hp[in]hb: terry sawchuk’s right elbow

sawchuk surgeryYou can’t see Terry Sawchuk’s right elbow in the famous photograph that Ralph doctored up for Life Magazine in 1966 to show the grievous damage that hockey can do to goaltenders, just facial stitchings and scars. Take a look at the outtakes from that session, though, and the elbow’s surgical history is obvious. “Most of the trouble was the result of an injury that happened before my hockey playing days,” Sawchuk told another magazine, Blueline, in 1956. He was 12 years old, in Winnipeg, already enough of a hockey star that his mother didn’t want him playing football for fear of endangering his future on ice. Butch, his friends called him, according to biographer David Dupuis in Sawchuk: The Troubles and Triumphs of the World’s Greatest Goalie (1998), and one Sunday he was on his way to Mass when these friends lured him to the forbidden field: Hey, Butch, they said, whadarya, scared? No, he wasn’t, and of course instead of to prayers he took to tackling, ending up in “a thunderous pile-up.” He didn’t tell his mother: how could he? The elbow healed badly. He had trouble straightening his arm. That didn’t stop him, of course, from making his way to the NHL, where he was soon winning All-Star honours and trophies called Calder and Vézina and Stanley. But in each of his first two summers as a Detroit Red Wing, 1950 and ’51, he did end up submitting to elbow surgeries to extract bone chips from the joint. “Neither of these operations cleared up the condition,” Sawchuk said, “and I still had some pain and couldn’t fully extend my arm.” In 1952 he was back at the hospital, with (above) Dr. Donald J. Sheets taking charge this time. “He really did a job,” his patient said later. “He removed over sixty pieces of bone, taking everything he thought might break off and cause trouble later on. I haven’t had any trouble with the elbow since and for the first time in over ten years I’m able to have complete movement of my arm.”

Aside

color the iceGeorge Karn played some hockey in his day, for minor-league Jerseys and Millers and Saints, in Minnesota, in the 1950s. As a commercial cartoonist, he’s claimed by history for having created what the Vintage Minnesota Hockey Hall of Fame (where he’s a member) calls cereal icons: the Trix rabbit, the Lucky Charms leprechaun, and Count Chocula. When the Minnesota North Stars joined the NHL in 1967, Karn was the one who designed both the starred N logo they wore and the uniforms it adorned. In 1969, he added a wry pamphlet to his oeuvre, My Very Own Hockey Colouring Book, that was handed out for free to prospective Minnesota ticket-buyers. “If you do not understand the game of ice hockey,” Karn wrote on the title page, “you will not understand this book. If you do understand the game of ice hockey, you will not understand this book. If you do understand this book … you need help!”

new year’s eve, 1941

The good old Eishockey game: At a pre-war hockey game between Germany and France in Berlin in the fall of 1937, the attentive crowd includes (centre, in the leather coat and light hat) Hitler’s Reichssportführer (Reich Sports Leader), Hans von Tschammer und Osten sitting beside (on his left) the French ambassador to Berlin, along with (second row from the front, second from left) Luftwaffe General Erhard Milch, who was at this time Hermann Göring’s direct subordinate; and (next to him, conferring) Hans Frank, Hitler’s personal lawyer who later became governor of Poland and (later still) was found guilty at trial at Nuremberg and executed for crimes against humanity. (Photo: Photoreportage Trampus)

The good old Eishockey game: At a pre-war hockey game between Germany and France in Berlin in the fall of 1937, the attentive crowd includes (centre, in the leather coat and light hat) Hitler’s Reichssportführer (Reich Sports Leader), Hans von Tschammer und Osten sitting beside (on his left) the French ambassador to Berlin, along with (second row from the front, second from left) Luftwaffe General Erhard Milch, who was at this time Hermann Göring’s direct subordinate; and (next to him, conferring) Hans Frank, Hitler’s personal lawyer who later became governor of Poland and (later still) was found guilty at trial at Nuremberg and executed for crimes against humanity. (Photo: Photoreportage Trampus)

Hockey isn’t war and never was, despite the blood and the punching and all the borrowed bellicose terminology, the attacking and the shooting, the battling and the holding the fort. Hockey means no disrespect: it well understands, as we all do, that war is war and hockey is only ever hockey. Hockey admires wars, of course, which is to say soldiers: it has lots of time for honouring those in uniform, always has. Because? Well, hockey is nothing if not patriotic and understands, too, the sacrifices soldiers make, and those are worth constantly honouring, aren’t they, in as public a way in as meaningful a venue as we have in Canada? (Maybe the camo sweaters are a little much, and maybe too the light armoured vehicles patrolling the ACC ice.) There’s no denying that hockey and wars have — speaking very generally here — drawn traditionally from the same segment of the population. Young men who play hockey have often in our history gone to war, and once they’re soldiers there’s no stopping them from taking to whatever ice they can find behind the front lines. It reminds them of home; it’s also just something we Canadians do.

Soccer sometimes causes a war (see Kapuscinski, Ryszard), but hockey has never been that careless. In at least one case, though, a hockey game played in wartime seems to have precipitated a real live battle, resulting in real dead casualties.

I don’t have much on this; I’m doing my best trying to find more. The game was in Belgium, Brussels, in 1941, during the German occupation; Canadians had nothing to do with it, as far as I know. I got in touch with the Royal Belgian Ice Hockey Federation to ask what they might know, exchanged e-mails with the gracious and helpful Jan Casteels, but he’d never heard of this dreadful match-up, which took place on a Wednesday in December of 1941, the very last one — New Year’s Eve.

I’d come an account across in an Australian newspaper, published several days after the fact. That’s where this started for me. It was a tiny newsbreak and secondhand, quoting a Swedish newspaper whose correspondent had picked up the news in Berlin. Details were meagre. Who was playing, on which ice, what started it, why: I don’t know any of that. I don’t even really know what it was. Belgians and Germans fought a pitched battle during an ice-hockey match: three people died in the rink. Spectators, I think, though I suppose they could have been players. The report lists the dead as a Gestapo man, a German soldier, and a Belgian. A second Belgian was wounded. By the time the news appeared in Australia, a German military court (the Swedish reporter said) had already sentenced three other Belgians to die.

That’s as much as I’ve found. A few months later the Australian press was reporting German death sentences for 14 Belgians accused of “murder, sabotage, the possession of weapons, Communist activities, and anti-German propaganda.” I think those are altogether separate cases. These accused, said the court, had “to a high degree been influenced by broadcasts from Britain.”

belgians  - Version 2

Anyone with any leads on the awful events in Brussels on December 31, 1941, please drop a line to puckstruck@gmail.com.

alcoholic drinks? the best they can do is ruin your health

black jack + honeyWhen Black Jack Stewart played his defence on the left side for the Detroit Red Wings, a lot of the time Bill Quackenbush was on the right. Sometimes (above, in 1946) Black Jack read the newspaper while Red Wings’ trainer Honey Walker gave him a rubdown. I’ll let him tell you where he got his nickname:

I bodychecked some fellow one night and when he woke up the next day in the hospital he asked who’d hit him with a blackjack.

He couldn’t remember the player’s name. In other tellings, it was his own dark visage and disposition that got him the moniker. He was a devastating hitter, says the hall of hockey’s fame. Also: complete package, rock-solid, poise, work ethic, excellent stamina, brute force, and subtle clutching and grabbing. He never argued with the referee. “I figured,” he said, “for every penalty I got I used to get away with around 19.” He carried one of the heaviest sticks at the time he played, in the 1930s and into the ’40s. He said,

A defenceman should bodycheck if possible, picking the proper spots and making sure that he gets at least a piece of the opposing player. But it isn’t wise to go in there with the sole idea of bodychecking everything on skates.

Some dates: born in 1917, Hall of Fame’d 1964, died 1983. His love of horses was nurtured in Pilot Mound, Manitoba, where he grew up on the family wheat farm. Later, after the NHL, he was a judge for the Canadian Trotting Association. He’d always remember the day a teenager showed up, fuzzy-cheeked, name of Gordie Howe, with no great fanfare. “We knew he had it all,” Black Jack said.

He showed spurts of being a really good one. But I think he held back a little that first year. He didn’t seem relaxed enough. But of course he overcame that after he’d had a couple of fights.

There weren’t too many ever got by Black Jack, someone said, who knew from trying. I guess he had a little bit of feud with Milt Schmidt: so he said himself. Something else he said was that every team had two players who were tough, for example for Chicago it was Earl Seibert and Johnny Mariucci.

Alertness on face-offs was, to him, a cardinal rule. As for conditioning, he tried to go walking as much as he could, over and above the regular amount of skating he did. “I eat foods,” he said in 1949, “that my system has been used to and at regular hours. I go easy on pickles and pastries. A steak dinner is the thing not less than three hours before playing a game. I aim at eight hours’ sleep nightly. As for alcoholic drinks, leave them strictly alone — the best they can do for you is ruin your health.” Smoking? “A boy who is really serious about coming a topnotch player will be wise to shun smoking until he has attained his 21st birthday.”

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puckstruck: signed, mailed, delivered

heroicIs it important? Am I missing something? Is there something else here?
— Rick Salutin, Les Canadiens (1977)

This is a book about what I found out when I read all the hockey books. That’s how Puckstruck begins. “Funny, smart, unlike any hockey book I’ve read,” Dave Bidini has called it; Roy MacGregor claims that it’s “required reading.” Meanwhile, Hockeybookreviews.com recently named it the best hockey book of 2014.

Need a copy? A signed copy, maybe, even, with a small illustration just there under the signature? For C$35, North American shipping included, it’s yours. Send an e-mail to puckstruck@gmail.com and we’ll go from there.

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Aside

hpihb jb

Jean Béliveau went down injured in the fall of 1953, just seven games into his rookie season. He was 23 and (said the Canadian Press) fabulous. Montreal was in Chicago, where they won 3-2. When coach Dick Irvin phoned home to report the damage to reporters he made it sound like a Black Hawk stick had come to malevolent life, acting on its own to crack Béliveau’s ankle, though in fact it was Billy Mosienko who took the rap if not the rap (no penalty was called on the play). Irvin had to go, catch the Habs’ train home. “It was a bad crack,” he said. “We’ll put ice packs around it for the trip home and we’ll have it x-rayed as soon as we arrive.”

It was a cracked fibula. Doctors said he’d be out a month but it was December before he got back on the ice, 22 games later. Rocket Richard got a hattrick in a 5-3 Montreal win over the same rapacious Black Hawks the night he came back, though Béliveau wasn’t a big factor. His timing was off, said The Gazette, though he showed a flash of speed when he caught Chicago’s Jimmy Peters from behind on a breakaway. On a powerplay, Irvin put him out on a five-forward powerplay, on the point with Boom-Boom Geoffrion while Kenny Mosdell and Bert Olmstead patrolled with Richard upfront.

Montreal’s next game was against the New York Rangers. Again they won, 7-2, though Béliveau was injured again, his cheek this time, he fractured his rightside cheek, with the help of New York’s Johnny Bower. It was the second period and I’m sure Bower didn’t mean to hurt anybody, I mean, he was (and is) Johnny Bower. There was a jam in his goal crease, is what happened, and he tried to shove it out of the way (the jam), and Ranger defenceman Jack Evans fell as did Béliveau, who banged his face against the goal post.

Dick Irvin didn’t think it was an accident. He had his doubts. To him it seemed like other teams were out to maim the Stanley Cup champions. What were the referees doing? Dickie Moore had been charged from behind, his shoulder broken; Fern Flaman broke Dollard St. Laurent’s nose; Elmer Lach had had his ankle slashed, just like Béliveau. Why do you think Geoffrion had to knock the Rangers’ Ron Murphy to the ice with his stick? Because the Canadiens had been under attack and the referees weren’t doing anything about it. (Geoffrion was suspended for the Canadiens’ remaining games against New York that season.)

Béliveau went to hospital. That’s him, above, after his cheek surgery. Parlons Sport called him unlucky in their caption — noting also as his convalescence got started, he at least had a chance to read a good newspaper.

The cheek kept him out four games. He was back on the ice before the year was out and though the Canadiens had a special plastic mask made for him, he wouldn’t wear it for the game in Toronto. The Leafs and Canadiens tied 2-2, with Béliveau scoring. “It was an ankle-high beauty,” Al Nickleson from The Globe and Mail decreed, “his third of the term and first since Oct. 15.”

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Four Leaf Posers: Two of Toronto's top-scoring forwards, Syl Apps and Gordie Drillon (left and right), bookend manager Conn Smythe and coach Dick Irvin. (Photo courtesy of the Boston Public Library, Leslie Jones Collection)

Four Leaf Posers: Two of Toronto’s top-scoring forwards, Syl Apps and Gordie Drillon (left and right), bookend manager Conn Smythe and coach Dick Irvin.
(Photo courtesy of the Boston Public Library, Leslie Jones Collection)

jean béliveau: tall, handsome, digs books

img002_2 2Jean Béliveau died on Tuesday in Montreal. Yesterday, the NHL announced that he’ll lie in wake at the Bell Centre, Sunday and Monday, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. His funeral will be nearby, next Wednesday at 2 p.m. at Mary Queen of the World Cathedral, Rene-Levesque Blvd. where it corners with Mansfield.

In the meantime, as memories of the man continue to flood in along with tributes to his skill and leadership and grace, a few suggested readings, along with a watching, collected from the last few days as well as deeper down in the archives.

1. “He’s tremendously strong, a beautiful skater, already a superb stick handler, strictly a team man with a perfect sense of playmaking. He has a wonderfully hard and accurate shot. He’d be a star on any hockey club. I wish he were on mine.”

• “The Marvels From Montreal” by Whitney Tower, Sports Illustrated, January 23, 1956. Read it here.

2. “He abhors violence, digs books, has adopted the flair-cuff, smokes a pipe — and more you didn’t know about Jean, the man”

•  “A Day in the Life of Jean Béliveau” by Ted Blackman and “Béliveau” by Marv Moss in The Montreal Gazette, March 24, 1971. (This way.)

3. “Béliveau won out by a slim margin over Bernie Geoffrion with Dickie Moore and Tom Johnson also in the running.”

• “Béliveau Elected Captain” in The Gazette, October 14, 1961. Here.

(Montreal Gazette, June 11, 1971)

(Montreal Gazette, June 11, 1971)

4. “It was a difficult decision to reach. Hockey has been my life since the day my father gave me a pair of skates when I was five years old.”

• “A Tearful Jean Ends His Career” by Pat Curran, The Gazette, June 10, 1971.

5. “The referendum? I have no comment to make on the referendum. You don’t know what kind of trouble a question like that can cause.”

• “Should Quebec Go? 12 Prominent Québécois Say How They’ll Vote in the Sovereignty Referendum” by Bee MacGuire in The Gazette, April 12, 1980

6. “He was the great Jean Béliveau, tall, handsome, graceful and gracious, with his warm dignity and friendly smile, yet there he was. He treated everyone with such respect. He said the right things, and in the right way — in French and in English — because that is what he believed, and that’s how he was. He made every occasion better. He made everyone who attended feel that their town, their organization, their province, their country, their event mattered. That they mattered. Appealing to their best selves, he reminded them of the best that was in them.”

• “An appreciation of Jean Béliveau” by Ken Dryden, Toronto Star, December 4, 2104

7. 

jean béliveau: like meeting an old friend they hadn’t seen in a while

jb

There seem to be three main types of Béliveau fans; perhaps the types are general. There are the ones who want to do what is expected of them; they ask for an autograph and are invariably polite. Then there are those who need physical contact; they want to shake hands or stand close to Jean for a picture. And there’s a third group who stand off from him as though stunned. They stand quite still, at a little distance, and stare. Then all of a sudden they’re apt to do or say something quite unpredictable, amusing or touching, like the lady of the golf course who played through his foursome one afternoon. She came striding along, passed this quartet of players, took a long, slow look over her shoulder as she went — a look mingled bewilderment and pleasure, very familiar to anybody who spends some time with Jean in public — and then spilled her dignity all over the place.

“I never saw you alive before,” she said. It just seemed to pop out.

Jean grinned at her. “I’m alive all right,” he said.

Perhaps the tremendous amount of television exposure has something to do with this phenomenon — the fan who is temporarily stunned by seeing the hero in the flesh. Jean says, “They act like they know me personally; it’s a wonderful feeling. Not just as if they’ve seen my picture in the papers over and over again, but more as if we’d spent a lot of time together, somewhere that they couldn’t quite remember. As if they were meeting an old friend they hadn’t seen for a long time. … They stop and stare; then they get that look of recognition, and they’re apt to say funny things very spontaneously, or start talking as if we’d been having a conversation that had been interrupted. It’s a very personal thing.”

• Hugh Hood, Strength Down Centre: The Jean Béliveau Story (1970)

(Photo: Weekend Magazine, 28 December, 1963/Louis Jaques/ Library and Archives Canada/e002505688)