x was an elephant who couldn’t keep his laces tied
If you grew up in Canada in the 1970s maybe, like mine, your imagination fed on the elegant excellence of the Montreal Canadiens. Maybe you also found delight and inspiration (as I did, endlessly) in Alligator Pie, Dennis Lee’s monumental 1974 collection of poems for children, illustrated by Frank Newfeld. I keep my copy ready at hand to this day, in case I might need to consult a stanza of “Willoughby Wallaby Woo” or “The Fishes of Kempenfelt Bay” or (obviously) “Alligator Pie” itself, even though I know the whole of that by heart, all the way through its bravura finale:
Alligator soup, alligator soup,
If I don’t get some I think I’m gonna droop.
Give away my hockey-stick, give away my hoop,
But don’t give away my alligator soup.
As a kid who loved to draw goaltenders, I was particularly taken with the illustration on page 52, reproduced here, that went with “The Hockey Game, ”Lee’s homage to A.A. Milne. Featuring Squirm (a worm), Wee (a flea), and George (a George), this poem (as maybe you recall) starred the tearful elephantine goaltender pictured above: his name was X. I was fascinated that he was depicted as a Bruin and no doubt looked up the number 30 (as I just did again) to discover that in Boston in those years it belonged to Ross Brooks. Did I worry that X doesn’t seem to be wearing any pants, protective or otherwise? I’m not sure I noticed. I did love (and tried my best to copy) those pads and that blocker.
Maybe you remember? Lee’s play-by-perfect-play goes, in part, like this:
Hockey with a
Hockey with her
Friends and her foes.
Hockey but he
Couldn’t keep his
And George just played with his toes.
vézina n’est plus
Georges Vézina’s health had been failing for months, and it was on a Saturday morning of this date in March of 1926 that he died, aged 39, in the Hôtel-Dieu hospital in his hometown, Chicoutimi. “Vézina n’est plus,” Horace Lavigne mourned in the pages of La Patrie. “Although foreseen from the first days of his illness, four months ago, loses none of its cruel and painful side.” He’d started his last game for the Montreal Canadiens as the NHL season opened in November of 1925, but he was already desperately ill, and left the ice after the first period. He was subsequently diagnosed with the tuberculosis that killed him.
Above, Montreal’s goaltending great poses with his Canadiens’ teammates during the 1914-15 National Hockey Association season. That team had some talent, as you can see, with future Hall of Famers Didier Pitre and Jack Laviolette joining Vézina in the line-up. It didn’t work out, though, that year: Canadiens ended up bottom of the six-team NHA standings when it was all over. A note on back-up goaltender Ray Marchand, seen here on the left at the back, who never saw any game-action that year. Canadiens could have used him in a game in Quebec, when Vézina took a penalty and, as per the rules then, went to serve his time, but Marchand had stayed home in Montreal, and defenceman Laviolette ended up strapping on Vézina’s pads — and conceding the goal that decided the game in Quebec’s favour. Marchand would return to the team in 1920, when he signed on again as Vézina’s understudy in the NHL. Once again, he was never called on to play in a game.
In 1926, in Vézina’s absence, Canadiens once again finished the season in last place, sunken down at the bottom of the seven-team NHL standings. Montreal’s other team, the Maroons, fared better that year, and on this night 96 years ago, they took on the Ottawa Senators in the final of the two-game, total-goals NHL championship at the Ottawa Auditorium. A crowd of 10,000 stood in honour of Vézina before referee Lou Marsh dropped the puck to start the game, while the band of the Governor-General’s Foot Guards played “Nearer My God To Thee.”
Coaches and players paid tributes of their own. The former Senators’ star defenceman Eddie Gerard was coaching Montreal. “Vézina was the hardest man to beat that I ever played against,” he said. “There was only one Vézina,” said Maroons’ goaltender Clint Benedict.
In the game that followed, Benedict shut out Ottawa’s shooters — with the help, as the Montreal Daily Star imagined it, below, of Vézina’s spirit. Montreal’s Babe Siebert, meanwhile, scored the only goal on Ottawa’s Alec Connell. That was enough to send the Maroons on to play for the Stanley Cup, taking on the WCHL Victoria Cougars later that week at the Forum and beating them three games to one to claim their first championship.
Salutations are in order this morning to the Toronto Six, who last night claimed the Isobel Cup as champions of the Premier Hockey Federation by beating the Minnesota Whitecaps 4-3 in overtime in Tempe, Arizona.
Toronto’s Czech forward Tereza Vanišová scored the winning goal early in a fast-flying extra period, beating Minnesota goaltender Amanda Leveille to secure the Cup for Geraldine Heaney’s team. It’s Toronto’s first championship and the first in the competition’s eight years of existence to go to a Canadian team.
Vanišová was named player of the game, while her teammate, centre Michela Cava, was the pick as playoff MVP.
The trophy the Six received and happily brandished is properly, of course, the Lady Isobel Gathorne-Hardy Cup, named in honour of the women’s hockey pioneer who, as Lord Stanley of Preston’s second-youngest child, growing up in the icy realm of Ottawa’s Rideau Hall as daughter of the governor-general, embraced Canada’s winter game in the late 19th century.
eyes on the tigers
“Canadiens Now World Champions In All Reality,” the headline in the Montreal Daily Star read, and it was true, and real: 99 years ago, on a Tuesday of this date in 1924, the Montreal Canadiens did claim the club’s second Stanley Cup championship, their first in the NHL era. They did so with a potent roster that included Howie Morenz, Georges Vézina, and the Cleghorn brothers, Odie and Sprague.
Their opponents in the finals were the Calgary Tigers, champions of the WCHL, who iced an impressive line-up of their own. Owned and coached by Lloyd Turner, the team featured a defence anchored by Herb Gardiner, who’d soon enough end up a Canadien himself, and the redoubtable Red Dutton, the future (interim) president of the NHL. At forward they counted on Bernie Morris, the former Seattle Met who missed the foreshortened 1919 Stanley Cup finals due to having been jailed by the U.S. Army for evading the draft, and Harry Oliver, a future Boston Bruin. They also counted on veterans Rusty Crawford, Cully Wilson, and Eddie Oatman, Cup-winners all. Spare defenceman Bobby Benson had won a gold medal at the 1920 Olympics as a member of the Winnipeg Falcons.
Canadiens dispensed with the Tigers in a two-game sweep, beating them 6-1 at the Mount Royal Arena on March 22 and then wrapping up the Cup with a 3-0 win three days later. That game was actually played in Ottawa, at the Auditorium, due to the softening of the ice in Montreal. Art Ross was the referee on the night, and Morenz distinguished himself by scoring the game’s winning goal. He was also in bad collision with Red Dutton, which sent him to hospital in the second period with an injured chest and torn ligaments in his shoulder.
“We are naturally disappointed in losing out in the final series,” Turner said, “but we have no complaints to make. Canadiens have a fine team. We hope in time that we will gather together a team which will come down east and lift the Stanley Cup. We’ll do it eventually. We’re not going to lose heart because of the setbacks we have received.”
(Images: Courtesy of Libraries and Cultural Resources Digital Collections, University of Calgary)
the cat came back
The diminutive right winger Johnny (Black Cat) Gagnon played most of his hockey for the Montreal Canadiens in the 1930s, often on a line with Howie Morenz and Aurèle Joliat, but midway through the 1939-40 NHL season, Montreal sold his contract to the New York Americans. He and his new team were back at the Forum on Saturday, March 2, 1940. As seen here, there were gifts for him, pre-game, including this handsome cellarette (a liquor cabinet) presented by a deputation of fans from Gagnon’s hometown, Chicoutimi. That’s Le Canada journalist Paul Parizeau on the right, lending a hand, holding his hat.
Once the furniture had been cleared from the ice, New York surged to a 2-0 lead before Montreal tied the game, then went ahead in the second on a goal by Louis Trudel. It was left to Gagnon to come through as the spoiler and tie the game. Set up by Pat Egan and Tommy Anderson, he beat Montreal goaltender Mike Karakas with a slapshot, no less, as described by Montreal’s Gazette.
Ten minutes of overtime solved nothing and the game finished in a 3-3 tie. In fact, the overtime went on longer than it meant to, with the bell failing to chime to end the game, and referee Mickey Ion oblivious to the time. Finally, New York coach Red Dutton jumped on the ice to signal that it was all over.
The following night in New York, the teams met again. By the end of that night, it was almost over for the Canadiens, as the Americans prevailed 3-0 to push Montreal to the brink of mathematical elimination from the playoffs with five games to go in the regular season. Montreal would be the only team to fail to make the post-season grade that year, as they finished dead last in the seven-team NHL, nine points adrift of the Americans.
Johnny Gagnon died on a Wednesday of today’s date in 1984. He was 78.
(Image: Conrad Poirier, BAnQ Vieux-Montréal)
a headline history of the 1955 richard riot: destruction et pillage (couldn’t happen in toronto)
March went out with a roar in Montreal in 1955 after NHL President Clarence Campbell suspended Canadiens’ superstar Maurice Richard for the remainder of that NHL season and the playoffs after a melee in Boston in which he fought with Bruins’ defenceman Hal Laycoe and knocked down a linesman, Cliff Thompson. The rest, of course, was history, wherein the events of the week that followed are remembered as the Richard Riot. A review from those eventful days 68 years ago this week by way of headlines culled from newspapers of the day, from across North America and around the world:
Monday, March 14
Richard Goes Insane
Boston Daily Record
Richard Stick Duels Laycoe, Fights With Official
Boston Daily Globe
Rocket Goes Wild At Boston, Clouts Laycoe, Linesman
Richard’s Boston Rampage May Hit Habs’ Playoff Hopes
Tuesday, March 15
Boston Brawl Principals Meet Here Wednesday Morning
‘Rocket’ Is Rushed To Hospital For Head X-Ray, Stomach Upset
Toronto Daily Star
Punish The Rocket? Decision Tomorrow
Globe and Mail
Wednesday, March 16
Hockey Hearing To Start Today: Richard of Canadiens Will Leave Hospital to Attend Investigation of Fight
New York Times
Décision attendue aujourd’hui dans le cas de Maurice Richard
‘Dead’ By Weekend Threat To Campbell
Thursday, March 17
Richard Banni Par Campbell
Campbell Bans Richard From Playoffs
Detroit Free Press
Ban Against Richard Severe Blow To Canadiens’ Hopes
Suspension De Richard: Campbell Est Menacé De Mort
Richard May Retire From Hockey
Rocket Not Likely To Retire
Richard Faces Bleakest Era Of His Colorful Career
Réaction multiples en marge de la suspension de M. Richard
Had Fans Are Bitter; Threats Of Violence
Globe and Mail
La punition jugée trop forte: Le maire Drapeau espère une revision du verdict
Ired Fans Threaten Reprisal
Forum Warns Spectators
Trouble And Fame Have Gone Hand In Hand For Rocket
Adams Says Rocket Got Light Deal
School Sports Head Praises Campbell
‘Pas d’appel,’ dit Selke; Campbell au Forum ce soir
Friday, March 18
La foule s’attaque au président Campbell
Campbell Chassé Du Forum
Émeute sans précédent
Pire Émeute Depuis La Conscription, À Montreal
U.S. Tear-Gas Bomb Sold Here In 1941
74 arrestations, 46 vitrines brisées pendant l’émeute
Défi Et Provocation De Campbell
Montreal Mayor Criticized In Riot
Destruction Et Pillage
Couldn’t Happen Here
‘Couldn’t Happen In Toronto,’ Smythe
A Disgrace To Canada
Toronto Daily Star
‘Never … Anything So Disgraceful’ Jack Adams Says
‘It’s Unbelievable’ Says Bruins’ Boss
Seven-Hour Rampage By Ice Hockey Fans
Sydney Morning Herald (Australia)
New York Papers Front Page Hockey Riot
Jail 100 Hockey Fans
Boston Evening Globe
Bullets, Eggs Fly At Riot In Montreal
St. Petersburg Times
‘Our Population Is Enthusiastic,’ Montreal Official
A Disgraceful Spectacle
Innocent Storekeepers Pay Huge Toll In Vandals’ Wake
Ottawa Russians Peeved As ‘Rocket’ Under Suspension
Toronto Daily Star
Councillor Seeks Warrant For Arrest Clarence Campbell
Hooliganism In Montreal
Good For President Campbell!
New York Rangers Not Scared
Saturday, March 19
This Isn’t Montreal
Majority Of Fans Sickened By Riot
Selke Blames Few Hooligans Not Real Fans
Toronto Dailey Star
Montreal Rioting ‘Premeditated’
Montreal Cops Amazed No One Killed In Mad Violence After Game
Toronto Daily Star
Firm Says Bomb Not Sold To Public
Council Lauds Police For ‘Preventing’ Riot
Police To Prevent New Riots
Richard Begs Fans Behave
Boston Daily Globe
Richard, Mayor Ask For Orderly Game
Stores Rush Mop-Up; Loss Set At $50,000
Rioters Allowed Bail On Various Charges
Campbell Right In Suspending Rocket, Richard’s Cousin
Montreal Riot Latent Hostility To Law, Order
Riot May Have Sobering Effect, Says Campbell
Globe and Mail
Campbell Announces He Won’t Attend Game Tonight
Riots Could Happen Anytime, Anywhere Says Specialist
Police Ban Parades, Public Assemblies Near Forum
Hockey Players ‘Spring Lambs’ Compared To Fans
Tuesday, March 22
Boston Writers Travel By Pairs In Montreal
Boston Daily Globe
Friday, March 25
Campbell Says Forum Riot Could Have Prevented
Wednesday, March 30
Campbell Finds Solace In Vilifying Mail, Wires
Globe and Mail
Campbell Squashes Proposal To have Rocket Play In Britain
Globe and Mail
Thursday, April 7
27 Men Fined $25 to $100 For Forum Demonstrations
Friday, April 15
Wings Beat Habs 3-1, Retain Stanley Cup
let my rocket go
In the aftermath of Maurice Richard’s extraordinary suspension in March of 1955 and the riotous tumult that followed, the Montreal Gazette reported on one resourceful Canadiens fan who sought the intervention of Canada’s own Queen, Elizabeth II. She had, it’s true, met the Rocket in Montreal in October of 1951, and with her husband, Prince Philip, watched him play in a game at the Forum against the Rangers, wherein he almost fought New York’s Steve Kraftcheck. (Prince Philip apparently wished he had.) Did the Queen have jurisdiction in cases of NHL discipline, and if so, would King Charles III now consider absolving Jordan Binnington of the St. Louis Blues, do you think? Good questions. In 1955, there’s no indication that Her Majesty ever saw the petition seeking her pardon of the Rocket.
rocket richard riots, 1955: the view from boston
March 13 fell on a Sunday in 1955 and as the NHL season wound down, the first-place Montreal Canadiens paid a visit to Boston to play the Bruins. The third was when all hell broke loose. With six-and-a-half minutes remaining and Boston leading 4-1, the Bruins’ Warren Godfrey took a holding penalty. Montreal coach Dick Irvin pulled his goaltender, Jacques Plante, and Canadiens went to the attack. It was then that Bruins defenceman Hal Laycoe, 32, high-sticked Canadiens’ superstar Maurice Richard, 33. Tom Fitzgerald of the Boston Globe gave it a decidedly more passive spin in his description: “Laycoe’s uplifted stick caught Richard on the side of the head.”
In the fight that ensued, blood flowed as both players swung sticks and threw fists, and in the chaos of it all, Richard punched linesman Cliff Thompson. “Thompson tried to pop Maurice right back,” Fitzgerald wrote, “but landed short, and meanwhile Laycoe flung his red-drenched towel at [referee Frank] Udvari, earning his misconduct.”
The coverage next day in Boston also included the headline above in the Daily Record and the artist’s impression below, from the Boston American. NHL President Clarence Campbell wasted no time in suspending Richard for the remainder of the season and the playoffs, a sentence that would have consequences in Montreal four days later.