twas a close squeeze

1932

Hard to say what’s going on with the puck in this imaginatively enhanced German photo-illustration of Canada’s first meeting with the United States at the 1932 Lake Placid Olympics.  If the teams did indeed play the game batting about the lid of a teapot, it’s not something the newspapers noticed. What we do know is that this was the opening outing of Canada’s least-dominant Olympics to date, even if they did — spoiler alert — end up grabbing gold.

It was the Winnipeg Hockey Club wearing the maple leaf that year, Allan Cup champions, and — well, frankly, Canadians wondered whether they were worthy representatives. The team was considered weak, writes Andrew Podnieks in Canada’s Olympic Hockey Teams (1997), not to mention lacking in lustre. I don’t know that it’s fair to say that the country suffered a national sinking feeling as the team rode east out of Manitoba on Canadian National’s Continental Limited flyer, but neither am I ruling it out.

Against the U.S., the Winnipegs may have been thrown off by the fact that the game was played outdoors. Goalie Bill Cockburn had sun glaring in his eyes, and the team in general was (said The Globe) “as nervous as an amateur theatrical troupe on ‘the big night.’” Also, did I mention that the rink was disconcertingly small?

Canada was not only “sluggish” for the first two periods, but “wobbly.” In the second, the Americans scooped up a wild Canadian pass in front of Cockburn and … scored.

That woke up the Winnipeggers. Time to step it up. In the third, as The Globe told the tale,

Franklin Farrell, the United States goaler, was on his knees most of the time batting away shots with his elbows and his hands.

Hack Simpson finally beat him. In overtime, despite taking two penalties, the Canadians prevailed when Vic Lindquist drove at the net, fell, collided with Farrell and, somehow, pushed the lid of the teapot into the net. “Twas a close squeeze,” Globe sports editor Mike Rodden exhaled next morning.

Now’s not the time, probably, to get down on the Winnipegs for what happened next. With an eye to selling tickets, the Americans had organized a series of exhibition games throughout the Olympics, which is how Canada played and lost to the team from McGill University next day. Canadian management attached no importance to the game but still, a loss is a loss.

Next, back to the fight for gold, came Germany. They insisted on succumbing by a mere 4-1. This was just getting silly. Four years earlier, Canadians had been winning games by scores of 33-0 and 19-2. The Winnipegs did record a restorative 9-0 drubbing of the Poles next, and that must have calmed some nerves. The Germans got the message, sort of, losing 5-0 when the teams met for a second time. Next day, when it was Poland’s turn again, the Winnipegs patiently re-drubbed them 10-0.

Which was better. More Canadian, certainly. In the final, the Winnipegs faced the United States again. Twice the Americans had the audacity to take the lead and twice — “a little shaken by the unexpected turn of events,” as The Globe reported — Canada was forced to tie it up. That’s how the game ended, 2-2, which was just enough to give Canada the gold, on points, even as the country considered the disturbing shift in Olympic hockey that we’ve been struggling with ever since: other teams, from other countries, seemed like they wanted to win gold just as much as we did.