Denny and the Dead Cat
During the 1998-1999 season, we had a game in Nashville. The Predators had a role-playing forward named Denny Lambert. His job was to get under opposing teams’ skin. He ran his mouth nonstop, would challenge anyone and everyone to fight, and was a cinch to rack up 200+ penalty minutes a year.
Unfortunately, Denny was no heavyweight. He was stocky, about 200 pounds, but stood no more than about 5-foot-9 despite being rather generously listed at 5-foot-11. He also had an issue with his hair, or what was left of it, at least. Let’s put it this way. Denny had something in common with the late Ross Lonsberry and goalie Chico Resch.
Lambert was a gamer. And he could certainly dish it out verbally. But he was a bit thin-skinned about getting chirped back in return. That’s how he picked up a lot of penalty minutes by the 10s.
We were sitting on the bench. Luke Richardson and Daymond Langkow were both to my left. Lambert ran his mouth from the drop of the opening faceoff.
After an offside, there was a faceoff right near our bench.
“Hey, Denny!” Luke shouted. “Did you staple that dead cat on your head or is glued on?”
I laughed so hard that Lambert got red in the face. He glared at me.
“Therien, you’re dead! Next shift!”
I laughed even harder. Earlier in Daymond’s career, when he was playing for Tampa Bay, he fought Lambert and won decisively, knocking out a tooth or two in the process.
The response: “Sorry, Denny. You don’t get a shot at anyone over 6-feet tall ’til you take down Langer. We know all about how he beat the [stuffings] out of you.”
This whole time, Daymond had been silent. He looked incredulously at Luke and me as we pulled a Don King – that’s literally what we called it at the time — and tried to arrange a fight.
“Yo, guys! What the hell?!” Langkow said to Richardson and me.
Luke and I laughed even harder.
The Lambert-Langkow fight never happened. Daymond had won Round 1 and wasn’t eager for a Round 2. In the meantime, in that same game, Richardson fought Lambert and got the better of it. That was seconds after Sandy McCarthy fought Patrick Cote and decisioned him. Later in the game, Lambert blew a gasket trying to go at Langkow, and received an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty.
We didn’t score on the power play, but Rod Brind’Amour cashed in shortly thereafter for what proved to be the game-winning goal. We won 2-1 after trailing 1-0 at the first intermission.
Herbie Gets “Miracle” Whipped
During the 2000 playoffs, we played the Pittsburgh Penguins in the second round. That was the series that saw us lose the first two games at home, win the next two in Pittsburgh in overtime and then a five-overtime marathon, and go on to crush the Penguins over the remainder of the six-game series.
As with any series, but especially one between arch-rivals, there was a lot of gamesmanship of both the physical and verbal varieties. Some of the barbs that got exchanged make me chuckle to this day when I think about them.
At the tail end of one of the early games in the series, Luke Richardson fired a puck from about 20 feet away directly into the mid-section of Penguins defenseman Bob Boughner. There was a lot of hollering back and forth but nothing escalated to a fight.
The late Herb Brooks was the Penguins’ head coach. Herbie, of course, was famously the head coach of the gold-medal winning Team USA that authored the “Miracle on Ice” at the 1980 Olympics. He prided himself on a reputation for being a hard-nosed coach, primarily to his own players but was also not above hollering at opposing players on occasion (something that is generally frowned upon).
Brooks compared Richardson to 1800s outlaw Robert Ford – remembered in history as a coward and an opportunist who shot Jesse James, the leader of his own gang – in the back in exchange for a cash bounty. We had a blast with that for a few days. Anyone who knew Luke was well aware that there wasn’t a cowardly bone in his body.
The next game, we were in Pittsburgh. I believe it was for Game 3 but it may have been Game 4 (the five-OT game). In any case, Brooks starts in on Richardson. Note: The expletives will be deleted here, much like an edited-for-television showing of “Slap Shot.”
Brooks shouted, “Hey, Robert Ford! Ya stinkin’ coward! Who ya gonna shoot in the back this time?!”
In the blink of an eye, one of my teammates replied. Since Herb Brooks is deceased, I’ll leave unnamed the player who mouthed off back to him. I suspect, anyway, that you can probably guess who it was.
“Hey, Herb! Why don’t you stick that gold medal where the sun don’t shine, you freakin’ old billy goat!”
That was hilarious, and a real jaw-dropper. Of all the choice descriptors, I wasn’t expecting “old billy goat” to be one of them. It cracked me up. It also surprised me, because Herb Brooks is a legendary figure in our sport. To hear someone of his stature cut down to size so casually took me aback for a minute.
That’s the beautiful thing about hockey, though. No one is a sacred cow. Brooks decided to guff off to an opposing player and when you do that, especially as a coach, they’re not going to just take it. I remember telling that story to my father, and we had quite a laugh about it.
When you chirp, you’d better be prepared to be chirped back in return; even if you’re Herb Brooks. Maybe he’d done that stuff with impunity in college and international hockey, but it didn’t fly in the NHL.
Chief Takes Charge
I could do an entire article’s worth of Craig Berube stories. This one, which happened on the final day of the 1999-2000 regular season, is my favorite. You’ll notice, by the way, that all of the stories in this article are from the same general time period. That’s not by accident. We had quite a cast of characters, and we were mostly a tight-knit team that thoroughly enjoyed each other on and off the ice.
The game, a matinee, was played at Madison Square Garden. We’d already clinched the top record in the Eastern Conference. The Rangers were going to miss the playoffs. It was an emotional day, anyway, because assistant coach Craig Ramsay had taken over as acting head coach while Roger Neilson was undergoing cancer treatments.
The Rangers called up a young defenseman named Dale Purinton for the game. He was making his NHL debut, but his reputation was already well known to us. He had just posted 306 penalty in the AHL for the Hartford Wolf Pack – in just 45 games.
“Pay no attention to him,” Rammer advised. “We’ve got to get ready for the playoffs. They’re going home after today.”
Purinton was intent on not being ignored. He wanted to make an early impression toward competing for a spot the next training camp – he eventually played an additional 180 games in the NHL – and the only way to do that was to be as aggressive as he could be. He threw his big frame around with abandon, running at one of our stars, Mark Recchi, and high-sticking Keith Primeau. Prims really had no choice but to drop the gloves with Purinton.
By this point, Chief had enough. The game was getting out of control, and it was time for him to take charge.
Hall of Fame Rangers defenseman Brian Leetch sat on the bench, next to Puritan. Berube pointed right at him and say, “Leetch! Put your pet on a leash right now or I’m gonna drag you to center ice next shift and beat you to death in front of 20,000 fans. And there ain’t nothin’ you’re gonna do about it.”
There was fire in Chief’s eyes. When he gets that look, he means business.
Leetch put his arm around Purinton and said something. I’m sure he said something along the lines of, “You made your point. Now let’s just get this damn game over with.”
The rest of the game was peaceful. Epilogue: Late in the game, as a gesture of respect and recognition for the great job he’d done protecting our star players and being a leader in the room, Rammer put Craig out in an empty net situation for the Rangers.
Lo and behold, Chief scored an empty net goal. It was his fourth goal of the season. The reason why I remember that: I had made a bet that season with Craig about which of us would score more goals. I had gotten four. His empty-netter in the final minute of the regular season tied me and made our wager a draw.
In this instance, Chief never had to throw a single punch. It was the greatest story I ever personally witnessed about the value of having an intimidating and well-respected policeman on your roster. Craig dressed in over 1,000 games in the NHL. This story is a perfect example of why he hit that coveted milestone.
These are just three stories out of dozens. For me, they’re memories that will last a lifetime but also are memories that showed a lot of the character, passion, and emotion that sometimes can be said reflected through the words said on the ice.