For hockey fans of a certain age, a great day is at hand. We will soon be blessed with the DVD release, on its 40th anniversary, of one of the sport's cheesy-but-great movies.
Thanks to the persistence of Jonathan Gross, president of Video Services Corp. who spent years securing the video rights, Face-Off, second only to Slap Shot as a classic hockey movie, will soon be available on DVD and Blu Ray. There is a public screening on Thursday at the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto to benefit Stopconcussions.com, the online hub founded by Keith Primeau and Kerry Goulet to educate people about head injuries. The DVD/Blu Ray package goes on sale Nov. 15.
As a movie, Face-Off is nothing short of awful, of course. It is based on the equally hackneyed Scott Young novel and spares no cliché in telling the tale of a boy from Northern Ontario who grows up to play for the Toronto Maple Leafs. He falls for a hippie folk singer with tragic consequences when the hockey world collides with the psychedelic music world of the late 1960s-70s.
Face-Off stars Art Hindle and Trudy Young as star-crossed lovers Billy Duke and Sherri Lee Nelson. As Leafs coach Fred Wares, John Vernon steals many a scene with a preview of his Dean Wormer character in 1978's Animal House. But the real stars are the dozens of players seen during actual NHL games along with footage from Toronto circa 1971 and, of course, the most hideous clothes ever made.
Since the late Johnny F. Bassett was the film's producer, he was able to get permission to shoot inside several of the NHL's grand old buildings because his father was part-owner of the Maple Leafs at the time along with Harold Ballard (who had a cameo as a team doctor) and Stafford Smythe.
The hockey footage is nothing short of spectacular. Maple Leaf Gardens is the setting for most of the action but the old Montreal Forum, Chicago Stadium and the Forum in Los Angeles are also featured.
Most of the fun is picking out the various NHL players of the day aside from the big stars like Dave Keon, Jean Béliveau, Gordie Howe and a balding Bobby Hull. There are also a couple of sequences of Bobby Orr in his glorious prime. Keep an eye out for an impossibly young-looking Darryl Sittler.
Leaf great George Armstrong had a speaking role and was not bad. The old NHL bad boy Derek Sanderson also did a nice turn as himself, the hip hockey star.
Since Art Hindle only learned to skate when the movie was shot, Jim McKenny, then a cocky young defenceman for the Leafs, was his double for the hockey scenes. In a book written by your agent, Tales from the Toronto Maple Leafs, McKenny (who will be at the public screening with other ex-Leafs plus Hindle and Young) recalled that Bassett wanted him to be the star and paid for acting lessons, but it turned out McKenney acted as well as Hindle skated.
Tickets for the public screening are $100 and available at Faceoffmovie.com.
PUTTING ON THE JACKET
Ken Hitchcock could return as the Columbus Blue Jackets' head coach as soon as Monday.
A report in the Columbus Dispatch said Hitchcock and former Calgary Flames general manager Craig Button, who worked with Hitchcock with the Dallas Stars when the team was among the NHL's elite, were contacted by Jackets president Mike Priest. With the Blue Jackets foundering with just one win despite the big-money acquisitions of Jeff Carter and James Wisniewski and attendance plummeting, both head coach Scott Arniel and GM Scott Howson are in trouble. However, Button said he has not been contacted by the Blue Jackets. Hitchcock is still under contract with the Blue Jackets. He was fired as head coach in February of 2010 but he is still a consultant to the team.
KEEP YOUR EYE ON THE PUCK
A few things to watch this week:
Seven days ago in this space, the alarm bells were sounded for the Montreal Canadiens, who were winless at home and floundering with a 1-4-2 record.
Funny how that goes. Once Habs general manager Pierre Gauthier made the master stroke of firing assistant coach Perry Pearn, the Canadiens won three games in a row, including two over the Boston Bruins. So now we turn our baleful gaze on the Bruins, who are having the Stanley Cup hangover to end all hangovers.
The defending champions do not have a busy week, which may or may not be a good thing for a team that is trying to get itself out of a three-game losing streak and 3-7 start. All the Bruins have on tap are games Tuesday against the Ottawa Senators and Saturday against the Toronto Maple Leafs.
On one hand, this gives head coach Claude Julien has time to work on a few things like his appalling power play. But on the other, it gives the fans lots of time between games to work themselves into a frenzy. In a sports-crazed city like Boston, this is the more likely option.
Sid-the-Kid Watch: With the Pittsburgh Penguins getting four days off, the speculation about Sidney Crosby's return from a concussion is growing. But the betting is his return date remains Nov. 11 against the Dallas Stars. Crosby wanted several practices after he was cleared for contact. Once the four-day break is over Thursday with a game against the Los Angeles Kings, the Pens have six days off until they play Dallas.
The Goal-scoring Watch: A perusal of the NHL stats shows some surprising names among players still looking for their first goal of the season. One name that jumps out is Koivu. Mikko Koivu of the Minnesota Wild has yet to score after 10 games while older brother Saku of the Anaheim Ducks went into Sunday night's game with no goals after 10 games as well. The blight seems catching with the Wild, since forward Pierre-Marc Bouchard has no goals in eight games. Perhaps the worst off is veteran Steve Sullivan of the Penguins, who has not scored in 13 games. Also on the blanked list are two members of what was the Winnipeg Jets' top line at the start of the season – Blake Wheeler and Bryan Little.
FIVE GAMES TO WATCH
Jets at Panthers
The Jets are desperately trying to climb out of the Southeast Division basement in the midst of a seven-game road trip. The Panthers present a better chance for a win after an agonizing 1-0 loss to Tampa Bay. Monday, 7:30 p.m., TSN-Jets
Senators at Bruins
This should have represented a chance for the Bruins to find their groove again. But the Senators took a five-game winning streak into Sunday's game against Toronto thanks to some third-period comebacks. Tuesday, 7 p.m., TSN, RDS.
Jets at Islanders
This starts a four-day stay in the New York-New Jersey area for the Jets. They finish with back-to-back games against the Devils and Rangers. Thursday, 7 p.m., TSN-Jets
Bruins at Maple Leafs
This is a chance for the Leafs to avenge a 6-2 loss in Boston, one of the few times the Bruins had a decent game. A loss will see the Bruins reluctant to go home. Saturday, 7 p.m., CBC
Canucks at Blackhawks
If the Canucks still have not shaken off their slow start, this should be fun. No group of fans has a persecution complex to match that of Vancouver fans and Saturday's big win over the Washington Capitals could be a distant memory. Sunday, 7 p.m., Sportsnet-Vancouver. All times Eastern
A few things you might not know about the Pittsburgh Penguins, compliments of defenceman Ben Lovejoy, a Dartmouth grad, with assistance from fellow blueliner Brooks Orpik:
Best player in pre-game soccer drill – "Matt Cooke or Pascal Dupuis. They both take it very seriously." No Europeans? "We only have one Russian."
Cards or video games most popular on planes? – "It's 50-50."
Most popular card games – "Hearts or 7 Up 7 Down. Matt Cooke is the most cheatious."
Most popular video game – Call of Duty.
Best gamer on the team – Orpik: "Not Sid." Lovejoy: "It used to be Deryk Engelland until he started playing cards."
Player with most unusual skill – "Tyler Kennedy is surprisingly good when talking politics, specifically American politics even though he's Canadian. He's definitely a conservative."
Best-read player - "Geno [Evgeni Malkin]has always got his face buried in some huge Russian history book."