word watch: when don cherry says dangle

Dangler: Sweeney Schriner in his Maple Leafing days. “A picture player,” Conn Smythe called him. “He provokes the enemy, fascinates the unprejudiced observers.”

I don’t know how many tirades, total, Don Cherry launched last night on Hockey Night in Canada, I just caught the one, after the early games had come to an end. Vancouver had baned Toronto, barely, 2-1, while in Montreal, Canadiens scourged Detroit 10-1. Winger Paul Byron scored his first NHL hattrick in the latter, and all his goals were speedy. Highlights ensued as Cherry and Ron MacLean admired his fleety feet.

Cherry: Look at how he outskates guys. I mean, this guy can really … skate … dangle, as they say. I’m, a, now watch …

MacLean: Now, let’s be clear, when you say dangle, you mean he can wheel.

Cherry: [Irked-more-than-usual] I’m saying he can … Everybody knows that played the game for a long time, dangle means … And [thumbing at MacLean, about to refer to incident that nobody else has knowledge of] you remember John Muckler comin’ in, sayin’, what are you, nuts, skates fast. The guys that are in the game now, they really don’t know the game, I’m not getting’ into that …

Anybody that says dangle and it’s “stickhandling” doesn’t know the game. I just thought I’d throw that in.

So. Interesting discussion. To recap: Don Cherry is ready to go to vocabulary war with anyone who doesn’t agree that there’s only one true hockey definition for a fairly common word, and it’s not the one that most people think it is, which proves how ignorant they are, i.e. very.

Cherry’s correct on this count, at least: dangle has long been a word in hockey referring to the speed with which a player skates. Here, for instance, is the venerable Vern DeGeer, Globe and Mail sports editor, writing in 1942:

Sid Abel, the talented left-winger for Detroit Red Wings, watched Saturday’s Bruins-Leafs game from the Gardens press box … Sid did not attempt to conceal his open admiration for Syl Apps, the long-striding speed merchant of the Leafs … “I think most players are pretty well agreed that Apps can dangle faster than any skater in the league,” said the observing Sid …

And from Bill Westwick of The Ottawa Journal in 1945, talking to Billy Boucher whether Maurice Richard was as rapid as Howie Morenz:

He takes nothing away from Richard. “He can dangle, breaks very fast, and is a top-line hockey player. But they can’t tell me he moves as fast as Howie. I’ve yet to see anyone who could.”

On the other side — what we might call the anti-Cherry end of things — most recent dangles you’ll come across, in print or on broadcasts, involve a player’s ability to manipulate a puck. If you want to go to the books, Andrew Podnieks’ Complete Hockey Dictionary (2007) mentions skillful stickhandling in its dangle definition, and The Hockey Phrase Book (1991) concurs.

As does Vancouver captain Henrik Sedin. “You know what,” he was saying in 2015, talking about then-Canuck Zack Kassian. “He can dangle and make plays.” A year earlier, Detroit defenceman Brendan Smith had a slight variation as he hymned the praises of teammate Gustav Nyquist: “He’s a hell of a skater, he’s a great puck-mover, he makes great plays, he’s got great skill, he can dangle you, he’s hard to hit, he’s wormy or snakey, whatever you want to call it.”

Can we agree, then, even if Don Cherry might not, that dangle has more than one hockey application? Is that a compromise we can get behind without further hoary accusations regarding who and who doesn’t know the game.

The dictionaries, it’s true, need to make room for Cherry’s definition alongside theirs.

On the other side, it’s not as though Cherry’s sense of the word is the original or even elder one. In fact, as far back as 1940 you can find The Ottawa Journal using dangle to mean stickhandling. And here’s Andy Lytle from The Toronto Daily Star jawing with Conn Smythe that same year about some of his Leaf assets:

He waxed lyrical over [Billy] Taylor whom he calls “a player with a magnificent brain” and [Sweeney] Schriner whom he says emphatically and with gestures is the best left winger in the game today.

“Schriner,” he enthused, “ is the maestro, the playmaker deluxe who is so good he can distribute his qualities amongst [Murph] Chamberlain and [Pep] Kelly until they too play over their heads.”

“He can dangle a puck.”

“Dangle it,” exclaimed Conny, now thoroughly stirred, “I tell you I’ve never seen anything comparable to his play for us in Detroit last Sunday night. It was a revelation in puck-carrying. He was the picture player. He isn’t like Apps going through a team because Schriner does it with deliberate skill and stick trickery. He provokes the enemy, fascinates the unprejudiced observers. Apps is spectacular, thrilling because of his superlative speed. Schriner is the same only he does his stuff in slow motion so everyone can enjoy him.”

In other words, Apps may have been able to dangle, but Schriner could dangle.

 

blue on blue

Anybody recognize this rink? With Leafs lined up versus Leafs, I’ll surmise that it’s a pre-season match-up. Hard to make out most of the players, but the goaltenders upfront are unmistakable. On the right that’s Turk Broda, while to the left is Phil Stein. Could be the fall of 1939, and if so, maybe is it the McIntyre Community Building in Schumacher, Ontario, now a part of Timmins? The Leafs played a Whites vs. Blues game there at the end of the October that year, with Broda’s Whites beating Stein and the Blues by a score of 7-4.

Broda, of course, was the mainstay of the Toronto net for 14 years, starting in 1936. He won a pair of Vézina trophies and five Stanley Cups. Stein had staying power, too, though mainly as a minor-league backstop, notably with the IHL’s Syracuse Star, a farm-team for the Leafs.

Stein played just a single regular-season NHL game, in January 1940, when he was called up from the Omaha Knights of the AHA when Broda went down with an injured left knee. On Stein’s watch, the Leafs tied the Detroit Red Wings 2-2 at home. He was suited to play the Leafs’ next game, too, against the New York Americans, only to suffer an injury in the warm-up. Second before the game was due to start, a shot from Toronto centre Billy Taylor caught Stein in the chin, cutting him for five stitches. Broda was called down from his seat in the stands at Maple Leaf Gardens to suit up in place of his understudy, and the Leafs ended up winning the game 5-1.

The Globe and Mail’s Vern De Geer was on hand as Stein undressed in the Leafs’ dressing room. “What a jinx, what a jinx,” he said. “Only ten seconds before the start of my second major hockey game and this has to happen. It’s enough to drive a guy crazy. Here I’ve waited more than five years for a chance to make this grade in the National Hockey League and I have to get my chin in the way of another puck.”

Stein played another four seasons after that, but the next time he suited up for a Toronto team, they were the Research Colonels of the OHA’s senior loop rather than the Maple Leafs.

post-war puck-drop: there’s no sense talking about it later

Private Practice: Smokey Smith tosses the inaugural puck of the 1945-46 NHL season for

Private Practice: Smokey Smith tosses the inaugural puck of the 1945-46 NHL season for the Leaf Billy Taylor and Boston’s Milt Schmidt. King Clancy is the referee.

NHL hockey ended in April of 1945, but the war still had some fight in it. Reds In Heart of Berlin was the main headline one day in The Globe and Mail, just above the news of Huns Routed in Italy. Inside, the same edition that carried news that Major Conn Smythe’s Toronto Maple Leafs had beaten the Red Wings in Detroit to secure the Stanley Cup also counted 45 Canadians in the Today’s Casualties column: Dead 10, Missing 29, Prisoner 6.

It was all over, of course, by the time hockey rolled around again that October. The Boston Bruins were in Toronto to open the season at Maple Leaf Gardens on Saturday the 27th, and the news in that day’s Globe was that the Toronto Scottish, the first Canadian Army battalion to have deployed to England at the start of the war, had arrived back home in Halifax.

opening game 45For the hockey game, the Leafs mobilized the brass and pipes of the 48th Highlanders, as they’d done every on opening night since 1931 (and have continued to do up to and including tonight’s meeting with Montreal). They’d also invited to the game six of the 16 Canadian servicemen to have received the Victoria Cross, the British Empire’s highest military honour, given for extraordinary courage and devotion to duty.

Major David Currie was there, along with Majors Paul Triquet, Fred Tilston, and John Mahony, and Corporal Fred “Toppy” Topham. They had, variously, organized at great personal risk a defense against German armour at the Falaise Gap (Currie) and, in Italy, showed “superb contempt for the enemy” in the face of fierce enemy attack during which they encouraged their men with the words “Ils ne passeront pas” (Triquet) and (again in Italy), against a vastly superior enemy force, crawled forward to save a section of his company despite having been wounded in the head and twice in the leg and refusing medical aid in order to continue to direct the defence of a bridgehead (Mahony) and (Tilston) led C Company of the Essex Scottish Regiment in an attack on German positions in the Hochwald Forest, on the Rhine, “calmly moved in the open through the heavy enemy fire from platoon to platoon organizing the defence,” while also (six times) braving intense enemy fire to fetch ammunition, despite having been grievously wounded in the legs and (Topham) parachuted in as a medical orderly as part of an Allied assault on the east bank of the Rhine where, despite being shot through the nose, continued to aid and extricate companions under heavy German fire, including rescuing three soldiers trapped in a burning gun-carrier despite an officer warning him to stay away.

The sixth man showing his V.C. that evening was Private Ernest Smith — “Smokey” — the only private soldier to have won the medal during the Second World War. He was the man the Leafs brought out to centre ice to drop a ceremonial puck almost a year to the day after he’d been in Italy with his regiment, the Seaforth Highlanders, trying to cross the Savio River.

Smith, who was 30, had enlisted in 1940. Like Major Mahony, he hailed from New Westminster, B.C. As the newspapers told it when he went to Buckingham Palace to receive his medal from King George VI, Smith had almost single-handedly held off a German counterattack, turning back three Panther tanks, a pair of half-tracks, and some 30 infantrymen. The V.C. citation describing his efforts is worth reading — it’s here, along with those for the rest of the recipients mentioned above.

“Here’s a little present from me to you,” the King is supposed to have told him at the investiture.

“I couldn’t help doing what I did,” was what Smith said after he’d received his medal, “after seeing my buddy after he was wounded.” The Ottawa Citizen:

He saw “red” at that point and “didn’t give a hoot” so long as he avenged his pal.

Otherwise, he preferred to keep quiet. “It’s okay to kill men when you have to,” he said, “but there’s no sense talking about it later.”

After Smith died in 2005 at the age of 91, his body lay in state at the House of Commons in Ottawa. In 1945, was fêted across Canada and lent his fame to the campaign to sell War Bond. The government granted him a gratuity: each March and September, they’d send him $25, for life.

At Maple Leaf Gardens, he and Major Currie talked about how much weight each man had added since leaving active duty. Currie said he’d gained 35 pounds, while Smith only admitted to 15, “in the wrong place.”

The game ended in a 1-1 tie in front of 14,608 spectators — one of the largest crowds the Leafs had seen at a home-opener, the papers agreed. Bill Shill scored for Boston before Bob Davidson tied it up. Paul Bibeault was the Boston goaltender; Baz Bastien guarded the Toronto end.

Private Smith said it had been so long since he’d seen hockey that he’d forgotten how the game was played.

At Ease: Maple Leafs coach Hap Day chats with Private Smith.

At Ease: Maple Leafs coach Hap Day chats with Private Smith.