here’s to you, mr. robinson

Ecce Homo: No occasion to mark here, birthday or anniversary: this 1979 portrait of Hall-of-Fame defenceman Larry Robinson hoisted up on a corn crib is an occasion unto itself. “Born and raised on a dairy farm in the Ottawa Valley,” the accompanying feature instructed readers, “Robinson embodies the strength and responsibility of rural morality. As Montreal’s ex-coach Scotty Bowman put it, ‘When there’s trouble or confusion, he seems to skate into the middle of things and take control just by being there.’” Writer Jay Teitel observed Robinson in all his 6’4’’, 225-pound glory in the off-season, joining him on the road to a softball game: “He’s frowning slightly out the window at the road, his features, especially his moustache, looming a bit larger than life, the way they do on my TV screen when the camera catches him in his haggard sentinel pose at the blue line. A U.S. Civil War general and Mark Twain are two of the images that come to mind.” (Image: Hauser/D’Orio, Weekend Magazine)

upended

It was the final weekend of the NHL’s 1959-60 season, towards the end of March. On the eve of the playoffs, the Toronto Maple Leafs had a couple of games to go before they got down to the business of chasing the Stanley Cup. Sunday they played their final regular-season game in Detroit, forging a 3-2 win in which goaltender Johnny Bower was the acknowledged star. Bower hadn’t done badly the night before either, back home at Maple Leaf Gardens, outduelling Chicago’s Glenn Hall in a 1-0 win that saw Frank Mahovlich set up Red Kelly’s winning goal. Writing it up for the hometown Globe and Mail, Rex MacLeod recognized that “Pierre Pilote, most underrated defenceman in the league was a standout for the Hawks in a game that had occasional flurries of high-speed action, excellent goalkeeping, fine defensive work plus solid bodychecking.” A photographer from the Turofsky’s Alexandra Studio’s caught some of that here. Reproduced in 100: A Century of NHL Memories (2017), an anthology of photographs drawn from the vasty vaults of the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto, this image shows Pilote upending Leafs’ right winger Gerry James while Hall secures the puck in his crease. The other Hawks shown are (back left, wearing number 8) winger Murray Balfour alongside defenceman Moose Vasko. Obscured, mostly, by James and Pilote, that’s Bobby Hull in back. He didn’t make the cut at all when football star and artist Tex Coulter came to translate the scene to canvas. Then again, Glenn Hall didn’t fare a whole lot better in the painted version, here below, that would adorn the cover of the NHL’s 1961 Official Annual, snatching away Hall’s real-save save to pose him looking back, too late, at the goal he couldn’t foil.

(Top image: Imperial Oil/Turofsky Collection, from 100 : A Century of NHL Memories, Natural Treasure Series, 2017)

 

 

 

 

 

and a fighter by his trade

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The Boston Bruins’ 32-year-old defenceman Hal Laycoe (above left) hangs out with boxer Jimmy Carter, lightweight champion of the world, at Boston’s Ye Garden Café in May of 1955. Carter, 31, was gearing up to defend his title that spring: in June, he’d meet the challenger, Wallace “Bud” Smith at Boston Garden. He lost that bout in the late rounds — a stiff right in the 10th from the underdog Smith seems to have turned the tide, followed by a sweeping left to Carter’s eye. The two fighters met again that fall, in Cincinnati, but Carter couldn’t reclaim his crown.

And Laycoe? This day that same year (March 16 was a Wednesday in 1955, too), he caught an early plane in Boston and flew north to Montreal. “Shortly after arriving there,” wrote an anticipatory Tom Fitzgerald The Boston Daily Globe’s, “Hal will appear before NHL Pres. Clarence Campbell to tell his version of the hectic happenings in the Garden Sunday night when Laycoe was involved in a brawl with Maurice Richard, the noted wood-chopper.”

The season was almost over; another week and the playoffs would be underway. Montreal was battling with Detroit for first place overall; the Rocket was duelling with teammate Boom-Boom Geoffrion for the league’s scoring lead.

In Boston what had happened was that Canadiens were losing 4-1 with about seven minutes left in the game. With Boston’s Warren Godfrey in the penalty box, Montreal coach Dick Irvin pulled his goaltender, Jacques Plante. What happened next was not, perhaps, what the coach (or anyone) had hoped for.

Richard carried the puck toward the Boston net. Laycoe’s raised stick caught him on the side of the head. Referee Frank Udvari called a high-sticking penalty. Fitzgerald:

Richard raised a hand to his head where Laycoe’s stick landed. When the hand came down crimson-covered, Rocket waved it at referee Udvari, then he went berserk.

“Richard rushed at Laycoe and swung his stick,” was The Associated Press version of it: “Laycoe parried the blow, dropped his stick, eye-glasses and gloves and went after Richard. Richard hit Laycoe on the shoulder with his stick.”

Fleming Mackell retrieved Laycoe’s stick for him. Linesman Sam Babcock tried to separate the belligerents, in vain. They wrestled and fell to the ice. A Richard uppercut cut Laycoe under the eye.

The other linesman, Cliff Thompson eventually pinned Richard to the boards. Richard hit him under the eye; Thompson tried to hit him back, but missed. Richard then got his stick back and, said the AP, “whacked Laycoe a solid blow on the head.”

After the game, Boston Police Lieutenant Frank Gannon was ready to arrest Richard — Dick Irvin, too, when he raised a fuss. Bruins’ president Walter Brown dissuaded him, though, and the policeman had to be satisfied with a stern warning: next time.

So it was up to Clarence Campbell to decide on punishments. The hearing was set for 10.30 a.m. on the Wednesday. Laycoe planned to say his piece and head straight back to the airport to catch a 1:15 flight back to Boston. I guess he wasn’t expecting a suspension: his aim was to get back in time for the Bruins’ game that night with the Red Wings.

(Photo courtesy of the Boston Public Library, Leslie Jones Collection.)

riotous richard

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Easy to finger Maurice Richard as the cause of the kerfuffles pictured here — he was legendarily fiery, often goaded, easily enraged — but the fact is I can’t really say what started these melees in Boston. 1951, maybe ’52? That’s a guess. Before Bob Armstrong taught me history in high school, he wore number 4 and played on the Bruin defence starting in ’50-’51, and definitely not him in the image above, so whoever it is moving in to aid in the argy-bargying (Steve Kraftcheck? Max Quackenbush?), the era is pre-Big Bob. Richard is 9, of course, and he’s facing up to … Milt Schmidt? Maybe. That’s Elmer Lach down on a knee, on the blueline, wearing 16. If you had to predict what was coming next, would it be fists flying you’d have in mind? Or …

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… could you see everybody calming down. No harm, no foul does. Richard is the one getting a talking-to here from referee Red Storey, and I guess that does seem to implicate him as the instigator, but again, let’s not assume. Montreal defencemen Doug Harvey and Tom Johnson have moved in to help with the negotiations, which the other official (his suspenders showing through his sweater) seems content to stay out of.

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Later — though it might be earlier, for all I know — Richard is at it again. Or — in it. He’s in the middle of it, definitely, though this time Red Storey is discussing the situation with a Bruin, some Bruin who is demonstrably not Milt Schmidt, because he, Schmidt, is 15, down there in the lower right corner. I don’t want to put words into Butch Bouchard’s mouth, but he does seem to have something to say to the Rocket, a point to make, or maybe a plea, enough, let it go, let’s play some hockey. I don’t know whether that’s something you’d say to the Rocket, if you were Butch Bouchard. I’m not, and never have been; I personally wouldn’t dare.

fours: some

Selkeites: The farm system seeded by Canadiens GM Frank Selke in the later 1940s began to bear fruit in the early 1950s. In 1953, it yielded a Stanley Cup, the first of six he’d win with Montreal. Above, Selke sits in a grove of his recruits in a photograph dating to (at a reasonable guess) the start of that championship ’52-’53 season, which would put all four players at 21 or 22. From the left, those are centres Paul Masnick, Reg Abbott, and Jean Béliveau along with left winger Dickie Moore. Selke, Masnick and Moore got their names etched on the Cup that year; Abbott and Béliveau weren’t so fortunate. Each of them skated in three regular-season games but neither one saw any ice in the playoffs. Abbott’s statistics were and remain blanks — he failed register a goal or assist, incurred no penalty minutes — and he never played another NHL game. For his part, Béliveau, scored five goals in his three games, launching a career that nobody has to be reminded to celebrate. It is worth noting, Abbott-wise, that he did wear sweater number 4 in ’52-’53, a season before Le Gros Bill got hold of it and made it his own. Having started his Montreal career in 1951 wearing number 17, Béliveau was by this time sporting 12 — which, of course, Dickie Moore would go on to make sufficiently his own that the Canadiens ended up retiring it in his name. Paul Masnick? While he tried out both 22 and 23 during his Montreal career, in 1953 he was 11.

(Photo: Weekend Magazine/ Louis Jaques/ Library and Archives Canada/ e002505710)

a brace of shakes

Aftershake: In April of 1949, the Toronto Maple Leafs swept to their third consecutive Stanley Cup, beating the Detroit Red Wings in four straight games. Above, captains Sid Abel and Ted Kennedy share a moment. A year later, after Gordie Howe was injured doing his best to check Kennedy, Abel was one of the Wings who went after the Leaf captain with malice aforethought. (Photo: City of Toronto Archives, Globe and Mail fonds, Fonds 1266, Item 132804)

Handfast: In April of 1949, the Toronto Maple Leafs swept to their third consecutive Stanley Cup, beating the Detroit Red Wings in four straight games. Above, captains Sid Abel and Ted Kennedy share a moment after the decisive game at Maple Leaf Gardens. Almost a year later, after Gordie Howe was injured doing his best to check Kennedy, Abel was one of the Wings who went after the Leaf captain with malice aforethought. (Photo: City of Toronto Archives, Globe and Mail fonds, Fonds 1266, Item 132804)

bruce bennett: have to get up in the morning, shoot a hockey game each day

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He’s been called, inevitably, the Wayne Gretzky of hockey photography, as well as the Einstein. Both are meant to measure and honour Bruce Bennett’s rinkside genius with a camera, of course; the latter pays additional tribute to his grey head of mad-scientist hair.

Whichever way you want to label him, there’s no disputing that Bennett, who turned 60 this year, is hockey’s pre-eminent modern-day photographer. Born in Brooklyn, New York, he got his first assignment for The Hockey News in 1974. By the end of last hockey season, he’d photographed 4,678 NHL games, along with dozens of Olympic, international, junior and college games. If you’re a hockey fan, it’s no exaggeration to say that most of the best hockey images you’ve seen over the past 40 years were formed and frozen in Bennett’s camera.

After 30 years in the business, Bennett sold his business to Getty Images, for whom he continues to shoot and oversee hockey coverage. For Hockey Greatest Photos, he’s chosen 246 images from an archive surpassing two million — “a monumental task,” he writes in his Backword here — to assemble what is a stunning scrapbook of hockey history.

As is usual for him at this time of year, Bruce Bennett has his camera in hand this fall and his eye on hockey players. When Puckstruck caught up to him late last week, he was en route from New York to Toronto for the weekend’s Hockey Hall of Fame ceremonies. Via e-mail, we questioned and he answered:

I won’t ask you outright what your favourite image is in the book (though you’re free to mention it), but what about this: is there one, to you, that best captures the essence of the game?

Wow. Good question and since there are 246 favorite images in the book, your twist works well. And at least I have a few minutes to page through and pick one. The logical conclusion of any sporting event is that there is a winner, and a loser. That is summed up with my photograph of Henrik Lundqvist, alone in the crease as the Los Angeles Kings celebrate their Cup victory around him. The essence of the perfect sports photo that captured jubilation and dejection. And number two, if you would allow me, is an image from last season as Alex Ovechkin dives to hit the puck past Lundqvist. To me the image summarizes the dedication, perseverance and tenacity that it takes to be successful in this sport. And seeing Ovechkin’s eyes following the puck is a bonus.

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Did you admire particular hockey photographers as a boy and/or as a young photographer? Your forebears behind a camera at the rink include many great names, from Turofsky to Bier to Brodeur. Is there one whom you especially admire? Is that a hockey photograph of someone else’s that’s a favourite of yours?

I was an Ansel Adams fan growing up and as I started my hockey career I became more aware of the hockey photographers around me. Among them was another Long Island native Joe DiMaggio who mentored me and I learned so much from him about photography and life in general. Then there was Mel DiGiacomo who was, and still is, a creative genius. He moved from hockey to tennis and then on to photojournalism and is the epitome of an “old master” shooting black-and-white images that tug at the heartstrings. And yes David Bier and Denis Brodeur were two guys who I admired as much for their willingness to share techniques and knowledge as I did for their immense talent.

How does hockey rate on the chart of hard-to-photograph sports? What’s the biggest challenge?

It would be easy for me to say it’s the hardest but I’m probably not one to judge since my experience with other sports is limited. But many other photographers have said that the combination of playing in low light venues, the speed of the game, its unpredictable nature and the poor photo positions certainly make this a real challenge.

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Have advances in photographic equipment made your job easier over the years? Anything that’s been lost along the way, or is it altogether better to be shooting now than in the 1970s?

I really can’t think of anything about photography that was better when I started. The natural evolution of the equipment, along with the entrance into the digital age has changed the profession in countless ways. Improvements in equipment included moving from manual focus to autofocus and then the continual improvements in autofocus, sharper lenses, and faster motor drives have been great advances. As for the digital cameras, the use of digital cards with the ability to shoot thousands of images before reloading, seeing instantly what you’ve captured (or missed!), and being enable to shoot high-quality images in lower light situations have all improved the craft of sports photography.

Is there a shot you didn’t get that haunts you?

Countless images lost — in fact a game doesn’t go by that I regret something I missed. I do remember one specific one maybe ten years ago but don’t even remember the teams. It is always important to fill the frame and get in tight. On this image I was filling the frame as two guys stood in front of the net. A floating shot towards the net came in very high and both guys lifted off like basketball players going to the net. And there they were maybe three feet off the ice … and I cut their heads off! But like a goaltender you need to clear your head when you miss one or you won’t be prepared for the next shot. Have to just shake it off!!

Do you play?

Nope. I played through high school and college and a few times a year for many years after that until I was about 40. Then at one pickup game after I miraculously moved around some guy, he dove and slashed me on my high school style shinguards. I realized then that I wasn’t that interested in playing anymore. Have to get up in the morning and be physically able to shoot a hockey game each day!!

Hockey’s Greatest Photos: The Bruce Bennett Collection
The Hockey News, Photographs by Bruce Bennett
(Juniper/ Simon & Schuster, 256 pp., C$39.95/US$34.95)

 

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Tampa Bay Lightning captain Steven Stamkos scores a goal on Henrik Lundqvist’s New York net during the second period of the fifth game of the Eastern Conference Finals at Madison Square Garden last night.