Ed Giacomin, Tiger Williams Revisited

We look back at two arresting story-lines from the past. Zito leading the Cats. Flyers impressing. Hayley Wickenheiser speaks. The Fischler Intern Tree grows.

SPECIAL EDITION: 

Dear Readers: Every so often JAVA JIVE and THE FISCHLER REPORT will produce a Special Edition. In addition to today's stories, we'll present unique tales from the past. Exhibit A, coming up, is George Grimm's timely essay that ties in with the anniversary of Ed Giacomin's traumatic move from the Rangers to the Red Wings. Exhibit B will be Glenn Dreyfuss' fascinating story about a onetime Tiger Williams ritual.

HEADLINE: A MAJOR ANNIVERSARY COMING UP. STILL SAD!

THE JIVE: Almost a half-century ago an event took place that shook New York hockey fans to the very core; especially our roving historian George Grimm. Sunday, October 31, it will be 46 years since the Rangers put Hall of Fame goalie Ed Giacomin on waivers. Grimm -- if you don't mind the pun -- was more than grim and here he explains why:

It’s been a long forty-six years, but I can still remember October 31, 1975, like it was yesterday. That was the night the Rangers put Eddie Giacomin on waivers and he was claimed by the Detroit Red Wings.

I can still recall WNBC’s Marv Albert reporting on the six o’clock news that the Rangers had made a deal but have not yet released any details. So since this was in the days way before the Internet or 24-hour news coverage, I made a mental note to check in with the news later on at 11 pm.

That night while at a Halloween party, wearing my authentic GIACOMIN jersey, no less, I turned on the news just in time to hear anchorman Chuck s Scarborough run down the three top stories as a lead in for the broadcast. The first two items have long since faded from my memory, but he finished by saying “… and the Rangers ice Ed Giacomin.”

Unbelievable! Giacomin, who had battled back from having garbage thrown at him to become one of the most beloved players in team history, was no longer a New York Ranger. It was devastating news for all concerned, Eddie himself, his team mates as well as the fans.

Giacomin was an icon, the face of the franchise, but time marches on. The Blueshirts had been embarrassed by the Islanders in the playoffs the previous spring and changes had to be made.  GM Emile Francis had already acquired 22-year old John Davidson from St. Louis, but knew that he couldn’t develop the young goalkeeper as long as Eddie was still around, since every goal “JD” allowed would bring chants of ”EDDIE - EDDIE” from the crowd. It wasn’t fair to Davidson and would certainly undermine his confidence.

Francis had tried to trade Giacomin, but with a bad knee and a hefty salary, Eddie left Francis with no takers, so The Cat put him on waivers.

At the time of the deal it wasn’t clear whether Giacomin would actually report to the Red Wings or retire. But as the shock wore off he decided to play at least one more game, and it just so happened that the Red Wings next contest was against the Rangers at the Garden.

Eddie returned to the Garden two nights later wearing Red Wing uniform #31 and was treated to a spontaneous outpouring of love and appreciation rarely displayed in sports. Chants of “EDDIE – EDDIE,” echoed throughout the building from before warm-ups until well after the final buzzer.

It was a night when the Rangers became the visitors in their own building as Giacomin wiped away his tears and made 42 saves to beat the Blueshirts 6-4. The fans cheered every Red Wing goal and booed every Ranger tally. The Blueshirts who scored on Eddie apologized to him and Brad Park later admitted that it was the only game he had ever thrown in his life.

Following the game many of Giacomin’s former teammates who would have normally gone out to eat and drink in the city, gathered at Eddie’s home in Manhasset instead. They came by to pay their respects and give Eddie a proper sendoff, talking and drinking until the wee hours of the morning.

Although it was a shocking turn of events, in hindsight it actually worked out well for Giacomin. He got two more seasons of NHL paychecks from Detroit and later had his number retired by the Rangers. He was also inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1987, an honor he freely admits was due to his impromptu “Night” at the Garden.

“There’s no doubt in my mind, the best memory of my career was November 2, 1975,″ Eddie recalled. “And I think it happened because, since I spent ten years with the Rangers, I also spent ten years with their fans. Everything I went through, they went through. Every goal, every win or loss, every fight. They went through it with me. And I think the feeling was `how could you do that to one of us?’

“And I firmly believe that because of what the New York fans did for me that night I made the Hall of Fame. Because there are certain criteria for making the Hall of Fame. You have to have records, but most have been on Stanley Cup winners, I wasn’t. I had something rare. I was so popular because of the New York fans. And I said it then and I’ll say it now, the New York fans who I enjoyed playing for so much, put me in the Hall of Fame.”

Giacomin was not the last to go. A week later Jean Ratelle, Brad Park and Joe Zanussi were sent to Boston for Phil Esposito and Carol Vadnais. Francis himself was history by the summer, being replaced by John Ferguson.

Each of those moves were shocking in their own way, but none as memorable as the night the Rangers “Waived” Eddie Giacomin.


HEADLINE: TIGER’S MEMORABLE RETURN TO MAPLE LEAF GARDENS 

THE JIVE: TFR’s Glenn Dreyfuss relates the backstory on Tiger Williams’ famous goal celebration, told on the “Squid and the Ultimate Leafs Fan” show, which Glenn helps produce. 

Dave “Tiger” Williams is number one – and we’re not talking all-time NHL penalty minutes, a list Williams leads with 3,971. No, the subject is “Cellys,” today’s slang for goal celebrations. 

When Sportsnet counted down the best-ever cellys, Tiger’s “riding the stick” in Toronto on December 10, 1980 earned top honors. Not a fluke, either; Williams’ witch’s broomstick ride ranked #2 in a similar Hockey News list, and #3 in a TSN countdown. 

What was the inspiration? For six seasons in the 1970s, Williams’ pugnacious style and protection of teammates endeared him to Maple Leafs fans. Then, on February 18, 1980, in his hotel room in the wee hours on a road trip, Tiger received a disturbing message.  

“It was not very respectful,” Williams recalled. “At one in the morning, I get up and there’s an envelope slid under the door. It said ‘You and your roommate (Jerry Butler) got traded.’ Never said where, nobody had signed it. I throw on my sweat pants, I go up to the suites where Punch (Imlach, Toronto g.m.) is, pound on the door. They say, ‘We’re not opening the door.’” 

Williams and Butler had been shipped to Vancouver for Rick Vaive and Bill Derlago. That was the prelude to an emotional first game back in Toronto, two months into the 1980-81 season. The Leafs held a 4-3 third period lead when Tiger took over, assisting on the tying goal, then scoring the eventual game-winner in an 8-5 Canucks victory. 

“I sat on my stick going towards my goalie,” Tiger said of what happened next. “I never thought about it, I never did it before. It’s just the way it’s supposed to be in pro sports. Things are just supposed to happen. It was spontaneous.  

“A lot of people, to this day, talk about how many times I rode my stick in the National Hockey League. The answer is, once. That was the only time.” That may be true, but Tiger in his career showcased a wide variety of flamboyant goal celebrations. People forget how many chances Williams had to show them off; he scored 35 goals in ’80-’81, and 241 for his career. 


HEADLINE: THE PANTHER KINGS RULE 

THE JIVE: Bill Zito's leap from the tumultuous world of agenting to masterminding South Florida's NHL team threatens to become The General Manager Story Of The Year. Or, at least, for the moment.

While newsmakers skirt his super-story, Zito's Cats not only have overtaken -- not to mention overshadowed -- their Cross-State rivals but the rest of the league as well.  Their 7-0-0 record is as remarkable as the club's goals for and against mark, 31-13.  It means the GA mark is below the 2.00 mark.

Our man in Florida, Alan (Himself) Greenberg, tells us that the Cats winning equation begins with goaltending. "Sergei Bobrovsky is back to his winning-Vezina form," Al reports. "He finally is earning his $10 million contract."

But Zito's acquisitions now put his roster either on a par or better than the two-time Cup champion Lightning. All four lines are producing with special attention to Sam Bennett, acquired late last season from Calgary.

"Bennett," enthuses Greenberg, "has been an absolute beast up front and right wing Sam Reinhart, who Zito got from Buffalo, is turning into another winner. Plus, Aaron Ekblad has picked up where he was when he got hurt late last season."

Zito's manipulation of his blue liners has been nothing short of astonishing from the time of Ekblad's injury to the present. Some names still surprise.

Mackenzie Weegar finished in the top ten in Norris Trophy voting. Zito then collected Gustav Forsling at the waiver wire, not to mention trade deadline acquisition, workhorse Brandon Montour.

This is a mature group that's complemented by exquisite balance up front. paced by captain Aleksander Barkov, Jonathan Huberdeau and Anthony Duclair. 

"We just keep working and find ways to get better," says Barkov. "(Goalie) Bob's will to succeed is beyond anybody else on this team."

Except, perhaps, for his boss -- Bill Zito!


HEADLINE: AN EARLY SEASON GAME WITH REAL MEANING

THE JIVE: Flyers g.m. Chuck Fletcher wasn't fooling around during the summer. Confronted with a disastrous 2020-21 campaign, he had to move meaningfully to keep his job. 

So far, the results have been impressive, starting with right wing Cam Atkinson who scored the winner Wednesday night to halt the Oilers unbeaten streak.

Fletcher re-made the defense around Ivan Provorov  with the additions of Ryan Ellis, Rasmus Ristolainen and Keith Yandle. They've added experience to what had been a sieve blueline corps.

The dividends were evident Wednesday night in Edmonton. Although Connor McDavid scored -- what else? -- Philly demonstrated that, at least for one night, the Oilers juggernaut went for nought.

We'll see how good the Eds are tomorrow night in Vancouver. This much is certain, they're not as good as Florida. The Panthers never lose!


HEADLINE: HAYLEY WICKENHEISER SPEAKS OUT

THE JIVE: Among the new hockey books being published, outstanding Canadian female stickhandler, Hayley Wickenheiser has a beaut. The title is “Over the Boards; Lessons from the Ice”, published by Penguin Random House. Our Rob Del Mundo has this review.

Hayley Wickenheiser can now add ‘best-selling author’ to a resume that already includes: medical doctor, Leafs senior director of player development, and member of the Hockey Hall of Fame.

During her lifetime, the 43-year-old has endured triumph and tribulation, from community rinks in her hometown Shaunavon, Saskatchewan, to the Olympic Games where she earned four career gold medals with Team Canada, to hospital emergency rooms in the midst of a global pandemic. 

Wickenheiser chronicles her experiences in her book “Over the Boards; Lessons from the ice”, sharing her learnings that have made her one of hockey’s most respected ambassadors.

 “A lot of these lessons I learned the hard way,” Wickenheiser wrote in the prologue. “Take advantage of my mistakes, please!” Learn from them so you can go out and make new ones. This book isn’t just for athletes or medical professionals. We’re all juggling multiple roles.”

The book is divided into three sections, based on the standard hockey rink model: defensive zone, neutral zone and offensive zone.  Respectively the mantra for each section is ‘build your foundation’, ’get creative’, and ‘time to let fly’.  Wickenheiser, in the first chapter titled “Losing isn’t failure” re-lives the heartbreak that she and her Canadian teammates sustained following their defeat to the United States at the first Olympics to feature women’s hockey, in 1998.

“Losing the gold medal at my first Olympics changed my life,” she said. “I learned so tangibly and devastatingly early on that failure is not fatal. It stings. It sucks. But I came to see that failure is the setup for a comeback.”

Indeed, Wickenheiser went on to play in four more Winter Games between 2002 and 2014, capturing the gold medal each time.

Four years after her retirement from the game, in March 2020, Wickenheiser’s worlds of medicine and sport converged dramatically.  After attending a young COVID patient in an emergency room, she felt compelled to take a stand against the forthcoming Summer Olympics in Tokyo.  As a member of the International Olympic Committee Athletes’ Commission, she used her voice to express her disagreement with the IOC’s plans to forge ahead with the Games.

Days after her post on Twitter decrying the IOC, governing bodies several in countries followed suit, and eventually the Games were postponed one year.

“Is my IOC career over at the end of my term? No doubt,” Wickenheiser wrote. “It is unlikely there will be any more commission spots or cushy IOC gigs for me.  But I couldn’t care less…if my position in international sport is tarnished because I didn’t toe the party line, so be it. All I cared about was doing the right thing.”

Wickehneiser’s career has taken many diverse paths, and as such, her book will appeal to almost any demographic. Her messages are sure to resonate with readers of all ages, regardless of whether they are sports fans.


HEADLINE: PARDON MY BRAGGING

THE JIVE: Nothing pleases me more than when a hard-working former intern does well after leaving The Fischler Report and JAVA JIVE. Rob Taub, who has helped in critical ways for years, now has a full-time gig with NHL.com and, of course, the New York Post's Mollie Walker continues to produce superior hockey stories on all NY Met Area teams.

For sheer perseverance and patience above and beyond the call of duty, I must also single out Leo Scaglione, Jr. Leo, the Lionhearted, tirelessly worked for me as well as MSG Networks telecasts while freelancing on the side. The good news comes in The Lion's own words:

"After years of lurking around the MSG (Devils) truck and studio, I'm officially a member of the MSG family. I'm the Graphics Producer for MSG Networks Devils telecasts." 

The only way I could have been happier was hearing Leo's recall my first editorial warning to him: CUT THE FAT. KEEP THE MEAT!

Also, big-time kudos to MSG Networks crack play-by-play man, Steve (Cangyman) Cangialosi, and Devils producer Roland Dratch for appreciating Leo's ability to make the career move of his life. Steven and Rollie pitched for the right guy!