mike ilyich keenan

Defending KHL champions Metallurg Magnitogorsk launch their new season today with a game against Barys Astana. In April, under coach Mike Keenan, Metallurg won the team’s first Gagarin Cup. Keenan is both the first North American coach to win a KHL title and the first coach to have raised both a Gagarin and a Stanley Cup in his career. Special achievements come with special privileges — such as, I guess, dressing up as Vladimir Lenin for this new Metallurg promotional video.

public enemy no. 29

Pete Kay

When they are irked or excited, the hockey clan here fires a wide variety of missiles onto the ice, ranging from cabbages, card decks and heated pennies, to a brassiere which floated down from the stadium heights recently.

• Associated Press, Chicago, February 4, 1946

This we know: the Boston Bruins were in town that night, February 3, 1946, a Sunday, to play the hometown Black Hawks.

Also this: at some point a fan high up in the gallery seats let go an empty whisky bottle from on high that dropped and dropped until it found Joseph Fusco’s head. He was another fan, sitting rinkside. I think it’s fair to say that he was caught unawares. He was knocked unconscious, certainly, and when he revived he found that his scalp was split open. Attendants took him away for first aid. The AP: “His departure still left 17,362 fans to cheer a 3-1 Hawk victory.”

Black Hawks president Bill Tobin offered a $250 reward to anyone who could identify the bottle-tosser. He was pleased to hear reports, a few days later, of Fusco’s recovery. He was less happy with the Chicago policemen assigned to patrol the upper balconies: they hadn’t evicted a single miscreant from the rink in the Black Hawks’ 16 home games to date. “It is pointed out,” Edward Burns wrote in The Chicago Tribune,

that standing up in a crowd of 18,000 and throwing a bottle or other missile, is not as subtle a crime as many that have been baffling Chicago police. The only explanation of the zero showing of the police detail in the Stadium in the suppression of hoodlum nuisances, as well as gambling, is that lazy coppers who draw the assignments are hockey fans and usually have their eyes glued to the puck instead of the hoodlum element.

Wednesday the New York Rangers came to play. No word on whether Joseph Fusco was on hand, but at least one fan came to the rink prepared for the worst. That’s him here, above, in the photo; his name was Pete Kay. He was (so the caption a contemporary caption ran) taking

no chances of some Stadium balcony boozer saying, “Well, here’s mud in your eye!” and then conking customer below with empty bottle. Pete comes prepared with air raid helmet at last night’s hockey game, then glances up to see whether any “dead soldiers” are heading his way.

Fusco survived and, I guess, recovered. His name disappeared from the hockey columns as quickly as it had slipped into them. Is it possible that hockey-fan-Fusco was the same man as infamous-Capone-mobster-Fusco? Easy to believe it, if you’re willing to credit the slender circumstantial evidence. Exhibit A: supposing a well-heeled ganglander was a Hawks fan and did decide to take in a game at the Stadium, where else would such a prominent Chicago personality be sitting than right in the front rank? It works even better as poetry: big-time rumrunner gets conked (to borrow the AP’s word) by a whisky bottle falling from on high. That’s something you could make up, I guess, but would you?

Fusco was in his 20s when he went to see Al Capone at the Lexington Hotel suite that served as the mobster’s headquarters, and by the time he left he’d been hired as a beer bootlegger. That’s the story that’s told. By 1930, Fusco was listed as Public Enemy No. 29 by Chicago’s Crime Commission. (Capone, of course, headed the charts.) The following year, the papers identified Fusco as Capone’s second-in-command when both men (along with 67 others) were indicted by a federal grand jury for 5,000 violations of prohibition laws.

Post-prohibition, Fusco stuck with the booze, which is to say that he had majority interests in several breweries, including the Van Merritt; the Bohemian Wine and Liquor; and Joliet Citizens Brewing Co. He also headed up a tile and linoleum company.

In 1952 the Illinois liquor control commission heard evidence from six witnesses that Fusco’s reputation was — and I quote — bad.

That must have stung. It also posed a professional problem, since liquor licenses could be withheld from faulty characters. He appealed and got another hearing. This time, some 25 witnesses showed up to testify to his uprightness and integrity while another 200 friends sent in affidavits. There were aldermen and retired assistant attorneys-general, retired secret service agents, even a former chairman of the liquor commission. They all said he was an excellent fellow. Fusco, for his part, offered that Bishop Sheil had recently named him to helm the beer and liquor division of the Catholic Youth organization fund drive.

The commission thought it over. In the end, the vote went 2-1 in favour of renewing the licenses. “The majority opinion,” said The Chicago Tribune, “held in effect that Fusco had been of good reputation and character since 1934.”

At the initial hearing, the commission had heard about some of Fusco’s youthful adventures. He’d been indicted, for instance, on October 3, 1924, for prohibition violations involving 1,446 quarts of whisky. And in 1922 he’d been fined $50 for transporting 21 barrels of beer from Chicago to Lemont, Illinois.

Like the 1931 charges, the whisky rap had failed to stick. Arrested many times, never convicted: an obituary said that, in 1976, when he died in his Chicago hotel suite at the age of 74.

The list of his known aliases included: Joe Carey, Joseph Sayth, Jo Long, Joe Thompson, E.J. Thompson.


waxhead rocket

Waxen-Rocket Richard was 15 pounds lighter than the real article, and he didn’t have enough hair.

That’s what the flesh-and-blood Richard noticed when he showed up, above, in March of 1965 to visit his doppelgänger at Montreal’s new Ville Marie Wax Museum a month before it opened.

“It scares me a little,” said the Rocket and, well, yes. I mean, the man’s head was working independent from its facsimile body — they hadn’t attached the two yet — plus Richard found that the birthmark on his actual chin had migrated on his double to the cheek.

Fortunately, artists named Winifred Mills and Margaret Brooks were on hand in Montreal to correct the errors. They worked for Madame Tussauds in London, the famous waxworks, which had decided that the time had come to open up a franchise in Montreal. Richard’s display commemorated the occasion of his 500th NHL goal, scored on Chicago’s Glenn Hall on October 19th, 1957. Others featured Abraham Lincoln (his assassination), Jesus (the Last Supper), Joan of Arc (at the stake), and Brigitte Bardot (taking a shower).

Richard was in a good mood. He noticed that many of the famous women, Marilyn Monroe and Liz Taylor as well as Bardot and Arc, had yet to be dressed. “They’d be embarrassed,” he said. Looking himself in the eye, he added, “I lost my head a few times in the NHL. Maybe I could have used this one for a spare.”

It had been crafted in England, from photographs. In Montreal, Mses. Mills and Brooks took the opportunity of meeting the real-Rocket to add more hair to the dummy, and to relocate the birthmark chinward. Local newspapermen noted that in wax, the Rocket maintained his NHL playing weight, 185 pounds, rather than 200 he was currently carrying as a former NHLer. The uniform he’d be wearing in the museum, equipment and skates, too, were authentic enough: the man himself had donated the garb he’d been wearing the year he’d retired from the Canadiens in 1960.

Is it worth adding what people stole once the wax museum opened? I’m not sure; probably not. But just in case: Christ’s sandals often went missing, along with Lee Harvey Oswald’s handcuffs (he was in there, too) and (regularly) the towel that Bardot was wearing in the shower.

And in 1968, Bardot herself disappeared. Curator Blake Lilly was stunned; towels were one thing, but “to lose the whole thing,” he said, “is unbelievable.” He called the police and posted a $100 reward leading to Bardot’s return.

“The thing’s worth at least $2,000,” Lilly told Montreal’s Gazette, “if you consider shipping costs from England and customs duties.”

The culprits were soon revealed: students from the University of Montreal had, it turned out, kidnapped her. It was carnival time in Montreal, and students were out competitively swiping stuff for pranks. That same day they also absconded with one of the Canadian Army’s armoured cars; a cow named Judy LaVache; and the Lieutenant-Governor’s throne from Quebec’s Legislative Assembly.

(Top image: David Bier)

franklin’s erebus and what lies below: any hockey sticks?


The ice is in. The Great Northern Rink that is Canada’s Arctic Ocean may be ever more in peril in these melting times of ours, but it can still fill the imagination of those of us down here in the temperate south of the country with notions of endless ice just waiting for us to show up with our gear. We’ll never skate Baffin Bay or the Northwest Passage; we know that. Doesn’t mean we don’t love the idea that ice-time awaits if we could just get up there. We wouldn’t need much. Sitting on our coats on the shore at Terror Bay, one socken foot in the air, loosening the laces of our Tacks. Hold on a sec, we’re coming. Get us out there on the glassy ice of Simpson Strait, pass us the puck, and we’d be on a breakaway to the Beaufort Sea.

State of the Rink: The spread of Arctic ice, as of October 22, 2014, from the National Snow and Ice Centre in Boulder, Colorado.

State of the Rink: The spread of Arctic ice, as of October 22, 2014, from the National Snow and Ice Centre in Boulder, Colorado.

The only time I was up that way it was August, cold enough but unfrozen. We didn’t have our stuff, anyway, no sticks, no skates: that’s not what we were there for. This was a few years ago now, on King William Island in Nunavut, where Sir John Franklin and his crew ended up in the 1840s, abandoning their ships (we think) in Victoria Strait before trying to walk south and, well — dying on the way. We were five of us on our modest adventure, moving mostly on foot, a bit in a small open boat with an outboard.

Tracing some of the territory Franklin covered, we talked a lot about where his ships might be, especially after we met Louie Kamookak, the Franklin historian who lives in Gjoa Haven, the only settlement on King William. He had lots of stories about the land and the people and some good Franklin-search tales, too. He smiled at us when we asked him if he knew where the ships were. I think he had a pretty good idea — he’d been studying the problem for years — though the smile was as much as he divulged to us.

He took us in his boat to see some Franklin sites near Gjoa Haven, graves on an island, a skull sitting out in the weather. We needed a ride to Douglas Bay and he was glad to take us the next day. It was a gorgeous morning on the Simpson Strait, gleaming sun and sky and water, Canadian mainland on the left, the whole flat Arctic distance mapped out to the right. I remember thinking about being in geography and history both at the same moment, fooling around with that idea in my head as we motored along, as I checked, one more time, to see if I could see any lifejackets anywhere in Louie’s boat.

skull on the shore

Remnant: A skull lies unearthed in Nunavut, along the route that Franklin’s doomed men followed south from King William Island in the late 1840s.

No. None. I didn’t think asking about this was going to help my anxiety but still, I asked. Louie had a drip-coffeemaker aboard that he’d plugged into a generator when we’d beached on the island so that the coffee was brewed by the time we got back from seeing the skull. I liked that; that was smart. But no lifejackets, Louie? He was already smiling his smile that he smiled when I started to ask. I don’t want to die, he said, in a hospital.

Louie has been working with the Parks Canada archeologists who’ve been searching for Franklin’s lost ships over the past several summers and he was happy, he e-mailed this September, when they found one of them. We hadn’t been all that far away, as it turns out, from the wreck that was soon determined to be H.M.S Erebus, Franklin’s flagship. Far to the south, a few of us who’d been up there drinking coffee without lifejackets went to our maps, of course. So close: we’d turned back a mere 80 kilometres + 12 metres of ocean + tons of expert know-how + political resolve + millions dollars of sophisticated marine hardware from finding the wreck for ourselves.

I was as excited as anyone when the news broke. I studied the coppery-coloured sonar images as though I just had to stare and wait for the story of the expedition’s lost years to upload. I got out my Frozen In Time, my Schwatka’s Last Search. I tuned into the press conferences, watched the Prime Minister’s excitement beaming out from Ottawa. I waited for the archeologists to get back up north to dive the wreck. I was thrilled, when they did, to watch them swim cameras past kindlinged decks and corpses of cannon. I was sorry that the divers and the cameras couldn’t stay longer. But the season for swimming in the Arctic was over. The ocean was getting ready to lock itself up for the winter.

Is Franklin’s body aboard Erebus? That’s a big question. If you’ve read David Woodman’s Unravelling The Franklin Mystery: Inuit Testimony (1991) you’ll be familiar with Inuit accounts of 19th-century hunters climbing aboard an abandoned kabloona ship somewhere off King William Island and seeing the body of a tall man belowdecks. Reports from September’s dive seem to indicate that some Erebus cabins are more or less intact so maybe … But I don’t know. Louie thought that Franklin’s tomb is on King William, up somewhere near Victory Point, and that sounds like sense to me.

The archeologists had just 12 hours underwater in September. No surprise, then, that they can’t wait to get back down to the wreck. The latest word is that they’re thinking of trying it in the spring, through the ice.

In the meantime, we have our questions to get us through the winter months. And these, of course, include the fundamental one that has to be asked every time anyone has the chance to explore a major historical shipwreck: any hockey sticks aboard the ship in question and, if so, how many? Any skates?

If Titanic carried a hockey cargo (which it maybe did), what about Erebus and (the yet unfound) Terror? Probably not. But possibly so. Continue reading

act of god, assist to eruzione

miracleIt was 33 years today that the United States miracled on ice at the 1980 Olympics, surprising the mighty Soviet Union with a 4-3 in the semi-final. I don’t know if it was the greatest sporting event of the 20th century, as it’s sometimes called — but then I’m Canadian, so of course I’d say that. It was a famous victory that the fact that I have no idea where I was when it happened should in no way be allowed to tarnish the significance of the event, which put the U.S. into the gold-medal game, where they beat the Finns, 4-2. I never liked the branding, I will say, all that “Miracle On Ice” fuss. If you’re going to give the Lord the credit, doesn’t that kind take away from the effort put in by Jim Craig, captain Mike Eruzione, and the rest of those college boys all those many winters ago?

Eruzione was the one who scored the winning goal against the Soviets. If you’re a big fan of his with a big wallet, then tomorrow’s your day. That’s when Heritage Auctions of Dallas is auctioning the sweater off his Lake Placid back, number 21, in New York City. Continue reading

the titanic: how many hockey players with how many hockey sticks?

Quigg Baxter

There was a lot we learned last sombre week about the finer details of the night 100 years that the RMS Titanic went down. Sad stories of terrible partings aboard the ship as she sank, poignant tales of the roles played by Canadians in the piece, from Newfoundland Marconi operators to Halifax sailors and policemen and undertakers. We took on a lot of ephemera along the way, too. Reading from, for instance, Vancouver poet Billeh Nickerson’s new collection Impact: The Titanic Poems (Arsenal Pulp Press), we learned that the big maritime metaphor shipped 40,000 eggs in her galleys, along with 800 bundles of asparagus and 400 tongs to serve them. And that the ship’s fourth smokestack functioned solely as ventilation for the First Class smoking lounge.

The cargo manifest was worth the look we took. Eight cases of orchids were on their way to New York. American Express was shipping mercury, straw hats, cheese, a case of speedometers, and a barrel of earth in the hold. Titanic was loaded with cheese, in fact: 190 bundles there for Rathenberger & Co., 50 more here for Haupt & Bergi. Also there was a fair amount of rabbit hair and opium, hair nets, and a sufficiency of shelled walnuts. Just enough wool fat. Many bales of rubber. A shipment of eight dozen tennis balls. A smattering of golf clubs and tennis rackets.

Which, of course, leads to the mystery that nobody has yet solved let alone even really thought to investigate: any hockey sticks aboard? Continue reading

wane of the wax

The Rocket in bronze on Place du Centenaire outside the Montreal’s Centre Bell (Photo: M9ike http://www.flickr.com/photos/miggs43/with/4499071055/)

Gone form the earthly ice he may be, but Maurice Richard doesn’t lack for statues to recall him in his hey-day. A striding Rocket glares on in bronze outside Montreal’s Centre Bell while inside the old Forum he’s stuck on the bench   — looking like a quizzical Tintin? Maybe that’s just me.

Destination Moon? The Rocket at Montreal’s Forum. (Photo: Jonathan Cohen)

Another Richard leans confidently away from an unseen checker outside Montreal’s Aréna Maurice-Richard … which I guess is no coincidence. There’s one more Rocket in  Hull, a federal statue honouring number 9 in Parc Jacques Cartier in Hull, Quebec.

All of this by way of an update on that old waxen Richard that used to bestride a stricken Glenn Hall (see the November 29 post “Waxed”). As mentioned, Richard and Hall were sculpted in or around the 1960s by Josephine Tussaud, a descendant of the original Madame, for her Musée de Cire de Ville Marie, which once occupied a corner of Ste. Catherine West and Drummond in Montreal. When that and the rest of the city’s wax museums closed down, Quebec City’s Musée de la Civilisation acquired many of their artifacts.  Alas, according to Serge Poulin at the Musée, the hockey players are not in the collection that survives today. Melted down, then? A terrible end that would have been, even for those awkwardest of  mannequins. I prefer to think to someone had the humanity to cart them home, on the Métro, and keeps them to this day in the living room, as a year-round holy (and particularly Quebecois) crêche.

A wry Rocket, in Jacques Cartier Park in Hull. (Photo: SimonP)



That’s it, you can just glimpse it, right there, by Clarence Campbell’s knee: the red 1955 riot-seat that sold last night as the big Classic Auctions fall blow-out came to an end. Or — can you? Maybe not. It’s there, though, if you can picture it underneath the NHL president in his moment of crisis. Nineteen bidders battled for that seat last night, with the winner prevailing at a price of $3,676 — a true bargain, I’d say, considering that it went for $12,000 in 1996. That’s Miss King, by the way, in the photo, next to her boss and future husband. I’m supposing that this is after the smoke-bomb was tossed but before the tomato — hey, is that a BlackBerry Campbell has in his hand? Now that would be worth something.

Classic Auctions reports that it “realized” more than $1.1-million last night. Other notable prices paid:

• Bobby Orr’s sweater number 4 from the 1976 Canada Cup went for $88,456 after 23 bids.

• Wayne Gretzky’s big old ugly cardigan sold for $517 (9 bids).

• Valeri Kharlamov’s car-accident vinyl-looking wallety thingum went for $2,248 (22 bids).

• those old Chicago Stadium brass gauges I should have gone after: $691 (10 bids).

Howie Morenz’s death-skates commanded a price of $7,756 this time, with 13 bids. Very reasonable indeed, considering they previously sold for $25,000. Any bets on how long before they show up on the market again?