the almost leafs

The Toronto St. Patricks team up in 1926-27, the season they turned into the Maple Leafs. Back row, left to right: coach (short-lived) Mike Rodden, unknown. Middle: Bert McCaffrey, Ace Bailey, Bill Brydge, Danny Cox, coach and manager Charlie Querrie, John Ross Roach, Butch Keeling, trainer Tim Daly, unknown. Front: Bill Carson, Carl Voss, Hap Day, Bert Corbeau, Corb Denneny, Leo Bourgeault.

newsy’s freak stick is to be examined

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Idolized: A cousin of Newsy Lalonde’s painted this portrait of Canadiens’ Hall-of-Fame centreman, the story goes. Montreal’s Classic Auctions sold it for just over C$200 in 2007.

The slap that Shea Weber puts into his shot has a history of wreckage. Pucks he’s propelled have torn through nets at the Vancouver Olympics and busted out endboards in Nashville. He’s broken Chris Osgood’s mask. Bones, too, several of which have belonged to teammates whose dangerous duty it was to stand in front of a net Weber was aiming at. Martin Erat broke a leg that way when Weber played for Nashville, and Jordin Tootoo a foot. Weber is in Montreal now, and the breakages continue. Last week, his slapshot smashed Brendan Gallagher’s hand. He’s out for eight weeks.

Investigating Weber’s assets earlier this month, The Globe and Mail’s Sean Gordon described his on-ice demeanor as “Mars, the god of war, maybe, only with a migraine.” Heavy and high-flying, Weber’s shot, Gordon wrote, is “terrifying” and a “demoralizer.” He asked Carey Price about it. “So fluid and smooth,” the Montreal goaltender said, “and just so, so hard.”

Rod Gilbert once noted that Boom-Boom Geoffrion and Rocket Richard would sometimes bash pucks off the boards so hard that you’d have to cover your ears. Weber’s shot, Gordon writes, has a similar quality — “it sounds different than other players’ hitting the boards on the occasions his rangefinder is off.”

What is it that makes the Weber shot so powerful? Size (6’4” and 230 pounds) matters, and muscle. Montreal captain Max Pacioretty told Gordon that you have to be a very fast skater to have a shot like that, and also mentions “body control.”

Weber himself isn’t much help. He can’t really say how he acquired the shot. “Just repetition, I guess,” he told Gordon.

His stick is a factor, its stiffness in particular. Pittsburgh’s Phil Kessel, famously, uses a customized Easton that’s believed to have a flex rating down around 70, which gives the shaft the pliability of a whip and makes his shot (as James Mirtle has written) one of the hardest-to-stop in the world. Winnipeg’s exceptional rookie Patrick Laine uses an 87 flex.

Many NHLers tend toward a stick in the 100 flex range. Weber’s is well beyond that. In a game this month against Toronto, Weber broke a stick with a flex of 122 cross-checking a trespasser Leaf in the Montreal slot. “You need to be a strong man to use that thing,” Carey Price told Sean Gordon.

There are heavier sticks in the NHL, but not many. Zdeno Chara’s, for one. His, as you might guess, is longer than anyone else’s in the league. On skates Chara towers almost seven feet over the ice, which is why he gets an exemption from the NHL’s limit on stick-length. Fifty-three inches is the rulebook maximum; Chara’s Warrior is said to wander on for 65.

On the ice, that means it’s ubiquitous, as Jonathan Toews told Nicholas Cotsonika of Yahoo! in 2013. “I don’t know what to compare his reach to,” the Chicago captain said. “It’s tough to get away from him. On his half of the rink, he’s going to get a piece of you somehow.”

At that length, Chara’s sticks have to be exceptionally stiff. According to Boston’s equipment manager, Keith Robinson, they’re typically 150 to 155 flex. If Weber’s stick is unyielding, Chara’s (as Justin Bourne has written for The Score) “is basically a gigantic piece of rebar.”

All of which leads, inevitably, to a headline from The Vancouver Daily World in December of 1921:

lead-in-his-stick

Sounds like a salacious euphemism. Maybe that’s as the sub-editor intended. In fact, it’s a faithful description of the story it tops. As is this one, from The Ottawa Journal, across the country:

newsys-stick

Newsy Lalonde was 34 that year, and pretty much at the end of his playing days. He’d been a superstar in both hockey and lacrosse for years by then. On the ice, he was Montreal’s almost-everything: coach, captain, primary offensive weapon. If he was slowing down as an NHL force, it wasn’t obvious: when the 1920-21 season came to an end, he led the league in scoring.

Senators’ manager Tommy Gorman tried to pry him from Montreal in the fall of ’21, bring him west to play for Ottawa, but that didn’t work out. The news of his newfangled stick surfaced, if only briefly, just as the new season was about to get underway. Just how it all worked out, and whether he was permitted to use it, isn’t clear: I can’t find any follow-ups to these original articles.

What they say is that Lalonde had designed and built his own stout stick. The description isn’t much: “Lead is filtered in,” the papers tell us, “and it is balanced to an ounce when held from the centre.” With no evidence to the contrary, I say we have to accept that this was all about improving his puckhandling. Lalonde does sound like he wishes the news had never leaked: he wouldn’t say, The Globe mirthlessly reported, “what this stick would do in a game.”

Last we know, the league was studying the case. I’d surmise they nixed Lalonde’s bespoke stick, but I don’t know for certain.

Canadiens opened their season a few nights later in Toronto against the St. Patricks, a.k.a. the Irish. They lost, 5-2. The goal Newsy Lalonde scored in the third period on a pass from Didier Pitre was the least of the news he made, whatever stick he had in hand.

In a game that featured (said The Globe) “much ill-feeling and rough play,” Lalonde was “the storm centre.” Lou Marsh told the tale for The Toronto Daily Star and in his lively narrative next morning, Lalonde was both “wily” and a “human pest.” Early on, he clashed with Toronto defenceman Harry Cameron. There was an encounter, too, with centreman Reg Noble, in which the two men “sassed each other with the good old ash.”

In the second period, Toronto winger Corb Denneny cross-checked Lalonde across the stomach, which provoked the Montreal captain, a few minutes later, to charge Denneny from behind. Marsh’s description is the vivider:

In an Irish rush on goal [Bert] Corbeau knocked Denneny kiting and the Toronto lad spilled Lalonde. Both went sliding into the nets like a varicolored avalanche, with Lalonde riding the prostrate Denneny. In the melee Lalonde’s stick lovingly caressed Denneny’s neck, and Denny did the possum act in the corner. Lalonde was booted for a major penalty despite his protests that it was all an accident. Lalonde shouldn’t have accidents with his truncheon caressing the vicinity of the other fellow’s collar button. It doesn’t seem reasonable.

In the third, before Lalonde scored his goal, he ran into Toronto’s Babe Dye. I’ll let Lou Marsh take it out:

Lalonde spilled Dye and Dye gave a correct imitation of a corpse. While the first aiders were doing resuscitation business and Lalonde was standing around weeping crocodile tears, Denneny sailed across the pond and pucked the famous Canadien one in the famous puss. Lalonde looked as surprised as a bulldog bitten by a gold fish.

this week: sale prices and a heart so huge, mumps and whatnot

Irish Times: The Toronto St. Patricks weren’t long for the world when four of them posed in early December of 1926. The following February, Conn Smythe and a parcel of investors bought the team and decided change was order. Just like that, in mid-season, green-and-brown St. Patricks turned to blue-and-white Maple Leafs. Above, looking sternly, left to right, are Hap Day, Al Pudas, Bert Corbeau, and Ace Bailey.

Irish Times: The Toronto St. Patricks weren’t long for the world when four of them posed in early December of 1926. The following February, Conn Smythe and a parcel of investors bought the team and decided that change was order. Just like that, in mid-season, green-and-brown St. Patricks turned to blue-and-white Maple Leafs. Above, looking out sternly in black and white are (left to right) Hap Day, Al Pudas, Bert Corbeau, and Ace Bailey.

Washington Capitals defenceman Mike Green talked, this week, about the distractions of playing out of doors at the NHL’s New Year’s Day Winter Classic. He wasn’t worried about sun or winds or snows. “Once you’re in the game,” he told Stephen Whyno from The Canadian Press, “everything’s instinct and whatnot.”

Washington captain Alex Ovechkin? Also no concerned. “I just don’t think about what I’m gonna do out there. We’re gonna skate on the ice and then we’re gonna go to the locker-room.”

His Excellency the Right Honourable David Johnston, Governor General of Canada (and a distinguished hockey player in his own right, announced today 95 new appointments to the Order of Canada this week, and hockey names were among them, including the former Bruin and Red Wing Sheldon Kennedy and broadcaster Bob Cole.

Kennedy’s citation lauds his, quote, courageous leadership in raising awareness of childhood sexual abuse and his continued efforts to prevent abuse in schools, sports and communities.

Cole’s recognitions comes

For enhancing the hockey experience for generations of Canadians with his analysis and spirited announcing as one of Canada’s most iconic voices in sports broadcasting.

“I can’t tell you how happy I am today,” he told Six Seixeiro and Stephen Brunt at Sportsnet. “All I’ve done is tried my best at my job, and enjoyed what my job is.”

Other appointees included Mark Carney, erstwhile goaltender for the Oxford University Ice Hockey Club, and hockey biographer Charles Foran, author of Extraordinary Canadians: Maurice Richard (2011).

Martin Brodeur shut his net to the Colorado Avalanche this week: 16 shots they took and not a one went past him. St. Louis’ 3-0 win was the 691st victory of Brodeur’s career, and his 125th shutout (an NHL record).

“This is the first one with the Blues, so it definitely means a lot to me,” Brodeur was saying after the game. “It’s our job as goaltenders not to give up anything. It wasn’t the hardest game to play, but you still have to make the saves.”

Signed to fill Brian Elliott’s injured absence, Brodeur isn’t sure what’s next. Elliott is recovered now and returning to the Blues’ net, so there was talk this week that Brodeur might be out of a job and (maybe?) a career. Or would he find another temporary home with another needy team?

“If St. Louis decides to let him go,” wrote Guy Spurrier in The National Post, “he could become the most accomplished rent-a-goalie in NHL history, wandering the league, helping teams with short-term crises like a puck-stopping Littlest Hobo.” Continue reading

barn dance

Unpunched: Conn Smythe's spectacles, sold in November by Montreal's Classic Auctions Photo: Classic Auctions

So Toronto general manager Brian Burke had a plan to punch it out in the straw with his Edmonton counterpart, Kevin Lowe, in Lake Placid, New York, in a barn he was going to rent. In 2007, I guess — maybe you recall — Burke was running the Anaheim Ducks when Lowe came after one of his restricted free agents, Dustin Penner, with an offer sheet that Penner signed. Burke could have matched but didn’t. Penner went to Edmonton, leaving behind a furious Burke. The words he used in public to lambaste Lowe — unfair, inflationary, stupid, desperate  — give some idea what he might have been saying under his breath.

For his part, Lowe is supposed to have gone on the radio and challenged Burke to duel of the fists.

“That’s not really how you challenge a guy to a fight,” Burke was saying last week, in a TV interview on The Score. “If you want to challenge a guy to a fight, you pick a place and time. So I called Glen Sather and said: ‘This guy went on radio to challenge me to a fight.’ I said, ‘I’m going to be in Lake Placid at the U.S. junior camp.’ I gave him three dates. I told him I would rent a barn. Dead serious.”

That’s not really how you challenge a guy to a fight. But if hockey history has any guiding to do, the etiquette governing bust-ups between hockey executive bust-ups makes no specific demands as far as scheduling or venue. And how did Glen Sather get in there? Looking specifically at Toronto Maple Leafs precedents, the way you challenge a guy to a fight is … well, you stand slightly behind him and take a swing at his head. Continue reading