Keeping Score: Making music from Springfield to Nashville

Friday, May 26, 2017

Good morning!

The Nashville Predators were about to clinch their first trip to the Stanley Cup finals when the television camera panned up into the rafters to show general manager David Poile and assistant GM Paul Fenton enjoying the moment.

“Fenton played a large role in the scouting of Pekka Rinne,” said analyst John Garrett, referring to the Predators’ outstanding goaltender who’s gone 12-4 in the playoffs.

Seeing Fenton and hearing Garrett on Tuesday reminded me of meeting both men decades ago. Fenton’s father was the Springfield police chief and his son was a tireless rink rat.

After he helped Cathedral High School reach the state finals in 1976, Fenton played four years at Boston University and turned pro with the Peoria Prancers of the International Hockey League.

Writing for the Valley Advocate, I reached him by telephone and kidded him about the team’s nickname. “Yeah,” he laughed, “We get razzed pretty good on the road.”

Fenton scored 100 goals in 411 games in the NHL, and one afternoon I was fortunate to be on the ice with him for stick time at the Springfield Olympia. It was a typical pick-up hockey game with no goalies and two subs per side with the teams decided by light-colored jerseys versus the dark jerseys. Fenton didn’t come off the ice except once when he jumped over the boards and said, “Gotta blow the snots out.”

He bent over, gave two loud honks and waited for his next shift.

A few years earlier I’d met John Garrett when he was a backup goalie for the Whalers. The roof of the Hartford Civic Center’s coliseum had collapsed and the team was playing in the Springfield Civic Center.

During the games, I’d leave the press box and walk along the catwalks over the ice to see Gordie Howe skate directly below me. After one game, I sat in the visitor’s locker room and listened to the Islanders’ Mike Bossy, Bryan Trottier and John Tonelli rehash their win against Hartford. It was a fabulous era when NHL hockey was on our doorstep.  

One night, I drove to Washington to watch the Whalers play the Capitals. The Hartford coliseum’s roof was almost repaired and I asked Garrett if he looked forward to leaving Springfield. “Finally,” he nodded. “That rink is dank, dark and dirty.”

I returned home, wrote the story and not long afterward got a phone call. It was Garrett, and he wanted a retraction. “I thought you were a Washington reporter,” he said.

Garrett said he was getting hassled by Civic Center workers, especially the zamboni driver, but so was I. We both endured the dirty looks until the team moved back to Hartford.

That was then and this is now. The Whalers are the Carolina Hurricanes and Peoria’s hockey team is called the Rivermen. In Nashville, tickets to the Stanley Cup finals start at $998 on StubHub, but Paul Fenton and John Garrett will have the best seats in the house and it was a long time coming.

Pittsburgh left wing Conor Sheary (No. 43) and Nashville defenseman Matt Irwin (No. 52) both played for UMass. The kid from Melrose (Sheary) had an assist in Thursday’s Game 7 and was on the ice for the game-winner against Ottawa in double overtime. Both players were recruited by Toot Cahoon.

Another UMass player in the conference finals, Anaheim defenseman Brandon Montour, was recruited by coach John Micheletto. Montour played one semester and “never came off the ice,” according to Greenfield’s Bob Weiss.

Montour had three goals and 17 assists in 21 games for UMass. He quickly turned pro when the Ducks took him with the 55th overall pick— the highest draft choice in UMass hockey history (Jonathan Quick was taken 77th  by the LA Kings).

Tessa Gobbo of Team USA Rowing will be inducted into the Northfield Mount Hermon School Athletic Hall of Fame next weekend. Gobbo was a gold medalist in women’s eight at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Brazil. She was born in Chesterfield, N.H., raised in Keene and now lives in Cambridge.

Two-time Coca-Cola 600 winner Kevin Harvick is the favorite to notch the hat trick tomorrow at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Harvick has the pole position and the car that grabs the lead on the 1.5-mile track is expected to stay there from start-to-finish.

“The lead car gets 100 percent non-turbulent air,” explained Darin Russell of Wood Brothers Racing. “The others drive through turbulence, so it seems the car out front is going to run away with it. It mainly happens at tracks that are over a mile.”

Russell tunes Ryan Blaney’s No. 21 car, a bright red Ford Fusion that will have Sgt. Greg Belanger’s name across the windshield. Russell arranged to have his friend from Deerfield remembered during today’s race, which is dedicated to fallen soldiers. Belanger was killed by a roadside bomb in Iraq in 2003.

Blaney had the seventh fastest qualifying time, meaning he’ll start close to the lead. “We’re hoping for a few breaks that would bunch everybody back and then try to win it off pit road,” said Russell.

Jim Bouton described a coffee shop scene in his book “Ball Four” when a player reached for a Wall Street Journal that was left on the counter. “Somebody already took the sports section,” said his buddy.

Bouton thought it was funny because the WSJ didn’t have a sports section in those days. Much like the teammate who ordered pie a la mode. “And put a scoop of ice cream on it,” he said.  

This week’s sports feature in the Journal was about the Chicago Cubs’ unconventional new round clubhouse that’s 60-feet, six inches in diameter (the same distance from the pitcher’s rubber to home plate). “Our thought was more on player intimacy,” said Cubs GM Jed Hoyer.

Apparently success goes to peoples’ heads after they snap a 108-year World Series drought. The round clubhouse, wrote Jared Diamond, “… emphasizes factors like chemistry and character (and) exemplifies the opportunity for serendipitous encounters between people who might not normally interact otherwise.”

Diamond tried to underscore his point by quoting psychologist Sally Augustine: “It’s a really important clue to the players about what’s important. It’s an unmistakable message.”

Let’s see how well the message holds up when the team hits its first big slump and the players start staring at each other.

SQUIBBERS: The summer games begins in earnest on June 6 when the Red Sox and Yankees square off for the first of 17 games through Sept. 3. … The Red Sox end the regular season with a seven game homestand including three versus Toronto and (gulp) four versus the Houston Astros. … Pitchers rest their arms between starts, and performers rest their voices. “Mondays are my silent days,” actor Bryan Cranston told Howard Stern on his SiriusXM show. “I don’t speak at all on Mondays. I carry around a little eraser board.” … UMass publicist Cody Lahl reports that Brooks Sweet will be inducted into the National Lacrosse Hall of Fame in Maryland on Sept.23. Sweet was a 1979 All-America for coach Dick Garber’s Gorillas. A junior college transfer, he scored 106 goals and had 66 assists in 1978 and ’79. … At the assigned time, Seattle running back Eddie Lacy weighed in at 253 pounds, 32 ounces under what he needed to make a $55,000 incentive. …Heritage Auctions put Thurman Munson’s 1976 Game Four World Series jersey up for bid on May 12 and it sold for $78,000. The 32-year-old Munson died inside his Cessna Citation when he crashed while practicing landings and take-offs at the Canton, Ohio airport on Aug. 2, 1979. … Reader Russ Brown notes that Edmonton is in Alberta, not Ontario, as I wrote in this space last week. Brown co-hosts the Dukes of Sports with Mike Cadran on GCTV. … The Red Sox made the right move trading Clay Buchholz, who’s out for the season after surgery on his pitching arm. Boston traded for minor league infielder Josh Tobias, who’s batting a combined .325 at Salem and Portland. …Steiner Sports is selling Mike Trout autographed baseballs for $594.99. The 25-year-old Trout has a legitimate shot at becoming only the third triple crown winner in 50 years (behind Carl Yastrzemski in 1967 and Miguel Cabrera in 2012). Trout’s currently first in hitting, tied for first in home runs and is third in RBIs. … Congrats and a fond farewell to UMass baseball coach Mike Stone who lasted 30 years at UMass and whose last win was May 18 versus Davidson, 7-6, on a 90-degree day at Earl Lorden Field. … St. Louis Cards’ manager Mike Matheny’s son Tate is batting .294 for the Salem (Va.) Red Sox. Matheny was a freshman All-America at Missouri State, the same school where actor John Goodman played football until he got booted. “I got kicked off for singing ‘Hey Jude’ during punishment laps,” Goodman said on the Howard Stern Show. … David Price makes his first start of the season in Chicago against the White Sox on Monday. During his rehab start at Pawtucket on Wednesday, Price was heckled by a fan wearing a T-shirt that said, “31 Million Shades of $uck.” …. New York Post columnist Phil Mushnick recalled the time Joba Chamberlain shrugged off a bad outing by saying, “At the end of the day, the sun comes up.” …Thanks NESN for all the reruns of Dining Playbook with Billy and Jenny. They really make my souffle.

Chip Ainsworth is an award-winning columnist who has penned his observations about sports for four decades in the Pioneer Valley. He can be reached by email at sports@recorder.com.