So instead of referring to this game as the triumph of England it could be labelled “The Revenge of Jimmy Foster.” The stirring episodes at Garmisch yesterday could be woven into a movie scenario which would be sure of four-star rating in at least one section of the country.
If he never stops another puck in the Olympics, he has ensured his place in the hockey hall of fame so far as international honours are concerned — while he has probably ensured it forever in the Maritimes.
• Baz O’Meara, writing in the Montreal Daily Star on Wednesday, February 12, 1936, after goaltender Jimmy Foster and his teammates on Great Britain’s team handed Canada its first-ever loss at the Olympic Games, going to claim Britain’s first (and only) gold medal.
Columnist Baz O’Meara was mostly on the money. If Jimmy Foster’s stardom didn’t quite end up soaring into eternity, not even in Eastern Canada, he did find his way into a hall of hockey fame: the British one, into which Foster was inducted in 1950. This much, too, may be safe to say: Foster, who died at the age of 63 on a Saturday of this date in 1969, never had a better night in his long and distinguished puckstopping career than he did disappointing Canada in the winter of ’36.
That was indeed the year that Canada’s four-tournament, 16-year reign as Olympic champions came to a shocking (and, for Canadians, controversial) end. Foster was a leading character in that — even before Britain took on its hockey-mad colony at the Garmisch-Partenkirchen games.
Born in Glasgow, in Scotland, in 1905, Foster emigrated to Canada when he was six and his family relocated to Winnipeg. That’s where he took up hockey goaltending, and refined his craft. He resume from those early years includes stints with the Winnipeg Argonauts, the University of Manitoba, the Winnipeg Winnipegs, and the Elmwood Millionaires. When he wasn’t on the ice, he was raising a family of three with his wife while working in PR for a distributor of Orange Crush. That’s according to Rob Jovanovic, author of an exhaustive history of Britain’s 1936 hockey gold, Pride & Glory: The Forgotten Story of Great Britain’s Greatest Olympic Team (2011).
Foster broke a leg at some point and was told he’d never play hockey again. Wrong: in the early 1930s, the work he put in playing with the senior Moncton Hawks earned him a reputation as one of the best goaltenders not in the NHL. Jovanovic:
In four years with the Hawks, he was reckoned to have saved over 6,000 shots, missed only one of 220 games, and won two Allan Cups. During one spell he went 417 minutes without conceding a goal, almost seven full games.
There was a brief buzz to the effect that Foster might find his way to the Chicago Black Hawks, where the death of another Scottish-born, Winnipeg-raised goaltender, Charlie Gardiner, had left an absence that needed filling. But nothing came of that.
In 1935, at the advanced (hockey) age of 29, it looked like Foster would finally get his chance in the NHL: that February, the two amateur prospects Tommy Gorman was most interested in signing for his Montreal Maroons were reported to be Foster and a promising winger by the name of Toe Blake. Blake signed and Foster agreed to terms, according to Montreal’s Gazette. For the latter, it wasn’t to be: Foster denied that he’d committed to anything. By fall, word was that he’d signed to play for the Richmond Hawks of the newly formed English National League, where his old Moncton coach, Percy Nicklin, was in charge.
Born in Midland, Ontario, Nicklin had learned his hockey in Port Arthur, now part of Thunder Bay. Named to coach Britain’s entry into the Winter Olympics that would hit the ice in February of 1936 at Garmisch-Partenkirchen, in the heart of Adolf Hitler’s Bavaria, Nicklin picked Foster as his starting goaltender.
For all the confidence the coach had in Foster, he was worried about the defence in front of him. “Nicklin fears that his team will be comparatively easy to score against,” a Canadian Press dispatch from England confided that January.
In the event, off-ice politics threatened to spoil the British effort in Germany as much as any hockey opposition. Most of the players on the British team had honed their hockey on Canadian ice; winger Gerry Davey was born in Port Arthur. Before the Games opened on February 6, Canada’s hockey delegation complained that two players, Foster and winger Alex Archer, had failed to seek releases from the Canadian Amateur Hockey Association before migrating from Canadian club teams to British.
Hockey’s governing body sided with Canada, and the night before pucks were set to drop, the Ligue Internationale de Hockey sur Glace (as the IIHF was then known) ruled that Foster and Archer were ineligible to play for Britain. Irked, the British talked about withdrawing from the tournament. In the end, Canada withdrew its protest (if only for the duration of the Olympics), and the British played on with Foster and Archer in the line-up.
I’ve written elsewhere about the team representing Canada in ’36 (they were from Port Arthur, too). As Canadians, they were the clear favourites going into the Games, with the United States and hosts Germany seen as their strongest challengers.
Nicklin didn’t mind being counted out. Rob Jovanovic writes that he was focussed on preparing his team for the job ahead, insisting that his charges “were all in bed by 10 p.m., made no night-time telephone calls, smoked no more than two cigarettes a day, and didn’t drink any alcohol at all.”
The British campaign started with a pair of victories — and Jimmy Foster shutouts —over Sweden (1-0) and Japan (3-0). It was in the second round that the upset of the tournament — and Olympic hockey history — occurred, with Britain’s modest-smoking teetotalling squad pulling out a 2-1 victory over the favoured Canadians at the Garmisch Eis-Stadion. Gerry Davey was one of the British heroes that day, scoring Britain’s opening goal, and so too was Foster.
“His goaltending was superb, “Phil Drackett writes in account of British Olympic brio, Vendetta On Ice (1992), “as he outguessed the Canadian sharpshooters and coolly turned away bullet-like drives, the rhythmic motion of his jaws as he chewed gum being the only sign of emotion.”
A bad outcome for Canada only got worse: the way the tournament schedule was organized, the defending champions found that though both they and the British advanced to the final stage, the results of the earlier round carried over, and the two would not meet again.
That meant that while the Canadians went 4-0 after their historic loss — running up routs of Czechoslovakia (7-0) Hungary (15-0) along the way — the British were able to claim gold with the 2-0-2 record that they put together after beating Canada.
The winners’ glee was great. Britain’s “Ice Hockey Miracle,” London’s Daily Express called the team’s gold-medal performance. Canadians, meanwhile, groused and entertained excuses: nobody explained the tournament format beforehand, and anyway, it was ridiculous, and anyway, since all the Brits were more or less Canadians anyway, wasn’t this actually a triumph for Canadian hockey after all?
“England won because she was better coached,” the controversial Alex Archer told a reporter in Winnipeg that May, “and you can give all the credit in the world to our coach, Percy Nicklin. England played typical Nicklin hockey, the sort of hockey which he taught the double Allan Cup winners, Moncton Hawks. We went out to get a goal and when we got it we played a tight defensive game.”
Jimmy Foster stayed on in England, making a move (with Nicklin) to the Harringay Greyhounds, and helping Great Britain win back-to-back European championships in 1937 and ’38.
Set to sign with the Brighton Tigers in 1939, Foster sized up the European forecast of war and opted for a return to Canada. He played three years of senior hockey, turning out for the Quebec Aces and, in Nova Scotia, the Glace Bay Miners and North Sydney Victorias before he retired in 1942.
A couple of last notes, to take us back to where this began: in all my reading about Jimmy Foster, I’ve never seen evidence that vengeance played a part in his perfromance in 1936. As per Baz O’Meara’s reverie, I can report that the stirring episodes at Garmisch were indeed woven into a movie scenario in England in the wake of Britain’s glorious Winter Olympics.
Producer and director Monty Banks was the force behind Olympic Honeymoon, which was shot in the months following the tournament though never, as far as I know, released. Jimmy Foster didn’t participate, but three of his Olympic teammates featured, including Gerry Davey and back-up goaltender Art Child.
Jake Milford was in it, too: a winger for the Wembley Canadians at the time, he went on to serve as GM of both the Los Angeles Kings and Vancouver Canucks, and was elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame as a builder in 1984.
Milford’s Wembley coach wangled a part, too: fellow Hall-of-Famer Clint Benedict played a stylish referee in the movie, sporting plus fours and a silk scarf.
Just over a month to go before Olympics opened anew, and Canada wasn’t quite set: that early December of 1923, the Canadian Olympic Committee still hadn’t submitted our official entry for the first official winter games. No worries, though: P.J. Mulqueen, chair of the committee, assured Canadians that he would be filing Canada’s paper in good time ahead of the IOC’s early-January deadline.
Canada did have a top-notch team all ready to go to France: the Toronto Granites, winners of back-to-back Allan Cups senior-hockey championships, were standing by to defend the nation’s honour and the gold medal the first Canadian Olympic team had won in 1920.
Importantly, too, that December in 1923: Mulqueen had received a letter from the IOC, the Globe reported, “in which acceptance of Canada’s colours, a red maple leaf on a white jersey, was acknowledged.”
Plain and simple. That’s them pictured at the top, on the ice at Chamonix, where Canada wore them to retain gold in style. Now, 98 years later, we still don’t know who will play for Canada at February’s Beijing games, or even whether the NHL’s best will indeed venture out of North America in the ongoingness of our pandemic: the league and the NHLPA have their own early-January deadline to decide whether or not to opt out.
What we did get, this week, was the opportunity to size up a new round of Olympic duds. And to … acknowledge acceptance?
Here’s the look:
In case you, or anyone, wondered why or wherefore it came to this, Hockey Canada published an exegesis. I didn’t make this up, though someone else did, possibly Paula Nichols, a senior editor of Olympic and Historical Content for the COC, who’s bylined on the post. It reads, in part:
We all know that Team Canada is a force of nature. So, it’s fitting that the design was inspired by norther storms, which are fast-moving cold fronts that originate from the north and send strong winds south, causing temperatures to plummet rapidly. Graphic lines on the maple leaf crest gives dimension to the design, but are also representative of how snow and Arctic winds are shown on weather maps. Those weather map-type lines also appear on the shoulder yoke of the black jersey, creating a subtle maple leaf pattern.
Norther storms is good. Snow and Arctic winds on weather maps? Bravo.
People with Twitter accounts had issues with the black. Some of them did; they were jarred and maybe even offended. They asked themselves, and us: really? and what the hell? They wanted us to remember: black isn’t an official Canadian colour.
Me? I don’t mind the black. As someone who’s been known to appraise Canadian Olympic fashions in the past, I do have other concerns. A decade ago, as a patriotic public service, I marshalled some Historical Content of my own finding to show how Canadian teams headed for Olympics overseas do best when they (a) sail there on a ship; (b) make sure they’ve packed at least one Bobby, nominal or spiritual; and (c) pay particular attention to the foliage with which they adorn their sweaters.
That Canada won gold in 2010 and again in 2014 while largely ignoring my counsel is, I’ll allow, not a great look for me and my brand. Still, I’m sticking to my botanical guns and declaring, as I did a decade ago, that Canada’s leaf is just wrong.
Here’s what Canada’s hockey players, men and women, wore front and centre in 2010:
This was the shape of things four years later:
For PyeongChang in 2018:
Compare those anatomically incomplete exemplars to Canada’s leaf from the 1936 winter games —
— and maybe, like me, you’ll be vexed by the questions of how and why Canada’s leaf lost its stem.
Not every leaf worn by Canadians at international play has featured a stem, I’ll grant you. Part of the genius of Canada’s 1972 stemless Summit Series sweaters was that it didn’t matter.
But these 2022 sweaters aren’t those. It had my doubts in 2010 when Hockey Canada seems to have decided that snipping back was now a matter of policy, the new normal. That’s when I first went to the trouble of looking up the proper term for the stem of a leaf, if for no other reason than to be able to declare that a leaf without its petiole makes no sense, botanical or aesthetic.
I’ve said my piece, mostly; we’re almost, here, at the end of my screed. I do appreciate that Hockey Canada has been making gestures towards rationalizing the loss. The 2018 maple leaf, they explained at the time, “was inspired by a skate blade,” suggesting an accidental slicing. This time, obviously, there’s a climate-change undertone to the narrative: the stem to Canada’s leaf got blown clear off in the fury of norther storms blasting strong winds south.
I would, if I could, like loop back to and briefly celebrate that 1924 Canadian array. Four years earlier in Antwerp, the Winnipeg Falcons had represented Canada in sweaters of a hue that I might describe as mean mustard, though the Toronto Daily Star of the day preferred old gold. I’m not saying the Falcons got it wrong: there’s a certain garish glory there.
But just look at the clean simplicity of those ’24 Granite outfits. The lettering was new and (may I say) a nice touch, even if the red maple leaf against the snowy background qualifies as a throwback, an homage, to the sweaters worn a decade earlier by the Oxford Canadians, university students far from home who skated the innocent pre-war ice, carrying off English and European championships in sweaters featuring the fullness of Canada’s sacred flora, leaf and stem — even when, as in the second image below, they had to pin their leaves to their chests.
The photographs here belonged to Gustave Lanctôt, who studied at Oxford as a Rhodes scholar from 1909 to 1911. That’s him sitting on the far left in the first image, and in the centre in the second. A son of Saint-Constant, Québec, he subsequently served as Dominion Archivist between 1937 and 1948.
(Oxford Canadians images: first, Lanctot, G. / Library and Archives Canada / PA-066858; second, Lanctot, G. / Library and Archives Canada / PA-066861)
“Credit must be given to England,” Albert Pudas wrote, even if, well, Canada had more of the puck, handled it in a wilier way, skated faster, more efficiently, looked better, and generally — let’s be honest — deserved to win.
It was on a Tuesday of this very date in 1936 that disaster befell Canadian hockey, which is to say Canada, i.e. every one of us was diminished that day, 85 years ago, whether we know it or not, despite our (many of us) not having been born at the time. That was the day that for the first time ever, Canada lost an Olympic hockey game, falling 2-1 to the upstart team from (of all places) Great Britain at the 1936 wintry games in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany. Chirp Brenchley scored the winner, late in the game, beating Canadian goaltender Dinty Moore. In the British net, Jimmy Foster contributed just the right amount of heroics to ensure the victory.
The world didn’t end, as it turned out, but Canada did end up having to settle for silver when the Olympic tournament reached its dismal end, with the British taking the gold.
Pudas, the Canadian coach, was filing dispatches from Germany to newspapers at home. His terse review of his team’s defeat at British hands reflected the general Canadian view: it wasn’t so much a loss as a non-win, and really ought to have counted in Canada’s favour, by almost every measure, other than the one used to determine the outcome of competitive team sports.
“The Canadians had easily 80 per cent of the play,” he explained. “The English, although fast-skating, cannot be considered the equal of the Canucks, but because goals win games we are forced to swallow the bitter pill.”
“They are stepping along nicely,” Al Pudas said that day, having put his team though their paces ahead of their opening game. It was 1936, February. The 36-year-old coach was confident. “This is the strongest club I’ve ever had,” he said.
Spoiler alert: Pudas, who died on a Thursday of this date in 1976 at the age of 77, didn’t get the gold medal he, his team, and all of Canada was expecting. Maybe you know the story of the ’36 Olympics, which were in Germany, and how they ended Canada’s golden hockey streak. There’s more on that, here and here, if you’re interested. What we’ll say here is that to that point, teams sporting the maple leaf on their sweaters hadn’t lost a game let alone a gold medal in four Olympics, going back to Antwerp in 1920. Also, this: the fact the fact that the ’36 team could only manage silver wasn’t really Pudas’ fault.
Before he was a coach, Pudas was a referee. Before that he played, mainly on the wing. He did most of his skating in the ’20s, for teams in Port Arthur, though the fact that he was summoned in late 1926 to the NHL means that he was the league’s very first Finnish-born player: born in Siikajoki in Finland in 1899, Pudas had emigrated to Canada with his family before he turned two.
Pudas was playing right wing for the Windsor Hornets of the Canadian Professional Hockey League in December of 1926 when the Toronto St. Patricks signed him. They brought in left winger Butch Keeling at the same time. Both made their debut in a 4-1 win over the Boston Bruins at Toronto’s Arena Gardens. Pudas wore number 14 during his short stay with Toronto, which lasted just four games. By mid-January of 1927 he was back in the Can-Am with Windsor, which means that he was only almost a Maple Leaf: it would be another month before Conn Smythe and his partners swooped in to acquire the team and switch the team’s identity almost overnight.
Canada skates out to a rare World Championships meeting with Great Britain later today at the Steel Arena in Košice, Slovakia. The first time the two countries met in the tournament was in January of 1935 at Davos in Switzerland, when the Winnipeg Monarchs wore the maple leaf in a 4-2 Canadian win. There were clashes before that at the Olympics, starting in 1924 at Chamonix, France, when Canada’s victory was by a score of 19-2. Four years later in St. Moritz, Switzerland, Canada cruised to a 14-0 win.
At the 1936 Winter Olympics in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany, the Port Arthur Bearcats formed the core of the Dominion team, who were (once again/as always) considered tournament favourites by dint of being Canadian. But after disposing with Poland, Latvia, and Austria, the defending champions lost in a 2-1 upset to Great Britain. It wasn’t the end of the world, but the shock and the same was severe. You’ll find more on that (+ bonus alibis and rationalizing) over here. Suffice to say that further Canadian victories over Hungary, Germany, Czechoslovakia, and the United States wasn’t enough to snatch back the gold, which the British claimed, leaving Canada to settle, bitterly enough, for silver.
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 tintinnabulated with 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.
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.
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.”
(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.)
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.
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.
“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.”
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 Hardman 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 past 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 Frazier. Standing: Coach Ralph Winsor, Ding Palmer, John Chase, Bob Livingston, Frank Nelson, John Garrison, Gordon Smith, Joe Fitzgerald, manager C.J. Gleason, and Tom Murray.