this week in 1951: frank boucher turns 50, redraws the nhl rink

Let’s Stick Together: Frank Boucher, in the middle, poses with two of his elder brothers in 1928. George (a.k.a. Buck) Boucher, at left, won four Stanley Cups with Ottawa’s powerhouse Senatos in the ’20s and went on to coach the Boston Bruins; Billy, on the right, spent most of his career with the Montreal Canadiens before signing with New York’s Americans.

Frank Boucher’s legacy as an altogether upright and admirable citizen was already well-established in the fall of 1951 as the NHL prepared to launch into its 34th season on ice. Scion of a famous Ottawa sporting family, he’d served as a constable in the RCMP before starting into a stellar career as a pro hockey centreman for Ottawa’s original Senators, the old PCHA Vancouver Maroons, and (most notably) New York’s Rangers.

Elevated to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1958, Boucher had helped engineer Stanley Cup championships for the Rangers in 1928 and ’33, combining superlative skills with good graces, such that he was awarded the Lady Byng Trophy seven times in eight years in the NHL’s first decades. The respect for fair play he learned, he always said, from his hero, the original winner of the Lady Byng, Frank Nighbor. Boucher took as coach of the Rangers in 1939, and served a decade in the job. By 1951, he was concentrating on his role as the team’s GM — and on refining the hockey that was playing out on NHL ice.

Born in Ottawa in 1901 on a Monday of this past Thursday’s date, October 7, Frank Boucher found himself turning 50 this mid-century week in ’51. He was with his team at training camp in Guelph, Ontario, working with Rangers’ coach Neil Colville to evaluate his team’s talent and, ever an innovator, tinkering with the tenor of the game.

Rangerswise, Boucher considered his team to be 25 per cent better than it had been the previous year, when the Rangers had finished fifth — out of the playoffs — in the six-team NHL.

“The big difference will be in offensive power,” he told Al Nickleson from the Globe and Mail. “Now we have more fellows who can put the puck in the net. One of the new ones, Gaye Stewart, can help us plenty. The team is in much better shape than at this time last year. Centre Ed Laprade looks better right now than he has for the last three seasons and shows no effect from the leg he fractured last winter.”

If the previous season had been a write-off for the Rangers, it did include, for Boucher, at least one rewarding night. In February of ’51, ahead of a Madison Square Garden meeting with the Chicago Black Hawks, the Rangers celebrated Boucher with a generous testimonial. Bill and Bun Cook, Boucher’s old Ranger linemates, were on hand, along with Murray Murdoch, another Ranger original. New York mayor Vincent Impelliterri presented Boucher with the keys to a brand-new black 1951 Studebaker sedan, paid for by fan subscription.

Other gifts included a typewriter (from New York’s hockey writers); a tool chest (from the St. Paul Saints, a Ranger farm team); a pen-and-pencil set (from the MSG Corporation). Ranger captain Frank Eddolls and his Ranger teammates chipped in for a television — and a 5-1 win over the Black Hawks.

In September, as the off-season dwindled away, Boucher was back in the news, advocating for the NHL to institute an amateur draft. The league didn’t get around to doing that, of course, until 1963; in the meantime, as the longtime chairman of the NHL’s Rules Committee, Boucher was doing his best to streamline (and possibly even improve) the game the league was unleashing on the ice day-to-day.

Try Out: Frank Boucher coached the New York Rangers rom 1939 through 1949 before he stepped back to focus on the job of GM. Here, circa the early ’50s, he measures up defenceman Allan Stanley.

By the first week of October, with the opening of the new season just a week away, Boucher’s mind was on the perennial challenge of how to keep players focussed on playing the hockey they were of capable of rather than concentrating on straying outside the rules to thwart their opponents.

A pre-season report from Guelph noted that he was telling his own players to cut out “hacking, slashing, boarding and other illegal tactics.”

“No particular person is to blame for the type of play that is spoiling the game,” he expounded. “The rules haven’t changed. The only thing needed is for the referees to call the play according to the book, and this rough stuff will be cut out.”

Boucher maintained that the rules committee was all for a crackdown. “Spectators like a good tough check, if it is clean, and the fans, players, club officials, and referees should be told that any rules infractions will be penalized. Then we’ll see some hockey.”

Unleash the league’s stars, Boucher implored. “[Montreal’s Maurice] Richard would be a truly great player if he didn’t have a couple of guys draped around him during a game.”

There’s no record of any official NHL response to Boucher’s opinionating — none that I’ve been able to unearth, anyway. League president Clarence Campbell was focussed on a project of his own: replacing the two 20-foot face-off circles that traditionally flanked NHL nets at either end of the rink with a single one, 30 feet in diameter, directly in front of each goal.

A decade had passed since the NHL’s introduction of the ten-foot circles. They’d been introduced to augment the face-off dots that had been in place since 1937 at the same time as the penalty-shot circle was erased from the high slot. The new-old face-off circle was described in press reports as Campbell’s “brainchild.” It quickly proved unpopular.

Campbell’s motive for refiguring each zone with a single central face-off circle? “It is his idea,” Windsor Star columnist Doug Vaughan explained, “that it will provide spectators with a clearer view of what takes place, livelier action, and prevent a lot of the old jamming along the boards.”

Frank Boucher didn’t agree. “Suicide,” he called it. The central face-off circle was, he said, unfair to goaltenders. “Also,” he argued, “the new circle will only prolong something we have long been trying to eliminate. At least under the old system the teams spread out for a face-off. Now they gang up in a huddle in front of the goal.”

Toronto Maple Leaf managing director Conn Smythe was with him. “In sport,” he ventured, “you want rules that won’t prevent the better side from winning. But you also them so that the better side doesn’t get the advantage of a rule. This new circle gives the advantage top the better team which can put on the pressure and keep the puck in there.”

“A goalie can make a great save, but can’t get rid of the puck before the whistle blows. Then, under this new plan, he’s actually penalized because the face-off is made directly in front of him. That’s not right.”

NHL referee-in-chief Carl Voss watched a couple of pre-season games in which the new circle was deployed and came out as another naysayer. “I was for it at first,” he said. “But now, in the last two games I’ve seen, the players seem to be getting on to it, and it’s not working out the way we had hoped.”

Major changes in the rules needed approval from all six teams. “It won’t get it,” Boucher said of unanimous support for Campbell’s plan. Never mind settling for the status quo, Boucher had his own variation to offer: keep the two face-off circles on either side of each net but enlarge them from 20 to 30 feet across.

The Rangers quickly put the expanded circles to the test in a pre-season game against the Black Hawks in Guelph. In Toronto, Smythe had them drawn in at Maple Leaf Gardens for a Leaf scrimmage. Both goaltenders, Turk Broda and Al Rollins, declared them a success.

Clarence Campbell, too, came around. He agreed that his idea posed problems for goaltenders. “We don’t want any rule which makes a good team better at the expense of its opponent,” he conceded. All six team were in favour of Boucher’s fix, Campbell said; it was duly adopted for the new season.

star trek

Born in Montreal on a Tuesday of this same date in 1965, Mario Lemieux is 56 today, so all due hullabaloo to him. He was a callow 19 in the photograph here, which dates to September of 1985, when La Presse photographer Paul-Henri Talbot caught his departure from his family’s home in Ville-Émard, in the west end of Montreal. “It was this morning at the crack of 7 a.m. that Mario Lemieux took the road to Pittsburgh, where training camp will begin in a few days,” a caption reported. He was driving, so the way would be long: 17 hours, according to La Presse.

That fall, Lemieux already had an NHL season under his belt. As a rookie centreman for the Penguins, he’d finished the 1984-85 campaign with 43 goals and 100 points to his credit, along with a Calder Trophy as the league’s top rookie to show for it. When Pittsburgh opened its camp a few days later on the ice of the Mount Lebanon, Pennsylvania, Recreation Centre, the local Post-Gazette noted that for all his offensive fireworks, Lemieux had work to do on his defensive skills.

“I’ll try to work more this season on playing both ways,” Lemieux said, “but my job here is to score goals and get as many points as I can for the team.” He did his duty, piling up 48 goals by the time that season was over, and 141 points, second only to a 25-year-old Wayne Gretzky and his record-breaking heap of 215 points.

(Image: Paul-Henri Talbot, La Presse)

thru the smoky end boards with didier pitre

Boardsbreaker: It’s not clear when this photo of a magnificently threadbare Didier Pitre was taken, but I’m going to venture that it dates to the end of his career with Montreal’s Canadiens, which came in 1923, when he was 39.

He was, in his day, hockey’s best-paid player, a speedy right wing with a serious goal-scoring habit and a shot that was said to be the hardest in all the land. Born in Salaberry-de-Valleyfield, southwest of Montreal, on a Saturday of this very date in 1883, Didier Pitre was a Hockey Hall of Famer who made his name in the young years of the 20th century. He played with the Montreal Canadiens when they got their start in the old NHA in 1910, lining up at point (i.e. a defenceman) as a 27-year-old when the team played its very first game in January of that year, a 7-6 win over Cobalt at the Jubilee Rink. That turned out to be a false start, in fact: when a rival league folded that same week, the NHA expunged the Cobalt game from its books, and Canadiens relaunched against Lester and Frank Patrick’s Renfrew Creamery Kings. Montreal lost that game, 9-4, with Pitre scoring a goal. He would soon be making a cool $3000 a hockey season at a time when most NHA salaries were paying $800 to $1000. You’ll see references to the power of his shot, if you go browsing in old newspapers, including mentions of his having blasted pucks through backboards, though I haven’t seen specific accounts of when or where that might have been. His feats of scoring when he actually hit the net were prodigious through the years of the First World War, when he and Newsy Lalonde took turns leading Canadiens in scoring. Pitre’s best goal-gathering year was 1914-15, when he scored 30 in 20 regular-season games. Pitre played 13 seasons with Montreal, winning a Stanley Cup in 1916. He was still with the team in 1917 when the NHA subsided to be almost instantly replaced by the NHL. As a 34-year-old, he scored 17 goals in 20 games in that inaugural season to finish the season third among Hab goalscorers behind Joe Malone and Lalonde. Pitre played five more seasons with Montreal before hanging up his skates at 39 in 1923. 

cups might come and cups might go: cyclone taylor and the 1909 stanley cup take a road trip (possibly)

Out And About: A threadbare Cyclone Taylor shows off his Vancouver Millionaire colours in 1913.

A birthday today for Fred Taylor, who was born (probably; there’s some blurriness to the record) on a Monday of this date in 1884 in Tara, over towards Owen Sound, in southwestern Ontario. Taylor grew up a little to the south, in Listowel, northwest of Kitchener, and that’s where he honed his hockey. Cyclone he came to called, in his heyday, which was back in the first few decades of the 20th century, when Taylor was far and away one of the fastest and most skilled players to don skates and step out on the ice and, thereby, one of the game’s best-paid practitioners. Playing at rover and cover-point (defence), he starred in the IHL for Portage Lakes and for the NHA’s Renfrew Creamery Kings before finding a home, for nine seasons, with the Vancouver Millionaires of the PCHA. Five times he led the league in scoring on the west coast, and in 1915 he helped the Millionaires beat the Ottawa Senators to win the Stanley Cup. It was Taylor’s second championship: he’d been with the Senators in 1909 when they played in the old ECHA and surpassed Art Ross’ Montreal Wanderers to take the Cup.

Taylor hung up his skates in 1922, at the age of 38. He was elected to the Hall of hockey Fame in 1947. Cyclone Taylor was 94 when he died in 1979. 

Did Taylor score a goal for Renfrew in 1910 after having skated backwards through some or possibly all of the Ottawa line-up? Many paragraphs have been written on the subject, including in the Ottawa Citizen at the time … but while some reports (including in the Ottawa Citizen at the time) would seem to confirm the feat, Taylor himself told Stan Fischler that it never happened.

Not so well documented is another bit of lore relating to that 1909 championship. Insofar as I haven’t seen it mentioned anywhere else in the 112 years that have intervened since then, it may even qualify as breaking news. Eric Whitehead’s 1977 biography Cyclone Taylor: A Hockey Legend doesn’t mention it, and nor do any of the authoritative histories of hockey’s most vaunted trophy, but Taylor may well have been the first player to take the Stanley Cup home with him to share with and show off to his kith and kin, a whole eight decades before it became standard practice.

The Stanley Cup’s annual summer tour is a rite of hockey’s post-season, and a charming one at that: each year, Cupkeeper Phil Pritchard escorts the venerable trophy to the hometowns of players, coaches, and staff across the globe so that those who’ve won the Cup can spend a day in its company, sharing the glory around with friends and family, eating from its silvery bowl, maybe feeding their horses

Pandemics permitting, of course: while in 2019, the Cup travelled to eight Canadian provinces, seven U.S. states, as well as Sweden, Finland, and Russia on visits to happy members of the St. Louis Blues, COVID-19 meant that last year’s champions, the Tampa Bay Lightning, could only celebrate with the Cup in Florida.  

The Hockey Hall of Fame keeps an online catalogue documenting the Cup’s off-season travels that goes back to 2003, when the New Jersey Devils were champions: that’s here. These summer peregrinations were established as a routine in 1995, says the Hall. (The Devils reigned that year, too.) 

The Cup did some house calls before that, too: in 1989, when the Calgary Flames prevailed, Pritchard himself took the Cup to visit Flames forward Colin Patterson at his home in Rexdale, Ontario. That same summer, the Cup was packed up and shipped — unaccompanied — to Saskatoon, where Calgary defenceman Brad McCrimmon’s dad, Byron, collected it at the airport and took it for a sojourn in McCrimmon’s hometown of Plenty, Saskatchewan. 

Turns out Cyclone Taylor had a like-minded plan a full 80 years earlier. 

In 1909, there was no Stanley Cup final, as such. Having finished atop the standing of the four-team Eastern Canada Hockey Association, Taylor’s Ottawa Senators inherited the Cup from the holders, Montreal’s Wanderers. A challenge did come in from the Winnipeg Shamrocks, and was accepted by Cup trustee William Foran, but by then it was mid-March, too late in the season for the series to be arranged. 

The Senators and Wanderers did take a quick trip to New York in March, to play a two-game exhibition series, but that was on artificial ice. Ottawa prevailed, for anyone keeping score, winning the first game 6-4 and settling in for a tie, 8-8, in the second.

Back in Canada’s capital, the Senators were wined and dined at a banquet at the Russell House Hotel. The Cup, which looked like this in those years —

— had been absent from Ottawa since 1906, when the mighty Ottawa Silver Seven were ending a run of four consecutive championships. The line-up of the new champions featured five future Hall-of-Famers, including goaltender Percy LeSueur and forwards Bruce Stuart and Marty Walsh. 

Reports of the 1909 celebration include an account of the Cup being filled (of course) with champagne and shared around the room. When it reached Taylor, he demurred. “I will drink only after the greatest hockey general in the game has done so,” he said, passing the Cup to Stuart, his captain. 

Trustee Foran spoke a piece, too. He was positively giddy in his praise of the teams in the ECHA, declaring that their brand of hockey was the “greatest, fastest, and cleanest” ever seen anywhere. Ottawa’s team, he felt, further, was “the best team Canada or the world had ever produced. 

He was confident, too, that the Stanley Cup, now in the 16th year of its youth, was here to stay: “Cups might come and cups might go,” paraphrased the Ottawa Journal, “but the Stanley Cup would always remain the true emblem of hockey supremacy.” 

News of Cyclone Taylor’s initiative was carried in another dispatch from the banquet room. His request, which was deemed “unusual” by the correspondent writing about it, was this: Taylor asked “that he be allowed to take the Stanley Cup home to Listowell [sic] when he goes on his Easter holidays, guaranteeing to return it in safe order. Taylor remarked that it was his one ambition to be on a Stanley Cup team, and wished to take the famous mug to his native town so that the Listowell people could have a look at it. His wish may be gratified, providing the trustees do not object.”

Did William Foran give Taylor the go-ahead? That I can’t confirm. The Cup may well have been handed over to his care in April of 1909, and made the journey west to Listowel for a spell. If so, none of the major daily newspapers seem to have registered the event. I haven’t yet consulted local papers to see what they might have to report, but I’ll get to them and report back. Did the Stanley Cup parade down Listowel’s Main Street as Cyclone Taylor’s friends, familiars, and neighbours cheered? Possibly. Was it, anticipating the 1991 scene in Mario Lemieux’s Pittsburgh backyard, sunken to the bottom of the Taylors’ swimming pool? Not likely. Did anyone, including local livestock, feed from the Cup? To be determined. 

In the meantime, if anyone has further intelligence on this, let me know. 

Dialled In: Cyclone Taylor at home, listening to the radio, in his elder years. (Image: William Cunningham, Vancouver Public Library)

locomotive at large

Lionel Conacher played 12 seasons in the NHL, but if you want to know why in 1950 he was voted Canada’s greatest athlete for the first half of the 20th century, I’m going to have to ask that you consider the pre-NHL years of the man they called The Big Train. Born in Toronto on a Thursday of this date in 1900, Conacher was a superlative talent in whichever sport he tried … which was pretty all of them. He was a wrestler and a boxer, starred on the grass at baseball and football and lacrosse, as well as on the ice. He’s in Canada’s Football and Lacrosse halls of fame, and was elected to hockey’s pantheon in 1994.

In December of 1921, after scoring 15 points that helped the football Argonauts win the Grey Cup at Toronto’s Varsity Stadium, 21-year-old Conacher headed over to the rink at Arena Gardens to captain the Aura Lee senior hockey team in the title game for the Sportsmen’s Patriotic Association senior trophy. Aura Lee lost that one, though Conacher did score a great goal. Turns out this kind of thing was almost routine for the kid: three years later, in the summer of 1924, he hit a double to win a game for his baseball team, the Hillcrests, before catching a taxi across Toronto to score two goals in a winning effort for the lacrosse Maitlands.

He made his NHL debut in 1925, and was a dominant defensive force there, mostly for teams that don’t exist now: other than a year as a Chicago Black Hawk, he did his skating for the Pittsburgh Pirates, New York Americans, and Montreal Maroons. His NHL CV includes 82 goals in 527 games, along with two Stanley Cups; twice he finished runner-up in voting for the Hart Trophy as NHL MVP. He also compiled a gruesome catalogue of injuries, including eight breaks of the nose. Charlie and Roy, his younger brothers, are both in the Hall of Fame, too.

After hockey, he went into politics, first in the Ontario legislature and then, in 1949, as a federal MP in Ottawa with Louis St. Laurent’s Liberals. Conacher was just 53 when he died — of coronary thrombosis in the sixth inning of a Parliamentary softball game, after hitting a triple.

A writer for  Ottawa’s Citizen was one of many to write a remembrance that May, in 1954. “It was a strange twist of fate that the game Conacher played least well kept him in public life longest,” Austin Cross wrote of his hockey career. And yet Conacher wasn’t a natural on the ice the way he was on the grass, Cross felt: starting out, he was “poor on skates.” He continued:

I first remember him, not as a football player, but in baseball uniform. He came to Ottawa to play for Hillcrests, and after he had murdered the ball out at Lansdowne Park, I went out with my camera and took a picture of him in his ‘monkey suit.’ I had the print until just recently. It revealed a fair-haired young boy, tall and handsome, and a face without guile. His nose was not broken in those days, and he was a most attractive type of man. Members of parliament who looked at him these last few years, and who studied that beat-up face, and looked at the atrociously pounded-in nose, have remarked more than once that it was hard to get into their heads that this bald-headed man with the comic nose was once Canada’s greatest athlete.

Theme Park: Conacher and his legacy are commemorated in a midtown Toronto park.

(Top image, c. 1937, from the Boston Public Library, Leslie Jones Collection)

won’t you come back, dave keon

Legend of A Leaf: Born in Noranda, Quebec, on a Friday of this date in 1940, Dave Keon is 81 today. Does it seem wrong to frame him as anything but a Maple Leaf? A little bit, yea, but it is true that he ended his 18-year NHL career with three seasons, circa 1980, as a Whaler in Hartford, and had stints, too, in the WHA with the Minnesota Fighting Saints, Indianapolis Racers, and New England Whalers. In his 15 years in Toronto, Keon won Calder and Conn Smythe trophies and a pair of Lady Byngs, while helping the Leafs win four Stanley Cup championships. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1986. In 2016, the Maple Leafs recognized Keon as the best player in club history.

phantom joe

Lanky Joe: Having made his indelible mark as a Quebec Bulldog and a Montreal Canadiens, Joe Malone donned the stripes and teeth  of the Hamilton Tigers in the early 1920s, skating for and coaching Steeltown’s long-lost NHL team.

A birthday today for Joe Malone, lanky goalgetter extraordinaire, winner of three Stanley Cups, the NHL’s first scoring champion, the only man to have scored seven goals in a game in the league, the fastest to score 100 goals, a milestone he reached in 62 games, when he was 30.

Born in Sillery, Quebec, on a Friday of this date in 1890, the man they called Phantom Joe did much of his net-filling before the NHL got going, in Quebec City, where he captained the mighty Bulldogs of the long-lost NHA. That’s where he won his first two Stanley Cups, in 1912 and ’13. By 1917, when the old league gave way to the new, he was in Montreal, wearing Canadiens colours. Let’s just consider the work he did that season: in 20 regular-season games, he scored 44 goals. On the NHL’s very first night, in December of ’17, he put five past Ottawa’s Clint Benedict, and he kept on going after that, compiling a 14-game streak through the course of which he scored 35 goals (one of those games wasn’t played; the Montreal Wanderers forfeited just before they withdrew from the league). Toronto finally shut him out in early February; in his next game, Ottawa again, he promptly scored four.

His record-breaking seven-goal outburst came at the end of January in 1920 against the Toronto St. Patricks, by which time he was back in Quebec leading their short-lived NHL experiment. The club was sold at the end of that season and moved to Hamilton, where Malone toiled for a couple of seasons — as playing coach, for at least one of them — before wrapping up his career back with the Canadiens in Montreal.

Joe Malone was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1950. He died at the age of 79 in 1969.

Often cited during his lifetime as having been hockey’s best player, Malone couldn’t agree. For him, he said in 1952, Frank Nighbor was “the greatest player who ever lived, barring none.”

Hammertime: Coach Malone with his Tigers, back row, from left: Cully Wilson, George Carey, Malone, Mickey Roach, Joe Matte. Upfront: Goldie Prodger, Howie Lockhart, Amos Arbour.

phil esposito: frankly, I had my doubts

Call It Macaroni: From the early 1970s, Phil Esposito makes the case for Kraft Dinner at the airport. Out on the tarmac. With a side salad.

Hall-of-Fame centreman Phil Esposito is 79 today, so many happy returns of the rink to him. Born in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, on a Friday of this date in 1942 a year before his goaltender brother Tony made his debut, Phil was the first NHLer to score 100 points in a season (ending up with 126 in 1969). In 1971, he set a new mark for goals in a season, with 76. Along with a pair of Hart trophies and five Art Rosses, he won two Stanley Cups, both with Boston. He played 18 years in the NHL, mostly with the Bruins, though he was a Chicago Black Hawk before he was traded to Boston 1967 and then, after another trade, this one in 1975, he joined the New York Ranger.

When hockey writer Andy O’Brien visited with Esposito’s parents in 1970 for a profile for Weekend Magazine, Patrick Esposito confided that, early on, he wondered whether his elder son had what it took to make the NHL.

“Frankly, I had my doubts,” he said. “He was big and tall but he was weak on his ankles. However, he could handle the puck, and even when he was playing juvenile he led the league and had everybody talking about him. He kept on leading leagues but, no, I never felt quite certain he would make it.”

Test Drive: Esposito suggests a Volkswagen in 1980.

the kladno kid

 Born on a Tuesday of this date in 1972, Jaromír Jágr is, it turns out, not actually ageless: he’s 49 today. That said, he is still playing pro hockey, working the right wing for his hometown team in the Czech Republic,Rytíři Kladno, in the Chance Liga, the second-tier Czech league, a full 31 years after he made his NHL debut for the Pittsburgh Penguins in 1990. He’s played in 13 games this season, I’ve learned from the Kladno website, collecting a goal and three points. The player’s biography there is worth a browse. “If you are interested in a little about the privacy of Jaromír Jágr,” it tantalizes, “then know that his favourite dish is a Czech classic — chicken fillet with potato salad and banana ice cream as a dessert.” The youthful portrait here is by the artist who goes by the handle Gypsy Oak. Follow him on Twitter @gyspyoak or visit the Gypsy Oak Art Studio, here.

with a curve in his stick, and his puck

Pembroke’s Other Peach: Harry Cameron won three Stanley Cups with Toronto teams, the  last with the St. Patricks in 1922.

Born in Pembroke, Ontario, on a Thursday of this date in 1890, Harry Cameron was a stand-out and high-scoring defenceman in the NHL’s earliest days, mostly with Toronto teams, though he also was briefly a Senator and a Canadien, too.

He scored a pair of goals on the NHL’s very first night on ice, December 19, 1917, when Cameron’s Torontos lost by a score of 10-9 to the ill-fated Montreal Wanderers. He was 27, then. A week later, in a Boxing Day meeting with the Canadiens, Cameron scored four goals and added an assist in his team’s 7-5 win. “Cameron was the busiest man on the ice,” the Star noted, “and his rushes electrified the crowd.” Belligerence enthusiasts like to claim that Cameron’s performance on this festive night qualifies as the NHL’s first Gordie Howe Hattrick, and it is true that referee Lou Marsh levied major penalties after Cameron engaged with Billy Coutu in front of the Montreal net. “Both rolled to the ice before they were separated by the officials,” the Gazette reported.

Cameron scored 17 goals in 21 games that season. In both 1921 and ’22, he scored 18 goals in 24 regular-season games. Overall, in the six seasons he played in the NHL, Cameron scored an amazing 88 goals in 128 games, adding another eight in 20 playoff games. He was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1962.

A miscellany of other Harry Cameron notes and annotations to get you though today:

Out of Pembroke

His father, Hugh Cameron, was a lumberman. Working on a log boom when Harry was just a boy, he was struck by lightning and killed.

 In 1910-11, Harry played with another legend of Pembroke’s own, Frank Nighbor, for their hometown team in the Upper Ottawa Valley Hockey League.They played another couple of seasons together in Port Arthur and were together again with the NHA Toronto Blueshirts in 1912-13. It was in Toronto that playing-coach Jack Marshall converted Cameron from a forward to a defenceman.

Never Again

Also in Toronto: Cameron won his first Stanley Cup. That was in 1914, when the Blueshirts beat the PCHA Victoria Cougars in three straight games. Cameron won another Stanley Cup with Toronto in 1918 and a third in 1922, by which time Toronto’s team was called the St. Patricks. So there’s a record I don’t think has been matched in hockey, or ever will be: Cameron won three Cups with three different teams based in the same city.

Shell Game

That first NHL season, Cameron reported for duty in “pretty fair shape,” as one paper’s seasonal preview noted. His off-season job that wartime summer was at a munitions plant in Dundas, Ontario. “He has been handling 90-pound shells for six months,” the Ottawa Journal advised.

Skates, Sticks, And Curved Pucks

He never allowed anyone to sharpen his skates, always did it himself, preferring them “on the dull side,” it was said.

And long before Stan Mikita or Bobby Hull were curving the blades of their sticks, Cameron used to steam and manipulate his. Hence his ability to bend his shot. Another Hall-of-Famer, Gordon Roberts, who played in the NHA with the Montreal Wanderers, was the acknowledged master of this (and is sometimes credited with the invention), but Cameron was an artisan in his own right. Frank Boucher testified to this, telling Dink Carroll of the Gazette that Cameron’s stick was curved “like a sabre,” by which he secured (in Carroll’s words) “the spin necessary to make the puck curve in flight by rolling it off this curved blade.”

“He was the only hockey player I have ever seen who could actually curve a puck,” recalled Clint Smith, a Hall-of-Fame centreman who coincided with Cameron in the early 1930s with the WCHL’s Saskatoon Crescents. “He used to have the old Martin Hooper sticks and he could make that puck do some strange things, including a roundhouse curve.”

Briefly A Referee

Harry Cameron played into his 40s with the AHA with the Minneapolis Millers and St. Louis Flyers. He retired after that stint in Saskatoon, where he was the playing coach. After that, NHL managing director Frank Patrick recruited him to be a referee. His career with a whistle was short, lasting just a single NHL game. He worked alongside Mike Rodden on the Saturday night of November 11, 1933, when the Boston Bruins were in Montreal to play the Maroons, but never again. “Not fast enough for this league,” was Patrick’s verdict upon letting him go.

Harry Cameron died in Vancouver in 1953. He was 63.

 

 

from pembroke, a peerless percolator

To A T: Toronto’s Blueshirts as they lined up for the 1912-13 NHA season. From left, they are: Cully Wilson, Harry Cameron, Frank Foyston, manager Bruce Ridpath, a 20-year-old Frank Nighbor, Archie McLean, and Hap Holmes.

A birthday today, yes, for Wayne Gretzky, who’s 60, and many happy returns to him. But another extraordinary (if under-remembered) talent born on this date, in 1893, when it was a Thursday? The pride and glory of Pembroke, Ontario, centreman and hook-check artist extraordinaire Frank Nighbor. The Peach, they used to call him, as well as the Percolator and Peerless; sometimes, in contemporary accounts of his hockey exploits, all three words show up in alliterative aggregate. He won his first Stanley Cup in 1915, when he played with Vancouver’s Millionaires, before returning east to star with the Ottawa Senators, with whom he won four more Cups, in 1920, ’21, ’23, and ’27. In 1924, was the first ever recipient of the Hart Trophy as NHL MVP. The following year, when Lady Byng decided to donate a trophy to the league in the name of gentlemanly hockey played with supreme skill, Nighbor won that, too. Just for good measure, he won it again the following year, in 1926.