By Gads: News today that Hall-of-Fame defenceman Bill Gadsby has died at the age of 88. Born in Calgary, he finished his distinguished career with the Detroit Red Wings in 1966 after a 20-year NHL career that also included stints with Chicago and the New York Rangers. (The Red Wings pay tribute to his life and eventful times here.) Above, some time in the 1950s, Toronto hatter Sam Taft takes a measure of Gadsby’s brow. (Photo: City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1257, Series 1057, Item 4450)
Claude Ruel died on Monday at the age of 76. He was a promising young defenceman in the Montreal Canadiens’ system when an eye injury stopped his playing career in 1958. As a coach, he succeeded Toe Blake behind the Habs’ bench in 1968, winning a Stanley Cup in his first year and then, halfway through his third, resigning when the team foundered. He stayed with the team, working with Scotty Bowman during his years in charge. During the 1979-80 season, he replaced Bernie Geoffrion as coach, steering the Canadiens to first-place Norris-Division finishes in consecutive campaigns. Playoff success didn’t follow and in 1981 he gave way to Bob Berry.
For fuller appreciations of Ruel’s life and hockey times, I direct you to Dave Stubbs at the Montreal Gazette and to Tom Hawthorn’s obituary at Benched. Herewith, a short anthology of Rueliana made up of sentences culled verbatim from various contemporary newspapers from 1968 through the late 1980s and presented in no special order.
You don’t need a program to identify Claude Ruel, whether he’s on the ice or wearing civvies. At 5’5”, 220 pounds, give or take a few ounces, Claude Ruel is hard to miss.
Anyone taking over the Canadiens’ coaching reins from Toe Blake is stepping into big shoes since Toe guided the club to eight Stanley Cup crowns and nine league titles in 13 years. But Claude Ruel has a theory that when a man tries his best at anything he’s bound to succeed.
As trite and repetitive as it may sound, the two words that typify Ruel’s outlook on life in general and hockey in particular are work and dedication.
“I came from a big family and I had to go to work very young. Nothing came easy. I was filling potato sacks and setting pins in a bowling alley when I was 11 and 12.”
It is difficult to see the Canadiens functioning without Ruel.
Occasionally Ruel would punctuate his running commentary with: “C’est ca! C’est ca!”
An indefatigable worker, he spends time helping people such as Engblom, Langway, Mark Napier and Rick Chartraw improve their skills long after the team’s superstars have left the ice.
While there is no substantial proof, the word is that Ruel bleeds red, white, and blue.
Claude Ruel, chubby 32-year-old coach of the Montreal Canadiens, resigned Thursday.
Ruel, who coached Montreal to its last Cup title in 1969, constantly complained of the pressure connected with the job.
“Claude didn’t like the pressure,” says former Canadiens’ coach Scotty Bowman. “His first year, his layers really performed for him. The second year, they didn’t respond.” And what about this time? “The biggest thing is he won’t have Claude Ruel to help him like I did,” Bowman said.
Ruel is considered by hockey people to be one of the best talent evaluators in the world and he is also excellent at [sic] bring out the best in young players who are willing to work at their craft.
Since Ruel came out of Sherbrooke, Que., to play organized hockey at the age of 15, his command of English was limited and he had a unique way of fracturing the language that brought laughter — and even ridicule — from both French- and English-speaking players.
“I’ll tell you how good he was,” said Pollock, “though you probably shouldn’t write it because it just won’t sound right. But Claude Ruel was a lot like Bobby Orr. He couldn’t skate like Bobby but he had something Orr does that so few others don’t have and that’s great hockey sense and great anticipation.”
Ruel too played right defence and what was considered a very bright hockey future was cut down suddenly Nov. 17 in Belleville, Ont.
“I was getting set to take a shot from the point and the guy who was checking me hit my stick and it came right up and caught me in the eye.” He spent almost three months in hospital as doctors tried vainly to save his sight in the injured eye.
“That Lafleur, he has good hockey sense,” said Claude Ruel, chief scout for the Canadiens. “He’s big, he can shoot, can play offensively and defensively. He’s just a great hockey player.”
“There’s no use just blaming it on the defence and the goalkeeping,” adds Ruel. “It’s just a lack of work and the only way to get on a real winning streak is for everyone to put their minds to work.” What’s the solution? “Don’t ask me,” replied Ruel. “I’m not Superman.”
What had been good-natured ribbing of Ruel’s sayings in the championship run the year before — “Two eggs side by side,” “A daily double” (for a big hotel room), “Two-on-one, each take a man” — became a way of blaming the coach when things didn’t go well on the ice.
His problem has always been discipline. For instance, a couple of years ago, Bowman took a day off and when the players decided they’d had enough, they set upon Ruel and pulled his pants off. Continue reading
Duel Citizens: Canada’s J.P. Parise found himself in disagreement with Soviet captain Viktor Kuzkin in the second period of the seventh game of the Summit Series in Moscow on September 26, 1972. Both men got two-minute roughing penalties for their efforts; Canada ended up prevailing, 4-3. It was in the next and final game that Parise was ejected for almost (but not quite) pole-axing German referee Josef Kompalla. “Maybe sometimes you don’t understand who you are,” Parise mused in a 1992 documentary, Summit On Ice. “Never would I have realized that I would become such an enraged man for two weeks.”
Parise died in Minnesota on Wednesday, of lung cancer. He was 73.
(Photo: Frank Lennon. Library and Archives Canada, e010933347)
Roy MacGregor’s requiem at The Globe and Mail is the one I’d send you to, here, followed by Steve Milton’s tribute at The Hamilton Spectator and this one that Rosie DiManno wrote for The Toronto Star. I’d quote Trevor Linden, who said earlier on Monday, “We have lost a great man. It’s a sad day for hockey and for everyone who loves our game.” Then I’d leave it at that.
(Photo: The Want List, hockeymedia, on flickr)
From Moscow, Monday’s early morning brings word that legendary Soviet-era coach Viktor Tikhonov has died after a long illness. He was 84. Three times his national teams won Olympic gold, and his world championships were eight. “He was a man consumed by hockey,” Lawrence Martin writes in The Red Machine (1990). “For him it was like gambling or alcoholism, an addiction. He had to win and win again — and keep winning.” He was repairing buses in the 1940s when Vsevolod Bobrov took note of his soccer and ball-hockey exploits in the depot yard, which led to a place on defence on Vasily Stalin’s Air Force hockey team. Martin quotes Tikhonov explaining his coaching credo:
All that I know of myself is that nothing was ever given to me without effort, not when I first stepped out on the ice or now, when I am carrying the coach’s burden. Stubborn labour, self-sacrifice, fanatical devotion to a favoured activity, tireless perfection of athletic professionalism — these are, in my understanding, the key to success for every hockey player and every athlete. And these principles I always and everywhere defend.
With the sad news, from Monday, of Shirley Fischler’s death at the age of 74, a salute to her work as a hockey journalist and broadcaster is in order. At 82, her husband Stan remains the game’s most productive commentator, in print and out on the web, via the Tweetosphere and through the broadcast air. In her own long and varied career, Shirley co-authored several of his 90-odd books. She also blazed a trail for women into hockey’s press boxes and, in the early 1970s, became the first female hockey analyst when she covered the New England Whalers of the WHA with her husband.
She’ll also be remembered as the last journalist to talk to Terry Sawchuk, a week before his death at the age of 40 in May of 1970. The story is part of the goaltender’s tragic legend by now. Hockey season had ended. After what seems to have been an alcoholic scuffle at home with New York Rangers teammate Ron Stewart, an injured Sawchuk was hospitalized in Long Beach, New York. He had his gallbladder removed and underwent another operation on his damaged liver.
Brian Kendall tells the story in his fine Sawchuk biography, Shutout (1996). Introducing herself with her maiden name, Walton, Shirley Fischler walked into Sawchuk’s room bearing flowers. She said she was a big Ranger fan; no mention of any reporting or newspapers. Her story was in The Toronto Star next day:
Terry Sawchuk: ‘can never come back from this’
He was battered, she wrote, weak. “I’m retired, man,” he told her. Stewart had been testily denying any involvement to reporters. Sawchuk wasn’t much more forthcoming about what had happened. An accident, he said.
His face was pale, sunken, “so much so that the map of scars had almost disappeared.”
Often abrasive and harsh, he now commands nought but pity. He lies in a semi-private hospital room which is bare except for a single vase of flowers and some soft drink bottles his two oldest sons had brought.
His roommate’s coughing bothered him. There was a shipping channel out his window and he spent the hours watching ships go by. The Rangers were saying he was going to be fine, but Sawchuk wasn’t so sure. He’d been in a bad way. “They still don’t know if I’ll be okay. I’m full of tubes and my back bothers me.”
“Seeing him,” Shirley Walton wrote, “is believing he’ll never play again.” She asked him all the same about a rumoured three-cornered deal that would get Jacques Plante to Toronto and send Sawchuk to St. Louis. “I’m through,” he said.
Sawchuk died on May 31 of pulmonary embolism. “His life was a ceaseless procession of tragedies,” Jim Proudfoot wrote in The Star. “For each of his achievements, and there were many, there were half a dozen sad reversals — sickness, injury, personal heartbreak.”
The Daily Freeman in Kingston, New York, has a tribute to Shirley Fischler’s career, this way, along with an archive of some of her work, sporting and otherwise.
If it were anyone else, we might be able to swing players around to fill the gap. But the loss of Laprade is serious trouble.
• Frank Boucher in January of 1951
Edgar Laprade was 94 when he died last Monday at home in Thunder Bay, Ontario. A revered New York Ranger, the closest he came to winning a Stanley Cup was in 1950, when the Rangers lost in Game-7 double overtime to Detroit. He was a four-time All Star and won the Calder Trophy as the NHL’s best rookie in 1945-46 and the Lady Byng, for peacefulness, in 1949-50. He was elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1993 as a Veteran. That, he said at the time, was his biggest hockey thrill. Richard Goldstein has a good obituary in The New York Times. Otherwise, a few further notes on a quietly outstanding career:
1. Mine Centre, Ontario, was where he was born, in October of 1919, at the Lakehead, 190 miles west of Port Arthur on the Canadian Northern Railway. “There’s some good fishing there,” Laprade told Kevin Shea at the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2006.
2. Prospectors had struck copper in May of 1916. A year later the Port Arthur Copper Company was selling shares on the property at 30 cents apiece. “This is the great time in the world’s history for mining,” one of their ads crowed. “Metal is King. Copper is at the highest point in years.”
3. Playing in Port Arthur, Laprade was a Bruin before he graduated to the mighty Bearcats, for whom he starred with his brother Bert, a defenceman. They won the Allan Cup in 1939, beating the Montreal Royals, and would have gone on to represent Canada at the 1940 Winter Olympics if war hadn’t swept it off the calendar. In February of 1941, local fans organized Laprade Night ahead of a game with the Fort William Hurricanes where they presented the boys with silver tea services. Actually, no, just the one: it was wartime, after all, and they would have to be content to share.
4. He was the best senior hockey player in the country in those years. The New York Rangers held his rights and twice the manager there, Lester Patrick, invited him to training camp and each time Laprade said no. “We tried again this fall,” Rangers’ PR man Jersey Jones was saying in 1941, when Laprade was 22, “but it doesn’t look very promising. Lester’s raised the ante several times, I understand, but still no go. Probably when he makes up his mind to give the Rangers a break — if he ever does — he’ll have to make the trip in a wheelchair.”
5. After Elmer Lach broke his arm in the fall of 1941, Canadiens’ manager Tommy Gorman tried to lure Laprade to Montreal, and it looked like he might be lured, too, until Patrick said nyah-uh, refused to cede his rights.
6. As Don MacEachern has written in his review of western Canadian service hockey, the Port Arthur hockey team bifurcated in 1942, creating a new team, Shipbuilders, to compete against the Bearcats. Edgar and Bert stuck with the latter while a third Laprade brother, Remi, suited up for the new team. A hybrid version of the two ended up in the Allan Cup Final in the spring of 1942 where they lost to a powerhouse RCAF Flyer team boosted by the talents of recent Boston Bruins Woody Dumart, Milt Schmidt, and Bobby Bauer.
By the fall of 1943 Bert was on the ice for the RCAF. Edgar went to Ottawa to enlist in the Army’s Ordnance Corps. For the rest of the war he served, on the ice and off, in Winnipeg and Kingston.
7. That’s where Frank Boucher, who was coaching the Rangers, went to work, in the summer of 1945. Through a friend he found out that Laprade was worried about a $5000 payment on a house in Fort William. He got an old Kingston pal, former Ranger great Bill Cook, to arrange a dinner. Boucher’s offer was a two-year contract worth $15,000 along with a $5000 signing bonus. Laprade agreed. According to Boucher, he then had to convince Lester Patrick to go along with the deal. Which he did, eventually, grudgingly.
8. The Rangers weren’t sorry. At 26, Laprade won the Calder decisively, well ahead of Chicago’s George Gee and Montreal’s Jim Peters.
9. He impressed Lloyd Percival as the shiftiest puck-carrier in the NHL. And when the author of The Hockey Handbook (1951) asked veteran hockey writers who were the best skaters they’d seen, the list included Syl Apps, Eddie Shore, Howie Morenz, Max Bentley, Maurice Richard, Frank Mahovlich, Bill Mosienko, Gordie Howe, and Laprade.
10. He liked a nine lie on his stick, noteworthy because it’s unheard of. The lie, you’ll recall, is the angle between the shaft and the blade, and most players opt for a five or a six. This is from a Ranger teammate, Danny Lewicki:
He was very difficult to check as the lie of his stick meant he could keep the puck very close to his feet. I believe ‘Teeder’ Kennedy of the Leafs was the only other player of that era to also use the same lie stick.
11. The elusive little centre was a phrase used to describe him. The Brooklyn Daily Eagle: “His all-around ability and sparkling play made him the keyman of the team.” Around the Garden, there was a saying, apparently, in those years: “As Laprade goes, so go the Rangers.”
12. In 1949, he was said to be the hardest-working Ranger. It wasn’t a good team. In Laprade’s ten New York years, they only made the playoffs twice. It was his most potent weapon, his quickness. It helped him avoid some terrific smashes and even topped his superb ability as a stickhandler, a department in which he was as good as Detroit’s Sid Abel, “a real clever gent with a hockey stick.” This is all from Ralph Trost of The Brooklyn Daily Eagle. “That quickness,” he said, “is almost as sharp as that of a mongoose, the animal kingdom’s quickest operator in the clutches.” Just imagine if Laprade played between wingers like Howe and Lindsay. Which was more or less the point of the piece, headlined “Laprade’s Skill Lost With Rangers.”
13. A hard man to please, Ralph Trost. Here he is in 1951:
Few men in hockey have been better than Edgar. Between the blue lines, few have been his equal at puck control. Edgar and some other lad can dash in that center ice and both get spun around. But usually it is Laprade who comes up with the puck.
Yet, the same fellow within 15 feet hasn’t anywhere near the same control. His shots, when he gets them, are fluffy. The fastest man on balance at center ice seems to be the last one to get it down near the goal. How Laprade gets into that position where he has no shot but a futile backhander is a real puzzle.
Maybe if they could change that line around the goal from red to blue, nothing will stop him.
14. He never was a prolific scorer, it’s true. His best year, 1949-50, when he won the Lady Byng, he had 22 goals. In the 500 NHL games he played in his career, he notched 280 points, with another 13 in the playoffs.
15. Gentlemanly is an adjective he wears, and earned, no doubt. He went whole seasons, as the obituaries remind us, without incurring a single minute of penalty punishment. And yet he did what he had to do: in that tea-service game in 1941, the Laprades were front and centre in the game’s only fight, a double date in which they teamed up to trade punches with Fort William’s Stan Robertson and Joe Konderka.
16. “Like all peaceful guys,” wrote Tommy Holmes in The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, “he had the sins of the savage brought down upon him.” Which is to say that for all his lawfulness — because of it? — he seems to have been under constant attack. Here’s an erstwhile Red Wing, Benny Woit, from Rich Kincaid’s The Gods of Olympia Stadium: Legends of the Detroit Red Wings (2003):
Teddy Lindsay just nailed him this one time. You know, I still remember when he hit him. Oh, jeez, the blood all over the place.
That’s the only guy Ted Lindsay ever went back to and said he was sorry. He kind of looked at Edgar and he almost apologized. But I don’t think he did. Pretty close, yes.
17. “I never liked Gordie,” Laprade told The Globe and Mail’s Allan Maki in 2011. “Even his own linemates, like Ted Lindsay, didn’t like him. He wasn’t that clean of a player. He was a good player; you can’t take that away from him. But he elbowed me once for no reason.” Continue reading
Zander Hollander died in Manhattan on April 11 at the age of 91. If you grew up in the pre-Google age with any appetite for hockey trivia, you’ll recall the name from the covers of the indispensable annual handbooks he filled with a nerd’s cornucopia of quizzes and line-ups, schedules, records, scouting reports, vital statistics. Douglas Martin recalled his legacy in The New York Times earlier this week, here. From Hollander’s 1972 Complete Handbook of Pro Hockey, some selected biographical intel from the season’s crop of NHL talent:
Nicknamed Smiley Bates because of his addiction to country music. (Bruce Gamble)
A rugged type, he once dropped down to block a shot with his mouth and it cost him 40 stitches. (Ed Van Impe)
Call this little Frenchman the Lone Star North Star. (Jude Drouin)
Real first name is Hubert. (Pit Martin)
Allergic to Toronto air, he lives outside of the city and comes into town only for games and practices. (Norm Ullman)
Possesses a fiery temper and often explodes in anger. (Henri Richard)
After each game, he jots down a check list of his own mistakes. (George Armstrong)
Nicknamed Gump after Andy Gump, his childhood comic strip favorite. (Lorne Worsley)
Married daughter of Red Wings’ team dentist. (Bert Marshall)
Known as something of a flake among fellow players. (Eddie Shack)
Not appreciated as much by the fans as he is by his teammates and other hockey players. (Bob Nevin)
Joined Canadian Army, lying about his age, and attained rank of sergeant. (Emile Francis)
Wife, June, is an expert figure skater. (Dean Prentice)
Takes 55 units of insulin every morning and drinks sweetened soda and orange juice to keep up his strength during games. (Bobby Clarke)
Native of Finland pronounces name “You-ha Vee-ding.” (Juha Widing)
The power is in his wrists. (Jacques Lemaire)
The Toronto Maple Leafs lost eight games in a row to round out the month of March. April came in like a bit of a cure: the Leafs beat Calgary and Boston this past week before last night’s loss to Winnipeg appeared to kill their playoff hopes. The following anthology of disappointment is a composite of quotes from the month that was, culled from newspapers local and national, wire reports, and the Twitter feeds of a scattering of discouraged beat reporters.
“Obviously we were pretty flat the first period,” Toronto coach Randy Carlyle said. “It looked like we were still in our afternoon nap. Playing an afternoon game just took us a good part of the game to get warmed up and get awake.”
Losing the game was one thing, built on ill-timed mistakes and mental lapses. But why the lacklustre Leafs couldn’t match the intensity of a team outside the playoff race left goaltender James Reimer and others grasping for answers.
“Why are we losing? It’s different reasons all the time. If it was one thing we would correct it,” said Joffrey Lupul.
“We could not make two passes,” Carlyle said.
They looked like a team that had been beaten and given up, a dead team skating, both that night and again in practice early in the week. Continue reading
The blond Bomber the papers called him, sometimes, and fine and industrious and the fast-skating wing man. A Canadien and a Red Wing who played four-and-a-half NHL seasons, Léo Gravelle died on October 30 at the age of 88. One of his nicknames was The Gazelle.
“Léo Gravelle swished in Glen Harmon’s shot” is a sentence you might have seen after Montreal beat Chicago in 1947. He was born in Aylmer, Quebec. Witnesses who watched him play called him an extraordinary and sprightly skater. And of course there’s the time, in Chicago, that teammate Kenny Reardon hit a steelworker in the stands with his stick and the steelworker’s friends tried to throw a chair at him and Gravelle went to Reardon’s aid, and the two players ended up in jail, charged with assault with a deadly weapon. “I did not strike any of the spectators,” Gravelle said, later. “Everybody was standing up and leaning across the barrier so I hit the top of the barrier with my stick a couple of times to keep them from coming over.” (The charges were dropped.)
In May of 2007, Léo Gravelle was the guest of honour at the annual meeting of the Society for International Hockey Research in Ottawa. Speaking to an audience that included two Howie Morenzes (son and grandson of the original) as well as the hockey artist Mac McDiarmid, and the man who knows more about minor-league hockey than anyone in the whole world, Gravelle talked about his life in hockey. It was like a spell he was speaking, an incantation. “I’ve had a good life,” he began, and
A lot of people, they think it’s easy, the start in life. When I was six years old, it was hard times. We didn’t have electricity until I was 17 years old. When it comes time to play, I’m gonna tell you the truth. In those days the skates are not like today. It’s just a leather thing. When it gets wet it expands. I had to wear my cousin’s skates. At four o’clock in the afternoon it was my turn. I put on six pairs of socks. I don’t know if you still have your mother or not, but after you lose her you miss her a lot. I had a good father. Sometimes he had to walk from Hull to Aylmer after working his day’s work. We didn’t have radios. I was an office boy. I used to run everywhere. We had a hockey team. I will tell you what we used to do. Shinpads, it was a piece of felt. Hockey sticks, we were paying 25 cents. Excuse me, ladies, if I’m swearing sometimes. I was an altar boy for eight years. Have you heard of a hockey game after midnight mass? It was the choir versus the altar boys. In the morning when I got up there was an apple, an orange, and a piece of paper. Thank you, Lord. What do you get for Christmas today? I was working for the government, office boy, 39 dollars a month. My first suit cost me 39 dollars, so my mother had to pay my streetcar for the next month. I was playing Juvenile at 17 years old. Port Colborne. At St. Mike’s the coach was Joe Primeau. When you win the Memorial Cup, a fellow has to be proud. I went to the Montreal Royals. I had a line with Floyd Curry and Howard Riopelle. I could name you some names. When you play for a team like Montreal, they can decide to send you to Buffalo. They sent me to Houston. We win the United States Hockey League championship. The next year they brought me up to Buffalo. Then I graduate back to Montreal. Then this guy, Kenny Reardon. He used to call me Gravel. We did some damage. That was another thing that went by. I got traded for Bert Olmstead. I think I can brag about this. I’m the only one who played with Howe and Richard. Sid Abel was injured. I played with Gordie Howe and Ted Lindsay. Then Sid Abel came back. I sat on the bench for 13 games. Then they sent me down to Indianapolis. Jack Adams said, Léo Gravelle will never play another game in the NHL. I never did. I learned one thing in my life, when you go in to get a job, when they tap you on the back, that means they don’t want you. But I’ve had a good life. What I’ve told you today, it’s from the bottom of my heart. The Rocket could score on his knees. Gordie Howe was sort of a brute. They were two good guys for me. I don’t know how I’ve still got my nose, my face. Black Jack Stewart, he picked me up and drove me into the end. I didn’t know where I was.
The New York Rangers eventually lost to Chicago in the Stanley Cup semi-finals in 1971, but they had some big wins along the way. One of them included a hattrick by centre Vic Hadfield, the first to be notched in the playoffs by a Ranger since Pentti Lund managed it. “I remember Lund,” Jean Ratelle said after the game, Hadfield’s linemate. “From the bubblegum cards I had as a kid.” Hadfield: not so much. “I never heard of Lund,” he said. “How long ago did he do it?”
It was the spring of 1950, in fact, which is worth recalling, with word today from Thunder Bay today that Lund has died at the age of 87. The second Finnish-born player to make a mark in the NHL, those who do remember him in New York know that he not only won the Calder Trophy as the league’s outstanding rookie in 1949, but Lund’s hattrick the following year almost — it was close — helped the Rangers win a Stanley Cup, too. Continue reading