2008-09-18

Pouzar


This is Jaroslav Pouzar. (Always wanted to write that, LT!) He won three Stanley Cups with the Oilers in 1984, '85 and '87, and his absence in 1986 was a little-credited factor in the Oilers upset loss to the hated Flames. Pouzar was at his best in the biggest games, and he proved it by becoming just the second man in history to win both a World Championship and a Stanley Cup (nowadays this is common, but only Canada's Sid Smith preceded him). Pouzar was the first and remains on a short list of elite players who have won both titles on multiple occasions.

Ugly helmet aside, he was an absolute beauty of a hockey player. He was a big scorer (33 goals in 75 senior international games) for the great Czechoslovak squad that knocked the Soviets off their eternal perch as world champions for a couple of years (1976 and '77) and which played a sublime Team Canada squad very tough in the inaugural Canada Cup. He was a star of the Lake Placid Olympics, where in 6 GP he posted 8-5-13. By the time he made it to Edmonton as an over-30, his hands had mostly deserted him, but his head was still intact and the rest of his game still very, very effective.

"Pouz" wasn't just tough, he was Lee Fogolin-tough. He may have been the proverbial fire hydrant on Wayne Gretzky's left side, but that was never more true than when somebody took a run at him. He would brace, they would bounce.

The man was, as we said (admiringly) in the day, a Tank. He was great at creating space; moreover, he seemed to hate all the same opponents I did. I remember listening to a Boxing Day game from Calgary one year (probably 1983) where Badger Bob Johnson deployed Doug Risebrough to get in Gretzky's face, hacking, beaking and generally frustrating the Great One. The first period ended scoreless, and for a radio listener full of wine and turkey I was about as pissed off as one could be. So here is an approximate recreation of Rod Phillip's play-by-play to start the second:

And now Jaroslav Pouzar has been moved up to the line with Gretzky and Kurri. This could get interesting. The puck gets shot into the Oiler end, OH! AND POUZAR JUST CRUSHES RISEBROUGH!! oh, he just demolished Risebrough, he's still down, and here's the puck into the centre zone, Gretzky and Kurri, two on one! Gretzky ... to Kurri ... HE SCORES!!!"

Took something like 21 or 26 seconds, and the Oilers were off and running to a 6-3 win. Pouzar never got a point, or a mention in the game story the next day, but I'll never forget it. I hated Risebrough, both as a Hab and a Flame.

Pouzar has an odd line in his stats: in the 1983 playoffs he played one game and scored 2 goals. They came in Chicago Stadium in the (first) Campbell Bowl-clinching game, as Pouzar replaced an injured Mark Messier in the line-up, the Oilers only significant injury of those playoffs. Messier came back to play hurt, and ineffectively, in the sweep at the hands of the Islanders, while Pouzar was left chomping at the bit in the pressbox while the set line-up got beaten up by the more-experienced Islanders. Not saying he should have replaced Messier, but I then, now, and will forever consider it a mistake by Glen Sather to not get him in there somewhere.

The next year Pouzar was in the line-up from the get-go, mostly on an extremely effective and irritating line with Ken Linseman and Dave Lumley. (Opponents' Rule #1: Keep your head up. Rule #2: Don't turn your back. Rule #3: Then worry about the puck) Pouz just hammered Trottier early in G1 as Mr. DeBakey mentioned in the comments section of the last post. More importantly, he absolutely fucking smoked Billy Smith, midway in the second period of Game 3, within a couple of minutes of the famous Mark Messier goal that supposedly turned the series. It was at my end of the ice, Smith had gone out to tee up a puck behind the net, Pouzar got bumped on his way in, didn't avoid the contact and just clobbered Battlin' Billy with a wicked dart.

Interesting to note that the Oilers scored 4 goals (including Messier's) in the ~150 minutes before that hit, and 17 goals in the 150 minutes that followed. How much of that was The Goal and how much was The Hit remains an open question, but today one is celebrated and the other largely forgotten, and that doesn't seem quite right to me. Pouzar never did get the credit he was due in my view; the Oilers won 15 of 16 playoff series during his time here, and as mentioned he was pressboxed for the one they lost.

Pouzar was a man of few words, and those in a broken English which had an endearing way of getting straight to the point, usually with a twinkle in his eye. During one celebrated incident he got stitched up between shifts without bothering with a local anaesthetic, rationalizing: "Me married. No need good looks!" Local legend had it the quiet man spoke up in The Room during those 1984 Finals in what may have been his only dressing room speech during his time here. I don't suppose the message was much more than Carpe Diem, but it apparently had its effect.

That Oilers-Islanders rivalry was a great one, and Pouzar was one of the guys that turned the tide. I still remember the time I was sitting behind the Islanders net, the evil Denis Potvin made an outlet pass just as Pouzar came in and cashed his check with a particularly ferocious crunch. The camera and most eyes had turned up ice to follow the puck, but those in my end zone watched Potvin collect himself gingerly and glide over to the bench, doubled over in pain and gasping for wind. As this delicious scenario unfolded a leatherlung behind me let him have it with an unforgettable shot: "NOW YOU KNOW HOW YOUR WIFE FELT, POTVIN!!"

You had to be there, but if you were, it was damn close to perfect.

22 comments:

Black Dog said...

Great post Bruce. Absolutely terrific.

Me likey.

dstaples said...

Yes sir, Bruce, your literary efforts here are putting us all to shame. Great storytelling.

Oilman said...

great stuff Bruce. Isn't it funny how two of the Oilers biggest antagonists over the years were a couple of guys who could barely speak a word of english in a time where every Euro player was considered soft as butter.

Bruce said...

Thanks, guys.

Oilman: One expression I never did hear at any time was "Chicken Czech". It wasn't easy sailing for those early trailblazers like Pouzar, Jiri Bubla and Miroslav Dvorak. The lifestyle changes they endured at an advanced hockey age were dramatic.

One small historical note that I didn't think to mention 'til now, was that Oilers' depth at LW (Messier, Anderson, Hunter, Semenko, Pouzar) was what tied Sather's hands in those '83 Finals. Those same five guys (plus Pat Conacher waiting in the wings) were still vying for ice time in 1983-84, ultimately prompting Slats to move the Moose into the middle late in the '83-84 season, opening a spot in the starting 12 for the battle-tested Czech.

Meanwhile a perceived weakness at centre was resolved once and for all with the arrival of Messier and an early-season trade for Kevin McClelland. And the rest, as they say, is History.

PunjabiOil said...

Great stuff Bruce. Good to see you start up your own blog.

I have bookmarked and added it to the sidebar links.

Cheers

Moose said...

Class post.

docweb said...

Bruce, I'm sure you know (and can tell the true story) but the gist of the "speech" was...You guys may win a bunch of Cups but this is probably my only chance so...Let's do it!! Effective.

Look forward to your insights and phenomenal recollections/remembrances

Bruce said...

Docweb: That jives with the story as I heard it. I am a long way from an insider: the closest thing I ever had to "access" was when my kid played Tom Thumb hockey and we shared some practice ice time with Randy Gregg's son's team. Randy -- another of my personal "heroes" who no doubt will warrant his own feature post at some point -- wasn't big on reminiscing, preferring to think in the present and look to the future; in a sense he wanted to be "just another parent". Although certainly he would share the odd tidbit if one asked him the right sort of hockey-related question, e.g. what are the challenges of switching from LD to RD? or some such.

There was one time I showed up to practice with my what remains my most treasured Oiler artifact, a game-used Jaroslav Pouzar stick, which prompted a big smile and a couple of anecdotes, including a passing reference to that one locker room speech. Pouz had the respect of his teammates, of that there is no doubt.

therealdeal said...

Great post, I love reading stories like this. Will have to add you to the sidebar.

Bruce said...

TRD: Ditto. Done. Thanks for the reminder. Nice to see all the recent work on your site; I read the Stortini post right away (natch) and will catch up on the rest after the weekend.

Off to Saskabush for a couple days, and I understand they don't have Internet there :) so things will be quiet here for a little while.

Dennis said...

Absolutely terrific post, Bruce.

I'm a '75 so I was just nine years old the first time the Oilers won and I know Pouzar was on those clubs but I didn't see a lot of the Oilers regular season games and obviously couldn't follow them like the locals did.

I had no idea he was such a load on the forecheck.

Doogie2K said...

Who says there's no such thing as a Big Hit? ;) Seriously, I had no idea about Pouzar accidentally-on-purpose flattening Billy Smith, but I can see how that might throw him, especially if he never got an opportunity to get a retaliatory thwack or five in.

And like everyone else here, I've added you to my sidebar. I could read stories like this all day.

Bruce said...

Dennis: Thanks. I have a feeling you woulda loved Pouzar. I know I did.

D2K: Thanks for the feedback, and the link. I have updated my own blogroll to include yours, with apologies for the oversight.

Anybody else out there who wants a link, let me know. It's very much a work in progress at this point, but I want to get the essentials up there ASAP.

Doogie2K said...

Thanks for the link, Bruce. Only complaint is you put up our RSS feed. ;) This is the version that filters out non-sports stuff and includes the blogroll.

Bruce said...

Doogie: I'm having all kinds of trouble getting it right. When I add the link it defaults "Stillnoname Ground" and it opens a page with all sorts of coding. Don't understand it, I can open it OK by other means, but as a link it's messed up. I've been hitting my head on this particular wall for half an hour; I'll give it another try later, for now I've just taken it down. Sorry.

David Johnson said...

Bruce,

Can you drop me an e-mail at david (at) hockeyanalysis.com. I have a question for you.

Doogie2K said...

@Bruce: What? I wonder why it's doing that? I must admit I've never used Blogger's back end for anything before. Maybe I'll try using my (unused) blogspace here to fiddle and see if I can replicate your problem.

Doogie2K said...

Hm, I got it to go. I went to the Configure Link List page, typed "http://ground.stillnoname.com/posts/sports/" into the New Site URL box and the site name into New Site Name, clicked Add Link, then Save, and it worked.

What are you getting when you do it?

Bruce said...

Doogie: I've been entering pretty much exactly just as you describe (using blogspot, which is a slightly different sequence: Customize / Edit (my blog list) / add to list / [paste or type URL]), but when it appears on the blogroll and I click it, it defaults to http://ground.stillnoname.com/rss.xml

Not sure why the extension, but I don't have the know-how to get in there and change it. I've left the link up as is for now so you can check it out, but obviously it can't say this way. I have encountered no such problem with any of the others, so I'm baffled. And frustrated.

CrazyCoach said...

Hey Bruce,

I remember Pouzar's flattening of Billy Smith. Yeah Mess scored the goal, but Smith was never the same after that hit.

I also liked Pouzar because he made those Jofa helmets popular among us Oilers fans. I have to admit I owned one.

Oh the ribbing I took in Northern BC among a see of Cooper and CCM helmets.

Doogie2K said...

I'm baffled, too, but I wouldn't worry too much about it. I appreciate the effort and frustration that went into it.

Bruce said...

Doogie; I'll figure it out, I'm learning every day. I'll get you up there properly soon.