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NHL History

Queen Elizabeth II remembered for royal treatment given to NHL players

Ricci, Naslund still honored to be part of special face-off in Vancouver

by Dave Stubbs @Dave_Stubbs / Columnist

Mike Ricci and Markus Naslund remember the protocols read to them before the ceremonial face-off in 2002, Queen Elizabeth II dropping a puck before their preseason game in Vancouver.

"I was told to wear new gloves, in case the Queen wanted to shake hands. She didn't," said Ricci, the San Jose Sharks captain that night. "And I put in my teeth. There were some bets that I'd make a scene, but I think I did OK."

"We were told not to skate directly at the Queen," recalled Naslund, the former Vancouver Canucks captain joking that a spray of snow might be unwelcome. "Speak to her only if spoken to. It was agreed that I'd pick up the puck and give it to her. And we were told there were armed guards in the stands."

Ricci and Naslund spoke to from San Jose and Sweden, respectfully, in the hours after Buckingham Palace had announced that Queen Elizabeth II, the longest reigning monarch in British history, had died at age 96.

"I scored two goals that night," Ricci said, "so the Queen was good luck."

Sort of. The Canucks won 3-2.

Vancouver Canucks' Markus Naslund bends to pick up the puck dropped Oct. 6, 2002 by Queen Elizabeth II at Vancouver's GM Place, her last visit to an NHL game. From left are San Jose Sharks captain Mike Ricci, 2002 Olympic gold medalists Ed Jovanovski and Cassie Campbell, and 2002 Olympic men's team GM Wayne Gretzky. Don MacKinnon/Getty Images


"It was a very special thing to be a part of," Naslund said of the face-off. "When I handed the Queen the puck, she told me she remembered the last time she'd attended a game -- 1951 in Toronto."

You'll forgive the Queen if her memory with Naslund in Vancouver was just a wee bit off. It was indeed 1951 that she'd last been to an NHL game, but her most recent attendance was that Oct. 29 in Montreal, 16 days after she'd watched a 15-minute charity exhibition at Maple Leaf Gardens.

The Queen was an enormously popular pregame regal guest of honor at Vancouver's GM Place on Oct. 6, 2002.

Wayne Gretzky stood beaming behind Her Majesty that night, enjoying every second of the ceremonial face-off.

Video: Queen joins Gretzky for Ceremonial Puck Drop

The Queen and Gretzky, who unofficially is the king of Canadian hockey, had together walked the red carpet to center ice for the regal start of the game. A few moments later, Gretzky handed the Queen the puck that she would drop between Naslund and Ricci, Naslund scooping it up and handing it to her to the delight of a roaring crowd.

"It was great for Canada to be able to show off one of the things we love most," Gretzky later told reporters, having watched the first period in a private suite with the Queen and her husband, Prince Philip. "She truly enjoyed watching the game."

Princess Elizabeth leads a procession that includes Ontario Premier Leslie Frost (in fez), Prince Philip Mountbatten and Maple Leafs owner Conn Smythe on Oct. 13, 1951 at Maple Leaf Gardens. Michael Sr. Burns/Hockey Hall of Fame


The royal couple left after the first period, pressed by the hectic schedule of their 12-day visit to Canada as part of the queen's Golden Jubilee. But according to the Vancouver Sun, she left an indelible mark on those who watched the ceremony and those who spent a bit of time at her side off the ice.

Among them: Cassie Campbell, captain of Canada's gold medal-winning team at the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics; Ed Jovanovski, the Canucks' alternate captain and a member of Canada's men's team that in 2002 won Olympic gold for the first time in 50 years; and Howie Meeker, who was a member of the Toronto Maple Leafs the last time the Queen -- then Princess Elizabeth -- attended hockey in Canada a half-century earlier.

The Vancouver face-off came 51 years almost exactly since the couple -- Princess Elizabeth and the Duke of Edinburgh -- had last been guests in an NHL arena.

"I think it is the biggest thing that's ever happened to me," Meeker said of his role after the 2002 ceremony, checking himself to say that it ranked behind his marriage. "She's very enchanting. She just gets you in the palm of her hand and she looks at you and asks questions."

Said Campbell, who watched the first period in the royal suite: "It was really relaxed. I was quite surprised about that, I was quite nervous."

The Queen had been welcomed onto pregame ice by four military musicians, the B.C. Boys Choir then singing "God Save the Queen."

Toronto Maple Leafs captain Teeder Kennedy shakes hands with Princess Elizabeth at Maple Leaf Gardens on Oct. 13, 1951 before the exhibition between the Maple Leafs and Chicago Black Hawks. Turofsky/Hockey Hall of Fame


The last time Elizabeth had been in Canada, she was hearing "God Save The King" and "O Canada," performed at the Forum in 1951 before the Canadiens defeated the New York Rangers 6-1.

Sixteen days earlier, four months before ascending to the throne, she and Prince Philip arrived at Maple Leaf Gardens with pomp and ceremony for just 15 minutes of hockey, their royal visit to Canada in 1951 the first of its kind since her parents, King George VI and Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, had toured the country in 1939.

As part of their visit to Toronto, Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip attended a matinee exhibition between the Maple Leafs and Chicago Black Hawks at Maple Leaf Gardens, proceeds from the goal-less display going to aid disabled children.

The Globe and Mail's Al Nickleson wrote that the royal couple enjoyed the physical nature of what they saw.

"The Princess asked many technical questions," he reported. "During a goalmouth scramble, she said she felt sorry for the goalies and didn't fancy playing that position in hockey. … Once, when there was a particularly heavy crash of bodies on the ice, she asked: 'Isn't there going to be a penalty?' "

That exhibition gave them a taste of what was to come two weeks later. On Oct. 29, more than a half-million Montrealers lined an unofficial parade route from the city's airport, in suburban Dorval, to downtown's Windsor Hotel, which in 1917 had been the site of meetings that gave birth to the NHL.

That building stands a few rink lengths from the Fairmont Queen Elizabeth Hotel, where the NHL Draft was held for years.

Princess Elizabeth chats with Toronto Maple Leafs owner Conn Smythe during the Oct. 13, 1951 exhibition she attended at Maple Leaf Gardens.


The Queen has in some ways been a part of Canadian hockey for decades. For 20 or so years from 1979, an enormous portrait of her overlooked the ice of old Winnipeg Arena, her huge likeness produced by billboard artist Gilbert Burch.

Back in 1951, some 200,000 people jostled along a Montreal route of a mile to see the Princess, then 25, and the Duke of Edinburgh, 30, heading from the hotel to the Forum.

"At the Forum, both the Princess and Prince Philip appeared to enjoy their first full-length Canadian hockey game," the Montreal Gazette reported. "The match proved one-sided but the home fans loved it and plainly showed it when their beloved Canadiens came out on top by a score of 6-1 over New York Rangers."

In a front-page column, headlined "Couple Watches Game, Crowd Watches Couple," Dink Carroll wrote: "It's hard to believe that the attention of hockey-loving Montrealers could be diverted from their favorite sport, but that was the case at the Forum last night."

The crowd of 14,048, he suggested, "concentrated as much on Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip as they did on the contest," as he finely detailed the couple's choice of wardrobe for the chilly arena.

Maurice "Rocket" Richard with the puck he used to score his 324th regular-season goal, one before becoming the NHL's goal-scoring king; that record-breaking puck would be sent to Queen Elizabeth as a souvenir. At right, Floyd Curry during the 1947-48 season in Toronto with a stack of fedoras. Curry's only NHL hat trick came Oct. 29, 1951 with the Queen in attendance. Turofsky/Hockey Hall of Fame


With the band of the 22nd Regiment assembled at center ice, the teams lined up on their blue lines for the playing of "God Save The King" and "O Canada." Captains Butch Bouchard of the Canadiens and Frankie Eddolls of the Rangers were introduced to the regal guests, Canadian Arena Company executives Donat Raymond and William Northey in the royal box with Montreal Mayor Camilien Houde.

Floyd Curry, who would win the Stanley Cup four times with the Canadiens over 10 seasons, scored three goals for the winners, the only hat trick of his career, with Maurice "Rocket" Richard adding two.

On Nov. 8, 1952, Richard became the NHL's goal-scoring king, his 325th goal passing Nels Stewart by one. Canadiens GM Frank Selke announced that he would send the historic puck to the Queen in England as a souvenir of her visit a year earlier. 

The puck would be dressed to feature a photo of the Queen and Prince Philip on one side, the Rocket on the other with the date of his record-breaking goal and likenesses of other players on the full circumference edge.

As for Curry's place in history?

"Once I'd scored a hat trick in front of the Queen," he would joke years later, "what was the point of scoring another?"

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