Friday, November 16, 2007

The Human Cannon

Would you step in the way of a speeding bullet?

Most sane people would say no that question, and really can you blame them? There is one fairly standard rule in our modern world, and that is that getting shot is a bad thing, so you must avoid it at all costs. However, for 23 seasons in the NHL, goalies everywhere would have to step in front of bullets on a nightly basis. These bullets did not come from guns or cannons though, they came from defenceman Al MacInnis.

Al MacInnis began his NHL career with the Calgary Flames in 1981, while he was a great young talent playing for a great young team, he did have one major problem. Wayne Gretzky. MacInnis had the great misfortunes of playing for Calgary during the Oilers Dynasty of the 1980s. Regardless of how talented the team was they would always be regarded as the other team from Alberta as they saw their cross-provincial rivals repeatedly hoist Hockey's Holy Grail.

However, this all changed in 1989 when MacInnis helped lead the Calgary Flames over the Montreal Canadiens in the Stanley Cup Finals. This season, MacInnis would become the only defenceman in league history to lead the league in post-season points, en-route to the Conn Smythe Trophy.This would also mark the only time that a team other than the Canadiens would hoist the Cup in the Montreal Forum.

During the 1994 season, Al MacInnis was traded from the only franchise he had ever known to the St. Louis Blues. MacInnis quickly settled into his new franchise, becoming a key component of the teams plans for years to come. Soon afterwards the Blues would trade for Chris Pronger, and the two would become one of the leagues elite shut-down tandems of the late 1990s. These two worked so well together that they would be repeatedly chosen to play along side one another for Canadian International Teams, a true testament to their talent and chemistry.

While the St. Louis Blues underwent a series of changes, MacInnis remained a stalwart for the team, helping them reach the playoffs for every season he played there. The Blues had a very talented team for the late 90's and early 00s, even winning the Presidents Trophy in 2000, but they had the distinct displeasure of playing the same Conference as the Dallas Stars, Colorado Avalanche, and Detroit Red Wings during this period, thus giving them less playoff success than they probably deserved.

Al MacInnis announced his retirement after the NHL Lockout. It should be noted that the St. Louis Blues have yet to make the playoffs since then.

MacInnis, will always be remembered for one legendary facet of his playing ability, his slap shot. He was able to win the NHL's hardest shot competition a stunning 7 times. Goalie Mike Luit once said that there are "two kinds of hard. There's hard, and then there's MacInnis hard." when talking about a shot from MacInnis which broke his helmet. Even more impressive about this was the fact that he hit all of his shots with old fashion wooden sticks, shunning the new composite ones.

While MacInnis is best remembered for his offensive abilities, he is 2nd and 3rd in Calgary Flames and defensemen scoring respectively, he did still possess a solid fundamental understanding of team defense. His leadership abilities contributed all of the necessary intangibles that allowed all of his teams to achieve a greater deal of success.

I could imagine that all around the league goalies are breathing a little bit easier now. They know that they only have to stop hard shots, not MacInnis hard ones anymore.

Until next time,


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