goodbye to goaling

Colin Kilburn never ended up playing an NHL game but in 1949 he did attend the Montreal Canadiens’ training camp as a 21-year-old, where (when he wasn’t on the ice) he posed with a Montreal traffic policeman. Kilburn was a high-scoring left winger at this time for the Edmonton Flyers of the Western Canada Senior Hockey League, winners of the 1948 Allan Cup. He went on to play in the WHL as a Victoria Cougar, a Vancouver Canuck, and a Spokane Comet. He coached in Spokane, too, as a playing assistant for the Comets and, in the 1960s, as the full-time boss of the bench for the Spokane Jets Western International League. Born in Wilkie, Saskatchewan, he grew up in Edmonton, where he started his hockey career as a 9-year-old goaltender. A 1995 obituary by Dan Weaver in Spokane’s Spokesman-Review told how he departed the net for a more advanced position:

He was a 15-year-old goalkeeper in junior hockey with players up to 20 years of age when he remembered 13 goals being “fired past me in two periods.

“I went in and threw off the goalie pads,” he said in a 1966 interview. “I went back out and had two goals and an assist in the third period. I never played goalie again.”

(Photo: Editorial Associates)

back home, back in hockey

Sept. 10 1957 Sawchuk camp

Terry Sawchuk wasn’t happy to leave Detroit in the summer of 1955, having just helped the team win the Stanley Cup, but GM Jack Adams decided it was time: he had a young goaltender by the name of Glenn Hall waiting in the minor-league wings. So Sawchuk went to Boston, where he got sick, came back too soon, suffered in the net and, in December of 1956, retired from hockey: done.

Until he returned. In June of 1957, Adams traded Johnny Bucyk to the Bruins to get Sawchuk back for the Red Wings. (A month later, he shed Hall and Ted Lindsay to Chicago.)

“I’m very happy to be back home and back in hockey,” said Sawchuk, who was 27. By early September, he was on his way (above) to the Red Wings’ training camp in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan. In early workouts there, defenceman Red Kelly impressed with his, quote, vitality. Gordie Howe and Metro Prystai were also reported to be extremely peppy. The Canadian Press noted that Sawchuk felt that his reflexes were just as quick as ever following his short retirement. “The only thing he noticed was that his legs didn’t have as much bounce.”

Sawchuk would play every one of the 70 Red Wings’ regular-season games that year, and all the playoffs. It wasn’t 1955 anymore: playing Montreal in ’58, Detroit went out in four.


paintball leafsIn the 1920s, training camp for the Toronto Maple Leafs found them hiking and hunting and tossing horseshoes. Flash forward to 2014, when (yesterday) the blue-and-white heirs of Day and Primeau and Conacher donned camouflage and eye-protection for paintballing near Wasaga Beach, Ontario. Defenceman Jake Gardiner tweeted a photo of himself in gear alongside centre Tyler Bozak:

gardiner + bozek

(Photos: @Stephen_Keogh, @Jgardiner272)

developing muscles, improving wind: a short history of the leafs in pre-season

Leafs in Fall: Getting ready for the season in 1931 are (1) a beslinged Harvey Jackson recovers from a car accident; (2) Harold Cotton, Red Horner, Charlie Conacher, and Hap Day on course; and (3) Ace Bailey unleashes a 200-years drive.

Leafs in Fall: Getting ready for the season in 1931 are (1) a beslung Harvey Jackson in recovery from his car accident; (2) Harold Cotton, Red Horner, Charlie Conacher, and Hap Day on the lacrosse field; and (3) Ace Bailey unleashes a 200-yard drive.

In 1929 the Leafs took a pair of boxers with them to training camp, and my thought there was that Conn Smythe must have decided it was time for the team to learn proper levels of pugnacity, testosterone, truculence and belligerence. Turns out, no, though: seems, instead, that Frenchy Belanger and Billy Ayrton were there for their own benefit, taking advantage of the Leafs’ pre-season regimen. Though they did put on a punching exhibition for the team before they had to leave on a hunting trip. Ayrton was a bantamweight, Belanger a former world flyweight champion.

It was raining when the Leafs got off the train in Port Elgin that October, and the players were hungry, and went straight in to eat. Camp ended with a lunch a couple of weeks later, as it happens: when they got back to Toronto, they headed over to the Royal York for a welcome-back feed. Twenty players were on hand at the post-camp lunch, and the papers reported that they all looked fit. Everybody but goaltender Lorne Chabot had put on weight. They were eager to hit the ice.

On their Lake Huron retreat, they’d drilled under the eye of Corporal Joe Coyne of the RCR. They’d golfed, too, including the day they got in 27 holes and (as The Globe put it) Ace Bailey, Danny Cox, and Chabot “gave ‘old man par’ a stern argument.” Harold Cotton won the team tournament, with Cox and Ayrton tied for second place.

Andy Blair proved himself the team’s fastest sprinter, covering 100 yards in 10 seconds flat. Smythe and Cox teamed up to outduel Red Horner and Gordie Brydson at the horseshoe pit. In a softball doubleheader, the Leafs beat the Port Elgin Fraserites 26-4 (Brydson and Blair pitched) before dispensing with (Brydson was on the mound again) the Perkinites, 10-3. They beat a local team at basketball, too, 52-46.

Leafs’ manager Frank Selke said he’d never seen a more determined band of athletes. They went into everything with an aggressiveness and spirit that marked their play on the ice and they weren’t content unless they were going full out, according to him.

The 1929-30 Leafs, with Corporal Joe Coyne in the middle row, second from the right, between Frank Selke and Lorne Chabot.

The 1929-30 Leafs, with Corporal Joe Coyne in the middle row, second from the right, between Frank Selke and Lorne Chabot.

Continue reading

court case

Leafs in Port Elgin

Historian Bill Fitsell sent a note from his home in Kingston, Ontario, pointing to this photo of the Leafs dropped down for push-ups in Port Elgin in 1928 under Corporal Joe Coyne’s command. Fitsell noted that when he’d included it in Hockey’s Hub, the 2003 history of Kingston hockey heritage he wrote with Mark Potter, a mislabelled archival print gave him the mistaken impression that it showed the Leafs four years later, when coach Dick Irvin brought them to Queen’s University for pre-season drilling. “Another photo depicting four Leafs playing doubles on a leaf-strewn tennis court puzzled me for years because I could never match the background with anything near the Queen’s tennis courts in 1932,” Fitsell wrote. Case corrected, then: the volleying Leafs below also probably date to Port Elgin in 1928. Over the net, below, that looks to be Art Duncan on the left with goaltender Lorne Chabot. I’m not so sure of who it is they’re up against in the closer court. Possibly Gerry Lowrey on the left? Wearing number 3, could be —looks like, I think? — Red Horner. (Maybe.)

tennis 1928

training camp 1928: quoits and trout, jerks and pranks

Physical Jerks: The Leafs in Port Elgin, Ontartio, in October of 1928. That's Corporal Joe Coyne of the RCR in command at the fore. First row, left to right: Ace Bailey, Art Duncan, Joe Primeau, Hap Day. Middle: Shorty Horne, Dr. Bill Carson, Gerry Lowrey, Art Smith. Back: Lorne Chabot, Jack Arbour, Alex Gray, Danny Cox.

Physical Jerks: The Leafs in Port Elgin, Ontario, in October of 1928. That’s Corporal Joe Coyne of the RCR in command at the fore. First row, left to right: Art Duncan, Ace Bailey, Joe Primeau, Hap Day. Middle: Shorty Horne, Dr. Bill Carson, Gerry Lowrey, Art Smith. Back: Lorne Chabot, Jack Arbour, Alex Gray, Danny Cox. (Photo: Imperial Oil-Turofsky/Hockey Hall of Fame)

Originally published in The Globe and Mail, on Saturday, September 27, 2014, on page S2.

In the famous photograph, the Leafs jig.

We can laugh, easy for us, but this is serious business, as it always is for Toronto’s hockey team this time of year, the season for the earnest, eternal calisthenics of trying to figure out how to get back into the playoffs. If that requires legendary Leafs with names like Day and Bailey to caper in full hockey garb when their skates and sticks are back home, a couple of hours away — who are we, really, to scorn that?

The year was 1928, and for the Leafs then it was the old story that’s still so familiar: in the spring, they’d missed the post-season again. In the year since Conn Smythe had become one of the team’s owners as well as manager and coach, they’d switched names (St. Patricks to Maple Leafs) and colours (green for blue). On the ice, injuries dogged the team’s season and despite a spirited March, the Leafs didn’t qualify to play for the Stanley Cup in April.

Smythe spent the summer retooling. That and running his sand and gravel business. On the non-aggregate side, he sent Butch Keeling to the New York Rangers for $10,000 and winger Alex Gray. To the defence he added Jack Arbour’s seasoned weight. He recruited junior stars Shorty Horne (a “clever and tricky” stickhandler) and tall Andy Blair, who reminded some of a young Hooley Smith.

Young Joe Primeau (“flashy centre ice man”) was tabbed for full-time duty. And just before the Leafs started jigging, Smythe traded goaltender John Ross Roach to the New York Americans, who sent back Lorne Chabot.

Returning veterans included Ace Bailey, Bill Carson, and the former University of Toronto pharmacy student who’d foregone a career as a druggist to captain the Leafs, Hap Day.

There was worry that August that he’d have to retire: in February, an errant skate had nearly severed his Achilles tendon. A heavy loss it would have been: Day was a dominant defenceman, and durable — Frank Selke said that because he didn’t smoke or drink or touch tea, coffee, or chocolate, he could play 60 minutes a game. He toiled hard over the summer, in the office at C. Smythe Limited by day, skating every evening at Ravina rink. By September, he was ready to go. Continue reading

ice practice and p.t. on the field

First, they luncheoned.

In October of 1936, the Toronto Maple Leafs went west to ready themselves for the oncoming NHL season. There was a get-together first, though, at the Royal York Hotel, where they met the press and other guests for pre-season greetings and a meal. Missing were Manager Conn Smythe (at the NHL meetings in New York) and winger Busher Jackson (testifying in a court case in Detroit), but coach Dick Irvin and 32 Leaf hopefuls were on hand, along with a passel of the team’s directors. Ed Bickle was one of those, and in his speech announced that the Leafs would (quote) once again feature the spectacular and pleasing wide-open brand of hockey.

Among the guests was new Globe president and publisher C. George McCullagh, whose paper reported his having “expressed himself as being a strong supporter of the Maple Leafs.” He promised, too, that The Globe “would give hockey special attention.”

After lunch, Coach Dick Irvin led the team to Preston, Ontario, 100 kilometres to the west, where the team’s training camp was headquartered in what today is known as Cambridge. Vying for roster spots were George Hainsworth and Walter Broda in goal, along with a squad of skaters that included Red Horner, Joe Primeau, Sylvanus Apps, Buzz Boll, Nick Metz, and Charlie Conacher.

For ice they headed over to nearby Galt, where Irvin and Eddie Powers from minor-league Syracuse called the shots. On dry-land, the team was in the hands of Galt’s own Sergeant-Major Hadfield, the man charged with leading them in physical training.

The daily routine that Irvin posted read like this:

7.00 a.m. — Called.
7.30 a.m. — Breakfast.
8.15 a.m. to 9.30 — P.T. on the field.
10.00 a.m. to 12.00 — Golf.
12.30 p.m. — Lunch.
2.30 p.m. to 5.30 — Ice practice.
6.30 p.m. — Dinner.
11.00 p.m.— Retiring hour.
Golf tournament, Sunday, Oct. 25
All members must compete.
See bulletin board every day for your ice practice hour.