Hockey fans enjoy rivalries.
The rivalry between Sidney Crosby and Alec Ovechkin has proven to be one of the most enjoyable in recent memory.
With good reason, every matchup is a breathtaking display of what hockey is all about. The NHL is aware of its popularity exploiting every chance it has to play it up and undoubtedly hype the match up.
Stick handling, skating, shooting, passing, and bone crunching body checks are on display when the two superb performers and their teams face off.
Every time the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Washington Capitals face off stadiums, sellout and television viewership rises. As far as playing styles go, Crosby and Ovechkin could not be more different. Crosby displays all of the skills and has proven himself to be a clutch performer. Ovechkin is speedy, elusive and adds a hitting dimension which is a throwback to a previous NHL era.
Crosby has captured the hearts of hockey fans especially in Canada and Pittsburgh winning a Stanley Cup and a gold medal for Team Canada in the Winter Olympics. Both men have been natural competitors since their rookie seasons.
Ovechkin won the Calder Trophy as Rookie of the Year as well as several Art Ross scoring titles and MVP awards while Crosby won a MVP, an Art Ross Trophy, and a Stanley Cup.
The NHL has a rich history of rivalries. Decade after decade exciting rivals have emerged which energized the game. Crosby and Ovechkin were not the first marquee rivals in the NHL.
In the early 1950’s the chief rivalry was between Gordie Howe and Maurice Richard. A sub-rivalry during that time was the Plante-Sawchuck goaltending rivalry.
Similar to Crosby and Ovechkin both men possessed different skill sets. Richard was a skilled goal scorer who at times was unstoppable even with a defender draped on his back. From the blue line in the Rocket was the most dangerous and effective goal scorer anywhere.
Howe was a breathtaking physical specimen with superior all around skills and a nasty disposition similar to Richard. The rivalry went on long after both men retired creating debate about whether the new NHL award for the top goal scorer would be the Rocket Richard Trophy or the Gordie Howe Trophy.
Richard won out on that one.
When the Redwings met the Canadians at the Olympia Stadium in Detroit or at the Montreal Forum, there was not an empty seat in the house and excitement was in the air.
Following the Howe-Richard rivalry going into the 1960’s was the, Hull-Mahovolich rivalry then the Orr-Park rivalry in the 1970’s.
In the 1980’s was the Lafluer-Perreault rivalry between the two Quebec born superstars who competed since childhood, and the Trottier-Gretzky and Lemieux-Gretzky rivalries in the 1990’s.
In the early 2000’s Scott Stevens and Eric Lindro’s were heated rivals generating fierce battle and intensity every time their teams played one another.
The thing that every rivalry had in common was the enthusiasm of the fans and the dominance of both players. Wayne Gretzky said,” When I was playing, I knew when I played Mario (Lemieux) that I was going to have a good game. ”
Bobby Orr was just as adamant when he played against the New York Rangers and Brad Park.
Orr was the best defenseman in the NHL and Park was the second best. Boston was the best team in the league and the New York Rangers were the second best. The hype was incredible and the games were a great display of the talents of Orr, Park, Esposito, Ratelle, and all the rest.
Let’s have a look at ten of the best rivalries of all time in the NHL.
The number one NHL rivalry of all time has to be the Detroit versus Montreal Richard-Howe rivalry. It had everything; french versus english tensions, evenly matched teams and perennial Stanley Cup contention as the ultimate prize.
Richard was a prodigous goal scorer and Howe was the emerging superstar who possessed every skill. Games between the two teams produced many notable bench clearing brawls and some of the best passing, shooting and skating ever witnessed on a hockey rink.
Each player on both teams performed as if their life depended on it. It may have. Richard praised Howe as a better all around performer, but no one, including Howe could deny 'The Rocket was the best ever from the blueline in.
During the 1970's there was not a better rivalry than the New York Rangers against the Boston Bruins. The heart of the rivalry was the ongoing feud between Bobby Orr and Brad Park. Both tried to downplay the controversy, but it was evident evertime the two teams faced off.
Orr was the dominant player of the day, able to control the flow of the game with his fantastic skating ability and offensive skills. Park was not as fast and was not as accomplished offensively as Orr, but he was still the second best defenseman of his time and one of the top ten best players in the entire NHL. One of their most famous games included Orr blocking a park slapshot directed toward a empty net.
The two best defensemen in the 1950's were on the two best teams. Red Kelly and Doug Harvey were the very best defenders in the world playing for the Detroit Redwings and the Montreal Canadians.
Kelly was a outstanding offensive performer once scoring 19 goals in a season and leading the Detroit Redwings to one of their many division championships and another Stanley Cup berth.
Harvey had similar skills, but was a better playmaker and left the scoring to the forwards like Geoffrion, Moore, Beliveau and Richard.
Both players were indispensable to their respective teams. When the two defenders met in game battle, the tempo of the game always moved up to a higher level.
When Harvey and Kelly left their teams for Torono and New York due to squabbles with team management it became obvious how valuable they were.
Bobby Hull had the good fortune to meet Gordie Howe when he was a youngster playing minor hockey. Howe was aware of Hull and liked him off the ice.
After Richard's retirement Howe became the number one player in the NHL and thousands of young children asked their parents for a number 9 jersey like Richard and Howe wore, including young Bobby Hull.
Hull joined the Chicago Blackhawks and made up his mind to play his very best games against his idol and future rival.
Hull described on several occasions how he wanted to play his best against Howe. Howe on the other hand was not about to give up his spot to any interloper even Bobby Hull. By the time Hull left the NHL he was second to Howe in goals. Later they met again in the WHA which Hull carried on his shoulders to respectability with Howe.
One of the memorable NHL rivalries was between Terry Sawchuk and Jacque Plante. Again the teams were Detriot and Montreal. The teams were evenly matched filled with star performers such as Howe, Lindsay, Richard and Beliveau.
Without good goaltending either team would emerge as the dominant one, but hat did not happen since the goaltending performance for both men were sparkling. Sawchuk held the record for shutouts for 39 years until Martin Brodeur finally broke it in 2009.
Plante was a innovator and perenial allstar standing on his head in many occasions to keep his team in the game.
Denis Potvin wan the Calder Trophy as the NHL followed by 3 Norris trophies as the NHL's best defenseman and 4 Stanley Cups. Potvin was a outstanding force on the blueline with excellent offensive skills. Potvin possessed a rocket launcher wrist shot and a formidable slapshot. He was also a superb playmaker and passer.
Potvin could have won at least 2 more Norris Trophies if not for the great play of Larry Robinson.
Robinson was 6'4 and surprisingly agile with tremendous skating ability. Robinson along with fellow defensemen Guy Lapointe, and Serge Savard provided Montreal a almost impregnable defensive formation and assisted Robinson in capturing several Norris Trophies for himself.
Perreault and Lafleur were both stars in Quebec when they were peewee's playing in tournaments against each other in Quebec City.
Perreault ended up playing for the Montreal Juniors while Lafleur performedfor the Remparts. Perreault won the OHA MVP award while Lafleur scored 130 goals in the Quebec Major Junior League.
When both reached the NHL games between the Canadians and the Buffalo Sabres produced some of the fastest skating and puckhandling of the era.
Lafleur won the Stanley Cups while Perreault won accolades as one of the most gifted hockey players ever.
Similar to Red Kelly and Doug Harvey Paul Coffey and Ray Bourque were clearly the very best at their position in their era.
Coffey played for the Oilers while Bourque patrolled the Bruins blueline.
Offensively Coffey was the superior skater while Bourque was a more accomplished defensive player.
Their rivalry went down to the final season where Bourque eventually became the top scoring defenseman of all time. Coffey although second in points has the record for most goals scored by a defenseman with 48 goals. He also played on numerous Stanley Cup winning teams. Both made the list of top 100 hockey players of all time.
Wayne Gretzky was voted the top player ever to play in the NHL. One of the only players to match Gretzky as a goalscorer was Bossy.
Gretzky and Bossy were as different as night and day. Gretzky was outgoing and often quotable, while Bossy was more quiet and reserved letting his on ice performance speak for him.
Bossy promised he would score 50 goals as a rookie and accomplished that feat winning the Calder Trophy as the NHL's rookie of the year. Gretzky often spoke openly of his desire to break his idol Gordie Howe's scoring records.
Both Gretzky and Bossy amazingly scored 50 goals in less than 50 games.
The games between the two men bitter fought contests that featured a lot of tough checking, pinpoint passing and of course goal scoring.
The Edmonton Oilers evenyually replaced the Islanders as the dominant team, but not without a fight. It was one that Bossy played a large part in.
No one ever thought that any player would ever be able to match the talent and performance of Wayne Gretzky. Mario Lemieux came out of Laval, Quebec and instantly emerged as that player. Both men were dominating players with great individual skills. Gretzky spearheaded his team to several Stanley Cup wins. Lemieux performed the same feat for the Penguins. When both men met it was a skating, shooting and puckhandling exhibition.
Gretzky admitted after his retirement that he prepared for the matchups between the two.