andy bathgate writes: second wind is difficult to describe

Credit: Weekend Magazine / Louis Jaques / Library and Archives Canada / e002505654

Andy Bathgate in New York Ranger vestments, circa 1959. (Photo: Weekend Magazine / Louis Jaques / Library and Archives Canada / e002505654)

Andy Bathgate’s distinguished NHL career is being remembered today following his death yesterday in Brampton at the age of 83, Ontario. Worth your while are Richard Goldstein’s obituary in The New York Times and Lance Hornby’s appreciation from The Toronto Sun.

Otherwise, maybe we’ll pause to salute to Bathgate’s literary legacy. As Goldstein and Hornby both recall, he did publish a notorious 1960 article in True magazine calling out the league’s spearing artists — more to come on that. There was a book, too, in 1963, co-written with sportscaster Bob Wolff. There’s a bit of autobiography to Andy Bathgate’s Hockey Secrets, some scenes from his childhood in Winnipeg, but mostly it’s focussed on the how-tos, from tying your skates and making the most of your wristshot to avoiding the grim dangers of goal-celebrations, all in the interest of guiding the next generation of NHLers into the league. He wasn’t going to play forever. “In a few years,” he mused, “there’ll be new headliners on the ice. There will also be some other talented youngsters who will not savor big league glory and gold unless they learn the all-important extras along the way. This book is mainly for them. I want others to benefit by what it’s taken me years to learn, so they can be ready when those openings occur in the National Hockey League. And there’ll be openings, I can assure you. One of the vacated spots will be mine.”

Herewith, twelve select sentences from the body of the book, extracted live from their context if not their wisdom:

I did not learn my hockey from books.

You just can’t be successful in a sport like hockey or football if you worry about injury or looks.

A good stick man never changes grips.

Talking plays a most important part in passing.

If you want to see a master at it, watch Henri Richard.

The injuries that hurt the most are the foolish ones.

I find that staying condition is a pleasant, year-round job.

If things are quiet, I’ll start clowning round a bit or needle a teammate to get some chatter and kibitzing started.

Second wind is difficult to describe.

When you fire the puck properly in a power shot, you feel it right from the blade through your hands, your wrists, your arms.

I’m no longer sure within my heart whether I’ve had a special aptitude for this game or not.

The secret is toe control.

the querrie way: if you want to fight, go over to france

Jimmy Murphy was supposed to coach Toronto’s first NHL team that winter long ago, before he was felled by a mishap so patently Canadian that it probably deserves to be commemorated on a stamp: he slipped on an icy December sidewalk.

This was 1917. I’ll refer you to Deceptions And Doublecross: How The NHL Conquered Hockey, Morey Holzman’s and Joseph Nieforth’s fine book, for background on the league’s difficult birth that year — for the moment, let’s stay with Murphy, the man tabbed to steer the brand-new temporary Toronto team that would play out the Arena Gardens on Mutual Street, though its owners were in Montreal. Murphy sounds like he was the right man for the job: St. Michael’s College had won senior OHA championships under his guidance, as well as an Allan Cup.

I don’t know what he battered or broke on that cold sidewalk, but he was sufficiently injured to ask to be relieved of his duties. That’s when Charlie Querrie got the call. He was a well-known personality in Toronto circles, a former lacrosse star who also managed Tecumsehs of the National Lacrosse Union. He was also, conveniently, manger of the arena on Mutual.

He didn’t waste any time getting to work. First thing, he appointed Dick Carroll as assistant manager and trainer. Next, he put his team on the ice for practice, at 5 p.m. on December 6, the day after he took the job.

This was a team that featured Harry Cameron, Jack Adams, Cor Denneny, and Reg Noble. Toronto ended the season by winning the Stanley Cup, of course. But the season opened, on December 19, with a 9-10 road loss to the Montreal Wanderers.

Before that game, Querrie posted a notice in the team’s dressing room laying out his no-nonsense philosophy for the players in his charge. It seemed familiar, when I first came across this 15-point communiqué, the tone and the pithy candor. I don’t know that Mike Babcock would recognize the name Charlie Querrie let alone have come across his hockey creed, but it does, I have to say, read like a chapter of the latest Leaf coach’s forceful 2012 book Leave No Doubt: A Credo For Chasing Your Dreams.

As published ahead of the 1917-18 season, Charlie Querrie’s memo to his players went like this:

  1. First and foremost do not forget that I am running this club. It won’t do you any good to tell your troubles to the public and the other players. If you have a grievance, tell it to me.

  2. When practice is called at a certain hour, be there. If you are late we want to know why and, and even then the “why” isn’t an excuse.

  3. You are paid to give your best services to the club. Condition depends a lot on how you behave off the ice.

  4. Remember that it does not require bravery to hit another man over the head with a stick. If you want to fight, go over to France.

  5. Time spent in the penalty box is time wasted. You are not expected to take all abuse without going back at your opponent, but do not be foolish.

  6. Remember that there are generally five other players on a team with you. You are not expected to play the whole game.

  7. You are not out on the ice to score all the goals. Combination with the rest of the players will probably result in more goals than individual play.

  8. You will not be fined for doing the best you can. You will be punished for indifferent work or carelessness. If you are anxious to win all the time you will be a good player. Indifference or lack of pepper is one thing we never did like.

  9. Remember it means as much to you to win the championship as it does to me. If you do not play as well as you can, you are not only hurting yourself, but the rest of the team and your supporters.

  10. Do not think that you are putting something over on the manager when you do anything you should not. You are getting paid to play hockey, not to be a good fellow.

  11. If playing hockey is going to be your business in the winter, remember that the wise man attends to his business and generally gets better results. You future in the game depends on how you play the game.

  12. It is the public who pay your salary. Show them the best you can and your chances of better financial results in the future will be good.

  13. Don’t always imagine you are getting the worst of it from the officials. Play hockey and they will see you secure an even break.

  14. Don’t knock your fellow players. Remember they might also have a hammer concealed somewhere and might be tempted to use it.

  15. Play hockey, attend practices regularly, take care of your condition, and you will not suffer any penalties. Remember the first paragraph and be sure to tell your troubles to me: I am an easy boss if you do your share. If you do not want to be on the square and play the hockey you are capable of, turn your uniform into Dick Carroll and go at some other work.