fanbelt

fan fighter

7-2 was the score, that night in New York at the Madison Square, high-flying Montreal truncheoning the hometown Rangers. Some of the fans didn’t like that. From The New York Times:

There were no penalties until the final period, and perhaps out of frustration, a fan in a leather jacket grabbed Terry Harper’s stick late in the game. Harper finally wrestled it free, but when [Dick] Duff came along and took a swipe at the spectator, the fan removed his belt and started swinging it. He was hauled away by three guards.

The wire services told a slightly different tale. UPI said the guy was trying to attack another Montreal defenceman, Ted Harris:

The fan became so enraged that he climbed to the ice before being restrained by a half-dozen Garden policemen.

For what it’s worth, the Rangers did score their second goal four seconds after play resumed following the police action. So there’s that.

Above, number 2, that’s yet another Montreal defenceman, Jacques Laperriere, offering his stick to the fan in exchange for a swipe of leather.

(Photo: Frank Johnston)

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the Nokomis dandy

Punchliner: A birthday today, his 97th, to Elmer Lach, born on this day in 1918 in Nokomis, Saskatchewan.

Punchliner: A birthday today, his 97th, for Elmer Lach, born on this day in 1918 in Nokomis, Saskatchewan.

old reliable himself

By February 12, Ott Heller was ready to rejoin the Rangers. Twelve games and a little over a month after he’d broken his shoulder, he was mended, eager to play in one of the weekend games, Saturday in Montreal or maybe back home at the Garden Sunday against Brooklyn. Well, mostly mended: as Lester Rice wrote in New York’s Journal-American, “old reliable himself” was still a little weak in the left hand.

ott hellerIn his absence, the Rangers had gone 9-3, and that had them in first in the standings, two points up on Boston. The Bruins, of course, had just lost their top line to the war: Milt Schmidt, Bobby Bauer, and Porky Dumart had left the team at the end of January to report for duty with the RCAF. New York, meanwhile, couldn’t stop scoring: “Frankie Boucher’s Rangers,” wrote Jim Hurley from The New York Daily Mirror, were “shaping up with each passing game as perhaps the greatest scoring machine that hockey has ever known.” They had 12 games left to play in the regular season: if they could average three goals a game, they’d tie the Bruins’ 1929-30 record for team goals, 179. Manager Lester Patrick wasn’t worried about records, he said, and he didn’t want his players thinking about them, either — they just had to win.

“We’ll use Ott sparingly at the start,” Boucher was saying. “He’s kept himself in splendid condition by skating and practicing at every opportunity, but after all he’s been out of action for five weeks, and will have to take things easy for a game or two, until he feels he is ready to take his regular turn.”

They’d carry five defencemen, Boucher said: Neil Colville wasn’t going to return to his place on the forward line. “The truth of the matter,” said Boucher, “is Neil doesn’t want to wear wings any loner. He like the job back of the blue line so much he wants to live out the remainder of his career there. It will seem strange to some folks perhaps to have the Rangers carrying five defenders when we are building a reputation on attack, but I think it’s a good idea.”

According to the Daily Mirror, Heller’s injury hadn’t affected his standing as a contender for the Hart Trophy: he still had “a good chance” of being voted the league’s MVP. Oh, he was set to be fêted too:

Plans are now under way to stage the postponed “Ott Heller Night” during the Rangers-Canadiens game at the Garden next Tuesday.

Hexes, I guess, be damned.

department of hockey substitutes: slippery tennis, anyone?

When an English king, Edward III, banned a whole raft of English sports in 1363, including football, cricket, and the hoquet, he did it for what must have seemed at the time like a very sound reason: they were subordinate, trifling games that “interfered” with the manly and necessary pursuit of archery. That law was on the books until 1784, I note in hardcover Puckstruck as part of a cautionary review of sports that have been threatened by extinction. A couple of weeks ahead of the NFL’s Super Bowl, it’s hard to believe that football almost went under in the early years of the twentieth century because it was deemed too dangerous. More recently, the regional parliament in Spain’s Cataluña voted to ban bullfighting (cruel). In Venezuela, the late president Hugo Chávez felt that the time had come to wipe golf from the grassy earth (unacceptably bourgeois).

I’m not saying that hockey is going anywhere. I think it’s here to stay, for a while. That’s not to say that the icy game doesn’t face its share challenges and even threats. Climate change, of course, is doing its worst even as we speak to melt out our national ice and wintry way of life from under us. That what end hockey, of course — that’s what rinks for. But what declining enrolments, increasing costs, plus, also, all that mounting medical evidence that the physical tolls of the game are much more serious than we thought? Is it just possible that we might decide, one day, way far away in the future , we must just decide that hockey isn’t worth it — any of it — any more?

Better — no? — to prepare for that unlikely day than just to let it arrive. Always good to have a contingency plan. Which is why, as the Australian Open gets going, it might be worth looking at ice-tennis as a possible replacement. We’d need to refine it, of course — as these two British Pathé newsreels from the 1930s illustrate, the game might take some mastering.

The 1931 New York footage (top) clears up the commentator’s confusion in the London version (above) from 1938. “We believe this is the first time tennis has been played on the ice,” he chirps. But slippery tennis is even older yet. From Puckstruck:

The father of the lawn game, Major Walter Wingfield, first lobbed the idea as early as 1874, but it was in New York in 1916 that the game caught on. With black lines painted on the ice, using “old” tennis balls (they tried squash balls first), Watson Washburn and Dean Mathey took on F.B. Alexander and Theodore Roosevelt Pell at the Ice Skating Palace, 181st Street and Broadway. They wore full hockey gear, apparently, and once the match got going, sharp volleying was the order of the day. Mathey and Washburn were intent on playing a forecourt game, which was a mistake, since they kept having to scurry back to the baseline and lost, three sets to zip. The game required “more prompt and decisive action even than hockey.” Altogether it was, observers concurred, “far from being an experiment,” not only “feasible” but “exciting” and “worthy of being classed a real game.”

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hockey rowdies warnedThe New York Times, December 14, 1937

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mad-pace rangers (and one-armed ott heller)

NYR  2/1/42This record-breaking streak of the Rangers’, in 1942, the one where they’d failed to be shut out for 78 consecutive games, it was a big deal, in 1942. In New York it was, anyway. It didn’t hurt that they were the hottest team in the NHL that February, leading the league, looking like (according to the papers) they’d regained the form that won them the Stanley Cup in 1942. They had a sharp rookie goaltender in Sugar Jim Henry (above), not to mention the league’s top three scorers all playing all together on a line, Bryan Hextall, Lynn Patrick, and Phil Watson. The loss of defenceman Ott Heller hadn’t fazed them, apparently, and nor did the prospect of facing Toronto’s Turk Broda, deemed by several New York sportswriters the goaltender mostly likely to blank them and break the streak. Didn’t happen. On February 1 they beat the Leafs 7-2 at Madison Square Garden, their 11th win in the 13 games they’d played since Christmas, and their 84th non-shutout in a row. In 31 games, they’d tallied 125 goals. “If they maintain this mad pace through the remaining 17 games,” Lester Rice wrote in the Journal-American, “they will have put all previous scoring records to shame with 193 goals.”

blankless 3

There was good news on the Heller front, too: he was back on the ice, skating, taking shots — well, one-armed swings, at least:

ott one armed

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Ranger manager Lester Patrick with Heller ahead of his shoulder surgery.

Ranger manager Lester Patrick with Heller ahead of his shoulder surgery.

I may have downplayed the severity of the injury to Ott Heller’s left shoulder and if I did, I’m sorry. First of all, I failed to provide a detailed account of how he hurt himself in New York’s game against Detroit on January 6, 1942, which is to say Heller’s own, which he gave to the Brooklyn Daily Eagle. Other papers of the day have him falling or falling heavily, both of which sound unaided if not outright clumsy. “Jack Stewart was giving me a going over,” is what Heller told Harold Parrott from the Eagle. “I tried to come up under him to give him the worst of it when — bang! — my shoulder went. I have no squawk. I just got the worst of it, that’s all.”

With Heller out, the Rangers were left with three defencemen: Babe Pratt, Art Coulter, and rookie Bill Juzda. That’s worth noting, and maybe this, too: Coulter, who took over Heller’s shift as well as skating his own, ended up playing more than 40 minutes on the night.

A couple of days late he went in for surgery at New York’s Polyclinic Hospital. He was still there recovering on the night of January 13th when the Rangers’ played their next game against the Brooklyn Americans, a 9-2 that Heller listened to on the wireless.

Centre Neil Colville dropped back to the blueline to help out in Heller’s absence. Something else I didn’t really go into is Rangers’ streak of goal-scoring games. The Detroit was the 77th in a row during which they’d failed to be shutout: not since a 3-0 to Boston in April of 1940 had they failed to score a goal in an NHL game. That equalled a mark that they’d previously attained in 1933. Another Detroit team, backstopped by John Ross Roach, had put a stop to that one. Heller was the only Ranger who’d played for the team during both those streaks, though 1942 coach Frank Boucher had been on the ice, too, for that earlier team.

Against Brooklyn in 1942, the New York Times thought the Rangers were worried about not extending the “blankless” record, and attacked without relent from the opening face-off. Lynn Patrick was the NHL’s leading goalscorer at the time, and he was the one to score first, at 1:36, when he beat the Americans’ Charlie Rayner.

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Beslung: Ranger blueliner Ott Heller displays his bandaging after breaking a shoulder in January of 1942.

Beslung: Ranger blueliner Ott Heller displays his bandaging after breaking a shoulder in January of 1942.

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ott h 1 1On a Tuesday in January of 1942, the New York Rangers were planning to make their game against the visiting Detroit Red Wings a benefit to celebrate the career and contribution of one of their senior defencemen. Born in Berlin, Ontario, when there still was such a place, Ott Heller was 31 that year, and in his 11th year working the Ranger blueline. But then someone said no, forget it — coach Frank Boucher, maybe? As Toronto’s Daily Star reported:

The idea was called off at the last minute, fearing it might hex the team or perhaps Ott himself.

The team did fine: in front of 11,000 fans, they beat Detroit, 3-2, which put them in second place in the standings, tied with the eventual Stanley Cup champions from Toronto. (Boston was in first.) The Rangers also tied a club record that night, having scored a goal in 77 consecutive NHL games.

Heller, for his part, fell into the boards. At New York’s Polyclinic Hospital, they gave him the bad news: his left shoulder was broken, and he’d be off the ice for a month. That’s what he was telling his goaltender, I’m guessing, when Sugar Jim Henry came to visit him a couple of days later (above).

Also of note, same game, Red Wings’ coach Jack Adams went chasing after referee Norm Lamport in the second period when the latter called a penalty on Detroit Eddie Wares. Adams didn’t dispute the call, he just thought that New York’s Lynn Patrick should have been banished, too, for a high stick that cut Wares’ mouth. The Globe and Mail:

… Jack Adams walked out on the ice a few steps before he remembered the financial consequences and scrambled back on the bench. Even so, it was understood his sally was sufficient to cost him the automatic fine of $100 imposed in such cases.

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fort william’s fats

Wingman: Detroit captain Alex Delvecchio takes a back seat in December of 1963. “One of the game’s true gentlemen,” says the Hockey Hall of Fame and, true enough, he did win three Lady Byng Trophies to match a trio of Stanley Cups. Also, fyi: “A popular player in the dressing room, Delvecchio was given the affectionate nickname ‘Fats’ as a tribute to his round face.” (Photo: Louis Jaques, Library and Archives Canada/e002343752)

Wingman: Detroit captain Alex Delvecchio takes a back seat in December of 1963. “One of the game’s true gentlemen,” says the Hockey Hall of Fame and, true enough, he did win three Lady Byng Trophies to match a trio of Stanley Cups. Also, fyi: “A popular player in the dressing room, Delvecchio was given the affectionate nickname ‘Fats’ as a tribute to his round face.” (Photo: Louis Jaques, Library and Archives Canada/e002343752)

hockey smokers: captain bill durnan

smoker

There’s lots you could say about Bill Durnan. Maurice Richard volunteered that he was one of the nicest guys in the whole world — “He had a smile for everybody and never said a word against anyone” — not to mention that he was said to be the best softball pitcher in Canada during the time he was minding the nets for Montreal in the latter 1940s. He did that exceptionally well, of course, winning Vézina trophies in each of his first four campaigns, as well as two more subsequently: an amazing six in the seven NHL seasons he endured. He won two Stanley Cups with the Canadiens, in 1944 and 1946. In 1964 he ascended to the Hall of Hockey Fame.

And yet: they used to boo him at the Forum, hound him with jeers. After some games (Richard was one to recall), he’d return to the dressing room crying. “We want Bibeault,” the fans would holler the year of that second Cup, calling for Paul, the Montreal back-up. Another year, Dink Carroll reported, “the fans would deride him … with mock applause when he made a stop.”

All of which is to say, it’s no wonder the man had nerves. Not so shocking either that he sought to calm them with a post-game smoke. From our modern-day perspective, it is surprising, just a little, to find one of the man’s post-game cigarettes preserved in photographs: that’s something you do sometimes see in hockey scrapbooks and archives, but not so much.

La Presse ran the one above in the spring of 1947. It’s not a great reproduction, but if Durnan’s face is obscured, that’s largely due to the cloud of smoke he’s just exhaled. You can just see the cigarette in his right hand. It’s more obvious in the photo below, from the same night, wherein Durnan poses alongside teammates (from the left) Butch Bouchard, Roger Léger, Richard, Billy Reay, and Buddy O’Connor. The caption for the former reads:

“The first thing he did upon entering the locker room was to take a cigarette and light it. He removed his pads only after his relaxation was complete.”

durnan cigarette

It was the first game of the 1947 Stanley Cup final and not a particularly stressful one for Durnan, by all accounts. He’d shut out the Toronto Maple Leafs at the Forum by a score of 6-0. Tame, Montreal’s Gazette called it. “The boys got that for me,” the goaltender said — or in the paper’s telling grinned. “I had a good seat.”

Something else he’s supposed to have said (according to Dick Irvin, Jr. in his 1991 oral history, Habs), “How did the Leafs get this far?” They were eager to demonstrate, of course, and won the next game 4-0 and three more after that, too, to take the Stanley Cup. “I think it’s by far the toughest series I’ve ever played in,” Toronto’s Howie Meeker recalled, citing Turk Broda’s goalkeeping as the key for the Leafs. “I think when it’s all over and you have won the Stanley Cup, your goaltender has to be the best guy on your team. That year Broda was. I thought he was head and shoulders above Durnan, and Durnan was good. We were outplayed and outchanced in scoring chances, I would think, by about three to two. Turk Broda was the guy who won that series.”

Also worth a note is the C adorning Durnan’s sweater. The accepted wisdom is that he didn’t become a Canadiens captain until the 1947-48 season, specifically assuming the role in January of 1948 when the incumbent, Toe Blake, suffered the ankle injury that would prove the end of his playing career. That’s the timing suggested, as well, by modern references, from the Habs’ own historical website at Our History and the Hockey Hall of Fame’s to Wikipedia and Hockeyreference.com. From the photographs here, it’s clear that he was co-captaining the team a season earlier, too.