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Fischler Report: The Time of Women

In a jam-packed edition of the Fischler Report, Stan Fischler looks at a time when women weren't allowed in an NHL press box and how the sport has changed since then, shares thoughts on King Henrik's legacy and continues his chat with Doc Emrick.
Émilie Castonguay

Females in high hockey positions, such as Emilie Castonguay, have come a long way since that day in 1970.

Hip, hip and a big Hooray for Vancouver's new assistant g.m.

But I'll bet that Mademoiselle Castonguay is unaware of a revolutionary moment that changed the course of women in hockey.

That development was the first of its kind. It significantly altered the development in favor of female hockey journalists. Folks in our enlightened NHL today cannot believe the conditions imposed upon females in hockey.

Incredible but true; women were barred from the Rangers press box. B-A-R-R-E-D. As in unwelcome. Or, if you will –beat it!

I happen to know this for a fact because The New York Hockey Writers Association fought tooth and nail to keep my wife, Shirley – a certified reporter – from MSG's working press area. The same status held for any other women trying to cover the Rangers.

It actually said so on every Blueshirt press ticket given to the hockey media. LADIES NOT PERMITTED IN THE PRESS BOX. The English was plain and the penalty for breaking the tradition was real. The ladies were locked out.

Interestingly and sadly, the male writers wanted no part of Shirley crossing their reserved Rubicon. This, despite the fact that she had a legit assignment to cover the 1971 Rangers-Leafs playoff.

The anti-women-in-the-press box move was encouraged by an Associated Press vet writer and one from a Newark paper. Dito for the Rangers front office. They combined forces and went to war vs. my wife's right to cover a game alongside the fraternity boys.

In the end, the male writers and Rangers lost but it was a bitter victory for us. Shirley had to take her case to the New York City Human Rights Commission. A top Madison Square Garden lawyer, Rangers g.m. Emile Francis and those writer guys were on the other side.

The verdict was a no-brainer. Yes, the ladies have equal journalistic rights in the NHL, and that specifically included The Garden. Shirley got her seat but the men who fought and lost did not talk to her again, although Francis, ever the gentleman, did. Credit to The Cat.

This bit of ancient history is relevant today as Castonguay packs her agent bag and moves behind her Canucks desk; another female hockey first.

My late wife, Shirley, would have been proud of Gentleman Jim Rutherford's hire. "Emilie has extensive experience," said Rutherford, "is driven to succeed and has a strong reputation in the hockey world."

One by one the barriers that long ago had been erected against gals in the ice game have fallen and continue to do so. Some of the highest positions in the NHL are held by women and more are being filled on individual teams. National Lacrosse League Deputy Commissioner Jessica Berman was one of the NHL's top lawyers for years.

Although advances in women's pro hockey remain challenging, more females are playing the game than ever. And I speak firsthand once again, since my soon-to-be 13-year-old granddaughter, Avigail, is turning heads as a defense-woman playing against males in Bern, Switzerland.

Such advances would have pleased my wife, Shirley – Avigail's grandma – no end; same as Castonguay's appointment in Vancouver. Unlike, Emilie's hire in Vancouver, Shirley's landmark victory got no publicity whatsoever. Nor did she want any.

"All I wanted was what was right," she said, "the right to do my job alongside the guys; no more, no less. Once that was accomplished I went on with my hockey work."

As for the men who bitterly opposed her entering their sacred realm, all but one – Neil Offen of The Post – remained resentful. Meanwhile, Shirley not only covered the Rangers but wrote more hockey books than any of those "Keep Out!" guys, put together.

The advances for women in the ice game continue. So, don't be surprised if Emilie winds up being a full NHL GM one day and we see a woman playing goal for a big-league team; only because she's that good!

No kidding; it could happen. And if you don't believe me, ask Mademoiselle Castonguay.

SPOTLIGHT ON MIKE JOHNSTON OF THE PORTLAND WINTERHAWKS

Consistently one of the most successful hockey franchises in North America, the Western League's Winterhawks owe much of their success to the orchestration of g.m.-coach Mike Johnston. At the moment his club is riding a seven-game win-streak with a recent run of 14-0-0-1.

Like every team across the continent, the Winterhawks have been buffeted by Pandemic issues while simultaneously forging ahead in this 2021-22 season. In an exclusive interview, Johnston explains how he and his players have coped.

JOHNSTON'S BIGGEST CHALLENGE: "Most of our players missed eight to ten months of games along with training/practice opportunities. As a result, the overall play in the league early in the season wasn't where it should have been. Since the Christmas break, I've noticed the quality of play and overall execution has significantly improved.

"The one factor that will be interesting as we move down the stretch run into the playoffs is that there were no playoff games in 2020 or 2021. So even players in their season have no experience at that time of the year. From my perspective, playoff experience and learning how to win at the most difficult time of the year is critical in developing top players."

WINTERHAWKS EXCELLING IN THE NHL: "Seth Jarvis is having a great start to his rookie season in Carolina with a very good team. It's tough for a 19-year-old to stick, but even more challenging to contribute in all situations; which he's doing. Meanwhile, Ryan Johansen has rebounded offensively with Nashville and helping the Preds to push for the Central Division lead. The third top Winterhawk for me would be Oliver Bjorkstrand who's been a strong contributor for a very competitive Columbus team."

MIKE'S BEST CURRENT PLAYERS: "In goal we made a trade and acquired Taylor Gauthier from Prince George and he's really helped stabilize our team. As a 20-year-old, Taylor should get offered a contract. Another 20-year-old who's had a great year is defenseman Clay Hanus. Along with Clay, defenseman Luca Cagnoni has caught the attention of scouts even though he isn't Draft eligible until 2023. Luca has hockey sense with the best players who I've ever coached.

"Up front, Tyson Kozak (Buffalo draft) has been our leader in all areas in the league. Finally, James Stefan – son of Patrick Stefan – has had a breakout year and the 18-year-old is becoming a true offensive threat."

VIEWING PORTLAND'S PLAYOFF CHANCES: "We're presently sitting in third spot in the Western Conference but there's still a lot of hockey to be played before the playoffs start."

REGARDING THE WINTERHAWKS NEW OWNERS: "The ownership change has been a smooth transition with the principal owners, Michael Kramer and Kerry Preete, being very supportive of what we're doing in Portland. There have been many challenges coming out of Covid. We have a committed group and in it for the long haul."

I'M JUST SAYIN':

* Has anyone – with the exception of Rangers fans – come to realize that Chris Kreider has 31 goals; same as Leon Draisaitl. Only difference is that Broadway Chris is the better player. On the Plus-Minus scoreboard, Kreider leads 10-6.

* Now that the moralists in our midst finished their Evander Kane lectures, the new Oiler already is doing what he does best – score goals. Apparently no harm in that.

* A bit belated kudos to TSN's Darren Dreger for scooping his rivals and coming in first with Patrik Allvin's hire as new Canucks general manager.

* What a difference a year makes. Last January, old pal Jim Rutherford had disappeared from view; possibly done as a hockey exec. Now Gentleman J is in vintage form, making all the big moves for Vancouver.

* Josh Ho-Sang's reward for growing up as a hockey person is a spot on the Canadian Olympic Team. That means a sure tryout with the Maple Leafs on his return.

* Department of Sheer Genius: The Penguins rescuing Brian Boyle from the NHL junk heap. The BB Man has been a total asset. Ditto for the Panthers and Jumbo Joe Thornton.

* Beware the healthy Knights. They're poised for a strong second-half and playoff run. With Mark Stone, Reilly Smith and Nolan Patrick back from Covid Protocol, that's a plus right there.

* Ever since Peter DeBoer outcoached John Tortorella in the 2012 Devils-Rangers playoff, I've been a big fan of the ex-lawyer. Pete will be laughing even harder with Max Pacioretty back from wrist surgery and, soon, Alec Martinez.

* Am I the only one excited about the new, non-NHL Olympic hockey. Hey, we could have another 1960/1980 melodrama coming up.

* It's nothing but nice that good guy Eric Staal will show his wares with Team Canada. A plus performance for Eager Eric and another NHL shot could be the follow-up.

* The Henrik Lundqvist jersey retirement ceremony was of the typical classy MSG variety. When it comes to such events, the Rangers do it right. Ditto for Dallas where the Stars did likewise with Sergei Zubov's #56. Another tasteful tribute to a superior player.

* King Henrik is as suave and sophisticated as they come. Sure, he'd have loved to have played into his Forties but as The Emperor opined: "I'm happy with what I got."

* Speaking of puck-stoppers, the most underrated NHL goalie is John Gibson. Period!

* A final note re Pal Clark Gillies: Neither Gretzky, Messier, Coffey nor Fuhr ever played on a team that won nineteen straight playoff series. Gillies not only did, he led those Isles.

* Do you wonder why so many hockey announcers say, "That goalie was beaten top shelf?" That's because those "Butterfly-obsessed" stoppers are too busy guarding the bottom shelf. Too many kids are taught to live by the Butterfly.

* Sorry, but the Jack Eichel Soap Opera will not be over until he takes a regular turn with Vegas and not a moment sooner.

* Let's put it this way: I don't know what to make of Alex Georgiev and I'm not sure that Gerard Gallant does either.

* Whether some very serious hockey critics like it or not, the Coyotes ain't movin' out of Arizona and I'm sure Auston Matthews will be delighted to know that.

* The Yotes down-the-road aim, of course, is a new NHL-size rink in Tempe. Meanwhile, playing in the new 5,000-seat ASU Arena shouldn't be equated with the crime of the century. (Didn't something like that once happen to the baby Lightning?)

* Granted, Connor McDavid is the greatest thing since (You Fill In The Rest), but I've yet to see him pull off a "Michigan" like The Sweetheart of Bedford, New York, Trevor (I Love Lacrosse) Zegras.

* The most beat-up comment after a losing game goes like this: "We've got to be better." Latest user: Mika Zibanejad.

* Put a winner on the ice and the fans will come. On Saturday night the Panthers drew 18,152 to their Sunrise emporium.

A DOC EMRICK FAVORITE STORY

In this last installment of our exclusive interview with the Hall of Fame broadcaster, Mike explains why he favors lesser heroes and provides a good example. Take it away, Michael.

"I like guys who have overcome challenges but have reached their goal. There are tons of stories like this and one I liked involved a Czech-born player with Dallas, Radek Faksa. I was tipped off by one of the Stars' equipment men who said, 'You should ask Faksa about his childhood.'

"Turns out that he was raised by a single mom and showed some wonderful hockey skills as a kid on a local team. Then a team an hour-and-a-half away came to his mom and wanted him to play for them.

"Having other children, a job, and doing her best on her own, she could not afford to transport him nor board him. But they said, 'No problem, we have a hotel where he could live.' They had a family conference and Radek went to live alone in a hotel, got himself to school, to practice, to games, on his own at age eleven and for five years.

"Of course, I wanted to talk to him and I did. The first thing I asked him was about those first few days when he was only eleven and living alone. 'I was pretty homesick,' he said. I sure could understand that but he managed and eventually was so good that he went to Canada and played Junior hockey. It led to him being drafted – with his Mom present – and eventually making it to Dallas.

"When you learn that he signed a second contract in 2020 for five years at

$16 million and is on the Stars 'Energy Line,' you realize that everything has turned out well in this story. He'a one of the leading hitters on the team and coach Rick Bowness has nothing but glowing comments about his play.

"That story of Faksa became one of my features for NBC in our final season of NHL coverage. And, of all the rotten luck, the night that the feature ran, Radek was a late scratch. But he's still important to the Stars and a person and a player I admire."

(Editor's Note: I'm grateful that old pal, Michael, took the time to tell these stories. I'll be back in touch with Sir Emrick before playoff time. Thank you, Doc!)

WHO SAID IT? "I only drink Johnny Walker Red!" (Answer below)

BRILLIANT THOUGHT DEPARTMENT:

Joltin' Joe Dionisio, The Poor Man's Jon Cooper, never fails to open his personal think tank for The Maven. Here's his latest idea to produce NHL overtimes that are more gripping than some believe they are now: "Make it illegal to skate or pass the puck out of the offensive zone. This 'Keep away' nonsense has gotten out of hand. Plus, it defeats the very purpose of OT; namely to make it more exciting." (Any objections, please write me.)

A GOOD TERRY RUSKOWSKI STORY

A three-time NHL captain – not to mention a fourth in the WHA – Ruskowski recently imparted insights into player-coach relationships to our ever-insightful Glenn Dreyfuss.

It's all about a deal Terry brokered with Penguins coach Bob Berry when Pitt had an extended in-season break. It would be worthwhile for every NHL coach to listen up to this tale.

"I went up to Berry and said, 'We should have a couple of days off.' And he shot back, 'No way. No way.' So, I said, 'Give 'em four days off to go away, have some fun and get away from hockey because hockey can work on your mind.'

"Berry said, 'Will the guys work hard when they come back?' And I said, 'Gimme five minutes' and I went into the dressing room and said, 'Guys, I can get you four days off, trainers, everybody.' And they said, 'Hell, yeah, we'll work hard when we get back.'

"What happened is that we got the time off and when they came back they worked their butts off. Plus, we won five in a row after that. As I was coming off the ice after the tenth win, coach Berry gave me a 'Thumbs Up.'"

THE PASSING OF RALPH MELLANBY

Few tv executives have had a more significant impact on televising hockey than Ralph Mellanby who recently died at age 87. He turned Hockey Night In Canada into a legendary must-see and created stars on many tv levels. Although some might disagree, the turning of Don Cherry from losing coach in Colorado to the biggest name in Canadian tv-hockey has to be one of the most stunning accomplishments of Ralph's long career. Mellanby will be missed by many.

ANSWER TO WHO SAID IT: Rangers witty goalie Gump Worsley, rebutting his annoying coach Phil Watson who had moaned about Gump, "I've got a beer-barrel goalie."

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