bill barilko’s house of champions (and tvs and leeches)

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.

phil esposito: frankly, I had my doubts

Call It Macaroni: From the early 1970s, Phil Esposito makes the case for Kraft Dinner at the airport. Out on the tarmac. With a side salad.

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.”

Test Drive: Esposito suggests a Volkswagen in 1980.

billy burch took his skates to bed

No Sudden Coughing: In 1928, Billy Burch did his best to recommend Lucky Strikes to hockey’s tobacco-craving players.

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.

Billy Babe Burch Ruth

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.

 

also famed for prize apples

Brew Maestro: Frank Boucher was nearing the end of his coaching tenure with the New York Rangers in 1948 when he went to bat for America’s ancient lager. Born in Ottawa on a Monday of this date in 1901, Boucher belonged to a hockey dynasty, of course, and was a star centreman before he got around to coaching. Elected to the Hall of Fame in 1958, he was a two-time Stanley Cup winner with the New York Rangers. In recognition of his skilled and gentlemanly conduct, he also earned the Lady Byng Trophy so many times — seven in eight years in the 1920s and early ’30s — that he was awarded the original trophy outright (Lady Byng donated another). Boucher’s best year on the bench was his first, 1939-40, when he steered the Blueshirts to a Stanley Cup championship. After that, the war years were mostly a struggle for the Rangers, and they missed out on many playoffs. They did make it back to the post-season in ’48, though they ended up losing in the semi-finals to Detroit.

fellows, don’t risk coffee nerves

Take It From Chuck: If you were drinking the hot mealtime drink that New York Rangers’ netminder Charlie Rayner was drinking in 1951, well, sounds disgusting: “made from healthful wheat and bran,” Postum promised a “vigorous grain-rich flavor.” “Delicious with cream and sugar!” Why? A Ranger stalwart for eight seasons, Rayner started his NHL career in 1940 with the other team in town, the Americans, and guarded their goal again in ’41-42 when they moved (if in name only) to Brooklyn. Elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1973, Chuck Rayner died on a Sunday of this date in 2002. He was 82.

exit the king

Gone Goalie: After 15 handsome seasons in the New York net, Henrik Lundqvist comes to the end of his stellar Ranger career today as the team buys out the final year of his contract. Born in Åre, in Sweden, in 1982, Lundqvist, 38, departs as the games-playedest, winningest, save-percentagest, shutting-outmost goaltender in team history. He’s the lone netminder in the annals of the NHL to have recorded 30 wins in each of first seven seasons. Winner of the Vézina Trophy in 2012 (he was a First Team All-Star that year, too), Lundqvist helped the Rangers reach the Eastern Conference Final three times and the Stanley Cup Final once, in 2014, when they couldn’t overcome the Los Angeles Kings. Tending the net for Sweden’s national team, Lundqvist won Olympic gold in 2006 in Turin as well as a world championship in 2017.

le voilà, le gros bill

A Boost From Gros Bill: Born in 1931 in Trois-Rivières on the last day of August (it was another Monday), the incomparable Jean Béliveau. He was 38 in 1970, the year before he helped the Montreal Canadiens win another Stanley Cup, his tenth as a player. Like certain milk cartons, he was tough, strong, and durable, but after that ’71 Cup, Béliveau called quits on his 20-year NHL career.

hello, canada, and hockey fans in the united states and newfoundland

He Shoots, He … You Know: Franklin Arbuckle painted Foster Hewitt at work high up above the ice at Maple Leaf Gardens for the cover of Maclean’s that found its way to newsstands on March 3, 1956.

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.

Stewart:

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.”

Gondola Gazing: Hewitt at the mic in the late 1940s.

 

hockey smokers: herbie lewis

Lighting Up: Born in Calgary on a Monday of this date in 1905, Herbie Lewis started playing left wing in Detroit in 1928, turning out over the next decade for all three of the city’s NHL incarnations, Cougars, Falcons, and — from 1932 — Red Wings. He captained the team during the 1933-34 season, and assisted in the effort, in ’36 and ’37, that won them back-to-back Stanley Cups. Lewis was inducted in the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1989. And? I guess he liked to smoke Camels, all the live-long day — during meals, even! — commending them here, in ’37, for easing his digestion and upping his all-around well-being.

can’t beat a canadian bulky for style, said henri richard

You can argue, go ahead, that the 1970s marked the golden age of hockey players styling handsome sweaters: you’ve got Bobby Hull, after all, to stand up and make your case, and John Ferguson, too. For me, though, I’m stuck in the ’60s, which is when Montreal’s Highland Knitting Mills were spinning their own marvels (below), even as (above) Henri Richard joined with Portland, Oregon’s own Jantzen International Sports Club to tout their newest wool cardigan in colours spanning the … “masculine range.” Can you see that the “stripes are newly designed in richer, muted tones,” or maybe not so much? No, me neither. Do real pros (and good amateurs, too), leave their flashiness on the ice, but never their flair? So many questions. All I know is that when it comes to sweaters, necklines rise and fall as knits and patterns adjust for tastes and times. I get that: styles shift. But can we agree that it’s just plain wrong that in the year 2020 we all can’t go out and get fitted for our very own Canadian Bulky?