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)
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.
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.
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.
Born on a Thursday of this date in 1916, defenceman Johnny (a.k.a Jack) Crawford played 13 seasons of hatted hockey for the Boston Bruins, contributing to two of their Stanley Cup championships, in 1939 and ’41. Dublin, Ontario, is where he’s from, in southwest of the province, on the road to Lake Huron, Howie Morenz country. Crawford died in 1973 at the age of 56.
He served as the Bruins’ team captain, though just a for a single campaign, 1945-46, and not, as the Bruins themselves still seem to think, for four seasons. I’ve been on a bit of a crusade about this and other errors in the team’s accounting of its own captains, as you may know, having read about it (maybe) here and/or here. (Or not.)
The latest on that is that … nothing’s changed. With the 2021-22 NHL season well underway, the Bruins still hasn’t published its new media guide, which is where these things are “officially” recorded. Once they do (if they do), we’ll see whether they’ve come around to the facts of the matter. Meantime, the list of the team’s actual early-era captains is over here.
(Image: Tex Coulter, Boston Garden Sport News, December 17, 1961)
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.”