revenge is sweep

Call him a double threat: as well as playing at centre for the Blue Haven Maple Leafs, Mart Norde moonlights as muscle for mobsters. So that’s obviously how, in the middle of the big game against the Tene River Terrors, “watched by thousands of Canadian spectators,” Mart ends up trying to strangle Larry Regan, captain and ace scorer for the Terrors.

Mart, see, is “in league with the ruthless racketeer, the Black Spot — that dreaded racketeer who had demanded 10,000 dollars from the Terrors, and when they refused to pay, had threatened them with death.”

I’m not going to get (much more) into the breathtaking whys and wtfs of Edwin Dale’s “The Ice-Rink Avenger” here. This installment of Dale’s vivid northern serial appeared in the rough-and-ready British schoolboy weekly The Champion in March of 1936 alongside stories of soccer, greyhound-racing, and boxing derring-do. I can’t tell you anything about Edwin Dale, other than he seems to have been prolific in his output of rollicking pulp adventures in his day.

Is it surprising that hockey tales set against cold Canadian backgrounds were popular in Britain the 1930s and ’40s? With the help of many Canadians, the game was taking hold in British rinks in those years, and ’36 was the year that Great Britain claimed gold at the Winter Olympics. Also, it’s not as if writers like Dale were being paid for painstaking documentary accounts of the game or its colonial home: for The Champion and its readers, the adventurous potential in Canada’s wild frontiers and exotic puck-fixated peoples must have seemed endless. Far-fetched a story like “The Ice-Rink Avenger” may seem today, but presented as it was on the page under the banner “Sports Thrills and Mystery in Canada,” in 1936, far-fetched was the point.

Lucky Larry survives, I should report, and am pleased to. The fact that nobody really notices Mart’s attempt at murder is dismaying, for Larry, who remains in danger, but also, don’t you think, for hockey. This is fiction, true enough, and a boisterous, British, none-too-subtle brand of it, at that, but still, the idea that nobody really blinks an eye when one player tries to choke the life out of another — hey, it’s a hockey game, stuff happens! — doesn’t really frame the game so flatteringly.

Does dastardly Mart get his come-uppance? I haven’t read to the end of the serial, so I don’t have the goods on that. The referee does, at least, sanction his throttling with a three-minute penalty.

And Larry does score the goal that wins the game for the Terrors, too, so there’s that. Mart is humiliated in the traditional Canadian way, too, as depicted on the magazine’s cover, above. (The artist, I’m sorry to say, is uncredited.)

What I can tell you about that is that, as the game ends, Larry and a couple of his teammates grab Mart and a couple of brooms, wrangle him up with some rope that they happen to have on hand. Then, as Edwin Dale writes it:

Roy Repton and Happy Scott each grasped one of Mart Norde’s legs. Then they began to propel him around the rink at hair-raising pace, waving their hockey-sticks in their free hands.

Mart yelled at the top of his voice to be released; speeding along with his face a few inches from the ice was a hair-raising experience. The whole crowd rocked with laughter as they watched the scene.

At last, after most of the rink had been swept with the villainous hockeyist, he was allowed to go.

He slunk from the rink, wishing he’d never tried to crock the Tene River Terrors’ skipper!

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