Sunday, July 24, 2016

WORLD WIDE HOCKEY TOUR - SAN DIEGO (G)

Continued from WORLD WIDE HOCKEY TOUR –
SAN DIEGO (PART F) in July, 2016.

This faster paced keep control of the puck as much as you can style of ice hockey was based on the Soviet five-man unit and Nordic models that are ingrained through the youth ranks there. It is a free flowing game in the words of former Edmonton Oilers coach and general manager Glen Sather who was part of the last National Hockey League dynasty in the nineteen eighties and nineteen ninety. Sather said that he borrowed and modified a system of hockey, to his roster of players that he learned through direct observation. It was rarely used during Sather’s playing career except when his squads faced off against opponents such as the WHA Winnipeg Jets. Also trips with his WHA Oilers overseas gave him much material for him to install and help insure Sather’s own team’s success. Of course, it is a boost to gather all the proper talent to execute the plan.

Some of the strategies used in Europe and other places were that young goalies and position players played multiple positions. They went through the skills, development, and training for everywhere on the ice, plus a lot to improve skating growing up. This meant, in some cases, filling in at other positions to help their squad in other areas - if needed due to a rash of injuries, etc. Understanding and appreciation was gained and respect was earned because each player could relate to all of the others on the club. Learning to speak english was huge during this time if an individual wanted to expand their horizons internationally and play in other circuits. For a long time goaltenders were just an afterthought in youth leagues because most kids wanted to be the main goal scorers and almost none would volunteer to be the netminder. This early version of hockey related cross position training put all through the same stuff and a minimum standard had to be met when they reached a certain age and level. There was no favoritism either, if you couldn’t cut it, there were limits at the next stage in the chain.

Sather instituted his fun and gun offense which was perfectly suited to the up-temp World Hockey Association. [Playing Hockey The World Over…wha.htm; whahockey.com; hockeyfights.com; Wikipedia; billsportsmaps.com; The Hockey News] Mekkar compares Sather’s approach to a few clubs and the wide open American Basketball Association. More specifically to the late nineteen eighties Loyola-Maramount Lions basketball team philosophy under coach Paul Westhead. There are other later examples of similar offense-first schemes such as Doug Moe’s Denver Nuggets and Phoenix Suns under Mike D’Antoni of the NBA. No matter what system is instituted it always takes awhile to put all of the right pieces in place. Glen also made maximum use of what hockey insiders consider as the fastest, as well as, best ice surface for hockey in the world at the Northlands Coliseum in Edmonton, Alberta.

The arena has a different corporate sponsor and a thus is known by another name nowadays because that is the current trend in the professional sports realm. A sense of tradition and history is no longer considered as important when there is money to be made. Mekkar is of the opinion it is one more indicator of the increased decline in society that has sold out to greed.

This hybrid style took off and took over the National Hockey League after the addition of four WHA teams to start the 1979-80 season. In truth, it was a mini-merger but the WHA clubs got the shaft and basically buildup their rosters from scratch. This afforded Sather with the opportunity to shape the Oilers in his image. Edmonton ended up obliterating the offensive record book with much success and championships. The next decade helped, along with the Eskimos, Drillers, etc. to turn the northern Alberta metropolis into the City of Champions.

There were clubs awarded in locations by the WHA that the NHL never even considered before and probably never would have. Some of these places included cities in the hotbed of hockey (Canada). Mekkar loves to read about history, especially sports history because he feels it is a partial reflection of society at large. He knows that a person can learn from study of the past and has heard the mantra many times, one who doesn’t learn from past history tend to repeat its mistakes over and over again. [Reason in Common Sense, volume 1 of The Life of Reason by George Santayana, 1905]

One of Mekkar’s favorite aspects regarding the upstart pro league (WHA) was the addition of sudden death overtime to determine victory in outcomes during the regular season. This greatly reduced the stranglehold in the amount of tie game results. Mekkar hated no clear winner and regarded them as worse than kissing your ugly sister. Who wants to do that?

Another trend and impetus happened during this period of time due to the rebel league’s influence. Individual players broke the mold and began to wear higher uniform numbers. In the past, especially if one was a rookie or young player trying to establish themselves in pre-season training camp. You didn’t want high jersey numbers unlike today. Otherwise it usually meant that player probably would not make the big club and would either be cut outright or demoted to the minors for seasoning. Thus, Mekkar donned low uniform numbers his whole hockey career depending on availability. Phil Esposito changed his uniform number to seventy-seven after his trade to the New York Rangers around this time. Even Wayne Gretzky didn’t always sport his now famous ninety-nine sweater. There are videos, photographs, roster lists, etc. of Gretzky wearing pro jerseys with the numbers nine, fifteen, seventeen, twenty before his well known standard ninety-nine. [whahockey.com; jerseydatabase.com; thirdstringgoalie.blogspot.com; youtube.com; wharacers.com; whahof.com]

Mekkar examines these factors as part of a cultural shift and people’s desire to get noticed. Everyone is aware of how an individual seeks to transcend all in many aspects of society today. He believes that if something gets mentioned frequently, it is because that concept or commodity stands out from the norm during its time. For example, Ground Chuck (Knox) football offense scheme was primarily run oriented. While at the same time, the National Football League was beginning its transition to a more pass-happy circuit with rule changes, etc. in that new direction. [Wikipedia]