“Sunny becoming cloudy by midday with a few showers in the afternoon is the forecast for the Montreal area:” that was the weather the local Gazette was promising for Saturday, September 2, 1972. Of course, the deluge in Montreal came in the evening, 49 years ago, on Forum ice, when Canada’s confident hockey team defied (homegrown) prognosticators and stumbled to a 7-3 defeat at the sticks of the visitors from the Soviet Union. The vodka ad here ran in the Toronto Sun’s special Summit Series edition that morning, the cover of which appears below. The headline on Ted Blackman’s column in Monday morning’s Gazette: “A dark day, Sept. 2, 1972: when pride turned to trauma.”
Sorry to learn of the death of Dolores Claman, who composed the rousing theme song that used to open broadcasts of CBC’s Hockey Night in Canada back when the world was younger. Born in Vancouver in 1927, she died this week in Spain at the age of 94.
Claman was trained as a concert pianist before she switched keys to dedicate herself to composing. She was working for Maclaren Advertising in Toronto when she was hired in 1968 to craft a fanfare to open the national broadcaster’s Saturday-night flagship. The theme she came up with became a proxy national anthem. It was 2008 that the Hockey Night relationship ended, in acrimony: CTV ended up buying the rights to the song after the CBC and Claman couldn’t settle a financial dispute. While Claman’s iconic theme took an early retirement on broadcasts of regional games on TSN, Hockey Night resorted to replacing it with an imperfect (and perfectly forgettable) facsimile.
From 2008, here’s the Globe and Mail’s Peter Cheney with the musical origin story:
It started on a peaceful afternoon in 1968, when Dolores Claman sat down at her Knabe grand piano and began picking at the keys, searching for a sound. Outside the window was her garden, then the blue expanse of Lake Ontario. Ms. Claman tried B-flat, then the key of C, seeking the musical essence of something she had never seen firsthand: a professional hockey game.
Ms. Claman was a classically trained musician who loved Bach, but she made her living composing jingles. She had written music for everything from toothpaste to its natural enemy, Macintosh toffee. Now she was thinking about Canada’s national sport. She pictured Roman gladiators wearing skates. Suddenly, five notes popped into her head. She tapped them out, stressing the third: “dunt-da-DUNT-da-dunt.”
Ms. Claman had no idea that she just made herself part of Canadian history — and that she had set the stage for an epic battle 40 years in the future.
“I wasn’t thinking about much at the time,” Ms. Claman, 80, said yesterday from her home in London, England. “The song wasn’t hard to do.”
Born in Sudbury, Ontario, on a Tuesday of this same date in 1939, Ed Giacomin is 82 today, so a birthday nod to him. ““Ed-dee! Ed-dee! Ed-dee!” is what the fans at New York’s Madison Square Garden chanted in 1989 when the Rangers retired the number 1 Giacomin wore in his decade with the team, starting in 1966. He was twice named to the NHL’s First All-Star team and (with Gilles Villemure) won the 1971 Vézina Trophy. He was beloved in New York, which is why it registered as such a shock in the fall of 1975 when Rangers GM Emile Francis exposed him on waivers. Snapped up by the Detroit Red Wings, Giacomin played his next game was at MSG … against the Rangers. Wearing Red Wing red and number 31, Giacomin stymied his former teammates sufficiently for Detroit to depart with a 6-4 win. Fans booed the Rangers that night, and every time Giacomin stopped a shot, his name echoed through the building: “Ed-dee! Ed-dee! Ed-dee!”
Ed Giacomin played parts of three seasons with Detroit before he retired in 1978. He was elevated to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1987. The sales job depicted here dates to 1974.
It was on a Saturday of this date in 1951 that Toronto Maple Leaf defenceman Bill Barilko scored that famous goal of his — the one that’s celebrated in song and on west-end Toronto underpasses (below), whereby he beat Montreal Canadiens goaltender Gerry McNeil in overtime to win Toronto its fourth Stanley Cup in five years. When he wasn’t patrolling the Leafs, Barilko and his older brother Alex owned an east-side business on Toronto’s Danforth, endorsed (above) by some of his teammates in the early 1950s. In ’51, Barilko Bros. would sell you a 17-inch Admiral TV console with built-in (and I quote) Dynamagic radio and triple-play automatic phonograph for $750 (installation extra). They also were ready to fill all your live bait needs: $1.25 would get you 100 dew worms or 25 frogs. Leeches? 85 cents a dozen. The Barilko’s would ship them to you, province-wide, too, worms and frogs and leeches; I don’t know about TVs.
Hall-of-Fame centreman Phil Esposito is 79 today, so many happy returns of the rink to him. Born in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, on a Friday of this date in 1942 a year before his goaltender brother Tony made his debut, Phil was the first NHLer to score 100 points in a season (ending up with 126 in 1969). In 1971, he set a new mark for goals in a season, with 76. Along with a pair of Hart trophies and five Art Rosses, he won two Stanley Cups, both with Boston. He played 18 years in the NHL, mostly with the Bruins, though he was a Chicago Black Hawk before he was traded to Boston 1967 and then, after another trade, this one in 1975, he joined the New York Ranger.
When hockey writer Andy O’Brien visited with Esposito’s parents in 1970 for a profile for Weekend Magazine, Patrick Esposito confided that, early on, he wondered whether his elder son had what it took to make the NHL.
“Frankly, I had my doubts,” he said. “He was big and tall but he was weak on his ankles. However, he could handle the puck, and even when he was playing juvenile he led the league and had everybody talking about him. He kept on leading leagues but, no, I never felt quite certain he would make it.”
Billy Burch was the ideal captain for New York’s new hockey team in 1925, but you’ll understand why, for fans back in Hamilton, Ontario, the choice might have burned so bitterly.
Born on a Tuesday of this date in 1900, Billy Burch was a stand-out centreman in the NHL’s first decade, winner of the Hart Trophy as the league’s most valuable player in ’25, ahead of Howie Morenz and Clint Benedict. Two years later, he won Lady Byng’s cup for superior skill combined with gentlemanly instincts. He was elevated to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1974.
Burch was born in Yonkers, New York, just north of Manhattan on the Hudson. His hockey-playing future seems to have been secured a few years later, when his parents, Harry and Helen, moved the family (probably in 1906) to Toronto. Home for the Burches was in the city’s northwest, where it’s purported there was a rink in their winter yard. Accounts of this date to later years, when he was establishing himself as an NHL star, and so it’s possible that they and the anecdotes attached to them may be tinged with romance as much as they’re founded in fact.
I do like this one, though, from an unbylined 1925 profile:
For young Mr. Burch — or Billy as he was called and still is for that matter — was not satisfied with the training hours allotted to him on the backyard rink by his mother. He skated vigorously from the back steps to the back fence and back again and performed various juvenile antics in between but was not content to leave it at that.
When the time came to go into the house and go to bed, he obeyed without discussion. He only made one qualification. He took the skates with him. He did this so often that taking skates to bed became sort of a tradition.
He won a Memorial Cup as a junior in 1920, playing with the Toronto Canoe Club alongside future NHL stars Lionel Conacher and Roy Worters. He played in the Senior OHA for a couple of seasons after that with Aura Lee, where Conacher and Doc Stewart were teammates.
In 1923, Burch signed with the Hamilton Tigers. The team was in its third year in the NHL, all of which had been seasons of struggle: the Tigers had to that point only ever finished at the bottom of the standings.
They were the lowliest of the NHL’s four teams in 1923-24, too. But the year after that, led by Burch and the brothers Green (Red and Shorty) and goaltender Jake Forbes, Hamilton was the NHL’s best team when the regular season came to an end, which got them a bye to the league final and the chance to play for the Stanley Cup.
None of that happened, of course: after the Hamilton players went on strike demanding to be paid for the extra games they’d played that year, NHL President Frank Calder not only refused to pay, he fined the players, and declared the Montreal Canadiens league champions. That was the end of Hamilton’s run in the NHL: by fall, the team had its franchise rescinded, and all the players’ contracts had been sold to the expansion team from Manhattan, Bill Dwyer’s Americans.
So that’s how Burch ended up back in New York. He was appointed captain, and the team played up his local origins to help sell the new team in its new market. “A big, strapping, fine-looking young man,” the Yonkers Statesman proclaimed Burch in the fall of ’25, “who occupies the same position in professional hockey as Babe Ruth does in baseball.” He was reported to have signed a three-year contract in New York worth $25,000, making him (along with teammate Joe Simpson) one of the NHL’s highest-paid players.
Burch had a pretty good year that first one in New York, scoring 22 goals and 25 points to lead his team in scoring. He ceded the Hart Trophy to Nels Stewart of Montreal’s Maroons, but finished second to Frank Nighbor of Ottawa in the voting for the Lady Byng.
Billy Burch played seven seasons in all in New York. His NHL career finished up with shorts stints in Boston and Chicago before he shelved his skates in 1933. Burch was just 50 when he died in 1950.
A big anniversary today for radio in Canada: it was 100 years ago, on a Thursday of this same date in 1920, that the first scheduled broadcast took place, when XWA in Montreal relayed a musical program from the top floor of the Marconi building on William Street to the Chateau Laurier in Ottawa. That was a North American first, too: the inaugural American broadcast, emanating from Pittsburgh, didn’t hit the air until November of 1920.
Hockey’s radio debut came in the winter of 1923, via the Toronto Star’s radio station, CFCA. No, it wasn’t Foster Hewitt narrating the play, though he still often gets the credit. Historian Eric Zweig has cast the most light on this in recent years, and you can step into it here, if you have a subscription to the Star.
Hewitt was at the the paper in 1923, and did just a few days later get on the air to talk hockey. But it was in fact a part-time Star sports reporter Norman Albert who first gave a voice to hockey, on February 8, when he called the third period of an OHA intermediate game at Toronto’s Mutual Street Arena.
Albert also seems to have been on the job for the first broadcast of an NHL game. That came on February 14, 1923, when the hometown St. Patricks overturned the Ottawa Senators, the eventual Stanley Cup champions that year, by a score of 6-4.
Again, listeners heard just the third period that night, which means that Jack Adams’ goal for the St. Pats was the first in NHL history to be broadcast. Ottawa’s Frank Nighbor was next, with a pair. His teammate Punch Broadbent scored the final goal of that auspicious evening.
Albert died in 1974. I’m hoping someone asked him if he remembered how he called those landmark goals, and/or whether the words “He shoots, he scores” formed in his mouth that evening. And if someone did ask? I hope they wrote down the answer somewhere where I can snuffle it out, at some point.
Even if he wasn’t first off the mark, Foster Hewitt quickly — and lastingly — became a hockey broadcasting institution, of course. In his 1975 book, A Pictorial History of Radio in Canada, Sandy Stewart notes that while radio soon featured prominently in Canadian living rooms in the 1920s, most of the listening the citizenry was doing was to American stations.
There were two reasons for this, he posits: “the Canadian government’s indifference towards financing radio broadcasting prohibited big Canadian stations and the Canadian radio programming was not significantly different from American programming, which did it better.”
It was hockey that made the difference, Stewart says.
In the U.S., “going to the movies” had become the Saturday night pastime, but in Canada there were not as many movie houses available to a widely scattered population, and so Canadians stayed home to listen to the radio. Since almost everybody in the U.S. was at the movies on Saturday nights, the American broadcasters often didn’t bother to list the evening’s programs, but in Canada General Motors sponsored the Saturday night broadcasts. Canadians tuned in and hockey became as Canadian as maple syrup and still is.
General Motors eventually gave way to Imperial Oil as sponsor of hockey on Canadian radio, but Hewitt remained constant all the way through to 1968. (From 1952 through 1963, his broadcasts were simulcast on television, too.)
Sandy Stewart expounds on how Hewitt’s on-air talents ensured that his hockey broadcasts dominated the radio scene through the 1930s and on through the Second World War. And yet when hockey went national in 1932, General Motors was worried that the broadcast wouldn’t be able to hold its audience between periods. Their answer? They switched to dance music from Toronto’s Silver Slipper Dance Hall.
Later they produced drama sketches during intermissions, and eventually they hit on the “The Hot Stove League” with Elmer Ferguson, Wes McKnight, and Court Benson discussing the game. Another institution that survived from the 1930s to this day is the 3-Star Selection inspired by 3-Star Gasoline, [which] advertised on the broadcast.
For years Foster started the broadcast after his introduction from Charles Jennings with, “Hello, Canada and hockey fans in the United States and Newfoundland.”
During the war, he also greeted “our men overseas,” and on one occasion when it was known that the Germans were transmitting the hockey game to our troops in Belgium and Holland along with the pitch from a Nazi female broadcaster, “Why not call off the war and go home to see the hockey games,” Foster added on the Christmas broadcast, “and an extra big hello to Calamity Jane of Arnhem.”