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The NHL / Chris Baker : Playing the Soviets Isn't Ballard's Idea

February 12, 1986|Chris Baker

Harold Ballard, the 82-year-old owner of the Toronto Maple Leafs, was released from a hospital recently after undergoing prostate surgery. He was hospitalized for 16 days.

Ballard missed last week's meeting of the National Hockey League governors, during which the league decided that NHL All-Stars will play two games against a Soviet hockey team next February in Quebec.

What does Ballard, not known for his warm feelings about the Soviet Union, think about playing the Soviets?

"I don't know if they can force me to play my players against the Russians," Ballard told a Toronto newspaper. "There's no reason why I should.

"I don't want anything to do with them. Who knows? We could be at war with them. The Yanks have their big destroyers sailing off Libya, and if they start lobbing shells in there, the next thing you know the Russians will be aiming their missiles at us.

"They don't come over for the hockey. They come over for the money. They're in dire need of American dollars. By playing the Soviets, you're loading their guns. I don't want to give them the lead to fire back at our kids."

Jay Snider, president of the Philadelphia Flyers, said he doesn't want to play the Soviets either.

"We can only lose playing them," Snider told the Associated Press. "They have everything to gain and we have nothing. We have a very competitive schedule and we have guys who are more concerned over who they played in the NHL the night before or the next night.

"They're run by their government and they can gear to the one game. For them to win means a lot, and I think they probably will, which doesn't mean we can't beat them."

Center Doug Smith, traded from the Kings to the Buffalo Sabres on Jan. 29, is doing well in Buffalo.

The Kings dealt Smith and defenseman Brian Engblom to the Sabres for defenseman Larry Playfair and right wing Sean McKenna.

Smith complained that he wasn't getting enough ice time with the Kings, but he's getting all he can handle in Buffalo.

The Sabres have won five consecutive games since the trade, their longest winning streak this season.

Smith is playing on the Sabres' No. 1 line with right wing Mike Foglino and left wing Paul Cyr.

The Smith line has scored 10 goals and 15 assists. Foglino has 4 goals and 5 assists, and Smith and Cry each have 3 goals and 5 assists.

Smith had two goals and an assist in a 4-2 win over Edmonton Sunday night. He could have scored a third goal but passed off instead for what turned out to be the tying goal.

Smith scored the game-winning goal with 1 minute 50 seconds left in the third period, then got an empty-net goal with six seconds left.

Edmonton Coach Glen Sather said that Buffalo Coach Scotty Bowman is making better use of Smith than the Kings did.

"I don't think he (Smith) was getting the opportunity to play his game in Los Angeles," Sather said. "Scotty is using him in different ways. That's what you have to do with a player like that."

The Kings used Smith on their third line because they already had two good centers in Marcel Dionne and Bernie Nicholls.

Smith had only eight goals and nine assists in 48 games with the Kings this season.

The Sabres have used Engblom to take some of the load off All-Star defenseman Mike Ramsey.

McKenna has yet to score a point in five games with the Kings, and Playfair has one assist. The Kings are 1-4 since the trade.

The NHL drew 12,307,913 fans during the 1984-85 regular season, setting an attendance record.

Attendance was down during the first half of this season, however, according to figures released by the Hockey News.

The league drew 5,949,212 fans during the first half of the 1985-86 season, compared to 6,079,592 for the same period last season.

The Kings showed the biggest drop at the box office, which should be no surprise since they have played poorly this season.

The Kings ranked last in the NHL in home attendance after 20 home games with 194,014, a decline of 44,921 from last season. They were 17th in the league in attendance at the same point last season.

The Kings draw better on the road than they do at home. They ranked 10th in road attendance.

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