Two Kids From The Bronx Made It To The NHL

  

That's my house on the right and Neil Komadoski's house on the far left.

That’s my house on the right and Neil Komadoski’s house on the far left in the Bronx.

I grew up in The Bronx. Ya, that’s right, The Bronx.

It wasn’t such a tough neighborhood. Most of the kids I hung with were rink rats. Neil Komadoski, for example. He lived two doors down from my shack on Helmsdale Avenue, right where that street partners with long-and-winding Kildonan Drive in East Kildonan. Neil and I spent much of our time in The Bronx at the community club, usually giving janitor Dunc The Rat a hard time. 

Both of us escaped from The Bronx and made it all the way to the National Hockey League. Well, I sort of made it. He made it as a defenceman with the Los Angeles Kings and St. Louis Blues. I made it with words at an assortment of newspapers that stretched from Cowtown to Hogtown. 

I was dainty. Neil was tough. I still harbor a vivid memory of the frost-bitten Saturday morning when he discovered that pucks can really, really hurt. It was a Playground B or C game, as I recall, and I was standing on a boardside snow bank when that six ounces of vulcanized rubber rose up off his stick and hit him right in the chops. Most of his chicklets spilled to the ice. To this day, I still wince at the recollection, but Neil didn’t even flinch. Didn’t shed a tear, either. That’s when I knew he was destined for greatness. I mean, Bobby Hull, Stan Mikita, Davey Keon and almost every other NHL player was missing teeth, and now Neil had joined them in the Hockey Hall of Fangs.

I never saw Neil again once he embarked on his journey to the NHL. Actually, I can’t remember the last time I saw, or heard from, any of the boys and girls from The Bronx.

I haven’t forgotten them, though, and the title of this blog is a salute to them and my memories of The Bronx.

Now, I realize that a Bronx Cheer is not something pleasant. According to the World English Dictionary, it’s “a loud noise, imitating a fart, made with the lips and tongue and expressing derision or contempt.” It’s an expression of disapproval. A raspberry, if you will. I am not, however, here to give my childhood pals a Bronx Cheer.

But I might give Dustin Byfuglien a Bronx Cheer if he arrives at training camp with an extra 50 pounds of flab. Or Claude Noel if he gives Big Buff too much ice time. Or any of the Winnipeg Jets who step out of line. 

That’s not to say I’m going to rag on all things Jets. Far from it. I quite like the Jets and, now that I’m 14 years removed from full-time sports journalism, I can actually root, root, root for good ol’ Home Team. I don’t sit in a press box anymore, so I can wave my blue-and-white pom-poms.

Mind you, I must confess that there was one occasion back in the day when I broke the cardinal rule of sports journalism. I cheered in the press box. Oh yes I did.

It was the final year of the World Hockey Association and I wanted the Jets to win the Avco Cup. Why? Because of the Houston guys on the team—Roscoe Ruskowski, Luke, Scotty Campbell, Rich Preston and the other former Aeros. Those boys had a tough act to follow. They rode into town not long after Ulf Nilsson and Anders Hedberg had defected to Gotham, which was like going on stage after Sinatra or Streisand. The two fab Swedes were considered hockey deity in River City. They still are to this day. So the Houston Mafia, as I call them, weren’t exactly welcomed with open arms. Not even in the Jets’ changing room, which was very much a house divided in the first half of the season. It was hockey’s in-house version of the Hatfields and McCoys.

As history records, though, the lads sorted things out and there was a happily-ever-after ending to the story. The Jets won the final WHA championship, in very large part due to the Houston guys and two holdover Swedes—Willy Lindstrom and Kenta Nilsson. Preston was the playoff MVP. Roscoe was the emotional leader who played with a badly banged up body. Lindstrom was the leading goal-scorer (10) and Nilsson chipped in with 11 assists, one less than Ruskowski.

The Avco Cup and moi.

The Avco Cup and moi.

When it was over after a title-clinching 4-2 victory over Wayne Gretzky and the Edmonton Oilers, I sought Ruskowski and Preston in a beer-stained Jets’ changing room.

“We,” Roscoe said in reference to the Houston Mafia replacing Ulf and Anders, “wanted to show that Canadians can play this game, too. I think we did that.”

I really enjoyed that Jets outfit. They were fun to be around. The coach, Tommy McVie, was one of the two funniest men I’ve known. Willy and Kenta were very funny guys. Suitcase Smith, the goalie, was as laid back as a Buddhist monk on Valium. Fergy, the GM, was a hoot, too. Kim Clackson was both the resident guard dog and resident bookworm. This was just a good bunch of guys. Of all the teams I wrote about in 30 years of sniffing jocks, that was my favorite outfit. So, ya, I wanted them to win and silently cheered for them.

There are many things I like about the current-day Jets, as well. Big Buff’s girth is not one of them.

I’ll try to keep this blog short and sweet. I’m going to have fun with it. But be warned: There will be times when I’ll go off on a tangent and tip over some of your sacred cows. In other words, they’ll get The Bronx Cheer from a kid from The Bronx in Winnipeg.

 

Comments

  1. Mitch Kasprick says

    I forgot all about Dunc the rink rat …. too funny

  2. Scott Campbell says

    a good read. Interesting commentary on those Houston guys and how they were “welcomed” into the Jets dressing room. 🙂

    • Mitch Kasprick says

      Those guys mmmm …. weren’t you one of those guys? how long did it actually take? When or where do you think it started to change?

      • Scott Campbell says

        It probably started after Fergie had some one-on-one chats with us when he took over. The hiring of Mr. McVie pushed that forward. Having him skate us until we threw up became undesirable. 🙂 “Maybe we can get along with that other group and avoid this by winning.” 🙂

  3. Carol Vermeer says

    Well that was fabulous, as I was pretty darn fond of the 78-79 Jets, too. I was there when they won the cup; this just made my Monday. Thank you, very much looking forward to your next post.

    • Patti Dawn Swansson says

      I’m pleased you found the article favorable, Carol. Thank you for your kind words. You just made my Monday.

Blog Stats

  • 181,463 hits