Monday

Jack Church

This is Jack Church. He is one of only two players in NHL history with that last name. Brad Church, who played 2 games with Washington in 1997-98, is the other.

Jack Church, a defenseman from Kamsack, Saskatchewan played in 130 NHL games in the years surrounding World War II.  Best remembered as a Leaf, though he also played with the Brooklyn Americans and Boston Bruins, he scored 4 career goals and 23 career points.

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Tuesday

Ernie Dickens

This good looking young man is Ernie Dickens. The defenseman from Winnipeg, Manitoba made a favorable impression as a rookie with the Toronto Maple Leafs, helping the Leafs come back from 3 games down to defeat Detroit in the Stanley Cup finals.

But Dickens had to put his NHL aspirations on hold. After his rookie season he was summoned off to the Canadian military as part of the effort in World War II.

Dickens did not return until 1945. He played one more season with the Leafs, but was no longer the highly anticipated youngster. In fact, he was replaced by the next star young defenseman - Bashin' Bill Barilko. Dickens spent most of the next couple of seasons in the minor leagues before he was moved to Chicago as part of the big Max Bentley trade.

Dickens played four seasons in Chicago, quietly providing reliable defense with the Hawks.


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Sunday

Pete Backor

Fort William, Ontario (better known today as Thunder Bay) has always been a hotbed for hockey, but especially back in the early days. Brothers Pete and Hank Backor were both excellent players with the Fort William Forts. While they both dreamed of playing in the National Hockey League and both would enjoy long professional careers, only Pete would make it to the big leagues.

Pete didn't make the jump to pro hockey any too soon though. The defenseman found a good spot with the senior league St. Catherines Saints, playing and working in the southern Ontario town for five years during World War II.

The war was nearing an end by 1944-45, but the Toronto Maple Leafs still needed replacements with many of their players still under commitment to the Canadian military. Backor was brought in to play on the blue line that season. A good offensive defenseman, Backor scored 4 goals and 9 points in 36 games.

That would be Backor's only taste of NHL action, seeing as that many of the conscripts would return to the Leafs the following season. He was sent to the Leafs' AHL farm team in Pittsburgh where he would star with the Hornets until 1954. He was a 5 time all star and in 1952 he led the Hornets to the Calder Cup championship.

Backor, who was Rudy Migay's brother in-law, returned to Ontario late in his career to play some senior and semi-pro hockey. He retired in 1956.

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Friday

Inge Hammarstrom

Hammarstrom was born in Sundsva back in January of 1948. The son of an engineer, he was raised in the paper mill town of Timre.

Hammarstrom grew up playing a lot of sports, but he excelled at two: tennis and especially hockey. By 15 he was named to the Swedish national junior team and was a regular on the senior national team at 19 years old.

Despite his success, he never gave much thought to a career in the National Hockey League. European players were all but non-existent in the early 1970s. But that changed in large part to Hammarstrom and his good friend, Borje Salming.

On May 12th, 1973 the Toronto Maple Leafs signed the two Swedes. The 21 year old Salming would go on to become a Hockey Hall of Famer and one of the best defenseman in the NHL for the next 15 seasons.

Hammarstrom, who was 25 when first arrived, was not so lucky. He averaged more than 20 goals a game in four seasons with the Leafs, but he did not adapt well to the harder hitting style of play in North America. And miscreant Leafs owner Harold Ballard made sure Hammarstrom was labelled as soft for all of eternity, famously stating, “Hammarstrom could go into the corner with a dozen eggs in his pocket and not break any of them."

The charge was unfair. Canadian players like Jean Ratelle or the Leafs own legendary Dave Keon played the game cleanly and without malice, but Hammarstrom was vilified largely because he was European.

A superb skater and stickhandler, Hammarstrom was strong in his convictions about how the game should be played.

"My game is the one of skills we were taught in Sweden. We also were taught self discipline. I hate to be roughed up and am tempted to drop my gloves and fight at times, but I do not believe that is the way the game should be played."

Hammarstrom stayed with the Leafs for 4 seasons before moving on to St. Louis for 2 more NHL season. He returned to Sweden to play for Byrnas, and later retiring in beautiful Gavle on the Baltic Sea, spending time on his boat and playing badminton. Yes, badminton.

"It takes more skill than most people realize and it's a shame it isn't played by more people."

But he also spent a lot of time watching hockey games all across Europe. From 1990 through 2008 Hammarstrom served as the chief European scout for the Philadelphia Flyers. His best find - Peter Forsberg.

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