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March 11, 1997|HELENE ELLIOTT

What: "Legends of Hockey," ESPN documentary.

"Legends of Hockey," a five-part series that begins today on ESPN, is an entertaining but incomplete look at the history of hockey in North America. Using still photos and vintage taped footage, this series--which first aired on Canada's TSN--brings the pages of the NHL record book to life.

Although it began as a sport of the moneyed class, hockey captured Canada's imagination and helped unify the sprawling country. Through anecdotes from players, executives and journalists, the Stanley Cup and the Ross, Hart, Conn Smythe and Lady Byng Trophies take on personalities. Even the savviest hockey fan is likely to enjoy these reminiscences.

Each episode covers a period in hockey history and opens with short interviews in which players recall the ponds they first skated on, or how they slept with their equipment on so they could get to the rink quicker the next morning.

When Milt Schmidt, a great Boston player, coach and general manager, says, "I'd love to do it all over again for the same amount of money," you believe him. Ted Lindsay, his face a roadmap of scars, appears ready to jump onto the ice and high-stick anyone foolish enough to challenge him.

Parts 4 and 5, however, are flawed. The Glory Years claims to cover 1955-1967 but there's no mention of Glenn Hall or Terry Sawchuk, two of the NHL's best goalies, and Stan Mikita is discussed but not interviewed. Jacques Plante, the first goalie to wear a mask, gets short shrift.

The last segment, the Modern Era: 1967-1996, is misnamed because it stops at about 1975. There's nothing about the World Hockey Assn., the New York Islanders' four Stanley Cups, Phil Esposito's scoring feats, the Edmonton Oilers' dynasty and only a brief mention of Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux. Serious omissions, eh?

"Legends of Hockey" is a pleasant but truncated history lesson, a supplement to your video library but not the ultimate reference.

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