Wednesday, December 23, 2009

We Will Cobble You

It might be hard to believe that a Soviet Premier in the 1950s could ever emerge with something in common with hockey players from Boston, but this is actually a small world and events can be linked, no matter how much it may seem they have nothing in common.

Nikita S. Khrushchev was famous for many things, but he will ALWAYS be famous for taking his shoe off at a United Nations General Assembly session and banging it on the table, while also drumming his fists on the table, as if he was creating rolling thunder. He did this in 1960, after already being famous for telling the Western World, in 1956, via translation, “We will bury you.”

It turns out he claimed not to have actually said that, but that's how the Russian got translated when it hit certain newspapers. Headline writers get to create history their way. Gerald Ford learned this when the Daily News headlined his answer to a financial aid request for NYC in the 70s to be: Ford to City: Drop Dead.

Nikita was excited, but this was hardly a diplomatic approach. The remark was directed at the United States, and the free world in general, that the Soviet system would win out over the democracies of the rest of the world. The Soviet system did win, but it was rather in hockey, not government. Another story.

Dovetailing with this Cold War history we have today's NYT story recalling the Ranger-Bruin game of 30 years ago today that saw a memorable exodus of Bruin players leaving the ice via the stands, and in particular, wrestling with one fan to the point of taking his shoe off and hitting him with it, then throwing the shoe on the ice.

Ranger-Bruin games could always be memorable, and not always because of the game itself. The "shoe" game was in 1979, a little after I relinquished my season tickets after 11 years. The news story goes on about how the Garden always beefed up its security efforts when Boston came to town. They had to.

The era that I was in attendance bracketed Phil Esposito's career with the Chicago Black Hawks, the Bruins, and finally with the Rangers. Esposito was always a high strung player, quick to take exception to anything. He always had diaper rash. Even when he was a Ranger, I couldn't help calling him Cry Baby Phil.

But it was with the Bruins that he earned the enmity of the Ranger crowd. The Bruins of that era were good, very good, and played and beat the Rangers for the Cup in 1972, winning it on Garden ice.

I distinctly remember a pre-game skate of that era when the organist, Eddie Layton, played "Talk to the Animals," the theme song from the the recently released movie
Dr. Doolittle. Eddie played it well, and way more than a few bars, as the Bruins came out to start the game.

Well, Espo, always the irritated Espo, started jawboning with the organist and banging his stick on the ice. Eddie Layton, at that time, was situated quite close to the ice, so they could easily hear each other discussing the playlist. Espo was mad at the song selection. And of course, anything that irritated Espo was a good thing. I know I loved it, and so did the crowd that was just getting to their seats.

Today's story, complete with a great picture of Mike Milbury trying to find out where his seat is, has the intended effect of jump starting memories. And wouldn't you know it, Phil Esposito, as a Ranger, has a part in it, showing off his frustration at missing a tying goal in the final seconds.

So, how do we get to Russia? Well, the story is so good it finds people who were either there, or who could weigh in with a remembrance based on what they saw on television. And of course there are celebrities.

One person, Carol Alt, a model, e-mails her memories from Russia! Ms. Alt, who at the time of the "shoe" game was married to Ron Greschner, a Ranger defenseman, apparently has not lost her desire to be with hockey players, as she is now corresponding from St. Petersburg, where she has followed Alex Yashin, a former Islander and now a player on a Russian team.

By all accounts, Khrushchev got to put his shoe back on. The poor fellow who was in the middle of all this, and certainly a bit of an instigator, John Kaptain, got to go home without his.

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