chicago’s opening act, 1926: the going was sticky

A crowd of 7,000 was on hand at Chicago’s Coliseum on a night like this 96 years ago as the Chicago Black Hawks made their NHL debut on Wednesday, November 17, 1926 against the Toronto St. Patricks. The two captains shook on it before the game got going: that’s Chicago centreman (and future NHL coaching great) Dick Irvin on the left along with Toronto’s Bert Corbeau. “The Chicago team showed better combination and condition than their opponents,” was the report wired back to Toronto’s Globe after the expansion Black Hawks had prevailed by a score of 4-1.

Hughie Lehman was manning the Chicago net that night; the goals came from George Hay, Irvin, Gord Fraser, and Rabbit McVeigh. John Ross Roach did his best between the Toronto pipes. Scoring for the St. Pats was another coach-to-be, Hap Day, playing the right wing as he did in those days before he dropped back to the defence.

“The ice in the second period started to melt a bit,” the Chicago Tribune noted, “and the going was sticky and the puck jumped and rolled frequently making shots difficult and accuracy in passing almost impossible.” Trib correspondent Frank Schreiber wasn’t overly impressed by either aggregation, all in all. “Both teams fought hard,” he wrote, “but neither displayed more than an average attack or defence.”

full steam ahead

A birthday today for Clem Loughlin, born on a Tuesday of this date 130 years ago in Carroll, Manitoba. Seen here on the right in December of 1934, he was 42, in his debut season as coach of the Chicago Black Hawks, who would go on to finish the year in second place in the nine-team NHL’s American Division. The Black Hawks were the defending Stanley Cup champions that year, but they fell in the first round of the ’35 playoffs to the Montreal Maroons, the eventual winners. Loughlin would coach the Hawks through three seasons in all before Chicago’s fickle owner Major Frederic McLaughlin replaced him in 1937 with a referee and baseball umpire, Bill Stewart.

That’s 34-year-old Taffy Abel percolating in the steambath, veteran defenceman, who spent the fall of ’34 withholding his services in a contract dispute over a $500 raise Major McLaughlin didn’t want to grant him. Abel blinked in December, returning to Chicago from his home in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, to stretch and steam himself into playing shape. It didn’t work out, but by January of ’35, Abel had come to an agreement with Conn Smythe of the Toronto Maple Leafs for a mid-season tryout. Abel soon changed his mind, though, deciding to hang up his skates for good and return home to Michigan. He and Loughlin would both get into the hotel business, incidentally, Abel with Taffy’s Lodge in Sault Ste. Marie and Loughlin with the Viking Hotel, in Alberta’s Sutter country.

 

(Image: SDN-076819, Chicago Sun-Times/Chicago Daily News collection, Chicago History Museum)

leading from the crease

Cord Captain: Born in Edinburgh, in Scotland, Charlie Gardiner was raised in Winnipeg. Pictured here in an illustration for La Presse from 1932, he was 28 in October of 1933, going into his seventh — and final — season with Chicago, when he was named captain of the Black Hawks, the fifth goaltender, at that point, to be appointed skip in NHL history. Chicago owner Major Frederic McLaughlin, for one, had high hopes. “Never have I made such a pre-season prophecy as I’m about to make now,” he said. “I am confident that this team will bring Chicago its first Stanley Cup.” And he was right.

mr. october

The Montreal Canadiens were never going to trade their superstar Howie Morenz … until, this week in 1934, they did just that, sending their 32-year-old centreman, along with goaltender Lorne Chabot and defenceman Marty Burke, to the Chicago Black Hawks in exchange for winger Leroy Goldsworthy and defencemen Lionel Conacher and Roger Jenkins.

Morenz’s former Montreal teammates bade him farewell the following week with a banquet at Café Martin, Leo Dandurand’s restaurant at 2175 rue de la Montagne. Dandurand himself played toastmaster that evening; Tommy Gorman, Aurèle Joliat, and Montreal mayor Camilien Houde all addressed the gathering of 200 guests.

Four days later, Morenz was in Chicago to sign a contract with the Black Hawks, before joining his new teammates in Champaign, Illinois, for the team’s pre-season training camp. That may be where this October photograph was taken; that Chicago coach Clem Loughlin standing in as umpire here, with winger Johnny Gottselig playing the catcher’s part. On the ice, Loughlin initially tried Morenz in a couple of  combinations, skating him between Mush March and Norman Locking to start camp, then lining him up with Gottselig and Lolo Couture. It was with the latter duo that Morenz made his Chicago debut when the Black Hawks opened their season on November 8, hitting the road to beat the St. Louis Eagles 3-1. That night, Morenz assisted on the goal Gottselig put past Bill Beveridge to open the scoring.

(Image: SDN-076744, Chicago Sun-Times/Chicago Daily News collection, Chicago History Museum)

jim pappin, 1939—2022

From the Toronto Maple Leafs, the hard news today that Jim Pappin has died at the age of 82: condolences from here to his family and friends. Born in Sudbury, Ontario, on Sunday, September 10, 1939, Pappin made his debut as an NHL right winger in 1963 when he joined Punch Imlach’s Leaf roster in the wake of their second successive Stanley Cup championship. He won his first championship with the leafs in 1964. In 1967, Pappin not only scored the Cup-winning goal against Montreal in Game Six of the Finals, he led the league in playoff scoring. After five Leaf seasons, he went to Chicago in the trade that brought Pierre Pilote to Toronto. Pappin played in seven seasons for the Black Hawks, with whom he had his best scoring season, in 1972-73, when he notched 41 goals and 92 points. He saw action, too, with California’s Seals and the Barons of Cleveland.

eric nesterenko, 1933—2022

Eric Nesterenko has died at the age of 88, the Chicago Black Hawks are noting today. Born in Flin Flon, Manitoba, he made his NHL debut with the Toronto Maple Leafs in 1952 as an 18-year-old. After playing parts of five seasons in Toronto, the Leafs sold his and Harry Lumley’s contracts contract to Chicago for $40,000. Sixteen seasons he skated with the Black Hawks before retiring from the NHL in 1972. He subsequently joined the Chicago Cougars during the WHA’s 1973-74 season, taking a last pro turn at 40. In later years he worked as a ski patroller and instructor and taught some university as a guest lecturer. He played Rob Lowe’s father in the 1986 movie Youngblood and, apparently, passed several summers in the northern Alaska volunteering as air-defence spotter in case any Russian aircraft should stray into view.

In Bill Gaston’s wonderful novel The Good Body (2000), his protagonist, Bonaduce, marvels at Nesterenko, who in 1968 (he asserts) “scored 32 goals for Chicago and published his first book of poems.” I looked for that book, and when I failed to find it, I asked Gaston, was it true? He couldn’t remember whether or just should be. I found an address in Vail, Colorado, and wrote to Nesterenko for the final word, but my letter came back unopened, RETURN TO SENDER, the envelope demanded, while confiding also ATTEMPTED and NOT KNOWN, and finally (protesting way too much) UNABLE TO FORWARD.

It’s worth, on this day, revisiting the interview Studs Terkel did with Nesterenko for his 1974 book Working.

“It’s been a good life,” the hockey player said there. “Maybe I could have done better, have better record or something like that. But I’ve really had very few regrets over the past 20 years. I can enjoy some of the arts that I had shut myself off from as a kid. Perhaps that is my only regret. The passion for the game was so all-consuming when I was a kid that I blocked myself from music. I cut myself off from a certain broadness of experience. Maybe one has to do that to fully explore what they want to do the most passionately.

I know a lot of pro athletes who have a capacity for a wider experience. But they wanted to become champions. They had to focus themselves on their one thing completely. His primary force when he becomes champion is his ego trip, his desire to excel, to be somebody special. To some degree, he must dehumanize himself. I look forward to a lower key way of living. But it must be physical. I’m sure I would die without it, become a drunk or something.

I still like to skate. One day last year on a cold, clear, crisp afternoon, I saw this huge sheet of ice in the street. Goddamn if I didn’t drive out there and put on my skates. And I flew. Nobody was there. I was free as a bird. I was really happy. That goes back to when I was a kid. I’ll do that until I die, I hope. Oh, I was free!

The wind was blowing from the north. With the wind behind you, you’re in motion, you can wheel and dive and turn, you can lay yourself into impossible angles that you never could walking or running. You lay yourself at a 45-degree angle, your elbow virtually touching the ice as you’re in a turn. Incredible It’s beautiful! You’re breaking the bounds of gravity. I have a feeling this is the innate desire of man.

I haven’t kept many photographs of myself, but I found one where I’m in full flight. I’m leaning into a turn. You pick up the centrifugal forces and you lay in it. For a few seconds, like a gyroscope, they support you. I’m in full flight and my head is turned. I’m concentrating on something and I’m grinning. That’s the way I like to picture myself. I’m something else there. I’m on another level of existence, just being in pure motion. Going wherever I want to go, whenever I want to go. That’s nice, you know.”

tiny to-do

Man In A Melee: Born in Sandon, B.C., on Sunday of this date in 1903, Cecil Thompson was only ever known as Tiny during his illustrious NHL career. A four-time Vézina Trophy winner, he played ten seasons for the Boston Bruins, helping them win a Stanley Cup championship in 1929, at the end of his rookie season. Elected to the Hall of Fame in 1959, Thompson was the first NHL goaltender to be pulled for an extra attacker. Supplanted by Frank Brimsek in the Bruin goal by 1938, he was traded to the Red Wings, playing two season in Detroit. That’s Tiny on the ice here, at Chicago Stadium in December of ’38, doing his second-period best to stymie any Black Hawks he can. In front of a crowd of 11,000, he was only somewhat successful, insofar as Chicago won the night by a score of 4-1. From left, that’s Chicago’s Earl Seibert (#17), Detroit’s helmeted Doug Young (I think) and Doc Romnes (quite possibly) of the Black Hawks). Marty Barry is the Wing with his back to the camera, alongside Chicago’s Johnny Gottselig (#7).

poke hero

Jacques Of All Trades: Stan Mikita scored the winning goal on the night, but this wasn’t it: this time, in the second period of a 4-1 Stanley Cup semi-final home win by the Chicago Black Hawks over Montreal’s Canadiens, goaltender Jacques Plante did what he needed to do to stymie the attack. It was April of 1962, a year in which a 22-year-old Mikita, playing in his fourth NHL season, was named to the NHL’s First All-Star team. Born in 1940 on a Monday of this date in Sokolče, in what today is Slovakia, Mikita finished that year’s regular season with 25 goals and 77 points, which tied him with Detroit’s Gordie Howe for third on the league’s scoring chart, behind New York’s Andy Bathgate and his own teammate Bobby Hull, seen here in following up on the play. The other Montrealers are J.C. Tremblay and, behind him, Don Marshall.

herb gardiner: in 1927, the nhl’s most useful man

It was on a Friday of this same date in 1891 in Winnipeg that Herb Gardiner was born in 1891. If you haven’t heard of his stardom as a defenceman on the ice in Calgary and Montreal, well, here’s an introduction to that. Gardiner, who died in 1972, aged 80, was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1958. A quick browse across his biography shows that the adjectives stellar and two-way and consistent were sometimes applied to his efforts on the ice, along with the noun rock. Also? That he won the Hart Memorial Trophy as the NHL MVP in 1927, edging out Bill Cook on the ballot, as well as the impressive likes of Frank Frederickson, Dick Irvin, and King Clancy.

Browsing the Attestation Papers by which Gardiner signed up to be a soldier in Calgary in 1915 at the age of 23 and the height of just over 5’ 9”, you may notice that the birthdate given is May 10, which is two days late, must just be an error, since a lie wouldn’t have made any difference to Gardiner’s eligibility. Listing the profession he was leaving behind to go to war as surveyor, he started a private with the 12th Battalion of the Canadian Mounted Rifles, went to England, was taken on strength with the 2nd CMR, who went unhorsed to fight in France in 1916. Gardiner was promoted corporal that year and then lance-sergeant, and we know that he was wounded in June, probably near Hooge in the Ypres Salient in Belgium. The nature of the wound is inscribed in Gardiner’s medical record as “GSW Nose” — i.e. Gun Shot Wound Nose. That’s as much as I know about it, other than it seems that he was brisk in his recovery, and kept on winning promotion as 1916 went, to company sergeant-major, then temporary lieutenant. The following year he spent a lot of time in hospitals with (as per the medical file) bronchitis, pleurisy, catarrhal jaundice. He was invalided back to Canada, eventually, where he was playing hockey again for various Calgary teams before he was demobilized in 1919.

Most of the starring he did in those post-war years was on defence for the Calgary Tigers of the old Western Canadian Hockey League, where he played with Red Dutton and Rusty Crawford, Harry Oliver, Spunk Sparrow. In 1926, when the league disbanded (it was the WHL by then), Cecil Hart of the Montreal Canadiens bought Gardiner’s contract.

Gardiner took Georges Vézina’s number 1 for his sweater in Montreal, which is a little surprising, but there it is: the team didn’t retire it from circulation after the iconic goaltender’s death in March of 1926. (Herb Rheaume, Vézina’s successor in Montreal’s net, inherited the number before Gardiner arrived; the following year, 1926-27, Montreal’s new goaltender was George Hainsworth, who wore 12.)

Gardiner played his first NHL game in November of 1926 at the age of 35 in the old Boston Arena on a night when another WHL import was getting his start on the Bruins’ defence: 23-year-old Eddie Shore. Boston won that contest, 4-1, and even in the Montreal papers it was Shore’s debut that rated most of the mentions, his rugged style, and some pleasantries he exchanged with Canadiens’ Aurèle Joliat. Oh, and goaltender Hainsworth was said to be hindered by the fog that blanketed the ice. “The heat in the rink,” the Gazette noted, “was fearful.”

Along with Hainsworth and Joliat, Canadiens counted Howie Morenz in their line-up that year, and Art Gagne and Pit Lepine, along with a talented supporting cast. Gardiner joined Sylvio Mantha and Battleship Leduc on the defence — and that was pretty much it, other than Amby Moran, who played in 12 of Montreal’s 44 regular-season games. Gardiner, for his part, was not so much busy as ever-present, relied on by coach Cecil Hart to play all 60 minutes of each game. With the four games Canadiens played in the playoffs, that means he played 48 games — italics and respectful props all mine — in their entirety that year.

“And sometimes it was 70 or 80 minutes,” he recalled years later. “We played overtime in those days, too. But it wasn’t as hard as it sounds. I never carried the puck more than, say, eight times a game. And besides, I was only 35 years old at the time.”

By February of 1927, Elmer Ferguson of The Montreal Herald was already touting Gardiner as his nominee to win the trophy for league MVP that was named for the father of Montreal’s coach. Another hometown paper called Gardiner “the sensation of the league.” When in March sportswriters around the NHL tallied their votes, Gardiner had garnered 89, putting him ahead of the Rangers’ Bill Cook (80) and Boston centre Frank Frederickson (75). I like the way they framed it back in those early years: Gardiner was being crowned (as The Ottawa Journal put it) “the most useful man to his team.” For all that, and as good as that team was, those Canadiens, they weren’t quite up to the level of the Ottawa Senators, who beat Montreal in the semi-finals before going on to win the Stanley Cup.

With Hart in hand, Gardiner asked for a pay raise in the summer of ’27. When Montreal didn’t seem inclined to offer it, he stayed home in Calgary. He was ready to call it quits, he said, but then Canadiens came through and Gardiner headed east, having missed two weeks of training. He wouldn’t say what Montreal was paying him for the season, but there was a rumour that it was $7,500.

So he played a second year in Montreal. Then in August of 1928 he was named coach of Major Frederic McLaughlin’s underperforming Chicago Black Hawks, the fourth in the club’s two-year history. Gardiner had served as a playing coach in his days with the Calgary Tigers, but this job was strictly benchbound — at first.

As Gardiner himself explained it to reporters, Montreal was only loaning him to Chicago, on the understanding that he wouldn’t be playing. The team he’d have charge of was a bit of a mystery: “What players they will have; what changes have been made since last winter, and other matters pertaining to the club are unknown to me,” he said as he prepared to depart Calgary in September.

The team trained in Winnipeg and Kansas City before season got going. When they lost five of their first six games, Gardiner got permission from Montreal’s Leo Dandurand to insert himself into the line-up, but then didn’t, not immediately, went to Ottawa and then Montreal without putting himself to use, and remained on the bench through Christmas and January, and Chicago was better, though not at all good, moping around at the bottom of the league standings.

He finally took the ice in February in a 3-2 loss to New York Rangers, when the Black Hawks debuted at their new home: due to a lease kerfuffle back in Chicago, the team was temporarily at home at Detroit’s Olympia. Gardiner played a total of four games for Chicago before Montreal, up at the top of the standings, decided that if he was going to be playing, it might as well be on their blueline, and so with the NHL’s trade-and-transaction deadline approaching, Canadiens duly ended the loan and called him back home.

Well out of the playoffs, the Black Hawks finished the season with (best I can glean) Dick Irvin serving as playing-coach, though business manager Bill Tobin may have helped, too. Major McLaughlin did have a successor lined up for the fall in Tom Shaughnessy. Coaches didn’t last long with McLaughlin, and he was no exception. While Gardiner oversaw 32 Black Hawk games, Shaughnessy only made it to 21 before he gave way to Bill Tobin, whose reign lasted (slightly) longer, 71 games.

Gardiner finished the season with Montreal, who again failed to turn a very good regular season into playoff success. In May of 1929, Canadiens sent Gardiner to the Boston Bruins, a clear sale this time, in a deal that also saw George Patterson and Art Gagne head to Massachusetts. Gardiner was finished as an NHLer, though: that fall, the Philadelphia Arrows of the Can-Am League paid for his release from Boston and made him their coach.

Sont Ici: A Pittsburgh paper welcomes Canadiens Herb Gardiner and goaltender George Hainsworth in 1927, along with (between them) Gizzy (not Grizzy) Hart, who in fact played left wing rather than defence. Canadiens and Pirates tied 2-2 on the night after overtime failed to produce a winner.

tommy hawk

Cookery Book: Born in Fort William, Ontario, on a Tuesday of this very date in 1907, centreman Tommy Cook made his NHL with Major Frederic McLaughlin’s Chicago Black Hawks in 1929. Eight seasons he played in Chicago, winning a Stanley Cup in 1934. Coach Clem Loughlin shed him early in the 1936-37 campaign, as he tried to shake up his flailing club, charging Cook with “failure to keep in playing condition” and “lax behavior.” Cook caught on briefly, after that, with Montreal’s Maroons before his NHL career ended in 1938.

begin again

Captains Converge: Opening night of the 1928-29 NHL season saw the hometown Maple Leafs hosting the Chicago Black Hawks at Arena Gardens on Toronto’s Mutual Street. Ontario’s lieutenant-governor, W.D. Ross, was on hand to drop the first puck; that’s him here, posing alongside Leaf leader Hap Day and his Black Hawk counterpart, Dick Irvin. Both captains were returning to the ice after serious injuries the previous year, with Day having had a tendon in his right heel nearly severed by a skateblade and Irvin suffering a serious skull fracture. On this night, Leafs prevailed by a score of 2-0, getting goals from Andy Blair and Shorty Horne. This would be Irvin’s final year as a centreman, as he laid away his skates to take full-time to coaching. Three years later, he’d be behind the Leaf bench, leading the team to a Stanley Cup championship. Day’s career as a defenceman would carry on for another nine seasons; he’d have to wait until 1942 to claim his first Stanley Cup as Toronto’s coach.