the decider

Lace Up: The Sudden Death Kid they came to call him, that spring of 1939. Mel Hill was a right winger, at the time, for the Boston Bruins, a 24-year-old product of Argyle, Manitoba, who was playing in his second NHL season. The Bruins’ Stanley Cup semi-finals series against the New York Rangers was the first in NHL history to go to seven games, with Boston prevailing on the strength of Hill’s three overtime winners. In early April of ’39, he ended the deciding game when he Bill Cowley set him up in the third overtime to put a puck past Bert Gardiner. Hill another two (non-overtime) goals in the Finals that year as the Bruins dismissed the Toronto Maple Leafs in five games to take the Cup. Hill won another Cup with Boston in 1941 before going the Leafs, with whom he won a third championship in 1945. Mel Hill died on a Thursday of this date in 1996 at the age of 82. (Image: Leslie Jones, Boston Public Library)

tuning peg

It’s A Wrap: Born on a Thursday of this same date in 1913, Peggy O’Neil played the right wing for the Boston Bruins in the 1930s. He was named James at the start, Jim, originating in Semans, Saskatchewan, which you’ll find on the map between Punnichy and Elmer Lach’s hometown of Nokomis. (O’Neil played parts of couple of seasons with the Montreal Canadiens, too.) Here, in a scene from February of 1937, O’Neil undergoes a restorative wrapping by Bruins’ trainer Win Green at Boston Garden. (Image: ©Richard Merrill, Boston Public Library)

praising cain

Blurbing Herb: Herb Cain skated the left wing for Montreal’s Maroons and Canadiens in his day, but it was as a Boston Bruin that he made his mark on NHL history. In March of 1944, Cain collected two assists in a Boston win over the Chicago Black Hawks, giving him 75 points on the season, a new record for a single NHL season that surpassed Cooney Weiland’s 73 in 1929-30. Cain, who died on a Tuesday of this date in 1982 at the age of 69, went on win the NHL scoring title that year, finishing with 82 points, just ahead of Chicago’s Doug Bentley. It was 1951 before Gordie Howe broke Cain’s record. A member of two Stanley Cup-winning teams — Maroons in ’35; Bruins in ’41 — Cain remains the only eligible scoring champion in NHL history not to have been elected to the Hall of Fame.

stretcher case

Built to endure, Dit Clapper was the first NHLer to play 20 seasons, and he was every bit a Boston Bruin for all of them. Born in Newmarket, Ontario, on a Saturday of this date in 1907, he distinguished himself early on a right winger, joining Cooney Weiland and Dutch Gainor on the Dynamite Line before switching back to work on defence in later years. More firsts: Clapper was the original NHLer to be selected an All-Star at both forward and defence, and when he was elevated in 1947 to the Hockey Hall, he was the first for whom the Hall waived its standard waiting period. He was a Bruin captain and served as both a playing assistant coach and coach for Boston in the 1940s. He was in on three Bruin Stanley Cups as a player, in 1929, 1939, and 1941. The team retired his number 5 in 1947.

The photos here date to later on in 1941, when Clapper was 34. That’s (a bandaged) Bruin teammate with him, 29-year-old Bill Cowley, on the right in both cases. The woman, whose name has gone missing over the years, was part of a promotional campaign that swept into Boston that November and enlisted these Bruins stars to the cause of raising funds for medical supplies to be sent to the United Kingdom to aid in the war effort against Germany and its allies. In another month, of course, the United States would be joining the fight.

 

(Images: © Richard Merrill, CC BY-NC-ND)

22

The Boston Bruins had a notion to honour Willie O’Ree last year, but a pandemic got in the way. And so it’s tonight that the team will retire the hockey pioneer’s number, which works out well enough, despite the delay: it was, after all, on a Saturday night 64 years ago to the day that O’Ree made his NHL debut, becoming the first Black player to skate in the league.

The Fredericton-born O’Ree was playing for the Quebec Aces that season when the Bruins summoned him to Montreal to fill in for an indisposed Leo Labine. On January 18, 1958, a 22-year-old O’Ree played his first game at the Forum, aiding in Boston’s 3-0 win. The next day, back in Boston, he skated as the two teams played again. Montreal won that one, 6-2. Playing on a line with Don McKenney and Jerry Toppazzini, O’Ree didn’t see much ice-time in either game. By the Boston Globe’s calculation, he had one good scoring chance in each one, only to be stymied by Canadiens’ stymier Jacques Plante.

A sweater note: O’Ree wore number 18 for his initial weekend in the NHL. He took up 22 when he returned to the Bruins’ line-up in the fall of 1960. O’Ree scored his first NHL goal, against Montreal, in January of 1961.

O’Ree, who’s 86 now and lives in San Diego, will attend tonight’s ceremony at the TDGarden virtually, as they say, because … pandemic, still. His number is the 12th to be honoured by the Bruins, joining those worn by Lionel Hitchman, Eddie Shore, Dit Clapper, Bobby Orr, Milt Schmidt, Phil Esposito, Cam Neely, Johnny Bucyk, Rick Middleton, Terry O’Reilly, and Ray Bourque.

Also this week: the U.S. House of Representatives has a bill ready to be voted that will award O’Ree the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest U.S. civilian honour. Once it’s passed by the House, the Willie O’Ree Congressional Gold Medal Act will make its way to the White House for President Joe Biden to sign.

 

 

board meeting

B Team: Boston Bruin forwards (left to right) Art Chapman, Frank Jerwa, Red Beattie, and Nels Stewart crouch for the camera in the fall of 1932. Beattie, who died at the age of 74 on a Wednesday of this date in 1981, was born in Ibstock, England, north of Leicester. He was christened John and grew up in Edmonton before he took on his nickname. His 10-year NHL career in the 1930s included stints with the Detroit Red Wings and New York Americans, but mostly he was a Bruin, patrolling Boston’s left wing for eight seasons. Red Beattie captained the Bruins through their 1936-37 campaign.

diesel power

Benchview: Born in Capreol, Ontario, on a Wednesday of this same date in 1933, Doug Mohns started out a defenceman, winning a pair of Memorial Cups with the Barrie Flyers in 1951 and ’53. In the NHL, the man they called Diesel played a decade with Boston, which is where coach Phil Watson converted him to a winger. With Chicago, he made his name as a member of the Black Hawks’ high-yield Scooter Line, lining up alongside Ken Wharram and Stan Mikita and scoring 20 goals or more in four consecutive seasons. He later played for the Minnesota North Stars, Atlanta Flames, and Washington Capitals before setting skates and sticks aside. The Stanley Cup eluded him: all in all, Mohns played 1,484 NHL games without winning a championship. (Artist: Tex Coulter)

big bob + fiery phil

Lynn Patrick called Bob Armstrong “the most underrated defenceman in the NHL” in 1960, high praise, even if the praiser was Armstrong’s own GM with the Boston Bruins. Armstrong, who died on a Tuesday of this date in 1990 at the too-young age of 59, played 13 seasons in Boston. I’ll personally attest that, post-NHL, he was a much-loved teacher and coach at Lakefield College School, north of Peterborough, Ontario.

Beside him here on the Bruins bench is coach Phil Watson on the night of Watson’s debut as Boston coach, in October of 1961. New York beat the home team 6-2 that night. Watson didn’t get his first Bruins’ win until the team’s ninth game, when his charges dismissed the Detroit Red Wings by a score of 4-0. That happened to be Armstrong’s last game as a Bruin: after the game, GM Patrick announced that he’d traded his 30-year-old veteran to Montreal in exchange for winger Wayne Connelly, 21. Assigned to the EPHL Hull-Ottawa Canadiens, Bob Armstrong played out the season there. While his NHL career had reached its end, he did skate one more year as a pro, 1962-63, with the AHL’s Rochester Americans.

In ’61-62, Phil Watson steered Boston to … well, they finished out of the playoffs, last overall in the NHL standings. He returned the following year, but only lasted 14 games: in November of ’62, Lynn Patrick replaced Watson with his assistant GM, former Bruin great Milt Schmidt — the man Watson had replaced in ’61 behind the bench.

stick exchange

Gladhanders: Bruins’ centre Cooney Weiland makes merry with goaltender Tiny Thompson (and a sheaf of sticks) in Boston Garden circa the mid-1930s. (Image: Boston Public Library, Leslie Jones Collection)

Born in Egmondville, in Ontario’s southwest Huron County, on a Saturday of this date in 1904, Cooney Weiland grew up in nearby Seaforth. He started his 11-year NHL career in Boston and finished it as a Bruin, too, winning bookend Stanley Cups in 1929 and 1939 with Art Ross’ team. He also saw ice-time for the (original) Ottawa Senators and Detroit’s Red Wings. He was Boston’s ninth captain. Appointed in 1937, he served two seasons in the role, between the tenures of Red Beattie and Dit Clapper. As a coach, Weiland had charge of the Bruins for two seasons, steering them to another Cup in 1941. Weiland went on coach the AHL Hershey Bears and then, enduringly, from 1950 through to 1971, Harvard University’s men’s team.

not throwing away my shot

Trigger Warning: More views, most likely from the 1931-32 NHL season, of a visit to the Paleface Gun Club in Medford, MA. Posing porchside above that’s, from left to right, Dit Clapper, Cooney Weiland, unknown, Red Beattie, Dave Downie, and Harry Oliver. Clapper, Weiland, and Oliver would be elevated eventually to hockey’s Hall of Fame. Downie was a centreman who would see NHL ice with the ’32-33 Toronto Maple Leafs; in Boston, at this point, he was skating for the Boston Cubs, the Bruins’ CAHL affiliate. Below, that’s Fred Hitchman and Dit Clapper.

shot attempts: taking aim with the 1930s bruins

Hall-of-Fame centreman Marty Barry played a dozen distinguished years in the NHL, starting his career with the New York Americans in 1927 and featuring as a Bruin, a Red Wing, and a Canadien before he finished in 1940. He won a Lady Byng Trophy in Detroit and thrived as a goalscorer in Boston, where he also served as captain. As many prominent Bruins did in the early 1930s, he also took time away from the rink for trapshooting, taking aim at clay pigeons at the (wince) Paleface Gun Club in Medford, Massachusetts, about eight kilometres, as the puck flies, from the old Boston Garden.

The image above dates, I’m thinking, to 1931 or 32. Barry was 26 that year and topped the team in goals, scoring 21, and finished second in points behind Dit Clapper. I don’t know how his aim was on the day depicted here, though I can report that a year later, in February of 1933, he and his teammates were back at the Paleface for a 100-target shooting competition. The Bruins were coming off a 10-0 home win over Montreal that week, so you can imagine that their mood was light. Barry was well off the mark on the day, taking down 69 targets. Best among the players was defenceman Fred Hitchman, who shot a 94, and team captain Clapper, who hit 91.

No-one outaimed Bruins coach and manager Art Ross, whose score of 95 was enough to win him the prize of the dead deer seen here. Ross was also made an honorary member of the club that day, receiving an engraved gold medal. Another wince-warning is in order here: “Presented to Art H. Ross,” it read, “Honorary Member of the Paleface Gun Club — 1933. Big Chief Push ’Em In.”

lapses in the legacy: checking in on boston’s still-forgotten captains

Special Ed: The epic Eddie Shore, as seen in a Boston Garden program from March of 1936.

If the measure of NHL success is whether or not your team hoists the Stanley Cup to finish a given season, then Patrice Bergeron’s first campaign as captain of the Boston Bruins was a flop.

The season itself wasn’t so dire. The Bruins, you’ll recall, finished third in their division, the old MassMutual East, accumulating 73 points, which was good enough for tenth overall in the NHL’s regular-season standings — just three points behind the eventual Stanley Cup champions, the Tampa Bay Lightning. Boston won their first-round playoff series, dismissing the Washington Capitals in five games. Then, of course, they faltered, losing out in six to the frisky New York Islanders.  

Historically, in the annals of Bruinly seasons going back to the team’s founding in 1924, Bergeron’s first as captain rates … fairly well. Measured by the percentage of points earned during the regular season, Bergeron’s Bruins (who went 33-16-7 in wins/losses/overtime losses) come in at .652, which ties them for 21st on the chart showing 96 seasons played to date. 

That’s well behind the Bruins best season, 1929-30, when the team compiled a .875 record in Lionel Hitchman’s second year as captain. But it’s better than a whole raft of other Boston seasons, including those in which some of the greatest names in team history took over as captain. 

Nels Stewart’s 1934-35 Bruins registered a .604 record before departing the playoffs in the semi-finals. Red Beattie’s 1936-37 team put together a .552 record, losing out in the quarter-finals. Bobby Bauer oversaw a .525 Bruins season in 1946-47; his Bruins lost in the semi-finals. Eddie Shore? He led Boston to a .521 record in 1935-36 and then out of the post-season in the quarter-finals. Marty Barry and Bill Cowley fared worse still: their respective teams, from 1933-34 and 1944-45 respectively, show points percentages of .427 and .350. Cowley’s team failed to get through the semi-finals; Barry’s missed the playoffs altogether.

Six times the Bruins have won the Stanley Cup in their history; it’s not unreasonable to imagine Patrice Bergeron raising a seventh during his tenure as Boston captain. Until that happens, he can take solace (maybe?) in the fact that the team he plays for actually acknowledges his captaincy.

It’s the least the Bruins could do, of course, though not (for the Bruins) so straightforward as you might think. Because while Boston does celebrate (and proudly) Bergeron’s role as team captain, the team still doesn’t allow that Barry, Stewart, Shore, Beattie, Cowley, and Bauer preceded him in the role. 

Yes, it’s back to that refrain again, which is to say, this one

To sum up, quick-like: at some point in the Bruins’ 97-year history, the team has mislaid a prominent chunk of that history, somehow overlooking the captaincies of at least six of their most famous players. Bergeron isn’t the 20th man to captain the Bruins, as the team is content to claim: he’s the 26th (or possibly the 28th).  

Red Beattie captained the Bruins in 1936-37, as noted in a Garden program from that season; according to the team’s erring record, it was Dit Clapper.

It’s not clear when exactly the forgetting originated, just that it’s well-entrenched and, now, widespread: the team’s erroneous record-keeping has become the standard for a bevy of (mostly otherwise) reputable online registers of hockey history. I could go on (and have) about the team’s carelessness when it comes to its own rich past. I took an interest in Bobby Bauer’s unacknowledged captaincy in 2019, following where others, like Bruins historian Kevin Vautour, have gone before. Finding evidence of Bauer’s tenure wasn’t hard, and before long I happened on references to all the others — Barry, Beattie, Shore, Cowley, et al — who’ve been ignored. 

I first contacted the Bruins in December of 2019 to ask about this and (politely) to offer to share my files. I’ve previously quoted the response I got, but it’s worth repeating here. It was Heidi Holland I heard back from, the Bruins’ the team’s director of publications and information, and thereby the gatekeeper of the team’s history, statistical and otherwise, as enshrined in the team’s annual Guide & Record Book.

Focussing on Bobby Bauer’s claim, she wrote:

This question has come up a couple of times over the past several years but unfortunately, I have no way of confirming it. The list of captains from earlier media guides lists John Crawford as captain in that season. The earliest media guide that I have is 1947-48 and Crawford’s bio in that book only says that he has “been captain or assistant captain of the Bruins in recent seasons.” Bauer does not have a bio in that guide.

When the subject first came up, I asked Milt Schmidt (as the only person who was active at that time) if he remembered Bobby being named Boston’s captain and he did not have any recollection that he did.

Fair enough, I guess … if also fairly dismissive of the idea that there just might be proofs out there that go beyond Milt Schmidt’s memory.

News of Bobby Bauer’s appointment reached the pages of Herb Ralby’s Boston’s Globe on October 17 of 1946.

Evidence of the overlooked captains has been out there, of course, for going on 90 years, available for the finding by anyone, including club employees, willing to bother to take the initiative to look for it. I keep coming across references in my archival wanderings, as do others, like Kevin Vautour and Jeff Miclash, a researcher in Burlington, Ontario, who’s working on a book about the Bruins in the 1930s. At this point, we have a regular online marketplace going where we gather to share newfound references to the snubbed captains and roll digital eyes at the Bruins’ ongoing oblivion. It was this past January, as Patrice Bergeron inherited the C, that I piled up the evidence and made my case in that puckstruck.com post of mine. I cc’d that to Heidi Holland and several other interested parties attached to the team without hearing anything back. At the risk of annoying these same people, I got back in touch in July, in the quietude of Boston’s post-season, in the interest of getting the record straightened out in time for the upcoming season. The response, again, was … none. 

That doesn’t mean, of course, that the Bruins are doubling down on the institutional inattention to detail that’s prevailed to this point. The end of their willful neglect of this history of theirs might well be on the horizon, even if we can’t see it yet, or access it on our browsers. 

Because here’s the thing: as a new NHL season approaches, the Bruins will be, in the next few weeks, unveiling their 2021-22 Guide & Record Book. It’s entirely possible that the team has tidied up the register of captains altogether quietly, on their own, righting the record that’s been wrong.

I’ll be happy to see it; I’ll salute their diligence. Meet me back here when — if — that happens. 

Meantime, I’m happy to barge back into the question of just how the Bruins came to not remember that Bobby Bauer and Eddie Shore et al. served the team as captains. The answer is probably lost for good, actually — but maybe can we narrow in to take a look at the timeline of the neglect?   

In that e-mail of hers, Heidi Holland mentioned the 1947-48 Bruins guide as the earliest edition she’s seen. That’s the one with Milt Schmidt on the cover, proudly wearing his C in the centre of his sweater. I haven’t tracked down a copy of that one, but I do have in hand the guide published ahead of the previous season, 1946-47 — that is, the one over which Bobby Bauer presided as captain. 

It’s hard to discern just how involved the team was in this producing this 64-page booklet that bears the subtitle “The complete story of a great hockey team” on its opening page. Compiled by a pair of Boston Globe sportswriters, Harold Kaese and Herb Ralby, it was promoted and sold through the paper (35 cents a copy, plus another five for postage), I’m surmising that it was a Bruin production through and through. I think it may be the very first Bruin guide to have been published, though I can’t confirm that. It’s packed with player profiles, historical rosters, team records — all the usual fodder you’d expect, if not (notably) a comprehensive listing of team captains. 

There’s no mention, in fact, of any captain in this ’46-47 guide. As the Bruins erringly tell it, defenceman John (a.k.a. Jack) Crawford skippered the team that season, continuing in the role he’d had the previous year. As I’ve noted before, Bauer had changed his mind about retiring in the fall of 1946, rejoining the team for one more campaign. On October 16, he was named captain of the team.

The Bruins guidebook pictured above was published a month later, on November 13. I’m speculating here, but my guess is that it was already in production when Bauer was crowned. That would explain why his captaincy isn’t mentioned.

Game for a little more esoterica? I thought so. The NHL had an official guide of its own in the 1940s. Overseen by a former newspaperman from Vancouver, Jim Hendy, it had been keeping scores and stats since the early 1930s. By the start of the 1947-48 season, it had split into two publications: Who’s Who In Hockey, which compiled active player data, and the Official Guide and Record Book, overseeing the NHL as a whole as well as minor and amateur leagues. 

It’s the latter of these booklets that’s of interest here: specifically, the write-up on page 37 and the photograph following on page 56. The former commemorates the winner of the 1947 Lady Byng Trophy: “Bobby Bauer, Boston Bruins’ great little captain.” 

The latter, reproduced here, shows Bauer front and centre, proudly wearing the C denoting his rank between the 1 and the 7 on his sweater. As previously noted, the 1946-47 season was the first in which letters were added to NHL sweaters to denote captains and their alternates. Bauer’s deputies show their As here: Murray Henderson standing tall beside coach Dit Clapper and, seated three places to Bauer’s left, then-former captain Jack Crawford. 

One last (for now) thread from the fabric. Fast-forwarding through the decades, we find the Bruins heading into the NHL’s 1973-74 season looking forward to their 50th anniversary. This is duly noted on the cover of the team guide they published that fall:

A gallery of remarkable hockey players on that cover, you’ll agree. Of the 11 depicted, all but four (goaltenders Frank Brimsek and Tiny Thompson, along with Bobby Orr and Phil Esposito) served with distinction as Bruin captains.

And yet two of them shown here — Bill Cowley and Eddie Shore — are still (then as now) missing from the historical record.

Their captaincies, along with those of Marty Barry, Nels Stewart, Red Beattie, and Bobby Bauer, are plain facts, despite what the Bruins recall. What the ’73-74 guide tells us is that the neglect that still seems to be in place goes back at least 48 years. The proof that the team was getting it as wrong in 1973 as it was in 2021 is on page 38:

Error Page: Boston’s overlooked captains have been missing from the record for at least 48 years, dating back to the team’s 1973-74 Official Guide.

What this may also illuminate is the how — and the who — of just what happened here. I don’t mean to be casting blame, or getting anybody into historical trouble, but, well, um, the man in charge of the ’73-74 guide was, somewhat remarkably, one of the men who’d collaborated on that ’46-47 edition, 27 years earlier. 

Herb Ralby was a sportswriter for the Boston Globe starting in the 1930s, when he was in his early 20s, and he was on the job until 1970, when he left journalism to join the Bruins full-time as the team’s director of publicity. (He died in 1994 at the age of 81.) Ralby was on the scene, that’s to say, going back all the way to the time Eddie Shore’s tenure as captain, and even reported on Bobby Bauer’s tenure (below), well before he took charge of — and didn’t repair — the Bruins’ not-so-well-tended history that nobody since has bothered to set right.  

Stitches In Time: News you can use from a Herb Ralby column in the Boston Globe from November of 1946, a quarter century before he became the Bruins’ director of publicity.