billy burch took his skates to bed

No Sudden Coughing: In 1928, Billy Burch did his best to recommend Lucky Strikes to hockey’s tobacco-craving players.

Billy Burch was the ideal captain for New York’s new hockey team in 1925, but you’ll understand why, for fans back in Hamilton, Ontario, the choice might have burned so bitterly.

Born on a Tuesday of this date in 1900, Billy Burch was a stand-out centreman in the NHL’s first decade, winner of the Hart Trophy as the league’s most valuable player in ’25, ahead of Howie Morenz and Clint Benedict. Two years later, he won Lady Byng’s cup for superior skill combined with gentlemanly instincts. He was elevated to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1974.

Burch was born in Yonkers, New York, just north of Manhattan on the Hudson. His hockey-playing future seems to have been secured a few years later, when his parents, Harry and Helen, moved the family (probably in 1906) to Toronto. Home for the Burches was in the city’s northwest, where it’s purported there was a rink in their winter yard. Accounts of this date to later years, when he was establishing himself as an NHL star, and so it’s possible that they and the anecdotes attached to them may be tinged with romance as much as they’re founded in fact.

I do like this one, though, from an unbylined 1925 profile:

For young Mr. Burch — or Billy as he was called and still is for that matter — was not satisfied with the training hours allotted to him on the backyard rink by his mother. He skated vigorously from the back steps to the back fence and back again and performed various juvenile antics in between but was not content to leave it at that.

When the time came to go into the house and go to bed, he obeyed without discussion. He only made one qualification. He took the skates with him. He did this so often that taking skates to bed became sort of a tradition.

He won a Memorial Cup as a junior in 1920, playing with the Toronto Canoe Club alongside future NHL stars Lionel Conacher and Roy Worters. He played in the Senior OHA for a couple of seasons after that with Aura Lee, where Conacher and Doc Stewart were teammates.

In 1923, Burch signed with the Hamilton Tigers. The team was in its third year in the NHL, all of which had been seasons of struggle: the Tigers had to that point only ever finished at the bottom of the standings.

Billy Babe Burch Ruth

They were the lowliest of the NHL’s four teams in 1923-24, too. But the year after that, led by Burch and the brothers Green (Red and Shorty) and goaltender Jake Forbes, Hamilton was the NHL’s best team when the regular season came to an end, which got them a bye to the league final and the chance to play for the Stanley Cup.

None of that happened, of course: after the Hamilton players went on strike demanding to be paid for the extra games they’d played that year, NHL President Frank Calder not only refused to pay, he fined the players, and declared the Montreal Canadiens league champions. That was the end of Hamilton’s run in the NHL: by fall, the team had its franchise rescinded, and all the players’ contracts had been sold to the expansion team from Manhattan, Bill Dwyer’s Americans.

So that’s how Burch ended up back in New York. He was appointed captain, and the team played up his local origins to help sell the new team in its new market. “A big, strapping, fine-looking young man,” the Yonkers Statesman proclaimed Burch in the fall of ’25, “who occupies the same position in professional hockey as Babe Ruth does in baseball.” He was reported to have signed a three-year contract in New York worth $25,000, making him (along with teammate Joe Simpson) one of the NHL’s highest-paid players.

Burch had a pretty good year that first one in New York, scoring 22 goals and 25 points to lead his team in scoring. He ceded the Hart Trophy to Nels Stewart of Montreal’s Maroons, but finished second to Frank Nighbor of Ottawa in the voting for the Lady Byng.

Billy Burch played seven seasons in all in New York. His NHL career finished up with shorts stints in Boston and Chicago before he shelved his skates in 1933. Burch was just 50 when he died in 1950.

 

the needle and the damage done

A Stitch In Time: Centre Charlie Sands played parts of five seasons for the Boston Bruins in the 1930s, and had stints with the Maple Leafs, Canadiens, and Rangers before his NHL career came to an end in 1943-44; this is his underwear, circa 1938. Working on repairs here in the Bruins’ Boston Garden dressing room is Red Casey, a member of Hammy Moore’s training staff. (Image: © Richard Merrill, Boston Public Library)

rookie move

Gaye Stewart was a stripling left winger of 18 when the Toronto Maple Leafs called him up to aid in their effort, in the spring of 1942, to supersede the Detroit Red Wings and win the Stanley Cup. Together they duly did that, which is how Stewart became the first NHLer to win a Cup before he won the Calder Trophy as the league’s top rookie, a distinction he would come to share, subsequently, with Ken Dryden, Tony Esposito, and Danny Grant.

Stewart, a son of Fort William, Ontario, died at the age of 87 on a Thursday of this date in 2010. In his first full season as a Leaf, 1942-43, the 24 goals and 47 points he scored were enough to secure him the votes to take the Calder. Second on the ballot was Montreal defenceman Glen Harmon, followed by Boston centre Don Gallinger; Detroit blueliner Cully Simon; and another Bruin, 17-year-old left winger Bep Guidolin. (That season was, notably, Maurice Richard’s first in the league, too; he didn’t rate in the top five.)

Following his breakout year, Stewart put a pause on his NHL career to serve two years in the Royal Canadian Navy during the Second World War, before returning to the Leafs in 1945. In 1947, he helped the team win another Stanley Cup. What else? He was a First Team All-Star in 1946, the same year he scored 37 goals to lead the league — the last Maple Leaf to do so. In his latter NHL years, Stewart played for Chicago, Detroit, New York, and Montreal.

sinnerman

“Your Eating And Meeting Place:”  A 1955 postcard from the Warwicks’ own Commodore Cafe at 314 Main Street (across from the Post Office) in Penticton, B.C. “We have found wonderful place,” the printed script on the back reads, “where they serve delicious food, midst pleasant surroundings.”

“We outsmarted them, outskated them, and outplayed them.” That was Bill Warwick in March of 1955 when, as a 30-year-old left winger, he helped Canada overthrow the mighty Soviet Union to win gold at the World Championships in West Germany.

Born in Regina, Saskatchewan, on a Monday of this date in 1924, Bill Warwick was the middle-born of three Warwick brothers who powered the Penticton Vs that year in Europe when they donned the maple leaf on the nation’s behalf. Grant, the eldest, was the coach and also a right winger; Dick, the youngest, played centre. Grant had a nine-year NHL career behind him that saw him skate for the New York Rangers as well as the Boston Bruins and Montreal Canadiens. Bill’s stay in the NHL was briefer: he played 14 games with the Rangers over two seasons in the mid-1940s.

It was as the 1954 Allan Cup champions that the Vs had won the right to represent Canada at the World Championships. They had a serious job to do there: restore the nation’s honour by claiming back the world title that the East York Lyndhursts had surrendered the previous year to the Soviets.

Canada launched its campaign with a 12-1 win over the United States, with Bill Warwick pitching in for six goals. He quickly became a focus for his off-the-puck activities, too: a couple of games further into the tournament and the Canadian Press was reporting that German sportswriters had dubbed him The Sinnerand that there was no other player that local fans liked to boo more.

To an American reporter who asked him what their problem might be, Bill said, “Well, I’m not the gentlest guy in the world.”

“In him,” CP reporter Arch MacKenzie elaborated, “European fans tend to see the personification of all they think is bad in Canadian jockey, and they let him know.”

“They shouted when the rugged, black-haired winger capered down the ice after scoring a tying goal in the 5-3 victory over the Czechs last Saturday night, they booed when he danced a jig during the playing of ‘O Canada’ and they bellowed their delight when Bill took a prat fall at center ice Monday night against the Finns, who were swamped 12-0.”

“Warwick sat on the ice, drinking in the clamor, and then waved affably to the crowd. That touched off a new round of noise.”

Canada romped on through the schedule, sacking the Swiss 11-1, whelming the West Germans 10-1, before they met up with the also-undefeated Soviets in Krefeld. Anchored in net by Nikolai Puchkov, the defending champions were led upfront by Vsevolod Bobrov, the man who’d end up coaching his country’s team during the 1972 Summit Series.

Warwick scored a pair of goals as the Canadians skated to a 5-0 win to take the championship. In Canada’s eight games, he notched 14 goals and 22 points to lead all scorers. He was recognized, too, as the tournament’s top forward.

Bill Warwick died in 2007 at the age of 82.

Wild Bill: A German cartoon commemorates the swath Warwick cut through Europe during the 1955 World Championships.

to the nth degree

New Again: The new Leaf alternate sweater rolled out today echoes the logo the team wore in 1969-70.

So the Toronto Maple Leafs joined the rest of the NHL in releasing a new alternate sweater today. There’s a whole detailed rationale for this Reverse Retro line that’s rooted in — actually, no, there’s nothing like that, it’s just a retail operation the league is launching with adidas, all major credits accepted once the new swag goes on sale December 1.

“Each jersey was inspired by one worn by the team during a season that has some historical significance and the whole design process took about two years,” is what the league is saying beyond its sales pitch.

By jersey, of course, they mean sweater, and by historical significance they’re referring to … well, in the case of the Leafly design, it’s hard to say, since the season being commemorated here is 1969-70, a campaign that saw Toronto finish out of the playoffs, dead last in the NHL’s East … three years after they’d won their last Stanley Cup.

Not that haphazard history is what has been stirring Leaf fans today — as Lance Hornby is noting for The Toronto Sun, it’s the ugliness of the thing that’s getting to people. I’m not going to pronounce on that, other than to confirm that the sweater is indeed ugly.

What I think is worth focussing on is that the new/sort-of-old design does, touchingly, honour the Toronto franchise’s tradition of wonky Ns. That seems important.

Why did the 1969-70 logo now being replicated go with the lowercase n in TOROnTO? I guess we’ll never know. Here, for the record, is fresh-faced centreman Norm Ullman showing it off the following year …

… and then the year after that, when the Leafs decided to go back to an all-uppercase look:

Unless by fooling around with the N the team was, back in the ’70s, making  a conscious effort to pay tribute to the 1921-22 Toronto St. Patricks who, after all, won a Stanley Cup that long-ago season, six years before the franchise flipped its name and colour scheme? The St. Pats, after all, did feature backwards Ns on their sweaters — well, some of them did. Goaltender John Ross Roach, for one:

At least two of his teammates were similarly afflicted, according to the grouping shown below:

The 1921-22 St. Pats: Back row, from left, Mike Mitchell, Ted Stackhouse, unknown, Corb Denneny, possibly coach George O’Donoghue?, unknown, Rod Smylie, Red Stuart, Roach. Front row, from left, Harry Cameron, Stan Jackson, Reg Noble, manager Charlie Querrie, Babe Dye, Ken Randall.

It may have been a trainer’s, a tailor’s, a seamstress’s mistake. Did nobody notice that the sweaters that Ted Stackhouse, Stan Jackson, and goaltender John Ross Roach were wearing were different from those styled by their teammates? Maybe it meant something — were Stackhouse, Jackson, and Roach being punished, for missing practice, or breaking curfew? It’s possible, too, that these were practice sweaters that were never worn for an actual NHL game. We do have confirmation, it’s worth noting, that this early retro reversal was at some point corrected — here’s John Ross Roach at his typographical best.

golden grad: in 1928, dave trottier was the most sought-after hockey player in the world

Everybody wanted Dave Trottier in the winter of 1927-28, and why not, he was, at 21, the hottest hockey talent outside the NHL. He would have been an asset to any of the league’s ten team that season, and several of the league leaders did their best to sign him.

But Trottier, a left winger, had a European trip he wanted to take before he decided on his hockey future, and so the Leafs and Senators and the Rangers and the Bruins all had to wait.

Trottier died at the age of 50 on a Wednesday of this date in 1956.

Back in 1927, he was the Pembroke-born star of the University of Toronto Varsity Grads who were, under coach Conn Smythe, the presiding Allan Cup champions. As amateur champions of Canada, the Grads won the right to represent their country at the 1928 Winter Olympics in St. Moritz, Switzerland, and so they did that, in February, with Trottier leading the way, but without Smythe — he stayed home in Canada over a roster dispute.

A Trottier tale from the St. Moritz Olympics in February of 1928.

On their way to winning gold, the Canadian Grads dispatched Swedes (11-0) and Brits (14-0) and Swiss (13-0). Trottier scored five goals in each of the first and the final of those games, managing a meagre pair against the British, and with those 12 goals he shared the tournament’s scoring lead with teammate Hugh Plaxton.

Post-Olympics, Toronto thought they had the inside track on getting Trottier’s signature on a contract: Conn Smythe was the man in charge of the Maple Leafs, and Trottier was said to have vouched himself to the club.

But a Montreal paper was also hearing that he’d sign for the Maroons in Montreal. In Chicago, the news was that Ottawa had a chance.

Or maybe would he stay an amateur? There was word that he had a job lined up in pulp and paper in Northern Ontario, where he could also play hockey for Iroquois Falls.

In the fall, the Trottier speculation began to warm up again. The Leafs were reported to have offered him $5,000 annually for three years, plus a $5,000 signing bonus. Canadiens were said to be in the hunt, and the New York Rangers, too.

In October, with the opening of the new NHL season weeks away, the Boston Bruins were reported to have paid Conn Smythe’s Maple Leafs $10,000 for the option on Trottier’s rights.

According to another report, the former Olympic star was asking the Bruins for a three-year deal that would pay him $35,000. That would have put him among the highest-paid players in the NHL, if not above them: in 1927-28, Maroons defenceman Dunc Munro was the top earner, with a contract that paid him $9,000 a season.

“All the things that have been published have been very distasteful to me,” the man himself said at the end of October. He was in Montreal, working for a pulp-and-paper company there, and planning to play senior hockey for the Victorias. “I have not definitely decided to turn professional. I like hockey, but I have a business career ahead of me that for the future is more important than the game.”

Trottier finally agreed to terms with the Montreal Maroons at the end of November. The Boston deal was, I guess, annulled — or was it just a rumour in the first place? Either way, Montreal paid Toronto $15,000 and promised to send them a player at the end of the season. (I can’t tell who that ended up being.) The value of Trottier’s contract wasn’t reported.

Trottier didn’t have a stellar rookie season, contributing just a couple of goals. But he did turn into a reliable scorer over the course of a decade with the Maroons. In his best season, 1931-32, only three other players in the NHL scored more than his 26 goals, while his 44 points put him sixth in league scoring.

In 1935, he helped in the effort that secured the Maroons a Stanley Cup. Dave Trottier spent his last year in the NHL, 1938-39, with the Detroit Red Wings, before persistent knee and shoulder injuries put an end to his career.

Atop The Hockey World: A cartoon from October of 1928, a month before Trottier ended up signing for the Montreal Maroons.

 

my first hockey game: bill fitsell

Big Bomber Command: Bill Fitsell still has the notebooks he kept as a boy in the 1930s to celebrate his beloved Toronto Maple Leafs. Open on his desk at home in Kingston, Ontario, is his record of the first NHL game he ever attended, when he was 13, in 1936.

Bill Fitsell’s importance as a hockey historian isn’t easy to measure, so let’s just say this: it’s immense. He’s far too modest to elaborate on that himself, so I’ll step in, if I may, to mention the trails he’s blazed in researching hockey’s origins and geographies; his books, including Hockey’s Captains, Colonels & Kings (1987) and How Hockey Happened (2006); his leadership at Kingston’s International Hockey Hall of Fame and Museum; also that The Society for International Hockey Research got its start as a notion of his, and when it launched in 1991, he stepped up to serve as its inaugural president.

Fitsell, who turned 97 this past July, is also a legendary newspaper reporter, editor, and columnist, a veteran of the Kingston Whig-Standard, which is where I first met him, years ago, and got to know just how good and generous a soul he is. In hockey terms, his calibre might be best expressed in a Lady Byng Trophy context: his proficiency at what he does is only exceeded by his good grace and gentlemanly conduct.

With word this week that Bill is under care at a Kingston hospital, I’m sending best wishes, and doing my best to infuse these paragraphs with hopes for his speedy recovery.

I’ve visited Bill in Kingston several times over the past few years, when I’ve been in from Toronto, back when there was still such a thing as dropping by to say hello. Bill has been working for a while on a new book collecting and commemorating hockey poetry and lyrics and doggerel, and we’d talk about that, and about the Maple Leafs.

Bill has been backing Toronto’s team for all the years going back to his childhood in the 1930s, which is when Toronto’s superstar right winger Charlie Conacher ensconced himself as his all-time favourite player.

Born in Barrie in 1923, Bill had moved east with his family to Lindsay in 1927. In 1942, at the age of 19, he joined the Royal Canadian Naval Volunteer Reserve and was on active service through 1946. In 1945, he’d met and married the former Barbara Robson — the couple celebrated their 75thanniversary earlier this fall — and when Bill was discharged from the Navy, the couple settled in Lindsay.

That’s where Bill got his first newspaper job, at the Lindsay Post. He joined the Whig-Standard in Kingston in 1962, and he continued there until 1993.

One winter’s afternoon last year, over coffee near Bill’s lakeshore home, with the modern-day edition of the Leafs lurching a little, finding new ways to lose games they’d been winning, upsetting the faithful, we turned again from the future to the past.

That’s when I asked: did he remember the first NHL game he attended?

Yes. Yes, he did. 1935. He was 13 years old. With his dad, he drove a couple of hours to Toronto from Lindsay with … some others: they were a party of five in all. At Maple Leaf Gardens, they were close to the ice, in five seats on the rail, at $2.50 apiece — “where later Harold Ballard would jam in seven paying customers,” Fitsell laughed.

I eventually tracked down the facts of the matter, but that afternoon I was happy for the gleams and textures of Bill’s decades-old memories. The Boston Bruins were in town; the Leafs won. Turk Broda, he recalled, was in the Toronto net; Conacher, he thought, was out with an injury. There was a fight … he paused to picture it. Probably … Toronto’s turbulent Red Horner and Boston’s Eddie Shore? Fans all around the Fitsell faction began to toss their programs towards the melee on the ice; Bill braved the bombardment to run down rinkside to retrieve one. “I guess,” he told me, “that’s when I became a collector.”

Back in his office at home, Bill retrieved the notebook in which he’d memorialized that and other Leaf games in the ’30s. January 18, 1935, a Saturday. When all was said and done, the Leafs had beaten the Bruins 5-2. “One of those wild, free-clouting brawls beloved of the hockey customer,” was how Andy Lytle assessed the evening’s proceedings in the Toronto Daily Star.

Actually, it was George Hainsworth in the Toronto net that night, with Tiny Thompson guarding the Boston goal. The Leafs, who’d been Stanley Cup finalists in 1935, had hit a post-Christmas skid: heading into their meeting with the Bruins they were winless in five games. Charlie Conacher’s injury was to his shoulder, and he was expected to be off skates for as much as two weeks; Joe Primeau, his Lindsay-born centreman, was out with a cold. The Leafs were trying to keep pace with the Montreal Maroons atop the NHL’s Canadian Section of the standings; the Bruins were sunken down at the bottom of the American side of the ledger.

Sew It Is: Leaf physician Dr. J.W. Rush stitches King Clancy on the Saturday night in ’36 that Bill Fitsell saw his first NHL game.

Also on hand from the Star was Sports Editor Lou Marsh (also a sometime NHL referee). “A brawl,” Marsh called it, and “a game of hurley on ice.” Oh, and “a bitter struggle which fostered gales of lusty roaring from the drop of the rubber tart to the final gong.”

The first period ended without a goal. The fight that Bill recalled got going in the early minutes, involving defenceman Hap Day of the Leafs and Boston’s Red Beattie, both of whom incurred major penalties, though Lou Marsh classified it as “blowless.” Red Horner earned himself a 10-minute misconduct in the same sequence for saying something nasty to referee Mike Rodden — none of the contemporary accounts specify, of course, what it might have been.

By the end of the second, the Leafs were up 3-1, getting goals from Art Jackson, Pep Kelly, and Andy Blair, with Boston’s goal going to Cooney Weiland.

Toronto’s King Clancy got an early goal in the third. “By this time the Toronto audience was as excited as a roomful of children with the chimney corner hung with filled stockings,” Andy Lytle gushed.

Boston dimmed the mood a little after Day used his hand to smother the puck near enough the Toronto goal that Boston was awarded a penalty shot. Babe Siebert stepped up to beat Hainsworth. Another Bruin defenceman scored the final goal, Eddie Shore, though he would have wished it away, if he could have. He was trying to bat away a rebound from his own goaltender, Thompson, but instead batted the puck into the net for an own goal; Toronto’s Bill Thoms got the credit.

“Most fans,” Lou Marsh further enthused, “went home chirping cheerily that they had seen the best game of a couple of seasons.”

“The crowd was in a continual surging, screaming uproar as the squadrons charged relentlessly, ceaselessly up and down, floundering, thudding, crashing, skidding, as they chased each other and the flying bootheel. The attacks beat upon the defences like white-fanged waves upon the sullen rocks of a storm-threshed coast.”

“In other words … it was a great game!”

Hockey Day In Lindsay: A young Bill Fitsell, left, emulates the hands-on-knees stance made famous by his hero Charlie Conacher.

For all the excitement of Bill’s first foray to Maple Leaf Gardens, another slighter earlier encounter with his beloved Maple Leafs is bright in his memory, too. A year before the Fitsells made their way to Toronto, the Leafs had paid a visit to Lindsay.

January of 1935, this was. “The Leafs came in and played a blue-and-white game,” Bill recalled on another visit of mine. “And that was a big thrill.”

Lindsay’s Pioneer Rink had burned down several years before that, in 1931 or so. For a few winters afterwards, Bill told me, all the hockey that he and his friends were playing — as in the photograph here — was on outdoor rinks around town. Under the sponsorship of the local Kiwanis Club, a community fundraising drive eventually raised $17,000 to pay for a new arena, and when it was built and ready to open, the Leafs were invited to aid in the opening gala. Thanks to the Joe Primeau connection, they’d accepted.

The president of the OHA was in town, along with the secretary, W.A. Hewitt, Foster’s father. Three bands were on hand, too. Along with the anthems and speeches the schedules featured displays of fancy skating, including one by a quartet of maiden sisters named Dunsford, the youngest of whom was 66. An all-star Lindsay team was slated to play an exhibition game against a line-up of players drawn from the local county. But it was the Leafs’ abridged scrimmage at 5 o’clock in the afternoon that was the star attraction.

“The admission was $1,” Bill remembered.

Fourteen Leafs had made the bus trip from Toronto along with coach Dick Irvin. Two days earlier, they’d dropped a 1-0 game to the Detroit Red Wings; two days later, they’d return to the Gardens to beat the Montreal Canadiens 3-1. In Lindsay, Benny Grant anchored one side in goal, with Hap Day and Flash Hollett on defence. Skating up front was Baldy Cotton along with the Kid Line: Primeau, Busher Jackson, and Bill’s idol, Charlie Conacher. At the other end of the ice, George Hainsworth took the net along with Red Horner, Buzz Boll, King Clancy, Hec Kilrea, Andy Blair, and Bill Thoms. They scored plenty of goals in they played, with Grant’s team prevailing 7-6.

Earlier in the day, 12-year-old Bill and his buddies had spent the afternoon waiting for the Leafs to arrive. “When they get off the bus from Toronto, I introduced them to all my team — we were called the Maple Leafs.”

Later, he cornered the coach. “I had my sister’s autograph book, and I saw Dick Irvin in the waiting room, all alone. So I got his attention and he signed it, Dick Irvin, Toronto Maple Leafs, and the date. A full page. And on the other side was where my sister had written Roses are red, violets are blue.”

Later, a friendly go-between took the book into the hall where the players were eating their suppers. When Bill got it back again, the whole team had signed their names.

“It really was a great thrill,” he said, 84 years later.

Hockey Captain, Colonel, & King: With the Leafs’ famous Kid Line over his shoulder, Bill Fitsell at home in Kingston in 2019.

 

dental agreement: doc stewart takes to the boston net, 1924

B List: The 1925-26 Boston Bruins line up, from left, Sprague Cleghorn, Sailor Herbert, Gerry Geran, Carson Cooper, Red Stuart, Norm Shay, Stan Jackson (I think), Hago Harrington, Dr. Charles Stewart.

Born in Carleton Place, Ontario, on a Wednesday of this same date in 1895, Dr. Charles Stewart was the second goaltender to take the net in the history of the Boston Bruins, making his debut on Christmas Day of 1924, after things didn’t quite work out with the team’s original goaler, Hec Fowler.

Stewart was a dentist, which explains his nickname, Doc, as well as the fact that he played in the Senior OHA for the Toronto Dentals, and (also) that he was commissioned as a lieutenant in the Canadian Army Dental Corps towards the end of the First World War. In and around and after his hockey career, Stewart had a dental practice in Hamilton, Ontario.

The good Doc lines up with Boston for a 1926 game against Ottawa.

It was to Kingston that Bruins coach and manager Art Ross tracked Stewart in December of 1924. Hec Fowler’s demise is a whole other story: let’s just say that seven games into the Bruins’ debut season, he had worn out his welcome. As well as drilling and capping teeth in Hamilton, Stewart was playing for the local OHA Tigers that winter, and Montreal’s Gazette reported that while Ross was offering him $2,500 to make the jump from amateur to pro ranks, as well paying living expenses in Boston, and the rent on his Hamilton practice, Stewart was holding out for $1,000 more.

I can’t say for certain what they settled on, just that Stewart was in Montreal on the 25th to defend the Bruins’ net against the Montreal Canadiens. Boston lost, 0-5, though Stewart’s effort was roundly praised. He and his Bruins had to wait another five games, until January 10, to celebrate his first win — still only the second in Bruins’ history — when Boston returned to Montreal to eke out a 3-2 overtime decision.

The Bruins finished dead last in the NHL that year, but things did improve the following season, 1925-26, when Doc Stewart went 16-14-4 to help the team to a fourth-place finish in the seven-team NHL. (They still didn’t make the playoffs.)

Stewart played half of the Bruins’ regular-season games the following year, 1926-27, his last in the NHL. That was a season that saw Boston go all the way to the Stanley Cup final, though they lost in four games to the Ottawa Senators. Stewart’s time in Boston was over by then: he played no part in those playoffs. By that point, he’d been supplanted by Hal Winkler.

mixed-up confusion

The Detroit Red Wings were up on top of the American Division in the first week of January in 1936, ahead of the Rangers by a point when they went to New York to play. A crowd of more than 10,000 was on hand to watch. Despite the Red Wings’ tendency to defend, the clash was exciting enough. That’s what Joseph C. Nichols wrote in The New York Timesclashexcitingenough. He said that Ching Johnson, who hailed from Winnipeg, was sterlingon defence for the Rangers, and in attack, too, and came within an ace of tying it. But that was late in the third period.

First, earlier, Pete Kelly, a son of St. Vital, Manitoba, scored for Detroit. The Blueshirts were pressing — charged without stint. Frank Boucher, from Kemptville, Ontario, was in on this, with Cook brothers on the wings, Bun and Bill, from Kingston. They couldn’t break down Detroit’s Normie Smith (Toronto): he wouldn’t break. Herb Lewis (Calgary) added a second goal for the Red Wings with Johnson on the penalty bench for hooking.

This was the second period now. Then came the sequence we’re seeing here: Ranger left winger Butch Keeling dashed in across the Detroit line. He was from Owen Sound, Ontario; that’s him, above, with the part in his hair and the stripy-taped stick. Pete Kelly is with him. This whole sequence lasted just a few seconds. Mix-up is the word in the original caption describing what happened: Kelly barged Keeling into the net, Normie Smith, in his cap, got the puck. I’m pretty sure that’s a young Bucko McDonald from Fergus, Ontario, in the last frame, with the helmet. Kelly went off for holding. Nichols:

The Rangers moved all their skaters forward. After several futile thrusts had been directed at the net, Johnson took Brydson’s pass and scored in 11.29.

Glen Brydson that would be, from Swansea, Ontario. 2-1. In the third, the Red Wings iced the puck when they could, which worked. The Rangers had some chances: Johnson by the post; Keeling on a long drive; a couple of hard raps from Bill Cook. That’s all, though.

Butch Keeling died on a Monday of this date in 1984. He was 79. Melvillewas the name he was given, but he was a butcher’s son in Owen Sound, and so he got his nickname early on. After making his NHL debut in 1926-27, the year the Toronto St. Patricks transformed into the Maple Leafs, he played ten seasons for the Rangers, helping them win the Stanley Cup in 1933.

apple cheeks

Keep Your Eye On The Puck: Harry Lumley guards the Detroit goal at Maple Leaf Gardens on Saturday, March 20, 1948. The home team beat the Red Wings 5-3 on the night to clinch first place in the NHL. The foreground Leaf is Vic Lynn, with Howie Meeker cruising out near the blueline. Detroit’s skaters are, from the left, Red Kelly and Bill Quackenbush in the distance, Ted Lindsay and Gordie Howe closer to the camera. Detroit and Toronto would meet again later in April for Stanley Cup, with the Leafs prevailing in four straight games.

Born in 1926 in Owen Sound, Ontario, on a Thursday of this date, Harry Lumley was — and remains — the youngest goaltender ever to have started an NHL game: he was just 17 when he made his debut in net for the Detroit Red Wings in December of 1943. As he got older, the man they called Apple Cheeks won a Stanley Cup with the Wings (in 1950) along with a Vézina Trophy in ’54. He was a Leaf in Toronto by then; Lumley also skated, in the course his 14-year NHL career, for the New York Rangers, Chicago Black Hawks, and Boston Bruins. Inducted in the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1980, Harry Lumley died in 1998, aged 71.

(Image: Turofsky/Imperial Oil, from A Century of NHL Memories: Rare Photos from the Hockey Hall of Fame, used with permission)

somewhere in england

Wartime precautions kept the Royal Canadian Air Force from identifying the precise setting for this memento of a gathering of high-level hockey talent: the caption affixed to the back of the photographs says “somewhere in England” and leaves it at that. My best guess is that it dates to early 1944 and the rink we’re seeing is the one in Durham in Yorkshire, which is where the RCAF’s Sixth Bomber Group was stationed. Wherever Canadians gather there will be, of course, hockey, and so it was that the Bomber Group Championship came to be played in March of ’44 between teams named the Rossmen (not for Art Ross, but after the CO of an air-station) and the Lancasters.

The final was a two-game, total-goals series featuring some high-powered talent: the Rossmen iced a pair of former Boston Bruins stars in Flying Officer Milt Schmidt and Leading Aircraftman Bobby Bauer, while their former NHL linemate, Pilot Officer Woody Dumart, turned out for the Lancasters.

The Rossmen won the first game 5-0. To start the second, the Lancasters took a 2-0 lead. It didn’t hold: Bauer eventually tied the game before Schmidt scored a pair of goals ten seconds apart. Final score: 4-3 Rossmen.

The men posing here were all serving in the RCAF that spring, though not all of them played for the championship. From left, they are: Roy Conacher (another Boston Bruin before he enlisted); Alf Pike (an erstwhile New York Ranger who’d go on to coach the team); Paul Platz (who played pre-war with the AHL’s Providence Reds); Jimmy Haggerty (a member of Canada’s team at the 1936 Winter Olympics who also played a handful of games with Montreal); Bob Whitelaw and Sid Abel (both Detroit Red Wings); Frank Boucher (a member of the RCAF team that won the 1941-42 Allan Cup and a nephew of the Hall-of-Famer of the same name); Lloyd Gronsdahl (Boston); Ernie Trigg (AHL Cleveland Barons); Milt Schmidt and Woody Dumart (Bruins both).

owning up: don delillo comes clean

Cover Story: The cover of the 1982 British mass market edition of DeLillo’s hockey classic.

It’s a stretch of years now since Keith Gessen, a writer I’ll gladly follow into any paragraph he chooses to lead me, wrote his New York Times Book Reviewessay on hockey’s literature and its lacks, and I’m trying to remember whether, in 2006, I embraced his premise that when it comes to hockey books, two tower above all the rest —No question about Ken Dryden’s 1983 classic The Game— but what about Amazons (1980), the Cleo Birdwell novel that Gessen declared “the other monument of hockey literature thus far”?

You can read the Gessen here. I don’t think that I quite agreed with him on Amazons then, and still don’t, though the novel does tell a feisty, funny, bawdy, insightful story about the first woman to play in the NHL.

You’d expect that, the funny and the insight, of course, given that Birdwell was a masquerade and that the actual author was in fact Don DeLillo. It’s no secret that the man who gave us Libra and White Noise and Underworld has never openly acknowledged that he actually wrote Amazons, nor that he’s reportedly been adamant in his refusal to allow the novel to be reprinted: the mystery, if there is any, is in why he’s been so silent all this time in his spurning of his hockey romp.

No more. DeLillo, who turns 84 this month, has a new novel out, The Silence. Last month, in a New York Times Magazine interview with David Marchese, DeLillo finally came clean. I don’t know why this wasn’t bigger news, though I guess we did have our distractions in October. Anyway, the exchange came halfway through Marchese’s and DeLillo’s back-and-forth. The latter had already dangled a lure, earlier, mentioning Amazons in passing. DeLillo, it’s noted, laughed, but didn’t bite.

A little later, Marchese changed bait, bringing up a prominent DeLillo character. Here’s the exchange:

You know who else shows up in two of your books? Murray Jay Siskind. Both times described as having an “Amish” beard. Murray Jay! Remind me, what book is he in?

White Noise. And where else?

Amazons. Oh god. How do you remember that. Idon’t remember that.

I think I just got a scoop. I don’t know if you’ve ever publicly acknowledged that you wrote Amazons. I probably did, somewhere or other. [Laughs.] Maybe to an interviewer from Thailand.

And there it is. Boom.

I e-mailed David Marchese to congratulate him on his catch. I was also, I guess, hoping for an outtake or two, the rest of the conversation that he’d had to edit out, wherein DeLillo unpacked just how he’d come to write the book, and what he felt about the late-70s Rangers.

Alas.

What was there in the Times was all there was on Amazons, Marchese told me. “He just sort of laughed and changed the subject,” he wrote. “I didn’t really follow up on it because it seemed a little bit too much inside baseball (to mix metaphors) for the general reader.”

The novelist previously known as Cleo Birdwell

Ah, well. DeLillo’s admission doesn’t really change anything. Whether he wants to talk about it or not, the book’s prose is his, along with its vision, and that’s worth paying attention to. For all the hockey in Amazons (not to mention all the sex), the novel’s particular subject is, as Keith Gessen points out, America, “the dark schizy heart of it.” It’s a book, he writes, that’s “not about hockey in just the right way.”

At one point, Cleo, who at 23 has just made the Rangers, is talking to the blusterous Kinross, president of Madison Square Garden, who hates hockey, doesn’t understand why he should bother to host it in his building.

“It’s a fuggin shit-ass game,” he tells her, “for my money. You don’t have a black or Hispanic element. It doesn’t reflect the urban reality. Who wants to see two white guys hit each other? The violence has no bite to it. It’s not relevant. It doesn’t reflect the streets and I come from the streets.”

Cleo isn’t fazed. “It reflects the Canadian streets,” she says. “It’s a Canadian game. It reflects ice and snow, that’s what it reflects.”

“Well and good,” he says. “I understand that. But this is New York, New York. Where’s the fuggin criminal element? Who do we root for? Escapist violence is all right in the movies. But this is live. Real people swinging sticks. Without any relevance, it’s kind of disgusting. If it doesn’t reflect the streets, you wonder what these guys are doing it for. What’s the point?”

Rookie Move: The cover of the 1980 U.S. first edition.