hallbent

Vaclav Nedomansky was 30 years old in the summer of 1974, a star centre for Slovan Bratislava and captain of the Czechoslovakian national team, when he took his family to Switzerland for a holiday. They did some paperwork while they were there, applying Swiss authorities for asylum and, subsequently, to Canada for status as landed immigrants.

“The office in Berne is not a busy one,” a Canadian immigration official commented at the time, “and because of this, his application was processed quickly. He had a job offer to play professional hockey. Because he is a good hockey player with a high degree of skill he was given high points for this. Good hockey players are in high demand in Canada.”

“Czechs’ Gordie Howe” the Toronto Star called Nedomansky when he signed that July for the Toronto Toros of the WHA. He played two seasons in Toronto, then another pair in Alabama when the Toros moved and became the Birmingham Bulls. In 1977 he jumped to the NHL where he divided six seasons between the Detroit Red Wings, New York Rangers, and St. Louis Blues.

On Monday, Nedomansky will be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame along with Guy Carbonneau, Hayley Wickenheiser, and Sergei Zubov, as well as builders Jim Rutherford and Jerry York.

this hippodrome of hockey

Leaf Spot: It was on a Thursday of this date in 1931 that Toronto’s Maple Leaf Gardens saw its first NHL hockey. Before a crowd of 13,542, the home team fell by a score of 2-1 to the visiting Chicago Black Hawks. Two days later, the Leafs tied the Montreal Canadiens in the brand-new building that the Globe’s ebullient Bert Perry called “this hippodrome of hockey.” It wasn’t until the Leafs’ fourth game under their new roof that the team finally forged a victory at home, beating the Boston Bruins on November 28 by a score of 6-5 in overtime on a goal by Andy Blair. This is an altogether later photograph from on high in the Gardens, dating to 1946. Squint and you can make out the languid form of goaltender Turk Broda in the net to the left. (Image: City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1257, Series 1057, Item 7524)

did the bugle sing the last post in chorus? lionel duley, the goaltender in the photograph

The story of the Newfoundlanders who stopped on their way to war in 1917, played hockey in Windsor, Nova Scotia, and sat for a photograph, is one I wrote about more than a year ago — you can read it here. The photograph (that’s it again below) is a favourite of mine (the studio setting; the sticks and dated puck; those sweaters!). It’s also heartbreaking in the way that peaceable wartime groupings like this one always are when — because — we know the history of how bad it would get for these boys.

Last April, on a visit to the First World War battlefields of northern France, I walked the trails at Beaumont Hamel, where Newfoundlanders died by the dozens on the first day of the Somme in 1916. Afterwards, I stopped for lunch a few kilometres to the west, in Auchonvilliers, where the Avril Williams Tea Room doubles as a museum of World War I artefacts and memorabilia. There’s a copy of the photo of the Newfoundland Regiment hockey players hanging there, in the big main room, amid the armour and the ordnance, overlooking the battle maps, the regimental badges, the battalion histories. I studied the faces one more time, searched them all. And I read the names aloud.

White. Bennett. Strong. Winter. Williams. Strong. Duley. Newman. Churchill. Mews.

Caribou Crew: Soldiers from the Newfoundland Regiment, starters and spares, pose in hockey garb, and not, in 1917, in Windsor, Nova Scotia. Back, left to right: Rex White, Sydney Bennett, Jack Strong, Duke Winter. Middle: Hayward Williams, Charlie Strong, Lionel Duley, Stan Newman. Front: Ernest Churchill, Harry Mews. (Image: The Rooms, Provincial Archives Division, St. John’s, Newfoundland)

Duley was Lionel Thomas Duley, a St. John’s bank clerk who took his oath and joined the Newfoundland Regiment in 1916, attesting six days after the slaughter at Beaumont Hamel. He’s the goaltender in the Windsor photograph, taken the following year, when he was 19. The next time I saw his name written was a few days later, 120 kilometres to the north, across the French border into Belgium, when I went to see his grave in the Tyne Cot Cemetery near Zonnebeke. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission maintains thousands of cemeteries and memorials around the world; Tyne Cot, the final resting place for the remains of 11,961 servicemen from across the British Empire (and four Germans), is the largest of them all. Fourteen Newfoundlanders lie at Tyne Cot, along with 966 Canadians.

Drawing on records held in Newfoundland’s Archives at The Rooms in St. John’s you can chalk out an outline of Lionel Duley’s life.

I’ve been by the family house in St. John’s, the one he grew up in, where he was living when he left for the war, although I didn’t know it at the time I was passing by. 51 Rennies Mill Road, across from Bannerman Park.

His father, Thomas J. Duley, was an Englishman, born in Birmingham, who landed in Newfoundland. He married a daughter of Carbonear, Tryphena Soper — Phenie, she was known as. Together they had five children, Cyril, Nelson, Margaret, Gladys, and Lionel. I’m not sure of the proper order to put them in. I think Cyril was the eldest; he served in the Newfoundland Regiment, too, as a captain, survived Beaumont Hamel and then bad wounds later in 1916. Sister Margaret is often called Newfoundland’s first novelist: she wrote four books, including the novels The Eyes of the Gulland Highway to Valour.

Thomas was a jeweller and an optician and sold luxury goods on Water Street in St. John’s, T.J. Duley & Co. the business was called, The Reliabletheir slogan. I’ve been by there, as well — there’s a marijuana dispensary on the premises today.

Lionel did his schooling at the Methodist College in St. John’s. He was clerking for the Canadian Bank of Commerce when he presented himself for a medical check-up in April of 1916 at the Church Lads Brigade Armoury on Harvey Road. By July, Private Duley was duly enlisted, attested, assigned the regimental number 2945. His height was recorded as 5’7”; his pay was the regular rate of $1.10 a day, half of which he assigned to his father’s care. Promoted twice in those early months of training, he was Corporal Duley by the time he departed St. John’s aboard Florizel for Nova Scotia and the Windsor sojourn — puckstopping included — that delayed his arrival at the war.

It was April of 1917 when he sailed on the transport Northland for Liverpool. With the rest of the Newfoundland reinforcements he went from there to Scotland as part of the 2nd (Reserve) Battalion. He was promoted again, receiving his commission as a second lieutenant in May. He was in France by January of 1918, joining 1st Battalion just as they were ordered from positions they’d been occupying in northwest France, near Arras, and shifted to the Ypres Salient in Belgium.

It was at the end of September that Second Lieutenant Lionel Duley was killed. The Battalion had, by then, been incorporated into the 28thInfantry Brigade of the 9th(Scottish) Division positioned west of Ypres for the offensive across Flanders fields to seize Passchendaele Ridge from the German Army. On the second day of the advance, Sunday, September 29, the Newfoundlanders were on the move near the village of Keiberg. 2/Lieutenant Duley was leading his platoon forward when he was hit in the thigh by machine-gun fire.

Regimental records held at The Rooms describe the horror of it but briefly. “Before he could be taken back [he] died, probably from shock and severe loss of blood,” an officer wrote later. It was about 11 o’clock in the morning, 43 days before the Armistice. Subsequent paperwork testifies that his body was found by a fellow subaltern, 2/Lieutenant R.E. Evans, who buried it and erected a cross, taking note of the exact map reference. “This is not a military cemetery,” a memo in the file takes pains to record, “but at the place where he was found dead with some of our men also lying dead beside him. They were all buried together.”

Tyne Cot Cemetery isn’t far. The first British and Canadian war dead were buried there in 1917 while the guns were still thundering, before anything was decided. I’m not entirely sure when 2/Lieutenant Duley’s remains were moved, just that his family got confirmation in 1921 that he was resting there, in Plot 53, Row H, Grave 8.

I left a pebble on the top of the stone. I spoke his name.

Lionel Duley.

He was 20 years old when he died.

 

 

 

give me the bad losers, jack adams said, let the other teams have the good ones

What particularly endeared Detroit Red Wings coach and GM Jack Adams to his goaltender in the spring of 1943? That Johnny Mowers was “twice as bad a loser as I am.”

“That’s what I like,” Adams effused. “Give me those bad losers; let the other clubs have the good losers.”

1943 was a fine year to be a Red Wing. That April, Adams’ team had failed to lose to Art Ross’ Bruins, sweeping to a Stanley Cup championship in four straight games. Mowers, 26, played an outstanding series, shutting Boston’s shooters out entirely in each of the final two games. In his third season patrolling the Detroit net, Mowers, who hailed from Niagara Falls, Ontario, also won the Vézina Trophy as the NHL’s best goaltender and a place on the league’s First All-Star Team.

Adams, it turned out, would have to make alternate goaltending arrangements for the following season. With the war in its fourth year, Mowers enlisted in the Royal Canadian Air Force in July of ’43, reporting for training to No. 1 Manning Depot on the grounds of Toronto’s Canadian National Exhibition. “The red lights in NHL arenas will not shine behind [Mowers] this coming season or for the duration,” ran the caption that went with this photograph, taken there in late August.

That’s not to say Aircraftman 2nd Class Mowers didn’t see the ice while he wore his country’s uniform. That winter, he tended the nets for the Toronto edition of the RCAF Flyers during their OHA Senior schedule on a team that also counted on a number of NHLers-turned-airmen, including former Maple Leafs Ernie Dickens, Red Heron, and Bud Poile, and Peanuts O’Flaherty, who’d skated with the New York Americans.

Back in Detroit, Jack Adams would call on four goaltenders to defend the Red Wing net as they tried to defend their championship through the 1943-44 season. Connie Dion, Jim Franks, Normie Smith, and rookie Harry Lumley all saw pucks in that vain campaign — the Montreal Canadiens ended up winning the Cup in ’44.

Johnny Mowers served three years with the RCAF, making it back to the NHL after the war. He rejoined the Red Wings in 1946, though only as a reliever: Harry Lumley had, by then, established himself as the starter.

commando call-up

The RCAF Flyers proved themselves to be Canada’s best senior hockey team in 1942 when they won the Allan Cup. The Flyers benefitted from what might be classed a wartime windfall: among the Ottawa-based airmen at their disposal that season were all three members of one of the NHL’s most effective forward lines, the erstwhile Krauts (and Boston Bruins) Milt Schmidt, Woody Dumart, and Bobby Bauer. When another stacked military team succeeded the Flyers as Allan Cup champions the following year, it was thanks, in large, part to goaltender Sugar Jim Henry. After winning the 1941 Allan Cup with the Regina Rangers, Henry had played his rookie year in the NHL with the New York Rangers. Inducted into the Canadian Army in the summer of ’42 (above, to the right), he was posted to Canada’s capital where he suited up (above, left) for the Ottawa Commandos. Replacing the Ottawa Senators in the Quebec Senior Hockey League, the Commandos had their wings clipped a little when, to begin the season, the league decreed that teams could only ice four players with NHL experience in any given game. (That limit was later raised to six.) The Commandos had plenty of options: along with Henry, the former NHLers they iced that season included Montreal Canadiens’ veteran Ken Reardon, brothers Mac and Neil Colville (New York Rangers), Jack McGill (Bruins), Alex Shibicky (Rangers), Gordie Bruce (Bruins), Joe Cooper (Rangers and Black Hawks), Bingo Kampman (Maple Leafs), Polly Drouin (Canadiens), Gordie Poirier (Canadiens), and Ken Kilrea (Red Wings). The team the Commandos beat in the Allan Cup finals was a military one, too, Victoria Army, and they boasted a bevy of erstwhile NHLers, too  including Nick Metz (Maple Leafs), Joffre Desilets (Canadiens), and Bill Carse (Rangers and Black Hawks)  but not quite enough.

best bower

Backstop: Born in 1924 on a Saturday of this date in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan, Johnny Kiszkan got a new surname in 1946, which is why we talk about Johnny Bower breaking into the NHL in 1953. He started out a New York Ranger, but it’s as a beloved and highly effective Toronto Maple Leaf that he’s remembered, not least because he helped the team win four Stanley Cups in the 1960s. Inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1976, Johnny Bower died in 2017 at the age of 93.