Friday, 1 December 2017

WELL-WARRANTED HOCKEY RULE CHANGES

Like any sport, hockey has progressed over the years. In the midst of its 100-year anniversary this year, the National Hockey League has led the way, while the rest of the pack--amateur and minor leagues--fell into line to keep the sport consistent from coast to coast. Many rule changes occurred over a crucial 40-year period starting in 1917 that shaped the game that we see now on TV and in person at the rink. 

Historically, the NHL was actually a continuation of the National Hockey Association, which had been around since 1909, a league with teams in Ontario and Quebec that saw six players per side, thus eliminating the previous rover position 

From the very beginning, Toronto Blueshirts’ owner Eddie Livingston caused so much trouble within the NHA executive ranks--such as threatening to move his team to Boston despite NHA league disapproval--that three of the NHA teams (Montreal Canadiens, Montreal Wanderers, and Ottawa Senators) decided to totally ignore Livingston and his franchise, and form their own league for the 1917-18 season. They also added a new team in Toronto called the ArenasAs a result, Livingston tried suing the other teams for leaving him in the lurch. But nothing came of it.  

Beehive hockey picture of Jean Beliveau 
(Canadian Public Domain)
Frank Calder was the NHL’s first president, true visionary if there ever was one who remained in office for the next 25 years. Under his guidance, the first major change occurred in the first NHL season: Goaltenders were allowed to drop to the ice to make saves. Before that, they were handed a minor penalty, which--believe it or not--they had to serve themselves by leaving the ice while a forward or defenseman replaced them! The next season, in 1918-19, two blue lines were painted on the ice surface 20 feet from center ice (which had no red or any other-colored line), thus creating three zones with the neutral center piece 40 feet long. This latter area being the only zone where forward passing was allowed. 

Throughout the 1920s, the defensive strategy of the time was to keep the opposing team bottled up in its own 20-foot zone, making for a very boring game at times. This was an early form of “the trap.” Players could not pass the puck over the defensive line to a teammate--they had to carry it out. In 1926-27, the blue lines were moved up to 60 feet from the goal lines, shortening the neutral zone from 60 feet down to 40 feet. In addition, in 1928-29, a minor penalty was called against a player who passed the puck back in the defensive zone. Apparently, the game was not clicking: too many 1-0 and 2-0 scores. Now, something definitely had to be done. 

So, beginning in 1929-30, forward passes in all zones were allowed. This opened up the game, doubled the scoring, and also established the term we now know as “blueliners.” Dealing with this new problem, the league invented the modern offside rule for the 1930-31 season, where the puck had to be thrown or taken into the attacking zone ahead of other players entering the zone. 

In 1934-35, for the first time, the NHL saw penalty shots. They occurred when a player was tripped or otherwise held from preventing a clear shot on net with no teammate to pass to. Play was stopped, and any player appointed by the coach had to take his shot inside a 10-foot circle that was 38 feet from the net. The goalie could move up only 12 inches, at most, beyond the goal line.  

By mid-season 1936-1937, a goaltender no longer had to serve his own penalty and was replaced by a teammate. In 1937-38, icing the puck came into being, which increased the chances of injury as players from both sides often were forced to race for the puck. “No touch” icing back then. 

The next season, 1938-39, the league changed the penalty rule to add some excitement. The puck carrier could now race towards the goalie before firing away at him. 

In 1940-41, resurfacing the ice between periods became mandatory. Several hand flooders were now used by a crew of workers, unlike the single Zambonis in this day and age. Prior to all this, ice surfaces were only scraped, leading to chips and gouges everywhere as the game went on. Oftentimes, overtime playoff games extended into several periods because the players had a tough time moving and maneuvering.  

To speed up the game and reduce the number of off-sides during World War II--when the best players were overseas--the league introduced the Red Line in 1943-44. Ever since then, hockey is a dump-and-chase game. One ex-player in particular, forward Guyle Fielder, hated the system and it probably kept him out of the NHL. Fielder was a scoring sensation in the old Western Hockey League during the 1950s and 1960s, setting records that still stand in pro hockey.  

Beehive hockey picture of Terry Sawhuk
(Canadian Public Domain)
An incredible stick-handler, Fielder was an unselfish center, who would set up an offense like no one in hockey before or since. “I didn’t like the NHL’s dump-and-chase system,” the spry Fielder told me over the phone from his home in Mesa, Arizona in 2014.  He preferred to hang onto the puck, until the time was right to snap off a crisp pass to an open teammate gunning for the net.  This irked the NHL coaches and GMs to no end. If you couldn’t make the play, you were supposed to dump it in. “If you have the puck, why give it away?” Fielder added. “That’s what a center is for. Make the plays and set up others.” 

Finally, last but not least, one of the most significant rule changes and one of the most talked about began at the start of the 1956-57 season, in which two-minute penalized players were allowed to return to the ice when the first goal was scored by the opposing team. Prior to this, the team with the man-advantage was able to score as many goals as they could within those two minutes, weather they were on a 5-on-4 or even 5-on-3How did this new rule come about? 

By the mid-1950s, the Montreal Canadiens had the most potent power play in hockey history, with such weapons as Rocket Richard, Jean Beliveau, Boom Boom Geoffrion, Bert Olmstead, Dickie Moore, Doug Harvey, and Tom Johnson unleashing a flurry of shots on netThis team could embarrass you in a couple of two-minute spans, enough to completely change around any 60-minute game

One night, November 5, 1955, Jean Beliveau scored a Hat Trick in 44 seconds on Bruins netminder Terry Sawchuk on just one 5-on-3 power play, setting the stage for the opposing teams--all five of them in the Original Six led by Detroit Red Wings GM Jack Adams--to gang up on Montreal and force the rule change to keep the Canadiens at least at bay for the next season and beyond 
Even under the new penalty rule, Montreal managed to set the NHL team record for goals with 250 in 1957-58, before passing that mark by eight more the following yearFurthermore, the Habs showed themselves as still unstoppable, despite their vicious power play curtailed, by winning a remarkable five straight Stanley Cups from 1956-1960. Although challenged by the New Islanders and Edmonton Oilers since, Montreal’s five NHL championships in a row remains a record--the benchmark for power and domination--and will probably stay that way for a long, long time. 

What a game hockey is today, thanks to some of these mentioned rules.

Thursday, 2 November 2017

THE MAKING OF MCDONALD’S

We love McDonald’s hamburgers, right? OK, most or at least a good percentage of us do. It’s, of course, the fast-food restaurant chain that gave us the golden arches. It also gave us the Big Mac and its legendary slogan: “Two all-beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions, on a sesame seed bun.”

How did McDonald’s get started in the first place? Enter the expertise of remarkable entrepreneur Ray Kroc.

Ray Kroc, 1976 (US Public Domain)
Raymond Albert Kroc was born to poor Czech parents in Chicago, Illinois on October 5, 1902 and brought up in the suburb of Oak Park. Dropping out of school at 15, in the midst of World War I, he lied about his age and took training with the Red Cross as an ambulance driver with the hope of going overseas. A fellow trainee in the same course was Walt Disney. The two became fast friends during their schooling at Sound Beach, Connecticut. The war ended before either one saw overseas duty, however, with Disney arriving in Europe just as the armistice was signed.

For the next several years, Kroc took on various jobs: a pianist and DJ for a local Oak Park radio station, then later as a paper cup salesman. It was not until he began working for a company called Prime Castle selling milkshake mixers that something clicked, enough to change his life forever. This particular machine could mix five drinks at once, saving any restaurant owner a ton of time. When one of his buyers asked for eight machines in 1954, Kroc decided to pay the purchasers a visit. They were brothers Richard and Maurice McDonald who owned a string of restaurants called McDonald’s that specialized in hamburgers, fries, pies, milkshakes and soft drinks in the San Bernardino area of California, and had come a long way since opening their first store in 1940.

Kroc flew out to the Sunshine State and was immediately impressed by the McDonald brothers success and efficiency in making “assembly line” hamburgers--a restaurant version of Detroit’s auto mass-production system. Kroc wanted in on the business, offering to work as a franchising agent in return for a profit cut. Before Kroc, the brothers franchised only their idea, rather than their McDonald’s name. That would soon change. Kroc saw a “cash cow,” if there ever was one.

The following year, he became McDonald’s Corporation president and opened the first restaurant using the McDonald’s name outside California in Des Plains, Illinois. Furthermore, he quickly created a corporation that purchased suitable restaurant sites for future McDonald’s franchisees. By 1960, he was largely responsible for establishing 200 franchises nationwide. But Kroc was looking for more out of the business and nothing was going to stop him, despite the brothers’ attitude in staying small and not wishing to move forward or were simply too afraid to. Not so with Kroc. In 1961, he bought the business rights to the McDonald brothers operation for $2.7 million.

In the deal, the McDonald brothers were supposed to receive an annual royalty of 0.5%. However, this part of the deal was only a handshake. Due to disputes over how the process was handled and the real estate rights to the original McDonald’s restaurant in San Bernardino, which the McDonald brothers did not want to transfer to their partner, Kroc refused to honor the handshake royalty portion because it wasn’t in writing. The brothers kept the restaurant and called it “The Big M” because they no longer had the McDonald’s naming rights. Kroc got even. In response, he had a new McDonald’s restaurant built near the original one and with its much-larger sales left the McDonald brothers in the dust, forcing their original store out of business within six years.

In 1961, Kroc sent a letter off to his old friend Walt Disney. “I have recently taken over the national franchise of the McDonald’s system. I would like to inquire if there may be an opportunity for a McDonald’s in your Disney Development.” The deal fell through, however. One story is that Disney wanted to increase the price of fries from ten to fifteen cents and keep the five-cent profit for himself. To that, Kroc said no.

McDonalds 1990s logo (US Public Domain)
In full charge of the McDonald’s chain with the golden arches, Kroc tweaked the assembly line method further by standardizing the meals to the point that no matter where one bought their burgers and fries, they wouldn’t taste any different than another franchise even if it was across the country. Franchise owners went through a vigorous training course in “Hamburger University” at the head office in Elk Grove, Illinois, where they received certificates in “hamburgerology with a minor in French fries.” Most employees were teenagers looking for part-time jobs. All employees had to be prompt with their service, neat in appearance and courteous.

In early 1974, Kroc retired as McDonald’s CEO and bought the San Diego Padres at a steal for $12 million, once he heard they were planning a move to Washington, D.C. (after five disappointing years in the majors on the West Coast). Although they lost 102 games to only 60 wins in 1974, the Padres attracted a million fans for the first time in their franchise and increased their attendance for the next several years, peaking at 1.6 million twice and 1.5 million on three other occasions, without really being that good on the field. Their best season was 84-78 in 1978, the first time seeing 1.6 million fans.

Ray Kroc died of a heart attack in San Diego on January 14, 1984 at the age of 81. At that time, he had a personal wealth of $500 million. Not bad for someone who had never finished basic school. Instead, he established his own success by attending the school of hard knocks. “I guess to be an entrepreneur you have to have a large ego, enormous pride,” he once said, “and an ability to inspire others to follow your lead.”

Upon his death, McDonald’s had 8,000 restaurants in the United States and 33 other countries. Global sales were $8 billion in 1983. Kroc passed away a year too soon because the Padres had their best year in 1984: They won 92 games, attracted 1.9 million hometown fans, took the National League pennant, and fought their way to the World Series, only to lose in five games to the American League Detroit Tigers.

I remember when McDonald’s came to my hometown of Regina, Saskatchewan in the early 1970s. Their radio and TV ads got right to point: Get this, you could buy their basic burger, fries, and a drink and still get change back from your dollar. Tell that to kids nowadays and hear their reaction.

Today, 30,000 fast-food McDonald’s outlets are in more than 100 countries, with about 15 percent company owned. Most make an average yearly profit of between half-a-million to a million dollars.