twenty-nine

Can we all just agree, before we go any further, that Mike Rodden never coached the Toronto Maple Leafs?

In the fuss surrounding the demise of the Leafs’ 28th coach (Ron Wilson) in favour of its 29th(Randy Carlyle) over the weekend, there were some ripples of confusion about just how many coaches the team has had in its history.  Adding in those who’ve taken multiple turns behind the bench (King Clancy and Punch Imlach), it’s possible to land on 32. The Toronto Sun did the math and somehow came up with 28. Others have figured Wilson and Carlyle as the 29th and 30th, with Rodden as the extra puzzle-piece, cited here and there as the team’s very first coach. The Globe and Mail, for instance: they included a great Tex Coulter portrait of Rodden in their weekend web gallery of Leafs coaches, noting that while he was better known as a referee, he did steer the Leafs for two games in 1927.

No.

The trouble is, I think, that the spring is … if not exactly poisoned at the source, then certainly muddied: Wikipedia has Rodden listed as the inaugural Leafs boss.

Here’s how it went, though: at the start of the 1926-27 season, Toronto’s team was the St. Patricks, and Rodden was the coach. Two lopsided losses later, he wasn’t any more — one of the team’s owners, Charlie Querrie, took over. Rodden had, as they say, lost the room before he’d really had a chance to look around: some of the Irish players were reported to have gone to management and refused to play any more hockey for him.

Querrie was a former lacrosse star who’d previously served as manager of two Stanley Cup-winning Toronto Arenas teams. He didn’t fare so well with the St. Pats. As the new year rolled around, the team was holding down last place in the NHL. That’s when Conn Smythe swooped in to buy the team, changing their name and uniforms mid-season. Smythe intended to coach the team himself, but ended up appointing former Toronto Granites’ star Alex Romeril to the job for the remainder of the season. Which makes Romeril the original Leafs coach, and a winning one at that, though his 7-5-1 record wasn’t enough to get the team into the playoffs.

As for Rodden, he’d refused to quit the St. Pats back after his two-game run, insisting that the team honour his two-year contract. Smythe bought him out when he acquired the team for a settlement, it was thought, of close to $10,000.

Rodden wasn’t exactly idle after (or before) his career as a hockey coach ended. He’d played football for the early Toronto Argonauts. As a coach, he won two Grey Cups with the Hamilton Tigers, in 1928 and ’29. He was an internationally recognized boxing referee. As an NHL referee, he blew the whistle on 1,187 games during his career, for which he was elevated to the Hall of Fame.

Oh, and then there was the journalism: the man they called “Dom Miguel” was for many years the sports editor and columnist at Kingston’s Whig-Standard, a job he took after spending 18 years at Toronto’s Globe. As unnoted this week in The Globe and Mail, he was a sports reporter while he coached in the NHL, before taking the job, in 1928, as sports editor.