madison square garden, 1925: flashes of cerise, magenta, nile greens

Net Gain: Shorty Green of the New York Americans scores the first goal at the new Madison Square Garden on Tuesday, December 15, 1925. That’s Montreal’s Billy Boucher trying to catch him, with goaltender Herb Rheaume (making his NHL debut) failing from the front. Note the array of well-dressed fans behind the boards.

A French-Canadien aggregation, known as ‘Les Canadiens,’ will meet the New York team in mortal combat, but in reality it will be an all-Dominion battle, as most of the high-priced players who sport the spangles of the New York club were imported from Canada at great expense.

• Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Tuesday, December 15, 1925

New York’s brand-new rink had already hosted a six-day bicycle race and a basketball game by the middle of December in 1925, along with three bouts of boxing, but it wasn’t until NHL hockey debuted there that the party really got started, 93 years ago last night, when the expansion New York Americans hosted the reigning league champions from Montreal.

Tex Rickard was the man who built the third Madison Square Garden, 18 blocks north of the present MSG, and he didn’t stint on pomp for opening night. A year later, he’d launch a second, longer-lasting New York hockey team, the Rangers, but in 1925 the Americans were the only hockey game in town. Festooned with ribbons and bunting, the new rink Rickard had built to house the team was (Montreal’s Gazette) “dressed up in its best holiday togs, “a picture of a temple of sport” (The New York Times); pro hockey (“jaded New York’s newest plaything”) was making “its debut under the most glittering circumstances,” the Gazette advised.

Reporting for The Ottawa Citizen, Ed Baker enthused that the new rink seemed like “an overgrown theatre;” it was “just as magnificent as the grandest playhouse.” The Gazette: “Just before game time, the spacious lobby looked like the foyer of the opera. Fashionably gowned women were there in furs and jewels. It was a hockey crowd de luxe. Flashes of cerise, magenta, nile green, scarlets and royal purple coloured the boxes. Vendors ambled among the spectators with their apples and oranges and souvenir hockey sticks.”

“It was swank plus,” James Burchard of The World-Telegram would later recall, “in a setting of ermine and evening dress.”

Military bands marched out on the ice to play the anthems. Clad in scarlet and busbies, the 44-piece Governor-General’s Foot Guards struck up “God Save The King,” while their counterparts from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point (92 pieces + a bugle-and-drums corps of 35) took care of “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

Band Stand: Canadiens and Amerks stand amid bandsmen during the opening ceremonies. Howie Morenz is the Montrealer standing attentively just back of the front flagman. Closer up, spying at the camera, that’s New York goaltender Jakie Forbes.

The crowd was the largest in NHL history to that point — though just how many fans it contained remains something of a mystery. The New York Daily News would report 20,000 “shrieking people,” while reports in several Canadian papers put the count at 19,000. The New York Times was among those who numbered the attendees at 17,000. Amid all this shifting math, The Ottawa Citizen noted that the Garden could seat 15, 352 for hockey, though (according to the Americans’ team treasurer) if there had been 25,000 more seats to sell for opening night, they would have gone like hot cakes.

Whatever the actual attendance, the excitement was such that (this from the Gazette) “the world’s record crowd was willing to pay prices ranging from $1.50 for the uppermost balcony seats to the seeming lofty toll of $11.50 for choice box seats to see a spectacle to which it was foreign.” Organized as a benefit for the Neurological Institute Society of New York, the game put some $40,000 into their coffers.

Scheduled to start at 8.30 p.m., the actual game didn’t get going until just after nine. The Citizen’s Ed Baker had it that President Calvin Coolidge was slated to do the honours of dropping a ceremonial puck, but then — “he was unable to attend.” Instead, New York Mayor John Hylan presided over the city’s first ritual NHL face-off, attended at centre ice by New York’s Billy Burch and Howie Morenz of the Canadiens.

Canadiens were the reigning NHL champions that winter, thought they had failed the previous spring in their bid to wrest the Stanley Cup from the Victoria Cougars of the WCHL. The new season hadn’t started well for Montreal, with Georges Vézina, their beloved and highly effective veteran goaltender, having collapsed in the season’s very first game in November.

Suffering from thetuberculosis that would kill him the following spring at the age of 39, Vézina had departed Montreal and the NHL for the last time, bound for his hometown, Chicoutimi. Since then, Canadiens had made do with the league’s emergency goaltender, Alphonse (Frenchy) Lacroix. On their arrival in New York, five games into the season, they were sitting in last place in the seven-team league, six points adrift of the league leaders, though just two back of the fourth-place Americans. Lacroix had been excused; for their first Madison Square turn, Montreal had a new man ready to start in goal, Herb Rheaume, who’d been starring to that point for an amateur Quebec team, the Sons of Ireland.

He worked out all right on the night, winning his debut in Madison Square’s, and keeping his place in the Montreal nets for the remainder of the season — though neither he nor any of his talented teammates would be able to haul the Habs out of last place or into the playoffs.

Go-Time: New York’s Billy Burch faces Montreal’s Howie Morenz in the game’s opening face-off. Aligned well-back at the far end are Montreal wingers, a becapped Aurèle Joliat (nearest the camera) and Billy Boucher. New York’s defencemen have deployed so far back that they’re out of the frame.

Rheaume did, for the record, concede the first goal in MSG history, to Shorty Green, almost twelve minutes into the first period. That’s it depicted above, and maybe from the frozen frame you’ll draw your own conclusions on how it went down. Contemporary accounts (as usual) diverged on the exact circumstances.

The New York Times: “He carried the ice up the ice, gliding swiftly and gracefully through the Canadiens until he was at the Montreal net, where, by a tricky little shot, he sped the rubber past Rheaume for a goal.”

The Montreal Gazette: “Shorty Green sent the Americans into the lead when he stick-handled his way the full length of the rink to shoot a high one past Rheaume, after eleven minutes.”

The great Paul Gallico was on the hockey beat for The New York Daily News. Here’s what he saw: “Shorty Breen [sic] coddled the puck clean down the rink, personally conducted it through the legs of three Canadiens, stopped short, slapped it away from the ankles of the last enemy defense line and suddenly swiped it into the goal from the side, a pretty shot.”

The lead didn’t last, with Billy Boucher (“flashy Montreal wingman” and the game’s “outstanding light,” according to the Gazette) potting a pair of second-period goals past New York goaltender Jakie Forbes before Howie Morenz completed the scoring for Montreal in the third.

Cooper Smeaton and Lou Marsh were the referees. First penalty in the new rink: Montreal’s Sylvio Mantha earned a first-period minor for holding Billy Burch. In the second, Shorty Green and Billy Boucher engaged in what the Times rated “a melee;” the Citizen said they “attempted fisticuffs” — either way, they served out minors.

Was New York’s Ken Randall knocked unconscious? Even when hockey was raising money for neurological care and research, the game didn’t pay head trauma too much mind, and so with a nonchalance typical of the day, the Times seemed to suggest that Randall was out cold without worrying too much about it — he was “laid out for a moment but resumed playing.” The Citizen, meanwhile, mentions a potential concussion of Shorty Green’s in the third: Morenz hit him near centre and he needed assistance getting to the bench. “He appeared to have suffered a hard blow on the head that dazed him.”

The evening marked a debut, too, for the new Prince of Wales Trophy, which Montreal took home along with their victory, with New York’s incoming mayor, Jimmy Walker, presenting the cup to Montreal captain Billy Coutu at the game’s conclusion. Canadiens would hold it only until the end of the season, when it went to the team that won the NHL championship. In 1926, that happened to be Montreal’s other team, the Maroons.

But for the struggle on the ice between Canadiens and Americans, the evening was deemed (by the Gazette, at least) “a sort of international love feast.”

Between periods, the greatest of speedy skaters, Norval Baptie, put on an exhibition of “fancy skating” with his partner, Gladys Lamb. After the game, the Canadian Club of New York hosted a ball at the Biltmore Hotel at Grand Central Station. Paul Whitman and his band entertained the two thousand guests who were said to have convened for that, including the players from both teams. “They all wore their tuxedos like a Valentino,” reported the Citizen’s Ed Baker.

The Daily News covered the hotel festivities on Wednesday’s social page, naming names and highlighting the fashions and jewels they wore. “The party broke up about three o’clock this morning, and society generally voted the whole affair a success.”

Face-First: Montreal goaltender Herb Rheaume stymies New York’s Ken Randall with the help of Habs’ captain Billy Coutu.

update: the defenceman formerly known as yuri lyapkin

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Net Presence: Paul Henderson, alone in front, sets himself up to leap into Yvan Cournoyer’s arms, moments later. (Photo: Frank Lennon, Library and Archives Canada, e010933341)

Cournoyer took a shot. The defenceman fell over, Lyapkin. And the — Cournoyer has it on that wing. Here’s a shot! Henderson made a wild stab for it, and fell. Here’s another shot! Right in front! Score! Henderson has scored for Canada!

• Foster Hewitt narrates Paul Henderson’s winning goal from Moscow, September 28, 1972

Forty-four years ago, defenceman Yuri Lyapkin had the distinction of being the last Soviet mentioned by Foster Hewitt on the broadcast from Moscow before Paul Henderson scored the goal that won the Summit Series.

All three men are back on Canadian TV this week in Scotiabank’s new “Hockey Dreams” spot — it’s just that Lyapkin is wearing somebody else’s bearded face, now.

If you’ve been watching as hockey’s World Cup winds down, “Hockey Dreams” has been running in constant rotation when the puck’s not in play on CBC’s broadcast. As noted herebefore, the Soviet defenders depicted in Frank Lennon’s iconic Paul Henderson photo from 1972 have been … well, disguised. Richard Bendell, author of the definitive book on the Summit Series, was actually on this first, a week ago. He, too, wondered: why? What did Yuri Lyapkin, Valery Vasiliev, and Vladimir Shadrin do to deserve to have their numbers scrubbed and faces switched out all these years later on Canadian TV?

Probably not a matter of punishing the Russians, right? More likely a question of clearances — of securing permissions from those in the original photograph? That’s been a conjectured consensus. Patrick Conway of Conway’s Russian Hockey Blog recalled the case of a Swedish stamp depicting Peter Forsberg’s famous Olympic goal on Corey Hirsh; Lloyd Davis, hockey historian and editor extraordinaire, provided the link.

I e-mailed Joseph Bonnici, executive creative director at Bensimon Byrne, the Toronto agency, behind “Hockey Dreams.” (Marketing Magazine has the background on Scotiabank’s World Cup campaign here.)

“Correct,” Bonnici replied today, “it is to do with permissions.”

Toronto Star photographer Frank Lennon died in 2006, so the agency would have been working with his estate. As well as securing rights to Lennon’s image, Bonnici continued, Bensimon Byrne pursued “the rights of each of the individual players in the photo. We then sought to get individual approvals from visible players, and for players that we could not locate, we chose to alter the image to protect their individual likeness. Once this altering was done, the image was resubmitted to the rights holder, who approved it for Scotiabank’s commercial use.”

So there it is. Not entirely clear at this late hour is just whose faces those are replacing those of the crestfallen Soviets. I followed up to ask that. If I get an answer, I’ll share it.

the defenceman formerly known as yuri lyapkin

“From the plains of Saskatchewan to the suburbs of Ontario, kids dream of legendary hockey moments. That’s why we’re proud to support over 8,000 community teams from coast to coast. Because even if they don’t score the game-winning goal, every kid should know what being a hockey hero feels like.”

That’s the spiel with which Scotiabank glosses its new ad, “Hockey Dreams,” in heavy rotation during tonight’s opening game of the World Cup finals between Canada and Europe. Scotiabank, in case you missed it, is the Official Domestic Bank of The World Cup of Hockey as well as a title sponsor of the World Cup of Hockey Fan Village.

Charming, right? The ad, I mean. Not to mention Borgesian. Unwitting kids recreating famous hockey goals by way of some spontaneous alignment of the pan-Canadian road-hockey universe — great concept!

One strange detail: if you watch to the end, the Henderson goal, the Soviet defenders depicted in Frank Lennon’s famous photo have been mysteriously edited. That’s Vladislav Tretiak, of course, down on the ice; the defenceman is Yuri Lyapkin. Was. Maybe the ad agency couldn’t get a release to use the man’s image; or someone on the shoot saw this as their chance for (a kind of) immortality? Either way, in Scotiabank’s version, Liapkin has had his number, 25, scrubbed from his sweater, and he’s gained a beard, if not a whole new face.

Frank Lennon’s original 1972 photo:

lennon

Scotiabank’s newly barbered version:

scotiabank

win, lose

Ray Lussier’s famous 1970 photo of Noel Picard’s disapproval.

“It remains the sport’s defining image,” Craig MacInnis says in his book, Remembering Bobby Orr (1999), and more, too:

It is the image of the sporting hero as Superman, as a winged deity taking flight while his earthbound adversaries (goalie Glenn Hall, defenceman Noel Picard) huddle in bleak resignation.

I don’t know if huddle is the word: Hall looks like a gust from a passing freight train blew him over, while Picard looks properly pissed. But yes, true enough, Ray Lussier’s photograph of Orr’s 1970 overtime goal is one of hockey’s most memorable and expressive.

Denis Brodeur’s 1972 study of Soviet disappointment.

But is it, as Roy MacGregor was saying in yesterday’s Globe and Mail, the photo that “says more about the joy of victory and the frustration of defeat than any snapshot the game has known”? No. Because what about Denis Brodeur’s indelible portrait of Paul Henderson moments after his winning goal in 1972? Or, for that matter, Frank Lennon’s? (Both photographers shot Henderson in the moment after he’d scored; Lennon’s photo is the one where Henderson’s eyes are open.)

Henderson’s joy is roughly equal to Orr’s, I’d say, even if he doesn’t get as much air. Where the 1972 images claim their advantage, to me, is in the textures of Soviet disappointment that they depict. With a few exceptions, the people in the crowd behind haven’t realized what’s happened yet, not in the way the players on the ice have. Despair is dawning through the disbelief out there while, in the Brodeur version if not the Lennon, Tretiak glares angrily in Henderson’s direction. It’s hard to imagine a bitterer win or, for that matter, a sweeter loss.