Born in Hartney, Manitoba, on a Wednesday of this date in 1897, Spunk Sparrow won an Allen Cup in 1916 on the 61st Battalion team that Joe Simpson starred on. Emory was Sparrow’s given name, if you’re wondering; he was a right winger; he died in 1965 at at the age of 67. As a pro, Sparrow mostly played in the old WCHL in the early 1920s, turning out for the Regina Capitals (Dick Irvin and Rabbit McVeigh were teammates), Calgary’s Tigers (alongside Red Dutton and Herb Gardiner), and the Edmonton Eskimos pictured above. He played briefly for Boston, joining Art Ross’s fledgling Bruins in 1925 for six games. He scored some goals in his day, and was oft-penalized and several times suspended — “a sterling hockey player,” the Winnipeg Tribune called him, “but a rather difficult man to handle.” The flaxen flash was an epithet the Edmonton Journal applied to him in 1924 on the occasion of his having scored a handsome goal against Calgary. It was so good, apparently, that one of the paper’s writers saw fit to dash off a poem in his honour, “An Ode To Spunk.” It opened like this:
Tell me, stranger, have you heard
Of that wonder-working bird?
Not the peacock or the wren
Or the brilliant guinea-hen.
It’s the bird who saves our souls
Gets badly-needed goals —
Colorado’s Nathan MacKinnon, Toronto’s Auston Matthews, and Ryan O’Reilly of St. Louis are the finalists in the running for the 2020 edition of the Lady Byng Memorial Trophy, which is intended to recognize NHL players whose superior skills coincide with exceptional sportsmanship and gentlemanly conduct. With the NHL set to announce the winner today, maybe a gesture to the 1958 Lady Byng laureate might be in order, Camille Henry, who also happens to have died on a Thursday of this date in 1997, of diabetes, at the age of 64.
The best of Henry’s 14 years in the NHL saw him wearing New York Ranger blue, though he also skated for the Chicago Black Hawks and St. Louis Blues. In addition to the ’58 Lady Byng that recognized his mix of good manners and superior skills, claims for his fame might also include the Calder Trophy he won as the NHL’s top rookie in 1954. They might reference, equally, the chase he took up in 1960 when a high-spirited fan smacked him in the face with his own stick. That incident came a year after the portrait here was taken, or two years after yet another newspaper article made the rounds focussing on his weight, or lack thereof. Spoiler alert: at 24, Henry was on the smaller side, 5’7”, “a scrawny-looking French-Canadian youngster,” as profiled by an unnamed Associated Press correspondent, “who answers to the nickname of Camille the Eel.”
This was January of 1958, when Henry’s 23 goals happened to be more than anyone else had scored in the NHL to that point, ahead of Detroit’s Gordie Howe and Dickie Moore of Montreal. (Both would end up passing Henry by season’s end; he finished the year with 32 to Howe’s 33 and Moore’s 36.)
“Camille weighs about 149 pounds soaking wet,” the AP explained, “which he usually is after most of the games in the bruising, contact-filled sport.”
Henry’s view? “I figure being light helps me,” he said. “I can sometimes squeeze in among the bigger men, get my stick in the way of the puck and get it past the goalie. If I was heavier I might not be able to maneuver so well.”
(Image: Louis Jaques/Library and Archives Canada/e002343730)
“He has always been an effective player,” the Toronto Globe’s Bert Perry wrote in 1931 of Henry Elmer Maracle, born on this date in 1904 (it was a Thursday, then) in the southwestern Ontario town of Ayr. Better known in his hockey life as Buddy, Maracle died at the age of 53 in 1958. As you might have read (here or maybe here), he seems to have become the first Indigenous player to skate in the NHL when he turned out, briefly, for the New York Rangers in the latter days of the 1930-31 season. For those keeping score, the NHL remains mysteriously muted when it comes acknowledging his story and achievement.
The archival record of Maracle’s puck-playing years suggests that he was speedy and skilled and industrious on the ice. Did he deserve a longer stay in the NHL? It’s hard to tell, given the distance of the years and the relative insufficiency of the written record, just how fair a shake he got. What we do know is that contemporary reports of his hockey career are thickly larded with the lazy stereotypes and outright racist responses of white sportswriters who watched him play.
Herewith, a couple of eyebrow-raising off-rink anecdotes, at least 50 per cent scurrilous, that I’ve come across, presented unverified and without parsing. The first is from a newspaper dated 1931, the next from 1929, years during which Maracle was playing, in the livery seen here, above, for the Springfield (Massachusetts) Indians of the Can-Am League, where Frank Carroll was the coach. One:
A story is told about Maracle that a few autumns ago severe floods invaded the exhibition ground where the Indians’ rink is located, and the waters endangered the Springfield equipment in the dressing room. Maracle was rowed to the building in a boat, dived underneath a door, swam through the chilly waters, and effected the rescue of the equipment. As a reward for this act, he was given a public presentation on the occasion of the Indians’ first home game of the season, the management giving him a substantial bonus.
Some very far-fetched and amusing press-agent stories of hockey players have emanated from New York since the professionals took Gotham by storm. It is therefore not at all surprising to read the latest, which concerns “Buddy” Maracle of Springfield, the New York Rangers’ “farm.” When Maracle, who is a full-blooded Indian, first broke into pro. hockey, according to this imaginative press agent, he had the reputation of being “yellow.” During one intermission, the story continues, the manager of Maracle’s team backed him up against the dressing-room wall, stuck a pistol against his chest and threatened to shoot him if he showed lack of courage in the future. From then on, concludes the tale, Maracle has “played like a demon all the time.”
“No more Team USeless, please. No more Bicentennial Bullies or Team Lumber or any of the other cuties that have been hung on the American entry in the Canada Cup series. Just call them Team USA and let it go at that, OK?”
That was Gary Ronberg of The Philadelphia Inquirer demanding a modicum of respect for the team wearing stars and stripes at the inaugural Canada Cup following their 4-4 tie with the powerful team from Czechoslovakia in 1976. The Czechs were the defending world champions at the time, and would go on to face Canada in the tournament’s finals, and in their first two games that September, 44 years ago, they’d already dispensed with the Soviets and the Finns. The Americans, meanwhile, had lost both of their games, to Sweden and Canada. Playing at the Spectrum in Philadelphia, the Czechs went ahead on a second-period powerplay goal from Ivan Hlinka before the home team roared back with goals from Alan Hangsleben, Robbie Ftorek, and Craig Patrick (with a pair) to take a 4-2 lead in to the third. The Czechs scored two in the final frame to earn a point.
“It happens sometimes that you’re not rewarded for what you deserve,” US coach Bob Pulford said after it was all over. “Those guys deserved to win tonight and I feel sorry for them. I was very proud of them tonight.”
Team USA lost its next game to the Soviet Union by a 5-0 score, but rallied in their final showing to beat Finland, 6-3.
(Canada Cup posters by Thomas Ross McNeely. Images: Library and Archives Canada)
“He was hardness itself,” Hanford Woods wrote of John Ferguson the elder, in a 1975 short story about a famous fearful fight, “The Drubbing of Nesterenko.” Born in Vancouver in 1938 on a Friday of this date, Ferguson was a left winger who was, yes, renowned through his eight-year career with Montreal’s Canadiens for his rugged, fist-first, penalty-incurring brand of play. He had some goals in him, too, scoring 20 one season and 29 in another. In 1963-64, he finished runner-up to teammate Jacques Laperriere in voting for the Calder Trophy, recognizing the NHL’s best rookie. Before he retired, Ferguson helped Montreal win five Stanley Cups; afterwards, he served stints as coach and GM of the New York Rangers, as well as GM of the Winnipeg Jets. He died in 2007 at the age of 68.
It was 1972, of course, that Ferguson was blooded as a coach, answering Harry Sinden’s call to aid in steering Team Canada through its epic eight-game showdown with the Soviet national team that played out 48 years ago this month. In the cover story for the early-August edition of The Canadian Magazine pictured above, Ferguson was front and centred as Sinden explained how he’d gone about building his team for the series that everybody was talking about “as if it’s as important as the Second Coming.”
“I got this job June 7,” Sinden wrote, “and the very next day I hired John Ferguson as my assistant. … The main reason I chose him is that my personal record against the Canadiens, when he was playing for them and I was coach of the Bruins, was not good. The Canadiens kept beating us all the time. When I analyzed it, I figured it was Fergie who was blame as much as anyone. If anyone’s a born leader on the ice, it’s Fergie.”
The second day of September was a Saturday in 1972, and in Montreal the forecast called for the morning’s sun to give way to clouds and afternoon showers with no chance whatever, come the evening hours, for a Soviet win over our invincible homegrown hockey heroes.
It’s 48 years ago today that the momentous Summit Series first hit the ice, at Montreal’s famous Forum. For Canadians, nothing went as it was supposed to that night, of course, with the good guys ending up on the wrong end of a 7-3 rout. For a sense of just how much that result dazed and confused the nation, I’ll refer you to the prophecies that hockey’s non-Russian cognoscenti were making on the morning of that shocking day, weighing in with predictions for the eight-game series.
“Canada will win handily,” ventured Toronto Star columnist Milt Dunnell; “they might lose one in Moscow. Say seven to one.”
Mark Mulvoy, from Sports Illustrated, was just as generous: “Canada, seven to one.”
“Here’s a flatly positive that Canada will win at least seven of the eight games,” wrote Southam columnist Jim Coleman. “This prediction isn’t based on flag-waving chauvinism. This is a cold-blooded prognostication.”
Foster Hewitt, who’d be up in the gondola on play-by-play when he puck dropped: “Canada’s two goals a game better. It looks like eight to nothing Canada.”
“The NHL team will slaughter them in eight straight,” advised Gerald Eskenazi from The New York Times.
Toronto Maple Leafs’ goaltender Jacques Plante agreed: “Eight straight for Canada.”
Fran Rosa, from Boston’s Globe? “Eight to nothing Canada — and that’s the score of the first game.”
Globe and Mail columnist Dick Beddoes had placed his bet a few days earlier. “Make it Canada eight games to zero. If the Russians win one game, I will eat this column shredded at high noon in a bowl of borscht on the front steps of the Russian embassy.”
To his credit, if not his digestive delight, Beddoes was true to his word, and took his soup a few days later.
After a month of summertime hockey, we’ve learned what NHL playoffs look like when you play them in a pandemic: on the ice, they more or less resemble the game as it’s usually played, back in the pre-COVID past, with all the ensuing clustering, close-fought commotion, and bodily byproducts that players shed, the sweat, spit, blood, and teeth. If all goes according to script in a year in which so much hasn’t, in another month from now the Stanley Cup will be in the hands of hockey’s latest champions, riding high, and full of champagne. In today’s print edition of The New York Times — and online, here — I survey hockey’s daily tutorial — its crash course? — on how not to social distance.