Born in LaSalle, Quebec, on a Monday of this date in 1952, the ever-entertaining Gilles Gratton is 69 today. While his pro goaling career lasted just six years in the 1970s, the man they called Gratoony the Loony made sure they were memorable ones. He started in the WHA, spending the 1972-73 season with the long-lost Ottawa Nationals, then moved west when the franchise shifted to Toronto to reform as the Toros. In 1975, he arrived in the NHL, where he suited up for a season with the St. Louis Blues and then another with New York’s Rangers.
When the great Roy MacGregor caught up with him in 1975 with a profile for The Canadian Magazine, the 22-year-old goaltender had signed a five-year, C$645,000 contract with the Toros that came with a bonus: a canary yellow Porsche 911-S Targa. “Nobody should be paid as much as I get,” Gratton told him. “In real work terms, I’m worth nothing. I’m not helping anyone, not making anything. What am I doing for the world? I’m stopping rubber — what’s that doing for evolution?”
That’s not all. “The difference between me and a hockey player is this,” Gratton continued: “when summer ends, a hockey player gets itchy, I feel like killing myself. If I never played hockey again, it wouldn’t matter. A real hockey player would be broken. Me, I’m liberated.”
“We wanted players with character,” Seattle Kraken GM Ron Francis told the TV audience. “We certainly wanted players that compete hard.” It was just past 5 p.m. in the west-coast afternoon yesterday as Francis prepared to disclose the (already leaked) rosterful of players with which the NHL’s newest team makes its way toward a fall debut as the league’s 32nd team. The first name to be announced in this latest NHL Expansion Draft was that of Jeremy Lauzon, the 24-year-old defenceman from Val-d’Or, Quebec, who was last seen plying pucks and d-zone coverage for the Boston Bruins.
It’s been a two-and-a-half-year road that Seattle’s new team has followed to this point: since, that is, the NHL granted the city its franchise in December of 2018. It’s not Seattle’s first foray into big-league hockey, of course: the Metropolitans were a thriving concern in the pre-NHL years of the old Pacific Coast Hockey Association during and beyond the tumultuous years of the First World War. They even contrived to win the Stanley Cup in 1917, just two years after they’d launched, becoming the first U.S. team to claim hockey’s most coveted trophy.
The panjandrums behind the PCHA were the industrious Patrick brothers, Lester and Frank, and they were thinking of a Seattle team right from the start. The hitch, in 1912: Seattle didn’t yet have a rink to skate in. It was 1915 before that was rectified, and that March, Frank Patrick, the PCHA president, announced that the city would be joining Vancouver (Millionaires), Victoria (Aristocrats), and Portland, Oregon, (Rosebuds) in hosting teams for the upcoming season.
That was scheduled to start in early December. By November, the new team, which was owned by the Patricks, had a coach in Pete Muldoon; a name, Metropolitans, borrowed from the company that built the Seattle Ice Arena; and uniforms. “If he has nothing else,” the Victoria Daily Times reported, quoting Muldoon, “he has the loudest uniforms in the circuit. They are light green, crimson, and white, with sox to match. It is a striped affair.”
The first player to sign on? Therein lies a tale we might tell here. 1915 was the year that competition between the PCHA and the eastern NHA burst into all-out chequebook war. As Craig Bowlsby smartly details in his definitive history Empire of Ice: The Rise and Fall of the PCHA, 1911-26 (2012), the hostilities would end up defining the identity and fortunes of Seattle’s team on its road to the Stanley Cup championship of 1917. In 1915, it translated into the Mets raiding the roster of the 1914 Cup champions, Toronto’s NHA Blueshirts, to poach the talented likes of Frank Foyston and Jack Walker along with goaltender Hap Holmes and the ruthless defenceman Cully Wilson.
But before any of them inked a Seattle contract, Frank Patrick did some wheeling and dealing with … himself. Just 29, he was still playing in 1914-15, working the defence for another team he owned, the Vancouver Millionaires, and helping them claim the 1915 Stanley Cup. To help Seattle find its feet, he decided to cede Vancouver’s rookie sensation to the expansion team, right winger Barney Stanley. Just 22, Stanley, a son of Paisley, in Ontario’s southwestern Bruce County, had made a distinct impression in Vancouver’s championship run, scoring six goals in the team’s three-game sweep of the NHA Ottawa Senators, including four in the deciding game. Elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1963, he would subsequently star with the WCHL’s Calgary Tigers and Edmonton Eskimos. He played a single game in the NHL, for the Chicago Black Hawks, a team he also coached, briefly and unsuccessfully, in 1927-28.
So Barney Stanley was the first Seattle Met. Except that, well, he never played a game for the team. Back in the Pacific-coast pre-season of 1915, the war of the contracts saw Frank Patrick’s Millionaires lose one of their biggest stars, centreman Frank Nighbor, whom the Ottawa Senators were able to lure back east. When that happened, Patrick revoked his generosity and cancelled the Stanley-to-Seattle deal, clawing him back for service in Vancouver.
Next up, for Seattle, was another right winger, Bobby Rowe. A son of the hamlet of Heathcote, Ontario, south of Collingwood, he was 30 in 1915, a veteran (former teammate) of the Patrick brothers on the NHA’s Renfrew Creamery Kings. He was described in his day as “exceedingly fast” (1911) and a “wonderful hockeyist” who practiced “a clever, hard-working game at all times” (also ’13). Rowe had skated in four seasons, subsequently, for Lester Patrick’s PCHA team in Victoria, the Aristocrats, when the Patricks decided that he’d best be bound for Seattle.
Rowe spent the summer of 1915 working on a Prairie farm, arriving in Victoria ready to skate at the start of November. “Rowe had a good year harvesting,” the local Daily Times duly reported, “working 50 odd days, and could have stayed until close to Christmas had he cared to. Upon his arrival … he was informed of his transfer to the Seattle Ice Hockey team, and immediately signed a contract.”
Muldoon added Foyston, Walker, Wilson and Holmes later that same week, along defencemen Roy Rickey and Eddie Carpenter; later in the month, he’d snag another Victoria Aristocrat, scoring sensation, Bernie Morris. As mentioned, all of these players (and Muldoon, too) would figure in Seattle’s 1917 historic Stanley Cup championship.
Though maybe let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves, in the past.
Before all that, on the Tuesday night of December 7, 1915, Seattle played its very first major-league, beating the Victoria Aristocrats at the Seattle Ice Arena by a score of 3-2. That old rink is no more, but it was situated near the present-day Seattle Public Library, about 2.4 kilometres southeast of the Climate Pledge Arena where the Kraken will be playing their games.
“A strenuous game throughout,” is what the correspondent from Victoria’s Daily Times saw that night in 1915. “It was the introduction of the premier Canadian winter sport to the Seattle public, and it took well. Some 2,500 persons were seated in the new structure, and nine-tenth [sic] of this number had never seen the game before. But the game had only been in progress a few minutes when they were up in their seats yelling advice to the home players.”
Bernie Morris scored the deciding goal for Seattle in the third; Victoria’s Albert Kerr and Seattle’s Cully Wilson were ejected from the game by referee Mickey Ion that same frame for what the Times classified as “rough work.”
That leaves just one more detail from night to be added. In the interest of restoring a lost fragment of hockey history to the game’s annals (a specialty of the house, here, along with all manner of icy obscurities), could we note the presence on the ice of a player who seems to have been all but effaced from the records, threadbare as they may be when it comes to the PCHA?
I’m thinking here of Leo Haas, a centreman, who was 24 in 1915. He was from Houghton, Michigan, which is where he learned his hockey, playing for his high-school team and, later, turning heads for the Portage Lake team that won a state championship. “He can handle the stick with the best men yet seen here,” the Calumet News reported in 1913, “while his skating and combination play are excellent.”
It’s not clear how Pete Muldoon got wind of him, but early that November in 1915 west-coast newspapers were reporting that Haas had been summoned for service with the fledgling Mets. With no pro experience, he seems to have been on trial, which apparently didn’t work out so well: by mid-December, Muldoon had released him. Beyond that, the trail of his hockey career goes cold.
Still, Haas’ short stay with Seattle isn’t without distinction. He did play in that inaugural Seattle game on December 7, 1915, taking the ice as the Mets’ lone substitute in the second period after Jack Walker hurt his ankle while scoring Seattle’s second goal. And he was back in the line-up for Seattle’s next game, too, in Victoria, on December 10.
That would make Haas the very first American born and trained player in Seattle’s major-league hockey history. His Mets teammate Ed Carpenter, it’s true, was another Michigander, from Hartford, but his family had moved to Lachute when he was just young, so he learned his hockey in Quebec.
It was this same July week in 1981 that the inimitable Roger Doucet died at the age of 62, which is as good a reason as any to uplift yourself with three minutes of his anthem-singing artistry and screen “The Performer,” Norma Bailey’s 1978 National Film Board ode to the voice that filled the Montreal Forum in the 1970s and echoes still in Hab-loving hearts no matter where they might be.
Sorry to learn of the death of Dolores Claman, who composed the rousing theme song that used to open broadcasts of CBC’s Hockey Night in Canada back when the world was younger. Born in Vancouver in 1927, she died this week in Spain at the age of 94.
Claman was trained as a concert pianist before she switched keys to dedicate herself to composing. She was working for Maclaren Advertising in Toronto when she was hired in 1968 to craft a fanfare to open the national broadcaster’s Saturday-night flagship. The theme she came up with became a proxy national anthem. It was 2008 that the Hockey Night relationship ended, in acrimony: CTV ended up buying the rights to the song after the CBC and Claman couldn’t settle a financial dispute. While Claman’s iconic theme took an early retirement on broadcasts of regional games on TSN, Hockey Night resorted to replacing it with an imperfect (and perfectly forgettable) facsimile.
From 2008, here’s the Globe and Mail’s Peter Cheney with the musical origin story:
It started on a peaceful afternoon in 1968, when Dolores Claman sat down at her Knabe grand piano and began picking at the keys, searching for a sound. Outside the window was her garden, then the blue expanse of Lake Ontario. Ms. Claman tried B-flat, then the key of C, seeking the musical essence of something she had never seen firsthand: a professional hockey game.
Ms. Claman was a classically trained musician who loved Bach, but she made her living composing jingles. She had written music for everything from toothpaste to its natural enemy, Macintosh toffee. Now she was thinking about Canada’s national sport. She pictured Roman gladiators wearing skates. Suddenly, five notes popped into her head. She tapped them out, stressing the third: “dunt-da-DUNT-da-dunt.”
Ms. Claman had no idea that she just made herself part of Canadian history — and that she had set the stage for an epic battle 40 years in the future.
“I wasn’t thinking about much at the time,” Ms. Claman, 80, said yesterday from her home in London, England. “The song wasn’t hard to do.”
Tampa Mayor Jane Castor got her wish. On Sunday, with the local NHL juggernaut known as the Lightning poised to sweep past the Montreal Canadiens to win a second consecutive Stanley Cup, the mayor hoped for hiccup. “What we would like,” told a news conference, “is for the Lightning to take it a little bit easy to give the Canadiens just the smallest break, allow them to win one at home, and then bring it back to the Amalie Arena for the final and the winning of the Stanley Cup.”And so it went, of course: after bowing to Montreal in overtime on Monday, the Lightning did bring it all back home, prevailing 1-0, in Game 5 on home ice to join the Pittsburgh Penguins of 2016-17 as just the second team in the last 15 years to repeat as champions.
Pictured above, that’s Mayor Castor the first time around, nine-and-a-half months ago, after the Lightning did their winning in an Edmonton bubble. She was on hand at Tampa International Airport to greet the team as it arrived home in early October of 2020, and to receive the Cup from captain Steven Stamkos (left) for an obligatory hoist. “People say it’s 35 pounds,” an ebullient Mayor Castor told me in an interview a few days later, “I’d say it’s heavier than that.”
“Born and raised in Tampa, 60 years old,” she said, by way of presenting her hockey bona fides. “I’ve never been on ice skates in my life, and I’m a rabid Tampa Bay Lightning fan.”
The Montreal Canadiens will be taking a glass-half-full view of things into Friday night’s Stanley Cup final game, you have to think, and they were hoping to be doing it in an arena filled to 50 per cent capacity. Too. Down two games to the Tampa Bay Lightning, the hopeful Canadiens will host games 3 and 4 at the Bell Centre tomorrow and Monday. The team had asked the Quebec government for permission to allow as many as 10,500 fans in the building, but after discussions with provincial public health officials, that request was denied, and so Montreal’s efforts to even the series will be seen by the same number of fans, 3,500, that cheered the deciding game of their semi-final win over the Vegas Golden Knights last week.
Depicted here, a Stanley Cup final of a whole other era, in a whole other Montreal arena: these fans are watching the opening game of the NHL’s 1947 championship series, which saw the Canadiens host the Toronto Maple Leafs on a Tuesday night in April of that year. The crowd at the Forum was overflowing on the night, with 12,320 eager fans on hand to witness Montreal down Toronto by a score of 6-0. Bill Durnan posted the shutout, with Buddy O’Connor scoring the winning goal. A good start for Montreal, but it was one that didn’t last: Toronto roared back to take the series, and the Cup, in six games.
Armand Mondou played on the left wing for the Montreal Canadiens for a dozen NHL seasons from 1928 through to 1940, winning a pair of Stanley Cups along the way, in 1930 and ’31.
Born in 1905 on a Tuesday of this date in Saint-David-d’Yamaska, Quebec, he was the first NHLer to take a penalty shot after the league added a new rule in 1934, 18 seasons into its early history. It happened on opening night that year, when the Canadiens were playing at Maple Leaf Gardens on the night of Saturday, November 10. In the third period Toronto’s Bill Thoms tripped Georges Mantha of Montreal as he broke in on Leaf goaltender George Hainsworth.
The rules for penalty-shooting were different in those years: ’34 through ’37, the puck was placed in a 10-foot circle located 38 feet from goal, just inside the blueline. As I’ve described before, in this post delineating the history of the penalty shot, the shooter couldn’t make contact with the puck outside the circle, either standing still in the circle and letting loose, or skating at the puck full tilt from farther back. The goaltender, meanwhile, had to stay where he was: he wasn’t allowed to advance more than a foot off his line.
That night in 1934, 29-year-old Armand Mondou was standing in on Montreal’s top line for Wildor Larochelle. Mondou had scored just five goals the year before, so it’s a little surprising that Canadiens’ coach Newsy Lalonde picked him to revenge Mantha’s fall, especially since he had a formidable scorer (and future Hall-of-Famer) in Aurèle Joliat on the bench that night. Mondou decided on a speedy approach for the league’s inaugural penalty shot. That’s according to Montreal’s Gazette: “Mondou, with a running start, and his bullet-like slap shot, made the play against Hainsworth.”
Toronto’s hometown Globe had its own view of the same scene: “The fans were quite interested, but Mondou’s shot was a dud. It never left the ice and Hainsworth stopped it with his usual nonchalance.”
According to the Gazette (interestingly), Hainsworth switched out his regular goaling stick for the penalty shot with “a lighter stick.” I’d like to know more about that, but I’ve yet to see another reference to this specialty tool.