hired to be fired

George Karn played some hockey in his day, for a scattering of Minnesota minor-league teams in the 1950s, Jerseys and Millers and Saints. As a commercial cartoonist, he’s claimed by history for having created what the Vintage Minnesota Hockey Hall of Fame (of which he’s an honoured member) calls cereal icons: the Trix rabbit, the Lucky Charms leprechaun, and Count Chocula. When the Minnesota North Stars joined the NHL in 1967, the team looked to Karn to design both the starred N logo they proudly wore and the uniforms it adorned. In 1969, he added My Very Own Hockey Colouring Book to his oeuvre. Handed out for free to prospective Minnesota ticket-buyers, the 30-page pamphlet goes for the broad and occasionally bawdy laughs and maybe it got some of those, in 1969.

Featured here — no special reason, any resemblance to actual situations, living or dead, or real events that might or might not have unfolded this afternoon, is purely coincidental — Karn’s take on the changeable fortunes of hockey coaches.

“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.”

it’s a hell of a job: hockey officials on the road to the big league

Whistle Stop: Originally from Rochester, New York, Tyler Edwards, 27, played Division I college hockey for Lehigh University in Pennsylvania. In August, he took part in the annual NHL Officials Combine in Buffalo, taking a turn in stripes for the first time. “I’m getting to the point where I think this is a cool thing to explore and to figure out if it’s something that I want to do in the future.” (Image: Stephen Smith)

“It usually starts on a frozen pond,” Robert Lipsyte wrote in The New York Times in 1964, “in British Columbia or Saskatchewan or Ontario, when a boy on skates realizes he will never be as quick and strong as his friends. So he offers to referee their games.” So began Lipsyte’s review of the life and lot of NHL referees. NHL president Clarence Campbell, himself a former referee, was one authority Lipyste consulted. “It’s a hell of a job,” Campbell told him, memorably. “A man has to have iron in his soul, the will to command. And he can’t be a drinker — he’ll have thousands of hours with nothing to do.”

Fifty-five years on, I have a feature in today’s Times reporting from the NHL’s annual Officials, the late-summer festival of phantom calls and practice puck-drops that prospective officials attend in Buffalo, New York, to train and test themselves while being assessed by the NHL’s officiating high command. You can scout the online version here.

 

marooned

If you’ve wandered the streets of downtown Montreal, a little to the east of the Forum, you’ve happened, maybe, across the mural on the brick of a building on Rue Saint-Marc, just north of Saint-Catherine, and the Maroon who features therein. It may not so viewable for long: the neighbouring parking lot that was is no more: a new building is going up. If you’ve wondered where the original hockey image originated, the answer is that it’s drawn from a Frank Holland illustration that adorned a Forum program from the 1934-35 NHL season:

 

no corner for old coach

Former Hockey Night in Canada pundit Don Cherry decided this week that the time had come to transition from broad- to podcast.

“You people,” Cherry, who’s 85, ranted 11 days ago, towards the end of another of his weekly between-periods Sportsnet rambles. He didn’t apologize, but Sportsnet did. “Don’s discriminatory comments are offensive and they do not represent our values and what we stand for as a network,” Sportsnet president Bart Yabsley said ten days ago. “We have spoken with Don about the severity of this issue and we sincerely apologize for these divisive remarks.”

The NHL said Cherry’s comments were “offensive and contrary to the values we believe in.”

“Don Cherry made remarks which were hurtful, discriminatory, which were flat-out wrong,” Ron MacLean said. “I want to sincerely apologize to our viewers and Canadians. During last night’s broadcast, Don made comments that were hurtful and prejudiced and I wish I had handled myself differently. It was a divisive moment and I am truly upset with myself for allowing it.”

Nine days ago, 34 years after he first settled into his Coach’s Corner, Cherry lost his job — “for a last straw no one could fit into the overstuffed barn that holds all the previous last straws,” as Roy MacGregor put it in the Globe and Mail two days ago.

“Following further discussions with Don Cherry after Saturday night’s broadcast, it has been decided it is the right time for him to immediately step down,” was what Sportsnet’s Bart Yabsley was saying at this point. “During the broadcast, he made divisive remarks that do not represent our values or what we stand for.”

Making for what some might have termed a mixed message, Yabsley also went on to assert that “Don is synonymous with hockey and has played an integral role in growing the game over the past 40 years.” Thank you, Yabsley said.

“I know what I said and I meant it,” Cherry himself made clear.

The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council said that it had received so many complaints about Cherry’s Hockey Night message that their system had been overwhelmed. “Accordingly, while the CBSC will be dealing with this broadcast under its normal process, it is not able to accept any further complaints.”

The Globe and Mail’s Cathal Kelly, eight days ago: “As a Canadian, you felt embarrassed watching his Coach’s Corner segment with foreigners. This wasn’t TV. It was vaudeville. It was two guys chasing a hat.”

Don Cherry never changed, even as the world did, was a gist of Bruce Arthur’s in Toronto’s Star.

“The game Cherry was hired to analyze and comment on in 1982 is a game he has not recognized for years,” was an assessment of Roy MacGregor’s. “He is hardly the only senior citizen in that condition — is that absurd drop-pass power-play rush actually supposed to catch the other side off-guard? — but he was the only one with a weekly forum and national audience.”

Other opinions and analyses welled up and out, all over, hour by hour, including seven, six, five, four, three, and two days ago. Yesterday: more still.

Today, here, above, that’s “De-saturated Cherry,” a 2013 acrylic painting by the award-winning Vancouver Island artist Brandy Saturley. Hockey is a subject she returns to again and again on her canvasses. For more of her arresting work, puck-oriented and otherwise, visit http://www.brandysaturley.com. On Twitter, she’s @artofbrandys.

hallbent

Vaclav Nedomansky was 30 years old in the summer of 1974, a star centre for Slovan Bratislava and captain of the Czechoslovakian national team, when he took his family to Switzerland for a holiday. They did some paperwork while they were there, applying Swiss authorities for asylum and, subsequently, to Canada for status as landed immigrants.

“The office in Berne is not a busy one,” a Canadian immigration official commented at the time, “and because of this, his application was processed quickly. He had a job offer to play professional hockey. Because he is a good hockey player with a high degree of skill he was given high points for this. Good hockey players are in high demand in Canada.”

“Czechs’ Gordie Howe” the Toronto Star called Nedomansky when he signed that July for the Toronto Toros of the WHA. He played two seasons in Toronto, then another pair in Alabama when the Toros moved and became the Birmingham Bulls. In 1977 he jumped to the NHL where he divided six seasons between the Detroit Red Wings, New York Rangers, and St. Louis Blues.

On Monday, Nedomansky will be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame along with Guy Carbonneau, Hayley Wickenheiser, and Sergei Zubov, as well as builders Jim Rutherford and Jerry York.

this hippodrome of hockey

Leaf Spot: It was on a Thursday of this date in 1931 that Toronto’s Maple Leaf Gardens saw its first NHL hockey. Before a crowd of 13,542, the home team fell by a score of 2-1 to the visiting Chicago Black Hawks. Two days later, the Leafs tied the Montreal Canadiens in the brand-new building that the Globe’s ebullient Bert Perry called “this hippodrome of hockey.” It wasn’t until the Leafs’ fourth game under their new roof that the team finally forged a victory at home, beating the Boston Bruins on November 28 by a score of 6-5 in overtime on a goal by Andy Blair. This is an altogether later photograph from on high in the Gardens, dating to 1946. Squint and you can make out the languid form of goaltender Turk Broda in the net to the left. (Image: City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1257, Series 1057, Item 7524)

did the bugle sing the last post in chorus? lionel duley, the goaltender in the photograph

The story of the Newfoundlanders who stopped on their way to war in 1917, played hockey in Windsor, Nova Scotia, and sat for a photograph, is one I wrote about more than a year ago — you can read it here. The photograph (that’s it again below) is a favourite of mine (the studio setting; the sticks and dated puck; those sweaters!). It’s also heartbreaking in the way that peaceable wartime groupings like this one always are when — because — we know the history of how bad it would get for these boys.

Last April, on a visit to the First World War battlefields of northern France, I walked the trails at Beaumont Hamel, where Newfoundlanders died by the dozens on the first day of the Somme in 1916. Afterwards, I stopped for lunch a few kilometres to the west, in Auchonvilliers, where the Avril Williams Tea Room doubles as a museum of World War I artefacts and memorabilia. There’s a copy of the photo of the Newfoundland Regiment hockey players hanging there, in the big main room, amid the armour and the ordnance, overlooking the battle maps, the regimental badges, the battalion histories. I studied the faces one more time, searched them all. And I read the names aloud.

White. Bennett. Strong. Winter. Williams. Strong. Duley. Newman. Churchill. Mews.

Caribou Crew: Soldiers from the Newfoundland Regiment, starters and spares, pose in hockey garb, and not, in 1917, in Windsor, Nova Scotia. Back, left to right: Rex White, Sydney Bennett, Jack Strong, Duke Winter. Middle: Hayward Williams, Charlie Strong, Lionel Duley, Stan Newman. Front: Ernest Churchill, Harry Mews. (Image: The Rooms, Provincial Archives Division, St. John’s, Newfoundland)

Duley was Lionel Thomas Duley, a St. John’s bank clerk who took his oath and joined the Newfoundland Regiment in 1916, attesting six days after the slaughter at Beaumont Hamel. He’s the goaltender in the Windsor photograph, taken the following year, when he was 19. The next time I saw his name written was a few days later, 120 kilometres to the north, across the French border into Belgium, when I went to see his grave in the Tyne Cot Cemetery near Zonnebeke. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission maintains thousands of cemeteries and memorials around the world; Tyne Cot, the final resting place for the remains of 11,961 servicemen from across the British Empire (and four Germans), is the largest of them all. Fourteen Newfoundlanders lie at Tyne Cot, along with 966 Canadians.

Drawing on records held in Newfoundland’s Archives at The Rooms in St. John’s you can chalk out an outline of Lionel Duley’s life.

I’ve been by the family house in St. John’s, the one he grew up in, where he was living when he left for the war, although I didn’t know it at the time I was passing by. 51 Rennies Mill Road, across from Bannerman Park.

His father, Thomas J. Duley, was an Englishman, born in Birmingham, who landed in Newfoundland. He married a daughter of Carbonear, Tryphena Soper — Phenie, she was known as. Together they had five children, Cyril, Nelson, Margaret, Gladys, and Lionel. I’m not sure of the proper order to put them in. I think Cyril was the eldest; he served in the Newfoundland Regiment, too, as a captain, survived Beaumont Hamel and then bad wounds later in 1916. Sister Margaret is often called Newfoundland’s first novelist: she wrote four books, including the novels The Eyes of the Gulland Highway to Valour.

Thomas was a jeweller and an optician and sold luxury goods on Water Street in St. John’s, T.J. Duley & Co. the business was called, The Reliabletheir slogan. I’ve been by there, as well — there’s a marijuana dispensary on the premises today.

Lionel did his schooling at the Methodist College in St. John’s. He was clerking for the Canadian Bank of Commerce when he presented himself for a medical check-up in April of 1916 at the Church Lads Brigade Armoury on Harvey Road. By July, Private Duley was duly enlisted, attested, assigned the regimental number 2945. His height was recorded as 5’7”; his pay was the regular rate of $1.10 a day, half of which he assigned to his father’s care. Promoted twice in those early months of training, he was Corporal Duley by the time he departed St. John’s aboard Florizel for Nova Scotia and the Windsor sojourn — puckstopping included — that delayed his arrival at the war.

It was April of 1917 when he sailed on the transport Northland for Liverpool. With the rest of the Newfoundland reinforcements he went from there to Scotland as part of the 2nd (Reserve) Battalion. He was promoted again, receiving his commission as a second lieutenant in May. He was in France by January of 1918, joining 1st Battalion just as they were ordered from positions they’d been occupying in northwest France, near Arras, and shifted to the Ypres Salient in Belgium.

It was at the end of September that Second Lieutenant Lionel Duley was killed. The Battalion had, by then, been incorporated into the 28thInfantry Brigade of the 9th(Scottish) Division positioned west of Ypres for the offensive across Flanders fields to seize Passchendaele Ridge from the German Army. On the second day of the advance, Sunday, September 29, the Newfoundlanders were on the move near the village of Keiberg. 2/Lieutenant Duley was leading his platoon forward when he was hit in the thigh by machine-gun fire.

Regimental records held at The Rooms describe the horror of it but briefly. “Before he could be taken back [he] died, probably from shock and severe loss of blood,” an officer wrote later. It was about 11 o’clock in the morning, 43 days before the Armistice. Subsequent paperwork testifies that his body was found by a fellow subaltern, 2/Lieutenant R.E. Evans, who buried it and erected a cross, taking note of the exact map reference. “This is not a military cemetery,” a memo in the file takes pains to record, “but at the place where he was found dead with some of our men also lying dead beside him. They were all buried together.”

Tyne Cot Cemetery isn’t far. The first British and Canadian war dead were buried there in 1917 while the guns were still thundering, before anything was decided. I’m not entirely sure when 2/Lieutenant Duley’s remains were moved, just that his family got confirmation in 1921 that he was resting there, in Plot 53, Row H, Grave 8.

I left a pebble on the top of the stone. I spoke his name.

Lionel Duley.

He was 20 years old when he died.