gaoledtenders: a short history of time served

Box Seats: Chicago’s Mike Karakas was the last NHL goaltender to serve out a penalty, in New York in 1936. That’s Rangers’ trainer Harry Westerby standing by and, in the hat, Ranger coach and GM Lester Patrick.

Clint Benedict’s violations were out in the open, many of them, whether he was upsetting Corb Denneny behind the net or (another time) dropping Toronto captain Frank Heffernan “with a clout on the dome.”

In the decisive game of the 1923 Stanley Cup finals, with Benedict’s Ottawa Senators on the way to beating the WCHL-champion Edmonton Eskimos to claim hockey’s ultimate trophy, referee Mickey Ion sanctioned the goaltender for a first-period slash on Edmonton defenceman Joe Simpson. “Benedict tried to separate Joe from his legs behind the goal,” Andy Lyle wrote in the Edmonton Journal. This particular game was being played under eastern (NHL) rules, so Benedict headed for the penalty bench.

Foul but no harm: with Ottawa nursing a 1-0, Benedict’s teammates were able to defend the lead without their goaltender’s help. This was at the end of the famous series during which Senators defenceman King Clancy ended  playing defence, forward, and goal. In a 1997 memoir written with Brian McFarlane, Clancy describes the moment that he headed for the latter: Benedict chucked over his goalstick and said, “You take care of this place ’til I get back.”

After that, Clancy’s time was mostly an exercise in standing around, though not entirely. In the memoir, Clancy recalls that when, at one point, he smothered the puck near the net, Ion threatened him with a penalty.

But while Clancy says that he didn’t face a single Edmonton shot, contemporary accounts tell a different tale. By Ottawa manager Tommy Gorman’s account, Clancy faced down two Edmonton shots. “Once Joe Simpson whipped in a long one,” he wrote, “whereupon ‘King’ dropped his stick, caught the puck with the skill of a baseball catcher, and tossed it aside while the crowd roared its approval.”

Count it, I guess, as the first shared shutout in Stanley Cup history.

Nowadays, when it comes to penalties for goalies, the NHL rule book gets right to the point with Rule 27:

Minor Penalty to Goalkeeper — A goalkeeper shall not be sent to the penalty bench for an offense which incurs a minor penalty, but instead, the minor penalty shall be served by another member of his team who was on the ice when the offense was committed. This player is to be designated by the Coach of the offending team through the playing Captain and such substitute shall not be changed.

But for the first three decades of NHL history — in the regular season as well as in Stanley Cup play— goaltenders themselves served the penalties they were assessed, departing the ice while a teammate did his best to fill in.

This happened more than a dozen times in those early years, and was cause for considerable chaos and excitement. In the 1920s, Clint Benedict was (as mentioned) often in the mix, while in the ’30s, Lorne Chabot featured prominently. Among the temporary goaltenders, King Clancy continued to stand out, along with Sprague Cleghorn. Goals would have been easy to score in these circumstances — you’d think. In fact, none was scored on the first eight occasions — it wasn’t until 1931, when Chicago’s Tommy Cook punished the Canadiens, that anyone was able to take advantage of an absent goaltender to score.

Despite what you may have read in a recent feature on NHL.com, the last time a goaltender went to the box wasn’t in March of 1932, after a particular fractious game in Boston, though the NHL did adjust some language in the rule book that year.

No, the final goaltender to do his own time would seem to have been Mike Karakas of the Chicago Black Hawks at the end of December in 1936. After that — but we’ll come back to the shifting of the rules that went on for more than a decade before goaltenders were fully and finally excused from going to the box.

Ahead of that, herewith, a helpful review of the NHL’s history of goaltenders who were binned for their sins, listed chronologically from earliest to last, starting in the league’s second season on ice and wandering along to its 20th.

None of the six goalies who tended nets during the NHL’s inaugural season, 1917-18, was penalized. That’s worth a note, if only because, until the rule was changed a couple of weeks into the schedule, goalies were forbidden, on pain of penalty, from falling to their knees to stop the puck. Benedict, again, was front and centre in the discussion that led to the change. In the old National Hockey Association, his collapses were as renowned as his penalties. Indeed, in announcing in January of 1918 that goaltenders would now be allowed to “adopt any attitude” to stop the puck, NHL President Frank Calder made specific mention of Benedict before going on to explain the rationale for the change. “Very few of the teams carry a spare netminder,” Calder explained, “and if the goaler is ruled off it means a long delay in equipping another player, and in a close contest would undoubtedly cost the penalized team the game. The old rule made it hard for the referees, so everybody will be helped.”

Free to flop, Benedict was left to find other means of catching the attention of referees. Which he duly did:

Tuesday, February 18, 1919
Ottawa Senators 4 Toronto Arenas 3 (OT)
Mutual Street Arena, Toronto
Referees: Lou Marsh, Steve Vair

The NHL was a three-team affair in its second season, and not exactly robust, at that: the anemic Toronto Arenas ended up dropping out before the season was over, suspending operations with two games left to play in the schedule. Their sparsely-attended penultimate game — no more than 1,000 fans showed up — saw Ottawa’s goaltender penalized with ten minutes left in the third period. Yes, this was unruly Benedict once again: with Toronto leading 2-1, he was sanctioned for upsetting Corb Denneny behind the Ottawa net, incurring a three-minute penalty (that was a thing, then).

Ottawa defenceman Sprague Cleghorn took over Benedict’s net. The Ottawa Journal: “Torontos tried hard but their sharp shooters were kept at long range by the defensive work of the Senators. Finally goalkeeper Cleghorn himself secured the puck and made an end to end rush, almost scoring.” An added detail from the Citizen: with Cleghorn absent on his rush, Senators’ winger Cy Denneny took to the net where he stopped at least one shot. After Benedict’s return, Toronto stretched their lead to 3-1 before Ottawa got goals from Frank Nighbor and (not one to be denied) Sprague Cleghorn before Punch Broadbent sealed the win for the Senators in overtime.

Hors De Combat: Seen here in the first uniform of Montreal’s Maroons, Clint Benedict was an early protagonist when it came to goaltenders serving time in penalty boxes.

Saturday, January 24, 1920
Ottawa Senators 3 Toronto St. Patricks 5
Mutual Street Arena, Toronto
Referee: Cooper Smeaton

The call on Clint Benedict this time, apparently, was for slashing Toronto captain Frank Heffernan. Referee Smeaton had already warned him for swinging his stick at Corb Denneny before sending Benedict to the penalty bench. The Ottawa Citizen described the goaltender as having swung his stick “heavily,” catching Heffernan across the forehead, while the Journal saw Heffernan go down “with a clout on the dome.” The Toronto faithful, the Globe reported, weren’t pleased: “the crowd hissed and hooted him.” Sprague Cleghorn was still manning the Ottawa defence, but this time it was winger Jack Darragh subbed in while Benedict served his three minutes. The Journal noted several “sensational stops,” and no goals against.

Wednesday, February 1, 1922
Montreal Canadiens 2 Ottawa Senators 4
Laurier Avenue Arena, Ottawa
Referee: Lou Marsh

“At times,” the Ottawa Journal reported, “Sprague Cleghorn played like a master and at other times like a gunman.” It was Cleghorn’s violence that made headlines this night, drawing the attention of Ottawa police, who showed up in Montreal’s dressing room after the game. Cleghorn was a Canadien now, turning out against his old teammates (including Clint Benedict in Ottawa’s goal), and proving a one-man wrecking crew. He accumulated 29 minutes in penalties for transgressions that included cutting Ottawa captain Eddie Gerard over the eye with a butt-end; breaking Frank Nighbor’s arm; and putting Cy Denneny out of the game in its final minutes. For the latter, Cleghorn was assessed a match penalty and fined for using indecent language. Canadiens managing director Leo Dandurand turned back the police who tried to apprehend Cleghorn, telling them to come back when they had a warrant.

Amid all this, Cleghorn also stepped into the Montreal net after Georges Vézina was sent off for slashing King Clancy. Notwithstanding the Ottawa Citizen’s verdict, calling Cleghorn “the present day disgrace of the National winter game,” Montreal’s Gazette reported that as an emergency goaltender he “made several fine stops.”

Saturday, March 31, 1923
Ottawa Senators 1 Edmonton Eskimos 0
Denman Arena, Vancouver
Referee: Mickey Ion

Clint Benedict’s Stanley Cup penalty was for a second-period slash across the knees of Edmonton’s Bullet Joe Simpson. (The Citizen: “the Ottawa goalie used his stick roughly.”) After multi-purpose King Clancy, stepped in, as mentioned, to replace him, his Senator teammates made sure that Edmonton didn’t get a single shot on net.

Saturday, December 20, 1924
Montreal Maroons 1 Hamilton Tigers 3
Barton Street Arena, Hamilton
Referee: Mike Rodden

Montreal Daily Star, 1924.

Clint Benedict, again. He was a Montreal Maroon by now, and still swinging; this time, in Hamilton, he was sent off for (the Gazette alleged) “trying to get Bouchard.” Eddie Bouchard that was, a Hamilton winger. Maroons captain Dunc Munro stepped into the breach while Benedict cooled his heels, and temper. The Gazette: “nothing happened while he was off.”

Saturday, December 27, 1924
Ottawa Senators 4 Toronto St. Patricks 3
Mutual Street Arena, Toronto
Referee: Lou Marsh

For the first time in NHL history, Clint Benedict wasn’t in the building when a penalty was called on a goaltender. He was in Montreal, for the record, taking no penalties as he tended the Maroons’ net in a 1-1 tie with the Canadiens that overtime couldn’t settle.

Offending this time was Senators’ stopper Alec Connell, who was in Toronto and (the Gazette said) “earned a penalty when he took a wallop at big Bert Corbeau. The latter was engaged in a fencing exhibition with Frank Nighbor late in the second period when Connell rushed out and aimed a blow at the local defence man. Connell missed by many metres, but nevertheless, he was given two minutes and Corbeau drew five. ‘King’ Clancy then took charge of the big stick and he made several fine saves, St. Patricks failing to score.”

During the fracas in which Connell was penalized, I can report, Ottawa’s Buck Boucher was fined $10 for (the Toronto Daily Star said) “being too lurid in his comments to the referee.” The Star also noted that when, playing goal, Clancy was elbowed by Jack Adams, the temporary Ottawa goaltender retaliated with a butt-end “just to show the rotund Irish centre player that he wasn’t at all afraid of him and wouldn’t take any nonsense.”

Saturday, February 14, 1925
Hamilton Tigers 1 Toronto St. Patricks 3
Mutual Street Arena, Toronto
Referee: Eddie O’Leary

In the second period, Hamilton goaltender Jake Forbes was penalized for (as the Gazette saw it) “turning [Bert] Corbeau over as the big defenceman was passing by the Hamilton goal.” Hamilton winger Charlie Langlois was already serving a penalty as the defenceman Jesse Spring took the net, but the Tigers survived the scare: “Both Langlois and Forbes got back on the ice without any damage being done while they were absent, the other players checking St. Pats so well that they could not get near the Hamilton net.”

Wednesday, December 2, 1931
Montreal Canadiens 1 Chicago Black Hawks 2
Chicago Stadium
Referee: Mike Rodden, Bill Shaver

Montreal Gazette, 1931.

A first for Chicago and indeed for the USA at large: never before had an NHL goaltender served his own penalty beyond a Canadian border. Notable, too: after seven tries and more than a decade, a team facing a substitute goaltender finally scored a goal. On this occasion, it was a decisive one, too.

The game was tied 1-1 in the third period when Montreal’s George Hainsworth tripped Chicago winger Vic Ripley. With just three minutes left in regular time, Ripley, who’d scored Chicago’s opening goal, hit the boards hard. He was carried off.

Hainsworth headed for the penalty bench. He had a teammate already there, Aurèle Joliat, so when defenceman Battleship Leduc took the net, the situation was grim for Montreal. The Gazette:

Albert Leduc armed himself with Hainsworth’s stick and stood between the posts with only three men to protect him. His position was almost helpless and when [Johnny] Gottselig and [Tommy] Cook came tearing in, the former passed to the centre player and Cook burned one past Leduc for the winning counter. Then Joliat returned and Leduc made one stop. When Hainsworth came back into the nets, Canadiens staged a rousing rally and the final gong found the champions peppering [Chicago goaltender Charlie] Gardiner unsuccessfully.

Tuesday, March 15, 1932
Toronto Maple Leafs 2 Boston Bruins 6
Boston Garden
Referee: Bill Stewart, Odie Cleghorn

Boston saw its first goaltender-in-box when, three minutes in, Toronto’s Lorne Chabot was called for tripping Boston centreman Cooney Weiland. “The latter,” wrote Victor Jones in the Boston Globe, “entirely out of a play, was free-skating a la Sonja Henie in the vicinity of the Leaf cage.” Toronto’s Globe: “The Leafs protested loudly, but Stewart remained firm.”

It was a costly decision for the Leafs. At the time, a penalty didn’t come to its end, as it does today, with a goal by the team with the advantage: come what might, Chabot would serve out his full time for his trip.

Victor Jones spun up a whole comical bit in his dispatch around Leaf coach Dick Irvin’s decision to hand Chabot’s duties (along with his stick) to defenceman Red Horner. The upshot was that Bruins’ centre Marty Barry scored on him after ten seconds. Irvin replaced Horner with defenceman Alex Levinsky, without discernible effect: Barry scored on him, too, ten seconds later. When King Clancy tried his luck, Boston captain George Owen scored another goal, giving the Bruins a 3-0 lead by the time Chabot returned to service.

There was a subsequent kerfuffle involving Toronto GM Conn Smythe, a practiced kerfuffler, particularly in Boston. He’d arrived late to the game, to find his team down by a pair of goals and Clancy tending the net. Smythe ended up reaching out from the Toronto bench to lay hands on referee Bill Stewart, who (he said) was blocking his view. Backed by a pair of Boston policemen, the Garden superintendent tried to evict Smythe, whereupon the Toronto players intervened.

“For some minutes,” Victor Jones recounted, “there was a better than fair chance that there would be a riot.” Bruins’ owner Charles F. Adams arrived on the scene to keep the peace and arrange a stay for Smythe who was allowed to keep his seat on the Leaf bench (in Jones’ telling) “on condition he would not further pinch, grab, or otherwise molest” the referee.

Boston didn’t squander its early boon, powering on to a 6-2 victory.

A couple of other notes from Jones’ notebook: “Stewart may have ruined the game, but he called the penalty as it’s written in the book and that’s all that concerns him.”

Also: “The best crack of the evening was made by Horner, after the game in the Toronto dressing room: ‘You fellows made a big mistake when you didn’t let me finish out my goal tending. I was just getting my eye on ’em, and after four or five more I’d have stopped everything.”

Leaf On The Loose: Lorne Chabot was a habitual visitor to NHL penalty boxes in the 1930s.

Sunday, November 20, 1932
Toronto Maple Leafs 0 New York Rangers 7
Madison Square Garden III, New York
Referees: Eusebe Daigneault, Jerry Goodman

The Leafs were the defending Stanley Cup champions in the fall of 1932, but that didn’t help them on this night in New York as they took on the team they’d defeated in the championship finals the previous April. This time out, Lorne Chabot’s troubles started in the second period, when he wandered too far from his net, whereupon a Rangers’ winger saw fit to bodycheck him. Cause and effect: “Chabot was banished,” Toronto’s Daily Star reported, “for flailing Murray Murdoch with his stick.” (Murdoch was penalized, too.)

Leafs’ winger Charlie Conacher took to the net, and in style. “He made six dazzling stops during this [two-minute] time,” Joseph C. Nichols reported in the New York Times, “playing without the pads and shin-guards always worn by regular goalies.” When Chabot returned, Conacher received a thundering ovation from the New York crowd. Chabot worked hard on the night, too, stopping a total of 41 Ranger shots. Unfortunately, there were also seven that got past him before the game was over.

Thursday, March 16, 1933
Toronto Maple Leafs 0 Detroit Red Wings 1
Detroit Olympia
Referee: Cooper Smeaton, Clarence Bush

Lorne Chabot’s next visit to the penalty box came during what the Montreal Gazette graded one of the wildest games ever to be played at the Detroit Olympia. In the third period, when Detroit centreman Ebbie Goodfellow passed the Leaf goalmouth, Chabot (wrote Jack Carveth of the Detroit Free Press) “clipped him over the head with his over-sized stick.”

“That was the signal for Ebbie to lead with his left and cross with his right,” Carveth narrated. “Chabot went down with Goodfellow on top of him.”

Both players got minor penalties for their troubles, which continued once they were seated side-by-side the penalty box. “After they had been separated,” wrote Carveth, “a policeman was stationed between them to prevent another outbreak.”

Just as things seemed to be settling down, Detroit coach Jack Adams threw a punch that connected with the chin of Toronto’s Bob Gracie, who stood accused of loosing “a vile remark” in Adams’ direction. “Players from both benches were over the fence in a jiffy but nothing more serious than a lot of pushing developed.”

Toronto winger Charlie Conacher took up Chabot’s stick in his absence. “But he didn’t have to do any work,” according to the Canadian Press. “King Clancy ragged the puck cleverly,” and the Wings failed to get even a shot at Conacher. They were already ahead 1-0 at the time, and that’s the way the game ended, with the shutout going to Detroit’s John Ross Roach.

Tuesday, November 28, 1933
Montreal Maroons 4 Montreal Canadiens 1
Montreal Forum
Referees: Bill Stewart, A.G. Smith

Lorne Chabot may have moved from Toronto to Montreal by 1933, but he was still battling. On this night, he contrived to get into what the Montreal Daily Star called a “high voltage scrap” with Maroons centreman Dave Trottier. The latter’s stick hit Chabot on the head as he dove to retrieve a puck in the third period, it seems. “Thinking it intentional,” the Gazette reported, “Chabot grabbed one of Trottier’s legs and pulled him to the ice with a football tackle. They rose and came to grips.” Later that same brouhaha, Chabot interceded in a fight between teammate Wildor Larochelle and the Maroons’ Hooley Smith, whereupon (somehow) Trottier and Larochelle were sentenced to major penalties while Smith and Chabot earned only minors.

With two minutes left in the game and Maroons up by three goals, Canadiens’ coach Newsy Lalonde elected not to fill Chabot’s net. Maroons couldn’t hit the empty net, though winger Wally Kilrea came close with a long-distance shot that drifted wide.

Sunday, December 27, 1936
Chicago Black Hawks 0 New York Rangers 1
Madison Square Garden III
Referee: Bill Stewart, Babe Dye

“One of hockey’s rarest spectacles,” New York Times’ correspondent Joseph C. Nichols called the second-period tripping penalty that was called when Chicago’s Mike Karakas tripped New York’s Phil Watson. Filling in for Karakas was none other than Tommy Cook who, you might recall, scored a goal against Battleship Leduc in 1931 when he’d replaced Montreal’s George Hainsworth. This time, Nichols reported, the net might as well have been empty for all the chances the rangers had to score. With Chicago’s Johnny Gottselig, Paul Thompson, and Art Wiebe doing yeoman’s work on the defensive, Cook faced no shots during his stint as a stand-in — the last one, as it turned out, in NHL history.

Both Sides Now: Chicago centreman Tommy Cook was the first NHLer to score a goal with a goaltender in the box, in 1931. In 1936, he was also the last player to take a penalized goaltender’s place.

Tracing the evolution of the NHL’s rule book generally involves a certain amount of sleuthing. James Duplacey’s The Rules of Hockey (1996) is helpful up to a point, but it’s not it’s not without bugs and oversights.

This is specifically the case, too, when it comes to goaltenders and their penalties. When in 1918 goaltenders were freed to fall to their knees without risk of punishment, this freedom never enshrined in writing. For most if not all of the league’s first decade, the only language in the rule book governing goaltenders had to do with holding the puck — not allowed — and the face-off arrangement that applied if they dared to commit this misdemeanor.

This changed in 1932, after that Leaf game in Boston in March when Toronto’s three emergency goaltenders yielded three goals and Conn Smythe got into (another) melee. Did he draft or drive the addition of the paragraph that was added to the rule book that year? It’s possible. It was procedural only, and didn’t change the way things had been done since the beginning. The language added to Rule 12 read:

If a goal-keeper is removed from the ice to serve a penalty the manager of the club shall appoint a substitute and the referee shall be advised of the name of the substitute appointed. The substitute goal-keeper shall be subject to the rules governing goal-keepers and have the same privileges.

The last part does suggest that stand-ins would be within their rights to strap on goaltending pads, and maybe that happened, though I’ve never seen any archival or anecdotal evidence that it did in any of the instances cited above.

Goaltenders were boxed on four more occasions (as we’ve seen) after this change in rule-book wording. It was six years later that the sentencing of rule-breaking goaltenders changed materially, in September of 1938. No goaltender had, to date, ever been assessed a major penalty, but if that were to happen, the new rule stipulated that he would go to the box, with his substitute accorded all the privileges of a regular netminder, “including the use of the goal-keeper’s stick and gloves.”

And for lesser infractions? Now The Official Rule Book declared that:

No goal-keeper shall be sent to the penalty bench for an offence which incurs a minor penalty but instead of the minor penalty, a penalty shot shall be given against him.

It didn’t take long for the statute to get its first test, once the 1938-39 season got underway. There was, it’s true, some confusion on the ice when the Detroit Red Wings hosted the Chicago Black Hawks, the reigning NHL champions, on Thursday, November 24.

It was a busy night for referee Clarence Campbell. The future NHL president wasn’t a favourite in Detroit, as Doc Holst of the local Free Press outlined:

Anytime Mr. Campbell is referee on Mr. [Jack] Adams’ ice, you can wager your grandma that there will be plenty of difficult problems and that he will never solve them to the satisfaction of the Red Wings. He’s their ogre, no matter how the other club praises his abilities.

Campbell infuriated both teams on this night. In the first period, he disallowed a goal that the Wings’ Marty Barry thought he’d score. Next, Campbell awarded the Wings a penalty shot after Hawks’ defenceman Alex Levinsky held back the Wings’ Ebbie Goodfellow on his way in on Chicago’s Mike Karakas. Levinsky objected so vociferously that Campbell gave him a ten-misconduct. Mud Bruneteau took Detroit’s penalty shot: Karakas saved.

Things got even more interesting in the third. It started with Detroit’s Pete Kelly skating in on the Chicago net and colliding with Karakas. Doc Holst: “The two of them came out of the net and started to roll, Pete holding on to Mike for dear life. The only thing Mike could think of was to tap Pete on the head with his big goalie stick.”

Campbell penalized both, sending Kelly to the box for holding and awarding Detroit a penalty shot for Karakas’ slash. The Wings weren’t having it — they wanted the Chicago goaltender sent off. “Campbell pulled the rule book on the Wings,” a wire service account of the proceedings reported, “and showed them goalies do not go to penalty boxes” Once again Mud Bruneteau stepped up to shoot on Karakas and, once again, failed to score. The Red Wings did eventually prevail in the game, winning 4-2, despite all the goals denied them.

Goaltenders did keep on taking penalties, some of them for contravening a new rule added to the books in 1938 barring them from throwing pucks into the crowd to stop play. In Detroit, if not elsewhere, this rule was said to be aimed at curbing the Red Wings’ Normie Smith, who’d been known in his time for disposing of (said the Free Press) “as many as a dozen pucks a night over the screen.” Chicago’s Karakas was, apparently, another enthusiastic puck-tosser.

And so, in February of 1939, Clarence Campbell called Wilf Cude of the Montreal Canadiens for flinging a puck over the screen against the New York Americans. Cude took his medicine and kicked out Johnny Sorrell’s penalty shot. In January, 1941, when Toronto’s Turk Broda tripped Canadiens’ Murph Chamberlain, he was pleased to redeem himself by foiling a penalty shot from Tony Demers.

The NHL continued to tweak the rule through the 1940s. In September of ’41, the league split the penalty shot: now there were major and minor versions. The major was what we know now, applied when a skater was impeded on a clear chance at goal. The player taking the shot was free to skate in on the goaltender to shoot from wherever he pleased. A minor penalty shot applied when a goaltender committed a foul: he would be sentenced to face an opposing player who could wheel in from centre-ice but had to shoot the puck before he crossed a line drawn 28 feet in front of the goal.

By 1945, the rules had changed again, with a penalty shot only applying when a goaltender incurred a major penalty. That meant that when, in a February game in New York, referee Bill Chadwick whistled down Rangers’ goaltender Chuck Rayner for tossing the puck up the ice (just as prohibited as hurling it into the stands), Rayner stayed in his net while teammate Ab DeMarco went to the penalty box. From there, he watched  Chicago’s Pete Horeck score the opening goal in what ended as a 2-2 tie.

This continued over the next few years. Boston’s Frank Brimsek slung a puck into the Montreal crowd and teammate Bep Guidolin did his time for him. Detroit’s Gerry Couture went to the box when his goaltender, Harry Lumley, high-sticked Boston’s Bill Cowley. In the October of 1947, in a game at Chicago Stadium between the Black Hawks and Red Wings, Chadwick saw fit to call (in separate incidents) penalties on both team’s goaltenders, Lumley for tripping (Red Kelly went to the box) and Chicago’s Emile Francis for high-sticking (Dick Butler did the time).

A few days later Francis was penalized again, this time against Montreal, after a “mix-up” with Canadiens’ winger Jimmy Peters. By some accounts, this was an out-and-out fight, though Peters and Francis were assessed minors for roughing. Is it possible that referee Georges Gravel downgraded the charge to avoid the spectacle of Francis having to face a penalty shot for his temper?

The rule does seem generally to have fallen into disrepute in these final years before it was rewritten. Witness the game at Maple Leaf Gardens in January of 1946 when the Leafs beat the Red Wings 9-3 in a game refereed by King Clancy. Late in the third period, Detroit’s Joe Carveth took a shot on the Leaf goal only to see it saved by goaltender Frank McCool. The Globe and Mail’s Vern DeGeer described what happened next:

The puck rebounded back to Carveth’s stick as a whistle sounded. Carveth fired the puck again. It hit McCool on the shoulder. The Toronto goalie dropped his stick and darted from his cage. He headed straight for Carveth and enveloped the Detroiter in a bear hug that would have done credit to one of Frank Tunney’s mightiest wrestling warriors, and bore him to the ice.

DeGeer’s description of the aftermath came with a derisive subhed: Who Wrote This Rule?

The sheer stupidity of major hockey rules developed out of the McCool-Carveth affair. Carveth was given a two-minute penalty for firing the puck after the whistle and an additional two minutes for fighting. A major penalty shot play was given against McCool. Carl Liscombe made the play and hit the goalpost at McCool’s right side. There’s neither rhyme nor reason for such a severe penalty against a goaltender, but it’s in the rule book.

Carveth was in the penalty box when the game ended. First thing the former Regina boy did was skate to the Toronto fence and apologize to Frank for taking the extra shot after the whistle.

The NHL made another change ahead of the 1949-50 season: from then on, major penalties, too, that were incurred by goaltenders would see a teammate designated to serve time in the box rather than resulting in a penalty shot.

stopgap goalstop

Emergency Measures: On this night 94 years ago, 44-year-old Rangers coach and manager Lester Patrick strapped on Lorne Chabot’s pads to finish the game in Montreal that would lead to New York’s first Stanley Cup championship.

It was on a Saturday of this same date in 1928 that Lester Patrick’s brief career as an NHL goaltender started — and finished. It’s a famous story, of course. Patrick, the 44-year-old coach and manager of the New York Rangers, had his team in Montreal that night, playing the second game of the Stanley Cup finals against the hometown Maroons, who were up a game already in the series, when a second-period backhander by Montreal’s Nels Stewart caught Rangers’ goaltender Lorne Chabot in the left eye. He couldn’t continue. New York didn’t have a back-up dressed, but a couple of able-bodied goaltenders were on hand at the Forum, as it happened, including the Ottawa Senators’ Alec Connell. When Maroons’ management refused to allow them to take the New York goal, coach Patrick stepped (and suited) up.

It wasn’t the first time playing goal for Patrick, who’d all but hung up his skates as a player in 1926. More than a decade earlier, in his days playing defence for the PCHA’s Victoria Aristocrats, he’d done some emergency goaltending. Nor was this Patrick’s NHL debut: a year earlier, at the end of the 1926-27 NHL season, the Rangers’ very first, Patrick had taken a place on New York’s defence after injuries depleted his line-up.

Playing reliever 94 years ago tonight, Patrick stopped 18 shots or so, helping the Rangers to tie the series with a 2-1 win that Frank Boucher sealed in overtime. Thereafter, with Chabot in the hospital, Rangers secured the services of New York Americans’ goaler Joe Miller, who eventually backstopped them to their first Stanley Cup championship.

a peach blossoms in ottawa

Capital Champs: A birthday today for the man in the lower left corner, sometimes called the Pembroke Peach, Frank Nighbor, who was born where the Muskrat River meets the Ottawa on a Thursday of this date in 1893. A scintillant centreman, he was 34 in 1927, playing in his 15th season for Ottawa’s mighty Senators as they beat the Boston Bruins to collect their fourth Stanley Cup in eight years. Nighbor was the first man to win the Hart Trophy as NHL MVP, in 1924, and a year later he collected the very first Lady Byng. Seven of the 12 players in this portrait ended up in the Hall of Fame, including Nighbor, captain Buck Boucher, King Clancy, Cy Denneny, goaltender Alec Connell, Hooley Smith, and the future architect of the Detroit Red Wings, Jack Adams.

armand mondou, 1934: a trip and a penalty-shot miss

Armand Mondou played on the left wing for the Montreal Canadiens for a dozen NHL seasons from 1928 through to 1940, winning a pair of Stanley Cups along the way, in 1930 and ’31. 

Born in 1905 on a Tuesday of this date in Saint-David-d’Yamaska, Quebec, he was the first NHLer to take a penalty shot after the league added a new rule in 1934, 18 seasons into its early history. It happened on opening night that year, when the Canadiens were playing at Maple Leaf Gardens on the night of Saturday, November 10. In the third period Toronto’s Bill Thoms tripped Georges Mantha of Montreal as he broke in on Leaf goaltender George Hainsworth.

The rules for penalty-shooting were different in those years: ’34 through ’37, the puck was placed in a 10-foot circle located 38 feet from goal, just inside the blueline. As I’ve described before, in this post delineating the history of the penalty shot, the shooter couldn’t make contact with the puck outside the circle, either standing still in the circle and letting loose, or skating at the puck full tilt from farther back. The goaltender, meanwhile, had to stay where he was: he wasn’t allowed to advance more than a foot off his line.

That night in 1934, 29-year-old Armand Mondou was standing in on Montreal’s top line for Wildor Larochelle. Mondou had scored just five goals the year before, so it’s a little surprising that Canadiens’ coach Newsy Lalonde picked him to revenge Mantha’s fall, especially since he had a formidable scorer (and future Hall-of-Famer) in Aurèle Joliat on the bench that night. Mondou decided on a speedy approach for the league’s inaugural penalty shot. That’s according to Montreal’s Gazette: “Mondou, with a running start, and his bullet-like slap shot, made the play against Hainsworth.”

Toronto’s hometown Globe had its own view of the same scene: “The fans were quite interested, but Mondou’s shot was a dud. It never left the ice and Hainsworth stopped it with his usual nonchalance.” 

According to the Gazette (interestingly), Hainsworth switched out his regular goaling stick for the penalty shot with “a lighter stick.” I’d like to know more about that, but I’ve yet to see another reference to this specialty tool. 

The Leafs won the game, 2-1. The NHL’s first successful penalty shot came a week later, when Ralph Bowman of the St. Louis Eagles put a puck past Alec Connell of the Montreal Maroons. 

shut the front door: ottawa’s fireman was as fast as a flash

Mainstay of the Maroons, they called him, Horatius at the Bridge, the Sphinx of the Nets. Also? The Ottawa Fireman. That was a nickname, the last one, but it was also a straightforward description, because throughout Alec Connell’s 12-year Hall-of-Fame career as an NHL goaltender, he remained a dutiful employee of the fire department in the nation’s capital.

His renown was such that when, on a Saturday of this date in 1958, Connell died, the news was front-page-centre in the Ottawa Citizen, his hometown paper. He was 58.

Twenty-nine years he served with the Ottawa Fire Department, starting in 1921. He was working as secretary to Chief Robert Burnett in the fall of 1924 when he was signed by the mighty Senators, Stanley Cup champions in three of the previous five seasons, to replace Clint Benedict. Connell’s sporting exploits were well-known in the city: “one of Ottawa’s best all-round athletes,” the Montreal Gazette advised. 

“He is a little man as fast as a flash and as cool-headed almost as the great Georges Vézina of the Canadiens.” He was, moreover, “a fine, clean-cut youth.” 

“Connell neither smokes nor drinks, and is in every way a credit to sport.”

He would play eight seasons, all told, with the Senators, often wearing what was described as a floppy hat, his face set with a serious expression that contemporary reports tended to classify as deadpan. He backstopped Ottawa to the 1927 Stanley Cup, and he was the Montreal Maroons’ goaltender in 1935 when they won the Cup. He had turns, too, with the Detroit Falcons and New York Americans before he gave up his pads for good in 1937.

On that subject, the pads, while Jake Forbes of the old Hamilton Tigers was the first NHL goaltender to transition from the old, narrow cricket-style pads to the new-fangled wider horsehide-and-kapok versions pioneered by Hamilton harnessmaker Pop Kenesky in the 1920s, Alec Connell was the second. These are Keneskys pictured in the image above, showing Connell in all his felted glory in 1931, when he was with Detroit; the pads are, in all probability, the originals that Connell commissioned from the legendary Pop Kenesky in 1927.

Some other Connell claims to hockey fame:

• He’s one of six goaltenders in NHL history to have captained his team, which in his case was Ottawa for the 1932-33 season. (Not counting Roberto Luongo here, whom the Vancouver Canucks recognized as their leader from 2008-10, despite the league’s latter-day rules that don’t allow captains in the crease.) 

• Playing for the Maroons in 1934, Connell was the goaltender of record when Ralph Bowman scored the NHL’s very first penalty shot

• Alec Connell still holds the record for the longest shutout streak in NHL history, 460 minutes and 49 seconds. That dates back to the 1927-28 season, when he strung together six consecutive clean sheets before Duke Keats of the Black Hawks solved him in a game in Chicago. Connell racked up 15 shutouts in 44 regular-season games that season — impressive, though not enough to win him the Vézina Trophy as the NHL’s top goaltender, which went to George Hainsworth of the Canadiens that year. 

Flashman: An artist’s impression of Connell’s antics in a 1924 pre-season game against the WCHL’s Calgary Tigers. Note the pre-Kenesky pads, narrow, like cricket pads.

the goose that laid 50 eggs

Towering Tiny: An artist’s rendition of Boston’s mighty Tiny Thompson from 1930.

Score it 0-0: the game that particular February 24 on a Sunday night in 1935 ended up without a puck getting by either goaltender through three regular periods and a ten-minute overtime. New York’s Madison Square Garden was the scene, with 26-year-old Dave Kerr tending the nets for the hometown Rangers against Tiny Thompson and the Boston Bruins in front of a crowd of 16,000 or so. The ice, by one account, was wretched.

“For Rangers,” the Boston Globe disclosed the next day, “Kerr was the whole works.” He stopped 43 pucks, recording the 15th shutout of his five-year career. His closest call? Harold Parrott from Brooklyn’s Daily Eagle said it came on a “rifle shot” from Boston’s Babe Siebert, “which nearly tore the goaler’s little finger off and hit the goal post with that dull ping which signifies failure.” Thompson deterred 39 New York shots — or maybe 34. The NHL didn’t keep official counts in those early years, and the Globe and the New York Times begged to differ in their accounting of Thompson’s work. To the latter’s eye, his hardest test came in the second period on a “ripping long shot” from New York’s Murray Murdoch.

For Thompson, who was 31 and playing in his eighth NHL season, the night marked a milestone of distinguished denial: this was the 50th regular-season shutout of his career. He was the seventh goaltender in league history to make it to that mark, following in the venerable skates of (not in order) George Hainsworth, Clint Benedict, Roy Worters, Lorne Chabot, Alec Connell, and John Ross Roach.

 

goalie on the verge

Andy Aitkenhead

Andy Aitkenhead was born on a Sunday of this date in 1904 in Glasgow in Scotland, though Saskatchewan is where he grew up and learned the goaling trade. As a young man in the 1920s in Saskatoon, he worked the nets for teams called Quakers, Nationals, Empires, and Sheiks, catching the attention, eventually, of Lester Patrick in New York, who signed him up for the Rangers. He seasoned two years in Portland, Oregon, before graduating to the NHL — that’s him here in his PCHL Buckaroos raiment. The glad news is that as a 28-year-old rookie Aitkenhead backstopped the Blueshirts to their second Stanley Cup to finish up the 1932-33 campaign, working all 48 of the team’s regular-season games and a further eight in the playoffs, winning 29 of those 56 encounters.

He didn’t miss a game the following year, either, despite suffering a nervous breakdown this month in 1934. Details of just what happened aren’t easy to discern from contemporary reports, though the newspapers of the day were all too pleased to blithely bandy the goaltender’s mental health across their columns. “Andy Aitkenhead’s nervous system has broken under the strain of National League hockey,” Vancouver’s Province reported mid-March as the Rangers prepared to start the playoffs and the defence of their title. Patrick denied it, even as he scrambled to find an emergency replacement. Heading into their final regular-season game against the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Rangers had lost six of their previous ten games; “Andy hasn’t been going so well lately” is as much as the manager would say. As Patrick sought permission from the NHL to bring in Alec Connell, the recently retired veteran of nine NHL campaigns, the newspapers cast their headlines across the continent:

New York Rangers’ Goalie / Suffers Attack of ‘Jitters’ (Edmonton Journal)

Andy Aitkenhead Suffers / From Nervous Breakdown (Boston Globe)

Aitkenhead Out of Game (Saskatoon Star-Phoenix)

Maple Leafs’ manager Conn Smythe thought it was all a, well, con, a case of Patrick trying to bend the rules and acquire a new goaltender after the NHL trade deadline had passed. “Nobody in all the world of sport can do such utterly unthinkable things except that doggone Lester,” Smythe brayed from Toronto. “He excites my admiration damn near every time he moves, and he moves frequently.”

As it turned out, Connell couldn’t get away — he had a regular job, as secretary of the Ottawa Fire Department. Aitkenhead was back in net for the Toronto game, and while the Rangers lost, 3-2, he stopped 41 shots while inspiring a brighter set of headlines in the days that followed:

Andy’s Jitters Not Permanent (Brooklyn Daily Eagle)

Aitkenhead Is Recovering (Winnipeg Tribune)

Andy Aitkenhead Beating Nerves (Edmonton Journal)

“Aitkenhead’s display lessened somewhat Patrick’s anxiety for the youngster,” the wires reported, “that examination by doctors had caused. Letters from the doctors said Aitkenhead’s reflexes revealed a high degree of nervousness although a physical examination failed to disclose any organic weakness. Encouragement was offered by the statement it might be a passing condition curable by rest.”

And that was pretty much it. Paul Gallico weighed in with a jolly column in the New York Daily News, but mostly,the discussion of Aitkenhead’s well-being sank away out of the news.

As for rest, he didn’t get much that March, starting both of New York’s playoff games later that same week. In a series to be decided by total goals, he and his Maroons’ counterpart Dave Kerr shared in allowing not a one in the first game in Montreal: the Daily News reported that, “though highly keyed up,” Aitkenhead was “magnificent” in stopping 26 shots to guarantee that the game ended 0-0 — while also commending his “coolness.” Five days later, when the teams met again at Madison Square Garden, the Maroons eliminated the Rangers with a 2-1 win secured by a third-period goal by Earl Robinson.

Andy Aitkenhead’s goaltending career had another six years to run, though he only ever played 10 more games in the NHL. The Rangers stumbled out of the gate to start the 1934-35, and they were a dismal 3-7 in December when the Rangers bought Dave Kerr from the Maroons and sent Aitkenhead packing. “I am far from satisfied that the fault was all Andy’s,” Lester Patrick said. “However, when a goalie lest as many get by him as Andy did, you know what happens. All I can say is, I’m sorry.”

Aitkenhead found his way back to the Buckaroos’ net in PCHL Portland, and he played there through to 1941. That’s where he stayed settled, too, after his retirement. Andy Aitkenhead died at the age of 64 in 1968.

(Top image: Oregonian/Barcroft Studios. Oregon Journal; Lot 1368; Box 371; 0371N013)

way to go, cole bardreau — scotty bowman did it first

Ms, See: A couple of Maroons who figured in the NHL’s first successful penalty shot were, left, defenceman Stew Evans and goaltender Alec Connell. Also shown are GM and coach Tommy Gorman and d-man Allan Shields.

The game at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center was tied 1-1 in the second period last night when New York Islanders’ forward Cole Bardreau stepped up to take a penalty shot. He’d been heading in on Ottawa’s net on a breakaway when defenceman Mark Borowiecki brought him down and so there he was, a 26-year-old in just his seventh NHL game about to skate in on Ottawa goaltender Craig Anderson and score his first big-league goal. “He’s a hard player to not root for,” Cory Wright advised later in his report for the Islanders’ website, “after nearly breaking his neck in college and nearly losing his hand to infection after an AHL fight.”

The goal turned out to be a decisive one in New York’s 4-1 victory. Also of note: Bardreau, who hails from Fairport, New York, goes into the books as just the seventh player in NHL history to score his debut goal on a penalty shot.

“I’m not going to lie,” Bardreau said after the game, “I was pretty nervous there looking up. But I just gripped and ripped it, and luckily it went in. It was just nice to get the monkey off the back. I’ll remember that one forever.”

The first man to score his first goal on a penalty shot in the NHL? Scotty Bowman, who did the deed 85 years ago this month in a game between a pair of teams that no longer exist. His goal, as it happens, was also the first penalty shot to be scored in the league.

Not that Scotty Bowman; this one, born in 1911 in Winnipeg, where he christened Ralph before going on to be nicknamed Scotty well before the legendary coach was out of diapers. The original Scotty B started his NHL career as a defenceman with the original Ottawa Senators at the start of the 1933-34 season. In the fall of 1934, when the Sens relocated and turned into the short-lived St. Louis Eagles, Bowman went with them. So it was that he was working the blueline on November 13, another Tuesday night, when the Montreal Maroons paid an early-season visit to the Arena.

The penalty shot was new that year to the NHL, adopted by the Board of Governors in September years after it had been standard practice in the Pacific Coast Hockey Association where it was (to quote a contemporary report from the Montreal Gazette) “born in the fertile brains of Lester and Frank Patrick.”

It wasn’t quite the same penalty shot that Cole Bardreau took last night. In 1934, once the referee determined that an attacking player had been fouled and prevented from taking a clear shot on goal, the wronged team could pick any player who wasn’t then in the penalty box to take the shot.

To do so, he stepped up to a ten-foot circle marked on the ice (just inside the blueline) 38 feet from the goal-line. The goaltender was allowed a certain mobility but not much: he couldn’t come out more than a foot from his line. The Gazette: “The sharpshooter can deliver the shot from the standing position or while skating full speed” — so long as he didn’t carry it beyond the confines of the circle.

In Frank Patrick’s pre-season opinion, the goaltender held a 60-40 advantage. One shot in three would go in, he thought.

He was almost right. The first penalty shot that season was a failed one: at Maple Leaf Gardens on November 10, the Leafs’ George Hainsworth foiled Armand Mondou of the Montreal Canadiens.

Three days later in St. Louis, the Maroons were up 1-0 in the second period when referee Bill Stewart called Montreal defenceman Stew Evans for tripping Eagle forward Syd Howe.

Hard to imagine why St. Louis coach Eddie Gerard would have decided that a defenceman who’d never scored in the league was the man to get the job done. Variously described at the time as just a youngster and both a chunky and a dynamic defenceman, Bowman, 23, was usually partnered on the blueline with Burr Williams. He must have had a shot, I guess, such that Gerard would have elected him over more seasoned goalscorers like Howe, Glenn Brydson, and Carl Voss.

Anyway, Bowman elected to take a run at the puck. Though St. Louis ended up losing the game 2-1 in overtime to a goal by Montreal’s Dave Trottier, Bowman did what he was supposed to do in the second period and tied the score, whipping the puck to goaltender Alec Connell’s glove-side. As The St. Louis Dispatch saw it, the puck sped“ankle high, like a bullet,” though the Star and Times placed the shot a little higher, near Connell’s “right shin.”

Either way, the people of St. Louis were pleased. “The fans stood on their chairs,” the Star and Times noted, “and yelled with glee.”

The Liveliest of Table Waters: The line-ups from November 13, 1934, as displayed in the St. Louis Eagles’ program for the night.

old; goaled

For The Defence: A year before Rangers’ coach and GM Lester Patrick famously took to the nets in the 1928 Stanley Cup Finals, he took a 43-year-old turn on the team’s blue line.

Lester Patrick’s career as a goaltender in the NHL is as famous a half-hour as you’ll find in the annals of NHL playoff history. Maybe you recall the story: in April of 1928, when the New York Rangers were battling the Maroons in Montreal in the Finals, Nels Stewart from the home team hoisted a backhand at the New York net. Rangers’ goaltender Lorne Chabot stopped it, but at a painful cost: the puck caught him (and I quote, from the next day’s Toronto Globe) full in the left eye. Chabot went to hospital, where doctors diagnosed hemorrhages of the anterior and posterior chambers of said eye. His replacement, back at the Forum? A couple of able-bodied goaltenders happened to be in the building, including the Ottawa Senators’ Alec Connell, but Maroons refused to agree that either of them should be allowed to step into the breach — it just wasn’t fair, they felt.

So Patrick suited up. Born on this date in 1883 (it was a Monday then, too), Patrick was a hockey colossus, one of the game’s most influential figures, a builder of leagues and rinks, inventor (along with his brother Frank) of the blueline and forward pass and the penalty shot, booster of women’s hockey. Now coach and GM of the second-year Rangers, Patrick had been a truly outstanding player in his day, one of the greats of hockey’s early era — which is to say, a while back. In 1906 and again in ’07, playing both on defence and at rover, he led the Montreal Wanderers to successive Stanley Cup championships. In subsequent years he’d starred for Renfrew’s Creamery Kings and the Seattle Metropolitans, the Spokane Canaries, and Victoria’s Aristocrats. He’d played regularly for another Victoria team, the Cougars, as recently as 1926. At the end of the 1926-27, with the Ranger roster thinned by injuries, he’d suited himself up for a single game on defence, making his NHL debut at the age of 43. The only statistic he registered was a minor penalty: two minutes for tripping.

A year later, another year older, Patrick returned to the ice for his NHL swan song. It’s worth noting (if not entirely a surprise) that this wasn’t his first attempt at preventing pucks from passing him by: Patrick had played some emergency goal for both the Wanderers and the Aristocrats, when the moment called, though he’d never yet been credited with a win of his own.

Standing in Chabot’s stead in 1928, making do with his equipment, Patrick deterred all but one of the 18 shots he faced — Nels Stewart was the lone Maroon to solve him, snapping in a rebound to tie the game after New York’s Bill Cook put the Rangers ahead. Frank Boucher’s overtime goal eventually gave New York — and Patrick — the win, paving the way for Rangers’ eventual triumph: they claimed their first Stanley Cup in five games.

Patrick went back to coaching after his game-two debut, with the Rangers calling on the league back-up, Joe Miller, to finish the job in the nets. He did so despite suffering a serious cut on the head in the final game, courtesy of Hooley Smith’s skate. As for Lester Patrick, he remains to this day the oldest player to have skated in the Stanley Cup finals. He died in 1960, aged 76.

charlie conacher: many happy returns of … tomorrow?

First To The Fight: Charlie Conacher leads his Leaf teammates to the ice at the Boston Garden in 1936. Following behind that’s (possibly) Pep Kelly and (certainly) captain Hap Day. Bringing up the rear (I’ll guess) might be Red Horner. (Image: Boston Public Library, Leslie Jones Collection)

Charlie Conacher was just 28 when he announced his retirement from hockey in January of 1938. Most in the media agreed with The Ottawa Journal’s assessment: the Leaf captain was “the game’s hardest shooter” and had been, for years, “one of its most compelling figures.” Injuries to knees and kidneys, wrists and back had worn him down: it was on the advice of Leafs’ physician Dr. J.W. Rush that he was making his exit. By columnist Walter Gilhooly’s account, the news hit the NHL like a bomb, and would severely impair Toronto’s chances for a Stanley Cup. Leafs’ manager Conn Smythe wasn’t about to argue that: “It’s a terrific blow to us,” he said.

Conacher’s retirement didn’t last: he made his return to the rink the following season as a Detroit Red Wing, where he played for a season before heading to New York, where he was an American for another two years before he (definitively) hung up his skates in 1941.

While Conacher’s initial 1938 retirement didn’t stick, it did allow for an extended period of career memorializing as teammates and coaches and sportswriters summed up and celebrated his years as (quote) a bruiser in action and one of the strongest men in hockey. Before Conacher made his NHL debut in 1929, Bill Cook of the New York Rangers was said to be the best right winger in hockey. Now, retired and coaching, Cook weighed in to name his all-time all-star team. George Hainsworth was the best goaltender he’d ever seen, Eddie Shore and Ching Johnson the best of defencemen. For forwards, he anointed Howie Morenz at centre, Aurèle Joliat and Conacher on the wings.

Alec Connell had stood in Conacher’s way many times in his years tending goal for the Ottawa Senators and Montreal Maroons. “He was the best right wing I ever saw,” Connell said of Conacher, who weighed in close to 200 pounds. “He was as fast on his skates as a 150 pounder and there was never anyone with a more wicked shot. He drove them at you like a bullet. On top of his size and his strength and his speed, he was brainy. You never knew how he was coming in on you with the puck. One time he’d play you one way. The next time he’d come down on you in an entirely different way. He was a fellow that it was almost impossible to get set for, and then he had that blazing shot.”

Across nine NHL seasons, Conacher had scored an even 200 regular-season goals by then, another 14 in the playoffs. Five times he was the NHL’s leading goalscorer; twice he led the league in points. He wouldn’t add substantially to those numbers in his three subsequent non-Leaf years, but his totals are still impressive. In 459 NHL games, he collected 225 goals and 398 points. In 53 playoff games, he scored 23 goals and 43 points. He helped the Leafs win the 1932 Stanley Cup, and in 1961 he was elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame. Charlie Conacher died of throat cancer on December 30, 1967. He was 58.

For all the facts and figures we can readily summon to delineate his life and times, the date of his date of his birth remains elusive. Is today the day we should be observing his arrival at Toronto’s Salvation Army Maternity Hospital in 1909, or should we be saving the greetings and salutations for tomorrow?

Many of the standard hockey references actually give Conacher’s birthdate as Monday, December 20, 1909. If you’re at the library and you haul down Total Hockey off the shelf (be careful), that’s what you’ll see listed in the NHL’s fat 1998 official encylopedia (and its 2000 second edition, too). Nowadays, the league keeps its records online, and that’s the date you’ll see too if you click over to Conacher’s file at NHL.com. The Hockey Hall of Fame’s Conacher page says the same, as does the researcher’s go-to resource, Hockey Reference. Also: Wikipedia.

But not everyone agrees. Back at in the stacks, reach for The Complete Encylopedia of Ice Hockey, a venerable old tome compiled by Zander Hollander and Hal Bock in 1970, and you’ll find Conacher’s date of bath given as December 10, a Friday. Another voluminous online source, hockeydb.com, concurs.

Yet another click will find you a third possibility: the Conacher file at the Society for International Hockey Research has it that the man they’d come to call the Big Bomber was in fact a Thursday’s child, having made his worldly debut on December 9, 1909. (I’m a member of SIHR, so if you’re not, you’ll have to trust me on this — or else take out a membership.)

December 20, 10, 9: which is it, then?

December 20 is the easiest to dispense with: I haven’t seen any evidence to back it up.

SIHR’s December 9 seems the most promising, at least from a documentary perspective. The Conacher biography there cites as its source Conacher’s birth certificate, and that would seem to close the case, such as it is. But if you go out on your own to search for this, what you’ll find is … not quite that.

Conacher’s parents don’t seem to have certified his birth in 1909. Thought they had, hadn’t? Meant to, but forgot? Don’t know. On January 18, 1922, when Charlie was 12, his mother did see fit to get the paperwork done to confirm his existence. On that day, Elizabeth Conacher filled out and signed a Declaration to let the Province of Ontario and thereby the Dominion of Canada officially know about her son. The form itself explains that it’s “Registering a Birth which has not been registered in accordance with Section 22 of THE VITAL STATISTICS ACT, 1919.” As well as giving some family information and the basic facts of Charles William himself, she signed her name under the boilerplate about this being a “solemn declaration” that she “conscientiously” believed to be true, “knowing that it is of the same force and effect as if made under oath.”

The boy’s birthday, she said, was “December 9th 1909.”

Could she have erred?

It’s not for me to presume that she did, and I’m sorry if it seems rude to doubt a mother’s word. (It does; I see that.) It’s just that, well, Conacher himself seems to have understood that his birthday fell on December 10.

I don’t have this from him directly, mind you, or anyone in his family — I’m going on, as one does, what old newspapers tell me. They’re not infallible, of course. The Globe and Mail could very well have, it’s true, messed up on December 10, 1936 when they printed this in their sports pages, not far from the latest edition of Conacher’s own column (“Hockey Discussed by One of The Game’s Greatest Players”):

Is it possible, too, that the Globe got it wrong again, 31 years later, in a short, sad note published on Monday, December 11, 1967, just a few weeks before his death? I guess so. “Charlie Conacher, right wing member of the Toronto Maple Leafs’ Kid Line of the 1930s, celebrated his 57th birthday in the Toronto General Hospital yesterday,” that item began. The fact that it was his 58th birthday doesn’t exactly proclaim its credibility, I realize, but that on its own doesn’t discredit the birthdate reported.

All in all, I’ll tend towards December 10 as Charlie Conacher’s birthday, I think. For those who prefer to celebrate it today, here’s to you, and him.

UPDATE: Further fodder to bolster the case for December 10: in 1949, when Charlie Conacher was coaching the Chicago Black Hawks, the team went to Montreal for a early winter visit that ended 1-1. Reporting the news of that Saturday, December 10 game on the following Monday, December 12, here’s the Gazette’s Dink Carroll:

It was Charlie Conacher’s birthday on Saturday and early in the day, Bill Tobin, president of the Black Hawks, wired Doug Bentley, team captain, that a win would be a nice birthday present for the club’s coach. Charlie was lucky to get away with a tie.

brimful of broda

Talking Turk: He was Walter for a little while after his birth in Brandon, Manitoba, on May 15, 1914, but for most of his NHL career and beyond, he’d only ever be Turk Broda. Seen here with Toronto hatter Sam Taft in the latter years of his lengthy career as a beloved (and successful) Maple Leaf, Broda was originally signed by Jack Adams of the Detroit Red Wings. He was 20 in the fall of 1934 when he attended his first NHL training camp and, according to Ed Fitkin, acquired a whole other nickname: W.C. Fields, the Detroit regulars called him, “because of his nose, his rapid, jerky style of speech, and his habit of ending every sentence with the word ‘see’?” He was gullible, and “the Red Wing players worked gags galore on him.” For instance: Detroit’s veteran goaltender John Ross Roach offered to recommend young Broda for membership in the Goalminders’ Union. This was, Fitkin writes, “a mythical organization concocted by Alec Connell, Roy Worters, Roach, and other major league pranksters.” Broda was eager to pay his $25 in dues, and would have gladly done so, until Connell let him in on the jokery. (Image: City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1257, f1257_s1057_it4390)

normie himes: kingpin of the new york forwards, with all the aplomb of a regular goalie

If we’re going to talk about Normie Himes, then it’s worth mentioning that he was born in April of 1900, in Galt, Ontario, which is now part of Cambridge. It’s important to say, too, I suppose, that nobody played more games for the long-gone and maybe a little bit, still, lamented New York Americans than Himes did (402). Nobody scored more goals for them, either (106), or piled up more points (219). He was a centreman, except for those rare occasions when he dropped back and helped out in net — just twice, though that would be enough, as it turned out, to see him rated eleventh on the Americans’ all-time list of goaltender games-played.

The elongated Normie is a phrase that would have been familiar to readers of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle in the 1930s, wherein he was also described as the size of a slightly overgrown jockey (he was 5’9”). Articles calling him kingpin of the New York offence also sometimes mention that he was hard to unseat and refer to his dandy shot. For a while there he was, I also see, considered one of the shrewdest and trickiest forwards in professional hockey.

Ronnie Martin and Rabbit McVeigh played on his wings in 1932; in 1934, he often skated on the Amerks’ top line with Bob Gracie and Harry Oliver — though sometimes it was Oliver and Hap Emms.

Here’s the great Harold Burr describing a goal Himes scored in 1931 against Ottawa. Taking a pass from New York defenceman Red Dutton, Himes swooped in on Senators’ goaltender Alec Connell.

Himes’ first slam was fended by the Ottawa goalie, but the puck fell at his feet, so much dead rubber. Now Himes hasn’t kept very much of his hair, but he has all the gray matter saved. He pounced on the loose puck like a hungry cat after an old shoe and the Americans were leading again.

“I wouldn’t trade him for any centre in the league,” claimed Himes’ coach, Eddie Gerard, in 1931, a year in which Howie Morenz, Frank Boucher, and Joe Primeau were centres in the league.

His best season would seem to have been the year before that, 1929-30, when he scored 28 goals and 50 points to lead the Americans in scoring. That was the year he finished sixth in the voting for NHL MVP when Nels Stewart of the Montreal Maroons ended up carrying off the Hart Memorial Trophy. That same season and the next one too, Himes was runner-up for the Lady Byng (Boucher won both times. He also finished third on the Byng ballot in 1931-32, when Primeau prevailed.

Playing for the lowly Americans, Himes never got near a Stanley Cup: in his nine years with the team, he played in just two playoff games.

The boy in the baseball cap is from a New York profile of Himes 1931, and it’s true that like Aurele Joliat he went mostly hatted throughout his career as an NHLer, either because he was bald-headed (as mentioned in a 1938 dispatch) orbecause as a boy he wanted to be a professional ballplayer and roam the outfield grass (1930) — possibly both apply.

Shoeless Joe Jackson of the Chicago White Sox was Himes’ hero, pre-1919 game-fixing scandal. “I want to tell you I felt pretty mean,” Himes once told a reporter, “when the evil news about Joe broke.” Himes played shortstop for a famous old amateur baseball outfit, the Galt Terriers, and he was bright enough as a prospect that a scout for the ballplaying Toronto Maple Leafs of the International League tried to sign him before he opted to to stick to hockey. Himes didn’t think he was good enough with the ball and the bat.

His first stint as a goaltender came by way of an emergency in 1927, back when most NHL teams didn’t carry back-ups, and skaters were sometimes drafted in to take the net when goaltenders were penalized or injured.

Sprague Cleghorn, Battleship Leduc, and Charlie Conacher were others who found themselves employed temporarily in this way in the early years of the NHL. Mostly they went in as they were, without donning proper goaltending gear, and I think that was the case for Himes on this first occasion. It’s often reported to have been a December game against Pittsburgh, but that’s not right: the Americans were in Montreal, where their goaltender, Joe Miller, started off the night watching Canadiens’ very first shot sail over his shoulder in to the net.

Howie Morenz scored that goal and another one as well, and by the third period the score was 4-0 for Montreal. Morenz kept shooting. The Gazette:

The Canadien flash whistled a shot from the left. Miller never saw it. The puck caromed off his shoulder, and struck him over the right cheek just under the eye. Miller toppled over like a log, and had to be carried off the ice. Fighter that he is, the Ottawa lad soon revived in the dressing room and wanted to return to the fray. But Manager “Shorty” Green decided against taking risks and sent Normie Himes into the American net to finish out the game.

Comfortable in their lead, Montreal, it seems, showed mercy — “eased up in their shooting,” the Gazette noted. New York’s temp, meanwhile, looked to be enjoying himself.

Himes warmed up to his strange task and towards the end of the game was blocking shots of all descriptions with the aplomb of a regular goalie.

It’s not clear how many pucks came his way — fewer than ten — but he did repel them all. The score stayed 4-0.

Himes got his second chance in net a year later, when his coach, Tommy Gorman, got into a snit. With this outing, Himes would become the only NHL skater to play an entire game in goal, start to finish.

After helping the New York Rangers win the 1928 Stanley Cup, vagabond Joe Miller landed in Pittsburgh on loan from the Americans. The Pirates had (1) a new owner and (2) an unhappy incumbent in net. Roy Worters, one of the league’s best, was asking for double the $4,000 salary he’d received previously; owner Benny Leonard was offering $5,000. With Miller aboard, Leonard then signed Worters (for considerably less than he was seeking, according to the owner), intending to trade him.

The Americans were interested. Having started the 1928-29 season with Flat Walsh and Jake Forbes sharing duty in the nets, they now offered Miller and a pile of cash, $20,000, in exchange for Worters. Leonard wanted Himes or Johnny Shepard in the deal, so he said he’d go shopping elsewhere.

NHL President Frank Calder had his say in the matter, and it was this: Worters was suspended, and if he were going to play in the NHL, it would be with Pittsburgh. “He will not play with any other club,” Calder declared.

Calder refused to relent even after the Pirates and Americans went ahead with a deal that send Worters to New York in exchange for Miller and the $20,000. So it was that on the night of December 1, 1928, at Toronto’s Arena Gardens, the home team refused to allow the Americans to use Worters, though he was in uniform and took the warm-up, unless New York could prove that Calder had given his blessing.

New York couldn’t. Coach Gorman’s best option at this point was Jake Forbes, who was in the building and ready to go. But starting Forbes wouldn’t sufficiently express Gorman’s displeasure with Calder in the way that putting Himes in would. So Forbes sat out.

Himes did his best on the night — “made a fairly good fist of the goalkeeping job,” said The New York Times. It’s not readily apparent how many shots he stopped, but we do know that there were three did failed to stymie. Toronto Daily Star columnist Charlie Querrie said the Americans looked lost, not least because “they missed the said Himes on the forward line.”

The Americans had a game the following day in Detroit and who knows whether Gorman would have called on Himes again if Frank Calder hadn’t lifted the suspension and allowed Worters to begin his New York Americans’ career, which he did in a 2-1 loss. “I have no desire to be hard on anyone,” Calder said that week, “but rules are rules and must be followed.”

So Normie Himes closed his NHL goaltending career showing two appearances, a loss, and a 2.28 average.

Worters would be still be working the Americans’ net in the fall of 1935 when clever but agingwas a phrase that spelled the end of Himes’ NHL career. Himes didn’t even get as far as New York that year: by the end of the team’s October training camp in Oshawa, Ontario, teammate Red Dutton had decided Himes’ time was up. While he was still playing defence for the Americans, Dutton also happened to be coaching the team that year so it meant something when he deemed Himes surplus and gave him his release. One of the best defensive centres and play-makers in the league a few years agois a sentence dating to that period, closely followed by failed to keep pace with the younger players and left at once for his home at Galt. Himes was 35.

He did sign that year with the New Haven Eagles of the Can-Am league on the understanding that they’d release him if he could secure another NHL gig. He couldn’t, and so stayed on in New Haven, where he eventually took over as the coach.

When Himes married Ruth Connor in 1928, he gave his occupation as “Pro. Hockey + Golf.” He was good on the grass, I guess, and worked at it in the off-season. “When the cry of the puck no longer is heard in the land,” a slightly enigmatic column reported in 1929, “Normie retires to Galt, Ontario, where he is resident professional. He says hockey and golf are very much alike — in theory.” He was later, in practice, manager of Galt’s Riverview Gold Club.

Normie Himes died in 1958, at the age of 58. He was in Kitchener at the time, collapsing after a golf game with an old New York Americans’ teammate, Al Murray.