Sportsnet’s Hometown Hockey has parked its caravan in Pembroke, Ontario, this weekend; come Monday evening, Ron MacLean and Tara Slone will be hosting the broadcast of the Colorado Avalanche’s visit with the Philadelphia Flyers from the Ottawa Riverside seat of Renfrew County.
I don’t know what they have in mind in the way of celebrating Pembroke’s rich hockey history, but I’m declaring now that I’ll be sorely disappointed if Frank Nighbor isn’t duly fêted and/or festoons draped about for the local likes of Dave Trottier, Hughie Lehman, and Harry Cameron.
Trottier, a left winger, was the hero of Canada’s 1928 gold-medal-winning Olympic team, if you’ve lost track, and the apple of every NHL team’s eye once the Games were over. He won a Stanley Cup championship with the Montreal Maroons in 1935.
Lehman, a goaltender, won a Cup with the mighty Vancouver Millionaires in 1915, and later played (and coached) the Chicago Black Hawks. He was elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1958.
Cameron played defence: he was a teammate of Nighbor’s in Pembroke before going on to win three Cup championships, all in Toronto, with the Blueshirts in 1914, the Torontos in 1918, and the St. Patricks in 1922. He found his way into the Hall of Fame in 1963.
Frank Nighbor’s star has faded a shade over the years, somehow, but in his day in the early decades of the pro game in Canada, he was often mentioned as one of the greatest players of them all. A centreman, he was on that Cup-winning Vancouver team with Hughie Lehman in 1915, and was in on four more Cup championships with the Ottawa Senators. He got his call to the Hall of Fame in 1947.
The last of Nighbor’s Cups came in 1927, which points us back to Pembroke. As the Ottawa Citizen was happy to highlight early in that ’26-27 season, a December 7 visit by the Senators to Chicago saw no fewer than four sons of Pembroke take the ice at the old Coliseum.
Nighbor, 33, was in his 12th year with Ottawa. He’d won the Hart Trophy as the NHL’s most valuable player in 1924, along with the first two Lady Byngs.
Tending Chicago’s goal, Lehman, 41, was playing in his first NHL season after years of starring in the PCHA. Manning the Black Hawk defence, meanwhile, were 24-year-old Gord Fraser and Bob Trapp, 25, both of whom were Pembroke boys. Before getting to Chicago, Fraser had played in the PCHA, winning a Stanley Cup in 1925 with Lester Patrick’s Victoria Cougars.
In Chicago, 95 years ago this week, Nighbor scored a goal in a 3-2 Senators’ win.
The teams met on three more occasions that season, though Nighbor missed the February 9 meeting in Chicago, in which Fraser scored a goal towards a 5-3 Black Hawk win. Ottawa won 2-1 at home on February 5, 1927, and lost by the same score there on March 5.
By the time Ottawa secured its Cup on April 13 of that year, beating the Boston Bruins in four games, Nighbor was the lone Pembroker still skating.
As boys growing up in Viking, Alberta, the Sutters knew him well: Brian did odd jobs at Clem Loughlin’s main-street hotel and out on his nearby cattle farm, and Darryl had him as a coach when he played midget in the early 1970s. “We idolized him,” Darryl would say years later, after he ended up taking the same job Loughlin had done 57 years before him. “I remember one bus ride to St. Albert or Stony Plain where I got to sit right beside him. I was amazed by all his stories. We didn’t have anybody in our town who’d done the things he’d done.”
Born in Carroll, Manitoba, on a Tuesday of this date in 1892, Clem Loughlin did a lot of hockey things in his time. A defenceman, he won an Allan Cup in 1915 with the Winnipeg Monarchs before turning pro with the PCHA’s Portland Rosebuds. He played a decade in the west-coast league, with the Victoria Aristocrats, who then turned into the Victoria Cougars, and shifted leagues in the WHL.
It was a powerful Cougars outfit that manager Lester Patrick assembled in 1925, with a 33-year-old Loughlin captaining a line-up that also included Frank Fredrickson, Jack Walker, Frank Foyston, and Hap Holmes. That March, they beat the Montreal Canadiens to take the Stanley Cup in four games, the last time a team not from the NHL claimed the trophy.
Loughlin had a short NHL career after, joining the Detroit Cougars that same fall. After two seasons in Detroit, he played part of the 1928-29 season with the Chicago Black Hawks. After coaching the IHL London Tecumsehs, Loughlin returned to Chicago in 1935, succeeding Tommy Gorman behind the bench a year after Gorman had steered the Black Hawks to their first Cup.
Whatever the challenges of coaching in the NHL in the 1930s, Loughlin had the added burden of working for Major Frederic McLaughlin, the domineering coffee tycoon and former polo star who owned the Black Hawks and couldn’t leave the running of the hockey team to those with experience in the game. It was Loughlin who had to contend with his boss’s 1936 plan to do away with Canadian players and make do with only Americans. (McLaughlin also planned to re-name the team the Yankees.)
Loughlin dealt with the mandate from on high as best he could — and even defended McLaughlin all-American scheme. “It isn’t as silly as it sounds by any means,” he told the Montreal Gazette in early 1937. “I contend that most hockey players are made, not born. The superstars of the game, like Chuck Conacher, Howie Morenz, and Bill Cook, of course, are great athletes and were born to be headliners in hockey. But take some of these other fellows that aren’t athletes in any line of sport except hockey. It’s the only game some of them play, in fact. Coaching and an eagerness to improve themselves in a big-money game is what has made them capable players.”
“Of course,” he allowed, “the Major’s plan will take some time in developing, for we must practically at scratch in this thing. But, you may laugh at me or not, I do believe that the scheme has possibilities.”
Maybe so; we don’t know. It never really launched, and in May of ’37, Loughlin resigned his post. He back in Alberta by then, where he had his farm and his hotel. Major McLaughlin said he regretted the loss to the Black Hawks. “Our relations have been so extremely pleasant,” he said, “and he is a man of such high ideals and splendid character that he will be missed.”
Next up at the Chicago helm was Bill Stewart, the NHL referee and baseball umpire. The following year he did what Tommy Gorman had done and Loughlin, guiding the Black Hawks to another Stanley Cup.
“He was a real gentleman,” Darryl Sutter said in 2001,” always in a fedora and topcoat. He coached me my last year of midget. I don’t think Clem had coached anybody 40 years, but we needed somebody. He used to come out on the ice in his long black trenchcoat. And he had these skates, back to when he played. He had the date right on them. We loved of all of his stories.”
Clem Loughlin died in January of 1977 at the age of 84. It was 1992 when Darryl Sutter, now in his second stint as coach of the Calgary Flames, followed his mentor’s footsteps to the Blackhawks’ bench. In ’01, when he was coaching the San Jose Sharks, he had a photograph of Loughlin hanging on the wall of office. By then, another Loughlin acolyte, Brian Sutter, had taken over as Chicago’s coach.
On a busy day of hockey-player birthdays, here’s to Lorne Chabot, born in Montreal on this date in 1900, a Friday. His eventful 11-year NHL career had him deflecting pucks for six teams. He was in on two Stanley Cup championships, with the New York Rangers in 1928 and the Toronto Maple Leafs in 1932, and won the Vézina Trophy with the Chicago Black Hawks in 1935.
Chabot was 36 in 1937, having all but retired from the NHL after the 1935-36 turn with Montreal’ Maroons to concentrate on a job with a Toronto dairy. It was in January of ’37 that he answered Red Dutton’s call to fill the Americans’ net after 36-year-old Roy Worters, the New York starter, suffered a season-ending hernia. Chabot played in six games that month, going 2-3-1 before Dutton decided that he’d seen enough. Pictured here is Chabot’s final game — his very last in the NHL — in which he and his teammates suffered a 9-0 plastering at Madison Square Garden at the hands of the Chicago Black Hawks.
Even before the goals started going in that January night, New York was sitting dead last in the eight-team NHL, two points behind the also-faltering Black Hawks.
Pep Kelly led the Hawks, netting a hattrick on the night, with Paul Thompson adding a pair for Chicago, with Earl Seibert, Wildor Larochelle, Pete Palangio, and Johnny Gottselig contributing a single goal each. This was the very week, it’s worth noting, that Chicago’s volatile owner, Major Frederic McLaughlin, had announced his plan to replace all the foreign-born players on his team— including all six of his team’s goalscorers against New York —with Americans.
“The score, of course, made Chabot look bad but the fault could not be called his entirely.” That was Joseph Nichols’ review in the New York Times next morning. John Lewy from the Brooklyn Times Union tended to agree, singling out the Americans’ sloppy defensive corps:
Forced to tend goal behind such a helter skelter performance as his mates were putting on, Lorne Chabot drew the jeers of the onlookers who, failing to put the finger on the real trouble with the club, singled him out as the obvious victim.
Hy Turkin from the Daily News wasn’t so forgiving: Chabot was “nonchalance personified as five goals whizzed past him in the first two periods”
Up in Montreal, the Gazette noted that (a) Chabot had surrendered 14 goals in his last two games and (b) word was that four of Chicago’s goals had beaten him from the blueline.
“Don’t blame Lorne Chabot,” Dutton said. “Point the finger at those high-priced stars who failed to give him any protection. Don’t overlook [Sweeney] Schriner, either. He was loafing and looking for points. He wasn’t backchecking.”
Still, Chabot was finished: Dutton called up 26-year-old Alex Wood for New York’s next game, from the IAHL Buffalo Bisons, which saw Wood lose his only NHL start by a score of 3-2 to the Montreal Canadiens. Alfie Moore, 31, took the New York net after that, going 7-11 to finish off the season and maintain the Americans’ last-place standing.
Johnny Gottselig was only ever a Chicago Black Hawk: a useful left winger in his skating days, which lasted 16 NHL seasons, captain of the team when they won an unlikely Stanley Cup championship in 1938, later coach of the team, later still its long-time director of public relations. Born on a Saturday of this date in 1905 in what today is Ukraine (it was still the Russian Empire, then), Gottselig has the trailblazing distinction of having been the NHL’s first European-born captain to win the Cup and its first European head coach.
The family emigrated when John was just three months old, ended up in Regina, so Saskatchewan is where he learned his hockey. As a Black Hawk, he scored some goals, leading the team five times in scoring during his tenure in Chicago. A noted stickhandler, he was renowned killer of penalties. Chicago Tribune sportswriter Ted Damata would remember him as the only player he’d ever seen who’d controlled the puck for the entire two minutes of a penalty. Gottselig was aboard with the Black Hawks claimed their first Stanley Cup in 1934.
A noted baseball player, he was also a manager in the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, steering the Racine Bells, the Peoria Redwings, and the Kenosha Comets in the 1940s.
Lionel Conacher played 12 seasons in the NHL, but if you want to know why in 1950 he was voted Canada’s greatest athlete for the first half of the 20th century, I’m going to have to ask that you consider the pre-NHL years of the man they called The Big Train. Born in Toronto on a Thursday of this date in 1900, Conacher was a superlative talent in whichever sport he tried … which was pretty all of them. He was a wrestler and a boxer, starred on the grass at baseball and football and lacrosse, as well as on the ice. He’s in Canada’s Football and Lacrosse halls of fame, and was elected to hockey’s pantheon in 1994.
In December of 1921, after scoring 15 points that helped the football Argonauts win the Grey Cup at Toronto’s Varsity Stadium, 21-year-old Conacher headed over to the rink at Arena Gardens to captain the Aura Lee senior hockey team in the title game for the Sportsmen’s Patriotic Association senior trophy. Aura Lee lost that one, though Conacher did score a great goal. Turns out this kind of thing was almost routine for the kid: three years later, in the summer of 1924, he hit a double to win a game for his baseball team, the Hillcrests, before catching a taxi across Toronto to score two goals in a winning effort for the lacrosse Maitlands.
He made his NHL debut in 1925, and was a dominant defensive force there, mostly for teams that don’t exist now: other than a year as a Chicago Black Hawk, he did his skating for the Pittsburgh Pirates, New York Americans, and Montreal Maroons. His NHL CV includes 82 goals in 527 games, along with two Stanley Cups; twice he finished runner-up in voting for the Hart Trophy as NHL MVP. He also compiled a gruesome catalogue of injuries, including eight breaks of the nose. Charlie and Roy, his younger brothers, are both in the Hall of Fame, too.
After hockey, he went into politics, first in the Ontario legislature and then, in 1949, as a federal MP in Ottawa with Louis St. Laurent’s Liberals. Conacher was just 53 when he died — of coronary thrombosis in the sixth inning of a Parliamentary softball game, after hitting a triple.
A writer for Ottawa’s Citizen was one of many to write a remembrance that May, in 1954. “It was a strange twist of fate that the game Conacher played least well kept him in public life longest,” Austin Cross wrote of his hockey career. And yet Conacher wasn’t a natural on the ice the way he was on the grass, Cross felt: starting out, he was “poor on skates.” He continued:
I first remember him, not as a football player, but in baseball uniform. He came to Ottawa to play for Hillcrests, and after he had murdered the ball out at Lansdowne Park, I went out with my camera and took a picture of him in his ‘monkey suit.’ I had the print until just recently. It revealed a fair-haired young boy, tall and handsome, and a face without guile. His nose was not broken in those days, and he was a most attractive type of man. Members of parliament who looked at him these last few years, and who studied that beat-up face, and looked at the atrociously pounded-in nose, have remarked more than once that it was hard to get into their heads that this bald-headed man with the comic nose was once Canada’s greatest athlete.
(Top image, c. 1937, from the Boston Public Library, Leslie Jones Collection)
A birthday today for Tony Esposito, born in Sault Ste. Marie on a Friday of this date in 1943: he’s 78 now, and thereby the younger of the family’s two Hall of Famers. Tony launched his NHL career with the Montreal Canadiens, starting his first game in Boston in 1968 against brother Phil … who promptly scored both Bruin goals in a 2-2 tie. Claimed by the Chicago Black Hawks, Tony O won the Calder Trophy as the league’s outstanding rookie in 1970. He played 15 seasons with Chicago, winning the Vézina Trophy three times along the way. “Tony Esposito used everything he had,” the Boston Globe’s Fran Rosa wrote in 1974 on an April night when the Hawks overcame the Bruins in the playoffs, “his stick, his pads, his body, his skates, even his head once, and of course, his glove. Oh my, that glove. It grew bigger and bigger as the game progressed.”