Saturday, March 28, 2009

Jack McIlhargey and the 1972-73 EHL Jersey Devils at Cherry Hill Arena from article:
McIlhargey Went From the Low Minors to the NHL

Who knew that Jack McIlhargey, John Brophy and Curt Brackenbury shared an apartment?

For me the essence is this:
McIlhargey made the jump to the NHL, but he thinks people are too judgmental looking at the old EHL as a place filled with legendary tough guys like Brophy, Don Perry, Kevin Morrison, Blake Ball and others who became movie characters in Slap Shot.

"I went to the Richmond Robins, which was the American Hockey League and was the Flyers' (farm team)," he said. "It was a good league. It was a very good league, but the Eastern League was a good league, too. There were a lot of good players back then. The Eastern Hockey League fans were good. They expected a tough brand of hockey and you gave it to them."
which reminds me of this bit from the National Post article on John Brophy's ECHL HOF induction :

The EHL was a blood-and-guts loop with teams scattered across the U.S. eastern seaboard. Games featured stick fights and brawls and a brand of nightly mayhem that inspired the cult movie Slap Shot, starring Paul Newman.

Newman's character, Reggie Dunlop, the player-coach with the bare-knuckle roster, was said to have been inspired by Brophy. But Brophy never liked the movie. He can't even watch it. He says it depicts a goon league and forgets some of the players could actually play.

It seems that a lot of people remember or the younger ones only know of the EHL as a "the Slapshot league". While those elements were present, the fact that there was some very good brand of hockey often missed. Remember the late sixties and early seventies was also the era of the Big Bad Bruins and the Broad Street Bullies, and some nasty stick fights at the NHL level. So it's not as if the EHL was special in this regard. The entire hockey scene was doing the fighting part of Slapshot. The EHL merely had the busrides and the struggle to stay afloat. It had more talent than Slapshot depicts - players who would make the NHL and WHA on skill.

WHen I remember the EHL, I remember how fast and exciting it was. When I saw my first NHL game live, I couldn't believe how slow and plodding it was in comparison to the EHL. And that was a 12-2 NHL game. Certainly part of that is that some of the EHL ice surfaces were smaller, and that even the worst seat at Cherry Hill Arena was much closer to the action than most of the seats I've had NHL games. But most of it was how hard these guys played. This with a roster maxing out at 15, often less, and traveling by bus with one mattress to sleep on where some seats had been torn out to the next game.

Yes, the EHL had talent. Remember, before NHL expansion in 1967, there were fewer combined teams in the NHL, AHL, CHL and WHL, than there are teams in the NHL now. Which means that the players at the EHL and IHL level then were at the same level as today's AHL. Hundreds of EHLers made the NHL. (At some point I will have them all recognized at ). Even a team as obscure as the 60-61 Jersey Larks sent Ross Brooks and Noel Picard to the NHL.

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