Tuesday

Garth Rizzuto

Garth Rizzuto is the answer to a little known trivia question.

Who was the first BC born hockey player to play for the Vancouver Canucks?

Rizzuto was born in Trail BC in September 1947. Ironically enough, his junior hockey training came from 1965-1967 in the SJHL with a Moose Jaw team nicknamed "Canucks."

That Moose Jaw team was a junior development team of the Chicago Blackhawks. Rizzuto spent three years in the Hawks minor league system starting in 1967-68, gradually improving his point totals to a respectable 62 points a year. However because of his lack of size and strength and true offensive production, the speedy Rizzuto was never considered to be a serious NHL prospect.

That changed when the NHL announced a new expansion team was granted on Canada's west coast. The Canucks selected Rizzuto from the Hawks and hoped that he could bring youth and speed to the Canucks inaugural season.

Rizzuto played in 37 NHL games in 1970-71, scoring 3 goals and 4 assists. Having also spent time in the minors, it may have been little more than a publicity stunt by the Canucks. Having a BC born player in the lineup created interest in the team of more than just the die-hard fans.

Rizzuto was sent to the minors for the entire 1971-72 season and was nowhere as near as successful as he was with the Hawks farm team. By 1972-73 he was released and signed on with the WHA's Winnipeg Jets for two uneventful years.

Rizzuto disappeared after 1974, but did resurface for 6 games in Nelson, British Columbia when he played in 6 games for the Nelson Maple Leafs of the little known WIHL.

Few Canucks fans remember him, but in a way he was a pioneer. 40 other BC born hockey players would fulfill their dreams of playing with the local NHL team by the turn of the century.

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Wednesday

Anders Eldebrink

Anders Eldebrink never made an impact in the NHL but he was a key cog on the Swedish national team for the entire 1980's and is extremely well respected back in Sweden. He was voted as the best left-side defenseman in Swedish hockey history by Swedish hockey fans in 1995.

He grew up in the small northern town of Kalix but moved to Södertälje, near Stockholm, as a youngster where he played most of his career. His older brother Kent was a world class javelin thrower and represented Sweden many times in that discipline. But Anders naturally turned to hockey, as most kids did in Kalix.

Anders was a five year veteran of the Swedish Elite league when he came to the NHL barely 21-years old. He had been signed as a free agent by Vancouver Canucks on May 18, 1981 and went over to North America that same fall. He had a fine rookie camp and made the Canucks team right away. He played 38 games during the regular season, collecting 9 points and then played another 13 games in the playoffs as Vancouver went on to have their cinderella season when they made it all the way to the finals.

Anders however lacked the maturity and patience at that time and never got a real crack at making it in Vancouver. The following season (1982-83) he was traded to Quebec for goalie John Garrett. He saw limited ice time in Quebec as well and was mainly playing for their Fredericton farm team in the AHL.

After only two seasons over in North American Anders headed home again, back to Södertälje. Later Anders would admit that regretted that he hadn't stayed in Sweden for a longer time.

"I went over to North America way too early. I wasn't mature enough and I guess I had too much respect. I also never got much icetime from neither Harry Neale or Roger Neilson," he said of the Canucks coaches.

Although his NHL career was over early on, he went on to become a dominant force on the Swedish national team and in the Swedish Elite league for many years. Anders developed into a lethal powerplay specialist with a deadly shot. His offensive play was his strongest weapon. He was a great puck handler and a very mobile defenseman. He was always among the highest scoring defensemen in the Swedish league. In 1985 he led his Södertälje team to the Swedish title.

His finest moments though came when he put on the Swedish national team jersey. He participated in six World Championships, two Canada Cups and one Olympic tournament. Anders especially excelled when Sweden became the World Champions in 1987. Although he didn't make the All-Star team, most people considered Anders to be the best defenseman of the tournament. He was +14 in the tournament and played extremely well in both ends of the ice.

At a dinner party after the Swedes had won the Gold he got a fine acknowledgement from two Russian giants, Vyacheslav Fetisov and Alexei Kasatonov.

"It was really nice to hear both Fetisov and Kasatonov say that they thought I was the best defenseman in the tournament. To hear it from two such great players made me proud," Anders said.

That 1987 tournament was one of Anders highlights during his playing career.

"The feeling when the national anthem was played after we had won the Gold can't be described" Anders said. "It sent shivers down my spine. I was extremely proud to be a Swede at that moment."

In 1988 Anders won the "player of the year" award in Sweden. In 1989 he eventually got some personal revenge as he made the World All-Star team (World Championships).

In the late 1980's Anders was still "hot" on the European market and when he was offered a lucrative contract from the Swiss team Kloten, and he couldn't resist the temptation.Anders went on to play in Kloten for six seasons, between 1990-95, and 1996-97, returning to Södertälje for the 1995-96 season. He was a standout in Switzerland, finishing among the top scoring defensemen each season.

Anders retired after the 1996-97 season and went back to his longtime club Södertälje to work in the front office there.

Not many hockey fans in North America knows who Anders Eldebrink is, but in Sweden he is still well respected wherever he shows up. His NHL career didn't pan out but his European career was extremely successful and rewarding.

Special Thanks to Patrick Houda

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Sunday

Lukas Krajicek

I always kind of rooted for Lukas Krajicek. The defenseman had real potential to become an elite offensive player from the blue line. He had a world class skill set in terms of seeing the game and handing and distributing the puck. He was a silky smooth, almost effortless skater and he had a good point shot.

The native of Prostejov, Czech Republic apprenticed in the Ontario Hockey League with the Peterborough Petes and was a first round draft pick (24th) overall of the Florida Panthers in 2001.

It was not a pick without risk, however.

Krajicek was a thin and spindly defender who had little interest in the physical game. It takes an incredibly special player to excel as a defenseman in the National Hockey League while playing a pacifist game. It can be done - think Mark Howe - though usually their physical game is understated.

But Krajicek never really did stick in the NHL. His offensive potential intrigued enough to keep him bouncing around the league with four teams - Florida, Vancouver, Tampa Bay and Philadelphia - for a total of 328 games. Yet the promised offensive numbers never materialized. He scored career totals of 11 goals and 72 points. In his best NHL season he scored just 19 points. Not enough for a depth defenseman who provided little in terms of physical and defensive play.

To make matters worse, Krajicek's game became prone to ill-advised gambles offensively. He would try to make high risk passes rather than making the safe play to get the puck out of the zone. He also developed a bad tendency to pinch at the wrong time, getting trapped behind while the offensive team went on an odd-man rush. And in his own zone teams loved to dump the puck into his corner and forecheck him hard and hope he rushed his decision to move the puck and turn that into a turnover.

Krajicek was an intriguing player with a nice skill set, but ultimately he was not a long time NHL player. He left the NHL in 2010 and continued his career overseas.

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Wayne Maki

Wayne Maki will always be known for this ugly incident on the ice:



Born in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, Wayne joined older brother Ron "Chico" Maki with the Chicago Black Hawks in the 1967–1968 season.

In 1969 he was claimed by the St. Louis Blues. In a preseason game on September 21, 1969, Maki and Boston Bruins defenceman "Terrible" Ted Green engaged in a violent stick-swinging fight. Broadcasting legend Dan Kelly described the incident as “one of the most horrifying, most violent exchanges I’ve ever seen in hockey.”

After narrowly avoiding an angry strike by Green, Maki retaliated with his own stick and hit Green in the head. Green suffered a fractured skull and a brain injury.

“I could see right away that Green was badly hurt,” Kelly told Brian McFarlane. “When he tried to get up, his face was contorted and his legs began to buckle under him. It was dreadful. I almost became physically ill watching him struggle because I knew this was very, very serious. I remember it like it happened yesterday.”

Assault charges were laid against Green and Maki. The NHL suspended and fined both players. Maki was suspended for 30 days and Green for 13 games “if and when he returns to hockey." Green missed the entire 1969-70 season, but did return to action and played for nearly another decade.

Perhaps disturbed by the incident Maki never stuck with the Blues that season. The Vancouver Canucks claimed Maki in the 1970 NHL Expansion Draft. The wingman was an early hit in Vancouver, being among the team's scoring leaders in each of the club's first two seasons.

Maki's career came to a sudden halt in December 1972 when he was diagnosed with a cancerous brain tumour. He died later that season, on May 12, 1974. He was only 29 years old.

The Canucks took Maki's #11 jersey out of circulation ever since, though Mark Messier wore the number when he joined the team in 1997. No player has worn #11 since Messier's departure in 2000

In 246 games played Wayne Maki scored 57 goals, 79 assists, 136 points, and 184 penalty minutes in regular season play. In 2 post-season games played, he added 1 goal and 2 penalty minutes.

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