red alert

Coach Red: Berenson was an assistant in St. Louis before succeeding Barclay Player behind the bench in 1979.

Born in Regina in 1939 on a Friday sharing this date, Red Berenson turns 81 today. Would we agree that it’s long past time he got his invitation into hockey’s Hall of Fame, as a builder if not as a player? He was a left winger in his day, a junior star with his hometown Pats, and played for two Memorial Cups in the late 1950s. As a 19-year-old, he helped the Belleville McFarlands win the 1959 World Championships in Prague, finishing tied atop the tournament’s scoring chart with a Czech and an American. He hit the NHL ice as a Montreal Canadien, then joined the New York Rangers, before making his mark with the expansion St. Louis Blues as the ’60s turned into the ’70s. On memorable night in 1968, Berenson scored six goals in an 8-0 win over the Philadelphia Flyers. He played five seasons with the Detroit Red Wings before finishing his career back in St. Louis. He was a member, too, of Team Canada in 1972.

And as a coach? He was an assistant in St. Louis before succeeding Barclay Plager as principal on this very date in 1979, his 40thbirthday. His Blues tenure lasted three seasons; he won a Jack Adams as the NHL’s top-rated coach in 1981. In 1984, he returned to his alma mater, the University of Michigan, to take over as head coach as the hockey Wolverines. His 33-year stint there yielded a pair of NCAA championships, in 1996 and ’98, before he retired from the bench in 2017.

 

wizard of ice hockey

The years of pupilage, when the new game kept nonplussing the most experienced players, were left behind. Its intricacies were mastered and it was funny to think there was a time when the players could not tear the puck away from the ice.

•  V. Viktorov, Wizard of Ice Hockey (1957)

 

Born in Morshansk in the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic on a пятница of this date in 1922, Vsevolod Bobrov was a star soccer striker for CSKA Moscow  — he captained the Soviet Union at the 1952 Olympics, too — as well as a hockey left-winger who’s remembered as one of the greatest players to have skated his country’s ice.

The hockey, in fact, came first. Until he was 18, Bobrov only dreamedof soccer. That’s according to the 76-page official Bobrov biography pictured here above. Produced in the USSR in the late 1950s for foreign consumption, it’s a stiffly written (or at least stiffly translated) bit of propaganda that finishes up with a friendly if not particularly enthusiastic letter to the reader from the man himself.

Russian hockey is the hockey that Bobrov played as a boy, which is to say bandy, with a ball, eleven-a-side, on a big stretch of ice — the Soviet embrace of Canadian-style hockey was still more than a decade away. Bobrov’s father, Mikhail, was a good (Russian) hockey player in the ’30s when Vsevolod was growing up in Sestroretsk, near what was then Leningrad, as was his older brother, Vladimir.

Seve is what Lawrence Martin calls the younger Bobrov in his very fluently written, not-a-fleck-of-propaganda-to-it history of Soviet hockey, The Red Machine (1990). “He was scrawny,” he writes,

… poorly fed by parents who first met at a skating rink. They started their boys on the ice at age five, and when little Seve played on the youth team, Lydia, his mother, promised him a pretzel for every goal he scored. She was always running out of pretzels.

On the soccer field, Bobrov ended up in the starting eleven for CSKA Moscow in 1944. That’s skipping over a lot of wartime ground, bypassing all kinds of fine detail. The upshot is that by the late ’40s, he was playing soccer in the summer, hockey in the winter. Canadian hockey, now: in 1946, the Soviets had undertaken to figure out what the puck, the six-a-side, the smaller rink was all about, launching a league of their own, and thereafter, slowly, bit by bit, making strides into the international arena.

Smooch ‘Em If You Got ‘Em:
The Soviet team’s masseur kisses captain Bobrov after the Soviets beat Canada 7-2 in Stockholm in March of 1954.

Adjusting to the new game wasn’t always easy. Even those who’d played bandy — and excelled on the soccer pitch — were bamboozled, at first. That’s the pupilage that The Wizard of Hockey talks about up above. Viktorov on Seve’s struggle:

Bobrov soon overcame his bewilderment and feeling of helplessness, traits that were totally alien to his character. He made the puck obey him. Well, he told himself, if necessary he would start learning from the ground up again. If the Canadians were playing ice hockey for 80 years and found pleasure in the game, if the Swedes liked it and scored substantial successes, if the Czechs unravelled its secrets and won the world title twice, surely it was not beyond the powers of Soviet hockey players.

In his second winter of domestic hockey, Bobrov used his puck powers to score 52 goals in 18 games for CSKA Moscow. He kept on with the soccer, though by 1953, he’d decided he’d had enough of the grass, retiring at the age of 30 to focus full-time on the ice.

The Soviets were supposed to make their international debut at the 1953 World Championships in Switzerland, but Bobrov was injured, so they delayed a year. The Canadians skipped the ’53 tournament, too, but both teams were on hand the following year, in Stockholm, Sweden.

The first impression the hockey newcomers made there was not exactly to Canadian tastes, as the Soviets bushwhacked Canada’s team 7-2 to take the World title for the first time. Highlights, backed by a charming soundtrack, are below, with full coverage of the Soviet coaches and staff kissing their players starting in around the 5:20 mark. Wearing the maple leaf that year were the East York Lyndhursts from Toronto; leading the overwhelming was Bobrov, who captained the champions and scored their deciding goal. You’ll see the former standing around disconsolate after the kissing’s over, and the latter receiving the championship silverware from IIHF supremo Bunny Ahearne.

Bobrov’s playing career on the ice lasted until 1957, whereupon he took up coaching. When the great Anatoli Tarasov was deposed as coach of the Soviet national team in 1972, it was Bobrov who succeeded him — just in time, of course, to surprise another Canadian line-up, this one of overconfident NHL stars rather than Lyndhursts.

Vsevolod Bobrov died at the age of 56 in 1979.

 

all the roadrunning

A birthday today for former Montreal Canadiens captain Yvan Cournoyer, so here’s to him. Born in Drummmdville, Quebec, on a Monday of this same date in 1943, the man they called The Roadrunner is 77 today.

Cournoyer made his debut with Montreal in 1963 and played a total of 16 seasons on the right wing, winning 10 Stanley Cups along the way. His pile of 863 regular-season points is the sixth-largest in team history, and he scored another 127 in playoff games. He won the Conn Smythe Trophy in 1973 for post-season merit. Cournoyer had begun that season, of course, playing with Team Canada, among whom he was the first member to hug Paul Henderson after he scored that final goal of his in Moscow.

(Image: Antoine Desilets, Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec)

moscow mauling

Incoming: It was on a Friday of yesterday’s date — September 22, 1972 — that the Summit Series resumed at Moscow’s Luzhniki Ice Palace with the Soviets picking up where they’d left off in Vancouver on September 8 by upending Team Canada 5-4. Down 3-0 going into the third period, the home team scored five goals in the third for the win. With three games remaining, that left the Soviets with a commanding 3-1-1 lead in the eight-game series. Seen on the puck here is Canada’s Dennis Hull, flanked on his left by Jean Ratelle, Gary Bergman, and Gil Perreault, with Rod Gilbert swinging wide to his right. Backing up is Gennady Tsygankov. (Image: Frank Lennon. Library and Archives Canada, e010933350)

it was fergie who was to blame

“He was hardness itself,” Hanford Woods wrote of John Ferguson the elder, in a 1975 short story about a famous fearful fight, “The Drubbing of Nesterenko.” Born in Vancouver in 1938 on a Friday of this date, Ferguson was a left winger who was, yes, renowned through his eight-year career with Montreal’s Canadiens for his rugged, fist-first, penalty-incurring brand of play. He had some goals in him, too, scoring 20 one season and 29 in another. In 1963-64, he finished runner-up to teammate Jacques Laperriere in voting for the Calder Trophy, recognizing the NHL’s best rookie. Before he retired, Ferguson helped Montreal win five Stanley Cups; afterwards, he served stints as coach and GM of the New York Rangers, as well as GM of the Winnipeg Jets. He died in 2007 at the age of 68.

It was 1972, of course, that Ferguson was blooded as a coach, answering Harry Sinden’s call to aid in steering Team Canada through its epic eight-game showdown with the Soviet national team that played out 48 years ago this month. In the cover story for the early-August edition of The Canadian Magazine pictured above, Ferguson was front and centred as Sinden explained how he’d gone about building his team for the series that everybody was talking about “as if it’s as important as the Second Coming.”

“I got this job June 7,” Sinden wrote, “and the very next day I hired John Ferguson as my assistant. … The main reason I chose him is that my personal record against the Canadiens, when he was playing for them and I was coach of the Bruins, was not good. The Canadiens kept beating us all the time. When I analyzed it, I figured it was Fergie who was blame as much as anyone. If anyone’s a born leader on the ice, it’s Fergie.”

Hab Habit: Ferguson spent all eight of his NHL years in Montreal livery. (Image: Louis Jaques / Library and Archives Canada / e002343750)

pride goeth before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall

Stamp Act: From 2017, Canada Post’s Official First Day Cover for a new stamp commemorating Paul Henderson and his 1972 Summit Series teammates.

The second day of September was a Saturday in 1972, and in Montreal the forecast called for the morning’s sun to give way to clouds and afternoon showers with no chance whatever, come the evening hours, for a Soviet win over our invincible homegrown hockey heroes.

It’s 48 years ago today that the momentous Summit Series first hit the ice, at Montreal’s famous Forum. For Canadians, nothing went as it was supposed to that night, of course, with the good guys ending up on the wrong end of a 7-3 rout. For a sense of just how much that result dazed and confused the nation, I’ll refer you to the prophecies that hockey’s non-Russian cognoscenti were making on the morning of that shocking day, weighing in with predictions for the eight-game series.

“Canada will win handily,” ventured Toronto Star columnist Milt Dunnell; “they might lose one in Moscow. Say seven to one.”

Mark Mulvoy, from Sports Illustrated, was just as generous: “Canada, seven to one.”

“Here’s a flatly positive that Canada will win at least seven of the eight games,” wrote Southam columnist Jim Coleman. “This prediction isn’t based on flag-waving chauvinism. This is a cold-blooded prognostication.”

Foster Hewitt, who’d be up in the gondola on play-by-play when he puck dropped: “Canada’s two goals a game better. It looks like eight to nothing Canada.”

 “The NHL team will slaughter them in eight straight,” advised Gerald Eskenazi from The New York Times.

Toronto Maple Leafs’ goaltender Jacques Plante agreed: “Eight straight for Canada.”

Fran Rosa, from Boston’s Globe? “Eight to nothing Canada — and that’s the score of the first game.”

Globe and Mail columnist Dick Beddoes had placed his bet a few days earlier. “Make it Canada eight games to zero. If the Russians win one game, I will eat this column shredded at high noon in a bowl of borscht on the front steps of the Russian embassy.”

To his credit, if not his digestive delight, Beddoes was true to his word, and took his soup a few days later.

hockey with a grin

Children’s books featuring Bobby Clarke proliferated in his hockey-playing heyday in the 1970s; I’d even say they abounded. Fred McFadden’s Bobby Clarke (1972) should not be confused with Edward Dolan’s Bobby Clarke (1977); only the former, take note, belonged to the Superpeople series of mini-biographies, which also featured slim volumes profiling Jean Béliveau, Ken Dryden, Bobby Orr, Norman Bethune, Alexander Graham Bell, and Karen Kain, among others. John Gilbert’s An Interview With Bobby Clarke (1977) postulated that Clarke never bragged, whined, forgot a friend, or quit, also that he was too small to be a dirty player, Montreal coach Scotty Bowman just called him that to psych him out. Julian May’s 1975 Clarke bio, Hockey With A Grin, studied the love that Philadelphia fans quickly developed for their superstar centre and concluded this:

He was that rarity — a smiling hockey player. He enjoyed what he was doing and let the whole world know it. With his handsome, boyish face and gap-toothed grin, Bobby won the hearts of the fans.

Born on a Saturday of this date in 1949 in Flin Flon, Manitoba, Clarke turns 71 today. His popularity as a literary figure, of course, has to do with the hockey successes he helped engineer in the mid-1970s, when he captained the Flyers to back-to-back Stanley Cups while also winning Masterton and Selke trophies for himself, as well as (three times) the Hart Memorial Trophy.

It’s also founded on the inspiring story of how he succeeded despite having been diagnosed with diabetes as a teenager. “You’d better give up hockey,” is what the doctor in Fred McFadden’s bio tells young Bobby when he first breaks the news; in Julian May’s telling, the doctor says, “It would be best if you did not play hockey.”

Dolan boils it down this way:

Bobby’s doctors said that he might be able to play the goaltender spot but that he could never skate all over the rink in a game and still keep his health.

Whereupon, of course, he showed them, and everybody.

Along with our hero’s health, his smile, his refusal to quit, the Clarke oeuvre examines the man’s modesty; the qualities that made him such a great leader; how deeply Flin Flon was ingrained in his personality; and just what happened back in ol’ ’72 when he swung his stick in Moscow and broke Valeri Kharlamov’s ankle.

Clarke’s ongoing Flin Flon-ness, McFadden maintains, was apparent in the ’70s in the Flyers’ captain’s insistence on “driving a pick-up and listing hot dogs as his favourite food.”

On Kharlamov, the accounting of Clarke’s intent to injure the Soviet Union’s best player in Game Six of the Summit Series is surprisingly straightforward. All the bios take more or less the same shrugging view of the incident — no big deal, what’s all the fuss? In his Superpeople summing-up, McFadden allows that Clarke’s willingness to break the rules to win did cause “some people” to question his sportsmanship.

That’s as close as any of the Bobby-Clarke-for-young-readers books come to grappling with the ethics of the thing. Otherwise, Julian May’s take in Hockey With A Grin can represent the rest:

… Bobby was trailing Kharlamov. He suddenly realized: “This guy is killing us!” And almost without thinking, Bobby lashed at Kharlamov’s ankles with his stick.

Bobby got a two-minute penalty for slashing. The Russian was out for that game and for the next. “It’s not something I’m proud of,” Bobby recalled later, “but I honestly can’t say I was ashamed to do it.”

Flyerdelphian: Readers of John Gilbert’s 1977 bio-for-young-readers, An Interview With Bobby Clarke, learned that the Flyers’ captain never bragged, whined, or quit.

 

pat stapleton, 1940—2020

Sad news from Strathroy, Ontario, where Pat Stapleton is reported to have died of a stroke last night at the age of 79. His years working NHL bluelines got going in 1961 with the Boston Bruins, but it was as an offensively minded Chicago Black Hawks defenceman that he made his reputation. He served as Chicago’s captain during the 1969-70 season, succeeding Pierre Pilote. In 1972, he was a member of Team Canada’s epic struggle against the Soviet Union, famously scooping up the puck with which Paul Henderson scored the series-winning goal and (probably) hanging on to it. After a decade in the NHL, Stapleton played five further seasons in the WHA with the Chicago Cougars, Indianapolis Racers, and Cincinnati Stingers. As playing coach of the Cougars, he steered the team to the Avco Cup finals in 1974. Stapleton also coached the Racers in 1978-79, just before the WHA dissolved.

(Image: from December 24, 1966, Library and Archives Canada)

 

espo 65

Making A Meal of It: A son of Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, Phil Esposito was born on a Friday of this date in 1942, which means he’s celebrating his 78th birthday today. Remember him, sure, for his years as a dominant goalscorer for the mighty Boston Bruins, and the man, too, who organized the salvation of Canada’s pride in 1972 during the Summit Series, but Esposito started out a Chicago Black Hawk. Here he is at 23 in the fall of 1965, on the eve of his third NHL season, lunching with teammates (from left) Len Lunde, Chico Maki, and Fred Stanfield. The crop-marks are a newspaper editor’s from ’65; the cola is Diet-Rite, sugar-free.

paul henderson: born on the ice (or close enough)

Born on a Thursday of this date in 1943, Paul Henderson — do we even need to say it? — scored the end-of-September Game-Eight goal that decided the 1972 Summit Series. Remarkably, he also notched the winning goals in the two previous games in Moscow, including the one depicted here. The disappointed goaltender is, of course, Vladislav Tretiak; the floundering defenceman, number 6, is Valery Vasiliev.

On the subject of his hometown, Henderson, who’s 77 today, is most often attached to Lucknow, Ontario, near the Lake Huron shore. He wasn’t born there, though. Just where he did debut back in ’43 is … well, let’s just say the folk tale of his mother’s having given birth out on the midwinter ice of Lake Huron is a tantalizing one if not entirely likely.

Three different Henderson memoirs offer three slightly different versions of how Henderson’s birth went down. The Fans Go Wild: Paul Henderson’s Miracle was an authorized biography that appeared in 1973, hot on the heels of Henderson’s Soviet heroics. As author John Gault tells it, the fact that a blizzard of historic proportions had left western Ontario snowed under didn’t stop a pregnant Evelyn Henderson (“young and healthy and youthfully silly”) from hiking out 5 kilometres from her in-laws’ farm and back on January 27.

Her husband, Garnet, was overseas, serving with the Canadian Army. When labour pains began that night, Evelyn’s in-laws hitched up horses to a sleigh to make the dash for the hospital at Kincardine, 16 kilometres away. “At the bottom of the second-to-last hill, at a point where she could see the lights of the hospital in the first light of dawn, she began to give birth,” Gault writes. “Actually, Paul’s grandparents were not called upon to make delivery because they reached the hospital before the boy was completely born.”

By 1997, Henderson was telling his own story, with Mike Leonetti’s help. Shooting For Glory mentions a journey across frozen Lake Huron that didn’t appear in Gault’s telling, with the arrival at Kincardine’s hospital somewhat amended: “About 1,000 yards from the front door my mother gave birth, and when they finally got me into the hospital, I had started to turn blue.”

Roger Lajoie shaped Henderson’s 2012 memoir, The Goal of My Life, which sticks with the colourful outdoor birth over the indoor: “Mom gave birth to me on the sleigh before we made it to the hospital, and by the time they finally arrived, I had started to turn blue. Quite the first day of my life, to be sure, but I made it.”

(Image:  Frank Lennon/Library and Archives Canada/4169297)

 

under review: our game, and everybody else’s

A version of this review first appeared, here, at H-Net Reviews.

Hockey: A Global History
Stephen Hardy, Andrew C. Holman
University of Illinois Press, 2018
600 pp. (paper), US$29.95/C$35

By the end of May, the winter had mostly receded from the upper third of the North American map, if not yet the nation’s appetite for hockey. While on Canada’s east coast the national junior championships were wrapping up, fans of the international game settled in across the country to see whether the plucky national team could grab gold at the International Ice Hockey Federation World Championships in Slovakia. Off the ice, the sudden springtime demise of the nation’s women’s professional league continued to reverberate.

Meanwhile, at the center of the hockey world, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman convened a press conference to deliver his annual state-of-the-game address. The fact that he was doing so from Boston, and that (once again) no Canadian-based team would be playing for hockey’s most coveted prize, the Stanley Cup, isn’t enough anymore to faze the country that thinks of hockey as a proprietary natural resource indivisible from the national soul, never mind how far the Cup might wander away from home.

Bettman spent much of his time on the podium lauding the successes of the corporation he guides. “While there are things that are always debatable in our game,” he said, “let’s first focus on some indisputable facts that detail why the NHL is in the strongest position in our history.” [1]

Bettman went on to extol hockey as the “greatest spectacle in sports” and the “remarkable” season the NHL had seen on ice. He cited soaring TV ratings, expansion to Seattle, exciting future ventures into Europe and China, and technological innovations that will bring player and puck-tracking into play as soon as next season. He spoke about the prevailing turbulence in women’s hockey, but only in passing. His assertion that the NHL features “the best pace of play in sports” may or may not have been primarily directed at those with both doubts and attention deficits. “We have the most and fastest action in the shortest period of time,” Bettman boasted. [2]

Speedy as it is, the NHL has also become in its one hundred years of existence such a mighty mass that at times it can seem to displace all other forms of the game that don’t quite mesh with the massive workings of the league’s corporate machinery. For all the excitement that the league generates with its hockey, despite its many good-faith efforts to grow and diversify the game, the NHL hockey is not — and should never be — the only game in town.

Authors Stephen Hardy and Andrew C. Holman don’t command TV cameras the way Gary Bettman can, and their important new book, Hockey: A Global History, won’t be broadcast as widely as the commissioner’s messaging. It’s too bad: their expansive and very detailed study of hockey’s evolution, structures, and culture is required reading, the new standard text when it comes to understanding how the sport got from the far-off historical there to where it is today.

The library of the sport’s literature is an extensive one, but there’s nothing in it like their Hockey: A Global History. Hardy is an emeritus professor of kinesiology and history at the University of New Hampshire; Holman is a professor of history at Bridgewater State University in Massachusetts. It’s not that the game hasn’t been studied with serious and scholarly intent before. A stack of the most interesting and edifying books on the game’s rise and development would necessarily include, for example, On The Origin of Hockey (2014) by Carl Gidén, Patrick Houda, and Jean-Patrice Martel; Craig Bowlsby’s 1913: The Year They Invented The Future of Hockey (2013); and Deceptions and Doublecross: How The NHL Conquered Hockey (2002), by Morey Holzman and Joseph Nieforth.

For insight into hockey’s character and culture (including its many deficiencies and outright failings) you’d add Hockey Night in Canada: Sport, Identities, and Cultural Politics (1993), by Richard Gruneau and David Whitson; The Death of Hockey (1972) by Bruce Kidd and John Macfarlane; and the 2018 scholarly anthology, Hockey: Challenging Canada’s Game, edited by Jenny Ellison and Jennifer Anderson.

As for general histories, books like Michael McKinley’s Putting A Roof on Winter: Hockey’s Rise from Sport Spectacle (2000) stick close to hockey’s perceived home ice, which is to say Canada and the northeastern United States. No previous single-volume study has ranged so broadly as Hockey: A Global History nor dug so deeply into the details, and I don’t know of a precedent, either, for the quality of Hardy and Holman’s analysis as they make their way through hockey history, cracking open orthodoxies as they go, and briskly reordering many of what we have come to think of as the game’s immutable verities. It all makes for a brisk and fluid narrative, too: on top of everything else, Hardy and Holman unpack an awfully good story.

The crux of it all is in the title, three words in. Referencing Gruneau and Whitson, Hardy and Holman acknowledge that Canada and the Canadian experience is at the center of any discussion of hockey. “The problem,” the former pair wrote in Hockey Night in Canada, “arises when Canadians’ appreciation for hockey is mistaken for ‘nature’ rather than something that is socially and culturally produced.”

“We try,” note Hardy and Holman, “to move hockey history beyond the limits of one national bias.” Unbounded, they also succeed in their effort to transcend “dimensions beyond nationhood, particularly along lines of class, gender, and race.”

They also make a key shift in considering the game’s early evolutionary momentum. The emphasis of much previous historiographical debate has been fixed on determining hockey’s “birthplace” rather than on discussing migration patterns. As Hardy and Holman write, “birth details would matter little (beyond antiquarian interest) if the game and its followers, players, and promoters had never grown, if they had never become fruitful and multiplied.”

If there is a consistent tone to the narrative here, it’s set early on as the authors remind readers (while discouraging any romanticists who might have strayed by) that there was never a golden age of hockey, a prelapsarian frozen garden where once the game was purely, innocently yet to be spoiled. Hockey, like most human endeavours, is an imperfect, in-process, not always entirely progressive affair that its various stakeholders — players, coaches, owners, members of the media, fans — continue to make up as they go along.

And it was ever thus. The game, to start, was many games, and they proliferated spontaneously wherever people picked up sticks to knock balls—or bungs or, eventually, pucks. They note that the first skates were fashioned, probably, from animal bone, with practical purpose: in northern climes, they were developed for travel and transport before they were put to use in fun and game. Many of the proto-hockeys that were played in the wintry past were, of course, informal, without consistent rules or equipment or chroniclers. That they went largely unrecorded isn’t so surprising — as historian Craig Bowlsby has pointed out, 200 years ago, nobody was assiduously annotating the history of snowball fights, either. Continue reading