Chiseling the NHL’s Mount Rushmore
November 1, 2011 1 Comment
Mount Rushmore, located in Pennington County, South Dakota, is one of the most famous shrines in the United States. With George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln’s faces chiseled into the granite of the mountain, it is easily one of the most recognizable sites in the continent.
But what if you were to create a Mount Rushmore of NHL personalities? Which four people have had the greatest impact on the NHL as we see it today. This isn’t a “who are the best four players in league history?” article. This is a piece on “which four people have shaped the league into what we see today?”
His name is recognizable because of the various trophies attached to his name: Calder Memorial Trophy for the NHL’s top rookie, along with the Calder Cup, for the AHL champion. But what did Calder do that gave him the prestige to be both a Hockey Hall of Fame member and one whose name is all over professional hockey?
After leading various sports leagues throughout Quebec, Calder was named the secretary-treasurer of the National Hockey Association in 1914. Just three years later, he was named the president of the league, which was struggling in the presence of a young protagonist named Eddie Livingstone on the Board. Understanding that he could not legally remove Livingstone from the league (Livingstone owned the Toronto Shamrocks, a member of the NHA), Calder led the remainder of the NHA owners and formed a new league, the National Hockey League. Although the plan was to re-form the NHA when Livingstone left, it did not work out as planned, and it was decided that the NHL was there to stay.
Calder held the position of NHL President for 26 years, and would have been there longer had it not been for a heart attack during an NHL Board of Governors meeting that left him incapacitated in a Montreal hospital. Nine days later, he passed away while reading the league’s financial books – a symbol of how dedicated he was to his league.
It wasn’t too long ago that the thought of a Russian player being forced to stay in his homeland was normal. After all, Pittsburgh Penguins star Evgeni Malkin had to finagle his way out in 2006 to join the top league in the world. Now, almost every Russian prospect that wants to come to North America is free to do so. But 22 years ago, Alexander Mogilny took arguably the biggest risk in hockey history to join the Buffalo Sabres team that had drafted him a year earlier.
As the hockey world was expecting Mogilny, Sergei Fedorov, and Pavel Bure to create the most dominant Russian trio since the KLM line, Mogilny was planning his escape. Although the story is much more complicated than is known, Sabres director of amateur evaluation Don Luce and General Manager Gerry Meehan flew to a Stockholm mall, then covertly snatched Mogilny from a team function and sped away, beginning a cat and mouse chase that lasted days, and included a complex hotel jump throughout Europe to keep the Russian Federation off their tails. Finally, Mogilny made his way to America and played the first of his 16 seasons in the NHL.
Mogilny might not be the first person you think of in the context of an “NHL Mount Rushmore,” but if it weren’t for him, the NHL might have been deprived of seeing such stars such as Sergei Fedorov, Pavel Bure, Slava Fetisov, and others, who defected freely less than a year later. Imagine an NHL without Alexander Ovechkin, Malkin, Pavel Datsyuk, and others, and you’ll understand the impact Mogilny’s risk had on professional hockey.
By age 28, Campbell was already refereeing NHL games. Unfortunately, by 1939 (six year later), Maple Leafs owner Conn Smythe was fed up with Campbell’s lenient officiating style, and called for his firing – to which the league agreed. Fortunately for Campbell, however, he was hired by Frank Calder to work in the league office, but shortly enlisted in the Canadian military to fight in World War II. In the meantime, Calder’s death resulted in New York Americans President Red Dutton being named the interim league president, but when Campbell returned from overseas, he immediately replaced Dutton.
Campbell’s first major action in office was banning two NHL players for betting on games, and furthering his authority in a decision that led to the famous Rocket Richard Riots, when he suspended the Canadiens’ superstar for the final three games of the season and the entire postseason.
Although his legacy has often been tarnished by the Richard incident and claims that he was anti-French Canadian, Campbell was arguably the most successful president the league has seen. Along with New York Rangers president Bill Jennings, Campbell was instrumental in pushing for league expansion in 1967, and at that time, was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame. Because of his contributions, the league created the Clarence S. Campbell Bowl to be awarded annually to the Western Conference Champion – a trophy still awarded today. Expansion continued to explode under Campbell, who left office in 1977 with 18 teams in the league – three times the number there were when he was first named president.
Winner of seven Norris Trophies (second in NHL history behind Bobby Orr), Harvey is one of the great mysteries of NHL history. Although he was slightly demystified with the publication of Doug: The Doug Harvey Story, many hockey fans still do not know about the impact Harvey had on the game. Before Bobby Orr was a household name in the sports world, Harvey revolutionized the position, showing how a bit of muscle, athletic ability, and all-around talent can be woven together to create a legendary superstar. He won six Stanley Cups with the Montreal Canadiens, and was named to the league’s All-Star team 11 straight seasons.
However, one of Harvey’s biggest assists happened off the ice, along with Ted Lindsay. Lindsay is often credited with the creation of the original players’ association, but Harvey had just as much an impact as the bruising Detroit forward. As Joe Pelletier of HockeyBookReviews.com generously writes, “He was labeled a maverick and a troublemaker, aloof and enigmatic, but deep down he was a caring, generous, and in his own way a very funny man. But he was very much his own man.”
Harvey was blacklisted by NHL owners and traded by the Canadiens due to his involvement in the NHLPA. His number was not retired by the Canadiens until 1985, just four years before his death. When he was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1973, he decided to not show up at the last minute, and instead go fishing by himself. His struggles with alcoholism and bipolar disorder further the mystery that is Doug Harvey.
But what is far from a mystery is the positive effect Harvey had on the NHL, both on and off the ice.
Honorary Mentions: Glenn Hall (introducing the butterfly goaltending style), Bobby Orr (for further revolutionizing the game and the defense position), Gary Bettman (Bettman haters and other media aside, he is arguably the best Commissioner the game has ever seen), Scotty Bowman (no explanation needed).
Alan Bass, a former writer for The Hockey News and THN.com, is the author of The Great Expansion: The Ultimate Risk That Changed The NHL Forever. He has worked for the Philadelphia Flyers’ Fan Development department, going to schools throughout the tri-state area to teach about fitness and the importance of teamwork. He is the General Manager of the Muhlenberg College Division II hockey team as well. You can contact him at Alanbasswriting@aol.com.