Born in Toronto on a Thursday of today’s date in 1875, Harvey Pulford’s Hall-of-Fame playing career began in the far-off days of 1893, the year that a brand-new chalice that we know as the Stanley Cup mad its debut. Pulford was a big defenceman with the Ottawa Hockey Club, and one of the best in the game at that. He was especially adept at the “lift:” clearing the puck from his team’s end by hoisting it high in the air to his opponent’s end. He captained the team during Ottawa’s high-flying Silver Seven years, when the team held the Stanley Cup against all challengers from March of 1903 through March of 1906, when they ceded the championship to the Montreal Wanderers.
Pulford was a man of many sports: he won four national championships playing for the Ottawa Football Club, and excelled as well at lacrosse, boxing, and rowing. In 1905, he teamed up with hockey teammate Frank McGee to scull in the Royal Canadian Henley Regatta and win the junior fours.
After retiring as a hockey player in 1909, Pulford took up as a referee in the NHA. He was in the running to be president of that league in 1916 before losing to Frank Robinson. He returned, after that, to officiating and ran the risks, which in February of 1917 included running into Quebec Bulldogs defenceman Dave Ritchie in the second period of a game at the Montreal Arena versus the Canadiens.
The Montreal Star reported the damage that Pulford incurred:
As Pulford’s head has to fall about six feet before it strikes the ice, it did so with a very hard bump, and in addition to that Ritchie’s knee was pressed so hard in his ribs that the Referee thought at least one of them was broken.
He continued his work, however, and upon examination by a doctor during the rest between the second and third periods it was found that there was nothing the matter with his ribs, except that one of them was bent a little, which though, according to the doctor, was very painful, would gradually right itself.
As he has met with similar accidents in his Rugby career, it is not likely that this will prevent him from refereeing any more.
True enough, in the longer term; in the short, a further post-game examination determined that Pulford had, in fact, at least one cracked rib, for which he was wrapped in plaster and forbidden to return to the ice until he was healed.
He was fit enough that same fall to join up a referee when a whole new loop called the National Hockey League appeared on the horizon. Actually, it was in a suite in Montreal’s Windsor Hotel that the NHL was born. That was in November of 1917, when most of the NHA’s owners agreed, deviously, to abandon their old league and start a new one expressly to rid themselves of one of their fellows, the irksome Eddie Livingstone. A month later, Pulford was on the ice to adjudicate one of the NHL’s two opening night games with which the league made its fresh start. His assignment on the night of Wednesday, December 19, 1917, was at Ottawa’s Laurier Avenue Arena, where the Canadiens beat the hometown Senators 7-4 on the strength of Joe Malone’s five goals. Pulford was kept busy calling infractions, most of them committed by Montreal’s ruthless defenceman Joe Hall, who incurred two minors along with a major for an overzealous bodycheck on Ottawa’s Georges Boucher.
The other game that night was in Montreal, where Tom Melville refereed the Wanderers’ 10-9 win over Toronto. The man who scored the first goal in that game for Montreal and thereby the very first in NHL history? Dave Ritchie.
One thought on “harvey pulford: captain of a silver seven, keeping the peace on the nhl’s opening night”
Terrific piece, Stephen! Kevin
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