they call me gump, and worse

Born in Montreal on a Tuesday 90 years ago today, Gump Worsley guarded goals for the New York Rangers, Montreal’s Canadiens, and the Minnesota North Stars, collecting four Stanley Cups, a Calder Trophy, and two Vézinas during his 21-year Hall-of-Fame NHL career. He died in 2007 at the age of 77.

“The basketball-shaped goalie,” Roger Angell called him, not so charitably. It’s the case, too, that when Worsley was dissuading pucks for the not-very-good Rangers in the late 1950s, his coach accused him of “jeopardizing” the team’s playoff chances by failing to stay in shape. “You can’t play goal with a beer-barrel belly,” Phil Watson was reported to have (quote) screamed at Worsley in the winter of 1957 after the Chicago Black Hawks put three third-period goals past him to earn a 6-6 tie. “Every time I hop on this fellow,” Watson raged, “everybody accuses me of unjustly attacking him. But the same guys who go in after a game and pat him on the back are the guys who are buying him beer. Worsley is the most uncooperative player on the club during practice. He refuses to work, even though he knows he’s overweight. He should weigh 165 pounds, but he’s over 170 now.” Asked whether he planned to discipline his goaltender, Watson (UPI reported) “tugged violently at his necktie,” barking, “I’m not going to fine him I’m not going to replace him. But I’ll tell you this, brother, I’m going to ride hard the rest of the season.”

Worsley’s response? “I just stunk up the place,” he said. “It was probably my worst game of the season. But I’ve only gained two pounds recently.”

Also: “From me to Phil, here’s a quote: tell him he’s full of baloney.”

The Rangers did clamber into the post-season in ’57, clinching the fourth and final playoff berth ahead of the Toronto Maple Leafs. Rewarded with a meeting with the Montreal Canadiens, the Rangers succumbed in five games to the eventual Stanley Cup champions. It was Maurice Richard who scored the overtime goal that sealed the series for Canadiens. New York reporters who tracked Watson down a day before that puck went in to put the Rangers out mentioned to the coach that they’d been talking to Richard. “The Rocket was real nice,” Dave Anderson of the New York Journal-American told Watson, “and said you were a pretty good fellow, and he also praised Worsley. He said of Worsley, ‘I love that little Gump.’”

Watson: “Why the hell shouldn’t he say he loves Worsley? He’s scored 150 goals against him in his career. If I scored 150 goals against a goalie, I’d love him, too.”

fear and loathing in montreal

A rough night in Montreal last night: Canadiens lost 3-0 to the visiting Minnesota Wild. An optimist might point out that the home team was missing three of its best players in Jonathan Drouin (the club will only say he’s ailing in his upper body) along with Shea Weber and Carey Price (both damaged somewhere lower down). And, hey — woo + hoo — going into last night’s loss, the underperforming Habs had won three in a row.

Fans with a darker cast of mind might already be writing off the season. Balancing out their misery, is there an equal and opposite measure of schadenfreude — emanating, maybe, from Boston? Or Halifax?

Not to rub it (or anything) in, but it’s in times like these that I recall that the Nova Scotian capital was once, if just briefly, a centre of Canadiens antipathy insofar as Art McDonald lived there.

Maybe you know McDonald’s angry opus: the 1988 Montreal Canadiens Haters Calendar only ever appeared that one year, but its 26 packed pages make up a catalogue of bile and bitterroot that’s sure to sour the heart of even the biggest Habs backer. “366 Dismal Days in Canadiens’ History,” the cover promises, as well as “47 Lists Canadiens Haters Will Love.” The latter enumerate “Canadiens’ Three Worst Playoff Defeats” and “Five Canadiens Booed Regularly By Montreal Fans.” From January through December, there’s a grim Habs fact for every day — no loss or embarrassment or missed opportunity is too minor to escape McDonald’s derision. For example:

• March 5: Toronto defeats Canadiens 10-3 at the Montreal Forum. (1934)

• June 3: Bob Berry appointed coach of Canadiens. His teams would never win a playoff series. (1981)

• September 9: In a terrible deal, Canadiens send four regulars, including Rod Langway, to Washington. (1982)

• October 2: Robin Sadler, the Canadiens’ first draft choice, quits hockey to become a fireman. (1975)

• November 10: Gordie Howe breaks ex-Canadien Rocket Richard’s record for career goals scored. (1963)

Back in ’88, McDonald self-identified as a 34-year accountant, tax-consultant, and Habs-despiser-from-way-back. Here’s my theory: he wasn’t gloating so much as bleeding from the heart. He loved the Habs and this was his funny self-harming way of showing it. The Calendar was a one-off, with no follow-up editions. With Montreal’s season going the way it’s going, is it time for an update? 

(Top Image: “The Canadiens and Beer,” Aislin, alias Terry Mosher, 1985. Felt pen, ink on paper + photograph. © McCord Museum)

 

 

famed for the prize apples he grows

Brew Booster: 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. His best year on the bench was his first, 1939-40, when he steered the Blueshirts to a Stanley Cup championship. The team struggled through the war years after that, mostly missing out on the playoffs. They did make it back to the post-season in ’48, though they ended up losing in the semi-finals to Detroit.

 

beers + steaks: addendum

Artist Scott Modryzynski’s all-ketchup Detroit Red Wings logo, from his magnificent effort to (his word) foodify the NHL. For more, visit Foo-gos.com at http://foo-gos.com/gallery/nhl/.

• The Soviets stole our hockey team’s steaks in 1972 and for that there can be no forgiveness. Forty years later, I think we’re still all agreed on that, right? Regarding the beer the Soviets thieved, though: are we willing to hear about what might be considered extenuating circumstances?

Because, just to say, the summer of 1972 was a scorcher in Moscow. A month before the Summit Series arrived in late September, correspondent Hedrick Smith was reporting in The New York Times on the Russian summer’s extreme heat, worst in a century. According to the local press, this was “a major heat disaster.” August’s temperatures were up in the crazy 90s. Forests were burning. Cars wouldn’t run. At the Moscow zoo, a deer and two penguins died of thirst.

“It’s terrible,” a citizen told Smith in the street. “They never have enough beer, especially when it gets hot like this. They’ve been shutting down beer kiosks all summer — of all years. First they put out an order telling us to stop drinking vodka and drink beer instead. Then this heat. And now they don’t have enough beer.”

That doesn’t excuse the thieves, of course, because stealing is and always will be wrong. Stealing beer even more so. Stealing beer from hockey players is just about as wrong as you can go without committing an actual sin.

What this heat news could change is how we as Canadians think about that beer we lost in Moscow. Given the local conditions, I think it’s fair to say that our hockey players were not so much victims of a crime as they were heroes on a mission of mercy that, if not in scale then certainly in virtue, ranks up their with the Berlin Airlift.

• I also feel obligated to report what happened, steakwise, in 1974. That was the year the Summit Series was revived in all its glory and bad temper, although this time the Canadian team drew its players from WHA teams instead of NHL.

Paul Henderson was back, and Frank Mahovlich. Bobby Hull got to play. And all the Howe boys, Gordie and sons Mark and Marty. Mrs. Howe went along, too, Colleen, an experience she wrote about in her book My Three Hockey Players (1975). The things she learned about the Soviet Union on the trip included:

  1. Russians are not thin and have no deodorant.
  2. They are crybabies.
  3. Howe, in Russian, is spelled Xoy and pronounced Hooo.
  4. Russian hotels have no Bibles and the rooms compare unfavourably to a five-dollar-a-night skid row flophouse.
  5. The beds are clean enough, but “they were not conducive to lovemaking.”

As for the steaks Team Canada shipped to Moscow, they went unstolen. “But the Russians, alas, didn’t know how to cook them.” Also, there was a condiment crisis:

Hockey players have never been famed for their gourmet tastes, and ketchup is one of their standard items of equipment. Never was it so desperately needed. But for reasons possibly known only to the KGB, the cases of ketchup flown in from Canada were impounded for three days.

the steaks of 1972: everybody suspected sabotage

Scan 18In Canada, all that matters is this: we won.

It was 40 years ago today that the best of our hockey best beat the Soviets in Moscow in the final and deciding game of the 1972 Summit Series. It could have gone either way, as the sportscasters say: a last-minute goal by Paul Henderson was the difference. And not even a glorious goal, at that. It was more of a desperate shunting of the puck over the line, after which a show-shovel raised high in celebration might have been more appropriate than a stick.

Doesn’t matter. Canadians know now, as they always have, why their team won: the game is ours + Canadian heart (almost) always trumps foreign skill + in the battle between our way of life versus theirs, no contest + Henderson, in Moscow that week, nobody was going to stop the guy.

And yet. In the flurry of this month’s 40th-anniversary commemorations, are we forgetting what may have been the fiercest of fuels in Team Canada’s Moscow fire? Isn’t it time, now, to acknowledge that the greatest of Canadian hockey triumphs boils down to this: they never should have messed with our chow. Continue reading