my first hockey game: admiral of the fleet the earl jellicoe

The homage to the Navy will be on display throughout the historic outdoor game, from the on-field décor to the in-game ceremonies to the more than 500 U.S. Naval Academy (USNA) midshipmen in attendance. The NHL regulation rink sits atop a Navy-inspired aircraft carrier flight deck complete with model fighter jet.

• NHL Public Relations, February 28, 2018

So the Toronto Maple Leafs will be playing the Washington Capitals tonight in Annapolis, Maryland, in order to celebrate … U.S. naval might?

I have no special objection to the NHL theming its latest game in the Stadium Series in this way, and it wouldn’t matter if I did. Does it seem just a little forced, though, even for the NHL? I wasn’t paying attention, I guess, as closely as I might have been. A couple of weeks ago, when I saw the smart all-white duds the Leafs will have their ratings wearing tonight, I didn’t know that they had the Royal Canadian Navy’s motto (“Ready, Aye, Ready”) stitched inside the collar let alone that the design is supposed to allude to our Naval Ensign.

By the time I registered, earlier this week, that the game is being played at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium, Russian President Vladimir Putin was out and about touting his new and invincible arsenal, including speedy underwater drones capable of carrying nuclear bombs. For just a moment there it seemed vaguely possible that if the NHL’s military parading had nothing to do with global arms races before Alex Ovechkin’s favourite strongman started missile-rattling, maybe it would now be enlisted to the effort. I waited in vain, as it turned out, to hear that tonight’s venue had been shifted to a rink frozen atop the actual flight deck of the USS Gerald R. Ford as she cruised up and down Chesapeake Bay.

To get into the maritime spirit, how about a sea shanty from hockey’s history? Well, a sail-past, at least, of the NHL’s third season, involving one of the First World War’s most prominent personalities, a true naval hero. That should serve, shouldn’t it, for something?

John Jellicoe’s our man, born in Southampton in England in 1859. Hockey was still untamed, which is to say unruled and disorganized, wandering in the wilds, when Jellicoe got his first job with the Royal Navy at the age of 13, as a midshipman, in 1872. I’m not going to paddle through the whole of his career here, though I am going to glory, for just a moment, in the names of some of the ships he sailed on in his time: HMSes Britannia and Colossus, Sans Pareil, Ramillies, Centurion, Albermarle.

He survived the sinking of HMS Victoria in 1893. In 1900, during the Boxer Rebellion, he was shot in the lungs and should have died but didn’t — “defied his doctors” is a phrase attached to this episode, which you should look up, between periods, instead of bothering with Coach’s Corner.

He was a protégé of Admiral Jackie Fisher’s, and very involved in modernizing the Royal Navy, a big proponent of dreadnoughts, & etc. Winston Churchill was First Sea Lord when Jellicoe took command of the Royal Navy’s Grand Fleet in August of 1914. In 1916, he was in command at the Battle of Jutland — that’s your second-intermission reading assignment.

He was a small man, and taciturn, and (I’ve learn from a 1915 profile) shaved “so carefully that they say his face is cleared for action.” His voice was soft and pleasant and he scarcely raised it to give an order. “Under no circumstance,” the same feature asserts, “has he ever been seen in a rage.” He was a man of so few words, apparently, that a dark joke during the First World War maintained that if the Germans were to prevail, Admiral Jellicoe would not be able to say the words “I surrender.”

The war had been over for a year when, aged 60, he and his wife, Florence, visited Canada in November of 1919. Sailed in, of course, aboard the battle-cruiser HMS New Zealand, arriving in Victoria to great fanfare. He eventually made his way east (terrestrially, by train), where he was attended with more pomp and ceremony while talking a lot about naval policy and shipbuilding, and what we here in the Dominion should and could be doing, and also gave a public lecture at Massey Hall on “Sea Power,” for which reserved seats cost 25 cents.

But — hockey. In early December, after dinner at the King Edward Hotel on King Street, the Jellicoes and their party, which included Mayor Tommy Church, headed north to Arena Gardens on Mutual Street.

Jellicoe had been a good footballer as a youth, and a boxer, but this was his first hockey game.

A senior OHA game it was, with proceeds going to the Navy League of Canada, Dentals up against Parkdale Canoe Club. Skating for Parkdale, notably, was future NHL great Nels Stewart. Tending their goal they had Ernie Collett, who’d win an Olympic gold medal in 1924 when the Toronto Granites represented Canada. Dentals had Rod Smylie, a future NHLer with the St. Patricks and Senators, along with Lou Hudson, who got his Olympic gold in 1928 with the Varsity Grads. In their goal: Jake Forbes, who later played for the NHL’s Hamilton Tigers, New York Americans, and Philadelphia Quakers. Charlie Querrie was the coach of the team the papers called the “Tooth Artists,” though he was away this night, out of town.

The naval party arrived later on, with about five minutes remaining in the second period. Referee Lawson Whitehead immediately stopped the game and (The Globe) “the players of both teams congregated in mid-ice and, raising their sticks high in the air, gave three lusty cheers.”

Dentals won 9-0 that night, though I can’t confirm that Admiral Jellicoe saw any of the goals. Smoking was banned in the Arena, but that didn’t really mean much, and on this night, the Globe reported that “the smoke nuisance” was especially dire.

Long before half-time, the view was anything but clear, and when Admiral Jellicoe arrived he must have thought it was the battle of Jutland all over again. He sat directly across the rink from the press box, but even at this short distance it was almost impossible to distinguish him.

The pall may have had something to do with the Admiral’s quick exit, though the word was that he and his wife were fatigued. Either way, they only seem to have stayed for not quite an entire period. He did stop on the way out to talk to war veterans.

And to the Star, about hockey. “From what I saw,” he said, “it must be a very fascinating game. The speed of the players and their dexterity was simply wonderful. I never really saw anything like it before. I would like very much to stay longer, but we goy very little sleep last night. The temperature on the train must have been 10,000 degrees. It was simply unbearable.”

The Jellicoes moved on to Ottawa, and from there to Washington. HMS New Zealand had sailed around, via Panama’s Canal, to meet them in Florida early in 1920. Sir Robert Borden joined them there for the onward voyage to South Africa. The Canadian prime minister was, by all accounts, exhausted; his doctors had been advising him to give up politics. He was thinking about that still, while taking a rest-cure. (Admiral Jellicoe was called back to Britain before the New Zealand could get to South Africa, so the PM went there, instead.)

Back in Ottawa, the Jellicoes got to another hockey game just before Christmas as the Ottawa Senators opened the NHL season against the Toronto St. Patricks on a Tuesday night starting at 8.30. The rink in those years was the Arena, on Laurier Avenue, across from Ottawa’s modern-day City Hall. The Governor-General was there, too, the Duke of Devonshire, and the Duchess, too. I don’t know otherwise, so I’m going to say that they all stayed this time, right to the end.

Harvey Pulford was the referee. Admiral Jellicoe walked out to centre ice with him. He spoke a few words with the players there before dropping the puck between the Senators’ Frank Nighbor and Toronto’s Corb Denneny, whereon the band of the Governor-General’s Foot Guard struck up “Rule Britannia.” The Globe: “The crowd gave the famous sea fighter a vociferous reception, which he acknowledged by saluting in typical naval style.”

The weather was mild that night, and the ice was natural, so it soon got a little “sticky;” fast hockey was out of the question.

Still, slowed down, it was thrilling enough, according to The Globe. On the first goal, Nighbor demonstrated his famous hook-check, snagging the puck off Toronto’s Ken Randall before beating goaltender Howie Lockhart. Ottawa won 3-0, with Punch Broadbent and Jack Darragh rounding out the scoring.

“A poor exhibition,” said The Ottawa Journal, if a cake-walk — nothing could have been easier for the home team than to win. The Senators’ defending was particularly laudable, both Clint Benedict’s work in goal and that of Eddie Gerard and Sprague Cleghorn on the defence in front of him. The finale of the Journal’s dispatch is a new favourite of mine, for content if not variety of vocabulary:

Harvey Pulford refereed in splendid style. The game was very clean; several hard bumps were handed out. Wilson showed a disposition to mix it and Sprague Cleghorn and Broadbent handed out some robust bumps.

Frank Nighbor secured the bag of flour presented by Mr. A.E. Ford for the player securing the first goal.

Maritimers: Admiral John Jellicoe in snowy Toronto in December of 1919, alongside (in the bowtie) the financier and sailor Aemilius Jarvis and (to his left), Mayor Tommy Church. (Image: City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1244, Item 975A)