hockey players in hospital beds: most of the 1938 chicago black hawks

chi abed 1

1. Maybe there’s a more impressively populated photograph of hockey players abed in hospital, but I doubt it. The patients, from left, are Cully Dahlstrom, Mush March, Louie Trudel, Doc Romnes, Carl Voss, Johnny Gottselig, and Art Wiebe, members all of the 1937-38 Chicago Black Hawks. Their injuries, respectively, were to the: leg, groin, scalp, nose, leg, leg, and forehead.

2. Blame Red Horner.

3. That’s what Chicago did. Not that he did all the damage, just a lot of it, especially to Doc Romnes, who vowed revenge (apparently) and (verifiably) took it. April of ’38 this was, when the Leafs and Black Hawks were in the Finals, playing for the Stanley Cup.

4. The first two games were in Toronto. The Leafs, who’d swept by the Boston Bruins in the semi-finals, had finished 20 points ahead of Chicago in the season standings. Chicago had surprised Montreal and the New York Americans in the playoffs: they were being called “the Cinderella boys.” The Chicago Tribune said that the entire club radiated confidence.

5. There was a goalie kerfuffle that I’m not really going to get into here. Suffice to say Chicago’s regular goaltender was injured and a man whom the Black Hawks didn’t want guarding their net was kind of forced on them, and then when he won the first game, that was the end of it, the NHL wouldn’t let him play for them again. Alfie Moore. The score was 2-1.

6. The second game Toronto won, 5-1. A drubbing, The Winnipeg Tribune called it; local newspapers were pleased. In action that night, Chicago had a different goaltender, Paul Goodman, due to the continuing situation that you’ll have to look up elsewhere. What’s important to say here is that several Hawks were hurt in this game, including Art Wiebe (cut in the head by a teammate’s stick while trying to dodge a flying puck as he sat on the bench), Johnny Gottselig (slashed on the foot), and (cut in the head by high sticks) Louis Trudel (six stitches) Roger Jenkins (two), and Alex Levinsky (two). Mush Marsh’s pre-existing aching groin kept him out of the game altogether, joining Hawk goalie Mike Karakas, whose toe was fractured, causing the whole goaltender of which we’ll continue not to speak.

7. According to the Chicago papers, Toronto captain Red Horner was the high-sticker-in-chief; he also broke Doc Romnes’ nose.

8. George Strickler from The Chicago Tribune wrote that bitter feelings were engendered by (1) the goaltender hubbub that probably would have been worth explaining; (2) lax officiating (looking at you, Ag Smith and Bert McCaffrey) as well as (3):

It was evident from the opening faceoff that the favored Leafs, aroused by the publicity resulting from Tuesday’s unexpected defeat were intent on making the beating physical as well as official. They checked viciously and needlessly and completely mastered the Hawks until the latter began retaliating in kind.

9. In 1962, The Chicago Sunday Tribune recalled the brutality of the game. Here’s what Ted Damata wrote about Romnes, who had, it’s true, won the Lady Byng Trophy in 1936 in recognition of his gentlemanly peacefulness:

Elwyn Romnes, who looked and acted so much like a meek professor that the players nicknamed him Doc.

10. Contemporary accounts don’t dwell too much on what Horner did to Romnes. Mostly what they say is that the former broke the latter’s nose, and this forced Romnes from the game in the second period. Subsequent reports multiply the damage: the nose was apparently broken in three places.

11. Stan and Shirley Fischler, in Who’s Who In Hockey (2003): Horner rapped Romnes across the face. A contemporary report from the Harrisburg (Pennsylvania) Telegraph (presumably an AP report) attributes the damage to a Horner body check. Whereas Mark Stewart, in The Chicago Blackhawks (2009) seems to suggest the wound was self-inflicted: Romnes broke his nose.

That echoes the blamelessness that Charles Coleman enshrined in The Trail of the Stanley Cup (1969): Romnes emerged from a fracas with a broken nose.

Andrew Podnieks, in Players: The Ultimate A—Z Guide To Everyone Who Has Ever Played in the NHL (2003): his nose was smashed by a punch from Red Horner.

Kevin Allen tells us that it was a Horner butt-end that did the damage. This is in “Then Wayne Said to Mario. . .”: The Best Stanley Cup Stories Ever Told (2009).

12. Horner wasn’t penalized for whatever it was he did, though he did take tripping minor in the second. Still, according to Globe and Mail Sports Editor Tommy Munns, the referees were “stricter than any other pair in any other playoff game.” NHL President Frank Calder had met with Smith and McCaffrey before the game, telling them (Munns speculated) “to get away from the practice of letting almost everything go.”

13. Ted Damata in 1962 adds another scene to the drama: Romnes,

looking up from a bloody pool on Toronto ice, vowed to Horner that “I’ll cut your head off the minute the puck is dropped when we get back to Chicago.”

 14. Which we’ll get to. First, though, Stan Fischler, who wrote about Romnes in his Hockey News column this past December, introducing him as:

a slick center who just hated his given name but loved being called ‘Doc’ — a moniker he got because he carried his skates in a physician’s case, of all places.

‪15. If we forgive the fact that the column is a lightly rewritten version of a chapter from Fischler’s Behind the Net: 101 Incredible Hockey Stories (2013), can we also wonder why he saw fit to change the telling from past tense to present? Though the column does, weirdly, make it sound as though Fischler just got off the phone with the man, Romnes actually died in 1984. Still, our correspondent did obviously get the goods from him at some point before that, including this: Romnes says his nose had an extra two breaks in its, thanks to Horner, for a total of five. Could be, I guess; he would have known. Although he did misrember the game in which the breakage happened, telling Fischler that it was the first game at Maple Leaf Gardens rather than the second.

16. Both Toronto’s pantheon of Hockey Fame and the U.S. Fame-Hall go with the quintuply broken nose, as does Andrew Podnieks in Players.

17. I prefer the skates in the medical bag version but feel obligated to report that others, pre-Fischler, told it differently. Norman S. Thomas from the Lewiston Evening Journal being one: according to him, writing in 1948,

He received the nickname of “Doc” because he used to carry his high school books around in an old physician’s satchel.

18. The teams headed for Chicago. George Strickler recounted the Hawks’ arrival:

Seven members of the squad were taken from the train to Garfield Park hospital for treatment and X-ray examinations of injuries received Thursday night, when the Maple Leafs evened the Stanley Cup finals with a 5 to 1 victory.

19. Turns out Kevin Allen’s Romnes material originally appeared in ‪his USA Hockey: A Celebration of a Great Tradition (1997). Maybe, then, we can take it to be doubly reliable when he says that it was the Chicago owner, Major Frederic McLaughlin, who arranged for the photograph of all the injured hockey players in hospital beds to be taken and published in the Chicago papers:

McLaughlin wasn’t trying to incite a riot, just more ticket sales.

20. X-rays showed that Gottselig’s leg wasn’t fractured, and nor was Art Wiebe’s skull.

21. Mush March was going to be able to play, and so too was goaltender Mike Karakas, bringing to an end the goaltender hoo-ha we’ve steered so successfully clear of here.

22. As for Doc Romnes, George Strickler reported that a mask was being made to protect his nose — which, not to belabour the point, but “was found to be broken in three places.” That’s what The Brooklyn Daily Eagle was saying too, a little more vividly: Romnes would wear a “special nose guard to protect his schnozola.” Kevin Allen tells us that he’d acquired “a Purdue football helmet.” Which, I guess, is what we’re looking at there at the end of the bed.