A birthday today for Joe Malone, lanky goalgetter extraordinaire, winner of three Stanley Cups, the NHL’s first scoring champion, the only man to have scored seven goals in a game in the league, the fastest to score 100 goals, a milestone he reached in 62 games, when he was 30.
Born in Sillery, Quebec, on a Friday of this date in 1890, the man they called Phantom Joe did much of his net-filling before the NHL got going, in Quebec City, where he captained the mighty Bulldogs of the long-lost NHA. That’s where he won his first two Stanley Cups, in 1912 and ’13. By 1917, when the old league gave way to the new, he was in Montreal, wearing Canadiens colours. Let’s just consider the work he did that season: in 20 regular-season games, he scored 44 goals. On the NHL’s very first night, in December of ’17, he put five past Ottawa’s Clint Benedict, and he kept on going after that, compiling a 14-game streak through the course of which he scored 35 goals (one of those games wasn’t played; the Montreal Wanderers forfeited just before they withdrew from the league). Toronto finally shut him out in early February; in his next game, Ottawa again, he promptly scored four.
His record-breaking seven-goal outburst came at the end of January in 1920 against the Toronto St. Patricks, by which time he was back in Quebec leading their short-lived NHL experiment. The club was sold at the end of that season and moved to Hamilton, where Malone toiled for a couple of seasons — as playing coach, for at least one of them — before wrapping up his career back with the Canadiens in Montreal.
Joe Malone was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1950. He died at the age of 79 in 1969.
Often cited during his lifetime as having been hockey’s best player, Malone couldn’t agree. For him, he said in 1952, Frank Nighbor was “the greatest player who ever lived, barring none.”
The Montreal Canadiens headed into the 1940 NHL season with optimism — though, of course, what else were they going to embrace, having finished the previous campaign plumb last in the seven-team NHL?
They did have a new coach at the helm, the great Dick Irvin, and as the team’s training camp wound down towards the start of the new season, he was talking … well, he sounded a little defensive, to be honest. “We’ll have a team by November 3,” he said; “we won’t be any pushovers.”
He did have an impressive rookie class at his disposal. That fall, Canadiens added 20-year-old centre Johnny Quilty, who end up winning the Calder Trophy that season as the league’s top rookie, along with a few other quality assets (and future Hall-of-Famers) in centre 23-year-old Elmer Lach, defenceman Ken Reardon, 19. Also making his debut: 24-year-old right winger Joe Benoit, who was born on a Sunday of today’s date in 1916.
With Irvin at the helm, Montreal did improve that year, clambering into the playoffs … before clattering out, in the first round, at the hands of the Chicago Black Hawks. Quilty finished as the team’s top scorer, with 18 goals and 34 points in 48 games, just ahead of the veteran captain Toe Blake (12 goals, 32 points) and Benoit (16 goals, 32 points).
As one of the NHL’s first Indigenous players, Benoit deserves more recognition than he’s been accorded to date. If we’re talking about the league itself, that recognition is — well, non-existent. At this late date, the NHL still, for some reason, chooses to ignore the stories of trailblazers like Buddy Maracle, Jim Jamieson, Johnny Harms, and Benoit.
His story, Joe Benoit’s, seems to have started in the northern Alberta community of Egg Lake, though he grew up (like Mark Messier and Jarome Iginla) in St. Albert, to Edmonton’s north. The records I’ve reviewed aren’t entirely clear on his family’s history. His father’s mother was Métis. In 1921, when Joe was four, the Census of Canada lists his father’s “origin” as French and the rest of the family (his mother and four siblings) as Cree.
Later, the story of young Joe’s hockey origins was told this way: with no arena in St. Albert or even an outdoor rink, he puckhandled through the streets. “Benoit learned his hockey with a homemade stick and a piece of ice as a puck, stickhandling his way up and down the main street of the tiny western hamlet. He developed his stickhandling wizardry by flipping the pieces of ice out of reach of paws and jaws of two gambolling dogs. This was Joe’s only opposition until he went to the Edmonton South Side Athletic Club in 1935, where he had his first taste of team play.”
That’s from 1943. No telling now how romanticized a scene-setting that is. There’s no explicit mention, you’ll note, of skates, though subsequent retellings added those, too.
Benoit’s NHL career was noteworthy, interrupted as it was by war and service (and hockey) with the Canadian armed forces. He played just five seasons in the big league, all of them with Montreal. He was the original right winger for the Canadiens’ top line in the early ’40s, skating with Lach and Toe Blake on the original Punch Line, before a bright young prospect by the name of Maurice Richard took his place. Benoit’s best season was 1942-43, which he finished with 30 goals and 57 points. The year he returned to the NHL, 1945-46, Canadiens won the Stanley Cup, but a back injury kept him out of the playoffs, and his name wasn’t among those stamped in the silverware.
Back between his street-skating years in St. Albert and his first turn on Montreal Forum ice, Benoit, who died at the age of 65 in 1981, did win a couple of notable championships. In 1938, his Trail Smoke Eaters burst out of B.C. Western Kootenay Hockey League to win the Allan Cup, the national senior title.
That earned the team the right to represent Canada the following year at the World Championships, which they did, embarking on a truly remarkable odyssey through Europe on the brink of the war.
Sailing from Halifax aboard the Duchess of York in mid-December of 1938, the Smokies eventually made their way to Switzerland in the new year, where they defended the world title won the previous year by the Sudbury Wolves and by the Kimberley Dynamiters the year before that. In 1939, Trail went undefeated in eight games, beating Germany, Czechoslovakia (twice), and the United States along the way.
Glory to that, but that’s not the remarkable part. Before they set sail for Canada on the Duchess of Richmond in April of 1939, the Smoke Eaters barnstormed their way around Europe, playing 70 games in three-and-a-half months. In Scotland and England they skated, and through the Netherlands, Germany, Austria, and Czechoslovakia.
Along the way, they compiled a record of 67-1-2, with their only loss coming by a score of 4-1 in London against an all-Canadian team, the Wembley All-Stars.
Joe Benoit counted the only goal for Trail that night. All told, he scored some 60 goals on the tour, leading all the Smoke Eaters in scoring, including a couple of other future NHLers in left winger Bunny Dame, who’d join Benoit in Montreal, and right winger Johnny McCreedy, who served a short stint with the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Mere months from the outbreak of war, the hockey players returned to Canada happy but tired, with tales to tell. “The players criticized the food in Germany,” the Regina Leader-Post noted, “where they said a lack of butter, white bread, and meat existed.”
“The players had never seen so many soldiers before,” reported Vancouver’s Province, quoting an unnamed player: “It was terrible in Germany — soldiers, soldiers, soldiers.”
“The streets were full of the them,” the Province continued, “and windows full of uniforms. England was busy digging tunnels as a precaution against air-raids and gas attacks.”
It was on a Monday of this same date in 1979 that New York Ranger teammates John Davidson and Ulf Nilsson woke up as roommates at Lenox Hill Hospital on the Upper East Side. Goaltender Davidson was already in residence, having pulled a hamstring and aggravated a nerve in his back in a game against St. Louis five days earlier. Nilsson, New York’s leading scorer, joined him Sunday night after fracturing his right ankle as a result of running into Islanders’ defenceman Denis Potvin. (That’s nurse Denise Boschen taking a check of Nilsson’s blood pressure.)
Already lacking defenceman Ron Greschner (separated shoulder), the Rangers still managed to make it to the Stanley Cup final that May. Davidson and Greschner were sufficiently repaired for the playoff run, and Nilsson made it back for the first game of the final against the Montreal Canadiens. He only lasted two games before the ankle gave out again, and so he missed the denouement, which saw Montreal sweep the next three games to take a fourth Cup in a row.
Born in Selkirk, Manitoba, in 1905 on a Saturday of this date, Paul Goodman was minding the nets for the AHA Wichita Skyhawks when the Chicago Black Hawks summoned him to Toronto in the spring of 1938 where they were battling the local Leafs for the Stanley Cup. With Chicago starter Mike Karakas out with an injury, the Black Hawks had made do in game one with emergency replacement Alfie Moore. Better yet, they’d won the game. That didn’t sit well with the Leafs, who refused to consent to Moore playing the second game, so in went 33-year-old Goodman. The Leafs won that one, but Karakas returned for the final two games to secure Chicago’s second championship in four years. Goodman got his chance at a more regular role with the Black Hawks two seasons after that playoff debut, taking over the starter’s job from Karakas, which is when this photograph dates to, January of 1940. Goodman’s final NHL season was 1940-41. That year, he shared the Chicago net with Sam LoPresti.
Score it 0-0: the game that particular February 24 on a Sunday night in 1935 ended up without a puck getting by either goaltender through three regular periods and a ten-minute overtime. New York’s Madison Square Garden was the scene, with 26-year-old Dave Kerr tending the nets for the hometown Rangers against Tiny Thompson and the Boston Bruins in front of a crowd of 16,000 or so. The ice, by one account, was wretched.
“For Rangers,” the Boston Globe disclosed the next day, “Kerr was the whole works.” He stopped 43 pucks, recording the 15th shutout of his five-year career. His closest call? Harold Parrott from Brooklyn’s Daily Eagle said it came on a “rifle shot” from Boston’s Babe Siebert, “which nearly tore the goaler’s little finger off and hit the goal post with that dull ping which signifies failure.” Thompson deterred 39 New York shots — or maybe 34. The NHL didn’t keep official counts in those early years, and the Globe and the New York Times begged to differ in their accounting of Thompson’s work. To the latter’s eye, his hardest test came in the second period on a “ripping long shot” from New York’s Murray Murdoch.
For Thompson, who was 31 and playing in his eighth NHL season, the night marked a milestone of distinguished denial: this was the 50th regular-season shutout of his career. He was the seventh goaltender in league history to make it to that mark, following in the venerable skates of (not in order) George Hainsworth, Clint Benedict, Roy Worters, Lorne Chabot, Alec Connell, and John Ross Roach.
There was no better team in hockey through the 1920s than the Ottawa Senators, who won four Stanley Cups in eight years with a line-up stacked with future Hall-of-Famers. Coached by the brilliant (and sadly undersung) Pete Green through the first years of the NHL’s first decade, the Senators counted on a core of supremely skilled players in those years that included Clint Benedict in goal, King Clancy and Lionel Hitchman on defence, and Cy Denneny, Frank Nighbor, and Jack Darragh on the forward line.
Captaining the team through those first three championships was the anchorman of the defence, Eddie Gerard. Born in Ottawa on a Saturday of this date in 1890, Gerard deserves a bigger fame, better broadcast, than he has nowadays. The modern-day Senators could get things going — and should — by retiring his number 2 and raising it to the rafters of the Canadian Tire Centre. Then again, according to me, they ought to be hoisting a whole wardrobe’s worth of sweaters to honour that golden age, including Nighbor’s number 6, Cy Denneny’s 5, and Darragh’s 7, just for a start.
Gerard played his last NHL season in 1923, when, aged 33, he steered the Senators their third Cup in four years. (He actually got his name on four straight Cups, but that’s a tale for another day.) It was early March when the Senators beat the Montreal Canadiens in two games to take the NHL title, whereupon the team boarded a CPR train for Vancouver.
On arrival to the coast, Ottawa surpassed the PCHL Vancouver Maroons in four games to earn the right to meet the Edmonton Eskimos in for the Stanley Cup, which they collected by way of a two-game sweep of the WCHL Edmonton Eskimos.
On the rails heading west, the Senators were accommodated in a special carriage, the “Neptune.” It’s worth noting that they left two prominent members of their team behind in the capital: winger Jack Darragh and coach Pete Green were both unable to make the trip west. Canadiens winger Billy Boucher did join the Senators for their Stanley Cup swing — he was from Ottawa, after all, a brother to Senators’ defenceman Buck Boucher — but didn’t, in the end, play a single game on the coast. So Ottawa had just nine players available for the six games they played on their way to winning the Cup.
It wasn’t easy. During the finals, Harry Helman cut his foot and was unable to play. Buck Boucher and Lionel Hitchman played through injuries, while Eddie Gerard suited up for the last two games despite torn ligaments in a shoulder that was also doubly fractured. In the deciding game, after Clint Benedict was penalized for chopping at Joe Simpson’s skates, 20-year-old Ottawa defenceman King Clancy took a turn in goal, proving himself to be uniquely versatile — earlier in Ottawa’s undermanned visit to the coast, he’d also taken turns at centre and on both wings as well as doing his regular duty as a defender.
Back in Ottawa that April, Eddie Gerard was invited to address the regular Wednesday-night meeting of the youngsters of the Canuck Club at the YMCA. His young audience sat on the gym floor to listen to the Senator captain tell them (as the Ottawa Citizen reported it) “that the first man signed on by the Ottawa players before starting out West was ‘Mr. Harmony,’ and he said that without harmony nothing could succeed.”
His message was, of course, about playing as a team, with a shared purpose — but it was also about, well, harmonies.
Turns out that the Senators packed a small piano for their train journey west, with Gerard and trainer Cozy Dolan as principal performers, ably accompanied by Lionel Hitchman on violin, Clancy on harmonica, and Helman on drums. “This might appear on paper as a joke orchestra,” Citizen sports editor Ed Baker wrote, “but it is not. It’s a real honest to goodness band.”
Gerard recalled this a decade later, when he was coaching the New York Americans. “Harmony on a hockey club,” he told Harold Burr of the Brooklyn Eagle in 1931, “is half the battle. And one kind of harmony brings another. I like to sign singing players. If they knock around together off the ice, they’re liable to fight for another on it. Conversely, the player who curses his teammate in the hotel and on the trains isn’t going to pass him in front of the goal when he should.”
That’s when he remembered the musical rides of the ’20s. The Senators had shunted west in 1921, too, also (I guess) with a piano aboard? “All the fellows could sing,” Gerard testified in 1931, “but I think Sprague Cleghorn had the best voice. Our trainer, Cozy Dolan, could play anything from the big drum to the little piccolo.”
One more (non-musical note), on a matter of historical housekeeping: shouldn’t Tommy Gorman get the credit for coaching the Senators to that 1923 Cup? With Pete Green staying home in Ottawa, manager Gorman does seem to have taken charge on the Ottawa bench for those western playoff games that year. And yet in most of the standard records, Gorman’s coaching career is listed as beginning in 1925, when he took over the New York Americans. Seems like deserves the credit for the work he did in that regard for the Senators, too, in claiming that Stanley Cup.
David Ayres will never forget it. The Toronto Maple Leafs will never escape it.
It a year ago today that the Carolina Hurricanes overwhelmed the Leafs by a score of 6-3 at Toronto’s Scotiabank Arena with Ayres, a 42-year-old emergency goaltender (and sometime Zamboni-driver), stepping in to make eight saves and earn the win and secure the win after the Hurricanes lost regular netminders James Reimer and Petr Mrazek to injury.
Born in Whitby, Ontario, Ayres, who underwent a kidney transplant in 2004, was a great story at the time, and still is: Luke Fox has a worthwhile catch-up q-and-a with him here at Sportsnet.
Last year, in the heady days following his one-and-only NHL win (to date), Ayres took a well-deserved victory lap, back when those were still possible, stopping in to visit Stephen Colbert’s Late Show in New York before continuing on to Raleigh, where he was fêted on David Ayres Day and declared an honorary North Carolinian by Governor Roy Cooper.
Hall-of-Fame centreman Phil Esposito is 79 today, so many happy returns of the rink to him. Born in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, on a Friday of this date in 1942 a year before his goaltender brother Tony made his debut, Phil was the first NHLer to score 100 points in a season (ending up with 126 in 1969). In 1971, he set a new mark for goals in a season, with 76. Along with a pair of Hart trophies and five Art Rosses, he won two Stanley Cups, both with Boston. He played 18 years in the NHL, mostly with the Bruins, though he was a Chicago Black Hawk before he was traded to Boston 1967 and then, after another trade, this one in 1975, he joined the New York Ranger.
When hockey writer Andy O’Brien visited with Esposito’s parents in 1970 for a profile for Weekend Magazine, Patrick Esposito confided that, early on, he wondered whether his elder son had what it took to make the NHL.
“Frankly, I had my doubts,” he said. “He was big and tall but he was weak on his ankles. However, he could handle the puck, and even when he was playing juvenile he led the league and had everybody talking about him. He kept on leading leagues but, no, I never felt quite certain he would make it.”
The Boston Bruins had a plan to raise Willie O’Ree’s number 22 to the upper reaches of the TD Garden tonight, in honour of his “trailblazing impact on and off the ice” — but then, you know, there’s this pandemic. Now, instead of a ceremony ahead of tonight’s fan-free game between the Bruins and New Jersey’s Devils, they’ll plan to do it (with full attendance, everybody hopes) on January 18, 2022 — 64 years to the day that O’Ree made his NHL debut. Of course, he wore 18 that particular night, and the next, when he and the Bruins tangled in a home-and-home series with the Montreal Canadiens. O’Ree took 22 when he returned to the Bruins’ line-up in the fall of 1960, the one seen here, with whom he played a more regular role over the course of 43 games. The first Bruin to wear 22? That would be defenceman Ed Kryzanowski, starting in 1948. Others to have borne it include Joe Klukay, Larry Hillman, Brad Park, and Brian Leetch. Shawn Thornton was the last Bruin to wear 22: it’s been out of circulation since he relinquished it in 2014.
Earl Davis announced his findings in January of 1944.
“Hockey fans are the craziest people, of that I am sure,” was what years of experience had taught him. “They do not seem to know it is dangerous to throw things — that a player could break his leg on the junk they toss — and that we are breaking our backs picking it up. One night we scooped up 300 or 400 pennies, several dimes and nickels, and a couple of quarters.”
Davis, the long-suffering supervisor of the 12-man clean-up crew responsible for keeping the ice clear at Chicago Stadium, unburdened himself toAssociated Press correspondent Charles Chamberlin that winter.
Programs, tissue paper, poker chips, marbles, decks of cards, rice, navy beans were all on Davis’ list of items he and his team had retrieved through the past few wartime seasons. “Eggs — a dime a dozen. Oranges, apples, grapefruit, slices of bread — some day we’ll get the knives and forks. If it wasn’t for rationing …”
Chamberlain also inquired into the flying machines that filled the Stadium airspace night after night. “Made with painstaking care from programs by guys in the far, smoke-bound reaches of the upper gallery,” dozens of paper airplanes regularly went winging down from on high in these “stadium sweepstakes.”
Blackhawks president Bill Tobin described how it worked: “They choose a blueline or a circle on the ice and try to see who can sail their planes closest to the marks. They bet anything from five cents to five dollars on the accuracy of the flights.”
Tobin had his choice cut when it came to stories of flying food.
“The Hawks were in Boston when what should splash down on the ice but a big chunk of beef steak, uncooked. Taffy Abel, who was playing defence for us then, picked it up, made a bow towards the gallery, and carted it off. He said he fried and ate it after the game.”
Could have happened, I guess, just not in ’37: Abel played his last game in the NHL in 1934.