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September 23, 2016     Post-Gazette
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PAGE 16 BOSTON POST-GAZETFE, SEPTEMBER 23, 2016 HOOPS and HOCKEY in the HUB by Richard Preiss Gentleman Jim Corbett It may surprise many of you to hear that heavy- weight champion James J. Corbett only had a total of 20 bouts in his professional career. He won the title from John L. Sullivan in only his 13th contest in 1892. He held the belt for five years before losing it to Bob Fitzsimmons. In that time, he defended it only two times. Though not having many fights, Corbett fought the top fighters of his time, including Tom Sharkey, Joe Choynski, Peter Jackson, Charlie Mitchell, and Jake Kilmain. He also took on James J. Jeffries twice in attempts to regain the championship. Corbett retired after the second Jefferies fight in 1903, and went on to a career on the stage and in movies. He wrote an autobiography and boxing instruction books and was popular on the speaking circuit. He stayed fit and even sparred with Gene Tunney in 1925. There is footage of that encounter on YouTube. Corbett passed away at the age of 66 in 1933. In 1942, a highly fictionalized but very entertain- ing movie of his life was released starring Errol Flynn in the title role. Ward Bond played John L. Sullivan. I have gathered a number of photos of Corbett for your enjoyment. Gentleman Jim, with his defensive moves and agility, has been credited with putting the science into the Sweet Science. Joe Choynski, Jim Jeffries, and Corbett Jim sparring with Peter Courtney Two Champs, Jim with Jack S]] urkey. Bob Fitzsimmons and Corbett. and Jefl res Gentleman Jim in his primes As the calendar turns the pages from Summer to fall and the NHL preseason begins, there may be some that feel that these matchups are really just "exhibition" games that don't have much meaning. That's not true, of course. On every team throughout the league, there will be players going all out in the most determined manner for a position on the roster. To make the NHL would be their dream come true, not to mention a significantly larger salary, road trip stays in first class hotels, and the end of travel by bus that is still a hallmark of life in the minors. One of the roughest hockey games we ever saw came on a September weekday afternoon more than 20 years ago in Ristuccia Arena in Wilmington when the Bruins rookies faced off against the Hartford Whaler rookies. No more than 200 people saw that game in person, but none will ever forget the fight- filled affair -- all in a game that received hardly any media coverage. Right then and there, in that place and time on that specific day, that game had more meaning for those players than the seventh game of the Stanley Cup Final. The head coach of the Bruins at the time was Brian Sutter, who sat in the stands that day as his assistants ran the team. In a brief postgame interview, he never made a comment about the rough nature of the just- concluded proceedings, but did offer some reflections about how the team in general had performed. He didn't seem at all concerned about the physical display that had just taken place. Every veteran that occupies a prime position on an NHL roster today once had an initial preseason experience. It's a rite of passage in the NHL, both literally and figuratively. Everyone playing in the league has gone through it, and those that excelled passed through the gates of training camp and were awarded a highly prized NHL roster spot. Only 23 players can suit up for an NHL team on any given night. All others (unless they are scratched or recuperating from injuries} play for the franchise's various minor league affiliates. And yes, even veterans can engage in the rough stuff during the preseason. One of the most vivid examples of that occurred 47 years ago (September 21, 1969} when Bruins defenseman Ted Green and St. Louis Blues forward Wayne Maki engaged in a wild stick-swinging duel during an exhibition game in Ottawa. The game was not televised. No video replays or professional photographs exist. The few photos of the incident that are available were taken by a 12-year-old with a rink-side seat. However, one of hockey's be'st announcers was on hand. That would be the late Dan Kelly, who was calling the game for the Blues /, flagship radio station back in St. Louis. In an article by Canadian hockey broadcaster and author Brian McFarlane, Kelly recalled the incident as "one of the most horrifying, most violent exchanges, I've ever seen in hockey." It was during the era when the vast majority of players did not wear helmets. Green, known as a physical player who did not back down, was coming off his best season as an NHL player, having played in the 1969 All-Star Game. During the violent encounter with Maki, Green was struck in the head by Mald's "baseball swing style" according to one account, causing him to suffer a fractured skull and brain damage. "I could see right away that Green was hurt," Kelly told McFarlane. "When he tried to get ul ; his face was contorted and his legs began to buckle under him. It was dreadful. I almost became physically ill watching him struggle because I knew it was very, very serious. I remember it like it happened yesterday." Rushed to a hospital, Green underwent multiple operations to save his life. A metal plate was placed in his head. Both players were charged with assault, but were later exonerated. Maki received a 30-day suspension from the NHL while Green was suspended for 13 days, if he ever returned to hockey. No one felt he would play again, but somehow he made a comeback. Missing the B's 1970 Stanley Cup Championship, he returned to the team for the 1970-1971 and 1971-1972 seasons, thus experiencing the joy of winning the 1972 Cup. Green then left the B's for the World Hockey Association, playing three seasons for the New England Whalers and four more for the Winnipeg Jets. Following his retirement, he was an assistant coach with the Edmonton Oilers, winning five Stanley Cups with the franchise. Named head coach of the Oilers in 1991, he led the team to the 1992 Westem Conference finals. However, after the team missed the playoffs in 1993, he was let go during the 1993-1994 campaign. He later rejoined the team as an assistant in 1997. He remained on the coaching staff for three seasons before moving to the New York Rangers as an assistant in 2000. He stayed with New York until 2004. Today, Green is 76 years old. He l turn 77 in March. Ironically, it was Maki who would see his life dramatically shortened because of a brain condition. Having previously played for the Chicago Blackhawks, he left the Blues after one season when he was claimed by Vancouver in the 1970 NHL expansion draft. There he enjoyed two successful seasons, being among the team's scoring leaders. However, in December 1972 his career came to an abrupt conclusion when he was diagnosed with brain cancer. He died on May 12, 1974. He was only 29 years old.