Greg Smyth Was One of Hockey’s Last Helmetless Players

Greg Smyth during the 1992-93 season. [Photo courtesy of the Calgary Flames]
Former NHL defenseman Greg Smyth passed away earlier this month after a long battle with cancer. He was 51 years old. While many remember “Bird Dog” for his tough play and willingness to drop the gloves, there is a little-known fact about Smyth that truly made him unique. For a short time during the 1992-93 season, Smyth opted to play without a helmet.

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The Near-Miracle on Ice: An Oral History of the 1992 U.S. Olympic Hockey Team

Defenseman Moe Mantha and goaltender Ray Leblanc in the game against Sweden at the 1992 Winter Olympics. [Photo courtesy of USA Hockey]
Expectations were not very high for the United States Men’s Ice Hockey Team during the 1992 Winter Olympics, but for a two-week span, the group of college players and minor leaguers captured the hearts and minds of Americans watching back home.

After the U.S. rocked the hockey world at the 1980 Olympics with its “Miracle on Ice” win over the Soviet Union and subsequent gold medal victory, Americans hoped for a repeat. It wouldn’t happen that decade, though, as the U.S. finished 7th out of 12 teams in 1984 and again in 1988.

While the U.S. team may have been projected to be a doormat at the 1992 Olympics, the team proved the world wrong. Led by goaltender Ray Leblanc, an unlikely hero between the pipes, the ’92 team was the U.S.’s “Near-Miracle on Ice” – a team that was unstoppable in its first six games, only to be halted by the tournament’s eventual champion.

Part I – The Long Road to Méribel

Narrowing down the 1992 U.S. Olympic Hockey Team to 23 players was a six-month process. [Photo courtesy of USA Hockey]
The 1992 U.S. Olympic Team was a bricolage of college standouts and minor pro players, with a few NHLers mixed in. Building the team was an ongoing process that started in the summer of 1991 and went until a few weeks before the Olympics started in February of 1992.

Bret Hedican | #24 | Defense
I had a really good junior year at St. Cloud State University. I was on spring break, of all things, and I got a call from my parents. They said USA Hockey called, and that they wanted me to represent the Americans in Russia for a tournament called the Pravda Cup. I was blown away. I never – not once – had been asked to represent the United States in any national tournament. I had four of the best games of my life. I gave everything I had, because I knew it was my chance of a lifetime. The coaches were Dave Peterson and Dean Blais, and they asked me to try out for the National Team. I left college my senior year to make the National Team, in hopes to make the Olympic Team.

David Emma | #10 | Forward
After I won the Hobey [Baker Award, as the NCAA’s best player], I went right to the tryouts.

Shawn McEachern | #15 | Forward
We had tryouts in the summertime. That’s the way it worked with the Olympic teams back then. You went to tryouts for the National Team, and then you played for the National Team. And then you’d play a season against some NHL teams and some college and minor league teams. And then, just before the Olympics, they cut it down. We traveled around for about six months with the National Team.

Keith Tkachuk | #17 | Forward
This was before I was a professional. Because I was so young, 19 years old, I wasn’t expecting to make the team. I guess I had a good tryout. I was already enrolled to go back to school that fall, but luckily, I made it, and kept on making it, and got to go play in the Olympics.

Continue reading “The Near-Miracle on Ice: An Oral History of the 1992 U.S. Olympic Hockey Team”

Interview: Randy Walker, Rob Lowe’s Hockey Double in Youngblood

Randy Walker (left) and Rob Lowe on the set of Youngblood in 1984.

Randy Walker had the best summer job a 16-year old boy could hope for. Back in the summer of 1984, MGM was filming the hockey movie Youngblood in his hometown of Toronto. Walker went with some of his friends to the audition because they wanted the free ice time, but he may have skated off with the best part – as one of the hockey doubles for the film’s star, Rob Lowe.

Remember that scene when Dean Youngblood scores a sweet wraparound goal and then gets clocked by Racki during the Mustangs’ tryout? Or when Youngblood gets crushed into the boards by teammate Derek Sutton during practice? Or when Youngblood streaks down the ice and flips a backhander over the outstretched leg of the Thunder Bay Bombers goalie? That was all Walker. Obviously, we see shots of Rob Lowe’s face – usually from the chest up – in those scenes. Walker was one of the people who made the hockey action believable. 

Randy Walker in 2018.

But as a double, Walker had other, less glamorous tasks that you did not see. Many times, a double must stay in place – sometimes even lying under a championship figure skater — while the crew sets up the lights and cameras and frame the shot. Then the real actors step in when the filming starts.

Today, Walker is a police dispatcher and 911 operator in Spotswood, New Jersey. He is a scout for the Sioux City Musketeers of the USHL and for the Amarillo Bulls of the NAHL, and was a youth hockey coach for 16 years. Working on the set of Youngblood may have been his summer job from over 30 years ago, yet Walker remembers it like it was yesterday. He spoke with me recently so we could geek out over his memories of working on the greatest hockey movie from the 1980s.

Sal Barry: You were pretty young when you worked on Youngblood. How did you get the job?

Randy Walker: I was 16 and played on a really good midget hockey team called the Toronto Red Wings. We won the championship. And there was a Junior B team called the Henry Carr Crusaders. They were also champions in their league. I don’t know how, but the movie found this guy named Charles Rosart.

SB: You mean “Masher?”

RW: Yeah, we called him Masher. I don’t know how they found Masher, but he called our coach and Henry Carr’s coach and got all our numbers. He called us and told us to go to the Lakeshore Arena because they were shooting some movie. Nobody in their right mind would ever believe anything Masher said, but the thing that got us to go to the rink was that we were going to play shinny with guys on the [OHL] Toronto Marlies, like Peter Zezel and Steve Thomas. We looked up to those guys. We were midget players, and those guys were in major junior.

So, it was June, school’s out, and we were going to get on the ice and play shinny with the Marlies. We thought this was going to be for a hockey instructional video. Masher told us it was for a movie, and we thought he was full of crap. When we got there, the buzz started going around that it was a Hollywood movie.

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Interview: Hockey Documentary Filmmaker Dale Morrisey

Dale Morrisey shoots footage for his new film, “Only the Dead Know the Brooklyn Americans.”

Dale Morrisey is a filmmaker with a passion for hockey documentaries. His latest work, entitled “Only the Dead Know the Brooklyn Americans,” takes a long look at a long-forgotten NHL team. The Americans pre-date the “Original Six” Era and contributed more to the long-term success of the NHL than most would credit them for. At the same time, the Americans were a horrible team, struggling for years, first in New York City and then finally Brooklyn.

Morrisey, 45, was born in Oshawa and is, in his words, “a long-suffering Maple Leafs fan.” He previously wrote and directed documentaries “The Father of Hockey” (2014) and “Hockey’s Lost Boy” (2016). Recently, he spoke about his newest work, and why anyone should care about a team that’s been dead for over 75 years.

Sal Barry: Please explain the meaning behind your film’s title, “Only the Dead Know the Brooklyn Americans.”

Dale Morrisey: That’s from Thomas Wolfe’s short story “Only the Dead Know Brooklyn,” which appeared in the New Yorker magazine in 1935. The gist of the story is that it takes an entire lifetime to know Brooklyn, and even then, you wouldn’t know all of it. So, we played off of that, because the Brooklyn Americans area forgotten team, and only someone who was around back then would really know and understand who they were.

SB: The Americans have been gone for how long now?

DM: About 76 years.

SB: Why would anyone care to know about the Americans today?

DM: That’s a good question; I’ve been asked it a lot. Continue reading “Interview: Hockey Documentary Filmmaker Dale Morrisey”

An Interview with Hockey Card Photo Editor Austin Castillo

Upper Deck photo editor Austin Castillo, left, poses with Philip Pritchard and the Stanley Cup. Among other duties, Castillo selects photos shown on Upper Deck hockey cards.

A few weeks ago, Puck Junk got some internet buzz with our Best of the Worst article about this year’s Upper Deck Series Two. That caught the busy eyes of our cardboard muses at Upper Deck, who enjoyed the light-hearted ribbing we gave them. We asked if we could interview one of their photo editors, because we want to know what goes into the production of hockey cards. What are some of the challenges that Upper Deck employees face to make cards that they’d be proud of?

Fortunately, Upper Deck photo editor Austin Castillo was kind enough to play Twenty(ish) Questions with us via email, and provided some pretty insightful and provocative things about the world of cardboard sports icons. Where do their new product ideas come from? What kind of guidelines do they follow for selecting card photos? Let’s find out!

Jim Howard: What is your job and what are your duties with Upper Deck?

Austin Castillo: My job title is Photo Editor. I maintain a huge archive of digital and film assets (slides and negatives) and pick the photos that go on cards, as well as some Photoshop work (CMYK conversion, color correction, etc.).

JH: How did you find your way into this field?

AC: I studied photography in college and then found the job via Indeed.

JH: To what extent do you edit the pictures?  Obviously color, contrast and brightness are tweaked as needed, but I’ve seen older cards where the ads on the boards were removed or altered.

AC: We generally don’t retouch the image too much, but we’ll airbrush out Continue reading “An Interview with Hockey Card Photo Editor Austin Castillo”

Interview: “Odd Man Rush” author Bill Keenan

Hockey player-turned-author Bill Keenan [Photo credit: Reimund Schuster]

Bill Keenan is not yet a household name for hockey fans, but that might soon change. He played Division 1 college hockey at Harvard, but injuries limited him to just six games. After that, Keenan headed overseas to play minor league hockey in Belgium, Germany and Sweden.

He retired in 2012 and soon started writing his autobiography entitled “Odd Man Rush: A Harvard Kid’s Hockey Odyssey from Central Park to Somewhere in Sweden–with Stops Along the Way” (reviewed here). It is a fun, humorous tale of a young man trying to make a comeback in a foreign land. Others have apparently found Keenan’s tale entertaining, too. “Odd Man Rush” is currently ranked 23rd overall in the Hockey Biographies category on

Keenan is back in college, studying business, and is a contributor to Stan Fischler’s newsletter, “The Fischler Report.” I recently spoke with Keenan about writing his book, the highs and lows of his career, playing against a 10-year old Sidney Crosby and why he decided to retire. And if you haven’t read “Odd Man Rush” yet, don’t worry — this interview contains no spoilers.

Sal Barry: I thoroughly enjoyed “Odd Man Rush” and did not want it to end.

Bill Keenan: That’s probably the biggest compliment I could imagine. I know that feeling, certainly not with my own book, but with some of the books that I like a lot.

SB: I didn’t know who Bill Keenan was before I got a copy of your book. Why would someone want to read “Odd Man Rush?”

BK: A couple of reasons. Whether you played hockey or not, whether you played a sport or not, I think a lot of this is about your average kid. Continue reading “Interview: “Odd Man Rush” author Bill Keenan”

Interview: Blackhawks Prospect Vince Hinostroza

Vince Hinostroza was called up to the Blackhawks earlier this season. [Photo by Sarah Avampato]

Chicago Blackhawks prospect Vince Hinostroza became part of an exclusive group when he made his NHL debut earlier this season. Born in the town of Barltett, IL — about a 40 minute drive from Chicago — he became the latest player from the Chicago area to wear the famous Indian-head sweater. Other players in that club include former Blackhawks Chris Chelios, Ed Olczyk and Craig Anderson; current Blackhawks goaltender Scott Darling; and Rockford IceHogs teammate Ryan Hartman.

Hinostroza, a forward, was drafted by the Blackhawks in the 6th round (169th overall) in the 2012 NHL Draft. During the 2012-13 season, he played Division 1 NCAA hockey for Notre Dame and was named to Hockey East’s All-Rookie Team. The following year, Hinostroza led the team in scoring and was named to Hockey East’s First All-Star Team. He is currently in his first season of pro hockey with the AHL’s Rockford IceHogs, where he is fifth in scoring. He was also called up for a four-game stint with the Blackhawks.

I spoke with Hinostroza about his college days, adapting to new teammates and being on the ice at the United Center instead of looking down at it from the stands.

Sal Barry: What was your earliest hockey memory?

Vince Hinostroza: When I was three years old, I started skating with my cousin and my dad at Fox Valley Ice Arena. Skating without a stick. And when I was four, I remember joining my first team.

SB: At four years old? Do you remember how you did?

VH: I remember stepping off of the bench and coming onto the ice for my first shift, ever, actually.

SB: Really?

VH: Well, I remember my parents telling me about it.

SB: Did you grow up watching the Blackhawks?

VH: Not as much when I was younger, because Continue reading “Interview: Blackhawks Prospect Vince Hinostroza”

Interview: Mark Gessner of IFC’s hockey comedy “Benders”

Mark Gessner of IFC's comedy "Benders" [Photo by Patrick Harbron]
Mark Gessner of IFC’s comedy “Benders” [Photo by Patrick Harbron]

Mark Gessner has scored his dream role. A lifelong hockey fan, the New York-based actor plays Dickie Litski, a hard-drinking hockey player, on the new IFC comedy series “Benders.” Or more specifically, he plays a really bad hockey player on a really bad beer league hockey team. Ironic, considering that Gessner, 35, has played hockey since his childhood. “Benders,” produced by Dennis Leary, follows four friends who are obsessed with two things: playing hockey and getting drunk at the bar afterward.

Gessner was both an actor and a hockey player during his high school days. He has appeared on “Orange is the New Black,” “Veep,” “The Blacklist” and “Law and Order: SVU,” among other shows. Gessner recently talked with us about his role on “Benders,” playing high school hockey and the rigors of making rec league hockey look bad.

benders_posterSal Barry: I’ve really enjoyed “Benders” so far. I play beer league hockey, and the jokes really hit home.

Mark Gessner: Nice. I’m glad you’re enjoying it.

SB: How would you describe “Benders” to someone who has not yet seen the show?

MG: Basically, “Benders” is about four guys who have totally different jobs and are from totally different walks of life — but the one thing they can all agree on is that they love playing for their horrendous men’s league hockey team. It’s where they all intersect and where they all get along, and their friendship extends off the ice, as you often find in real hockey settings. It’s one of those sports where you become tight-knit playing it.

My costar, Andrew Schultz (Paul on “Benders”), came up with this analogy: it’s like “Entourage,” but as if they never left Queens, and then crossed that with a show like “The League,” where there’s a shared interest in a sport.

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An interview with Michael Rigitano, creator of the Bottle Cap Stanley Cup

Alternate_Headline_ImageBlackhawks fans are a passionate bunch, so it takes something above and beyond your typical jersey or face paint to stand out in this sea of red. But lifelong ‘Hawks fan Michael Rigitano is anything but typical. After the team won the Stanley Cup in 2010, he exceeded the normal boundaries of fandom and descended into something much deeper. On a dare, he built a life-size replica of Lord Stanley’s Cup — using bottle caps. Many, many thousands of bottle caps.

Since then, the Bottle Cap Stanley Cup has had a life of its own. Rigitano — a college student who also teaches children and adults how to play hockey — and his trophy were guests at the United Center and have appeared on TV, on the radio and in newspapers around Chicago. His creation helped raise money for breast cancer research at a Chicago Steel (USHL) game. The NHL even arranged for the “Cap Cup,” as he calls it, to be photographed with the real deal.

I spoke with Rigitano to learn what drove him to undertake such a monumental task.

Sal Barry: I’m going to just cut right to it — why did you make a replica of the Stanley Cup out of bottle caps?

Michael Rigitano:. I was working in a bar in 2010. It all started with a ten dollar bet that I couldn’t make a Stanley Cup out of bottle caps. I ended up winning that money. Continue reading “An interview with Michael Rigitano, creator of the Bottle Cap Stanley Cup”

An Interview with Goalie Scott Darling of the Chicago Blackhawks

Chicago-area native Scott Darling has played very well for the Blackhawks in seven games this season. [Photo by Mel]

Goaltender Scott Darling has been the surprise story for the Chicago Blackhawks this season. In two call-ups from the AHL this year, he has posted a 5-2 record and a 1.97 goals allowed average. A far cry from 2010, when Darling was near the bottom of the pro hockey landscape. Off-ice troubles led to him to leave the University of Maine after two seasons. And despite being drafted by the Phoenix Coyotes in 2007, he did not make their team.

But in 2011, Darling made a conscious choice to turn his life around. He stopped drinking alcohol, lost weight and worked diligently with his goaltending coach, Brian Daccord. Darling quickly moved up the pro hockey ranks, playing a second season in the Southern Professional Hockey League, then progressing to the ECHL and last year to the AHL with the Milwaukee Admirals. The Blackhawks noticed Darling’s play in Milwaukee, and signed him to a two-way contract over the summer. He is currently the number one goalie for the AHL’s Rockford IceHogs.

Born in Newport News, Virginia, Darling “moved around a ton until second grade,” living in Washington state and Alabama before his family finally settled in the Chicago suburb of Lemont. He followed the Blackhawks avidly during his youth. Now, he’s played seven games for them, and is likely to play more before the season is through. I recently spoke with Darling about his ascent to the NHL, being teammates with Gustav Nyquist in college, his appearance on “Road to the Winter Classic,” and getting into a goalie fight.

Sal Barry: What were your earliest hockey memories?

Scott Darling: When I lived just outside of Tacoma, Washington, my dad played goalie. I used to go watch him play in a men’s league. We also went to Tacoma Rockets games. We were season ticket holders. I was probably in…gosh..I don’t even know if I was in kindergarten yet. I used to go to every game. Those were probably my earliest hockey memories, going to the Rockets games and watching my dad play in a men’s league.

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