When the National Hockey League first expanded southward and westward, fans in the new cities tended to cheer themselves hoarse every time a forward went charging alone down the ice and to groan in despair when the solitary dash failed to result in a score. Meanwhile the exquisite stick-handling and pass patterns of teams like the old Montreal Canadiens went largely unnoticed.
There is a theory in this country that sophisticated appreciation of hockey varies in precise proportion to the distance of the rink from the Canadian border, and an attendant contention is that expansion has seriously adulterated the quality of the NHL game. Whether or not this is true, it is a fact that during the expansion years the kind of rough-and-tumble hockey played by the league champion Chicago Black Hawks and the Stanley Cup-winning Boston Bruins has generated far more excitement than the more delicately designed game played north of the border.
According to Mark Mulvoy, who wrote the essay on the NHL beginning on page 28 and who assisted ex-Boston Coach Harry Sinden with the story that follows, there arc very few fans outside of the Northern tier cities who really know what hockey is all about. "Most of them," says Mark, "just come hoping to cheer a bloodbath."
Mark himself was brought up in Boston, where hockey means more to the average schoolboy than any other sport. "When the pond at Wainwright Park froze over," he says, "we all played ice hockey. When the ice melted we played street hockey. And all year long we played hockey in our cellars at night. The guy who ran the drugstore on the corner near my family's place was a French-Canadian, and all he ever talked about was Jean Beliveau."
Naturally Mark was a Bruin fan, and that took a bit of doing in those days. "I never missed Fred Cusick's radio broadcasts, which started at 9:35 p.m.," he says, "and I saw about every third game at the Boston Garden."
This season Mulvoy expects to see at least 50 games in person and another 20 or so on television. "And I'll listen to about 100 more," he adds.
Over the years Mulvoy's interest has expanded to include virtually all other sports, and since coming to SI in 1965 he has covered a number of them for us, most notably baseball and golf. But of all kinds of athletes, says Mark, "hockey players are by far the best to interview after a game. There is something real about hockey players. Few of them have graduated from high school. Most of them moved away from home at the age of 12 or 13 and have spent their lives playing hockey. They all know what the hard working life is, and not a one of them can look you in the eye and tell a lie."
And all of them, like Mark Mulvoy himself, truly love the game of hockey.