nesterenko has skated only once since his injury. We just don’t know what either of them can do.
“Right now we only have one line set – Mikita, Wharram and Mohns. The others will depend on how our injuries are. We don’t have any standby help so if Pilote can’t play, we’ll go with four defencemen.”
Reay won’t reveal whether Glenn Hall or Denis DeJordy will be the starting goaltender until game time. One thing for sure is that both will be dressed and on the bench, according to the new NHL requirement.
Wings sweep Associated Press awards
The Associated Press has named its NHL award winners and it was a clean sweep for the first-place Detroit Red Wings.
Norm Ullman, who led the NHL with 42 goals, was named player of the year. He finished second in the NHL scoring race to Chicago’s Stan Mikita. Ten of his 42 goals were game-winners for the Wings.
Sid Abel was named coach of the year. Abel lead a team that was not highly regarded to a surprising first-place finish.
Diminutive Roger Crozier, was named goalkeeper of the year. Just 23, Crozier narrowly missed winning the Vezina Trophy, losing it in the last game of the season to the Toronto duo of Johnny Bower and Terry Sawchuk. He led the NHL in shutouts with six.
Crozier was acquired by Detroit from Chicago in June of 1963 along with defenceman Ron Ingram in exchange for defenceman Howie Young.