The Montreal Canadiens took to the ice at Verdun in January of 1924 for practice: here they are There’s not a whole lot more I can tell you about this photograph with any certainty. That’s Georges Vézina away down in the far net. And the near? Hard to say. Canadiens’ manager Leo Dandurand did sign a new goaltender that year, but not until October: Eugene Decosse, 25, was seen as an understudy and heir to Vézina, who was 37. (As it turned out, Decosse never played an NHL game.) So maybe is it right winger Billy Cameron? He wore number 11 that year, and it’s possible that he donned the pads in Verdun. I’m betting that the tall figure in front of him is captain Sprague Cleghorn. Based on the distinctive hairline, I’d guess that Billy Coutu is the man to his left. Otherwise — I don’t know. Sylvio Mantha is out there, and probably Sprague’s brother Odie, which is a pleasing phrase to say aloud, so here it is again: Sprague’s brother Odie. Could be a coated Dandurand, who also coached the team, off in the far corner, maybe? Is that a capped Aurèle Joliat skating up from the back — or is he bareheaded out on the extreme left? And next to that guy — possibly Howie Morenz, in his first season with Montreal, carrying the puck? The great Joe Malone played his last NHL hockey that year with Montreal, so he could be out there, too.
The record does show that Canadiens had a tough go of it in January of ’24. They would, just a few months later, win the NHL title, which they followed up by beating the WCHL’s Calgary Tigers to take the Stanley Cup.
But to start the year they went 3-7. Billy Coutu broke his wrist that month, and in a game against the Ottawa Senators at the Forum, Montreal’s Gazette noted that Vézina “looked a little off-colour, and caused a little apprehension among Canadiens supporters.” In Hamilton, during a 4-0 loss to the local Tigers, Canadiens’ winger Billy Boucher struck a spectator with his stick. “It might have been an accident,” the Gazettegenerously offers; “fans ran at him from all corners of the rink, but Cleghorn and a few more Montreal players barred the way to the dressing room until Boucher was safe behind locked doors.” They lost a subsequent game in Ottawa by a score of 2-1, despite a valiant showing by Morenz. This I’ve learned, too: “The Habitants plays seemed to made with deliberation and method and they wasted no valuable stamina in headlong rushes.”
Montreal was getting in gear by January 30, also a Wednesday in 1924, when they beat Hamilton 5-2 at the Forum on soft ice. Boucher and Morenz each scored a pair of goals, Joliat one of his own. The crowd was small, about 4,000, and the referee was Mike Rodden. The jeers he got towards the end of the game were “good-natured,” the Gazettesays: “he called back the play three times for offsides and on each occasion the puck had been sent past [Hamilton goaltender Jakie] Forbes.”
(Image: Canada. Dept. of Interior / Library and Archives Canada / PA-049739)
As far as hockey went, Canada’s 1936 Winter Olympics in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, in Germany, were a fresh-air flop. For the first time in five tournaments, Canada lost a game. Unfairly or not — guess who claimed the former — that was enough to give Great Britain the gold, while Canada had to settle for silvery second.
Most of the hockey at those eventful Nazi Games took to the ice at the main rink in Garmisch, 27 games. A further ten played out on the nearby ice of Lake Riessersee, seen above in pre-Olympic days. Canada made its Bavarian debut there on February 6.
“The puckmen wearing the Maple Leaf emblem were brimful of confidence,” the Canadian Press advised the nation the day before Canada’s opening encounter with Poland. Coach Al Pudas described his team as “strong and smart.”
On the day, the Poles had trouble getting to the lake on time. Their bus was slowed or got stuck on slippery roads, and so the crowd of 300 watched the Canadians take an extended warm-up. Once the game got underway, there were goals (mainly Canadian) and there was weather (non-partisan).
“So heavy was the snowstorm,” CP reported, “the spectators saw more snow shovelling than hockey.” The players had trouble distinguishing “friend from foe.” Still, the Canadians opened with “speedy thrusts,” scoring five first-period goals. The lone Pole goal was self-inflicted, with Canadian goaltender Dinty Moore knocking the puck into his own net.
Going into the third, with the score 7-1, the Poles concentrated almost solely on keeping the Canadians at bay. “While the Polish lacked sting and polish, their defensive play was first rate,” the CP allowed; Canada added only one more goal to its rout.
By the end, the weather had pretty much imposed itself. “Despite an army of men employed to scrape and shovel” the rink, the snow piled up. “Play was halted several times,” the CP correspondent noted, “so that the officials could find the puck.”