if tooth be told

Oiler Spoiler: A birthday today for Wayne Gretzky, who was born in 1961 in Brantford, Ontario, on a whole other Thursday of today’s date — which makes him 62. On this day in 1983, as he was turning 22, he and his Edmonton Oilers battled the Toronto Maple Leafs to a 6-6 tie at Edmonton’s Northlands Coliseum; Gretzky collected two goals and an assist. He was into his fifth NHL campaign that year, and would end the regular season with an astonishing 71 goals and 196 points. Then again, a year earlier, the Great One had notched 92 goals and 212 points. At some point in the weeks following the Toronto birthday game, Gretzky lost a tooth. Where and how isn’t clear, but the gappy smile he’s showing here dates to mid-February, when the Oilers were in Montreal, and teammate Kevin Lowe was lurking in the background. (Image: Fonds La Presse, BAnQ Vieux-Montréal)

boston blockade

Stop Motion: Born in Dysart, Saskatchewan, on a Tuesday of today’s date in 1927, Fern Flaman played 14 years on the Boston defenceman in two stints between 1944 and 1961, manning the line for the Toronto Maple Leafs for parts of four seasons in between. He served as Boston’s captain from 1955 through to 1961. Here, in 1948, Flaman is down to block a shot from Eddie Slowinski of the New York Rangers. Jack Gelineau is the Boston goaltender; #21 is another Bruins d-man, Cliff Thompson. Hard to say who the others are. Zellio Toppazzini for Boston on the left, maybe? For the Rangers, on the right … Buddy O’Connor, possibly? Or Bryan Hextall?

can’t stop, won’t stop

Stop It: Boston goaltender Eddie Johnston gets in the way of J.C. Tremblay’s shot at the Forum in March of 1967. That’s Bobby Orr to the left and, in front of Tremblay, Bruin defenceman Joe Watson. Yvan Cournoyer is the other Canadien on the scene, tussling with Boston’s Ron Stewart. (Image: René Picard, Fonds La Presse, BAnQ Vieux-Montréal)

The bustling Boston Bruins, who lead the NHL standings by a stretch, visit the Bell Centre tonight to play the Canadiens, who don’t, not even close: middling Montreal sits in 26th place, 35 points back of their Beantown rivals. It was another story on the Wednesday night of March 15, 1967, when the Bruins, last on the ladder in the six-team NHL, stopped in at the old Forum for an 11-2 pasting.

“Every time I looked up, they were shooting at me,” Boston goaltender Eddie Johnston said afterwards. He stayed in the whole game, facing 43 shots in all, including this one from Canadiens’ defenceman J.C. Tremblay, who finished the night with a goal and an assist and was deemed by his coach, Toe Blake, to have played his best game of the season. He praised his centremen, too, Jean Béliveau, Ralph Backstrom, and Henri Richard. “But the Bruins,” Blake added, “weren’t checking.”

The pick of the Bostonese, according to the Gazette’s Pat Curran? That would be 20-year-old rookie defenceman Bobby Orr, on the left here, who took nine shots on Montreal’s rookie goaltender Rogatien Vachon. Bruins’ captain Johnny Bucyk did manage to make some history of this otherwise woeful night, notching a goal and an assist to give him 538 career points as a Bruin. With that, he nudged ahead of Bill Cowley on the team’s all-time scoring list, in behind Milt Schmidt’s 575.

Bucyk would, in shortish order, surpass Schmidt, of course. As of today, he stands second in the points ledger of all-time Bruins with 1,339, behind Ray Bourque’s 1,506. Still-active Bruins who are high on that list are Patrice Bergeron (in third place with 1,019); Brad Marchand (seventh, 839); David Krejci (ninth, 767), and (between Schmidt, in 14th place, and Cowley, in 16th), David Pastrnak (15th, 569).

 

the nokomis dandy

Fulll Wool: Born on a Tuesday of today’s date in 1918 in Nokomis, Saskatchewan, Elmer Lach centred Montreal’s famous Punch Line, when he was healthy, skating between Toe Blake and Maurice Richard. He’s pictured here (in glorious woolens) in October of 1945. Lach died in April of 2015 at the age of 97. (Image: Fonds La Presse, BAnQ Vieux-Montréal)

game of names

Scramblers: New York Americans’ goaltender Roy Worters covers up in a game against the Toronto Maple Leafs at Madison Square garden on the night of Thursday, November 20, 1930. Worters made 36 saves on the night to preserve a 0-0 tie through overtime, for his fourth shutout in five games. Helping him out are (by the post) defencemen Red Dutton and (#3) Bill Brydge, with Americans (#8) George Patterson and (in a cap, beyond him) Normie Himes. Searching for the puck for Toronto is Busher Jackson and (in the net) some other unidentified attacker. Circling in the background is Leaf Ace Bailey.

The question of who first put numbers on sweaters in professional hockey remains befogged: while the Patricks, Lester and Frank, are often credited as the first to venture into numerical innovation in their Pacific Coast Hockey League in the winter of 1911-12, we know that the National Hockey Association in eastern Canada put numbers on their sweaters that same season.

When it comes to adding names to go with the numbers, Tommy Gorman led the way in the NHL in 1926.

He was coach and manager of the expansion Americans that year, the team that launched NHL hockey in New York. His line-up was well-stocked with stars, thanks mainly to the demise of the Hamilton Tigers, and with Billy Burch, Bullet Joe Simpson, Jakie Forbes, and the Green brothers, Shorty and Red, taking the ice in star-spangled finery, Gorman was keen to fill Madison Square Garden with fans to watch his fledgling team — and to help keep it afloat financially.

So the idea of aiding New Yorkers in identifying players on the ice seemed like a good one. Names on sweaters had appeared on amateur hockey rinks before this, notably in Stratford, Ontario, in the ’20s, but never yet in the NHL. The New York Sun first mentioned that possibility midway through the season, noting that Gorman’s brainwave was inspired when he watched labelled speedskaters make their rounds at the Garden.

The Look: Goaltender Jakie Forbes’ NY Americans sweater, circa 1926.

A Montreal Gazette report from early 1926 spread the news: names on sweaters, Gorman believed, “might be applied to hockey with considerable success and help to acquaint the fans with the various players, especially those on the visiting clubs.”

That was the thing: while Gorman planned to start with his own Americans “next season,” he intended to lobby the NHL for a league-wide policy. “If the locals start the fad,” the Sun opined, “it is expected other teams will follow suit.”

But why put off the plan for a year? Gorman didn’t delay, it seems: according to a subsequent Gazette report, the team’s seamsters and seamstresses had the players’ names in place for their home game against the Ottawa Senators on the night of Saturday, January 30, 1926. None of the New York papers that I’ve studied took notice of the names in their dispatches from the rink. The New York Times did note that the place was packed: a raucous crowd of 17,000 showed up to see the Senators down the Americans 1-0. Reporter Harry Cross:

The crowd hit a high pitch of enthusiasm for New York hockey. Long before the game time the ticket windows were closed and the galleries were so jammed that there were standees, and many were perched wherever there was a chance to hang on. It was capacity to the last inch.

It seemed quite the proper thing for the folk who fill the arena boxes to come all decked in furs and feathers. Park Avenue and Broadway were all there and made plenty of noise. No one in this big hockey gathering had a chance to be blasé. Every nerve in the house was tingling at one time or other during the fray. The shouting, cheering and the squealing left many of our citizens and citizenesses with alarming symptoms of laryngitis.

Other mentions of the new-look sweaters from that season are few and far between. Ken Randall played the Americans’ blueline that year, and there is, notably, an image of the name-branded sweater he’s said to have worn against Boston in February of 1926 in the pages of The Pepper Kid, Shayne Randall’s 2017 biography of his grandfather. Otherwise, though, newspapers seem to have taken meagre interest in the revolution.

ID’d: A Boston Globe cartoon of New York captain Billy Burch’s sweater from December of 1926.

It didn’t spread to other teams, either. Toronto Maple Leafs did, eventually, follow Gorman’s lead, but that wasn’t until the 1929-30 season, when Conn Smythe’s team added players’ names to backs of their white road sweaters (I’ve seen no evidence that they wore them on their blues at home). As you can just see in the image of Busher Jackson at the top of the post, the Leafs went with a fancy cursive script. Also apparent here: the Americans had, by now, given up their names.

It’s not clear how long the Leafs continued to show their names in the ’30s. No other teams seem to have followed their example, and for the decades that followed, NHL players were backed by numbers alone.

The Leafs were back in the nominal news in the winter of 1978, when Harold Ballard, the team’s owner and blowhard blusterer-in-chief, decided to resist a new NHL bylaw mandating that all players’ names appear on their shoulders to make them more identifiable on TV broadcasts. It was Philadelphia Flyers’ chairman Ed Snider who introduced the resolution this time, in the summer of ‘77; it was adopted on a vote of 13-5.

Ballard initially agreed to the plan, before he decided to defy it. He was concerned, he said, that the change would hurt the sale of programs at Maple Leaf Gardens, wherein players were listed by number.

With every other one of the league’s 18 teams in compliance as the 1977-78 season went on, Ballard agreed to a compromise whereby the Leafs would wear their names on the road but not at home — promising, at the same time, that the lettering would be so small that spectators would need microscopes to read it.

By February he was calling NHL president John Ziegler “a dictator on an ego trip.”

“Technically speaking,” Ballard railed, “names on sweaters are a property right. I don’t have to put names on the shirts. I sent Ziegler a wire saying he had a lot of nerve doing business this way. I told him I thought he had a lot more sense than that.”

“What Mr. Ballard thinks of me is immaterial,” Ziegler said. “The governors made an agreement and he must live up to it. He said he would put names on sweaters for all road games this year and if the rule was still in effect next year, he would put them on sweaters for home and away games.”

If the Leafs refused to comply for a February 13 road game against the Buffalo Sabres, Ziegler said, the team would be fined $2,000. For their next away game, in Chicago on February 26, they would be docked a further $3,000, with the fines increasing by $1,000 each road game after that, up to a cap of $5,000.

Fined for missing the Buffalo deadline, Ballard then relented — in best bloody-minded Ballard style. Having announced that the Leafs would be duly identified in Chicago, he then saw to it that the lettering that was sewn on in the name of Darryl Sittler, Tiger Williams, Borje Salming, and the rest was the same shade of blue as the Leafs’ road sweaters, making them all but unreadable.

“I’ll never make it as a colour coordinator, will I?” Ballard crowed. “I’ve complied with the NHL bylaw. The names are stitched on, three inches high. It’s a pity you can’t see them.”

“Mr. John Ziegler is just going to have to keep his little nose out of my business,” he sneered. In case anyone was in doubt, he wanted the world to know this, too:  “This move was done to make a complete mockery of the ruling.”

Ziegler kept his cool — outwardly, anyway. “I’ll let Mr. Ballard do the talking in the press,” he said. “Harold likes to see his name in print. The position I’m at will remain a private matter.”

Toronto’s next road game was in early March in New York, at a newer edition of Madison Square Garden than the one Tommy Gorman and his Americans knew. This time out, against the Rangers, the Leafs’ names appeared in white letters, for all the hockey world to browse at their leisure.

 

the human side of hockey!

Teddy Graham was a busy man in the winter of 1933. At his day-job, as a frontline defence for the Chicago Black Hawks, he and Taffy Abel were expected to do their best preventative work in front of goaltender Charlie Gardiner, keeping opposing forwards at bay, with minimal relief — Chicago was usually dressing just four defenceman at this time.

Then, that January, Graham got a promotion if perhaps not a raise: when the Black Hawks offloaded their captain, the veteran 39-year-old defender Helge Bostrom, Graham, 28, was appointed in his stead.

Still, with things so busy at work, Graham still managed to make a detour in early February of ’33 after the Black Hawks played in Detroit, heading north for a quick visit to Owen Sound, Ontario, his hometown, where he spent his summers playing baseball with the Brooke Millionaires.

Oh, and Graham was writing a syndicated newspaper column, too — well, lending his name and insight, if maybe not actually typing out actual sentences. In a series that would start appearing on newspaper pages across the continent in early March, Graham shared wild and woolly tales from his career. “Written On Ice,” the Tribune in Great Falls, Montana, headed the column, while the Buffalo Evening News touted it as revealing “The Human Side of Hockey!”

As it turned out, being human, Graham would fall to injury later around the same time. Along with several key teammates, he would miss the end of the schedule. Contemporary accounts aren’t clear on what was ailing him, exactly, but let’s assume that it had something to do with the wrapping we’re seeing in the scene here, dated to February, with Graham under the care of Black Hawks trainer Eddie Froelich and the supervision of coach Tommy Gorman.

Chicago finished at the bottom of the NHL’s American Division that month, out of the playoffs. With several games remaining in the regular season, Chicago owner Major Frederic McLaughlin announced that Gorman was the only employee on his payroll whose job was safe. “From today on,” he told the papers, “I will sell or trade any member of the squad, or all of them if necessary, to make certain of a berth in the Stanley Cup series next year.”

“It is apparent that not a few of our players have outworn their welcomes here,” he continued. “New faces are needed, and we’ll get them.”

That was good-bye for Teddy Graham: in October, he was traded to the Montreal Maroons in exchange for Lionel Conacher. (Charlie Gardiner succeeded him as captain.)

McLaughlin, it should be noted, got his wish: by the end of the 1933-34 season, Tommy Gorman had not only steered Chicago into the playoffs, he contrived to win the Cup, Chicago’s first.

 

(Image: © Chicago Sun-Times Media. SDN-074245, Chicago Sun-Times/Chicago Daily News collection, Chicago History Museum)

saving face

Crashed In The Crease: In the 1957 Stanley Cup final, Montreal goaltender Jacques Plante was felled in Boston by the Bruins’ Vic Stasiuk.

Jacques Plante played 398 games in the NHL over seven long bare-faced years before he donned his famous mask after a wicked shot from Andy Bathgate cut him on the Sunday night of November 1, 1959. Born in Notre-Dame-du-Mont-Carmel, Quebec, on a Thursday of today’s date in 1929, Montreal’s goaltending great had suffered head traumas before that, along with nearly every other goaltender who braved the ice in the NHL’s agonizing early decades. Masks would have made sense throughout that time, of course, but the prevailing wisdom among the hockey cognoscenti (including Plante’s coach, Toe Blake) was that masks interfered with a goaltender’s view of things, showed weakness, not worth the trouble.

A maskless Plante was felled, above, for instance, in Boston in a Stanley Cup final game in April of 1957, when Vic Stasiuk crashed into him, or clipped him with his stick, or shot the puck in his face (contemporary accounts vary). He recovered that night, and finished the game.

In November of 1954, Plante didn’t start the game he was supposed to, which was at the Forum, against the Chicago Black Hawks. The image below shows the aftermath of a nasty friendly-fire incident in the pre-game warm-up when teammate Bert Olmstead caught him with a high shot. “Plante went down like a log,” Baz O’Meara reported in the Montreal Star, “with a scream strangling in his throat. His outcries could be heard as high as the standing room section, before they were stilled by a surge of unconsciousness.”

Called in as Plante’s emergency replacement was Andre Binette, 20 years old, a practice goaltender for the Canadiens and the QHL Montreal Royals. In his one-and-only NHL game, Binette helped Montreal down the Black Hawks by a score of 7-4.

At Montreal’s Western Hospital, Plante was found to have a fractured right cheekbone. In his absence, Binette would cede the net to Claude Evans and Charlie Hodge. He was back in the Montreal net in a matter of weeks, unmasked, stopping 29 shots in his mid-December return to help his team beat Gump Worsley and the New York Rangers 5-1.

“Plante came back brilliantly, had to make some nomadic rushes out of the net to save goal,” O’Meara reported, “did so with the fancy flourishes which have been his hallmark all through his career. … Plante showed no ill effects from his recent accident, gave a distinguished display.”

Man Down: Canadiens trainer Hector Dubois checks in on Jacques Plante at Montreal’s Western Hospital in November of 1954. (Image: Fonds La Presse, BAnQ Vieux-Montréal)

 

sound check

Owen Sound’s Own: Pat McReavy wore #16 for Boston in his rookie year, 1938-39. In 1941, when he helped them win a Stanley Cup championship, he donned #12.

Scotiabank Hockey Day in Canada is taking its annual winter show on the road this coming Saturday, settling into Owen Sound, Ontario, for a puckish program of events that Sportsnet will be beaming out across the country in-between NHL games.

The Georgian Bay-side seat of Grey County has spawned a host of hockey talent through the years, of course, Benny Grant and Les Binkley, Teddy Graham and Butch Keeling, Hap Day, and Harry Lumley.

Pat McReavy, too, who was born in town on a Wednesday of today’s date in 1918, and played centre for his hometown Junior B Greys. In 1938, he joined the Sudbury Wolves as they took on the (hockey) universe, representing Canada at the World Championships in Prague. When the Wolves prevailed and won gold, it was McReavy who scored the decisive goal in a 3-1 victory over Great Britain.

He joined the Boston Bruins for the 1938-39 season, shuttling back and forth between the NHL and Boston’s IAHL affiliate, the Hershey Bears, over the course of the next several seasons. When Bobby Bauer and Bill Cowley went down injured during the 1941 Stanley Cup playoffs, McReavy was called up as a semi-final reinforcement against the Toronto Maple Leafs.

He scored his first NHL goal in Game Five on March 29, beating Turk Broda for Boston’s lone goal in a 2-1 Toronto win. He scored again (on Johnny Mowers) as the Bruins went on to beat the Detroit Red Wings in the Finals. So he got his name on the Cup, or at least a version of it: the engraver mishammered a letter, immortalizing him as “Pat McCeavy.”

His career as a Bruin didn’t last much longer: he was traded to Detroit in the fall of 1941 for Dutch Hiller. He retired from professional hockey in 1947, at the age of 29. Back in Owen Sound, he kept on skating, leading the Senior A Mercurys to an Allan Cup in 1951.

Pat McReavy died at the age of 83 in 2001. Today, Owen Sound’s present-day OHL team, the Attack, commemorate him with an annual trophy: the Pat McReavy Award for Unsung Hero.

parson in the penalty box

Mac Attack: Dr. A.W. Mackenzie was headmaster of The Grove for nearly four decades, shaping the spirit, the values, and the campus of the school, north of Peterborough, Ontario, that was known in his day as Lakefield Preparatory School and thrives today as Lakefield College School. Ordained as a deacon in the Anglican Church before his arrival at Lakefield in 1894, Mackenzie was a devoted sailor and gardener as well as a schoolmaster. He was, too, and famously, an ardent hockey player. That’s him here in the Homburg hat, with the chisel-bladed stick, on the Grove rink in 1907. Alumnus John Macrae would recall that as a younger man the headmaster sometimes joined a game in Peterborough, “where his rugged style of play often landed him in the penalty box, much to the delight of the fans who, we are told, would set up a chant of ‘Parson in the penalty box, parson in the penalty box.’”

boston garden blues

Boston’s Brave: Maple Leaf goaltender Turk Broda makes his way to the ice at Boston Garden on the night of Thursday, April 1, 1948, with teammate Vic Lynn following behind. Boston Police doubled their presence at the Garden on this night for the fourth game of the Bruins/Leafs Stanley Cup semi-final after a violent end to game three on March 30.

In the long fierceness that is the rivalry between the Boston Bruins and the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Boston leg of the Stanley Cup semi-final in which the two teams met in the spring of 1948 stands on its obstreperous own.

The Leafs had won the first two games at home. They were the defending Cup champions that year, featuring a stacked line-up that included the sublime talents of Ted Kennedy, Max Bentley, and Syl Apps, and they continued their dominance when the teams moved to Boston, beating the Bruins 5-1 at the Garden on the Tuesday night of March 30 to take a stranglehold on the best-of-seven series.

Boston didn’t go quietly that night, though. The game was an ill-tempered one throughout: “stormy” was the word the local Globe used to describe it.

For instance: when, early on, Milt Schmidt  and Fern Flaman pinned Bill Barilko to the boards, a spectator leaned over to punch the Leaf defenceman. (Referee Georges Gravel did his best to see the fan ejected from the arena, in vain.)

For instance: a late-game jam between the Leafs’ Harry Watson and Boston’s Murray Henderson ended with a broken nose for the latter.

For instance: as the teams were departing the ice at the end of the game, another fan swung a fist at Leaf coach Hap Day.

That was how the Boston press framed it, anyway. Jim Vipond of Toronto’s Globe and Mail had a more nuanced account, alleging that two fans near the Toronto bench were heckling Day throughout the game, “repeatedly calling him ‘yellow.’” Vipond noted that Gravel tried to have this pair removed, too, but Bruins’ president Weston Adams “dashed to the side of the rink and refused to let the police interfere.”

When the game ended, one of these same agitators seized Day’s hat, a light-tan fedora. Other fans joined in, and Toronto defenceman Wally Stanowski came to his coach’s aid, followed by Ted Kennedy, assistant trainer Cliff Keyland, and defenceman Garth Boesch. The fracas spilled on to the ice; general tussling ensued; Boesch was punched in the face; linesman George Hayes and several policemen helped to restore the peace.

Day’s hat was lost, Vipond reported, and Boesch was dazed: he “had to be taken back to the hotel and put to bed.”

The Leafs were, understandably, outraged, but then so were many on the Boston side of things. Boston Globe columnist Herb Ralby went to the Leaf dressing room to apologize. Weston Adams went, too, but Leaf president Conn Smythe pushed him out before a pair of Boston policemen intervened.

“That was a disgraceful occurrence,” Bruins’ captain Milt Schmidt told Red Burnett of the Toronto Star. “They’ll have to do something to curb those morons,” said his teammate Jack Crawford. “The police should step in and chase them before they can molest visiting players. We don’t receive that kind of treatment in Toronto.”

Mrs. Crawford agreed. “That’s the worst piece of sportsmanship I’ve ever seen,” she said. “The better team won and that’s all there should be to it.”

There was more, though. The following day, as the teams prepared to resume their series, a Boston judge issued arrest warrants for linesman George Hayes and King Clancy, who’d been at the game as back-up referee. They stood accused of assaulting a fan by the name of Ed Shallow, an employee of Boston’s housing authority.

Shallow, it seems, had gone after Georges Gravel in the March 30 melee. According to his complaint, Clancy had “grabbed Shallow by the seat of his trousers and hustled into the officials’ room. Inside the room, Clancy and Hayes are alleged to have manhandled Shallow, whose glasses were smashed.”

No fooling: Clancy and Hayes appeared in court on the morning of April 1, with Clancy testifying that he didn’t know how Shallow ended up in the referees’ room, but that no-one had touched him there. Judge Charles Carr acquitted the officials; the assault, he said, was not proved beyond a reasonable doubt. He had strong words nevertheless for Clancy: “I am absolutely certain you are not telling the truth,” Judge Carr told him.

Clancy and Hayes both worked the game that night. The Bruins pulled out a 3-2 win to send the series back to Toronto in what was a relatively peaceful encounter. “The teams tended strictly to their knitting,” Herb Ralby wrote in the Globe. King Clancy, he reported, ruled with an iron hand, “stopping all disturbances in the first period and from there on, the teams just concentrated on hockey.”

Security, he noted, had been stepped up. “There were so many policemen in the rink, it might have been misconstrued as the policemen’s ball.”

“We’ll do everything in our power to protect the visiting players,” said Garden president Walter Brown, “and to prevent a good sport like hockey from being ruined. Anybody who does anything wrong will go right out. Honestly, I can’t understand what’s come over Boston fans to act in the rowdyish way they have this year.”

Bruins’ games were normally policed by 20 patrolmen at this time; on this night, the crowd of some 13,000 was swelled by 50 Boston policemen, three sergeants, and a lieutenant, along with 12 Boston Garden security officers.

Back in Toronto two days later, the Leafs closed out the series with a 3-2 win of their own. Later in April, they went on to beat the Detroit Red Wings in a four-game sweep to take their second consecutive Stanley Cup championship.