the port perry woodpecker

Chin Up: Born in Port Perry, Ontario, on a Saturday of today’s date in 1900, John Ross Roach led the Toronto St. Patricks to a Stanley Cup championship in his rookie season, 1921-22. He played seven seasons in Toronto in all, captaining the team along the way, and lasting long enough to see the St. Pats transform into Maple Leafs in 1927. Roach played for the New York Rangers after that, and then went to Detroit in 1932, as the Falcons were turning into the Red Wings. He stayed on in Detroit after finishing his NHL career in 1935, going to work as a car salesman for Ford.

double stack

Denial: Is it just me or does this look like a disappointed Red Berenson trying and failing to breach the defences of a sprawled Gump Worsley? Artist Duncan Macpherson was content to call this 1965 drawing, rendered in crayon, wash, and graphite, “Hockey Players,” and leave it at that. © McCord Museum

trophy case: buddy o’connor, 1948

One Cup Deserves Another: On December 7, 1948, Buddy O’Connor collects the Hart and Lady Byng trophies he earned for his previous season’s work with New York’s Rangers.

Six seasons Buddy O’Connor played for his hometown team in Montreal in the 1940s, putting in work as a serviceable centreman and helping the Canadiens win a Stanley Cup championship. But it was after he was traded in 1947 to the New York Rangers that O’Connor’s star really began to shine in the NHL.

Born on a Wednesday of today’s date in 1916, O’Connor contrived to score 24 goals and 60 points in his first season with the Rangers, 1947-48, which was almost (but not quite) enough to win him the NHL’s scoring championship: as it turned out, his former Montreal teammate Elmer Lach beat him by a single point.

O’Connor did collect two major trophies that season, the Hart (as MVP) and the Lady Byng (for gentlemanly excellence), and in doing so he became the first NHLer to win them in the same season. Each trophy came with $500 bonus that year, and with O’Connor’s share of the Rangers’ playoff money that spring, he took in $4,150 over and above his salary.

The following season. O’Connor’s second with the Rangers, started off with an unfortunate bang when he and a carload of teammates were injured in an accident. Driving from Montreal to New York in early October of 1948, the Rangers collided with a truck on the road six miles north of the U.S. border. Frank Eddolls severed a tendon in his knee, and Bill Moe suffered a concussion; Edgar Laprade broke his nose, and O’Connor a pair of ribs. Only Tony Leswick escaped without injury.

Eddolls missed the most time, finally returning to the ice at the end of December. O’Connor got back earlier that same month, and on December 7, just before New York’s game at Madison Square Garden against the Boston Bruins, he was presented with the silverware he’d earned the year before.

The Rangers were holding down last place at the time in the six-team NHL, while Boston was way up in first. The Rangers took the lead, 2-1, on goals from Pentti Lund and Nick Mickoski, with Grant Warwick replying for the Bruins, but they took a penalty in the second for too-many men, and Ken Smith secured the 2-2 tie for the Bruins. O’Connor centred New York’s third line on the night, skating between Leswick and Clint Albright.

Laid Up: Buddy O’Connor started the 1948-49 in a Montreal hospital with broken ribs after he and several ranger teammates were injured in a car accident near Quebec’s border with New York.

gold standard

On National Indigenous Peoples Day, respect to Kenneth Moore, Peepeekisis First Nation, who played fleet right wing for Winnipeg when they won the hockey championship representing Canada at the wintry 1932 Olympics in Lake Placid, New York. Born in 1910 near Balcarres, Saskatchewan, Moore is recognized as the first Indigenous athlete to win Olympic gold. He got into the line-up for Canada’s penultimate game on Lake Placid ice, scoring a goal in the team’s 10-0 win over Poland. Moore’s hockey resumé also includes a 1930 Abbott Cup (Western Canadian Junior championship), which he won playing the Regina Pats; a 1930 Memorial Cup (Moore scored the goal that secured the championship over the West Toronto Nationals); and a pair of Allan Cup championships, in 1932 with Winnipeg and in 1936 with the Kimberley Dynamiters. Kenneth Moore died in 1981 at the age of 71.

Manitoba Proud: Coach Jack Hughes steered Canada’s Olympians to gold in Lake Placid in 1932. He’s in the middle of the front row, fifth from the right. Kenneth Moore, also upfront, is second from left. Goaltender Bill Cockburn is next to him, on the end at far left.

with a little puck

Born in Liverpool in England on a Thursday of this date in 1942, hockey artist Sir Paul McCartney is 80 today, so raise high your Höfner bass and give it a flourish in his direction. McCartney’s hockey output was limited, it should be said, and indeed may not extend beyond these two illustrations. Originally from a sketchbook of McCartney’s, they were executed in pencil, ink, and air-brush on the front and back of a single sheet of paper, in or around 1957, when as a 15-year-old pre-Beatle he was a student at the Liverpool Institute High School For Boys. They sold at auction in California in 2019 for US$8,960.

the lowdown

Now I Lay Me Down: Born in Chambly in on a Wednesday of today’s date, Denis Herron is 70 today: salutations to him. Here he’s stretched out for puck-stopping purposes at Montreal’s Forum in December of 1981 in a game against the Quebec Nordiques. Herron was in his third and final year with the Canadiens that year, winning the William M. Jennings with teammate Rick Wamsley. (The previous year he’d shared a Vézina Trophy with Richard Sévigny and Michel Larocque.) In September of 1982, Montreal traded Herron back to Pittsburgh, the team from whence he’d come to the Canadiens in 1979. All in all, Herron played 14 NHL seasons, including a stretch with the Kansas City Scouts, before finishing his major-league days as a Penguin in 1985. (Image: Fonds La Presse, BAnQ Vieux-Montréal)

stop them, bullet joe!

Bullet Joe Sawyer was the star goaltender for the Montreal Mounteds, see, but then he went to war and lost his nerve, and when he got back to guarding goals, it just wasn’t the same. With all those pucks piling up behind him, Montreal just had to let him go, which is how he ended up suiting up for their rivals, the Red Ants, in their big game against — yes, that’s right — the Mounteds.

“Staggering to this feet, though he tottered and sagged against the goal post, Bullet Joe faced the surging forms in front. He tossed aside the stub of his hockey stick as useless, and extended gloved hands, spreading the fingers wide. A woman’s hysterical, high-pitched scream carried above the human battery of sound. “Stop them, Bullet Joe!”

I’ll let you guess how Harold Sherman’s novelette “Bullet Joe, Goalie” ends, and who gets the girl — yes, there’s a girl. Hockey’s not your thing? In 1928, readers of Top-Notch Magazine could take their pick of torrid tales: also included in this mid-winter issue were stories of cowboys (“Blazing Six-Guns”), canny courtroom stenographers (“All is Not Wasted That Leaks”), and big, striped-game hunting (“Zebra Guile”).

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!

great whale

Minus Nine: It was six years ago today that Gordie Howe died, on another Friday, in 2016: he was 88. Howe was in his last real season when this photo was taken, at the Montreal Forum, during Howe’s return to the NHL with the Hartford Whalers during the 1979-80 season. The man they called Mr. Hockey played 83 games that year, registering 16 goals and 43 points (along with 42 penalty minutes). He was 52 by the time it was over. (Image: Fonds La Presse, BAnQ Vieux-Montréal)

eric nesterenko, 1933—2022

Eric Nesterenko has died at the age of 88, the Chicago Black Hawks are noting today. Born in Flin Flon, Manitoba, he made his NHL debut with the Toronto Maple Leafs in 1952 as an 18-year-old. After playing parts of five seasons in Toronto, the Leafs sold his and Harry Lumley’s contracts contract to Chicago for $40,000. Sixteen seasons he skated with the Black Hawks before retiring from the NHL in 1972. He subsequently joined the Chicago Cougars during the WHA’s 1973-74 season, taking a last pro turn at 40. In later years he worked as a ski patroller and instructor and taught some university as a guest lecturer. He played Rob Lowe’s father in the 1986 movie Youngblood and, apparently, passed several summers in the northern Alaska volunteering as air-defence spotter in case any Russian aircraft should stray into view.

In Bill Gaston’s wonderful novel The Good Body (2000), his protagonist, Bonaduce, marvels at Nesterenko, who in 1968 (he asserts) “scored 32 goals for Chicago and published his first book of poems.” I looked for that book, and when I failed to find it, I asked Gaston, was it true? He couldn’t remember whether or just should be. I found an address in Vail, Colorado, and wrote to Nesterenko for the final word, but my letter came back unopened, RETURN TO SENDER, the envelope demanded, while confiding also ATTEMPTED and NOT KNOWN, and finally (protesting way too much) UNABLE TO FORWARD.

It’s worth, on this day, revisiting the interview Studs Terkel did with Nesterenko for his 1974 book Working.

“It’s been a good life,” the hockey player said there. “Maybe I could have done better, have better record or something like that. But I’ve really had very few regrets over the past 20 years. I can enjoy some of the arts that I had shut myself off from as a kid. Perhaps that is my only regret. The passion for the game was so all-consuming when I was a kid that I blocked myself from music. I cut myself off from a certain broadness of experience. Maybe one has to do that to fully explore what they want to do the most passionately.

I know a lot of pro athletes who have a capacity for a wider experience. But they wanted to become champions. They had to focus themselves on their one thing completely. His primary force when he becomes champion is his ego trip, his desire to excel, to be somebody special. To some degree, he must dehumanize himself. I look forward to a lower key way of living. But it must be physical. I’m sure I would die without it, become a drunk or something.

I still like to skate. One day last year on a cold, clear, crisp afternoon, I saw this huge sheet of ice in the street. Goddamn if I didn’t drive out there and put on my skates. And I flew. Nobody was there. I was free as a bird. I was really happy. That goes back to when I was a kid. I’ll do that until I die, I hope. Oh, I was free!

The wind was blowing from the north. With the wind behind you, you’re in motion, you can wheel and dive and turn, you can lay yourself into impossible angles that you never could walking or running. You lay yourself at a 45-degree angle, your elbow virtually touching the ice as you’re in a turn. Incredible It’s beautiful! You’re breaking the bounds of gravity. I have a feeling this is the innate desire of man.

I haven’t kept many photographs of myself, but I found one where I’m in full flight. I’m leaning into a turn. You pick up the centrifugal forces and you lay in it. For a few seconds, like a gyroscope, they support you. I’m in full flight and my head is turned. I’m concentrating on something and I’m grinning. That’s the way I like to picture myself. I’m something else there. I’m on another level of existence, just being in pure motion. Going wherever I want to go, whenever I want to go. That’s nice, you know.”

four at the door

Rejected: No, not Jean Béliveau — he wouldn’t start wearing Montreal’s number 4 for another nine years after this photograph was taken at New York’s Madison Square Garden on Sunday, February 11, 1945. Trying his luck on net here is Canadiens’ defenceman Leo Lamoureux. Turning him away is 20-year-old Ranger netminder Doug Stevenson, from Regina, Saskatchewan, on a night off for New York’s regular 1944-45 goaler, Ken McAuley. Canadiens eventually prevailed on this night, leaving town with a 4-3 victory sealed Elmer Lach, another Saskatchewanist, whose winning goal was his second of the game.