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Fischler Report: Homestretch Tension Mounts in the NHL

This week on the Fischler Report, Stan Fischler looks at John Hynes' recent outburst, remembers the life of Emile Francis, how Trevor Zegras is changing how goalies play the game and more.
John Hynes

Among coaches I've known, John Hynes rates at the top of my list of cool, calm, collected bench bosses in the NHL today.

Watching Hynes closely as a Devils mentor, I originally was impressed with the manner in which he navigated his club through heavy shoals. Ditto, during his currently successful run in Nashville with David Poile's outfit.

Which is why I was downright surprised to learn that Jovial John was slapped with a $25,000 fine for "inappropriate behavior" after a loss last week.

Now, if The Naughty Boy had been Emmy-seeking John Tortorella, I could understand the outburst. Or, even Baron Brucie Boudreau. But why Pal John?

My easy, two-word answer, defines my own question: THAT'S HOCKEY.

Hynes temporarily got trapped in the most intense, high-speed, no-questions-asked team game in the world. It happens on the Peewee level and it happens with the pros. A game is lost, the coach disagrees with the refs. Ergo: EXPLOSION!

It happens because every game for a playoff contender like Nashville is life and death. Ask Rod Brind'Amour, who not long ago drifted across the border into Inappropriate Valley and wound up with a lightened wallet.

There shall be no lectures here. Just a note to remind one and all that the NHL treats its officiating profession with the highest standards. It starts with two eyes and eventually winds up in the highest of high tech in an attempt to get things right.

John Hynes, Rod Brind'Amour and the Brotherhood Of Get It Right Coaches know it as well. But I wonder if they knew what it was like for the Zebra Herd in the old days? Tough, tough and tougher; that's what.

I once asked Hall of Fame ref Bill Chadwick -- believe it or not he only had one good eye -- how tough were the ref-baiters when he wore the stripes?

"If a coach or a manager didn't like my calls after the first period or the second -- and especially after the game -- they'd think nothing of invading my room at the arena and give me you-know-what.

"Which is not to say I didn't give it right back, 'cause I did. But my point is that our room had an open door -- no lock -- and it was invaded all the time. Finally, the league put a lock on our door and all they could do was bang on it!"

In all my years on the beat, I only saw one team official -- in this case, a GM -- actually invade the zebras' inner sanctum; and don't ask me who it was and how he got away with it, but he did.

By far the most creative, three-dimensional complaint I've ever seen was perpetrated by Devils coach Robbie Ftorek during the 1999-2000 season. I happened to see it first hand since I was covering the Devils-Red Wings encounter that night in Detroit.

New Jersey's Jay Pandolfo was heavily checked into the end boards; laid out in a pool of blood that would require 82 stitches in his head and forehead..

Not only was there no penalty on the play, but the Red Wings counterattack led to a Detroit goal. Ftorek did a good imitation of Mount Vesuvius but that hardly was enough. He then lifted the old, oaken bench and with a great show of strength, tossed the lumber yard onto the ice.

Ftorek's Oscar-winning effort won him a one-game suspension. Lou Lamoriello later did a "lift" job as well. He lifted Robbie right out of his job and put Larry Robinson in his place. All Larry did months later was win another Stanley Cup for Lou!

Now Johnny Hynes would like to lift one Cup For David, 'cause that's hockey!

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THE CAT REMEMBERED:

You will, by now, have read many tributes and eulogies about Emile (The Cat) Francis; all well-deserved. Few knew The Pride of North Battleford, Saskatchewan better than Glen Sather who played for Cat on the Rangers and then managed against him.

"Emile," said Sather, "was one of the true characters of our game." And that he was -- inimitable, vivacious, dauntless, passionate and as downhome Canadian as one can get.

Few knew of Francis longer than The Maven. Not as a Chicago or New York goalie nor as a GM in the NHL.

I had the good fortune to have seen The Cat stop pucks as a teenager at Madison Square Garden during the World War II years with the Philadelphia Falcons and Washington Lions.

His coach-manager was Redvers (Red) McKenzie -- as "Old School" as they got -- who shaped his career.

"When our train pulled into Penn Station," Cat once told me, "Red had us pile into the Eighth Avenue Subway and take it two stops to The Garden. And we had to carry all our own bags. Me with my goalie pads as well.

"If you didn't shape up with Red, he left a reminder on our dressing room wall: 'TRAINS LEAVING EVERY HOUR FOR CANADA.' And I got the message."

Francis honed his managerial game to sharpness during the summer, running Western Canadian baseball teams against some of the best barnstorming outfits from Latin America and the Negro National League. Among Cat's players were the Bentley Brothers, Max and Doug, who also were Emile's teammates on the Black Hawks.

Imagine this Little Guy between the four-by-six-foot pipes daring the likes of Hall of Famers such as Sid Abel, Syl Apps and Toe Blake to beat him. Always, however. bear in mind that neither Chicago nor New York iced a formidable defense in front of Francis. Imagine what it was like from The Cat's crease to view Maurice (The Rocket) Richard busting through defense for a shot at the spunky, little chap in the crease.

Francis: "I once remember Rocket breaking over the blue with -- not one but -- two of my defenseman on his back -- and he still beat me."

After a goaltending career that led him to such hockey towns as Cleveland -- best of the minor league clubs -- and all points west to the Pacific,. he retired to coach the Rangers Junior team in Guelph, Ontario where he groomed Rod Gilbert and Jean Ratelle for future stardom in New York.

Eventually, Rangers g.m. Muzz Patrick promoted him to be Muzz's aide de camp and after Patrick disappointed management, Cat got the gig and with a blend of street smart savvy and indefatigable work ethic returned the Rangers to respectability. For that feat alone he deserved the Lester Patrick Trophy and induction into the Hockey Hall of Fame.

However, The Cat's clubs never won The Stanley Cup although they reached the 1972 Final Round against the Bruins, bowing in six. Rod Gilbert once lamented to me that the problem was that Francis never had enough tough guys to neutralize The Big Bad Bruins.

I say that Cat's biggest problem was that he didn't have Bobby Orr!

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HOW TREVOR ZEGRAS' MICHIGAN GOAL WILL ALTER GOALIE STYLES:

No question, Anaheim's amazing Trevor Zegras is responsible for a revolution in shooting styles. His "Lacrosse" drives are catching on around the league.

What remains to be seen is how goaltenders will react to future lacrosse drives. Author George Grimm (We Did Everything But Win and Guardians Of The Goal) asked the question of ex-Rangers netminder Steve Baker, still a keen student of the save business.

"If lacrosse shots become adopted by more players, goalies will have to make adjustments to their style," said Baker.

(By the way, in case you haven't heard, Baker is Chief Revenue Officer and Chief Hockey Officer of the soon-to-launch 3ICE Hockey League.)

"Goalie adjustments are not a bad thing. The fans love to see the scoring and the skill. Instead of being on their knees looking over their shoulder, behind the net, now they'll have to be standing up, hugging that post and that, in turn, will open up different opportunities in front of the net.

"And the more you see it the more players will try to develop that skill. It takes a lot of practice before trying it in a game. If it creates more scoring and forces the goaltenders to make some adjustments in their play, that's a good thing. It's going to force goalies to do something different. Get creative!"

I'M JUST SAYIN':

* A writer in Detroit compares high picks Lucas Raymond with Alexei Lafreniere. Sorry, no comparison. Raymond is a star, the Ranger is aspiring.

* Two words to describe the Blueshirts ascent. hard work.

* Two more words: Gerard Gallant -- possibly coach of the year.

* Alex Ovechkin before Alex was born would be Rocket Rchard.

* Sidney Crosby before Sid was born would be Gordie Howe

* Congrats to the Canadian Lady Olympians. The U.S.- Canada Women's game was a classic.

* After the Ducks quacked their way to a 7-4 decision over Vancouver on Saturday night, my conclusion is that Travis Green wasn't the problem after all.

* Now that Woody has awakened the Oilers, I muse about an all-Alberta playoff. (Calgary in six.)

* The International Ice Hockey Federation is "hopeful" that the NHL will return to the 2026 Winter Olympics. Infinitely more realistic, the NHL is looking forward to the real excitement; the Trade Deadline and the upcoming homestretch.

* Terrific Washington Post piece by Dana Hedgpeth focuses on original Ranger -- 1928 Cup-winner -- Taffy Abel. It's about the first Native American in the Winter Olympics and how he hid his identity.

* Abel skated for the U.S. hockey team in 1924, never telling anyone he was a Chippewa.

* Brad Marchand doesn't get it. He still just doesn't get it!

* Vincent Lecavalier is the latest smart Habs hire with one but attached; Vinny can't play goal.

* That said, I like Jeff Gorton as the man in real command of the Habs.

* Now the denizens of Bell Centre must be Patient with a capital P.,

* Hard To Believe Department: One of the last, surviving goalie tandems from just two years ago happens to be The Koskinen-Smith duet in Edmonton. Draw your own conclusions.

* The mere idea of Marc-Andre Fleury returning to Vegas as a Knight instantly reminds me of a song: "Love Is Lovelier The Second Time Around." (So is the dough.)

* Jack Campbell lost 6-3 on Saturday night to St.Louis. Guess what Kyle Dubas has to be thinking? Perhaps, something like this: What's he gonna look like in the playoffs?

WHO SAID IT? -- "Anybody who considered us a below .500 team was way out of their minds!" (Answer below.)

THE STAT KING'S ANSWER TO ANALYTICS CRITICS.

Celebrating his 40th anniversary as Islanders stat guru, Eric Hornick gave us an exclusive interview which has been divided into notable segments. Here he rejects arguments that 'Analytics' are overrated. Take it away, Eric:

"Analytics support 'The Eye Test' and vice versa. For example, if you wanted to find out if a team is not getting shots on goal because they are missing the net or having shots blocked, analytics would have the answer. Or, if they are not getting any plays on goal at all. I always like to have the opportunity to assimilate information from multiple sources. Particularly for television, it's helpful to put easily understood numbers around an 'Eye Test" observation." (In the next issue Hornick describes one of the "Most Memorable Moments" of his memorable 40-year career.)

PAT VERBEEK'S BIGGEST 'NO-GOAL

Now that he's settled into his new Anaheim digs. I hope Pat Verbeek tells some of his West Coast pals about those best days when he galvanized the 1987-88 Devils into their first playoff berth and almost a trip to the Final round. Better still, a flashback to Game Seven would be a gripping tale all by itself.

New Jersey had scored a pair of upsets in the opening rounds.. That lifted them against the Bruins, and to Game Seven at Boston Garden. Matter of fact New Jersey's skaters were outplaying the B's in the 0-0 first period.

It was then that Verbeek chased his dream. Parked at the crease-step of Boston goalie Reg Lemelin, Pat awaited the pass that would catapult his team to the lead; and very possibly the game and series.

The pass was Grade C and didn't come cleanly but Verbeek had an open net and was so certain of a goal that he began to raise his stick in celebration. Devils author and News 12 New Jersey sportscaster -- Emmy-winner -- George Falkowski remembered what Lemelin then did and would later describe as one of his greatest saves.

"As Patty lifted his stick," Falkowski recalls, "Lemelin, who never left his feet, dove across his crease in desperation. He made a backhand stab of the fluttering shot. It looked like such a sure goal that the Boston play-by-play guy, Fred Cusick, first started to yell 'SCORE' but suddenly changed it to, "AND A SAVE BY LEMELIN!' The Bruins counterattacked and scored and went on to win the series. But, had Patty beaten Lemelin we might be talking about New Jersey in that Final."

ANSWER TO WHO SAID IT: On the eve of the 1949 playoff between Detroit and Toronto Leafs right wing Howie Meeker answered critics who said a below-.500 team couldn't win their third straight Stanley Cup. (P.S. They did, sweeping first-place Detroit.)

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