Sports

When better teams are built, Sam Pollock will build them

Robert Miller May 31 1976
Sports

When better teams are built, Sam Pollock will build them

Robert Miller May 31 1976

When better teams are built, Sam Pollock will build them

Robert Miller

Hockey’s long hot winter was over. The Stanley Cup was back in Montreal where it belonged. The players were back on the golf course where some of them belonged. And Sam Pollock was back in his Forum office where he scarcely had time to reflect on how satisfying it had all been. A short busy summer beckoned. “Aw, I’ll take some time off in July,” Pollock said. “There’s a lot coming up.” Indeed there was: NHL meetings in Chicago, the junior draft, talent-shuffling, trades, salary negotiations. Plus, of course, the selection, care and feeding of Team Pollock. There is no rest for the wily.

For Pollock, the Canadiens’ genius-inresidence, the temptation must have been powerful to select his entire Montreal lineup for the September series against the rest of the world. After all, the Canadiens had just swept the Philadelphia Flyers under the carpet. The Flyers, as Valeri Kharlamov and his Central Red Army playmates will attest, were no mean hockey team. Vicious, maybe, but not mean. Who better to represent Canada in the Canada Cup than the high-flying, clean-living Canadiens? To be sure, there are superior players on other NHL clubs. (With heavy irony, Pollock acknowledged as much to a radio reporter after the final Stanley Cup game: “We could be

stronger,” he said. “I think maybe Bobby Orr is better than our fifth defenseman.”) But can these superior players be molded into an effective unit? Pollock’s Canadiens won this year’s cup with size, speed, skill

and a system. Pollock’s selections for September will certainly have size, speed and skill. The question is whether they can learn a system together in a short month of training.

When he agreed to take the job of running Team Canada ’76, Pollock insisted on a completely free hand. That meant he would be free to ignore star players, however great their personal followings, as well as to select them. But political realities dictate otherwise, which means

he will pick his all-stars and hope for the best against the Russians, Czechs, Americans, Swedes and Finns.

International hockey aside, Pollock will also wrestle all summer with a problem his NHL rivals would love to have. What in the world can Montreal do with all the talent it owns? The Canadiens were so deep this past season that players of the calibre of Don Awrey and John Van Boxmeer didn’t even dress for the play-offs. What’s more, Al MacNeil, whose Nova Scotia Voyageurs won the American Hockey League’s Calder Cup a few days before the Canadiens won the Stanley, says he has at least six players who are ready for the NHL. For some years it has been accepted in hockey that the Voyageurs would probably make the play-offs in the NHL.

By happy accident, Pollock has more breathing room this year than ever before. Under a four-year agreement drawn up by the NHL in 1974, there will be no interleague draft this summer. This means Pollock doesn’t have to worry about protecting a championship team from his NHL rivals. But hockey players want to play hockey, not watch from the press box. So Pollock will fall back on his tried-and-true formula of trading ready-to-play talent for draft choices which, in effect, are options on the superstars of tomorrow. It’s one of the ways the Canadiens stay strong. It is also why Guy Lafleur is getting ready to face the Russians instead of getting ready to move from Oakland to Denver with the California Golden Seals.