best served cold
A tale of hockey revenge told in 1955 … what could that possibly look like? Maybe it would resemble the one that played out in Boston in March of that year, when the Bruins’ Hal Laycoe high-sticked and cut Montreal’s Maurice Richard and the Rocket responded in kind, scything his stick at Laycoe’s head. NHL President Clarence Campbell suspended Richard, of course, for his reprisal, and a few days, the city of Montreal exploded into riot.
In “La Revanche de Terry,” published just four months later, Jean Graton opted for a less bloody and more wholesome telling of hockey payback. Published in Paris, with Hergé’s Belgian boy-detective as its starring act, Le Journal de Tintin was a weekly compendium of comics for young readers showcasing the work of some of Europe’s best graphic storytellers, including Albert Uderzo, and René Goscinny. Like them, Graton was French. In the later 1950s, a few years before Uderzo and Goscinny launched Astérix and his adventures, Graton settled into his signature Michel Vaillant motorsport series.
For his hockey fable, Graton settled on a — what else? — Quebecois setting. “Dans cette petite ville Canadienne,” there skates an amateur team, the Lions, and as the story opens, they’re welcoming the famous pros from Montreal to town for a much-anticipated exhibition game. Terry Kern is the local star, and the first thing he learns as the Montreal Giants arrive in town is that their star forward, Bill Thompson, is a bit of a preening idiot.
Out on the ice, the Lions are game, but they just can’t match the skill and technique of their pro rivals, who surge to a 3-1 lead. When Terry scores to make it 3-2, he makes Bill look like a bit of a fool, which leads to Bill hoodwinking the referee (in his white waiter’s jacket and snappy shorts) into sending Terry to the penalty bench on a bogus call: five minutes for interference.
It’s during his extended stay in the box — “le banc d’infamie” — that Terry realizes that he and Montreal’s devious star have met before, fifteen years earlier, when they were boys. By no real surprise, Bill was a preening idiot back then, too.
If you need a spoiler alert, this is it. Released from custody, Terry returns to the ice with vengeance on his mind, which he duly exacts by scoring two quick goals to ensure that the game ends in a 5-5 tie. That’s as good as a win, I guess, insofar as Bill … is humbled? I think that’s the moral here. Montreal management is so impressed by Terry’s performance that they sign him to a contract then and there. That’s the end, pretty much, if not quite: Jean Graton devotes the last three panels of the comic to a finale that in a 1955 Montreal context might qualify as a surprise ending: Bill and Terry share a laugh, make their peace. Revenge, I guess, can be sweet.
the windsor draft
They’d been bank clerks and accountants in St. John’s, where they’d lived on Mundy Pond and on Forest Road, on Monkstown and on Rennie’s Mill Road, the sons of jewelers, of civil servants, and of sea captains, and were 18 and 19 years old, several of them, when they enlisted in the Newfoundland Regiment for the duration of the war at the Church Lads Brigade Armoury, and then attested, some in the First Draft in 1914, others later on, in the Twelfth. They shipped over to England on the Bowring Brothers’ steamship Florizel, and trained at Salisbury and Aldershot and in Scotland at Hawick, and were promoted corporal and colour sergeant, and reinforced 1st Battalion at Suvla Bay, at Gallipoli, in 1915, and took ill there, before the Allied withdrawal, with catarrhal jaundice. Some of them who subsequently returned to duty in France were wounded by splinters of a bomb in raids on enemy trenches at Beaumount Hamel a few days before the disastrous attack on July 1, 1916.
In October of 1916, the plan was to reinforce the Newfoundland Regiment with a draft of recruits setting out from St. John’s to Halifax. From there they’d embark for England and on to the continent. But then there was an outbreak of measles in town, and their departure was postponed. Reports of German submarines hunting in the Atlantic further delayed them in St. John’s.
The Florizel finally delivered what became known as the Windsor Draft to Halifax in early February of 1917. The second leg of the journey still wasn’t yet worked out, so the Newfoundlanders trained west to Windsor, Nova Scotia, to wait, 319 of them, all ranks. They found temporary barracks (some ranks) in a sawmill — some (the officers) checked into the Victoria Hotel. Waiting for what was next that damp winter, they fell sick, many of them, with measles and mumps, influenza, pneumonia, which meant that once again, plans were changed. At the end of February their sailing orders were cancelled until they were healthy.
They recuperated and, as they were able, kept busy: “route-marches, Swedish drill, platoon drill, and squad drill figured prominently in the training time-tables that appeared in Daily Orders,” G.W.L. Nicholson writes in The Fighting Newfoundlander (2006). It’s not surprising that hockey figured into the recreational program. By Gregory White’s account, the regiment had already been playing in Scotland, taking on (in one case) a team of Canadian students from the University of Edinburgh and defeating them 16-1. In Windsor, that ancient hockey capital, the Newfoundlanders skated against teams from town as well as from nearby King’s College. The visitors had to adjust their game to the local landscape, White notes: while the Newfoundlanders were used to playing a seven-man game parcelled into two halves of 30 minutes each, in Nova Scotia they converted to the six-man version, with its three 20-minute periods.
The regimental line-up seen here included several subalterns who were returning to European duty from convalescent leave in Newfoundland. Second Lieutenant Ernest Churchill, down in front in the photograph, was the Gallipoli jaundice case. In the middle row, second over from the left, is Second Lieutenant Charlie Strong, who survived that bomb — a hand grenade — at Beaumont Hamel.
It was April before the Windsor Draft continued on its way to war. Most of them: one soldier had died in February, and was buried in Windsor, while 25 others were too ill to leave hospital when the majority departed for Halifax to take ship for England aboard ships called Ansonia, Grampian, and Northland.
Among the hockey players, Harry Mews went to Ontario, after the war, where he was a sales representative for the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Co. Ltd. of Canada. When he returned to St. John’s in 1927, he went into insurance and municipal politics. He served as the city’s eighth mayor from 1949 to 1965.
Sergeant Marmaduke Winter would, by December of 1917, be at Wandsworth Hospital in London recovering from a bullet wound in the back. In the summer of 1918, Newfoundland Prime Minister Sir John Crosbie came to see him there, and the regimental band was on hand, too, to play an air as Sergeant Winter received his Military Medal, having (as the citation read) “displayed great personal bravery in attacking two snipers single handed and killing them.”
Sydney Bennett would transfer to the Royal Flying Corps with whom, promoted captain, he won a French Croix de Guerre for his part in an air raid on German positions. He was commended for having “given proof of great courage and activity” by way of “a personal encounter” during which he “forced two enemy machines to descend.”
In June of 1917, when the Newfoundland Regiment’s 2nd Battalion deployed to the Ypres Salient in Belgium, Lieutenant Ernest Churchill was in the battle through the summer and fall in the country around Passchendaele. By March of ’18 he was back in England, in hospital in Sheffield, suffering from the effects of “shell gas poisoning.” A Medical Board report listed his symptoms: “vomiting, cough, fever, loss of voice, and pain across chest, his eyes were closed for a few days.”
Captain Charlie Strong was at Passchendaele and then, early in 1918, with 1st Battalion as they tried to hold a German advance at the Franco-Belgian border. He was commanding two companies when he was wounded by a shellburst on April 12 around 3 p.m. near a crossroads called De Seule. Transferred to a Canadian casualty clearing station near Poperinghe, he died there of his wounds, at the age of 28, at 9.15 p.m. He’s buried at Ligssenthook Military Cemetery in Belgium.
Second Lieutenant Lionel Duley is the goaltender in the photograph. He was 20 in September of 1918. He was leading his platoon forward near a Belgian village called Keiberg, northeast of Brussels, when he was hit in the thigh by machine-gun fire. It was 11 in the morning when he died. “He was buried where he was killed,” his commanding officer later noted, “a cross being erected by the Regiment.” His remains were moved after the war, not far: he lies now at Tyne Cot Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery near Zonnebeke.
olympicsbound, 1928, with dr. joe and stuffy guarding canada’s nets
Today’s the day that Canada names its men’s team for the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympic Winter Games. This is, of course, the first time since 1994 that Canada won’t be sending a squad of front-rank NHLers. GM Sean Burke, who was once one of those, also backstopped Canada’s silver-medal performance at the 1992 Albertville Games. What to expect in the team he’s unveiling today? “We have speed, we have skill, but our team is going to based around being a harder team to play against,” he told The Toronto Star’s Kevin McGran earlier this week. “More role players. We want our team to be quick. I think we can do that.”
With Olympics and goaltenders on the docket, seems like a good day to stop in with Dr. Joe Sullivan, pictured here amid Swiss mountains in 1928. That year, when the University of Toronto’s Varsity Graduates bore the maple leaf at the second Winter Olympics in St. Moritz, Switzerland, Sullivan was the main man guarding the goal, with Norbert (a.k.a. Stuffy) Mueller backing him up. The Canadians rode a bye directly to medal round, which meant they ended up playing just three games. Spoiler alert: they won the gold. This wasn’t, let us say, a taxing tournament for the Canadians: on three successive days, they smoked Sweden 11-0; battered Great Britain 14-0; and stampeded Switzerland 13-0. Sullivan was on duty first and last, with Mueller stuffing in for the British game.
Sullivan, 27 at the time of this triumphant shutout streak, is an interesting case. He’d graduated from the U of T’s Faculty of Medicine in 1926. Post-Olympics, there was mention that he’d be turning pro, joining the NHL’s Montreal Maroons, but while his Grad teammate Dave Trottier did just that, Dr. Sullivan signed up instead for a career in ears, noses, and throats: he opened his private Toronto otolaryngology practice in 1930. He served in the RCAF during Second World War and, in 1957, Prime Minister John Diefenbaker (who was one of his patients) appointed him to the Senate. He died in 1988 at the age of 86.
In 1928, along with turning pucks aside, Dr. Joe sent back dispatches from Europe to Toronto’s Globe. Describing a pre-Olympic exhibition intra-squad scrimmage the Grads played in Antwerp, Belgium, he wrote of the hearty welcome the locals offered the Canadians as they hit the ice at the Palais de Glace:
The appearance of Mueller and myself caused an outburst of laughter and some applause for I suppose the formidable array of pads and body protection would seem strange to the people of Antwerp. Some people applauded our garb, evidently to counteract the effect of the laughter from the less thoughtful.
the intangiblest game
A version of this post appeared at thewalrus.ca, over here, on April 19, 2017.
Winter has had it in for hockey for a couple of years now, with all the willful warming it’s been doing. And while we’ve tried our best not to take the surge of planetary temperatures personally, it does kind of feel like an attack bullseyed directly on our identity as much as our backyard rinks.
Can you blame Canadians for feeling persecuted? Nature’s punitive thaw is only part of the existential crisis that hockey — our game — finds itself facing. Across the country, simpler, safer, come-from-away sports like soccer and basketball are luring our kids from the ice. And why wouldn’t their parents let them leave? Armouring up for hockey is expensive, plus why risk the concussions?
Over at the NHL, the men who run the low-scoring, high-gloss league are still disputing the link between hockey head traumas and the cumulative damages it’s doing to brains. Collecting franchise fees from new teams in the Nevada desert rather than returning hockey to Quebec City isn’t, of course, a symbol of just how far the game is straying out of our national interest, it just seems like one.
We can’t even claim, as we’ve done in other beleaguered eras, that the players are still mostly ours. It’s no longer so: last season, for the first time in a century of NHL hockey, the league’s content of Canadian-born skaters fell below 50 per cent.
Another traditional curative of ours in times of hockey crisis involves whomping foreigners on international ice. We’re having trouble with that, too: sure we won the World Cup, but Canadian juniors and women were both bettered by U.S. rivals in recent world championships. The news last week that the NHL has put a nix on going to the 2018 Olympics is an international shame—but somehow doesn’t it feel like it’s us, Canadians, who are being singled out for punishment?
It wasn’t long ago that Ken Dryden, the game’s resident conscience and better angel, was raising his voice to warn that hockey was in danger of drifting out of the mainstream. The game’s indifference to its own wanton violence, he argued, was steering it into outright irrelevance.
Now, even with fighting on the fade, does hockey seem like it’s corrected that course? Even as the games go on, there are days when it feels like the game is diminishing so fast that its only future might be as a fairytale that our grandchildren will tell to theirs. Continue reading
new year’s eve, 1941
Hockey isn’t war and never was, despite the blood and the punching and all the borrowed bellicose terminology, the attacking and the shooting, the battling and the holding the fort. Hockey means no disrespect: it well understands, as we all do, that war is war and hockey is only ever hockey. Hockey admires wars, of course, which is to say soldiers: it has lots of time for honouring those in uniform, always has. Because? Well, hockey is nothing if not patriotic and understands, too, the sacrifices soldiers make, and those are worth constantly honouring, aren’t they, in as public a way in as meaningful a venue as we have in Canada? (Maybe the camo sweaters are a little much, and maybe too the light armoured vehicles patrolling the ACC ice.) There’s no denying that hockey and wars have — speaking very generally here — drawn traditionally from the same segment of the population. Young men who play hockey have often in our history gone to war, and once they’re soldiers there’s no stopping them from taking to whatever ice they can find behind the front lines. It reminds them of home; it’s also just something we Canadians do.
Soccer sometimes causes a war (see Kapuscinski, Ryszard), but hockey has never been that careless. In at least one case, though, a hockey game played in wartime seems to have precipitated a real live battle, resulting in real dead casualties.
I don’t have much on this; I’m doing my best trying to find more. The game was in Belgium, Brussels, in 1941, during the German occupation; Canadians had nothing to do with it, as far as I know. I got in touch with the Royal Belgian Ice Hockey Federation to ask what they might know, exchanged e-mails with the gracious and helpful Jan Casteels, but he’d never heard of this dreadful match-up, which took place on a Wednesday in December of 1941, the very last one — New Year’s Eve.
I’d come an account across in an Australian newspaper, published several days after the fact. That’s where this started for me. It was a tiny newsbreak and secondhand, quoting a Swedish newspaper whose correspondent had picked up the news in Berlin. Details were meagre. Who was playing, on which ice, what started it, why: I don’t know any of that. I don’t even really know what it was. Belgians and Germans fought a pitched battle during an ice-hockey match: three people died in the rink. Spectators, I think, though I suppose they could have been players. The report lists the dead as a Gestapo man, a German soldier, and a Belgian. A second Belgian was wounded. By the time the news appeared in Australia, a German military court (the Swedish reporter said) had already sentenced three other Belgians to die.
That’s as much as I’ve found. A few months later the Australian press was reporting German death sentences for 14 Belgians accused of “murder, sabotage, the possession of weapons, Communist activities, and anti-German propaganda.” I think those are altogether separate cases. These accused, said the court, had “to a high degree been influenced by broadcasts from Britain.”
Anyone with any leads on the awful events in Brussels on December 31, 1941, please drop a line to email@example.com.
this week: greatest belgian hockey stories + the most thankless job
The Hall of Hockey’s Fame opened its doors to five new members this week, as reported in The Bangkok Post.
At the ceremony in Toronto, Scott Niedermeyer’s smoothness was recalled. “It was fun to be his teammate,” said Scott Stevens.
Ken Daneyko said he was effortless, graceful, “like a thoroughbred.”
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman called Brendan Shanahan “my personal favourite.” Shanahan, of course, is the league’s Senior Vice President responsible for Player Safety — or, as Bettman called it, “the most thankless job.”
“I think his contributions to the game based on what he’s doing now will even exceed what he did in the 21 years he played,” Bettman said.
Shanahan said that Geraldine Heaney is tough and talented. Also that Ray Shero’s gentlemanliness is a tribute to his father, Fred.
“He’s just a good man,” Gretzky said of the final inductee, Chris Chelios.
Brian Leetch: “I always tell people that Chris Chelios is America’s version of Mark Messier.”
“They’re similar in that they love the game and have a passion for it. They love to compete and winning and doing things as a group are very important to them.
“They played with an edge, whether it was a stick up or a glove in the face. They would drop the gloves if they had to. You knew if you were in a competition with either of them it wasn’t always going to be clean and you were going to get the worst of it because they would not back down.”
The IIHF.com took the time to check in on Mike Keenan in Russia and he’s doing fine. He’s coaching Metallurg Magnitogorsk, and the team is near the top of the standings in the KHL’s Eastern Conference.
His new favourite food item, Keenan owned, is Russian pizza, which is sometimes topped with mackerel and red herring. New favourite Russian saying?
“Spasibo, which means thank you,” Keenan said. “Also, dobroe utro, which means good morning.”
From The Globe and Mail’s James Mirtle we learned, this week, what the new Buffalo coach told his players after the first period against Toronto. Said a Sabre source of Mirtle’s: “Ted came in and told us ‘You guys are garbage.’”
Detroit’s coach, Mike Babcock, is getting a Doctor of Laws, honoris causa, from his alma mater, McGill University in Montreal, next week, on Monday, November 25.
A former hockey co-captain of the McGill Redmen, Babcock (BEd ’86) is being cited for “coaching winning teams” and “the achievement of excellence,” which is, according to a McGill press release, “the subject of his 2012 book, Leave No Doubt, highlighting the theme that one cannot accomplish great things without facing great adversity and making peace with uncertainty.” Continue reading