undone, again, at the olympics, but not the end of the world as we know it

Second-Best: Members of Canada’s 1936 Olympic take a pause by the lake-rink at Riessersee. From the left, they are: Pud Kitchen, Dinty Moore, Hugh Farquharson, Ken Farmer, Dave Neville, Arnold Deacon, Bill Thomson, Alex Sinclair, and captain Herman Murray.

The world didn’t end that February Friday, a few weeks back, as the Olympics played down and Canada’s men lost their hockey semi-final to upstart Germany, but it shuddered a little. “Eishockey-Sensation” was the early headline from Der Spiegel, and German Twitter trilled will mentions of a “Wunder auf Eis” — a new Miracle on Ice.

In Canada, it was morning, and the nation mourned, briefly. And moaned: about Gary Bettman, whose fault it all was, really, denying us our golden birthright; that the guy who scored Germany’s first goal is from Winnipeg; that (as Don Cherry raved) the linesman who called that stupid early penalty is Russian, i.e. linchpin of a vast conspiracy to see us humiliated.

By Saturday, when we beat the Czech Republic to win bronze, the national mood was brighter.

Weirdly so.

That’s it? Have we really mellowed so much in the years since the almost-calamity of 1972 that no-one’s calling for a royal commission to look into how we failed to finish? Don’t we care any more? Could be, I guess, a matter of faith, one that’s so strong and enduring that we don’t have to speak it let alone achieve it: what matters is not who actually won so much as what would have happened if Crosby and Connor and Carey had been on the job in South Korea.

Whatever the case, we’ve calmed down since our first Olympic hockey undoing, in Germany in 1936 at Garmisch-Partenkirchen. Up to that point, through four Olympic tournaments, Canadians had never lost a game, never come home with a medal that wasn’t golden. Looking back on what happened 82 years ago is like studying the original operating instructions for Canadian hockey humility, and/or the lack thereof.

Winter and summer, the 1936 Olympics were, of course, in Germany, presided over by Adolf Hitler and other odious Nazis. That’s a stain that’s only darkened by what we know, now, about what the next ten years would bring.

In Garmisch, the hockey tournament started with a kerfuffle over the eligibility of several players on the team from Great Britain who’d played previously in Canada. Their hockey paperwork wasn’t in order, Canadian officials maintained. The British disagreed, and almost withdrew, in a snit, but didn’t. When the hockey got going, Canada beat, and breezily, Poland, Latvia, and Austria, before facing off with the British.

They started with a snap, which is to say a speculative slap, from long range, that bamboozled Canadian goaltender Dinty Moore, nesting in the net. The Canadians tied the score, then continued to bombard British goaltender and sort-of Canadian Jimmy Foster. But it was the British who scored again, on a break in the third. The game ended, shockingly, 2-1 not-for-us.

Goal of Gold: It took a third-period goal for Great Britain to beat Canada on February 11, 1936. In the moments before this photograph was taken Britain’s Gordon Dailley skated in on Canadian goaltender Dinty Moore, before passing to Chirp Brenchley, who scored.

Canada’s coach was penning a column for the papers back home, or at least lending his name to one. He assured Canadians that his team (and theirs) had had “easily 80 percent” of the play. “The English,” he continued,” although fast-skating, cannot be considered the equal of the Canucks, but because goals win games we are forced to swallow the bitter pill.”

“Canadian hockey hats are off to England this morning,” one Toronto columnist wrote next morning, but her gracious voice was a lonely one. Most of the newspaper accounts echoed the Star’s European correspondent, Matthew Halton, who’d watched the disaster unfold. “We are feeling pretty sick here today,” he advised.

As if the news from Germany wasn’t dismal enough that day, a local prophet who ran his own church out of his living room was making front-page news with an unsettling forecast: by Friday, the world would be expiring. This was Bible-based, apparently, nothing to do with hockey.

“The tall buildings of Toronto will be destroyed,” pastor Harold Varney calmly promised reporters, “and the world consumed in cleansing fire.”

In Germany, oblivious to the reckoning that was three days away, the Canadians played on. Whupping Hungary 15-0 was a tonic, and got us our groove back, briefly. But it was at this point that Canadian team officials discovered that they didn’t really understand how the tournament was set up. Yes, they would advance to the medal round with the British, the Americans, and the Czechoslovaks; no, they wouldn’t get a chance to play the British again. They would have to live with their loss — and the precious points that Britain would carry over.

Now it was Canada’s turn to threaten to take its pucks and go home. Instead, we attended an emergency meeting of the Ligue International Hockey sur Glace, arguing that that the final four teams should start afresh, play a whole new round-robin, allowing us to take our revenge and restore order to the universe. This was put to a vote.

We lost that, too.

The host team paid an immediate price when we played a subsequent against the Germans. “The Canadian pucksters were seething as they took the ice,” reported The Globe; “In Angry Mood” was a headline from Ottawa. Intent on giving the Germans — their team, populace, and Nazi officials — “a lesson in the art of bodychecking,” we found that they were poor students. The home fans booed the Canadians so strenuously during our 6-2 win that Hitler’s propaganda minister, the ghastly Joseph Goebbels, stood up to command the crowd to quiet. He was, for some reason, “dressed in the costume of Daniel Boone.”

Canada won its final two games fairly tranquilly, but it didn’t matter, the gold belonged to Britain. For the first time in Olympic hockey history, we were a shameful second.

In the blame and bluster that filled newspapers in the days following our silvery shame, all five stages of Canadian hockey grief revealed themselves, starting with Blissful Denial. “No one is worried, no one is upset,” The Winnipeg Tribune’s editorial page declared. “There is something rather pleasing in the fact that other countries like Canada’s game so well that they are taking it up so vigorously.”

Finger-Pointing ensued. Later, in March, when the hockey players finally returned home to Canada, they were quick to reproach Canadian team management for fumbling their responsibilities. In February, there was some question at home of how it could be that  these officials hadn’t known the rules of the very tournament in which they were participating. “It is something hardly creditable to Canadian smartness,” an editorial in The Ottawa Journal sniffed.

Backlash followed: “It wasn’t a great team, measured by any yardstick,” the Journal confessed; never again, said The Star, should we send any but “a real all-star team to carry the red Maple Leafs in future Olympic hockey tournaments.”

Next was Official Uproar: Toronto MP Tommy Church rose in the House of Commons to carp about how poorly the whole affair reflected on us as a people. “I think,” he said, “something should be done.”

Finally, of course, there was Not To Worry, Everything’s Fine, Who Says It Isn’t? This was confirmed by the foreigners whose refreshing views we were only too pleased to publish: that the hockey result (from a Buffalo paper) had “a smell,” and that (from Manchester’s Guardian) “Canada would have won nine times out of ten.” The Globe reported that in a visit to Canada’s dressing room, Hermann Göring, head of Hitler’s Luftwaffe, had assured our players that “no matter what was to happen, he always would consider the Canucks the real world champions.”

A.E. Gilroy, head of the Canadian Amateur Hockey Association, had done his share of railing against tournament organizers and the deceitful British while he was still in Germany. Back home again, he apologized, refusing to waste anybody’s time with excuses, other than to mention that the dastardly Europeans had pulled a fast one on us, plus (also) there was something “peculiar” about the pucks, some of which did “weird tricks,” including on Britain’s first goal. Ask the Americans, Gilroy said: they agreed that the pucks were “not true.”

Lessons learned? I don’t know that there’s any real evidence of that. If you count the extent to which the press emphasized just how many of the British players had learned their hockey in Canada, then, yes, I guess we did kind own the loss. Here was a logic we could live with: Canadians hadn’t failed, they’d just succeeded under someone else’s flag.

Doomsday in Toronto was cold and snowy, and altogether free (it turned out) of hellfire. Friday came and went, and then it was Saturday.

Frisky reporters staking out Harold Varney’s doorstep demanded to know: if he was so sure of imminent Armageddon, why had he put out his bottles for the milkman the night before?

Varney wasn’t fazed. The Lord, he said, had granted an extension. “I am glad that there is yet time for the sinful to repent.”

They should make haste, though: “A few days from now, Toronto people should know, all will be judged.”

In The Olympic Spirit: Adolf Hitler takes in the Olympics alongside the head of the Luftwaffe, Hermann Göring (centre, with binoculars), and propaganda chief Joseph Goebbels.

(I wrote about the 1936 Garmisch Olympics and Harold Varney’s gloomy outlook in Puckstruck: Distracted, Delighted and Distressed by Canada’s Hockey Obsession, my 2014 book. There’s more on these matters therein, on pages 171—180.)

winterspiele 1936: golden britain

The hockey tournament at the 1936 Winter Olympics wasn’t without controversy. For Canada, it was very much with controversy, and long before the team from (mostly) Port Arthur ever arrived in Germany. The trouble they got into in Garmisch-Partenkirchen was complicated, but it boiled down to this: on February 11, Canada lost its first ever Olympic hockey game by a score of 2-1 to … Great Britain. Subsequent Canadian thwackings of Hungary (by 15-0) and the hosts from Germany (6-2) weren’t enough to shift the standings in Canada’s favour, which meant that they went home with silver medals, while the Great British won gold, and the right (above) to skate triumphantly towards a photographer on the ice at Lake Riesser.

erfolgreichster und populärster eishockeyspieler

Canadians won’t, this morning, find much that’s consoling in the news that a team wearing the maple leaf did beat Germany back in February of 1936, but it’s true, they did it, 6-2 was the score in Garmisch-Partenkirchen at the IV Winter Olympics. Recognized as one of Europe’s best hockey players (and a national tennis champion, to boot), 27-year-old winger Gustav Jaenecke was the German captain at Garmisch. The German coach — Reichstrainer — was Val Hoffinger, a son of Salvador, Saskatchewan who’d played a handful of games for the Chicago Black Hawks. In the six weeks leading up to the Olympics, Hoffinger had his charges testing themselves against a training team, or Lermanschaft, that he’d organized and stocked with eight Canadians. A reporter watching the Germans before the Games noted that they had a tendency on the attack to swerve toward the corners, and they liked to grab their opponents’ sticks, but nonetheless deemed them a “smooth-skating, thoroughly disciplined corps.” At the Games, the Germans followed up an opening-day loss to the United States with wins over Italy and Switzerland. That got them to the second round, where they edged Hungary before achieving something Canada couldn’t. While the Canadians lost to the eventual champions from Great Britain, Germany held the British to a 1-1 tie. After beating the Germans, Canada finished the tournament with a pair of wins that didn’t end up turning their silver medals to gold. Germany finished the tournament in fifth place, tied with Sweden.

winterspiele 1936: usa 1, germany 0

“The American victory was due largely to two factors. First, there was Tom Moone of Boston, who played a flawless game defending his cage. Second, there was the fact that the German forwards knew how to get down the ice close to the American cage but apparently did not know what to do after they got there.”

That was the word from Albion Ross of The New York Times early in February of 1936, when the United States opened its Winter Olympics schedule in Garmisch-Partenkirchen with a 1-0 win over the hosts from Germany at the main rink. Gordon Smith got the goal — that’s him here, dark-sweatered, bespectacled, putting the puck past German goaltender (and local Garmisch boy) Wilhelm Egginger in the first period. Two days later, when the U.S. lost in an upset to Italy, Smith was again at the fore, booed by the Italian bench for his rough play. At one point, he accused an Italian opponent of deliberately knocking his glasses off, complaining “bitterly” to the referee that a penalty should have been called.

Out in the lead against Germany, the Americans went with a stalling strategy, firing the puck down the ice when they got the chance, forcing the Germans back to retrieve it. The weather played its part throughout the game. “Starting the final period,” an AP  correspondent advised, “the snow was so thick that newspaperman in the open stand scarcely could see across the arena and good hockey was impossible.”

The crowd of 8,000 included an odious trio of prominent Nazis in propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels, Hitler’s deputy Rudolf Hess, and Dr. Alfred Rosenberg, Reich cultural director. The Times took note of them, and of Rudi Ball, “who enjoys the uncomfortable distinction,” Ross wrote, “of being very much a non-Aryan in a fanatically Aryan land.”

A speedy forward, Ball had long been Germany’s best player. “Without their Jewish teammate the German players would not have been much of a threat,” Ross continued. “Although it often and insistently has been repeated that the Jews have no place in ‘German sport,’ there could be no doubt that Rudi Ball was the Fuehrer of the German hockey team and without their Jewish Fuehrer the Germans would have been in a very embarrassing situation indeed.”



face facts: the first men in the masks, winter olympics edition

Face First: Japanese goaltender Teiji Honma at the 1936 Winter Olympics.

Japan made the first of its eight Winter Olympic hockey showings in 1936 at the Garmisch-Partenkirchen Games in Germany. They played twice there, and lost twice, though by respectable margins. After going down 3-0 to the eventual gold medallists from Great Britain on February 7, they fell again the next day, 2-0 to Sweden. That left them in ninth place in the final standings for the 15-team tournament, tied with Poland, France, and Italy. (Japan’s best showing came in 1960 in Squaw Valley, when they ended up eighth.)

Stopping pucks for the Japanese in 1936 was goaltender Teiji Honma, here above, who also garnered attention for his protective facemask. In those years, of course, most goalies headed into the breach bare-faced. Elizabeth Graham did wear a fencing-mask when she tended nets for Queen’s University in the mid-1920s. A decade before her, Corinne Hardmann of Montreal’s Western Ladies Hockey Club donned a baseball catcher’s cage. And Eric Zweig has written persuasively about an even earlier masking, in 1903, by Eddie Giroux of the Toronto’s OHA Marlboros.

In the NHL, Clint Benedict was first (famously) to don a mask in 1930 — unless George Hainsworth beat him to it. (Probably not.)

And at the Olympics? As far as I can determine, Frank Farrell set the precedent in 1932 when he backstopped the host team from the United States at Lake Placid. A Connecticut native, he was 23 when he got the U.S. job after proving himself playing for Yale and New York’s amateur St. Nicholas HC. Like Honma, he wore glasses and hoped, apparently, to protect them from pucks. The crude mask Farrell wore at Lake Placid is (not so clearly) visible in the U.S. team photo below.

In Lake Placid, Ralph Allen from The Winnipeg Tribune singled Farrell out for his communication skills. “Should have been a quarterback,” he wrote. “His leather-lunged method of delivering instructions to his mates would make any gridiron field general turn green with envy.”

Representing Canada on the ice, the Winnipegs came highly touted, but the U.S. gave them a run for their (slightly complacent) money. In the tournament’s opening game, “there was” (said the AP) “scarcely anything to choose” between the two teams. They were tied 1-1 going into overtime. It as Canadian forward Vic Lindquist who decided it, halfway through the non-sudden-death period, with a “blistering” shot.

Both Canada and the U.S. dispensed, and handily, with the other two teams in the tournament, Poland and Germany, and when two teams met again nine days later, the Canadians sat atop the standing two points ahead of the U.S. With a win, the hosts could force a playoff game that would decide the Olympic title; Canada could claim the gold with a tie.

The U.S. looked the stronger team for much of the game, taking the lead two minutes in. Hack Simpson tied the score for Canada before the U.S. scored again in the second on a two-man advantage. Canada left it late to reply: with just 33 seconds remaining in the third, Romeo Rivers snagged the puck and scored with what the Montreal’s Gazette saw as “a snipe shot.” He “stickhandled his way into position and rifled a smoking drive into the far top corner of the United States goal for a beautiful marker.”

The AP correspondent wasn’t quite so impressed, it might be noted. Rivers “let fly a hurried shot from near the boards at the blue line and the curving puck slipped past Goalie Frank Farrell for the tying goal:” that’s what he saw. Yet another (American) account told of “a crazily bounding disc that rolled pas Goalie Frank Farrell.”

Thirty minutes of overtime saw no more goals. “With the fat thus pulled out of the fire,” advised the AP, “the Canadians set themselves to repel a series of fierce charges by the determined challengers.” It was good enough for gold, in the end, even if it wasn’t always so pretty. “So tired they could hardly skate,” the Gazette conceded, “the [sic] Winnipegers flung the puck to the other end of the rink whenever they got a chance toward the end of the game.”

Front row, kneeling, from left to right: Frank Farrell and his mask, Jack Bent, Buzz Hollock, John Cookman, Doug Everett, Ty Anderson, and Ted Fraser. Standing: Coach Al Windsor, Ding Palmer, John Chase, Bob Livingston, Frank Nelson, John Garrison, Gordon Smith, Joe Fitzgerald, manager C.J. Gleason, and Tom Murray.

winterspiele 1936: u + s + a

The U.S. Olympic hockey team played one last game before they sailed for Europe in January of 1936 to battle in the Garmisch-Partenkirchen Winter Olympics. At Madison Square Garden they played a shortened exhibition (two 15-minute halves) against the EHL New York Rovers, the Rangers’ farm team. The Olympics won, 2-0, on goals from Franks Spain and Stubbs.

Several weeks later, mid-February, as the tournament was about to launch in Germany, a letter from a concerned citizen showed up in the pages of The New York Times. “I am a veteran follower of Canadian and United States hockey,” reader William Gill wrote from Boston, “and here is a prediction Canada will win the Olympic hockey trophy again. The United States is not up to its former teams, lacking experience, as college sixes usually do.”

Arrayed here before the Rovers game are, back row, left to right: Malcolm McAlpin, Fred Kammer, Phil Labatte, John Garrison, Frank Stubbs, and Frank Shaughnessy. Front: Elbridge Ross, Paul Rowe, Thomas Moone, Coach Walter Brown, John Lax, Gordon Smith, and Frank Spain.