a niche for mitch

Born in Markham, Ontario, on a Monday of this date in 1997, Toronto Maple Leafs right winger Mitch Marner is 24 today. Already in his fifth season in the NHL, Marner is a sublime talent and one of the best things that ever happened to Auston Matthews; if you’re new to the area, he is has-a-plush-toy-in-his-image famous in the Greater Leaf Region. (The exemplar above was on sale at Scotiabank Arena circa 2019.)

The portrait below is the work of Toronto editorial designer, illustrator, and endlessly interesting artist Nadine Arseneault. Her work has featured before on Puckstruck: you can find it here and here and here as well as here

mask mandate: what would ted lindsay do?

Ted Lindsay was 53 in 1979, with his left-winging NHL heyday firmly behind him: 14 years after he’d last turned out in a competitive game for the Detroit Red Wings, he was on the job as the team’s GM. He did still get in on a regular Monday-night pick-up game at the Detroit Olympia, alongside a motley non-Hall-of-Fame crew of friends, sportswriters, and Zamboni drivers. “Jeez,” said one of those scrimmagers as he watched Lindsay do his middle-aged thing one night in April of ’79. “He must have been unbelievable when he was 24.”

The mask? No, there was no pandemic on the loose in Michigan that spring. The tuque, Lindsay explained to an interested onlooker, was for style, while the mask was to help warm the rink air as it went into his lungs. “It’s the same skiing,” Lindsay said. “The cold air is rough on me.”

pencil’s case

Jack Adams called Jim Conacher “the best looking prospect in my 15 years in Detroit,” and hoped to add the 20-year-old left winger to his Detroit Red Wings line-up. That was in 1941, and Adams would have to wait: Conacher spent the next four years honing his skills in the minors and serving in the Canadian Army before he finally made it to the NHL in 1945. The Red Wing sweater he’s wearing here is a wartime edition, featuring the shoulder V for Victory, which is also spelled out below in Morse code.

Born in 1921 on a Thursday of this date, Jim was a Scot, born in Motherwell before his family emigrated to Toronto when he was just young. Everybody asked, but no, Jim was not related to those other Toronto Conachers, Lionel, Charlie, and Roy. He was slender, Jim, so he got the nickname Pencil. He played four seasons with Detroit before being traded to the Chicago Black Hawks in 1948. He put up the best statistics of his career in Chicago, collecting 25 goals and 48 points in ’48-49. After four seasons with Chicago, he played two more with the New York Rangers. Jim Conacher died a year ago, in April of 2020, at the age of 98.    

(not so) bad (as all that) joe hall

Joe Hall’s shocking death is fixed in hockey’s history within the context of the 1919 Stanley Cup finals, famously stopped in Seattle by a wave of Spanish flu before they could be completed. Hall, a veteran defenceman for the Montreal Canadiens, died of pneumonia within days of the final game having been abandoned, that April. He was 37.   

PCHA President Frank Patrick paid him tribute that week. “Joe Hall was one of the real veterans of hockey,” he said. “He has been playing senior since 1902, and the game suffers a great loss by his passing. Off the ice, he was one of the jolliest, best-hearted, most popular men who ever played.”

Born in 1881 on a Tuesday of this date in Milwich, just south of Stoke-on-Trent in England’s Midlands, Joe Hall acquired a whole other reputation on the ice, of course. Going back to the earliest days of his hockey development in and around Brandon, Manitoba, Hall proved himself to be a highly skilled and determined competitor. He could also be, and consistently was, vicious with stick and skates and fists. He was often suspended, and several times banned outright; there’s a case to be made that the nickname he acquired during his playing days doesn’t adequately represent the record of his wanton acts. Particularly in his younger years, Bad Joe Hall was Heinous.

It might be worthwhile to explore some of that history — maybe in a follow-up post? Stand by for that. Today we’ll go the other way, to wonder whether, actually, was Hall not so bad as all that? Was he misrepresented, misunderstood, unfairly vilified? Is his reputation in need of redemption? 

As early as 1911, efforts were afoot to rebrand him. Maybe in his past he’d been headstrong, heedless, ever verging on the violent, but that was all behind him now. He was with the NHA’s Quebec Bulldogs by then, and would be a key component in the back-to-back Stanley Cup championships they collected in 1912 and ’13.

“Bad Joe Hall is no longer ‘Bad Medicine,’” the Edmonton Journal declared, “and recent dispatches from Quebec state that the Jesse James of hockey is now so tame that he will eat out of the hand.” 

He had, true enough, “gained an international reputation for pure cussedness and was really better known to the penalty timers than to the fans, as he used to spend at least half of every game in the sweat box.”

The problem now was that referees who, refusing to look forget the past, would penalize him simply because he was Bad Joe. And, you know what, even in those old days, maybe his intentions weren’t as malign as they seemed. According to the Journal, many people (none of them named) felt that Hall was “far from being a bad actor.”

“These [same people] also ventured the opinion that when he was caught in the act of delivering a body blow, he was only endeavouring to get even for something that had been handed him earlier in the evening.”

This got to be a bit of a theme over the next couple of years. Here’s a columnist by the name of C.C. Stein writing in the Winnipeg Tribune in 1913:

“Joe is a living example of that old and true saying, ‘Give a dog a bad name,’ etc. Just as long as Hall plays hockey, he will carry the appellation of the ‘bad man’ of the game. He can’t get away from it.”

As rough and ready as he might have played it in his youth, Stein insisted, Hall had changed his game, and was now as well-behaved as they came — other than “on occasion when he is forced to retaliate for self-defensive purposes.”

“Hall wants to play clean hockey, but how can he when his opponents take advantage and slash and cut him when they find Joe is a lamb instead of a bear? And the moment Joe starts to retaliate officials pounce upon him. If Joe wants to get by with a clean game all he has to do is forget that his bones are breakable, and smile every time he is cracked on the shins or ankle.”

The inimitable Joe Malone weighed in on this same issue many years later. A teammate of Hall’s on those triumphant Quebec teams in ’12 and ’13, Malone did some reminiscing for The Hockey Book, Bill Roche’s 1953 anecdotal miscellany. 

“His title of ‘Badman,’ which he acquired through his aggressive (not dirty) play, was one that he enjoyed and laughed at more than anything else,” Malone recalled. “Some long-forgotten hockey writer, probably in a fit of pique, pinned the ‘bad’ tag on him when Joe was playing right wing for the Houghton team of the old blood-and-thunder International Pro League, back around 1905-06. It was a brand-new catchword at that time and, unfortunately, it stuck.”

“His type of play was not of the mean sort,” Malone insisted. “He checked heavily for the sheer sport of bodily contact, and he was always ready to take as well as to give. That was all the more remarkable when one remembers that his normal weight was only about 150 pounds.” 

“There were plenty of huge, rough characters on the ice in Hall’s time, and he was able to stay in there with them for about 19 years. That, I know, was largely because of the fact that his personal habits were above reproach and a model to his teammates.”

Malone still hoped that Hall could shed his moniker. 

“Just the name, Joe Hall, should stand down through hockey history as a symbol of pluck, aggressiveness, and courage. The addition of ‘bad’ is, and always has been, unfair and wrong.”

réal deal

Born in Timmins, Ontario, on a Monday of this date in 1932, left winger Réal Chevrefils was briefly a Detroit Red Wing but he spent most of his eight-year NHL career with the Boston Bruins. Goalgetting, his best year was 1956-57, when he scored 31 for the Bruins. Leo Labine was a sometime linemate of his: he called Chevrefils “a finesse hockey player who had the strength and the ability and didn’t give up on the puck.” Here he is in on Black Hawk goaltender Al Rollins at Chicago’s Stadium, on a Friday night, February 27, in 1953, when Rollins shut out the visitors by a score of 3-0. Chevrefils struggled with alcoholism during his career and afterwards. He died in 1981 at the age of 48.

slip kid

It was in Smiths Falls, Ontario, that Don McKenney was born on this date in 1934 — a Monday, then — which means that the former centreman is 87 today. He made his entrance to the NHL with the Boston Bruins in the 1954-55 season as a 20-year-old, finishing second that year in the voting for the Calder Trophy behind Eddie Litzenberger, who’d split his season between Montreal and the Chicago Black Hawks. McKenney scored 20 or more goals for the Bruins in six consecutive seasons, and that was the source of his nickname, Slip, which the Boston Globe clarified in 1960 referenced his ability to slide pucks past goaltenders. For goals and good graces, he won the Lady Byng Trophy in 1960. McKenney served as the team’s captain for two seasons in the early 1960s. He was the 16th captain in club history, for the record — not, as the Bruins’ faultily maintain, the tenth. His 13 NHL seasons also included stints with the New York Rangers, Toronto Maple Leafs, Detroit Red Wings, and St. Louis Blues. 

johnny peirson, 1925—2021

Bruinhaha: From left, Johnny Peirson, Fleming Mackell, Jim Henry and Leo Labine pose for the camera against a background of trousers and underwear in the Boston dressing room circa 1953. (Image: Boston Public Library, Leslie Jones Collection)

He described himself as an “above-average not-great player,” but maybe flag that for excess of modesty, because Johnny Peirson was a very proficient goalscorer in the 11 seasons he played the right wing for the Boston Bruins between 1946 and 1958, scoring 20 goals in four of those campaigns, and finishing among the NHL’s top ten scorers three times. 

Peirson, who was born in Winnipeg in 1925, died on April 16 at the age of 95. The Bruins’ alumni site has an obituary, here. After 98-year-old former Detroit Red Wing Steve Wochy, Peirson was the second-oldest NHLer.

Peirson got much of his hockey upbringing in Montreal, where he chased high-school pucks for Westmount Academy before joining the Montreal Junior Canadiens. After a stint in the Canadian Army, he studied and skated at McGill. In 1946, he signed for Boston’s AHL farm team, the Hershey Bears, for a princely $4,500.  

As a rookie with the Bruins, Peirson found a berth on what teammate Woody Dumart dubbed the “Muscles Line,” for the irony: at 5’11” and 170 pounds, 22-year-old Peirson was the bulk of a unit that also counted centre Paul Ronty (6’, 150) and left winger Kenny Smith (5’7”, 155). 

“I would say I was above average because I was a better balanced player,” he told writer Frank Pagnucco, “a forward that knew how to backcheck. I had some defensive skills as well as being able to find the net sometimes.”

The first time he retired was in 1954, when he was 28. He stashed his skates to go into the furniture business with his father-in-law, across the river from Boston in Cambridge. He unretired after a year, rejoining the Bruins in 1955. His first game back, he played on a line with Cal Gardner and Vic Stasiuk, scoring a goal and setting up another to spark the Bruins to a 4-1 home win over the Chicago Black Hawks.

He played three seasons, after his comeback, and could have kept it going beyond that, maybe, but decided not to.  “You reach a point in your career where you realized you’ve lost half a step,” he said, looking back. “In those days, with six teams, there weren’t a lot of places to go. I had a job offer which I had to weigh against the possibility of making the team again or moving to another team … and with four kids, that didn’t make any sense.”

Regrets? Hockey-wise, he had at least a couple. “I’d have given my eyeteeth to play on a Stanley Cup winner,” he once said. He also wished he’d worked harder on developing his upper-body strength — his, well, muscles. “I would have been a better player. I lost a lot of battles and wasn’t able to do what I would like to have done from the point of view of strength.”

While the Bruins Peirson played for never won a Stanley Cup, he was at close hand when the team started winning championships in the late 1960s, serving as a long-time colour analyst on Bruins’ TV and radio broadcasts alongside Fred Cusick. 

Golden Bears: Boston’s Bruins, 1956-57 edition. Back row, from the left: Trainer Win Green, Larry Regan, Cal Gardner, Johnny Peirson, Floyd Smith, Leo Boivin, assistant trainer Hammy Moore. Middle, left to right: Doug Mohns, Jack Caffery, Floyd Hillman, Vic Stasiuk, Bob Armstrong, Don McKenney, Jerry Toppazzini. Front, from left: Allan Stanley, Fleming Mackell, GM Lynn Patrick, Terry Sawchuk, coach Milt Schmidt, president Walter Brown, Leo Labine, captain Fern Flaman.

paris match

Sometimes in Paris, in January, there’s an outcrop of hockey; it happened here, above, in 1929. No record of the names of the players, or any scores, or what’s being called has carried down through the years. As for the locale, the accompanying documentation mentions only the “Stadium” — so, possibly, could be at or nearby the original Parc des Princes, in the 16th arrondissement, rather than at the Vélodrome d’Hiver, closer to the Tour Eiffel? Also mentioned in the captioning: Paris was cold, that winter’s day. (Image: Agence Rol, Bibliothèque nationale de France)

save yourself

Born in Orud’yevo, north of Moscow, on a 1952 Friday of this date, goaltending great Vladislav Tretiak is 69 today. “Other players may make mistakes,” he wrote in The Hockey I Love, a memoir published in English in 1977, “but there is no room for an error by the goaltender. When a forward loses the puck, he knows the defence is there to bail him out. When the defence is careless, the goaltender stands ready to correct its mistakes. Only the goalie cannot make a mistake, because his mistakes are goals. He is his own salvation. He must be his own judge.”
 
“No-one has pity for the goaltender,” he continued. In general, it’s a pretty positive book, but it has these haunted corners. “When a shot slips past him into the net, the red light glares like a disaster signal. The fans often boo; even teammates sometimes fail to show their sympathy. No wonder goaltenders have trouble sleeping after a defeat.”

phil watson’s piston trouble

Phil Watson’s credentials as an NHL coach were forged out of a 13-year NHL career as a rumbustious right winger, all but one season of which he spent with the New York Rangers. Born in Montreal on a Friday of this same date in 1914, Watson took up behind the bench the year after he hung up stick and skates in 1948, at first with the New York Rovers, then of the QSHL, and later with the QJHL’s Quebec Citadelles.

In 1955, a 42-year-old Watson succeeded Muzz Patrick as coach of the Rangers. Pictured here is the end of his first campaign, which came on a March night in 1956. On their way to another Stanley Cup that season, the Canadiens dispensed with Watson’s Rangers in five first-round games, completing the job with a 7-0 demolition at the Forum.

Doug Harvey, Henri Richard, and Dickie Moore each scored a pair of goals; the shutout was Jacques Plante’s. The Gazette described the moment we’re seeing here: “When the siren sounded to end the game the Ranger players shook hands with their conquerors. Then Phil Watson and Toe Blake, the rival coaches, met at centre ice. Toe took off his hat when he received Watson’s congratulations. The crowd liked it and roared approval.” 

Watson steered the Rangers through five not-specially-glorious seasons before he was fired midway through the 1959-60 season. He would go on to coach the Boston Bruins for another two seasons in the early 1960s. His coaching finale came a decade after that when he took charge of the WHA’s Philadelphia/Vancouver Blazers for two seasons in the ’70s.

Back when Gay Talese was writing hockey dispatches for The New York Times, he caught up to Watson after a game against the Boston Bruins. This was October of 1958; Watson explained the situation this way:

“My club is like a new car that has little things wrong with it. We got trouble with the windshield wipers, squeaks in the rear, and brakes need adjusting. It’ll take 10,000 miles to break this club in. In Boston I had piston trouble and we’re tied, 4-4. They also had the referee on their side.”